The Unexpected Journey of Writing a Book

I wrote a book and it wasn’t anything like what I expected.

Igniting a Flame

In December 2018, I was listening to a book on Audible called, No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert A. Glover when the author got very personal. In the Afterward, he let his listeners peek behind the curtain of what it’s like to write a non-fiction book. Dr. Glover said the book almost didn’t happen. It took more than six years to write the book because he was filled with self-doubt. Dr. Glover spent years trying to make it perfect but just didn’t feel it was good enough to be published. He felt like he wasn’t worthy to be an author. Eventually, he did publish the book with great success. He encouraged his listeners to press through their self-doubt and write their own story.

“This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.” Jon Acuff

When I heard those words, I thought of my favorite non-fiction author, Jon Acuff. In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, he talked about how most people give up on their goals when their performance isn’t perfect. He said, “This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.” Like Dr. Glover, Acuff was encouraging his readers to press on towards their goal, even if you feel your performance isn’t perfect. The ideas of these two authors in vastly different books combined to ignite a flame that was smoldering in me for years.

Telling My Story

I always felt I had a story to tell. I wanted to write a book but, like Dr. Glover, I felt unworthy. I have read so many powerful books on business and leadership from legends like Jim Collins, Stephen Covey, Marcus Buckingham, John Maxwell, Ram Charan, Margot Morrell, Robert Cialdini, Donald Miller, and Angela Duckworth. I wondered what I could add to the body of knowledge of business and leadership. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said already?

It occurred to me that my leadership experience was vastly different from most academics and business authors. I spent five years as a naval officer on a nuclear submarine and nearly 25 years leading industrial businesses in North America. I have led people with success in high stakes environments in both the military and business. In truth, I have a rather interesting perspective as a practitioner of leadership for almost three decades. My view of leadership is unique and I put my self-doubt aside and made it happen. I was going to add my voice to the thinking on leadership.

The Writing Experience

My experience in writing a book was nothing like what I expected. My vision of being sequestered in a cabin in Maine for months with my two Golden Retrievers lying next to me as I wrote eloquent stories about my past was unrealistic. As CEO of a manufacturing company, I couldn’t afford to take any time off so I wrote when I could. I wrote in the mornings, at lunch, on planes, in hotel rooms, and in the evenings. Anytime I had 10 minutes free, I wrote. I also discovered that writing is not a solitary act.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch

For me, writing a book was far outside of my comfort zone. As I began to research and understand what it takes to write a book, I ended up meeting and talking to a lot of great people, people who helped me along my writing journey.

Guiding Lights

In the past five months, I’ve had the honor to meet with five military veteran authors who have written books on business and leadership: Michael Erwin who co-authored Lead Yourself First, Marjorie Eastman who wrote The Frontline Generation, Rob Campbell who wrote It’s Personal, Not Personnel, Randy Nelson who wrote The Second Decision and The Third Decision, and Mitchell Boling who wrote Leadership: A View from the Middle. All of these authors gave me inspirational advice and encouraged me to write my own story.

I’ve also had a chance to work directly with business author and executive coach, John Brubaker, who has helped me understand the finer points of publishing and marketing a non-fiction book. Brubaker’s book, Stadium Status: Taking Your Business to the Big Time, is packed full of powerful ideas to set you apart and get you noticed. He also leads a group of leaders and entrepreneurs called Yesterday’s Underdogs which has been a great resource for me. John Brubaker wrote the forward to my first book of which I am tremendously grateful.

I also met Derek Lewis who coached me through the entire writing process. His book, The Business Book Bible, became my most trusted resource. Derek’s guidance helped me create a better and more interesting book. He also helped me make the decision to publish my first book this year and follow it up with another one next year.

The Result

After five months of writing, rewriting, editing, and re-editing, I am proud to announce that my first book is now available for preorder. I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following provides straight-forward, proven, and practical advice on how to become a better leader. Management Consultant and Executive Coach, Joshua Cotton, probably sums up the book best, “I Have the Watch cuts to the heart of the matter of leadership: it’s all about the people.”

I Have the Watch cuts to the heart of the matter of leadership: it’s all about the people.” Joshua Cotton

The bottom line is that writing a book was so much better than I expected. I stepped outside my comfort zone and learned a new skill set. In the process, I met many great authors and read several books in the process. I hope my book inspires you to be a better leader or to pick up your pen and tell your own story.

Preorder your copy today! I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

 

Leading Employees Who are Older and More Experienced

Leading employees who are older and more experienced can be a challenge but not if you master the art of engaging employees.

A Young Factory Manager

At 32 years old I was promoted to plant manager, although I had never run a manufacturing plant in my life. After I left the Navy, I spent five years working for ABB, a global engineering company, as a design engineer, a quality manager, and an engineering manager. I had never worked in manufacturing or production, yet my boss at the time felt that I had the leadership skills to take on the responsibility of leading an important manufacturing plant in our division.

Upon arriving at this manufacturing operation, I soon realized there was a lot to do. There were quality problems that needed to be fixed, cost challenges that needed to be addressed, and morale issues to be confronted. I was concerned I might be in over my head. I was the youngest manager this plant had ever had, and I didn’t want to fail.

What made it more intimidating was that the managers and workforce at this facility were all older and more experienced than I was. They knew far more than I did about how to run the plant. My challenge was to figure out how to lead this operation effectively while not knowing as much as my team.

The Age and Experience Gap

Many leaders find themselves in situations like this.  They’re surrounded by people who are older and more experienced after a promotion or a job change. It’s easy to become intimidated. Leading employees who are older and more experienced can be a challenge. Many leaders make the mistake of trying to appear knowledgeable, to fake it, but it doesn’t work on experienced employees.

The truth is that inexperienced leaders don’t need to have all the answers to be successful but they need to be excellent at working with their team. Fortunately, my past had prepared me well for leading in a situation like this. Even though I didn’t have extensive manufacturing knowledge, I had previously led people who were older and more experienced than I was during my time in the Navy.

Engaging Employees

As a young junior officer fresh out of submarine school, I was assigned the reactor controls department on the USS Tennessee, where I led a team of veteran sailors who were deeply talented and experienced. Despite my inexperience, I became an effective leader by learning, observing, listening, and engaging with my team. I took a humble approach and treated the skilled sailors with the respect they deserved. That prior experience prepared me well for my role as a 32-year-old plant manager.

Becoming an Effective Leader

Here are some of the things you can do to become an effective leader when you are young and inexperienced. They worked for me both in the Navy and at this manufacturing plant:

Listening. Probably the most important thing you need to do as a young or inexperienced leader is to listen to your team. Be curious. Listen to what’s working and what’s not. Ask good questions and engage your experienced employees in helping to find solutions.

Respect. It is extremely important to demonstrate respect for your new team. They will see you as an inexperienced leader so don’t pretend you’re an expert. It’s alright to ask questions and defer to their expertise to help solve problems in areas where you lack proficiency.

Seek feedback. Talk to key leaders and employees and seek feedback. If you have a potential solution to a problem, run it by some of the experienced people and listen to their comments. Ask your employees if this has been tried before? Has it worked or failed? What did the previous managers get wrong? How can you do it differently? Engage and seek feedback from your team and you will avoid the pitfalls of going headlong into an activity that’s doomed to fail.

Experiment. Try incremental actions and look at the results. I like to start small and observe the response of the team. Do they get excited about this new initiative? Is this something you can build on? Who were the naysayers? Who were the cheerleaders? Experimenting can help you discover what’s going to work and what isn’t.

Learn. Continue to be curious and seek knowledge. Read about the issues affecting your industry. Understand the norms and standards. Study the products and services you’re providing. Become knowledgeable in your new role. As your employees see you gain understanding, they’ll increase their respect for you.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is leading employees who are older and more experienced can be a challenge. You may be well outside your comfort zone, but that just means you need to be more engaged, active, and involved with your employees. Use these five actions to work with experienced employees to find the best way to improve the organization. Find out who your naysayers are, discover your cheerleaders, and uncover the opinion leaders in the group. Continue to grow and gain knowledge to earn respect. In the end, you’ll find you can be very successful even though you don’t have all the answers.

How about you? Have you had a similar experience? Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you did to overcome the age and experience gap.

Learn more in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

Stop Reading and Start Doing

Reading and research are great but they can also keep you from achieving your goals. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to just do it.

A Man of Action

Last week I had the chance to meet an amazing leader, Mike Erwin. If you don’t know Mike, you should. He’s the guy who started one of the most significant and impactful military veteran organization in history, Team RWB. That would be a life’s work for most leaders but not Mike. He used what he learned in creating Team RWB to launch another non-profit organization, The Positivity Project, which trains school children across the country in the importance of positive relationships and character traits. Both of these organizations have impacted the lives of thousands of people in significant ways.

Mike is a man of action. He’s not afraid to turn what he is learning into real, concrete results. He is willing to take the leap and get started knowing he doesn’t have all the answers. Mike understands that, at some point, you need to stop reading and start doing. He recognizes the best way to learn something is by actually doing it.

“We have a world of information at our fingertips. What we need is the wisdom to discern what to do with that information.” Mike Erwin

Taking Action on What you are Learning

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love to read. I believe that leaders should be life-long learners. I also prefer to listen to leadership books on Audible or business podcasts instead of music when I’m traveling. I’m constantly being exposed to new ways of thinking. But what you may not know is that I keep a commonplace notebook, a simple place where I keep all the things I’m learning and the various ideas I have. And, I love turning those ideas into action. Let me give you an example.

I’m currently reading Stadium Status: Taking Your Business to the Big Time by John Brubaker. This is an amazing book about the mindset it takes to grow your ideas into a movement. In one chapter, John talks about a successful approach he used during his time as a college lacrosse coach. He knew the importance of building a great team and the significance of recruiting, so he coined the phrase “Recruit Daily or Perish” or RDOP. John wrote these letters everywhere in his office and even had them printed on the back of his phone. He knew he had to reach out to at least 20 people every day to recruit players, boosters, and supporters of his program. I loved this concept so I wrote it down in my commonplace notebook but then I did something else, I took action.

Quick Wins

I adopted and adapted John’s approach to fit my needs. As a small business leader, the most important thing I need right now is growth and orders. So, I took RDOP and changed it to SDOP, “Sell Daily or Perish.” I added contacting 20 customers a day to my daily routine. In the past two weeks, I have connected with more than 200 people in my industry, looking for a way I can help them. As a result, I have become more sales-focused and my company gained more than $40,000 in new orders. Taking an idea it and turning into action yielded significant results.

“It takes more than coming up with some great ideas to succeed in life. The land of success is only full of doers.” – Edmond Mbiaka

Too often I see leaders who read and research but they never take action. They are overcome with the paralysis of analysis and the fear of the unknown. They think that, if they study an idea long enough, they will know exactly how to do it. The truth is, you will never know until you try. I prefer to take the Mike Erwin approach, to take what I am learning and create real, concrete results. I know I don’t have all the answers but I’m going to learn along the way.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Take the Leap

So, what are you studying right now? What is preventing you from turning that into action? Maybe it’s time take to the leap and get started even though you don’t have all the answers.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what projects you’re working on.


P.S. In his spare time, Mike Erwin also co-authored a book with Raymond Kethledge called Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude which is one of my favorite leadership books. It inspired me to write an article about leadership and solitude.