The Smartest Kid In the Class

If you’re the smartest kid in the class, you’re in the wrong class. That is if you want to grow. I’m not sure who first made the comment about surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you but they sure were smart. The easiest way to grow as a person and as a leader is to surround yourself with people who know more than you do. In his famous book about the richest men in the world called Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill wrote about Henry Ford, “Any man is educated who knows where to get knowledge when he needs it, and how to organize that knowledge into definite plans of action.” He was talking about the fact that Henry Ford had smart people around him.

David Ogilvy, widely revered as a founding father of modern advertising (and founder of one of its most famous agencies), is reputed to have once presented each of his board directors with a set of Russian dolls. When they opened the dolls, the smallest had a piece of folded paper inside on which Ogilvy had written: ”If you always hire people who are smaller than you, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you, we shall become a company of giants.”

One Example

Several years ago I sat in on a meeting of the division presidents of a large national company with their CEO. The CEO was also the founder of the company.  He had started two other companies and had sold them both making many of his team millionaires. His reputation preceded him but this company was in an industry that was new to him. What I observed was interesting. Whenever the CEO said something or made a point all the division presidents nodded their heads like a group of bobblehead dolls, except one. That guy spoke his mind and if he disagreed with the CEO, he said so. “That won’t work,” he blurted out in one case. He went on to explain why. “That’s not what this customer is looking for,” he said another time.

The outspoken division president had spent years in the industry that was new to the CEO. He knew the business. The CEO recognized the value of that president’s expertise and soon after that meeting elevated him to a position of leadership nearer the CEO so he could more readily benefit from it.

The Point

I’ve been writing about personal growth over the last several weeks. If you have a fragile ego or something to prove to someone then this post isn’t for you. This post is for people who realize that they don’t know everything and can’t do everything but still want to be successful or even significant. Those are the people who want to grow, who want to increase their influence.

If you’re one of those people then it should make sense to you to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and better than you.  That’s a growth environment. A growth environment like that will do at least three things for you.

  1. It will keep you challenged – challenges keep us engaged and, like in any physical training, we gain strength by doing a little more each time.
  2. It will keep you focused forward – you can’t drive a car looking in the rearview mirror or you’ll crash. A growth environment will keep you driving with your eyes on the road ahead.
  3. It will keep you out of your comfort zone – I recently heard John Maxwell speak on personal growth. He said, “Everything you want or need is outside your comfort zone.”

When I interview candidates for certain jobs I like to ask this question, “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” I’ve heard answers like, “I didn’t do it,” or “I don’t do anything I’m not trained to do.” I didn’t hire those people. I’m looking for people with the drive and ingenuity to find solutions. When they say, “I found someone who knows how to do it and asked them,” or “I found the procedure manual or I googled it until I knew what I was doing,” that’s when I believe I have someone who is in a growth mindset.  Those are the people I want to hire.

Take a look around you, at your colleagues and friends. Are they ahead of you, next to you, or behind you? If they’re all next to you and behind you, you need to find some new colleagues and friends. Put yourself in a growth environment.

That’s A Good Question

I attended a business conference last week where one of the plenary session speakers was a retired Navy officer. He made the assertion that your most powerful tool as a leader is questions. He talked specifically about what he called, “Depth-Charge Questions.” During World Wars I and II, a depth charge was a type of bomb that was dropped into the sea and exploded when it reached a certain depth. It’s purpose was to damage enemy submarines causing them to surface so you could capture or destroy them.

That’s a perfect analogy for a retired Navy officer. The depth-charge question, then, is one designed to surface things that could be potentially dangerous to your organization. He went on to quote Voltaire who said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” John Maxwell (who was the keynote speaker at the same conference) said, “you can tell the size of a leader by the questions they ask.”

The Question Behind The Question

What makes a good question? That’s a good question! If you Google it, you’ll find 35 great questions for this and 101 questions for that, and even 1,001 questions for something else. So, it depends on the conversation and the purpose. I sometimes like to ask, “What’s the question behind the question?”

People will often ask a timid question as a way of putting their toe in the water to test the temperature of the topic. “Who did this task?” They may ask. If I ask what the question behind the question is, I may learn they are really concerned about the training program. That’s what we need to talk about. Good questions probe reality. They dig beyond the surface to discover motives, issues, genuine concerns, etc.

QBQ – The Question Behind The Question

John G. Miller wrote a book entitled, QBQ – The Question Behind The Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and Life.  A second sub-title is, “What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Victim Thinking, Complaining, and Procrastination.” Someone recommended this book to me years ago. I read it and, admittedly, borrowed and slightly re-interpreted the title for my approach in the last section. But, I highly recommend the book.

Personal accountability is a growing deficit in life and work. More and more, people are living and working below the line of accountability and engaging in the victim cycle. They play the blame game, they pretend they don’t understand, they CYA, they avoid responsibility, etc. Miller suggests that if we ask different questions we can turn that around.

One of his chapters is called “A Poor Sailor Blames the Wind.” Bingo! That about says it all. The first chapter is an amazing account of someone who took personal responsibility to the next level. I’ll leave it to you to get the book and read it. Hint: if you follow the link I provided it will take you to a Nook sample of the book and you can read the story there.

Good Questions Have an “I” In Them

Don’t ask this kind of “Why” question:

  • “Why is this happening to me?”
  • “Why do we have to change?”
  • “Why don’t they communicate better?”

Don’t ask these other kinds of questions:

  • “Who dropped the ball?”
  • “When will we get what we need?”
  • “When will leadership walk their talk?”

You get the idea. Good questions have an “I” in them:

  • “What part of this [problem or solution] did I contribute to?”
  • “What can I do to make things better?”
  • “Who can I help today?”

There are literally thousands of other examples of good and bad questions. Here’s my question for myself, “Am I asking the right questions?” Here’s my question for you, “Are you?”

Send, Dial, or Walk?

I just devoted three posts to the importance and content of good “Company Communication.” Now I would like to talk about the mode of that communication. Communication, especially effective communication, most often involves dialog or conversation rather than a monologue. What difference does the mode make?

I’ve participated in many interview panels for management-level candidates where one of the questions was, “How do you prefer to communicate with your employees?” 100% of the time the answer includes the phrase, “face-to-face” or “in-person” or “one-on-one.” No one has yet preferred a phone call or text message.  Why? Again, what difference does the mode make?

Send

Even the word “Send” seems to imply distance. I send a package to someone or I send a letter. These days we send emails and text messages. Written communication has an important place in our lives. For example, Suzi found all the love letters her father had sent to her mother before they were married. She displays them in a 3-foot high apothecary jar. It’s quite beautiful to look at especially when you consider all the love that’s memorialized in those words. She treasures them especially now that both her parents have passed away.

Written communication is important when we want to memorialize a conversation for future reference or for legal or sentimental reasons. Writing also gives us the chance to consider our words before delivering them. We can be more clear and organized in our communication when we write it. Written responses also allow us to pause, if need be, before responding to someone. Sometimes that pause can save a relationship.

But writing is less personal. What we email, text, or post on social media happens mostly inside our own heads without the benefit of the other person’s presence to help us form our communication appropriately. That can be impersonal at best and dangerous at worst.

Dial

When I hear the word conversation, I think of hearing someone else’s voice and talking. That leads me to the next consideration for the mode of conversation. Dial. I used to have a bunch of people’s phone numbers memorized. Not any more. Now I just press the speed dial button on my office phone or say, “Hey Google, Call Suzi on mobile” and within seconds I’m talking to her.

That’s the key for this mode. We get to talk to the other person. I get to hear the inflections in their voice, their pauses. Emotion comes through. Their level of interest or understanding comes through much more clearly in a voice conversation. The conversation is also much more immediate. It’s in the moment which is important when what you want or need is urgent. Dial when you don’t have time to wait for the other person to formulate their response or just get around to checking their email or texts. That makes the words, “You’ve reached my voicemail …” very aggravating. Voicemail ranks lower on my list of preferred modes of communication than snail mail, and that’s pretty low.  Are they away from their phone or just screening?

My side of the family lives in Minnesota and I live in California. That’s another huge value to dial technology. It shrinks the world so you can talk to people you can’t be with. Zoom, Skype, and other platforms have made that even more personal with video calling. My Dad and brothers and I get together periodically on a “Thomason Boys” Zoom call. I treasure the chance to see their faces and hear what’s going on in their lives.

Walk

I said walk, but it could be drive or even fly. Face-to-face, in-person communication takes effort but it’s worth it. The difference in value between “dial” and “send” is huge. But the difference in value of in-person conversation over the others is like a race between tennis shoes and a motorbike. There is no comparison.  The clarity of the visual, the audio quality, and the 3-D effect, you don’t even need 3-D glasses!

Okay, I’m being silly, but you get what I mean. There is nothing like an in-person conversation. Just ask a teacher. Our daughter-in-law who is a 5th-grade teacher was able to join Suzi and me for dinner while our son was at an event the other evening. We talked about the difference she feels between online learning and in-person education. Just the ability to move around in each other’s space, to physically go to a student who may need a little help is exponentially more valuable than any online platform.

So, I say send when it’s necessary. Dial when you can. But, by all means, whenever it’s an option, walk.

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 3

This is the final installment of a 3-part series on company communication. So far we’ve discussed four “Cs” that make communication more effective. We said communication should be Clear and Concrete, Concise and Complete. I didn’t realize until I finished the last post that those rhyme. That may help you remember the first four. Sorry to say, though, the rhyme ends there. Though the next two don’t rhyme, they are equally as important as the last four in conducting effective company communication.

Collaborative

Collaboration literally means “co-laboring,” working together. We’ve all heard the saying “Teamwork makes the Dream Work.” On the other hand, have you heard the saying, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee?” Both can be true and often the difference is communication. The team that realized the dream most likely had much better collaboration than the committee that somehow put a hump on the back of a horse!

Celeste Headlee, NPR radio host and author, listed the following 10 pieces of advice in her TEDx talk on how to have a good conversation. Good conversations is how collaboration happens.

  1. Don’t multitask – be present in that moment, all in
  2. Don’t pontificate – enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. Bill Nigh said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”
  3. Use open-ended questions – Who? What? Etc. not yes or no questions
  4. Go with the flow – thoughts and stories will come to mind while someone is talking. Let them flow right out. Let the conversation be about the other person.
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Conversations are not promotional opportunities
  7. Do not repeat yourself – It’s condescending and boring
  8. Stay out of the weeds – no one cares about the names and dates you’re trying to recall.
  9. Listen – the most important skill you can develop. Buddha said, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning? Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”
  10. Be Brief – “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, long enough to cover the subject.”

I think we would agree that most great work is accomplished in teams. Following Celeste’s advice on good conversations will help your team avoid the hump and achieve the dream.

Contributive

My late father-in-law had a way of telling the truth about food he didn’t like without hurting the feelings of the person who had prepared it and asked, “How do you like it?” He would say it was “tasty.” That was true. It definitely had taste. Everything we say should be true, but not everything true should be said.

Effective communication should help in some way. It should add value to the person or to the conversation. Some people speak seemingly just to hear the sound of their voice. Their comments are irrelevant or counterproductive. Don’t be that person. The value you add may indeed be constructive criticism but the key word there is “constructive.” Our communication should aim to build up the other person or the group. In the wise words of one ancient ambassador, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” He was saying you will be prepared to respond to anyone appropriately if your words are always gracious and salty.

Gracious Words – our words should be courteous, kind, and pleasant. The “grace” in gracious implies we behave this way especially if the other person isn’t or doesn’t seem to deserve kindness. Some people refer to this as being professional.

Salty Words – (not the cussing-like-a-sailor kind of salty) Salt does several things. First, salt preserves food. Second, it enhances the flavor of food. Third, salt makes you thirsty. Salty words preserve relationships regardless of the content of the communication. Salty words are delicious, people desire them.  I remember a man coming out of my Dad’s office and saying to me, “Man, that’s the first time I’ve ever been reprimanded where I actually enjoyed the conversation.” I’m sure he was ready to hear whatever my Dad had to say to him after that. Finally, have you ever heard someone say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? The follow-up to that saying is, “No, but you can feed him salt!” Our words can and should invite people to ask questions, explore, grow and contribute. Our words should make people thirsty for more.

The Six “Cs” of Company Communication are Clear, Concrete, Concise, Complete, Collaborative, and Contributive. If you master those, you may be on your way to the “C-Suite.”

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 2

Last week I started this series on company communication with some definitions (imagine that!). I shared the definitions of the words “company,” “communicate,” and “Inform(ation).” I also pointed out that the “company” for which these “Cs” are relevant is any group of people. These are just principles of good communication.

When I arrived at my last job I interviewed each of the leaders on my team with the same questions. One of those questions was “what one thing could we improve that would make the biggest difference.” People gave several answers to that question, but the number one answer was “communication.” That would be the answer in many organizations.

Research shows that time spent on calls, emails, and meetings has increased by 25 percent to 50 percent in the last two decades. It also reveals that while companies host an average of 61 meetings per month, an estimated $37 billion is wasted annually due to employee misunderstanding (including actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three) in … corporations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Last week we talked about good communication is clear and concrete. This week we look at two more Cs of good communication.

Concise

The definition of “Concise” is – “giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words.” In fact “Clear and Concise” are often used together. Clear speaks to how understandable the communication is while concise is about how long it is.

Summarize your point. Provide background or additional information upon request.  One communication technique I learned in healthcare is the SBAR. That stands for

  • Situation – a brief statement of the problem
  • Background – pertinent information about the development of the problem
  • Assessment – analysis and consideration of options (what you found or think)
  • Recommendation/Request – action you want taken

That’s one guide to help you organize your thoughts. Organized thinking is easier to make concise. I found a writing guide put out by Stanford University that offers great tips for writing clearly and concisely. It’s geared toward technical writing which is often the most unclear so it’s helpful for those of us trying to communicate non-technical information. Some of their tips, to whet your appetite, include:

  1. Avoid unnecessary fancy words; use straight-forward words
  2. Replace vague words with specific ones
  3. Eliminate unnecessary words
  4. Replace multiple negatives with affirmatives
  5. Use active voice construction when appropriate

There are more tips and they all have examples. I downloaded the paper and plan to use it as a reference in the future. You’ll have to let me know if my writing improves!

Complete

This might sound like a contradiction. I just suggested using as few words as possible to be concise. Now I’m suggesting you leave nothing out. Which is it? Well, it’s both.  the definition of “Concise” was “to give a lot of information . . . in a few words.” Complete communication is about what you choose to include.

We sometimes skew information by leaving parts out. When we do that our communication is biased in favor of our point of view or of what we want. Biased communication is often detectable and diminishes trust. You may have heard the term “fake news.” That’s what people will think of you if your communication is found to be incomplete, especially if your omissions tend to alter the hearer’s perception of reality.

Concise is about sharing as much as you can in as few words as possible. Complete is about making your communication as real as possible. The more accurately your communication reflects reality, especially if it doesn’t put you in the best light, the more people will trust what you say.

Be clear. Be Concrete. Be Concise. Be Complete. Next week we’ll finish out this series with the final two Cs of Company Communication.

Course Launch!

After three years of blogging and over 30 years of leadership in various organizations, I’ve decided to offer some of what I’ve learned in an online course. You may have seen my Facebook video last week. If not, here’s a link to that.

 

I’ve learned a lot about leadership over the years. I’ve learned from mentors and from my experience with success and failure. It has been my privilege to serve clients in multiple industries including healthcare, airlines, sports and entertainment, food manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, education, and several non-profit organizations.

When I transitioned from full-time ministry to the business world almost 25 years ago, I wrote the following personal mission statement: “to build relationships within my sphere of influence through which I can help people discover and achieve their capacity for excellence.” That has been my purpose. Now I want to expand that sphere of influence by offering this online course.

I know that the skills contained in this course will help people lead better. Whether they are new in a leadership role or a CEO or business owner, these skills will make them better because they will help leaders connect with and engage their people. In fact, these skills are transferrable to all of life, not just business or non-profit leadership.

Here’s a link to my new web page. There you will find a link to the free webinar called “Engager Dynamics Bookends.” Take 40 minutes to view the webinar. It might just be the best time investment you make all month.

Connecting Requires Credibility

This morning I got up to do my regular weekday morning routine.  I made coffee, took the dog out, read for half an hour, then grabbed my laptop to start writing. I had plugged it in yesterday because the battery was low so I unplugged the charger from the laptop and pushed the button to turn it on … nothing. “What in the world,” I wondered. I looked at the charger and followed the cord to the wall socket. It was not plugged in at the wall.  No wonder. By all appearances my laptop should have been charged up and ready to go. But, the reality was there was no juice going to it to charge it up. There it is. The difference between appearances and reality is what we call credibility. When appearances and reality align there is credibility. When they are different there is a credibility gap. Connecting with people requires credibility. Here are several questions to help measure our credibility.

Have I connected with myself?

Integrity means, in its second definition, the state of being whole and undivided. It comes from the Latin word integer meaning “In tact.” The English word “Integer” means a whole number that is not a fraction. One way I think of integrity is being the same on the outside as you are on the inside. Whether you are or you’re not, people know it.

Have I made right my wrongs?

Imagine yourself talking to a group of people about the importance of collaboration and teamwork. Now imagine seeing, in the group, the face of a person you had wronged in some way and never corrected the wrong. That uncomfortable feeling is the gap between the words you are saying (appearance) and what you had done (reality). That feeling is your credibility gap. Often when we right our wrongs it not only repairs our credibility, it improves our credibility.

Am I accountable?

I like to ask the question, “What does accountability mean to you?” when I’m interviewing someone for a job. I am looking for people who answer that question first by talking about being accountable, not about how they hold others accountable. When you make a commitment you create hope. When you keep a commitment you create trust. Being accountable is how you create trust.

Do I lead like I live?

This is the outflow of integrity. If I’m the same on the inside as I am on the outside then I will lead like I live. I cannot give to others what I do not have.

Do I tell the truth?

This seems like a no-brainer. How can you have credibility if you lie? Notice, I did not ask, “Do I not lie?” I asked, “Do I tell the truth?” There is an ancient proverb that says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” I once attended a meeting of division presidents held by the company’s CEO. I was amazed as I watched everyone around the table nod at everything the CEO said like bobble-heads, except one guy. He spoke up and voiced disagreement when he didn’t like what he heard. Later, I wasn’t surprised to learn that guy had become a close adviser to the CEO. Because he had credibility the others lacked. He told the truth.

Am I vulnerable?

This is just another way of telling the truth. Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, says, “We all know that perfection is a mask. So we don’t trust the people behind know-it-all masks. They’re not being honest with us. The people with whom we have deepest connection are those who acknowledge their weaknesses.”

Do I follow the “Golden Rule?”

This is not the version that says, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” This is the true version that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What would happen to families, to communities, to countries, to the world if everyone treated others the way they wanted to be treated? Imagine! The interesting thing about the Golden Rule is that it’s not something you wait for others to do.

Do I deliver Results?

Am I a charger plugged into a device but not plugged into the wall or do I really bring the juice? People usually want to learn from someone who has something to show for their efforts. Here’s another way of looking at it. When we interview someone for a leadership position we ask them questions to determine whether or not they will be a good fit. We are better off asking questions about what they’ve done rather than what they would do. For example, “Could you tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer?” is a better question than, “What would you do if you discovered your customer was angry?” The reason it’s better is that it asks for results the candidate can point to as a way of demonstrating how they might bring the juice in the future.

No one wants to connect with a fake, a blow-hard, a know-it-all, or someone who appears hollow. These are all the opposite of credibility. Connection requires credibility. Credibility means “the quality of being trusted and believed in.” Let’s work toward being credible.

Connecting is a Skill

Happy 3rd Birthday, Engager Dynamics! My firsts post, Star Performance, went up on April 15, 2018, so this is celebration week. This time last year, who could have imagined what was in store? We thought we’d be out of this pandemic lockdown soon for one thing.  We sold the home we’d lived in the longest of any since we got married and moved to “The Ranch.” Let’s not even mention the interesting politics with the campaigns, the rallies, the demonstrations, the conventions, and the election. What a year!

Work, for those who still have jobs, has largely become a virtual world of masked colleagues at least six feet away if not miles. Connecting is more important now than ever. This is a good time to talk about the fact that connecting is more skill than natural talent. We can learn to connect. True, some people seem to connect more easily than others, but we can all learn to connect. Great connectors tend to draw on one or more of several factors to create a connection. Here are five to consider. Which of these might you have? The factors will be different depending on with whom you’re connecting.

Relationships – who you know.

A quick way to gain credibility with an individual, a group, or an audience is to borrow it from someone who has credibility with them. “Who” you know can open the door for you to connect with someone. I was at a convention in Orlando, Florida in August of 2019, for example. I met a guy and we started talking. You know, the small talk that we use to find something in common. As it turned out, we had lived in the same town during high school and knew some of the same people particularly a guy I had played football with. There was an instant connection. The level of conversation changed from small talk to connection.

Insight – what you know.

If you share an area of expertise generously with others, you give people reasons to respect you and they will develop a sense of connection with you. What are you really good at that most people aren’t? Can you draw? Are you good with Excel? Are you a history buff? Whatever it is that people look to you for can be a point of connection when you share it with them.

Success – what you have done.

People want to be successful and they seek out others who have accomplished something to get their advice. If you are successful in anything you do, there will be people who will want to listen to you and connect with you.

Ability – what you can do.

If you have a high level of ability in an area, others may want to connect with you because of that ability. Excellence connects. Individuals who perform at a high level in their profession often have instant credibility with others. People admire them. They want to be like them. They feel connected to them. When they speak, others listen.

Think about Michael Jordan. He’s made more money from endorsements than he ever did playing basketball. Is it because of his knowledge or use of the products he endorses? No. It’s because of what he can do with a basketball.

Sacrifice – how you have lived.

If you’ve made sacrifices, suffered tragedy, or overcome painful obstacles, many people will relate to you. If you have been able to remain positive yet humble in the midst of life’s difficulties, others will admire you and will connect with you.

Not everyone is Michael Jordan. But you don’t have to be him to be recognized for your ability at something. Ability is only one possible way to connect and these are only five of many possible connecting points. When you find a connecting point with someone or with a group, you can sense a switch from communication to connection. Finding those connecting points is a skill. I’ve just given you five places to look.

Connecting Requires Energy

In my course on employee engagement, I talk about “12 transformational dynamics of engagement.” Those 12 are listed under two types of activities, Challenge and Connection. The idea is that leaders who engage their people have a good balance between challenging them and connecting with them.  John Maxwell wrote a book called Everyone Communicates Few Connect in which he makes the point that connecting will increase your influence in every situation. That’s saying a lot because he makes the argument throughout his teaching that “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” So, connecting increases your leadership ability.

Over the next four posts, I plan to focus on two principles of connecting and then two practices of connecting. Today, the principle is that Connecting with People Requires Energy. If you type “connect meaning” into your browser, you’ll see that the definitions given start with the phrases, “bring together,” “join together,” and “link.” Those are very active phrases and action requires energy. Here are 4 ways to invest that energy in order to connect.

Initiative – Go First

If energy is involved, then someone is taking action. Connectors go first. I’ve read that inside the Walmart headquarters there hang many signs with inspiring and/or challenging statements. Here’s one that is particularly relevant.

“From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every time a customer comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look him in the eye, and greet him.”  —Sam Walton

That’s going first. I once worked with a healthcare system that had what they called the “10 – 5 rule.” If a member or guest came within 10 feet of you, you were to smile at them. If they came within 5 feet you should step back because of social distancing–I’m kidding. You should greet them verbally. It’s kind of fun to watch people’s faces when you do that. Most of the time their entire countenance transforms into a smile simply because you said, “Hello.”

Patience – Slow Down

You can’t connect if you’re in a hurry. When you are hurrying, you are pulling away. Someone has said that for emotional and spiritual health you should ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Here is an African proverb that reminds us of the power inherent in connection.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Henry David Thoreau reminds us that the power of connection requires patience.

“The man who goes alone can start today. But he who travels  with another must wait until the other is ready.”

If you want to go far and not be alone, then slow down. Slowing down requires the energy called intentionality.

Selflessness – Give

Connectors are givers. They readily give of their time, their energy, their knowledge, their skill, their talent, their presence. True givers give expecting nothing in return, they give for the sole benefit of the other person. Can you imagine a scenario where someone who readily gives of them-self doesn’t create connection?

Those definitions I shared at the beginning, bring together, join together, and link, almost imply that the parts that are connected become part of each other. Giving, then, would be a prerequisite.

Stamina – Recharge

Constant outflow of energy will lead to depletion if you have no way to recharge. As a person of faith, I look to Jesus as the greatest example of a connector in all history. Jesus regularly connected. Jesus regularly recharged. He often went to a solitary place to pray or pulled his disciples aside from the work to rest.

I like hanging out with my wife, having dinner with friends, spending time reading, driving alone with no radio. These are a few ways I recharge. How do you do it?

Leadership is Influence. Connecting expands your influence. Connecting doesn’t just happen because you show up. It requires constantly renewed energy. Go first, slow down, give, and recharge. The impact of that energy on you and the people you connect with will be an incredible multiplication of that energy.

Developing Leaders – Release Them

Could you imagine investing the money to buy a thoroughbred racehorse, investing the time and energy into training the racehorse but never letting them out of the gate, never letting them race? Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that? They wouldn’t. But, that’s what leaders sometimes do with the people they lead and are working to develop. They hesitate to let them race.

Last week I wrote that Experience is the 70% component of Leadership Development.  If you’ve got some thoroughbreds in your stable then take the following as advice from an article called, “The Process of Training a Racehorse for the Kentucky Derby.

“Besides conditioning and timing, it is important to get horses used to racing against each other. It is not uncommon for a farm to train their horses together on the track in the morning. This allows the horses to get used to getting bumped by other horses and the dirt flying up in their face, and allows them to learn to be guided to the rail by their jockey.

On Jan. 1, when horses turn three, they are eligible for the Kentucky Derby®. In order for an owner or trainer to get their horse admitted into the “Run for the Roses,” they must enter in a series of qualifying races called the Road to the Kentucky Derby®.

If the colt is then one of the top qualifiers in the series for the Kentucky Derby®, you’ll see them at the starting gate!”

Getting bumped by others, getting used to dirt flying up in their face, and learning to get to the rail is what experience is all about. It’s how leaders learn to win.

Why We Don’t

Some leaders hesitate to release their people into experience. What might cause such hesitation?

  • Lack of Time – leaders focus on getting things done and may not see time available to guide their protégés through the experience they need to grow. So shortsighted – investing the time now will save immeasurable time in the future.
  • “I do it best” – you may be more skilled at a certain task than the people you’re developing. However, if the task is not one you must do and your people can do it 80% as well as you, let them do it. It’s the only way they will get better.
  •  Past Failures – You’ve invested in someone before and they failed. No one I know likes the feelings associated with failure. But, like with anything else, we learn from our mistakes and do better next time.

How We Can

Here are some thoughts to help overcome the specific reasons we hesitate I just mentioned.

  • Use your Calendar – make coaching a recurring entry on your calendar. That is when you will invest focused time and effort into the people you are developing. This is a Covey quadrant 2 activity. It’s important but not urgent. these are often the things that we overlook but could bring the greatest return.
  • Set a Threshold – establish prerequisites for delegating certain tasks. What knowledge or skill must a person demonstrate before you will assign them certain tasks?
  • Use the “Scientific Method” – Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Now we have the electric lightbulb. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. When we fail, we should evaluate what went wrong, learn not to do that again, and construct another experiment using what we learned from the last one.

Racehorses have to race. You’ve walked them around the track and let them stand inside the starting gate (Exposure). You’ve provided them with proper nutrition, guided them in their gate, and taught them when to move to the rail (Education). Now you have to let them race. Release them to do their thing so they can gain the Experience that will make them a champion.