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Leadership Lessons—Leader or Not?

Another great week of learning leadership lessons. Late last week I had the opportunity to meet a classic entrepreneur. Let’s call him Dave. He’s involved in several entrepreneurial ventures. Dave is very hands-on in all of them. When he initially started these companies many years ago with his father, he believed that he needed to be very hands-on. Why? His Dad told him that he would never find someone that could do the job like him. Thus, he had a very difficult time growing. His customers know him—his cell phone number … not his business phones.

Compare that with an office I visited this week in the Carolinas. Wayne has been a Glass Doctor franchisee for 22 years. He, too, is very knowledgeable and is now what we would characterize as a “senior citizen” (if the age of 65 characterizes one as a senior citizen). I don’t think there is any challenge involving glass that he can’t conquer. He does have, however, two right-hand people and a third very involved with the business. Wayne has 10 trucks on the road.

Wayne’s wife, Sharon, seems like everyone’s mom/grandma. When she comes to the office she is treated like the Queen of England by all of the employees. All of the technicians make sure to give her a hug before they leave.

Which one of these people is a leader? Why?

If you are like me the answer is simple. Wayne … and Sharon.

I’m always amazed when I meet people who believe there isn’t anyone in their company, city, state or region who can do a job as well as they can. Perhaps they are right! Perhaps there isn’t anyone who has the talent. The question is, however, can they grow? Even if they hire the right person will they be able to “let go” and not become a micromanager?

Fourteen years ago Wayne hired Doug as a tech. Today Doug is in charge of several areas, including automotive glass, a role that is perfectly suited for him and allows him to use some of his special talents. Eight years ago Wayne hired Eric as his general manager. Many might have questioned this hire. Eric had no glass background whatsoever. He did, however, have extensive management experience. Wayne took a calculated risk that paid off nicely.

I tell you this story so you can look in the mirror and answer … honestly … which one of these two people are you? Are you Wayne or are you Dave?

It didn’t take me long to learn that everyone I ever hired possessed special talents that I never would have. As a leader I had to figure out how to best deploy those talents. Often, employees had great talents they just had yet to discover. It is a great reward to help people discover their own talents.

I was reminded of this when Wayne and I went to fix glass at a large retailer. The manager on duty had been at this store for 11 years. She told me that she went to work there after graduating while she made plans to travel the world. As time went on she got promotions and discovered that there were opportunities right where she was! Sounds a lot like Doug after working 14 years with Wayne.

What do your employees say about their opportunities with you? How do they describe you as a leader? Are you always under the gun to hire new employees or do you have a seasoned group of employees?

When your employees make a mistake are they scared to tell you about it or do they view you as someone who is fair? Do your employees think you are a micromanager? Are your employees able to make decisions on their own … even minor decisions … or are they conditioned to come to you with every little decision?

Yes, it was a good week for me again learning more leadership lessons. Thanks, Wayne, for the nice lesson!

Leadership Lessons—Hand Out or Hand Up?

Had a chance in my travels to “go home” last week. Back in the Midwest. Took some personal time to play golf with my son and conduct business in the Chicago area.

I had the pleasure of spending an entire morning with one of our long-time vendors. In a previous life I was partners in a business in the same small town where this vendor is located.

I knew this owner of this business, Brian, was from this small town. Brian is not what you’d call a big fish in a small pond. He is a whale in this community—to the point of serving in the legislature … although he hates politicians! (Don’t we all for the most part?) He owns 15 different companies now and fights for small business with all the people in the government who have no idea what it is like looking at the checkbook on a Thursday night trying to figure out how you’re going to pay everyone in a few hours.

As we wrapped up lunch, Brian recognized one of his young employees having lunch with her mother. I found out later that he quietly found their waitress and paid for their lunch. I knew at that point he was an expert on leadership! When we got back to his office our conversation drifted towards leadership.

I asked Brian what drove him to success. I learned he grew up in the projects and was actually in the lowest percentile of his class. He said that “he always needed a hand up … not a hand out.” Once he found out what he could accomplish because of a hand up he began a life of continually challenging himself to do more.

Profound! I could related to that and imagine many of you can as well. We didn’t need handouts, we needed opportunities. As I drove home I thought about all of the people who gave me a hand up. Time after time there was someone willing to give me a hand up. Most of the time it was an employer who took a chance on me. Earlier in life it was teachers.

Brian’s perspective on this form of leadership reminded me of a movie that came out 15 years ago, Pay it Forward with Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and invest $10 to get the DVD on Amazon.

The premise of Pay it Forward is giving someone a hand up. Haley Joel Osment, as a young student, would try and help someone and then challenge that person to do the same thing with three people. Suddenly there were people all over the world helping others because someone helped them—wanting and expecting nothing in return.

I am in no way saying that there aren’t people who need a hand out. Many of us face difficult challenges at some point. I am saying, however, that we all need to focus on seeking and giving a hand up. We all have amazing contributions to make, and sometimes we just need a chance to share them.

Think back on your life. Who gave you a hand up? Better yet, how many people gave you a hand up? What have you been able to accomplish because of these gifts?

Look at your own life today and your many communities: Work, home, children, other family members, church, etc. Who can you affect by giving someone a hand up? What difference can you make in their life because you did this?

In the next week remember those folks who gave you a hand up and send them a note of thanks. I bet you most of them will not even realize they did this—it was just their style.

Then, pay it forward.

Have a great week.