Do You Want to Be a Great Leader? Ditch the Cape

What does it mean to be vulnerable as a leader?

At 32 years old, my company promoted me to plant manager even though I had never run a manufacturing operation in my life.

Upon arriving at this business, I 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 in the history of this plant, and I didn’t want to fail.

At this point in my career, I had subscribed to the notion that the leader had to have the stereotypical leadership traits – self-confidence, assertiveness, action-orientation, and the ability to inspire others, take risks, solve problems, and take charge.

I had the mistaken belief that the boss had to have all the answers.

I had the mistaken belief that the boss had to have all the answers. Click To Tweet

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.

Many leaders find themselves in the same position. They are surrounded by people who are older and more experienced after a promotion or a job change. It’s easy to become intimidated.

Many leaders make the mistake of trying to appear knowledgeable, to fake it, but it doesn’t work with experienced employees. They can see right through fake leaders.

Instead, I became an effective leader at this plant by taking a step back from the leadership stereotypes. I led by learning, observing, listening, and engaging with my team. I took a more humble approach. I asked questions and listened to ideas. I treated the experienced employees with respect and sought them out for advice.

What I soon discovered is there was power in vulnerability and authenticity.

There is power in vulnerability and authenticity. Click To Tweet

Contrary to popular belief, being vulnerable does not mean being weak. It means letting your guard down, being genuine, and avoiding the pretense that you know everything.

Brené Brown, the best-selling author of Dare to Lead, says that vulnerability is simply “engaging in life, being all in, dedicating yourself to something.”

A vulnerable leader does not feel the need to have all the answers. Instead, being vulnerable enables you to see the organization through the eyes of the people you lead. You seek out their ideas and input, and, as a result, employees are more involved and invested.

A vulnerable leader does not feel the need to have all the answers. Click To Tweet

When you stop pretending to be a superhero, you become more interesting, relatable, and effective as a leader.

You might not know this, but even Superman had to learn the power of vulnerability.

One of the early complaints about the “Man of Steel” as a superhero character was that he was too perfect. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound meant that he was pretty much unbeatable.

It was always an overwhelming mismatch between Superman and any of his enemies. There was never any tension and no question who would win. As a result, Superman became boring and predictable. So dull that writers had to introduce the concept of Kryptonite to give Superman’s villains a fighting chance.

Introducing Kryptonite allowed Superman to become vulnerable. As a result, his stories became more exciting and relatable to the audience. The outcome was no longer a foregone conclusion.

When we decide to be more vulnerable as leaders, we become more attractive as well. Our employees see us as someone who is open, relatable, and willing to listen to feedback. We become real and approachable.

I discussed the idea of vulnerability and authenticity with business coach Andrew Ryder on this week’s episode of the Deep Leadership podcast. Andrew has excellent insight on this topic. You can check it out here.

If you are interested in learning more about how I turned this plant around, check out my new book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.

 

Excellence Attracts Excellence

Last week the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and coaches were awarded their Super Bowl LV rings. Shortly after that, Tom Brady took to social media and posted a picture of himself wearing his seven Super Bowl rings.

Like most lifelong Patriots fans, I had mixed emotions seeing our former quarterback getting another ring. Sure, we were all happy for him and sad that he won the big game wearing another team’s jersey.

This weekend, I talked with my 24-year-old son about that picture. He had an excellent observation about Tom Brady that I hadn’t considered. Like me, my son is a lifelong Patriots fan. I mentioned how truly unique it was to see a player like Tom Brady go to another team and win a Super Bowl in his first year.

My son simply said, “excellence attracts excellence.” He reminded me of all the great players that joined the Buccaneers shortly after Brady announce he would be signing with the team. He also reminded me of how many notable players came to the Patriots over the years for that very reason.

Great players are attracted to great leaders Click To Tweet

The truth is that great players are attracted to great leaders. This is true for football and business.

If you think about it, football is a lot like business. Winning a Super Bowl or building a world-class business takes an entire team. One quarterback or leader can’t do it alone. So it only makes sense that you will be more effective as a team if you can attract and retain the best players.

In close to 30 years of business leadership, I have seen countless examples of great leaders attracting the best talent. For example, my first boss out of the Navy was an R&D manager who had several great engineers who had followed him to several different companies.

The same thing happened to me when I started my manufacturing company. I was shocked by the number of talented people who sent me their resumes with the intent to leave their safe, corporate jobs to be part of my small company. In fact, one employee turned down a job offer to join the Ford Motor Company as a design engineer so he could be part of our team.

Excellence attracts excellence, but the opposite is true as well.

Bad leaders repel great employees Click To Tweet

It’s not that bad leaders attract bad employees; it’s more like bad leaders repel great employees. A recent Gallup poll of more than one million U.S. workers concluded that the top reason people quit their jobs was because of a bad boss. More than 75% of employees who voluntarily left their jobs did it because of their boss.

Despite what you think of Tom Brady, he’s a winner. And he keeps winning because he attracts and retains talent.

If you want to have a winning organization, you need the best players as well. You will attract those players when people know you are a great leader. People want to work for someone they know that will treat them with respect, listen to their ideas, and help them become the best version of themselves.

If you want to become a better letter, you need to keep developing your leadership skills. One way to do that is by reading books like my bestselling new leadership book All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Photo credit – Tom Brady’s Twitter Feed]

A Sense of Belonging

Can you remember a time when you felt like you really belonged?

For me, it was the day I became a submariner.

During the pinning ceremony, the gold dolphin insignia was placed on my uniform signifying I was a qualified submarine officer. That insignia told the world I belonged to an exceptional group of people qualified in underwater warfare.

It was one of my proudest moments, and it’s an important identity I have kept my whole life.

So what about you? How do you feel when you really belong?

There something powerful about that feeling. It’s in our human nature to want to belong, to be part of a tribe. The problem is that this feeling is missing for so many people. Unfortunately, COVID has even made the situation worse. Young people, especially, are feeling increasingly disconnected.

It’s in our human nature to want to belong, to be part of a tribe. Click To Tweet

While we are connected more-and-more virtually, we are becoming disconnected both physically and emotionally.

Human connection was a primary topic in my conversation with Gabriel Klingman on my recent podcast episode. Gabriel was a manager at Starbucks for nearly a decade. One of the things he observed about young people is that they had a real “longing to belong.”

He also observed that, if you could create an environment where they felt like they were part of something special, it unleashed their potential as an employee. They became dedicated to what they did because there was a feeling of belonging.

He observed that belonging drove performance, especially with younger employees.

Creating a sense of belonging is an integral part of leadership. As you build your team, you need to consider if your employees feel like they belong to something special.

Have you created an environment where it’s special to be part of your tribe? Or is it just a job?

Work has the potential to be more than just a four-letter word. It can be where people can go, have friends, and strive together towards a common goal.

Work has the potential to be more than just a four-letter word. Click To Tweet

For some people, it might be the only place where they feel like they belong. They might have a troubled home life, but when they come to work, there’s stability. I know for me, my business feels more like a family than a company.

The question is, how can you create a culture of belonging within your team?

Creating a high-performance culture and a high-performing team requires a feeling of belonging and connection.

I challenge you today to think about how you can create a tribe with a true sense of belonging. It will help your employees reach their full potential and help you become a more effective leader.

Listen in to my whole discussion with Gabriel Klingman here.

I have the watch

 

P.S. I understand many who are reading this have bosses who don’t understand the value of people and relationships. For those of you with bosses like this, I am offering a new service. For just $10, I will anonymously mail a copy of my book, “I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following,” to your boss with a personal note. Click here and enter the discount code BOSS at checkout.