The Mission-Minded Leader

It Starts with the Mission

Great leaders are mission-minded. They are also great communicators. They understand the importance of clear, concise, and continuous communications with their teams. These leaders know how critical it is to get everyone rowing in the same direction. They appreciate the significance of getting people to recognize and carry out the organization’s mission.

So, why do most leaders forget to talk about their mission? Why are most mission statements ignored?

The problem is that most mission statements are typically long, complicated, and boring. They are written by committees and end up sitting in binders on dusty shelves or in cheap frames in the company’s lobby. Few have ever read them and even fewer can recite them. They’re completely irrelevant to the day-to-day operation of the business.

Mission-minded leaders know that when everyone knows the mission, there is cadence. When no one knows the mission, there is chaos.

But what if there was a better way? What if there was a simple method to embed the organization’s mission in everyday discussions? What if there was an easy way to get everyone on the same page?

This can be done and it’s easier than you think. Let me give you an example.

An Unforgettable Mission Statement

More than 20 years ago, my wife was a first-year teacher working at a small public school in Georgia. She had an amazing principal who was leading that school. The school had a mission to maximize the instruction time for each student. He wanted teachers to teach and not conduct other school business. He found a simple way to communicate his mission and it took just four words. In every meeting and interaction with his teachers, he simply said, “get up and teach.”

If teachers found themselves grading homework or working on lesson plans when the students were in the classroom, he wanted his words to remind them of what to do. He wanted them to put down their pens, get up out of their chairs, and teach students. Four simple words, “get up and teach,” was all he needed to communicate the mission.

What’s interesting is that all these years later, my wife still has those words echoing in her ears. Anytime she sits down in the classroom and she’s doing something other than teaching, her former leader’s words come to her. If she’s grading a paper or doing some administrative work, she hears his words, “get up and teach,” so she does. She puts down her pen, gets up, and she teaches because she knows that’s really what she’s there to do. These four simple words have stood the test of time. A mission statement she will never forget.

A Mission to be Different

This is something I have adopted in my business.

I run a manufacturing company called Peak Demand Inc. which I co-founded in 2016. We started this company because we believed that customers were tired of the existing suppliers in the industry. Lead times were long, prices were high, customer support was poor, and the buying process was complex. We wanted to change that. This was our mission.

We chose four simple words to communicate that mission. I remind employees daily that we are a “different kind of supplier.” Our mission is to provide something to the market that they can’t get from the other guys.

For example, other suppliers take 4-6 weeks to ship their product, we do it in 24 hours. Other suppliers have complex buying processes but you can order our products online and pay with a credit card if needed. If anything goes wrong in the field, the other guys make it hard to get it resolved. We have people on the phone 24 hours a day with the goal of getting the problem fixed as quickly as possible.

We’re different. We’re customer-driven, friendly, and we make things easy. When an issue comes up with a customer, I want my words echoing in the ears of my employees. When they start thinking like a big company, I want my words to remind them. I want them to choose a solution that would be different from the rest of the industry. I want them to be a “different kind of supplier.” It’s a quick and simple way to remind everyone of what the mission of our company is.

Internalizing the Mission

Great leaders are mission-minded. They are also great communicators. To be more effective as a leader, you need to communicate your mission daily. To do this, all you need is a simple, easy-to-remember way, to remind your employees of what’s important. Think about my wife, more than 20 years later, she is still reminded of those four simple words, get up and teach.” She’s still following them today even though she’s no longer part of that leader’s organization.

Great leaders are mission-minded. 

Make your mission statement so simple and so effective that when your employees hear it, they get it. They internalize it. It becomes part of who they are. If you do that, you’re going to build a mission-driven organization and be a much more effective leader.

Can you communicate your mission in just four words? Will your team remember it 20 years from now?  Mission-minded leaders answer yes to both these questions.

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

[Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Edward Guttierrez III/Released]

10 Tips for Rookie Leaders. What to do in the First 100 Days

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a brand new leader, every time you take on a new leadership role, you are the rookie. You are the “newbie” and everyone will be watching you. One of the most important things I have learned in more than 25 years serving in various leadership roles is that the first 100 days are critically important. This is when the new leader sets the tone for how the organization will be run under their leadership.

There is only a small window of time when you have the full attention of the workforce so your actions need to be carefully considered. You are under a microscope and everyone is closely observing your every action. Everything you do is seen. Everything you say is dissected and discussed. People notice where you go and even what you look at.

This is good news! It means you have an opportunity to make a massive impact if you take advantage of all the attention on you in these early days.

Here are 10 activities to consider in your first 100 days in a new leadership role:

 Let your team know who you are. Every time a new leader is assigned to a team there will be anticipation. People will have concerns and expectations. It’s important to have a meeting with all team members to fully introduce yourself. Use stories and examples to let them see your character.

Get out of your office and be visible. Spend time where your people are. Actively listen to their questions, concerns and ideas. Be open and engage them on the subjects they care about. Get to know them by asking open ended questions. Let them get to know you as well.

“See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.” Bill Marriott

Meet with key employees. Don’t assume you understand the problems and challenges facing your team. I like to have one-on-one meetings with as many people as I can. I want to know the biggest challenges and most important issues facing the organization. I also want to understand what needs to be addressed first.

Set expectations early. People want to know what you stand for. Communicate your expectations as soon as you can. Let them know what is important to you as a leader. I typically send a list of my top 10 expectations to my team in the first few weeks so they know what I expect and they don’t have to guess.

Set an example. Your minimum behaviors will be your team’s maximum performance. If you expect people to be on time, you need to be on time. If you expect managers to get out of their offices, you need to be out of your office. If you expect people to wear their safety equipment, you need to wear your safety equipment. It’s simple. Just as children follow a parent’s lead, your team will take cues from you.

Signal your priorities. What’s important to you will be seen by your team. If you spend the first two hours of each day on your computer and not with your team, they will see that. They will assume they are not as important as your e-mail. If you concern yourself with only the inventory numbers and not the on-time delivery results, they will think you don’t care about customers.

Create a buzz. Take advantage of the early attention you have and do something to get everyone talking. Make it extreme so the message is clear. This is something I like to do. In one manufacturing plant, I had the maintenance team paint over all the signs for the reserved parking spaces for managers, including mine. The message was simple, there is no special treatment for managers. We are in this together.

Communicate with employees regularly. During a leadership transition, employees will want to know what’s going on. Will there be any organization changes? What are your initial observations? How are things going? It’s good to send a weekly e-mail to your team to let them know what you are seeing and what they can expect. In the absence of good communications, there will be worry, speculation and rumors.

Create the mood. We all know attitude is contagious. Regardless of how you feel, you need to be upbeat and optimistic around your team. You still need to be empathetic when you have serious issues to deal with, but if you are consistently upbeat and in good spirits, the team will demonstrate the same behaviors. In the same respect, if you are quiet, unresponsive, angry, abrasive or sarcastic, the life will quickly get sucked out of your team. Think about what mood you are conveying every time you are with employees.

“You are the leader and the troops will reflect your emotions.” Colin Powell

Cast a vision. At the end of the first 100 days, your team’s strengths and weaknesses will be clear. You will also understand the opportunities and threats. The goal now is to communicate a clear vision for the future. Consider where you want to go and how to get there. Communicate this vision to your team in a way that is clear and concise.

Leadership in the first 100 days is an exciting time. You are under a microscope which means you have an opportunity to make a huge impact if you take advantage of all the attention on you. Setting the tone early is critical. All eyes are on you as the new leader, so make it count. Create a buzz, set an example, show your priorities, establish the mood and be present. You also need to communicate regularly to keep people informed. These activities will let your team know what kind of leader you are and what your expectations will be. This will help you down the line when you need to work as a team to address the tough issues.

A great book to read if you are just starting out in leadership is Percy Barnevik on Leadership by Percy Barnevik. He was my first CEO and an extremely dynamic leader. This book is filled with important leadership topics written in short snippets, in a topical fashion.

The Gift of Being Present

Our pastor told a great story last week. He shared his experience having meetings with people and their cell phones. He said the placement of the cell phone in the meeting would determine the interaction. If the person he was meeting with put their cell phone on the table face up, he would have 25% of their attention. If the cell phone was face down, he would have 50%. If the phone was in their pocket, he would have 75% of their focus. But, if the person he was meeting with left their cell phone in their car, he would have their full attention.

This story would be funny if it wasn’t so true. We all know those people who can’t engage in a full conversation if their phone is nearby. What’s worse is when you have a boss that can’t be bothered to focus on you. Unfortunately, there are too many managers today that are too busy or distracted to listen to their employees.

While it’s important that leaders find time to be alone, they must also engage with their employees. Open door policies are good but not if you can’t stop your work long enough to listen to an employee. Distracted and disengaged leaders create distracted and disengaged employees. And that’s bad for business.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. This means that a vast majority of employees are indifferent to your organization. They come to work but they don’t give you their best efforts or ideas. What’s sad is that most people go to work wanting to make a difference, but years of being ignored by leaders have left them apathetic. They feel their company just doesn’t care.

So what are some ways to be more present as a leader?

Stop what you are doing and listen. The most important thing to do is to stop and actively listen to your employees. This sounds easy, but it’s not. Many leaders try to multi-task. They keep writing an email or reading a report while an employee is talking and they don’t fully engage. This leaves the employee feeling they are insignificant. A better method is to ask the employee to have a seat, finish your task and then fully listen.

“Only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear.” – Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Get out of your office. Most leaders spend their day surrounded by people who see the company as they do. Getting out of your office and spending time listening to employees will give you a different perspective. You will discover how things are really going. Employees can be brutally honest, which is why many leaders avoid this activity. If you are going to lead effectively, you need to be present and listen to the challenges facing your team.

“Leaders must be good listeners. It’s rule number one, and it’s the most powerful thing they can do to build trusted relationships.” ― Lee Ellis, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Get to know your people. When leaders and employees spend time together, they become more aware that they are on the same team. It’s easy to blame someone you don’t know or understand, for your problems. Listening to employees can help eliminate the “us and them” mindset. When you do that, you can better focus your attention on customers, the competition and getting better as a company.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life

Put your phone away. One of the best ways to be present is to simply put your cell phone away when you are around your team members. There will always be time to check your messages. If you eliminate the distraction of your phone, you can give employees your full attention. In return, they will feel important and you will gain better insights.

A vast majority of employees are disengaged at work. Years of being ignored by leaders have left them dispirited and frustrated. They feel their company doesn’t care. Distracted and disengaged leaders help foster this culture. You can turn this around by seeking a different path. Choose to be present. Decide to make listening to and engaging your employees a priority. Put away your phone and get to know your most important asset, your team.

A book I read a few years back, The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson, does an amazing job illustrating this important topic in an easy to read, parable format. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about being more present.