The title of this post comes from a series of lectures that I and another Navy Captain, Fred Reis, did under the aegis of the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Frank Kelso.
I was called in by Sen. John McCain’s office, who knew me and my civilian company leadership record, and wanted the two of us to try leadership theories on Navy Captains, many of whom had not evolved their leadership styles since the era of wooden ships and iron men (and proudly in some cases so stated to us).
Fred and I ultimately published a book called ‘Leadership Secrets’, and about 4,000 copies went out to all Commanding Officers in the Navy as well as many middle managers who the Navy thought had potential. It took us three two week tours, plus some admin support, to get it done, but ADM Kelso finally blessed the product and issued a CNO order implementing it.
In addition, we did a one week course for those who wanted more leadership training (including a few hardcore yellers and screamers) who got put in our leadership course, or who faced being cashiered from the Navy.
How these secrets apply to you, as a company owner, is that somewhere around 10 employees, folks might question your leadership qualities and ability, and the ability to demonstrate both is critical to your company going further.
In all honesty, you might decide at 10 employees that’s as large as you want to get, and your golf game needs more attention than your sales curve. Fair enough; I encounter people like you all the time. My Dad, who had started the Heinrich Company, was like this; he’d worked hard since he was 12 or so, and his company provided him and my mother a very nice lifestyle.
But, many owners want to do better by their employees, give them a vision and a career if they chose it.
For starters, you don’t have to keep all your employees happy all the time, but you do need to listen to them.
If you listen rather than just issuing edicts, and your employees have the feeling that they’re being listened to, you’ll have happier employees, ones that stick around. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s the lowliest warehouse guy or gal, or the production line guy or gal, or your business partner, you should listen.
I often think, in retrospect, that I exercised my 51% ownership of the Heinrich Company too often, and probably had more employee turnover and poorer decisions as a result. We still achieved 25% compound growth rates, and nearly outstripped our financial resources, but we might have done better by listening more.
There are several leadership styles that you can use, such as the command and control (the old Navy model) where everything is written down in orders, to a more modern coaching style of leadership where decisions are reached by consensus.
Personally, I discovered that the command and control Navy way didn’t always work when I was a plane captain of a surveillance plane flying around over Viet Cong strongholds; There were a couple of times when the crew asked to talk over a decision and, after realizing that we had time to discuss it, we did. And a couple of those people turned up in my commands years later when they found out I was leading a Navy Reserve unit.
You’ve got more time to make a decision on something than you realize. So, take some time. Look for opinions. Wander around on the production line or warehouse floor. Even Alan Mulally, the retired CEO of Ford, used to wander around the Ford production lines. And he was very well thought of by Ford’s rank and file. And he popped up at the Phoenix intro of the Ford Fusion, just talking to the inviteds, no big hoohaa.
Jim Farley, Ford’s current CEO, is much different. For openers, he’s a product guy, having come up through Lexus and Lincoln. But he also turned around Ford of Europe, so he’s got operational chops (no pun intended). And he races Fords of all kinds, which is really different. Farley driving the wheels off a Ford Mach E on the Dearborn test track is a sight. Another sight is Farley asking the Twitteratti of their opinion of a Mach E door handle.
But, both Mullaly and Farley share a common trait: they both work from consensus, although Farley showed a willingness to make major personnel cuts at Ford of Europe while revving up the product side. Mullaly created the ‘One Ford’ vision to unite the warring units within Ford, which was a major leadership accomplishment, and I know heads rolled over that vision.
Farley and Mullaly also demonstrate a couple of other leadership tenets: leadership is doing the right things while management is executing on the vision of right things.
We recommend the consensus form of leadership, as long as there’s time to build a consensus. In business, there usually is time, despite one of your sales reps yelling that you should have made a decision on ‘x’ yesterday.
As you become more confident as a leader, you’ll take the time you need to build your consensus and get the buy-in that you need to have successful decision, not just one made on the fly that no one is happy about.
When you have to make a decision, make it. As my wife would say, ‘Don’t sit on the pasture post’.
The key think once you make the decision is execution. You and your team need to execute, and be alert for signs of problems with the decision as you go along.
You might find that there’s a better decision, based on more complete information to be made down the road. Or, you might find that you were just flat wrong in the decision you made.
Don’t waste time agonizing about bad decisions, either. If a decision appears to be incorrect to you, talk to your team and find out what could be better. Don’t be hesitant to admit you were wrong.
You might be right, you might be wrong, but don’t be indecisive.
Lead, follow or get out of the way.