47 Minutes Well Spent

I love great leaders.

Even more, I love great leaders that are also great story tellers.

Hearing the stories of their successes and failures, joys and tragedies, fears and courage makes me a better leader.  It helps me internalize the lessons.  And some times, helps me find the strength to persevere in my own challenges and struggles.

I am fortunate to have a great leadership team that really takes the time to pass down the stories and lessons to make the next generation stronger.  They hold discussions on leadership tenets every other month for all of the senior managers and above in the department.  The last session was a couple weeks ago on communication.

I wanted to share with you the learning’s from 47 Minutes well spent….

I’ve always admired Tim Yatsko (SVP at Sam’s Club).  I knew him when he was in transportation, consulted him when I was thinking about making a career change, worked with him as a partner, and now have the pleasure of working under his leadership at Sam’s Club.  Tim led the meeting that I am referring to.  Below are a few key lessons/reminders that I took away from this session.

Tim said, “Knowledge is power” (we’ve all heard that before), but he followed with “So, share it”.  Leaders don’t keep all of the information for themselves, but rather share it with others for the greater of the organization.  Granted, there are some things that we are required to keep confidential based upon the position that we hold, but do you withhold other information to leverage it as power?  Or, do you share it with those that need it so they can succeed?

Tim also said, “Leaders share how they make decisions”.  They don’t just make decisions, but teach others how to make good decisions.

Think before you speak” is something many of us have heard since childhood, but many of us don’t practice.  How many times have you fired off that email in haste that you wish later you could have recalled?  How many times did you respond out of emotion to a challenge that you wish you could have retracted later?  There are times that we THINK we must respond quickly and urgently, but in reality there are very few times that don’t allow us an opportunity to pause (even if for a second) to stop, think (and is some cases rethink again) and then respond.  Taking a moment to be thoughtful may be what differentiates a good manager from a great leader.

Another tenet that acts in parallel is our ability to listen, which is the #1 communication technique.  Have you ever watched Doug McMillon (CEO of Walmart International) when he is listening to someone?  He has great listening skills, but what he is doing is absorbing what is said and formulating the questions that he is going to ask you next.  His questions are often very thoughtful, but they are also open ended, which elicits a better response, which gives him time to absorb and continue to think.  Using the time that you are listening to who you are talking to formulate thoughtful questions and/or responses to the topic at hand is another great way to set yourself apart.

When dealing with written communication, thinking and rethinking is especially critical.  Why?  Written communication is documented, archived, held forever and often times is the most misinterpreted of all the communication methods. Without having the benefit of body language to observe, or tone of voice to listen to, people often try to “read between the lines”, add emotion, and speculate about the purpose of your communication.  More importantly, written communication doesn’t require an immediate response.  While it may feel that you need to be immediate, you still have extra time that you don’t have when someone is face to face with you.  So writing, pausing, rewriting, and having someone else proof the email are all possible before you hit that send button.  Be brief.  Tell them what they need to know, not what you know.  A personal trick that I use is to keep the TO line blank until the email is ready to send so that I don’t accidentally send it before I am ready (I’ve made that mistake one too many times).

Tim told a story about when he worked for Lee Scott (our former CEO) back when Lee ran Logistics.  Much earlier in his career, Lee (wisely) had Tim proof a memo that he was sending up to elicit an action from his leadership.  Tim said that Lee was being way too detailed in the document (e.g., using logistics lingo that others wouldn’t recognize) and that in the end he basically said, “…and if we don’t do this, we’re stupid”.  Tim challenged back to Lee and through the story, here were my takeaways:

  1. If your leader has you proof something, be honest, help them win.  There is a reason they brought it to you in the first place.
  2. Make sure that your audience will understand what you are saying (lingo).
  3. Be brief.
  4. If you want approval, don’t call people stupid (even if it is masked nicely in flowery language).

While there were many other good lessons, I will close with this one.  As a leader, “Don’t assume people know things”.  Tim was clear that you have to tell them and set the appropriate expectations.  If you don’t, how do you ever expect them to do things right?

Cameron Geiger (VP at Sam’s Club) added, “It is our responsibility to share our culture.  If we don’t and it isn’t passed down, then it’s our own failure as leaders.”

This article was much longer than I originally intended, but is full of great information to absorb and pass on.  I’m going to post (in a separate article) several bullet points they had in a handout on communication.

My question for you is what will you do with this information?

Enjoy!

~Jason

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One Response to 47 Minutes Well Spent

  1. Pingback: 47 Minutes Well Spent: Part Deux « The Leader's Locker

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