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Listen to Leadership Tips While Driving

I was reminded this week about a simple leadership tool I often forget: the power of taking time to learn while you are driving. Who reminded me? My boss Mike Bidwell, the chief operations officer of the Dwyer Group. Each month Mike circulates a CD that to Dwyer’s seven presidents that he has already listened to. I’m grateful he has remained diligent to this practice.

I flashed back to watching/listening to one of my favorites, Zig Ziglar. Sadly, he passed away last year. He helped me change my attitude when I was going through a divorce at age 30. He taught me the folly of holding “pity parties.” I invited many to attend, but no one ever showed up.

Zig introduced me to AutomobileUniversity—a way to take advantage of the time one spends in the car every day by listening to motivational CDs. This valuable time is frequently wasted listening to sports radio or music.

Before Zig, I remember what a zealous person I was in every phase of my life. I would watch a Cleveland Browns game (I was in Cleveland at the point of my life) and when the Browns lost I’d have a terrible Sunday afternoon and evening. Trust me, there were many bad Sunday nights.

Silly isn’t it that I let a sporting event control my life? Why should anyone let a game … and, yes, it is still a game … destroy relationships and cost effectiveness at work the next day?

After Zig, it finally dawned on me that I couldn’t control how the Browns played on Sunday. If they won or lost was not going to change my life. After each game the players shake hands, laugh and smile and there I was mad at the world.

I’m sure we are all busy and often think that there is no way we have time to squeeze in educating ourselves. Running a business, getting involved with your church and/or community and raising a family maxes any possible free time we have. So the question is: “How do we improve our productivity, our knowledge base and our leadership skills with our busy schedule?”

Leadership is a huge responsibility. What kind of environment are you creating every day? Are your employees happy to see you each day or can’t they wait until you leave for the day? Are they afraid to ask you questions? Do they feel that they are part of a team and are glad that you lead that team?

I worked for a gentleman I’ll call Bob (because that is his name) who created stress for everyone the minute they walked in the shop. He was intense and reminded people of the mistakes they made the previous day. This usually happened within the first five seconds after arrival.

On the other hand, I worked for another person named Jerry. He was one of the most beloved bosses I’ve ever met. Last year he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Within three hours of his diagnosis there were 75 people at his house showing their love and respect. Some were former employees. Jerry is a Cubs fan and, fortunately, the success (or failure) of the team has nothing to do with his attitude. He is someone that lives the creed that Zig preached.

Back to AutomobileUniversity. What do you need to learn? I just went to Amazon and there are 681 books on tape on the subject of “motivation.” Leaders find the way to become better at motivating others.

If you haven’t done this—try it. If you’ve done it before and got out of the habit, I hope I do for you what Mike did for me. Here’s your chance to take the next step and become a better leader.

Steps We Take Can Help Us Become Better Leaders

One of the things I like most about writing a weekly blog is that it reminds me what I need to do to become a better leader. I don’t pretend to be a great leader. I do plan, however, to get better day by day, week by week, year by year. This blog helps me become better and, hopefully, it helps you become better.

A few things happened this week that remind me of things we all need to do to increase our effectiveness as great leaders.

Keep in Touch with People that Helped you Along the Way

These people may be peers or maybe they were mentors of yours at some point. I started working for Kinetico Inc. 32 years ago. Their founder, Bill Prior, was a visionary in several fields. In my five years there he taught me several key lessons.

One was simply keeping a daily diary/calendar. His was a simple “seven days at a glance” calendar that showed each day in 15 minute intervals. I was always amazed how Bill could go back and see who he visited with every day looking back several years. Today, there are electronic versions. Use what works for you, but keep a chronicle of your activities and contacts.

Look for Solutions—Don’t Just Identify Problems

I remember walking in Bill’s office one day at the young age of 27 and alerting him to another problem. He told me that I was always welcome to come into his office—but asked that I do so when I can present possible answers to our challenges. It changed me and helped me become much more creative finding solutions.

For some reason I always remembered his birthday was Valentine’s Day. This year I found his e-mail was and sent him a quick note just thanking him for teaching me his leadership qualities and wishing him a happy birthday.

Here is an excerpt from the e-mail he sent back to me a few days later:

“So thank you for remembering my birthday. Yup, I’m 82. I’m older and weaker, but I’m the same guy. [I’m] still working on developing sustainable quality water.”

Make Sure You Are Passionate about What You Do

I remembered something else about Bill when I received his note. Bill was passionate about what he created. I remember him talking about his vision for quality water 25 years ago. Only after “official retirement” is he able to take that passion to the next level as he keeps inventing stuff.

Send Notes of Encouragement

The other action item that came to mind this week was triggered by a note I received from someone who attended a training session I conducted several years ago. I sent her a note of encouragement and this is an excerpt of what she sent:

“Thanks, Mark. It is words of encouragement like that that keep me going! The absolute honest truth is that you were one of the people that inspired me. I first met you in El Paso, Texas (2008) at the UT Collage of Business franchise certification class.”

Any idea how that made me feel?

This was reinforced as I listened to an interview with Bradley Cooper on PBS’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Cooper was describing to her how he would use a camcorder to film himself in his kitchen auditioning for roles. He did this over 200 times, distributing the homemade tapes to casting directors. At one point Robert DeNiro came to Cooper’s home in Los Angeles to meet him. He told Cooper that he didn’t get the part but to continue doing what he was doing.

Cooper did and the rest is history. Cooper looks back on the kindness that DeNiro shared. He validated Cooper’s what-seemed-like-fruitless efforts when he was a young actor.

So Here Are our Leadership Challenges this Week:

—We need to reach out to someone who inspired us and say thank you! We have to tell them what a difference they made for us.

—Secondly, we need to reach out to someone and tell them we like what they are doing. Surprise someone. Make it a point to find someone who isn’t expecting anything from you.

I promise you it will make for a very rewarding week and increase your leadership skills!