We are very fortunate to have great leaders at Whip Mix and for that reason, we feel like we should share some of their wisdom and experience with our customers and friends.
This week we asked Jim Myers, the President of Whip Mix, a couple of questions that cover important topics:
Q: What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and what advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
A: Well, first, the most important decisions you make as a leader of an organization are the strategic ones — those over-arching decisions that set the course for the company and its continued viability. They are the decisions that ultimately determine how you will expend the company’s resources and for what purposes. However, many experts will tell you that prior to those decisions, the company’s leader, or leaders, must set a clear vision and mission. You have to determine what the real core values are that will guide you, and everyone in the organization, while making key decisions. The vision, mission, and values are the seeds to perhaps the most important aspect of any company and that is its culture. A company’s culture is what ultimately decides success or failure. There are positive cultures and negative cultures. It can be easy to draw up growth strategies or profitability strategies, but without the proper culture in place, chances for success are greatly diminished. As Peter Drucker purportedly once said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
As a leader you can’t simply decide what your culture is going to be. You can’t simply proclaim that “We are going to have a culture of execution!” Or, “From this day forward, we will have a culture of innovation!” If only it were that easy. No, the formation of culture is the result of how vision, mission, and values are expressed every day, over time, in the policies and procedures that are put in place and acted upon by the members of the organization. So, exactly what are the policies and procedures going to be? These then are the decisions that ultimately have as much impact on a company as its strategy. Thus, as a leader, you have two serious concerns that affect your company’s health – strategy and culture.
Allow me to take it a step further. Decisions don’t always arrive in dreams, divine intervention, or in moments of inspired intellect. In my case, I need decisions to come from my team. And in order to have the best decisions, I need the best team. So you might argue that the most important decision for a leader is, “who will I have on my team?”
Concerning the advice I would give someone going into a leadership position for the first time . . .
I suppose the first bit of advice I would offer is to never mistake leadership with privilege. If you want your team or your company to follow you, then you have to demonstrate that you are every bit as willing to put in the hard work that is demanded from them. That you are subject to the same rules, restrictions, conditions, and policies that you have placed upon them.
It’s not like people won’t work hard for you if you stay at the Ritz Carlton, and they stay in the Holiday Inn for business trips. The job will probably still get done if you rant and rave, while expecting professionalism and courtesy from your staff. Those shipments will still go out, even though you don’t necessarily follow all of the safety rules, but it’s a serious offense if some of the staff take shortcuts with safety. What’s important is that they just get the job done, right? Wrong!
We’ve all heard stories of leaders that say “they don’t have to like me, just as long as they fear me” or some variant of that. My problem with that thinking is what happens when the going gets rough. There will certainly come a time in your path as a leader when things don’t go as planned. There are those “uh-oh” moments (hopefully few due to your superb planning skills), when you realize the solution to a problem is going to exact a new measure of commitment from your team. You have to ask them for more. How do you imagine that email gets received when you hit send after a morning at the spa? I’m exaggerating the point of course, but you’re chances of survival are greatly increased when that message comes from a history of behavior that has demonstrated respect for those that work for, and now have to “fight” for you. George Patton is famous for saying something along the lines of “I don’t need them to love me; I want them to fight for me,” which is far different than fear. He made sure of this by demonstrating throughout his career that he was willing to make every sacrifice he asked of his men, even continuing to fight when wounded in battle. He said “Do everything you ask of those you command.” When you ask them to dig deep and find more resolve, or make more sacrifice, will they hesitate? If they don’t respect you, they probably will. I’m not suggesting that you make them like you. I am suggesting that if they know you are making the same sacrifices, you probably have their back. They can depend on you and you can depend on them.
My last short bit of advice is to never mistake leadership with expertise. If you are truly an expert, then fine. However, few of us are experts in everything, so don’t hesitate to admit that. Don’t hesitate to utilize those around you. Surround yourself with experts and let them do their jobs. Respect their work. Trust your team!