The Biggest Untapped Resource in Your Organization

What if I told you that you could find all the answers to the problems facing your business inside the four walls of your organization?

Business consultants know this – and it’s the first place they go to figure out how to advise their clients.

It’s also the first place I go to when I first take over a business.

Sadly, it’s the last place most bosses go.

Most managers fail to recognize that their greatest assets are the older, experienced employees in their organization.

These are the employees that have been in the trenches for decades. They have seen managers come and go, and they have observed what works and what doesn’t.

They have strong ideas and opinions about the business, but almost no one asks them for their thoughts.

In a world that celebrates youth, these employees often remain a silent, untapped resource.

When I come into a new business, these are the people I seek out. I ask them three specific questions.

  1. What’s working well here?
  2. What needs to be changed?
  3. If you were in my shoes, what would be the first thing you would do?

I have found that the answers to these questions usually center around two or three critical things that I need to address. Taking action on those few issues helps me build credibility with experienced employees. They see that I listened and took action on their concerns.

Sadly, too many managers think they already have all the answers, so they ignore the most experienced people on their teams. This mistake typically leads to bad decisions and frustrated employees.

Ignoring experienced employees typically leads to bad decisions and frustration. Click To Tweet

I prefer to seek out more seasoned employees for their wisdom and experience.

Mark Twain once said that “Good judgment is the result of experience.”

I would add that good judgment is also the result of listening to your most experienced people.

Good judgment is the result of listening to your most experienced people. Click To Tweet

I recently had Dr. Mike Simpson on the Deep Leadership podcast. At 48 years old, he was still running missions in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Forces. Most of his peers were in their twenties.

Older operators in the special forces are known as Grey Beards, and they looked up to for their wisdom and experience. Younger soldiers know that there is something special about the advice from a Grey Beard.

Bohdi Sanders reminds us that “Old warriors did not get old by accident; they got old by being wise, having the right knowledge, and being tough.”

The question to you is – who are the Grey Beards in your organization?

How can you tap into their wisdom and knowledge?

If you’re are interested in learning how I turned around a manufacturing plant by tapping into the experienced workforce, pick up a copy of my bestselling leadership book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.

[Photo by Ahmad Ossayli on Unsplash]

The Problem with Problems

There is nothing a submariner fears more than a fire. A fire on a submarine is one of the most dangerous things that could ever happen on board. Smoke can quickly fill compartments and asphyxiate sailors. The heat and flames can spread to weapons, volatile materials, and critical systems creating devastating damage. A fire can quickly destroy a submarine if not extinguished immediately. That’s why every submariner is a trained firefighter. We were trained to ignore our natural instincts to move away from the fire and, instead, run towards the fire to put it out while it’s still small.

Imagine my surprise when I entered corporate America and discovered a different mindset. When a problem occurred, most people moved away from it. Many didn’t want to get involved, some hoped the problem would just go away on its own, and a few avoided the issue all together just to protect their careers. What was worse was to see managers ignoring obvious problems in their organization because they were afraid to make a tough decision.

The problem with problems, however, is that they are like fires. They don’t stay small. If ignored and left alone to smolder they grow in size and can cause catastrophic damage to a business. These problems might include a product failure, a customer complaint, a supplier quality issue, a change in the market landscape, new technology, an employee situation, or any number of challenges that businesses face each day. These problems start off small but can grow if not addressed quickly.

As leaders, we have to ignore our natural instincts to move away from problems. Our employees are counting on us. They are looking to us to lead the effort to attack these issues with tenacity. How we respond to these challenges will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

There is a universal truth about problems and fires. The longer it takes to attack them, the larger they get. Almost every significant issue an organization faces was once a smaller problem that could have been resolved in the early stages.

What are the problems your organization is facing today? Are you running towards those challenges or away?

As leaders, we need to run towards the fire.

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

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.