Why Do You Want to Be a Leader?

There are three questions you should ask before taking any leadership Job.

A Leadership Crisis

There is a crisis in America. There is a shortage of good leaders, and it seems to be getting worse. The problem is people are choosing leadership for the wrong reasons. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is changing how people think about introverts. While she is widely known for her writings on this subject, it’s her thoughts on leadership that got my attention. In a New York Times article called “Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers,” she explains that in America today we have “glorified” leadership. So much so that people are taking on leadership roles for the wrong reasons. They are choosing to become leaders to get recognition, more money, or to help advance their careers. She explains:

Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of “leadership skills” is the practice of leadership itself – it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches [people] to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound.

Choosing to Lead for the Right Reasons

While the focus of her article is to point out the importance of those who don’t choose a leadership path, she indirectly uncovers the crisis in the current state of leadership. There is a shortage of good leaders. People are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons, which is why there are so many poor leaders.

If you want to be a leader, the first question you should ask yourself is why? Why do you want to be a leader? If you are choosing this role for the paycheck, the title, the prestige, the power, or the trappings of the position, you are going to be sadly disappointed. Leadership is difficult. Being responsible for motivating a group of people to accomplish a goal isn’t something you choose to do without careful consideration.

Three Questions

Let me suggest three questions to ask yourself:

Do you have a passion for leadership? Just like selecting any career, ask yourself if you have the passion to lead. To be a leader means you have the full responsibility of an organization and all the people associated with it. It means you will be accountable for everything that happens on your watch. It is a difficult and sometimes lonely job that demands a 24/7 commitment. Ask yourself if you have the passion and desire to be a great leader.

Do you care deeply about the idea or organization? As the leader, all eyes will be on you. Your attitudes toward the mission will reverberate throughout the organization. As a conductor, your team will be taking cues from you. If you care deeply about the organization’s mission, they will as well. If you are half-hearted, they will be too. Ask yourself if you care deeply about the idea or organization you will lead.

Do you love people? The one thing I see most in poor leaders is their negative attitude towards people. Leadership is a people business. Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. Unfortunately, many people who don’t like people choose leadership. I understand. People are messy. They have issues, problems, emotions, relationships, and baggage. But your job is to see past the flaws, love your people, and motivate them to do great things. You can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

Consider your “Why?”

As Susan Cain points out, people are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons. The result is a hollowed-out, empty version of leadership that’s not good for people or organizations. Leadership, like any other profession, requires a specific set of skills. If you don’t have them, you shouldn’t pursue a leadership path.

Ask yourself these questions and determine if you have a passion to lead. Find out if you care deeply about the mission. Understand your view of people and what it takes to lead them. If you choose to lead, be a great leader. Honestly, we need better, not more, leaders.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

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.