Leaders Expect High Standards

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Each organization in an institution or company has a job to do: Leaders exist to execute their jobs in support of their company’s objectives. That means, internal to an organization, leaders should support their bosses and their institutional goals. My experience is that people rise to the leaders’ expectations. Set high standards and hold people to them, and people will meet them almost every time (conversely, if you set low standards…). Standards must be uniform; everyone knows how counter-productive “teacher’s pets” can be. Everyone wants to be successful and wants to feel that sense of accomplishment.

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Photo credit: Washington Post

Expecting high standards is more than merely setting high sales goals or demanding perfection in quality. It means that leaders expect and demonstrate high personal and professional standards in the conduct of their lives and business. I don’t mean we create a “Stepford company” of robotic overachievers, but we do expect that ethical behavior at work means that we have ethical behavior in our private lives. We serve our cause, or institution, and each other best when this is the case. Entrepreneur and co-founder of Medical Imaging Company, combat veteran, and former A-10 pilot David Specht once shared his theory about why people fail that I think is very astute: “If someone fails, they usually fail for one of three reasons: either they weren’t trained, they weren’t resourced, or they weren’t led.” Dave’s view is one I agree with, and it illustrates the responsibility for the leader to lead his team by investing himself in the team’s success. If there is failure, the leader usually has himself to blame, at least initially.

Apart from George Bailey’s uncle in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s a rare case indeed where the failure of an employee is solely responsible for an organization’s failure. However, even if it’s the sole employee’s fault for a failure, it’s the leader’s responsibility to get the task accomplished. An effective leader accepts responsibility for the failure of the task and diverts praise for success to their teammates and subordinates. It’s very unseemly for a leader to try to blame others for the failure of the team, just as it’s a morale killer for the team when the leader tries to take the glory for the success. The leader in those cases isn’t fooling anyone; everyone knows success is a team effort, and the leader is ultimately accountable for failure. Trying to divert attention only lowers the leader in the esteem of others.

“Leading Leaders” Book Preview: Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

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In life and in business neatness counts, and attention to detail is important.  Its both an indicator of the quality of the work the team is doing, and the quality of the team members themselves. In any case, the leader can tell a lot by the little things, and little things that may require his attention. Work area cleanliness is sometimes a good indicator whether the staff is organized and motivated. When you walk into a place of business or an office of some sort, no matter what your personality type, you make judgments about the effectiveness and productivity of an organization by what the area looks like. Of course there are the practical considerations of health and safety, but teammates and customers are certainly judging you by your workspace! A personal story about workplace cleanliness comes to mind. 

Back in the 1990’s (when computers were much simpler), I did a lot of the work on my own machine, fixing problems and upgrading the hardware was a hobby. Occasionally, there would be a problem I couldn’t fix myself, so I had to go to a professional to make the repairs. I was always looking for a bargain repair shop as opposed to taking my machine to one of the “big box” electronic stores for the repairs, which in those days meant small one or two person repair shops. I found a small shop that was recommended by a friend, and walked in with my home-built 386sx computer. The shop was a mess, with computers in various states of disassembly amid papers, coke cans, chip bags, electronic components, and empty boxes. There was no one at the unfinished wooden counter, so I waited for a moment to see if I’d be helped.

I was about to leave the shop when the young man working there that day came around the corner and beckoned me back to the counter. Reluctantly, I placed my machine on the counter and explained what was wrong, he looked at me with little interest, then handed me a form to fill out. At the bottom of the form was a damage waiver.  “What’s this for?” I asked. The bored young man replied that it was a “standard form” and that it covered the company in case they did cosmetic damage to my computer while it was in their shop. “Like what?” I asked. “Oh, like scratches or dents to the case,” he added hastily, “but that never happens,” I looked around the shop again. It was a disaster area. Making up my mind quickly, I said, “Uh, I don’t think so,” then gathered my machine up and left. 

Would the shop personnel have taken care of my property? Perhaps. Maybe it was just a bad day in the shop, maybe the young man who waited on me was tired or had some other personal issue that prevented him from being more customer oriented. The net result of all those “little things” however, was that in the space of just a few minutes I had lost confidence that this shop was capable or qualified. In fact, I was pretty sure they were going to give my computer back to me with scratches and dents. They lost my business because of the little things. Additionally, they not only lost my business, they also lost the business of all the people to whom I subsequently relayed the story. It had nothing to do with their actual professional or technical ability, training, or certifications. It didn’t matter to me that they were not the most expensive shop in town or came highly recommended by peers.

My negative opinion was based on a single employee and a single policy for the potential that my property would not be respected.  Is that unreasonable?  Was I applying “military” appearance standards inappropriately?  Maybe, but my experience taught me that when a person is unwilling to do the little things like keeping their work area in order, they were probably unwilling to take care in other facets of their work.  The “standard form” just put an exclamation point on the matter for me.

Learning to Let People Lead, and Sometimes Fail, Develops Leaders

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Leaders have to grow their company’s future leaders, because even those with natural leadership ability need training and mentoring. This means that branch managers, assistant managers, team leaders, project managers, etc., have to deliberately develop their teammates’ and employees’ leadership skills by giving them opportunities to lead and then letting them.

Give people the opportunity to excel, given them the tools to be successful, and then guide them to success.  This idea of setting people up for success and then getting out of the way means that leaders have to be willing to allow their mentees to fail.  Sometimes the personal and professional growth from a failure is greater than from success

Tom Landry, Air Force Officer and Dallas Cowboys Head Coach on Leadership

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Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, right, shares a shovel with coach Tom Landry at the ground breaking of the Cowboys practice facility in Irving, Tex., In this Nov. 30, 1983 file photo. (AP Photo/File) 

One of my heroes, the late Tom Landry, former Dallas Cowboys’ head coach, once said, the art of leadership is “to get people to do what they don’t want to do to achieve what they want to achieve.”

What Coach Landry understood was that the basic leadership dilemma: how to motivate people to accomplish some task, or mission, and to do that in such a way that they get some value out of the deal.  That requires leaders who can move people without breaking them in the process.

An effective leader has integrity and models it.  He respects his boss, the institution, and his subordinates.  He exercises the authority his organization had vested in him, stepping up to lead.  He requires teamwork, and actively seeks out teammates.  And he knows that little things matter, and add up to big things.

Leading Leaders Book Preview: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

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My upcoming book, Leading Leaders, is filled with stories about leaders and personal stories from my own life since leadership is inherently a personal experience. Leadership is not the application of skills as much as it’s the focused attention on human interaction. Humans are complex beings that are the amalgamation of their own experiences, learned and innate behaviors, and the situations leaders and teams find themselves in over the course of the job at hand. We can learn a lot from our own experiences, and others’, so long as we’re open to the lesson. That’s the real secret of effective leaders: they care enough about the team and the job at hand to invest themselves in the effort.  Leaders have to be present and engaged.  No effective leader ever “phones it in.”

A great story to illustrate my point: I once accompanied an Army 2-star general to the signing ceremony of an agreement on enhancing military spouse employment between four military bases in the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  It was a typical ceremonial military function, with local officials, base officials from two military Services, and a host of military spouses.  As the Army major general made his way through the crowded corridor, staff in tow, toward the ball room to get ready to start the event, he found himself shaking hands with a volunteer who was also the wife of one of his deployed soldiers.   The general could have shaken her hand, smiled perfunctorily, and moved on.  No one would have blamed him, since he commanded thousands of soldiers and certainly had a full schedule.

But that’s not what he did.

He stopped and gave that young woman his full attention.  He asked her how she was doing with specific questions, and after listening to her intently, assured her of his support by making certain his aide had her name and her husband’s unit.  I have no doubt that he checked on her and her husband later, probably personally.  It made a huge impression on me to see such focus and presence by a senior leader!

That’s presence…that’s leadership…and it’s applicable to leadership in any situation.

Looking for Reviewers…

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Are you interested in reviewing Leading Leaders, or the second editions of For God and Country or Saturday Morning Catechism? Would you like Editingto have your “blurb” published in the book? If so, please comment below (and include your email address) or email me directly!!

At present, I’m working with Blue Mantle Publishing (thanks Maria!) and expect Leading Leaders to be published this March or April.  Of course if a large publisher decides to take me on those timelines could change!  The second editions of  For God and Country and Saturday Morning Catechism will be released by October of this year.

Thanks in advance!

Seeking Feedback on Book Title

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Start Here is the working title for my third book about leadership…and I’m thinking about Leading Leaders as the title I’ll publish.  I’d love to get feedback, any thoughts?

The primary target audience is leaders who lead groups that have subordinate leaders, but the principles are applicable to any size team or company.

First Two Books Still Available

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The first two books by Mickey Addison are now available online in the Lulu Marketplace, for the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader, and on iTunes here and here.

 For God and Country: Saturday Morning Notes for a Monday Morning World is a collection of short articles and essays covering contemporary topics for American Catholics. This book comes from a personal experience of the Catholic Faith with simple explanations of the basics of the faith. Commandments to Sacraments, precepts to politics, this book is a useful resource for Catholics seeking to live out their faith in the world, without being swallowed by it.

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Saturday Morning Catechism, a companion to For God and Country, is a collection of short articles for the parish catechist, or just for someone seeking a little information about what Catholics believe. Easy to digest explanations in plain language, this book is a terrific resource for study groups, RCIA, Bible Study, or even the casual reader.