I received an email last week from a leader that I’ve been coaching for the last couple of years. She has a contract employee whom she must decide whether to hire into a career position. She described the employee as competent, but consistently disrespectful, condescending, insulting and rude to her.
The supervisor acknowledged that there are two sides to every story, and there are some questions of personal perception that are worth exploring. But I shared with her these rules of thumb related to recruiting and retaining the right employees and re-assigning the wrong ones.
There are five characteristics (The Five C’s) to look for in choosing and assessing members of your team.
The first and most important is good Character. Do they speak honestly, act with integrity, and treat others with dignity and respect?
Second is Competency. Do they have the skills and qualifications to do the job?
Third is Capacity. Do they have the mental and physical strength to sustain good quality work? Can they learn new things and be developed to grow?
Fourth is Chemistry. Do they work well with you and with their team members?
Fifth is Calling. Do they want to be here and be a contributor to this team, or do they just want a paycheck?
Most great leaders would agree that character is the most important attribute on this list. Competency can be learned, and capacity can be developed in people with some effort from the leader, if the employee has a teachable attitude. But bad character is flat out dangerous! In fact, the most dangerous people on the team are the ones with high competency and bad character, because they have the most potential for doing harm to the team and the mission.
In my opinion, the second most dangerous person on a team is the one who is highly competent but has bad chemistry with the leader or with their teammates. That bad chemistry can do damage to the leaders capacity to lead and to the capacity of the team members to work effectively together.
We don’t always have convenient opportunities to subtract problem employees from our teams, so career transitions are critical opportunities to be intentional about shaping the quality of our teams. Next time you have the opportunity to add or subtract from your team, the Five C’s can be a helpful decision making tool.
1. How have you seen bad character or bad chemistry erode the effectiveness of good teams?
2. What other qualities do you look for in your teammates?
A young man called me recently in a bit of a panic. His company had just announced that they were “right-sizing,” an un-clever way of saying they were laying people off. They were also instituting a hiring freeze. He was also told his supervisor’s supervisor was laid off, effective immediately.
His supervisor was very negative about the situation, predicting that he was next to go, the workload was going to double with his boss gone, this was just the first round of cuts, all of the usual gloom and doom.
The young man on the phone was wondering what he should do. Should he start looking for another job? Should he complain to someone about the impending workload increase? Here’s what I told him.
First of all, distance yourself from the negativity. Do what you can to NOT be seen as part of the group with the negative attitude (unless you want to be tagged for the next round of layoffs).
Second, be on the lookout for opportunities. When there are layoffs, hiring freezes, etc., the senior leaders may be scrambling to figure out how they’re going to do more with less. This may require combining roles and creating new, creative positions in the organization. They also have to figure out who’s going to fill them. And you can be sure they’re looking around at those they kept on the team. Do you think they’re going to be interested in the folks walking around with negative attitudes?
In rough times, senior leaders are looking across their organizations for the people with the most leadership potential to help them lead the organization through the difficulties. This is the time to demonstrate a constructive attitude by asking, “How can I help,” everywhere you go, with everyone you meet.
This is NOT the time to participate in urinating contests over petty issues with people in other departments. There may be opportunities their bosses are looking for leaders to fill in their departments too. And they’re looking for team players.
Even when we’re the one being laid off, people are watching to see whether we handle the situation with dignity and respect, or whether adversity will show something else about our character. And your supervisors will often have an influence on your future job opportunities. I wrestled with this one myself a few years ago when I was laid off from a job that I loved. Months later, a board member told me, “In my thirty five-year career, I’ve never seen someone handle being let go with as much dignity as you have.” He’s still a friend and advocate for me to this day.
After my phone conversation with the young man, I had another thought. Isn’t positivity the attitude that great leaders carry with them every day? Why would we wait for difficulties before we start having a “How can I help” attitude?
I’m not saying we should be phony about scary work situations. Layoffs are a scary deal, and it’s hard to watch good people lose their jobs. But if we’re consistently having trouble keeping a positive attitude, even in the scary times, we should do some soul searching about why that is. Leaders who sustain greatness, as well as success, over the long haul give much more than they take. They look around for opportunities to use their talents and energy to move the organization forward, during the good times and the bad, no matter where they are on the org chart.
1. What kind of attitude are you modeling in your work place? Are you looking for opportunities to help your leaders and co-workers, or are you doing the minimum to get by?
2. During the hard times, are you one to roll up your sleeves and offer help in solving problems, or do you highlight yourself as part of the problem by complaining?
It’s concerning to watch the trend among football players who feel it’s appropriate to take a knee in protest when our National Anthem is played before their sporting events. This week I was discouraged to see in the news that a few high school football players in my city decided to follow the example of the athletes they look up to.
I’ll be the first to defend their right to do this. Many of my friends, relatives and I spent careers and beyond sacrificing so that they could have that right.
I’m not even concerned about the slap in the face that these protests represent to those who defended these so-called “professional” athletes’ freedom. The warriors who fought for those rights can take the slap in the face.
But I wouldn’t blame these athletes’ bosses for exercising their freedom to fire them for demonstrating toxic leadership and pathetic sportsmanship. And I wouldn’t blame their fans for exercising their freedom to find a different team to support that models character, sportsmanship, and courageous leadership.
For 26 years, I put on my own team’s uniform and stepped onto the field in the company of heroes. We stood at attention and saluted our flag with pride. We weren’t naive about the problems in our country, and they were many. And we didn’t always agree with our country’s policies. Why did we do this? Because our country needs leaders who will defend what’s good, leaders who unify rather than divide, leaders who model for others what is admirable. We didn’t think about how we could bring attention to ourselves. We asked how we could unify and encourage our team, and make our families proud of us. That’s what great leaders do.
I understand that these athletes believe they are creating awareness of an important problem in our country. But they are actually drawing more attention to themselves than to a cause, exactly the opposite of what a sportsman should be focused on before a game.
Awareness of the problems in our country is not what is lacking. We all know that the problem of a few bad apples in the police force is one piece of a very complex problem in our country. But the same could be said for some bad apples in the Air Force and in the NFL. The problem is a lack of personal responsibility for modeling the character we want to see in others. And taking a knee in disrespect for our country is not helping anyone. To leaders who choose disrespect as their solution, I ask: Is this really the way you want to lead the young people who look up to you? Do you really want to be remembered for your role in chipping away at the already eroding unity we’re experiencing in this country?
OK, that was a lot of challenge. Let me offer some encouragement. Great leaders wake up in the morning asking how they can help others today, how they can unify and encourage their teams and those who look up to them, and how they can model the good they want to see in others.
In contrast to passive aggressive, toxic leadership behavior, check out this news story about a Michigan high school football team who suited up their water boy who has Down Syndrome and set him up to score a touchdown during their game. (Caution: It may choke you up.)
When I was a young Air Force cadet, I had a mentor who would say, “When people see me, I want them to see a turtle on a fence post.” It seemed like an odd thing to say, but he would continue by asking, “If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, what do you know?” The answer was, “It didn’t get there by itself.”
As I’ve matured as a leader over the last thirty years, I’ve come to realize that my mentor was right. I have yet to meet a truly great leader or mentor who became great without the help of a coach in their life.
Have you ever noticed that even the best athletes in the world have coaches? What do you imagine Michael Phelps might learn day after day from a swimming coach?
Near the end of his career, tennis legend Andre Agassi was interviewed about the role that his coach played in his life. He confided that, the older he got, the more important his coach had become. His coach provided accountability, helping him from slipping into bad habits, challenged him to avoid resting on past successes, and pushed him to keep giving his personal best.
If we’re honest we know that, left to our own devices, we do those exact things that Andre Agassi’s coach was helping him avoid. We slip into bad habits, we rest on past successes, and we can even become apathetic.
I’ve had leadership mentors or coaches in my life almost constantly for the last thirty years, for two main reasons. First, I want to continue to grow as a leader even as I train others. Second, I want to model the value of being coached to others. I currently have a coach and two mentors whom I meet with on a regular basis. I meet with one of them weekly, one bi-weekly, and one monthly. They keep my focused on my highest priorities and improving in areas that I still need to refine as a leader. I wouldn’t want to make the kinds of investments in others that I do without their investments in me.
Great leaders know themselves well enough to know, and have the humility to admit, that they don’t have all of the skills they need to be at their best for those they lead, and they care enough to make the effort to improve.
If you want to be a great leader over the long haul, seek out a coach who you respect and ask them to invest in you as a leader. They’ll help you last over the long haul and help you take your skills to the next level.
In my years in the military I’ve had friends who were members of elite fighting forces, like Navy Seals and Para-Rescue Jumpers. They were members of small elite groups that very few people could qualify to be a part of. They had specialized skills and an incredible level of commitment to their specialties. Very few of us could keep up with them if we had to. The demands of their job required that only the most capable could be part of their group. I’ve known really great people who tried to join them but just did not make the cut.
I’ve also known commanders of very large Air Force and Army units. Their organizations were made up of people at various levels of proficiency. They commanded organizations that were designed for almost everyone, not just for the elite. So their leadership style had to be quite different. They had to figure out the proper pace to move the organization so that everyone could keep up. The motto was often, “No man (or woman) left behind.” In my opinion, this is the greater of the two leadership challenges, and requires a more people-savvy leader.
While some organizations require leadership of extremely talented specialists, most of our organizations require us to lead a variety of everyday people and grow their skills on the job. And most leaders must learn to bring everyone along with them (with the exception of an occasional person who just needs to be let go). They learn the art of moving at a pace where teams can stay together and everyone can keep up.
Here are some advantages of an inclusive style of leadership.
First, great leaders consider how they can leverage their leadership to develop more leaders. Inclusive leaders help others reach their full potential and maximize their contribution to the organization. Besides just being a good way to treat people, it has very practical benefits.
Inclusive leadership builds engagement and loyalty to the leader and to the organization. And employee engagement and loyalty are proven to result in increased productivity and profitability. Our people want to be developed and grow in their capacity. That won’t happen if they’re left behind in our dust.
Inclusive leadership helps retain our best employees and grow our organizations’ leadership bench, giving us more options for promotions and succession planning. It also reduces the high cost of unnecessary employee turnover.
Inclusive leaders also make a greater contribution to society by producing more leaders and a more capable workforce. A stronger workforce is great for our economy, and producing better leaders is good for marriages, families, communities and our country.
Let’s improve our own capacities as leaders to set a challenging but reasonable pace for our organizations, learn to train and coach our people and increase their capacity, motivate people to excel at what they bring to the table, and celebrate and reward accomplishment of clear, reasonable goals.
It’s been fascinating, particularly lately, watching how Americans react to legislation and policies enacted on behalf of groups who want to protect their right to not be bothered, insulted, ridiculed or otherwise treated poorly.
We want the right to deny service to someone if we don’t agree with their life choices. We want the right to demand services from people even if it makes them uncomfortable. We want the right to keep someone out of a public restroom if we don’t trust them. We demand the right to share public restrooms with people even if it makes them uncomfortable. We want to deny people the right to say or write bad things about us. And we want the right to say or write anything we want about those we don’t like.
It seems to me, at the end of the day, we’re fighting for the right to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect, but only if it’s not mandated that we must do the same for others.
Just today I read an article that was going viral on social media. A gentleman was making a case that certain legislation was necessary because he and people like himself were being ridiculed for their life choices. He was absolutely right that the way he and others had been treated was horrible. What he was really wanting was kindness, and he deserves it, as we all do. The problem is no government or business can mandate kindness, short of rescinding most of our human rights.
To make the idea of a kindness mandate more absurd, many people are responding to one group or another’s unkind words and actions with hate mail and death threats. Just read the comments section at the end of most online news articles today. And even more absurd still, who are we demanding mandates for kind behavior from? Politicians! Not exactly known as beacons of dignity and respect (though I know many who are).
Friends, character cannot be mandated, but it can be taught. But it is taught by modeling it for others. In fact, the only way cultures of dignity, kindness and respect are going to be cultivated around us is if leaders model it for others.
If we expect to be treated with dignity, kindness and respect in our culture, here are some things we must NOT do:
We must not refuse to serve people just because we disagree with them. Why? Because that’s unkind.
We must not demand that people serve us if it makes them uncomfortable. Why? Because that’s unkind too.
We must not write slanderous or condescending things about people on the Internet. Why? Because that’s unkind.
We must not demand that people give in to our every whim for convenience, in the name of defending our rights. Why? Because that would be unkind.
We must not boycott or picket places that don’t share our values. Why? Because it’s unkind.
We must not respond to cruelty with cruelty, insult with insult. Guess why.
If you’re doing those things, thankfully you still have every right to. But the truth is, you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, regardless of your religion, race, or orientation.
I’m not saying we should not stand up for our rights. I am saying we don’t need to hurt others or sacrifice character to do it. Remember, leaders create culture. So if we want to create a culture of dignity, kindness and respect, we’re first going to have to learn to turn the other cheek, repaying rudeness with kindness. There are always going to be cruel people on the Internet, in public restrooms, and in picket lines. Just don’t be one of them. Let’s be leaders who are kinder than that. Let’s stop demanding character from people who don’t have it to give. Just demonstrate character every day, and eventually we’ll find it drawn to us.
“No excuse, sir!”
For my entire first year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, those were the three words that came out of my mouth probably more than any other. For a Fourth Class Cadet (freshman), it was the expected answer to any question that began with a “Why.” Even if we knew the answer, the lesson was to never make excuses, never point the finger somewhere else, and to always take personal responsibility.
“Pullins, why is your shirt wrinkled?”
“No excuse, sir!”
“Pullins, why was your classmate late?”
“No excuse, sir!”
“Pullins, why is the sky blue?”
“No excuse, sir!”
It seemed ridiculous sometimes, when there was a perfectly good reason for something, to respond with, “No excuse, sir!” Sometimes it definitely wasn’t fair to have to respond that way, like when something wasn’t my fault. But the point was, it didn’t matter whose fault it was, I was going to take responsibility for fixing it.
It’s natural, isn’t it, to want to fix blame somewhere else when there’s a problem? Especially when we honestly believe that the blame for a problem lies with someone else, that someone else should be held accountable, not us, right?
Our competitive business culture seems to breed the idea that the way to get ahead of the competition, even our peers, is take credit for the good and shift blame for the bad. I used to be fascinated by the first few years of Donald Trump’s “reality” TV show, The Apprentice (when it still featured competition between “real” young business professionals, rather than washed-up celebrities). It was interesting to watch these young go-getters throw each other under the bus in the boardroom, so that someone else would hear the words, “You’re fired,” rather than themselves.
Fast forward to the political debates we’re watching this year, and it feels the same. No one seems to want to claim responsibility for the problems we’re facing as a country. Candidates shift blame to someone else. It’s no wonder leaders who take responsibility and galvanize people to move forward and solve problems together seem hard to find.
Here are some key reasons why it’s crucial that leaders step up and take responsibility, rather than shift the blame, regardless of who is actually at fault.
First, the longer we dwell on who was at fault (no matter how true it is), the longer others will spend defending themselves from accusation and following our lead of finger pointing. I heard a marriage counselor say once, “Husbands, always be the first to say you’re sorry.” I wish I could say that I’ve always practiced that in my own marriage, but I can say that I regret every time I didn’t. My pride got in the way, and instead I drug the person I promised to always love and cherish into a needless battle of wills.
Second, the more time is spent finger pointing, the longer the delay in taking positive action to solve problems and the longer team productivity is lost. Dwelling on the past delays all progress toward a brighter future.
Third, blaming others erodes trust quickly. And trust takes a lot more effort and time to restore than it does to erode. Not only does blame shifting erode trust from our peers and our employees, it also erodes trust from above. How funny it is to think that what our boss really wants to hear is our shifting the blame so that they won’t be upset with us. Do we honestly believe they’d rather hear that than hear us accept responsibility, apologize and start moving ahead and fixing problems? Do we honestly think we make ourselves look god by making others look bad?
Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold our people accountable when they are truly responsible for mistakes or poor performance. But it’s very difficult to get them to willingly own their mistakes when we, their leaders, haven’t modeled that ourselves.
Remember, leaders create culture. Not with lofty vision statements, but by their everyday actions. The opposite of a culture of finger pointing is a culture of accountability. And a leader who won’t take responsibility for outcomes, bad ones as well as good ones, cannot create a culture of accountability. That culture can only for because of the leader, not despite them. If we model for others the courage to take full responsibility, we can create a culture where it’s normative for everyone to have the courage do so.
Bring your team on the Leadership Learning Adventure of a Lifetime this summer with Alaska Leadership Adventures!
The question keeps senior leaders awake at night. “Where are we going to get the next generation of leaders who will confidently take this organization into the future?” We look around at our prospects, and it’s scary. It’s scary because we haven’t been investing in the leaders we’re going to need to grow our organization.
There are only two ways to get the leaders we’re going to need in the future. We can try and hire them from outside, or we can grow our own leaders from within. Obviously, growing leaders within the organization has the best chance of getting the results we need. Hiring from outside is risky, for lots of reasons. It’s very hard in any hiring process to judge whether someone has the character and chemistry to be a great fit in our organization, no matter how well they interview.
But the thought of developing a successful system for grooming and growing our own leaders seems daunting. Who has the time and energy to pour into that, on top of everything else going on? And so the same cycle of leadership problems repeats year after year. We also assume that an effective strategy for developing leaders is going to be expensive. But the truth is, it’s a lot less expensive than all the hidden costs of NOT investing in effective leadership training.
The one organization that has done an amazing job of growing its own leaders decade after decade with fantastic results is the U.S. Military. They get their general officers from among the ranks of their field grade officers, field grade officers from their company grade officers, etc. But they dedicate vast resources to doing this. How can a medium-sized company have a strategy comparable to that?
After 26 years of training leaders in the U.S. Air Force, NATO, and the Alaska National Guard, I joined Academy Leadership, LLC and started Catapult Leadership Solutions because I want you to have a great system for raising up the leaders in your organization, like the system used by the U.S. Military, at a very reasonable cost. Our Leadership Boot Camp, Leadership Excellence Course, Advanced Leadership Course, and Executive Leadership Course are the foundation of your leadership pipeline, from new supervisors to senior execs.
I don’t just teach theory about leadership. I expect results because you need results. That’s why every course culminates in an actionable plan, followed by 90 days of personal coaching, so that leaders put new skills and plans into practice in cooperation with their supervisor.
Our specialized workshops and modular Leadership Development Program can be customized to meet the specific needs of your organization with over 30 different leadership skills modules to choose from. You can have all of this for a fraction of the cost of creating a leadership development department in your company.
Our organizational and personal leadership assessment tools can help you determine exactly what are your most urgent leadership development needs.
Where do you start? Just contact me for a free initial consultation to discuss your organizations’ leadership development needs.
I look forward to working with you!
When I first began leading a big change initiative in my organization, I made plenty of mistakes. The most significant mistake was in how I communicated our need to change.
Looking back, my words and actions implied that the organization and its leaders had been doing everything wrong (though I don’t think I ever used those words). I had discovered the “right way,” which we were all now going to follow.
While it was true that the organization needed to change, my approach was offensive to some people who had been working really hard with the best of intentions for a long time. Was I saying that all of their years of effort were wasted?
The truth is there were a lot of people doing a lot of good things. But often the biggest enemy of doing what’s best is an exhausting list of other noble things to do. What do you do when everyone’s so busy doing good things that there seems to be no effort going toward doing the necessary things? There’s only so much capital (money, time, personnel) to go around, so if we’re going to focus on the most important things, we often need to stop resourcing some good things.
How do you tell people they need to stop doing good things so that the organization can start doing the necessary things? What if some of those good things have become “sacred cows” to people who will naturally be offended when they hear that what they’re doing isn’t valued anymore?
The important lesson that I took too long to learn is this: Leaders lead people, not just ideas. And people follow GOOD leaders, not just RIGHT leaders. Every leader should make sure they and their people are focused on the right things and rejecting the wrong things. But the language we communicate with is critical. Rather than talk about what people are doing in terms of right and wrong, we must acknowledge and appreciate what people are doing that is good and challenge them to move toward what is best.
We have a lot easier time asking people to change if we first acknowledge and appreciate their virtues, treating them with respect and dignity, not condescension. One of my favorite leaders today, author and apologists Ravi Zacharias, frequently reminds his readers to win people, not arguments.
Yes, leaders must sometimes fight for what is right. But it’s rarely necessary to sacrifice being good to be right. Sacrificing good to be right is the fast track to losing credibility. Trust me, I’ve been there.
People will remember how you treated them long after they have forgotten what you were right about. So let’s consider whether we can lead by putting away our swords rather than falling on them.
Bring your team on The Leadership Learning Adventure of a Lifetime this summer with Alaska Leadership Adventures.
It was the oddest phone call I think I’ve ever received, one of those moments that you remember exactly where you were sitting. It was my friend, Sean. He had recently been elected Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, running mate with Sarah Palin.
“I’d like you to pray about something for me,” he said. “I’d like you to pray about joining me as my Deputy Chief of Staff.” I thought he must have me confused with someone else. I couldn’t think of a more unlikely person to consider for such a role. “Sean, I don’t know much about Alaska state government. Are you sure I’d be a good choice for that role?”
“All of that can be learned,” he said, “and that’s not why I’m asking you. I need a partner of your character in my office. You’ll travel with me and join me in all of my meetings. You’ll hold me accountable and be my advisor. I’ll teach you everything else you need to know.”
That was the first of a few conversations that compelled me to make a major career change for the opportunity to go on a learning adventure with a great leader. And it turned out to be the most educational job opportunity I’ve ever had.
This was my most vivid experience of a critical paradigm for great leaders: Character trumps competency, not just sometimes, every time. I’m not saying that being good at our jobs isn’t important. But taking short cuts on character can be disastrous. Here’s why.
When it comes to character and competency there are only four kinds of people, which are combinations of good or bad character and high or low competency. What we discover through this lens is very interesting.
First are people with good character and high competency. This is the obvious choice of who to choose for your team. A combination of high character and high competency promises unlimited potential for good.
Second are people of good character but low competency. This combination promises limited potential for good. Not as good as option one, but better than the next two options.
Third are people of bad character and low competency. These are not desirable folks to have on your team. This combination promises limited potential for harm.
The fourth kind of person is the worst to have in your organization, the person with high competency and bad character. They can be disastrous to have on your team, because this combination promises unlimited potential for harm.
Shortage of competency can often be overcome in people of strong character, because people of strong character are humble and teachable. And if you, the leader, have developed your own capacity to train people, you can recruit people of great character and grow their competency. It’s almost impossible to reverse bad character in highly competent people.
So surround yourself with humble, teachable people with great character, and grow your own capacity to coach them in their competencies. And before you know it you will have built an amazing team.
Jay Pullins is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. He is also a leadership course facilitator for Academy Leadership, LLC.