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.

Earn your Oxygen: A Sea Story

Great leaders know a team of qualified employees is hard to beat. They establish a culture of competency where new employees feel positive peer pressure to work hard to earn their spot in the team.

Saturday at Sea

It was Saturday night on my second patrol on the USS Tennessee and I headed up to the wardroom for supper. Saturday night was always special on a deployed nuclear submarine at sea. It was pizza night. It was a time to shake up the normal meal rotation and enjoy some tastes of home. The crew cherished pizza night. It meant another week had passed and we were one more week closer to home. I loved the tradition of pizza night, although if I’m honest, the pizza was never all that good. Still, it was nice to kick back and enjoy a casual meal with my fellow officers.

For the officers in the wardroom, Saturday night almost always included a movie and a poker game as well. It was a chance to relax and burn off some steam after a long week. Everyone enjoyed Saturday nights on patrol. That is, of course, if you were qualified and I wasn’t there yet. It takes about a year to complete the submarine qualification process and earn your Dolphins as a new officer and I was almost finished. But, almost doesn’t mean anything to a qualified submariner.

When the meal was over, I quietly listened as the officers with embroidered Dolphins on their chest debated which movie they would watch. I listened enviously to their discussion. There were great movies on board and I would have loved the chance to escape submarine life for a few hours. But, that wasn’t going to happen. Not now.

“Life is Simple: You’re Either Qualified or You’re Not” Anonymous Submariner

It’s not Easy Being a NUB

“What are you looking at NUB? Go get some signatures on your ‘qual card’ if you want to watch a movie.” There it was. I wasn’t qualified and they let me know it. It was clear I wasn’t yet a contributing member of the crew. I was a NUB. A NUB is a Non-Useful Body, a colorful term used on a submarine to denote a new officer or sailor recently out of school and not yet qualified. It’s used to keep positive peer pressure on unqualified crew members so they will work hard on their qualifications. On a submarine, life was simple, you were either qualified or you weren’t. And, without Dolphins, I was just a NUB. I wasn’t yet carrying my load which meant I was taking food and oxygen from other qualified crew members who had earned it.

To a qualified submariner, a NUB is an annoyance at best and a liability at worst. It wasn’t a lot of fun being a NUB.

The truth is, peer pressure on the boat worked. It was effective on me and everyone else who had ever been in my shoes. We all wanted to belong. We all wanted to carry our load and we certainly didn’t want to be a liability. So, despite being tired, annoyed, and sometimes overwhelmed with the process, we trudged on. We worked hard to finish our qualifications. We worked hard to join the ranks of the qualified.

Earning my Oxygen

With my notebook, a cup of black coffee, and my dog-eared qualification card, I headed down to the torpedo room to work on my torpedo systems qualifications. That night I spent close to six hours in the torpedo room and got all the signatures needed to complete my torpedo systems qualification. The sailors there were quick to teach me everything I needed to know. They showed me the location of key valves, how the torpedo display worked, and we reviewed all the various torpedo casualties. It was a long night but, while the other officers watched movies and played cards, I got one more step closer to getting qualified and earning my oxygen. And, all in all, it was a pretty good night.

“Great leaders know a team of qualified employees is hard to beat.” Jon Rennie

Enduring Lessons

The Navy taught me valuable lessons about getting qualified. I learned how uncomfortable it was to be unqualified, how I felt like an outcast, not yet part of the family. I felt the shame of not being able to stand watch and pull my own weight. But, I also saw how that pressure drove me to work hard to get qualified, to gain the knowledge and experience to become an effective submariner.

While the Navy took positive peer pressure to an extreme, there are some important lessons that can be applied to any organization. First, the goal of any leader is to build a team of experienced and competent employees. A team of qualified employees is hard to beat. Second, new employees should be given a path to “qualification.” They need to clearly understand what is expected of them to become part of the team. Finally, like the submarine Dolphins, there should be a symbol that shows an employee is qualified. Companies like Lowe’s Home Improvement, for example, make new employees complete all their training before they “earn” their red vest. The red vest is worn with pride symbolizing a qualified member of the team.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think. Does your organization have a qualification process? Is it effective?

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber

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