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Leadership Thought #463 – You Need To Have Thick Skin To Lead Others

Leadership is not for the faint of heart.  It certainly has its ups and downs and can test anyone’s emotional fortitude.  However, this is the very reason so few people can do it well.  If you take every small slight and failure personally, the job will eat you alive.  Whenever you assume a position of responsibility, you automatically also assume a roster of critics and malcontents who aren’t always aligned with your leadership vision.  Since you can’t realistically fire everyone who disagrees with you (nor is this advisable), then you need to figure out other ways to handle the pressures and scrutiny.

I’ve found that the best leaders I work with welcome the criticism.  They don’t always like it, but they accept that a key aspect of leading people is harnessing disparate points of view and feelings.  I don’t care how smart you are, no one person has all the right answers.  And, since we are all human, we will inevitably make mistakes.  To some extent, your critics keep you on your toes.  They help you maintain your ‘A game” and not take your position for granted.  If you are willing to listen to and embrace their feedback, you will definitely make better decisions.   Of course, there will always be points of diminishing returns, but don’t be too quick to assume you’ve reached this level of dysfunction.  Getting better often involves hard work.

In my life I’ve found that if you can navigate the rocky waters of professional disagreement effectively, then  you actually end up building new advocates for your point of view.  Sometimes the people who were most resistant initially end up becoming your most loyal colleagues.  Give me someone who is up front and honest with their opinions over someone who is more passive-aggressive any day. Healthy relationships are only ever possible if people can be authentically honest with one another.  I’ve also found that much of the initial angst and tension between two people is often due to poor communication and misunderstandings.

Leadership means embracing the spotlight not withering under it.  The very act of putting yourself out there and assuming others will follow is an act of unusual self-confidence.  Most people are hard-wired to follow not lead.  However, everyone can be a critic.  So be it.  As they saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” As a leader you will have good days and bad ones.  You will make great decisions and have many others you would like to take back.  You will trust people who disappoint you and lose good people to your competition.  You will be forced to make decisions with imperfect information and sometimes fail as result.  Many external market forces will be beyond your control to predict and/or influence. Some of your employees will make your life easier while others will require more work than you’d like. Not everyone will always think you are wonderful.

However, when all is said and done, leaders are in the minority people in this world who get to actually influence the future.  They ultimately reap what they sow as a business and individual.  Leaders have the opportunity to make a real positive difference in the lives of their family, employees and community. Maybe even this world.  Leaders get to stretch their personal capabilities in ways others will never experience.   Theirs will be a life of their own making.  Aren’t the benefits of leadership worth a little scrutiny and criticism?  You need to have thick skin to lead others and it is almost always worth it!


Thomas Edison Quotes To Celebrate His Birthday 167 Years Ago Today

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

 Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

 I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

 Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.

 “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!

 What you are will show in what you do.

 Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.


Leadership Thought #448 – If What You Are Doing Isn’t Working, Then Try Something Else

One of the most frustrating and disheartening things that someone in my position has to deal with are leaders who have a tendency to ignore reality and follow a flawed strategy or other key decision off a cliff.  Pride almost always gets in the way as he/she thinks that changing course would represent failure or unnecessary pain.  Usually there is a difficult decision that has to be made about people, finances  or the current business model (sometimes all three).  The inability to make these types of decisions tends to lead to one outcome – failure.  A reasonably competent leader may delay the timing but the end result is inevitable.

When what you are doing isn’t working, then you need to try something different.  To paraphrase Einstein, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.” This doesn’t mean you always chart a new course at the first sign of adversity.  However, if consistent negative patterns are emerging, you must pay attention and act accordingly.  Some typical signs are flat-lined revenues, constant cash worries, diminishing profitability, and a growing debt burden that is out of synch with expected business results.  If you are continually borrowing money just to make payroll and keep your doors open, you really aren’t growing a for-profit business.  The goal in business should be to get better problems, not continually revisit the same old ones. And, believe me, the universe will keep pushing you to learn a lesson until you get it.

Don’t get me wrong, change just for the sake of change is never good.  There are certainly many strategies that need some time to come to fruition.  Don’t bailout just because you’ve hit a bump in the road and it’s hard.  It’s equally important not to be pig-headed, fearful, or persistent to the point of being illogical or naive.  Usually, there are people around you who care about you and see what you don’t see or choose to ignore. Listen to them!  Courage isn’t about proving yourself right, it’s about accepting the brutal facts of your reality and doing the right thing.

I’ve witnessed the following areas where business leaders get stuck far too often:

  • Embracing old market paradigms of doing business when things have irrevocably changed;
  • Holding on to technological solutions that are no longer responsive to industry/market needs;
  • Not rethinking the product/marketing strategy when sales trends are flat or trending downwards;;
  • Getting too comfortable with existing market dynamics and being too slow to expand and diversify;
  • Under-investing in sales capacity and putting the business development  burden on too few people;
  • Under-capitalizing the business given your growth strategy – you cannot consistently grow on the cheap;
  • Using a pricing model that no longer reflects market realities;
  • Treating variable expenses like fixed expenses especially when it comes to labor costs;
  • Continually growing in-house administrative capacity/expenses without properly vetting outsourcing options;
  • Offering employee benefit packages the business can’t really afford due to profit margin realities;
  • A regular pattern of maximizing debt burdens/ceilings and keeping it that way, allowing no margin for financial error;
  • Going into more debt when you are already losing considerable money;
  • An unwillingness to confront problem employees who are doing damage to your culture and adversely affecting customer relationships;
  • Sticking with a vendor out of personal loyalty that you have outgrown and who cannot get you to the next level;
  • Hiring and promoting family members/friends who are unqualified for the job and making everyone else cover up for their non-performance;
  • Saving the jobs of a few at the expense of the many;
  • Listening to only those people who validate what you are doing rather than actively encouraging constructive feedback.


Leadership Thought #381 – You Can’t Save Everyone

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my line of work is that you can’t save everyone.  Despite your good intentions and best efforts, sometimes the formula will not work.  In some cases, you might have to accept the fact that you are not the right fit for a given engagement or client relationship.  In other instances, there is always a reason why someone is struggling and until they fully come to grips with this fact and take ownership of their behavior, there is only so much you can do.

If the reason is you aren’t a good fit with the client or needs of the engagement, then be honest with them and yourself and move on gracefully and quickly.  Sometimes we just don’t connect with another person and that’s okay, but trying to force a connection where one doesn’t exist only leads to unnecessary tension and frustration.  Some relationships just aren’t meant to be.  On the flip side of this situation, once a client trusts you and values the relationship, they may offer you opportunities that aren’t a good fit with your skills and/or abilities and/or time availability.  You need to know when to say “no thanks” and steer them in a different direction.  If you are not careful you will end up eroding all the good will you’ve built up by underperforming on something you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.   In the professional services business never chase money, but instead focus on providing maximum value.

If the reason is the client’s readiness or willingness to change this is a much more difficult issue.  Convincing someone to alter their mindset and behavior is hard work.  When you are dealing with people who feel time crunched and overcommitted already, they may resist anything they find arduous and additive to an already full plate.  Even when the consequences of not changing are significant, people will still avoid doing things that make them feel further stressed or uncomfortable.   And, it’s important to know that there is a big difference between a person feeling uncomfortable and stressed versus experiencing true pain.  You can live with stress and discomfort for a long time but real pain must be addressed at some point.

I’ve seen many a leader hold onto employees, clients, product/service lines and outdated business models that aren’t serving them well because they’d rather not confront reality.  There are many reasons for this such as pride, ego, fear, low self-confidence, misguided loyalty, emotional discomfort, family business dynamics, etc.  Unfortunately, when you wait too long the consequences of inaction are often worse and can be irreversible.  Just like an individual ignoring obvious health signs because they don’t want to deal with the potential reality of what’s happening; leaders often wait until they have no choice but to address the symptoms because they have now become severe or potentially fatal.  Sadly, many of us still forget that the sooner you address something, the higher the probability that you will achieve a better outcome.   If you wait too long, it may be too late.

A cold fact of life is that some people can’t be saved by you or from themselves.   Sometimes the best teacher is failure.  You can care deeply about he individual, work hard and do your best, but it still may not be good enough.  The important thing is to first assess whether or not you are part of the problem and not a good advisory fit for the specific situation. Secondly, all you can do is make your client/colleague fully aware of the consequences of inaction, push them to see how their own behaviors are contributing to the situation and help them identify alternative courses of action.  The rest is up to them.

Leadership Thought #293 – Set People Up For Success

One of my least favorite sayings I hear from business owners is that “we throw people into the deep end of the pool and see if they can swim.”  What a bunch of nonsense!  As a leader it is incumbent upon you to make sure your people have the job clarity, tools, resources and training to be successful.  You are supposed to set people up for success not push them towards failure.  Darwinian logic misapplied to the work environment is professional malpractice.

People are supposed to be successful because of you not in spite of you.  When they make the decision to join your organization they are literally putting their future in your hands.  No one starts a job wanting to fail although sometimes they do overreach.  It should be expected that the company would do the necessary filtering to ensure the candidate has the basic skills and background to do the job.  In addition, screening applicants for cultural fit is equally as important as validating their technical qualifications.  However, once the hiring decision is made the company should be fully committed to a successful outcome.

I’ve heard it said that employees decide within the first 2-6 weeks whether or the company and position will be a good long term fit for them.  So, the first thing your organization needs to do is ensure that there is a strong on-boarding process in place.   Don’t just show them their desk, provide technology tools, give them the employee manual, and have them sign HR paperwork and figure you’ve done your part as a new employer. The first two weeks of employment should be mostly scheduled with meetings/trainings and other activities that integrate them into the company and provide clarity and as to how to be successful in their role. It is also critical that all new hires meet and get acquainted with other people integral to the performance of their responsibilities. 

Once employees are successfully oriented they should have the structure of weekly feedback interactions with their supervisor (which can become bi-weekly as things become more settled). Never rely on ad hoc situational management as the primary communication tool.  Every position should have a job description with clearly defined performance metrics and these should be tracked on as frequent a basis as possible.  Skills gaps should be identified and a performance development plan put in place to get the individual up to speed quickly.  I am also a fan of assigning all new employees an experienced mentor who isn’t their direct supervisor but who is charged with helping them navigate the early stage development of their career within the company and navigating political and cultural dynamics.  HR, or someone senior if it is a small company, should formally check-in with employees and their supervisor at the 6 week, 6 month and 18 month milestones to see how things are progressing.

Lastly, your job as a supervisor/manager is to never knowingly put someone in a situation that plays to their weaknesses and leaves them unnecessarily vulnerable.  To do this effectively, you need to a) intimately get to know your people including their strengths and shortcomings as employees/people; b) be honest with them about this reality; c) don’t overload them with more than they can possibly handle; d) assist them with prioritizing their workload; and e) help them anticipate and respond to events outside of their control.   And, if they do screw up, then make sure they learn from the experience and move on (although repeated mistakes shouldn’t be tolerated).

Bottom line is to always put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Ask yourself, what would you want from your boss if you were them?  It’s not rocket science.  Think about some of the best supervisors/ managers you’ve had over the years and try to emulate their positive behaviors.  Leverage your experience to the employees benefit while at the same time expecting and allowing them to take initiative and grow in a measured thoughtful way.  The fast track is often a pathway to failure if you are not careful especially if there are no guard rails and the race is unfair to begin with.

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Leadership Thought #255 – Managing Through Adversity

2009-2011  has been a difficult period for many people I know and care about.  It’s almost as if the heavens opened up and terrible storm decided to descend on a vast number of unsuspecting people.  In many cases, the signs may have been there, but none of us expected the difficulty it to be so prolonged and discouraging.  They say “what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.”  I’m not sure I agree with this point of view.  Not every challenge leads to strength; sometimes it just forces us to alter our perspective.  Change doesn’t always mean growth or better, it often just means different.  In addition, certain wounds don’t always heal as we would like them to, but they heal nonetheless – time will see to this.

Whether you obstacles have been personal or professional or both, I hope that you find the ability to persevere and hold tight to what grounds you.  If the source of your despair is seemingly beyond your control and you feel rudderless in a stormy sea, take heart, it too shall pass.  Don’t be too proud to ask for help or show your vulnerability.  We all need a shoulder to lean on occasionally.

One thing is certain: 2012 will be different.   Some of us will experience success beyond our wildest expectations; others will unfortunately feel the stings of failure and hardship.  Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle.  Don’t let adversity get you too far down or define you in a way that doesn’t suit you.  Regularly solicit feedback from friends and loved ones (and tell yourself) that you are up to any challenge.  The only thing we can control is our actions and how we respond to the events around us.  In dire circumstances, accepting “different” is better than the alternative of clinging to a view of your world that no longer exists.  Life will never revert back to what it was. Continue on in your journey even when it’s hard and be open to new beginnings.  Happiness and success will inevitably reappear; sometimes when you least expect it.

Leadership Thought #252 – Know When To Move On

I find that far too many people get stuck in patterns or hold on to situations that are no longer worth their time and investment.  Life is short.  Once you come to the conclusion that something isn’t working for you, transfer your energy into something different and move on.  I say this with the caveat that I don’t include marriage or parenthood in this point of view because by their very nature both require perseverance, sacrifice, and commitment.

Giving up on an idea isn’t failure.  It can be basic common sense.  Both time and resources are finite.  If you spend them on something that has little chance of working out, then for all intensive purposes you are wasting your efforts.  This doesn’t mean you give up on the idea of taking risks or pursuing long shots, but it does mean you do so carefully with your eyes wide open and a willingness to pull the plug if and when needed.

There is a joke I’ve heard about gambling that always resonated with me, “I lost $2 at the racetrack once and spent $2M trying to win it back.”  Just because you’ve already invested some money or time in something doesn’t mean you’re stuck and have to see it through.  Sometimes it’s best to take your losses early and go home.   We are all individuals and as such have different personal capacity to absorb risk and manage failure.  However, for each us, there does come a point of diminishing returns.  Not all of our time needs to be spent on productive activity, but it’s critical that we are aware of the fact when our investments/efforts become non-productive.

I’ve always believed the overall curve of any individual’s life should be upward sloping.  This doesn’t mean there won’t be peaks and troughs along the way or periods of time where you feel you’ve reached a plateau.  When you are stuck you should be consciously striving to become unstuck not seeking out more glue.  When faced with adversity, do your best to take positive steps to help you get back on track.  Don’t get mired in the past but embrace the present and pursue the future with a vigor worthy of your time and energy.   Know when to move on and you will have less pain, frustration and disappointment in your life.

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