Leading from a High Horse

I had a nice long “catch-up” conversation with a friend I’ve known a long long time. Since High School actually so it’s kind of a shockingly long time. 🙂

 

She works for one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, she started right out of college, and she has done very very well for herself. She runs a very profitable part of the company and has a significant number of people who report either directly to her or to one of her direct reports. 

 

During our conversation she asked me something that I thought, given her success, was pretty surprising. She asked me how she could get her people to stop giving her their opinion without hurting their feelings.

 

When I asked her why she wanted them to stop giving their opinions she said it was just a matter of time. She simply didn’t have time to listen to people whose opinion didn’t really matter. 

 

It was at this point that I had to just stop for a minute (seemed like an hour) and think of how to respond. There was so much wrong with the statement I didn’t really know where to begin. Now this is a person I have great respect for, I remember her when she was so afraid of her own shadow that she couldn’t try out for the cheerleading squad. She has truly grown so much through the years and she is a wonderful person. 

 

But the statement was so incredibly insulting to her people that I couldn’t hardly believe she had said it. 

 

I asked her how long she had felt that way and she couldn’t pinpoint when it started but she said the feeling was growing and she was getting more frustrated with her people by the day. 

 

So I offered her these two ideas. I said that she really didn’t need to do anything, the “problem” would soon take care of itself. I said if her team had any brains at all they would soon realize that she didn’t value their input and the input would simply dry up on it’s own. I told her that hurt feelings would be the least of her problems because her team would simply disengage and be far less valuable employees and that the disengagement would be her responsibility. 

 

Then I told her that it wasn’t her team’s responsibility to stop offering ideas and suggestions; it was her responsibility to get down off her high horse and learn to value their opinions. I said if she had hired someone, or allowed someone to be hired, that she couldn’t learn from then she had allowed the wrong person to be hired. 

 

She was pretty quiet. 

 

I reminded her that when she was moving through the ranks that her leaders DID value her opinions and encouraged her to share them frequently. It was one of the big reasons she advanced in the company. I asked her where she would be today if her former bosses had thought of her opinions that same way she was now feeling about her people’s opinions. 

 

Here’s the lesson folks; sometimes we “lead” by letting the people we lead teach us. Sometimes we lead by simply listening to our people. We always lead by demonstrating that we value the people we lead. 

 

If you’re a leader who has gotten so full of yourself that you can’t learn anything from the people you lead then you have gotten to the point that you can no longer actually lead.

 

If you’ve forgotten that you can learn from anyone and everyone then you’ve forgotten how you became a leader in the first place. Get down off that high horse and retrace your path to becoming a leader, you may just be surprised at how much you don’t remember.


By the way, I’m happy to report that my good friend now keeps time open on her calendar each day just to be available for any member of her organization to drop in to her office with ideas, concerns, opinions, and suggestions. She’s a great leader and she already knew all that stuff I told her, she, like everyone else, just needs a reminder once in a while. 

Old Advice

Someone asked me a few day ago how I write this blog, they wondered if I had a bunch of posts “in progress” that were partially written that I selected from when I needed a post and had no fresh ideas.

 

Well, that’s is sometimes the case. I most often write early in the morning and once I start a post I usually finish it in one sitting. Sometimes I write when something makes me mad, those posts are often left unfinished and are seldom published. (I know there are lots of people who would like to see those posts but I don’t think so, perhaps I’ll save those for the book I might never write)

 

This particular post is one of those “mad” posts but I’m most certainly going to finish it and I’m definitely going to publish it… I owe it to the limited thinkers who made me mad in the first place. So here we go…

 

Ordinarily I’d say doing something a particular way just because it’s always been done that way is a terrible reason for doing it. Continually repeating a process “just because” indicates lazy thinking and can result in inferior results. I frequently tell people that just because something isn’t broke doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. 

 

The most successful people are always on the lookout for a better way of doing most everything. 

 

But every once in a while there isn’t a better way. Doing something the same way over a long period of time turns out to be the best way to do it. If you’ve seriously considered alternatives to the way you’re doing something today and found those alternatives to be lacking then don’t be afraid to stick with the status quo. But don’t quit looking either.

 

As leery as I am when I hear someone say “we’ve always done it way” I’m just as troubled when I hear someone say “we’re changing because it just seems like it’s time for a change.”

 

We’re changing because it’s time for a change is a horrible reason to change. You might just as well buy lottery tickets because your chances for success are about the same. Change for the sake of change indicates the same lazy level of thinking as “we’ve always done it that way.” 

 

You have no idea if the change is in the right direction, you’ve likely invested very little time in considering why it is being done the way it is and even less time considering the consequences and expense associated with the change. If the change works out you just got lucky and if you’re counting on luck then don’t count on much success.

 

Which brings me to the reason for this post. In trying to help someone understand why something was done the way it was done it was hinted to me that my “old advice” was of no use anymore. 

 

The person seemed to indicate that experience was in fact a handicap and advice stemming from experience should be discounted or just outright ignored. 

 

Wisdom doesn’t always come with experience; sometimes experience just shows up alone…. but not very often. Failing to use another person’s experience is an unforced error. It’s costly, it slows down progress and it’s just not very smart. Smart people learn from their mistakes, the smartest people learn from the mistakes of others.


If you choose to ignore the experience of those who have gone before you then you do so at your own peril, and let there be no doubt, it is perilous indeed.

Why Different is Good

Being better tomorrow than you are today requires that you do something different today than you did yesterday.

 

I think most of us, I know it’s true for me, are creatures of habit. I like doing the same things with the same people pretty much all the time. The people I like the most are the people who are just like me, they believe the same things I believe, the say the same things I say and they like to do the same stuff I like to do…or at least mostly. One thing not everybody I know likes to do is embrace different viewpoints. 

 

Now truth be told I don’t know if I actually “like” embracing different viewpoints but I do need to. I need to because I have a hunger to learn. I am a student of people and that means I need to understand them…no matter how different their life might be from my own.

 

Here’s the reality, and it’s not just my reality, it is your reality too… As much as I like being around people who are just like me I don’t learn very much from them. We are in agreement on most things, someone in the group says something and everyone nods their head in agreement. “You got that right” is a common refrain. 

 

It isn’t that I like disagreement or being disagreeable but often times it is in that discussion that follows disagreement that you learn. If, and it’s a big IF, if you are open to learning. If you honestly work to truly see things from the other person’s point of view. If you don’t just automatically think they are wrong because they don’t think like you or your friends.

 

It’s pretty tough to learn something new from people who are just like you. It’s even harder to learn something new from people who think exactly as you do. 

 

Never underestimate the fact that you could be wrong, about most anything. You might be the smartest person in the room, you may hold the loftiest position in your organization but that doesn’t automatically make you right about everything.

 

Search out people different than yourself. Invest time in understanding them. Don’t prejudge someone just because they “aren’t like you.” Listen to them and listen to understand them rather than listening for the sole purpose of responding. Understand that there isn’t anyone on earth who doesn’t have or know something they can teach you.

 

Read books with viewpoints you disagree with. Have lunch with someone you wouldn’t normally have a beer with after work. Watch FOX News AND CNN. (That’s almost like living in two different worlds) Genuinely try to see multiple sides of every argument. 


Don’t sacrifice your core values and principles but do try to understand where other people are coming from. Your may discover that if you were them you would think and act just like them. You’re likely to still disagree but at least you’ll understand why. You’ll almost certainly learn something about them and the odds are very good that you’ll learn even more about yourself.

Decisions Decisions

If you’re a leader then you make many decisions during a year. Some are big and some not so big. But every decision changes something, assuming of course that the decision was acted on. 

I don’t often suggest taking long looks in the rear view mirror but every now and then it serves a purpose. This is the time of year for looking back. A little self-reflection can help you remember some of the lessons of the past year that you may have forgotten.

So while you’re in reflection mode ask yourself, “What decisions that I made in the last year would I like to take back?”

It’s probably not a lot of fun to rehash decisions that didn’t turn out as planned but it can be a valuable exercise. You’ll want to look at the information you used to make the decision. It’s worth noting where the information came from and if you were alone in the decision or if your team agreed with you.

You want to pay particular attention as to whether the actual decision was flawed or if the mistake was in the execution. By the way, the biggest mistake of all is making a decision and then not acting on it…just sayin’.

Reflections on past decisions should be a learning experience. It’s not an opportunity to assign blame to anyone, it’s an opportunity to learn and to avoid the same mistake in the future.

If you discover that there are too many decisions that you would make differently then you know you’ve really grown throughout the year. Your short time of self-reflection should give you the opportunity to use that growth to have an even more successful 2017. 

But remember, you have to first acknowledge a poor decision before you can possibly learn from it.

Think about that too!

 

The Best Kind of Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes. The most successful people admit to them quickly.

The best kind of mistake you can make is one that you learn from. The worst mistakes are the ones you won’t admit. Those are the worst mistakes because you are very unlikely to learn anything from a mistake that you don’t have the courage to admit. 

Yes, I said courage because most of us have been taught that mistakes are bad, mistakes are shameful and mistakes lead to failure. If you’ve been taught that your entire life then it indeed takes courage to stand up and say that you messed up.

If you “secretly” know that you’ve made a mistake it’s a pretty safe bet that other people know it too, or they will soon enough. If you’ve made a mistake the first step in learning from it is to admit it, admit it to yourself and anyone else that needs to know. You don’t need to announce it to the world but don’t try to hide it from people close to you either.

Mistakes are inevitable and if you spend time with people who expect you to be perfect then you may want to find some other people to spend time with.

To learn from a mistake you must also understand the difference between a reason and an excuse. If you are very good at finding excuses for your mistakes then you won’t be very good at learning from them. If you understand the reasons for your mistakes then you have a chance to learn. 

One way to find the reason for a mistake is to understand the difference between an actual mistake and a bad decision. First of all, if you’ve made the same “mistake” several times it likely isn’t a mistake at all, it’s a poor decision. Mistakes repeated again and again are actually choices and to avoid these “mistakes” you must simply make better choices. 

For instance, in most cases being late for work isn’t a mistake. It resulted from a bad decision, either to stay up too late, to sleep in too long at just not leave home soon enough. If you don’t want to be late then make a decision to leave home earlier.

It’s also important to understand that not all mistakes are the result of something you’ve done. Many mistakes come from doing nothing, nothing at all. Some people fear mistakes so much that they won’t make decisions for fear of making a bad one. They fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision and it is the wrong decision in almost every circumstance. You can learn from both types of mistakes but mistakes born out of inaction often seem to be far more expensive to fix.

Learn to view your mistakes as opportunities for growth. Don’t go out of your way to make mistakes but don’t hide from trying new things to avoid them either. 

If you’re only making little mistakes then you’re probably not pushing the edges of your comfort zone enough. Growth doesn’t come from repeatedly doing what we are good at, it comes from trying new things. Allow yourself a mistake now and then and when mistakes happen embrace them as an opportunity to discover a better way of doing something. 

You may think that never trying new things protects you from mistakes but if your goal is to grow then not attempting something new is the biggest mistake you can make. 

Never make that mistake! 

 

Always be Learning

Successful people learn something new almost every single day. The most successful people use what they learn. 

Never in the history of humanity has it been easier to learn. Information is everywhere. 

New data suggests that 1.2 Zettabytes of information (1.3 trillion gigabytes) is now stored in cyberspace – which amounts to 339 miles of fully-loaded iPads stacked to the sky.

The information base is growing so quickly that researchers say a state of “persistent uncertainty” exists and that there are no exact numbers, only educated guesses. So I guess it could be 340 miles of iPads. 

Now, there is one tiny little caveat; not everything you find on the internet is true. I know that may come as a shock to some people but the fact that not everything on the internet is true is in fact actually true. But still, there is a ton of valuable information available, more worthwhile information than ever before, all you have to do is click.

Despite the unprecedented explosion of available information there remains one substantial barrier to learning. That barrier is called want. If you don’t want to learn you’ll find it very difficult to learn. You can be required to attend a class, you can even be forced to listen to the instructor but no one can make you learn, no one that is except you.

People decide to learn for a variety of reasons, some need a new skill or additional knowledge for their job. Others simply want to stay up to date on new technology or brush up on changes in their industry. Some people just have a need to grow intellectually and are constantly looking for ways to broaden their horizons. They seek to understand not just “what is” but “why it is.” 

Some people believe it’s their employer’s responsibility to provide them the skill and knowledge they need to succeed. It’s great when you work for a company that offers training and education but successful people understand that their success is up to them, not their employer.

This is somewhat of a generalization but by and large, leaders are learners. If education is provided they take it, if it’s not they make it. They seek out advice, coaches, mentors, and additional training and education. 

Leaders learn for a purpose, they understand how much and how fast they need to learn something. They, as Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” and envision how they will use their new knowledge or skill. Leaders know their objective for learning and they create for themselves a vivid picture of the benefits of obtaining that additional knowledge.

Successful learners know that they can learn as much or perhaps even more by failing then they can by always succeeding. Whenever you take on a new task or challenge you’ll possibly be tripped up and fall along the way. Don’t look at the fall as failure, look for the lesson in the fall on the way down. Use that lesson to push yourself back up. Ultimately it’s those falls and the ability to get back up that will make you a success. “Successful falls” also encourages more risk taking and more learning in the future. 

A truly successful day should include learning. Don’t let your day end without gaining at least a nugget of new information that you can use to grow your personal knowledge bank.

That stack of iPads is growing this very minute, you might as well get in on the action and learn!

 

Do you Know Enough to Succeed?

So, when do you know enough to know that you can stop learning? 

I have no idea when I’ll know enough to believe that I essentially know it all, or at least know all I need to know. I do know for sure that I still have much to learn, in fact, I doubt I’ll actually live long enough to know as much as I need to.

But I’ve have come across people who do know enough…at least they think they do.

I’ve written before about a marketing consultant who I was thinking about hiring to evaluate the effectiveness of some training we were doing. He noticed the credentials after my name and asked what they stood for. I explained what they were and then said perhaps he might be interested in the marketing certification. He politely told me that he already knew “all there was to know about marketing” so he wouldn’t be interested. 

I knew in that moment we wouldn’t be using his services. Successful people learn something new almost every day and believing that you already know it all can make it very difficult to learn something new. If you can’t learn you can’t grow and if you can’t grow it is unlikely your success will continue for very long.

Recently I had a conversation with a similarly minded person. They have done very well for themselves, advancing up their organization’s ladder very quickly. By anyone’s measure they certainly appear to be a true success….at least for now.

There were a few of us talking and the subject of this blog come up. Someone asked this highly successful person if they subscribed to my blog. The successful person looked a bit puzzled and then said “why would I read his blog, I’m far more successful than he is, and “besides I know pretty much everything I need to know to succeed already.” In defense of this person they did not say it with apparent malice or contempt, they clearly meant me no harm. They simply said it in such a way as to indicate that they truly believed it.

Probably because of what I do for a living I instantly wondered how this person had achieved their level of success with that kind of attitude. I also knew immediately that this person had in fact much to learn. They needed to learn a bit of humility but beyond that they needed to learn that everyone knows something that they don’t. That means that there isn’t a person a earth that we can’t all learn something from. The most successful people know that, they also know that learning never stops. 

In my book the day you stop learning is the day you start declining. I wish nothing but continued success for that highly successful person but it appears they believe they have already reached the pinnacle of their success. Maybe someone should tell them that once you reach the top there is no where to go but down.

If success is your goal feel free to stop learning the moment you think you’ve achieved success. If long-term success is your goal then you need to know that you don’t know enough. You don’t know enough today and you won’t know enough tomorrow.

Keep learning and keep learning from anyone and everything you can. Learning is a life-long endeavor and here’s hoping you have a very long life!