5 Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization

Ask any person walking with a cell phone who Steve Jobs is and they’ll tell you.  They wait in line for hours to buy the next IPhone.  They hear smartphone and IPhone is the image that comes to mind.  Steve Jobs left the world with a product that is now a part of every day life.  

Most people are aware of his innovative approach to technology, business and how he made people better.  I find Steve Jobs to be one of those most influential, inspiring and innovative people in this generation.  I have listened to Steve Job’s Crazy Ones speech at least 500 times.  It gives me purpose.  It inspires me.  It opens possibilities that we are all better than we allow ourselves to be.  

As a leadership enthusiast, I want to point out some of my favorite quotes from Jobs that have inspired me to be a better leader.  We need to understand that Steve wasn’t just a brilliant innovator, but he was also a leader.  

“What leadership is is having a vision and being able to articulate that so that the people around you can understand it.” – Steve Jobs

If anyone is going to make that first step into leading, they MUST have vision.  Leaders must know where they’re taking their team.  Leading people implies we are going somewhere.  Leading implies we have a goal/objective to accomplish.  Leaders must create a vision to accomplish that goal.  Call it a plan, a path, an idea, but communicate it in such a way that your team can see what you see.  Communicate that vision clearly, concise and easy enough for their followers/team to understand. It’s one thing to know, it’s another to understand.  When we understand things, we get the full spectrum of what it is we’re about to do.  Thus, a leader must paint a vision so that their team can see it too.  

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders invest in people.  That’s what they do naturally.  They make people better.  Steve Jobs nails it.  A leader’s job isn’t to be easy on people, it’s to make them better.  If we’re going to invest in people, let’s make it count for them.  A leader must be honest with their team.  If a team member needs a wake up call, hold them accountable to the values and standards that are set in place.  It’s a leader’s job to coach, mentor and guide their team members to not only be better, but do better and know better.  Don’t forget that a leader focuses on people.  They are in a way, our soul purpose for being a leader.  We don’t just want to make them better, but also want to make them leaders.  

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders want to know that what they’re doing is working.  They want to know that their leadership is effective.  They want to know that their vision is being carried out and that progress is being made.  There is only one way to check how you and your team is doing and that’s by stopping to assess where the team is and how they have been performing.  You can’t look forward to see that, you must look behind you to see how far the team has gone.  Looking back provides an opportunity to grow from your experience, the failure, the perseverance, the challenges you’ve faced and so on. It’s important that we look back to connect the dots, but don’t forget that more dots need to be made.  Don’t focus too much on the past, but look to the future.  Leading is about where we’re going, but we must learn and progress from where we’ve been.  

“Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs

Think from the follower’s perspective.  Followers want amazing leaders leading them. Leaders must be that quality that followers are looking for.  I’ll say this in the nicest way, but followers don’t need a half-ass leader.  They need someone who is of the utmost quality.  The quality of the leaders depends on the follower’s development, progress and effectiveness.  Leaders will always have a high standards of excellence for their team and their work environment.  A leader cares about how things are done.  They expect high quality results.  They expect high quality performance.  As a follower, be selective on who you follow.  Who you follow is not only important for the objectives and goals, but also important for the followers.  A leader will raise the bar for the benefit of their followers. They see your potential and will ensure that you are growing to meet it. 

“Innovation distinguishes between and leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs 

This may be one of those most recognized quotes from Steve Jobs.  Some people have yet to understand the correlation between innovation and leadership, but it’s quite simple.  Innovation isn’t just an action, but being innovative is seeing outside the box.  Like innovators, leaders also see outside the box. Leadership and innovation are actions of a decision to not accept the normality of how people and products are grown. Leaders see around corners in ways that others don’t see.  They are strategic, they are creative, they are risk takers and they certainly don’t fear failure. It’s very important for leaders to see things in ways other people don’t.  A leader isn’t a leader because they have all the answers; a leader is a leader because if they don’t know an answer, they find or create their own solution to any challenge or issue. 

5 Benefits of being Organized

Leadership, Organization

I posted recently 6 Ways to Stay Organized as a Leader.  This week I wanted to follow up with benefits of being organized and how it can actually produce great results.

Less stress. I want you to think about stress as if it’s weight that you carry and every time something stresses you, you add more weight to carry.  How much stress could you carry before you’re unable to walk, to move, to care for yourself and those around you, including your children?  Now think about everything you need to do, but you’re not tracking it except in your mind and every time you add something to your ‘to do list’ your eyesight becomes blurred.  The more you add, the less you see.  It would be hard to accomplish your tasks/lists without seeing.  So why not begin a path of being less stressed?

Being organized in not only the areas you work, but in your home can help you relieve that stress and when your stress is eliminated, good things begin to happen.   Creating an organization process, or ways to be organized can help you move forward in your agenda/goals.  Don’t let stress control you. 

Stress management is life management.  If you take control of your stress, your life will thank you for it. – Shereka Dunston

Time. Let’s say you have a huge list of things to do at work today.  You prioritize, you break down what’s needed to accomplish your list and you schedule time appropriately according to how long each task will take. Your plan is written down and you’re ready to go.  You have the vision now you have to put it into action.  You begin to cross off items on your list.  You then mark off the last thing on your list and guess what, you have 2 hours(example) before the work day is over.  YES!  You SAVED time!  Organizing your workload realistically can save you time depending on the projects/tasks you have to do. I mean, results will vary, but nonetheless, the better you plan the more time you can save.  Now the question is, what are you going to do with your extra time? Save time by being organized.  Plan well and maybe that minute organizing can save you an hour…or at least a few more minutes.  

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.”  – Benjamin Franklin

Productivity.  When I organize my day and actually stick to it I get more things done.  That’s right!  Planning will open up the door to productivity.  When we create agendas for the day on what needs to be done we’re more likely to stick to it, thus doing more.  Time is lost when we spend it looking for things, getting distracted, not knowing what to do next and forgetting things you should have done.  We become reactive instead of proactive.  Be prepared so that things get done.  Planning provides the opportunity to maximize your potential and to prove to your leadership how hard of a worker you are. It paves the way for success. 

Productivity is never an accident.  It is always the result of commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort. – Paul J. Meyer

Energy. There are many areas in our life that could be planned better.  The greatest thing about organizing one area is that it’s contagious and you’ll want to organize other areas.  I recently began planning my work week and I found it to be refreshing to know what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.  It felt great.  I also began standing at work while at my desk instead of sitting.  This has motivated me to organize more at home as well.  I’m not really trying to micromanage every aspect of my life, but being organized makes everything better.  I feel energetic as if I’m in control.  I don’t feel stressed and I feel accomplished when I go to bed.  I love coffee!  Coffee gets me going, but when I’m on a roll of getting things done, I don’t even think about drinking coffee.  I get a natural boost of energy.  I have more energy and since I have more energy I control the day.  

Either you run the day or the day runs you. – Jim Rohn

Creativity. There are many ways to be creative and there are many ways that prevent creativity.  Being disorganized can be an element that prevents creativity.  Creativity takes time and if we don’t have time it is very difficult to spark ideas.  This is why being organized is important to our ability to be creative.  When we organize, we gain time which in turn gives us the opportunity to be creative.  Another reason we are less creative is that we get distracted by the objects around us.  Having a clear work space is like having a clear mind.  It gives you room to think, breathe and create fresh ideas.  Don’t let the clutter of objects, tasks and time be the preventing factor in your ability to create. 

Everyone has creativity in them. It’s just a matter of unlocking that creativity. – Christina Canters

7 Ways to Foster an Open Door Policy

Leadership, Organization, Tips, Tricks

Communication is one if not the most important part of being in a team and or being a leader/supervisor.  You’ve probably heard dozens of times from your new boss or your supervisor that they have an open door policy.  An open door literally and metaphorically.  What that means is that their door is open for you to openly communicate about ideas, problems, information, etc.  It’s a simple idea and a very important avenue for bringing up issues as well as solutions among other things.  Sometimes it may just be to make small talk.  That three minute discussion on the weather is more important than you may realize.  How often is the phrase I have an open door policy really used to its greatest potential?  I am a firm believer in solving issues at the lowest level possible, but there may be certain cases where the leader/supervisor must be in the know on what’s going on.  In the specific cases of needing to speak to your leader/supervisor anyone should and must feel safe approaching their leadership to discuss matters.  In reality, issues or no issues, everyone should feel comfortable approaching their leadership.  Here are a few ways you, as a leader, can remove the hinges from the door and encourage, build and provide a place for open communication. 

Small talk – If the door was never opened you will need to create the culture in which your team knows they can come speak with you.  In order to build an environment for open communication you must initiate in some way the idea that talking is good for the team.  Making small talk builds the comfort level so that everyone is comfortable talking.  As a leader, engaging first is important.  Topics can be anything.  Sports, whether, news, movies, etc.  This shows your team that talking with leadership can be quite normal.  Often, team members feel as if talking with their leaders is foreign and unnatural.  Which is usually a sign of a disconnection between leaders and their teams.  If you’re building an open door relationship everyone must feel welcome and it must become a normal feeling.  Build that trust and comfort level with small talk.

Put the nerf gun away – Plain and simple.  Don’t shoot the messenger.  If people are fearful of your reaction to them bringing you information they’ll never want to speak to you when critical issues come up.  Allow them to say what they need to say without putting blame on the person bringing you the newspaper.  The purpose of an open door is to foster and encourage your team members to come to you.  Put the nerf gun away, you won’t need it. 

You have two ears and one mouth – I heard this in a church sermon once.  You have two ears and one mouth. You should listen twice as much as you speak.  If someone is approaching you with any dilemma, you should first listen.  Listen intently and with your utmost attention.  Perhaps the occasion doesn’t require a lengthy response.  It may just require your blessing with a simple, yes or no.  Whatever the case, listen first without distraction.  Turn to the person speaking whether you’re standing up or sitting down so that they know they have your attention.  Put down the electronic devices, perhaps even turn off your computer screen to avoid looking at it.  In any instance, listen. 

Everyone’s time is valuable – It is difficult to have an open door open every minute of every day.  You certainly want open communication, but at the same time you don’t need to be interrupted a hundred times a day.  In this case, leave the door open anyway.  Let’s face it, as a supervisor and leader of a team, your time matters just as theirs does.  You will be busy and there may be times when you may not have a moment to stop what you’re doing.  In this case, if you are busy and you can’t provide your undivided attention set up a time that allows enough time for discussion.  Don’t just tell the person no, or you can’t talk, but explain to them why you can’t talk that moment and that it’s not because you don’t want to.  Setting specific open hours dedicated to listening to your team may be something you have to do.  It’s okay to do that.  It will give your team members time to form their thoughts so they can bring it to you in an organized manner.

Empower your team – It’s probable that not ever problem needs immediate elevation to the leader or supervisor.  Ensure that your team knows that solving the issues at the lowest level is important.  Empower your team members to make decisions that are within their area of responsibility.  An effective team works together.  Encourage innovation and information sharing including ideas.  The solution may rest within another team member and may not need to be elevated.  Fostering open communication between team members is just as important as the communication with leaders. 

When your door is open you can walk out too –  Along the line of the team using each other’s skills in the group to resolve issues, you should do the same.  Your team matters.  Sometimes you may have an issue that you just can’t solve by yourself.  Instead of going to your leadership, if any, go to your team.  Your team can help you.  That’s what they’re there for.  Asking for their help ultimately removes the hinges from the door.  Imagine how you feel when someone walks into your office and needs your help.  You feel good.  You feel valuable.  Your team needs to feel that as well.  When you open the door, the door is open from both sides. Feel free to walk into their office. 

Know your people – There may be days when no one needs to talk, but as a leader, it’s your responsibility to know if your team members need to talk.  Knowing your people will help you see and know if something is up with any of them.  If it’s personal most people won’t come forward right away, but an open door policy includes personal issues.  You may not be an expert in the problem, but allowing them to vent may be the thing they need.  Get to know your team members.  Use feedback sessions to talk a bit about them.  Use small talk to learn facts about them.  The better you know them the better you can lead them. 

At the end of the day if your team isn’t coming to you for any reason you need to reassess why.  Great leaders are great communicators which means communication should be a fluid action.  Ensure that above all, as a leader, you have an open door that fosters an environment for creativity, idea flow, information sharing, trust, and growth.  

5 Ways to Help You Lead in a New Environment

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization, Social, Tips, Tricks

It would be naive to think that one leadership or management strategy is going to work exactly the same from environment to environment.  It’s just not that easy.  Every organization, work center, company, and or course, the military will have different ways of operating.  After all, they all have different missions.

I am now working in my fifth work center in the last six years. I didn’t have a full spectrum of the mission or what I’d be doing.  I did have to put my learning cap on and embrace the change. A question that has come to mind lately is how do I lead in an environment that I am unfamiliar with?  After brainstorming with my mentor and close friend I have narrowed down some ways. Here are 5 ways to get your foot in the door into leading in a new environment.

Learn the mission!  You have to know what the overall mission is and you have to know your role in the mission.  Know your limits of responsibility and know your strengths and weaknesses given the new mission.  Everyone has a specific amount of responsibility over their area. Know where your role begins and ends. Ask yourself what you bring to the table? What are you good at and what do you need work at? You will need to self assess your strengths/weaknesses in this new environment. Play your strengths when you are able and learn when you are unfamiliar with the process or directions. Ask questions when you don’t know an answer or a process. It’s okay to ask other agencies how they fit in the mission. You need to see the big picture and not just the area around you. Knowing the mission and knowing your role will ultimately help move the mission forward.

Introductions! Aside from knowing the mission, you have to know the team you’re a part of. In order to work on a team you’ve got to know the team and the team has to know you. First impressions are very important, but we can never truly know someone by a simple greeting.  After personal introductions have been made, lay the foundation of your work ethic. Begin to show your work ethic. This is where people will truly get a sense of who you are. Lead with values, not authority.  Values provide a standard of positive behavior. Use them and add other values that instill a strong work ethic. Get to know how your team members operate. Seek what drives their performance.  Ask them questions about their passions, their family, their background.  Leading is ultimately about taking care of people.  One must know their teammates on a professional and personal level in order to be effective at taking care of them. After all, leadership is about taking care of people. Know your team!

Be proactive, not reactive!  Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something.  Take initiative in your area.  Seek out and find what needs to be done or what could be done.  There is always someone who needs help.  Go ask them if you can help or if there is anything you can do to help.  If you know what needs to be done, do it.  If you don’t, then ask someone what you can do to contribute. This is why knowing the mission is important.  It will give you an idea on what needs to be done.  When you’re proactive you stay ahead of the game.  Doing so can often help save you and others time in the future. Being proactive means you’re prepared.  No one likes the feeling of being unprepared. Take initiative every chance you get!  It may lead to some great opportunities! Nothing is more satisfying to a supervisor than seeing a subordinate take charge.  This not only tells them you have a great work ethic, but that you are capable of leading. Be proactive!

Communicating clearly.  Communication is a very hard skill to master.  For someone to put thoughts or an idea into words, or better yet, action, it can be quite difficult if you don’t understand how each member of your team listens or learns.  To clearly get your objectives across to your team can be very delicate.   Make sure you take time to get the correct words down before you speak your objectives/tasks/ideas, etc. The precision of your communication can make or break the success of your team.  And always make sure that your team members know to ask questions if they don’t clearly understand the objective.  That is also another part of communication.  It’s a two way street.  Ensure you communicate clearly and ensure your team knows how to seek answers from you by asking. Listening and hearing are two different things.  Listening is an audible action, hearing what’s said is the process of information into a structured concept.  Communicate clearly so that your point is heard.

Be willing to learn!  A leader’s job isn’t to know all of the answers.  Leaders must show they are willing to learn from their team members.  Listening and learning from the members on the team builds trust.  When teams learn from each other it strengthens their ability to adapt to overcome challenges. It creates a teamwork environment.  When leaders and members of the team are open to learning from each other it also creates a culture of learning.  Learning is how we grow.  Show them that if you can, they can.  Learn together!

Reviving Core Values

Leadership, Organization

Every day I walk up a flight of stairs to my office where I work as NCOIC, Administration Management. On the first set of stairs, there are three steps that have one Air Force core value written on each of them.  Integrity, Service, Excellence. These core values are burned into the memory of every Airman since day one of basic training. They are meant to guide us. They are meant to be lived. They are meant to be a path of being better, doing better and knowing better. Yet, at times, we, members in the Air Force, undervalue and underutilize our core values. 

Values drive the behavior of any organization, not just the military. Values are set so that the people in the organization have a guiding light, a north star to show which direction to go when we’re lost and to remind us that although, people fail, our values cannot. Values will be rock solid. Values will never fail you. Values will always be there when you need them.

An organization that doesn’t have a set of values setting the behavior of the organization will often fail. It would be as if the organization is walking blindly. Our Air Force core values are easy to understand. Opportunities are birthed every day that allow us to perform our core values. Values are not meant to be used sparingly, they are meant to be used at every opportunity that arises. It’s how we create a culture of positive behavior. We can correlate a core value into almost every decision and every action and if we’re dedicated to actually living them, we’ll never be wrong. Though, we can fail as people and as a leader, it doesn’t mean values have failed you, it just means that you’ve failed at what you’re doing.  Ret. Gen Stanley McCrystal once said, “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”  The same goes for our core values.  Though, you, a person may fail, if your core values are the heart of your actions, you will not be a failure.  It just means you have to try again.

Sure, we hear them, read them and every Airman is given a coin that has them embedded in it, but are we using them to the fullest potential? Even more, are we, as a team and individuals using them at all? Is it even possible to live them constantly every day? I like to think that if we gave a little more effort into living our core values how awesome our leadership would be and how awesome our teams would be. Walking up the steps to my office while reading our core values challenges me to live them. Just like in any busy work culture, it’s easy to overlook our values. I’m guilty of it, I’m sure others are too. Will there be days that you just don’t feel like putting in the effort? Of course, but our core values even address that behavior. 

The Air Force provides a definition for each core value(can be found here), but is that the end all be all to the core values? No. They can mean different things to different people and can be elaborated on.  What do you think they mean?  It’s a question that we, as an entire organization sort of forgot about as we engage in our daily duties and I believe our core values need to be given the attention they deserve. Right? Our culture depends on it.  Lately, it seems we’ve lost sight of our values and that’s okay, we’re human, we forget things, we know life is busy. It’s never too late to revive them and use them to improve our culture. Our core values have unlimited value.

Above all else, values help us be and become better leaders. When we feel our teams slipping in character, judgement and performance, we should always look at our values.  They’ll keep us in line and keep us moving forward.  Values create a work environment fit to thrive and survive.  Here is my personal look at how I apply and see the Air Force core values. I hope over the next few days or weeks you consider writing your perspective on the core values.  Share your perspective with your team, use it as a topic of professional development.  Get to know your Airman’s perspective to see how they view them.

Integrity first –  It’s not just about doing the right thing when no one is watching, it’s also about holding yourself accountable when no one is watching.   This also includes you holding your team members accountable.  It’s about carrying out your responsibilities accurately and effectively as possible. Show humility when you don’t have the answer. It’s okay to be wrong. Own your mistakes.  Be transparent in what you do. Keep true to yourself and be a person others can count on.  Integrity is about how the team is held together.  Make sure there are no kinks in your line that can jeopardize how the team holds on together. 

Service before self There will be days when you wake up and you just don’t feel like it.  We’ve all had those days and we will have more. What we do as Airman is bigger than ourselves.  It’s bigger than our personal desires.  Service before self is simple.  Your duties come first to include the service of leadership.  It’s about taking care of people as well. People are a part of the service so they must be taken care of so they can take care of the mission. Personal desires can always be put be aside to handle an issue/task/challenge at hand. This is not about you, it’s about the team.  When the team wins, you win.

Excellence in all we do –  My middle school coach used to say, “Go hard or go home.”  That was the standard.  Was it possible to give your full 100% every single football practice? No, but it wasn’t just about your physical ability. It was about your mentality, your heart, your attention, your dedication. It was more than running hard or hitting hard. It was the effort, the approach to the game. We must not only do our best, but whatever we do must be done with the results of great effort.  It’s hard to really measure effort, but people can always tell when you are giving less than what you are capable of giving. Whatever we’re working on, the end goal, must reflect excellence. Don’t commit to something unless you can give your absolute full attention and effort it deserves. One of my favorite quotes is from one of my favorite runners Steve Prefontaine. “To give any less than your best is to sacrifice a gift.” There is no time for slacking, half-assing, or procrastination.  If you’re going to do a job, do it right.  In the words of Deadpool, “Maximum effort.”

A 3 Pointer in Failure Readiness

Leadership, Life, Organization, TEDTalks

I don’t watch a lot of sports, nor do I play very many, but I am a very competitive person in just about everything.  Everyone knows that competitive people dislike losing.  I was never much of a basketball player, but I did play in middle school and a little in high school.  I remember playing in middle school and one particular game stood out more than the rest.  We were losing by 6 and we had .57 seconds on the clock before halftime.  Half a second!  It was our ball under our own basket.  The coach called a stack play and knowing we only had a split second, I refused to run the play.  There wasn’t time for it.  I took a risk.  As soon as the ball was in play a shot had to be made, if a shot could be taken.  I actually remember setting up for the play and then breaking to run to the 3-point line around the opposite side.  The person throwing the ball was telling me to get back, but I said, ”We don’t have time for a play, throw me the ball.”  I was wide open!  He threw me the ball and I shot the 3 pointer.  I made it, but we were still losing. 

If there is one thing that we dislike the most it would be failing.  We are anti-failure! We don’t want it to happen!  It doesn’t feel good and it can cost us time, money and resources. Though it doesn’t feel good, it’s bound to happen at some point.  We all experience failure.

Even though I made that shot, it wasn’t enough to tie or take the lead. What I felt was failure.  I remember sitting in the locker room and I was very upset that we were losing.  We weren’t winning and to come back seemed like it would need a miracle.  I was not happy and I began to think losing was inevitable.  As I look back, I now know that there is a way to fail the right way.  I may not have realized the in-depth look at failing, but I do now. Here are a few lessons I extracted from this memory that has helped me be ready for failure. 

Mindset; Be prepared – Burn it in your mind that failing is okay.  If you haven’t heard the TedTalk by Ret Gen Stanley McCrystal – Listen, Learn and then Lead, he makes the comment, “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”  When you fail, it doesn’t make you a failure.  It’s what you do next that defines your success.  Have the right mindset that failing is okay and that it is a possibility.  Don’t focus on failing, but be ready to try again.  It’s not being negative, it’s being prepared for whatever may come.  I believe when you’re ready for anything, even failing, that you’re getting a head of the game.  Don’t be fooled by failing.  It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of another try.

Learn; Take away something new – There is learning to do in failing.  Always see what there is to learn from failing.  Remember that failing is sort of like constructive criticism.  It’s a chance to reevaluate what you’re doing so that you can try again.  Learn what worked, what didn’t work and why it failed in the first place. Learn something out of failing!

It was halftime now and it was now the coach’s opportunity to teach us what we were possibly doing wrong.  We evaluated what we were doing, we created an improved plan to fix it and then we took the 2nd half as the time to execute it.  We created that execution plan by learning from what we did the first half. We learned!

Attitude; Don’t be negative – Attitude changes everything.  If you have a bad attitude, it brings you down and the team down.  No one likes a downer.  Be positive that you will succeed.  Failing at something is a road bump.  You can still keep going as long as you remain positive and dedicated.  Keep your spirits up.  Having a good attitude can be contagious.  It’s good to pass that along. Sir Winston said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”  Do not let failure control your emotions and certainly don’t let failure define who you are. Of course during any halftime, you’re not there to just create a new game plan, but you’re there to get re-motivated.  A time to push away the negatives and focus on the positives.  An attitude adjustment!

The half-time was a time to regain our composure and focus on turning the score around.  We went back out there and we played hard.  It was a close game and at the end, we ended up winning by 3 points.  I always look back at that game and think that if I had not made that shot would we have won? Remember the game is only over when you give up.

4 Ways to be an Effective Follower

Leadership, Organization, Tips, Tricks

Leadership doesn’t happen without followers.  There must be followers for there to be leaders.  Do you remember the quote from the movie Drumline, “You must learn to follow before you can lead.”  It’s a great quote and it does provide a starting point to becoming a leader.  It takes a variety of approaches to be an effective follower, but from my experience in the military, and as a new airman, here is what helped me become effective at following.  Maybe it will help you!

“You must learn to follow before you can lead.”  Drumline (2002)

Play your skills accordingly! – In every team, each member will bring their own set of skills, knowledge and experience.  You must know your strengths and your weaknesses to be able to know where you can help and when you will need to learn and assist. When an opportunity arrives to perform your strengths, play them.  When you have an opportunity to improve your weaknesses, take that moment to watch and learn from others.  Also, use your strengths to teach others that may have your strengths as their weakness. It’s a team effort after all!

Communicate! – I talk about communication quite a bit from the leader’s perspective, but it’s equally important as a follower.  You must communicate with your team members and your leader.  Communication is a two way street.  To be an effective follower one must listen intently to the directions or guidance the leader is instructing.  And if you don’t understand the instructions, you will need to be wise enough to ask for additional details or clarification. Communicate your questions! Communication should be a continuous motion to and from.  Speak in well understood terms so that perspectives are not misinterpreted.  Use words precisely, but don’t forget to listen to others as well.  Listening is one thing and hearing is another, something I’ve mentioned in previous blogs.  Listening is auditory; hearing is processing the information into structured data. If you’re not communicating effectively, the team isn’t functioning properly. 

Take initiative! – If you see something that needs to be done and no one is doing it, this is your opportunity to be a leader.  Taking initiative paves to way to leadership.  Showing initiative shows your leader that you’re ready to play ball, motivated and willing to get things done.  Leaders love a team member that takes initiative.  It often acts as a catalyst for others to join in.  If your leader asks for a volunteer, raise your hand, no matter how simple or hard the task is. You will always have help when needed.  If you see someone else needing help, go help them!  You don’t have to be the first to take action; just don’t be the person who never takes action. 

Team effort! – The old saying, “There is no I in team.”  It’s not about how awesome you are.  It’s not about knowing more than your teammates.  It’s simply not about you.  YOU are a part of a TEAM!  A leader knows that it’s not about them, but knows it’s about the big picture.  A follower must understand that same picture.  A team works better together, not individually.  When you do things, do things with the team in mind and with the overall purpose in mind.  A successful team crosses the finish line together. Followers must work to support the team and their leader.  


Leadership, Organization

There are countless forms of teams.  Sports, corporate, design, infrastructure and so on.  Every team has a different purpose and mission or goal.  Every team member will operate differently, every leader will lead differently.  How does a leader lead a team effectively no matter what team they are a part of?  Here is what I like to call the T.E.A.M for leaders.

T is for Trust.  It is insanely challenging to form a group of people and to automatically think the flow of the team will flow fluidly and without problems.  The foundation of a team will depend on the trust of each member.  Without trust, there is tension, there’s conflict, there’s uncertainty.  A team doesn’t work cohesively without trust.  A leader’s job is to bridge that gap.  A leader must find ways to create trust within their circle. Since each team is different, it is up to you, the leader to identify where and how to build that trust.  Remember, trust reaches all areas.  Leaders build trust within their team.

E is for Empower.  Just like trust, empowering your team to make sound decisions and to take action when needed can really help the team progress.  Not only does it help progress the team, it gives them ownership in the team.  If team members feel as if they can make decisions without approval, it gives them a sense of higher purpose of contribution.  They are the force of the team, it is necessary for them to be empowered.  As a leader, you won’t always be at their side or in their immediate area to guide a decision.  Empowering them allows them to do so.  Giving them the ability to make decisions also helps them grow as a leader.  People want to feel being part of a team.  When you give them power to contribute and not micromanage, they work hard because they take ownership.  Leaders empower their team.

 A is for Adapt.  Leaders and teams must adapt to circumstances that arise as they reach their goals.  We hope things and plan for things to go according to plan, but we must adapt to any issue that we encounter.  We don’t have to be prepared for an obstacle, but we must be willing to alter our path in order to overcome it.  Leaders adapt to their environment.  The culture in which we conduct business changes, if teams and leaders don’t adapt, that team may fall apart. Leaders must be aware of the culture around them and also, the abilities of their team members.  Adapting to challenges also includes growing professionally and personally.  A leaders’s job is to help develop/improve the skills and abilities of their team.  We can’t remain stagnant in a changing work environment.  The difference between surviving and thriving is being able to adapt.  Leaders and teams adapt. 

M is for Mission Focused.  Every team and organization has a mission.  This is the reason the team functions.  The mission is the purpose the team is together in the first place.  Even when challenges come up unexpectedly, leaders have to keep their team focused on the mission.  If teams forget why they assembled in the first place, then the mission fails.  Remember why you’re together in the first place.  Remember what the end goal is!  Everything that you should be doing is for that reason! Leaders help teams remain mission focused. 

This acronym isn’t the end all be all to being a leader or team function, but it’s a great foundation to keep in mind.  When I’m leading a team, I like to keep T.E.A.M. at play.  Maybe you will too.

4 Ways to Build a Foundation for Leading a New Team

Leadership, Organization

It can be quite nerve racking taking on a leadership role in a new organization or in a new team.  Being the stranger of the group can make it seem impossible to gain the trust of team members.  After all, they know nothing about you, nor do they know or understand your leadership background.  How does one begin to lead a new team? What steps are necessary to gaining the trust of a new team?  Depending on the organization, team and leaders, it can vary.  These are not the end all be all keys to leading a new team effectively, but they certainly create a solid start.

Build a rapport!  Before you can assume everyone will follow you, you must first build a foundation in the relationship between you and each person on your team.  You can do this by just simply asking questions.  Make the questions personable.  Ask about hobbies, family, sports, etc. Common questions that can help you and them get a sense of who each person is.  This will build an open dialogue so they can get comfortable talking to you.  This opens the door for communication for both sides.  Build that rapport.

Be confident!  It’s tough to get followers to trust you if you don’t yourself have confidence in your abilities to lead.  Lack of confidence can lead to missed opportunities and can leave the team stagnant.  Confident leaders take initiative.  They don’t sit around and wait, they take charge knowing they can get the job done with the help of their team.  It also rids fear.  Fear is not a proper ingredient for success.  Confidence drives out fear. When you’re confident in what you’re doing, people will be willing to follow.  Be confident.

Be prepared!  A mindset changes everything!  Before you begin to lead any team you must be prepared to do so.  You can’t walk onto a football field without proper equipment and proper game plays.  Prepare yourself with necessary skills to perform your role.  Being prepared means you’ve done your homework.  You have to know who your team is, where your team is headed and how you can get them there.  Educate yourself on each of these. Prepare yourself!

Be willing to learn!  Leaders don’t know all of the answers, that’s why you have a team.  Leaders must show they are willing to learn from their team members.  Listening and learning from them builds trust.  When teams learn from each other it strengthens their ability to adapt to overcome challenges.  When leaders are open to learning from their team, it creates a culture of learning.  Learning is how we grow.  Show them that if you can, they can.  Learn!

Lead by Empowering

Leadership, Organization

It was a Saturday mid-morning, my wife, daughter and I got ready to head out to the farmer’s market.  We love fresh produce!  We get there, park and then realize that we want to grab some food first.  We walk around the block and find a nice little place that serves breakfast.  We wait a few minutes before being seated, but we finally sit.  We had a great meal and it was time for us to pay the bill.

I don’t ever expect a discount, but I always ask the waitress/waiter at any food establishment if they give military discounts.  Usually, if they do give us a discount, we then give that discount amount as a tip to the waitress/waiter.   So, I ask the waitress, we’ll call her waitress 1, ”Does the restaurant give military discount?  She replied with, “I think so, but let me check.”  She took my I.D and behind her a few feet stood what looked like a manager.  They were dressed a little different and they were helping around.  Before the waitress could walk a few steps, the ‘manager’ quickly told her, “No, we don’t do that here.”  Our waitress turns around and apologizes and hands me my I.D. back.

It was no big deal, like I said, we never expect that discount.  We paid, left a tip and headed out.  We didn’t make it to the market that morning because we took too long eating, but we then drove down to another farmer’s market in the town over.  Did a little browsing, bought some vegetables and some bread and we went on our way.  We did a little bit of shopping and then by the afternoon, we were hungry again.  We headed home, but then decided to try out another place to eat.

We walked in, we were seated quickly and we began looking at the menu.  Same routine, we order, we eat and now we were ready to pay out bill.  The waitress, we’ll call her waitress 2, came to collect our bill and I asked once again, “Does the restaurant give military discount here?”  She said, “No, I’m sorry we don’t do that here.”  Again, it was okay, we were fine with at.  We’re not near a military base so we don’t expect most businesses to include that discount in their service.  When the waitress returned, I looked at the bill and noticed she gave us a discount.  While she was collecting our plates and glasses she said, “I went ahead and gave you a discount anyway.”  We gave our appreciation, paid and went on our way.

These two cases really stayed in mind.  What possessed waitress 2 to give us a discount when they didn’t provide military discount versus waitress 1 who worked in a place that also didn’t give military discount.  Now, I do know that some places provide Police/Fire Department discounts and sometimes they sort of put us into that category and that’s fine.  Maybe she did that, maybe she didn’t, but the point here is why did one employee do it anyway while the other didn’t?

The conclusion I came to was that one waitress was empowered to make decisions like that and the other wasn’t.  One asked management, one didn’t.  One waitress didn’t know if they gave discount, one did.  I’ll make a point here that I’m not bashing either of the waitresses; I’m just comparing each case.

A few weeks later, my co-workers and I went downtown to eat for lunch.  We were in uniform so it was obvious we were in the military.  We ate at a nice little cafe and next to it was an ice cream shop.  One of my co-workers wanted to grab a cup of ice cream on our way out.  We all walk in, she picks her flavor and the person helped her rang up her total.  She didn’t ask for a discount, she was just going to pay the standard price.  It was about $4.  When she paid, it happened to be less than that.  She asked, “Is there a special today? I thought I was paying 4 something.”  Of course, hearing this caught my attention and I began to listen.  The employee said, “My grandfather was in the Air Force so I really appreciate what you do so I gave you a small discount.” Of course a few questions ran in my mind.  Did she have authority to give a discount? Or did she have feel empowered to make that decision on her own?

Last quick story.  My buddy Chris and I were about to film another episode of Grounds on Leadership.  We meet at a coffee shop, we order our drinks and we began to find a spot to record.  We wanted the camera to be a little bit higher off the table so we began looking around the coffee shop to find something to prop it up.  We see this plastic box type object on a shelf.  We then ask the barista if we could use it for a few minutes to record a video.  Simple, it wasn’t being used, it was some sort of display for the shelf.  The barista replies with, “Let me go ask, I’m not sure I can make that decision.”  Chris and I immediately looked at each other and we both knew we were thinking the same thing, “He’s asking permission to make a decision.”  The barista went to ask his co-worker if we could use this object and they both come back and the 2nd barista hands us a paper coffee cup with the bottom cut out and suggests we put our phone in it and use it as a stand.  This seemed like a great idea so we messed with that idea for a few seconds and made a great make shift coffee stand.  We told them thank you and we recorded our video.


So here are 4 examples of empowerment or lack of empowerment.  Why did waitress 1 not make the decision on her own?  Why did waitress 2 make a decision without approval? Why did the barista go ask permission to make a decision?  Why did the ice cream server give a discount without anyone giving her permission to do it?  Is it the management’s inaction on empowering employees or is this type of behavior outlined in the business’s customer service approach?

I can’t say whether the reactions/actions of each employee is based off a company standard of customer service or a manager’s leadership of customer service.  The managers in these cases should be following the company’s vision on customer service, but what if the managers became leaders and not only made decisions as managers, but gave their employees the ability to decide for themselves in how customers are taken care of.  Even though we didn’t receive a discount at the first place I mentioned doesn’t mean we won’t go back.  We enjoyed the food and it was very homey type of place.  We really enjoyed it.  We were happy with our service.

I don’t want to include the company’s names.  I’m not here to embarrass or humiliate any company.  My intent is to bring up the idea of how important empowering is.  I will however say that 3 of these are corporate companies and the other is a mom and pop place.  I cannot say how well each business instills values, but even so, effective leadership is necessary to create a culture of empowering all team members the ability to decide and serve above and beyond the minimal standard.

I became amazed at this idea of empowerment when I read a story on the Ritz-Carlton.  The Ritz-Carlton is a resort that provides exceptionally amazing customer service.  In fact, it seems too good to be true.  If you click their link, you can read their philosophy of hospitality to their guests.  It’s quite refreshing to read such statements.  Their employees are given empowerment to make decisions that contribute to the care of their customers.  Employees do not need to ask permission to make a decision to make any guest a little more comfortable or a little happier.  If you read their values #3 and #6 speak volumes to the type of empowerment that employees are given.  They in a way become managers of their own domain.  They make decision for the guests, not the managers, not the CEO.  The employees!

Another thing you may not know about the Ritz is that employees are given a $2000 discretion to use if any guest doesn’t feel happy with their customer service or any complaint they may have.  The employee may use as much of that $2000 as they feel necessarily appropriate to handle the complaint.  The company’s values are very precise and clear in giving employees control in the decision making process that employees are inspired and motivated to provide outstanding customer service.  They not only do it, they also enjoy it.

What makes Ritz so different than normal business that I’ve mentioned?  We weren’t complaining, we didn’t have any issues and we still left happy, but what type of leadership would not allow furthering the satisfaction of a customer?  What type of culture makes an employee feel they can’t make the smallest decisions without asking if they can make a decision?  Customer service is a tricky business, but companies like Ritz have succeeded, even giving employees $2000 per guest to resolve their issues hasn’t bankrupt the company.  That’s because they have given empowerment to their employees to decide how their guests are treated.  There isn’t a need to use $2000 if employees are given total control of how they handle each guest instead of a checklist of this is how you will handle things.  It’s their decision, it’s their call!  That, along with their credo, motto and values that make them a successful company.

Can you imagine if every complaint or issue a guest encounter had to be run up the chain for a decision?  They’d probably have an outstanding record of unhappy customers.

I don’t want to put blame on management nor a company, nor do I want to tell anyone how they should conduct business.  The purpose of this blog is to think deeply on how big an impact empowerment can be and is.  A goal of a leader is to empower their team members.  Passing ideas and decisions up the chain of command is not always an effective process and not the quickest way to resolve something that needs immediate attention.  Sometimes decisions need to be made on the spot.  This is why empowering our team members to make wise, appropriate decisions is important.  A leader may not always be in the vicinity to make that decision.  Team members must be able to take on the issue.  Just like the Ritz, team members must own the issue as well as the decision.  Leaders must empower others to feel authorized to take on the task at hand.  When we pass power down, we also embody trust in our team.  We give them the reigns to lead.  Doing this not only empowers them, but we give them a chance to be leaders in their domain, just like Ritz gives their employees rule in theirs.

Leaders empower!