For those in leadership, have you ever wondered to yourself, “Does it really matter?” I am sure you work really hard at your job. We all work really hard at our jobs. Most of us, with any fortune will move on to other roles; or we will promote people from our team to larger responsibilities on other teams. Will it have mattered that you were their leader and not someone else?
Think of someone in your past who had such a positive impact on you that you continue to think about them today. It could be a manager, teacher, sports coach, relative, or a friend. It could be almost anyone. I want to tell you about two such people in my life.
At the start of my professional career, I had a manager who personified the marriage between strategy and execution. He expected even entry-level sales reps to not only follow through on commitments at a very high level (execution); he also required that we understand and be able to articulate why every task was necessary for the company’s global success (strategy). This linked our actions to the company’s mission. He would frequently remind us, “We are constantly being evaluated. Those who succeed not only know the right answers, they know why those are right.” This leader’s name is Joe C. We have both since changed companies; and I have not talked with Joe C. for close to 15 years. Still, with every work project I take on, I simultaneously consider strategy, execution and the connection to a more global mission.
When I joined my next company, I came to know a senior leader who required that everyone take personal ownership for their assigned responsibility. His managers were allowed only one opportunity to blame poor business results on the weather, the economy, the decisions of the previous manager; or any other externality. He was extremely good at removing barriers as long as we were upfront about the true drivers of the business and specific about what we needed to move forward. The first (and only) time a manager blamed a business failure on an external force, the senior leader would share, “The Submarine Story”: A submarine captain docks his ship for the last time after 20 years of exemplary service and hands the keys to you. On your maiden voyage, you take the submarine out 100 miles and crash into an iceberg. Who crashed the submarine? Of course the new manager would say, “Well…I suppose…I would have been the one to crash the submarine”. The senior executive would then explain the moral of his story. “This business is your submarine now. It does not matter what happened under the previous captain’s leadership or the forces that surround you. You have to own the results.” This leader’s name is Stan H. He has been retired for over 10 years. During every business results discussion over the past 15 years, I have thought about the submarine story and how Stan developed his leaders beyond the immediate task.
So here’s the point. Examples of leadership from Joe C. and Stan H. have positive residue with me. My memories of them influence my decisions weekly; sometimes impacting millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of people who may never meet Joe C. or Stan H. That is much more than management; that is leadership.
There is a necessary role for managing the success of short-term tactics; without a short-term there can be no long-term. Leadership, however, is much more inspirational. A necessary measure of leadership must be the influence that remains after the leader has gone.
How often do you reflect on leaders from your past (positively or negatively)?
Did those leaders know that they were influencing your future decisions?
Who is watching you?
How much effort do you put into managing the short-term versus leading for the long-term?
Who might you be influencing in the way that Joe C. and Stan H. influenced me?