When I Learned the Most

I had a great opportunity this week to listen to two fantastic CEOs talk about both their businesses and experiences.  One of those was my CEO, Mike Duke (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.).  The other was Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM.

Rometty is a dynamic figure if you’ve never met her or heard her speak.  She is down to earth, to the point, and fascinating to listen to.

At one point in the conversation, Rometty was talking about the times that she learned the most in her career.

She was straightforward and clear in her answer, “When I took a risk.”  She elaborated that when she tried something completely new like her move from GM to IBM she learned, grew and stretched tremendously. Rometty’s career progression exposed her to a number of facets of business that broadened her perspective and provided her with lots of different experiences.   And between her ‘student of the business’ mindset and hands on approach to driving the business, it’s no wonder why she’s in the role that she is.

Picking up where Rometty left off, Mike Duke commented on his own career progression.  And I’m sure it’s no shock for you to know that the same type of story was revealed.

Duke took advantage of a number of career opportunities to experience different parts of the business.  This was evident both in his early career in retail as well as his later career at Walmart.  Mike came to Wal-Mart via our Logistics Division, which he headed shortly after arriving to replace then Logistics head Lee Scott (who also went on to be Mike’s predecessor as CEO).  Mike then made his way to become the Chief Administrative Officer of the company, led the Wal-Mart Stores US business unit, and then led the International business unit prior to becoming CEO of the whole company.

Mike recanted a story about when he was asked to go lead the International group.  He said that he hadn’t traveled outside the US as much and didn’t have a background in running international operations, which made him a little apprehensive.  But like each role before, he learned quickly and grew significantly with each step.

Mike said it best, “The time I learned the most was when I was put into roles where I had little or no direct knowledge.”  It forces you to listen.  To learn.  To stretch.  To grow.  And again, with all of his experience, just like Rometty, it’s no wonder that he is in the role he’s in today.

Following this conversation, I took a stroll down memory lane and thought back to the times when I learned the most in my career.

And……I’d have to concur with these two leaders.  When did I learn the most?  During the times that I took on assignments or projects that were completely new and foreign to me.

As I’m reminiscing, I’m smiling, because I can vividly remember some major turning points in my life.

One of those was when I was an Assistant Fire Chief and took on all of the budgeting, planning and administrative responsibilities.  What firefighter wants to do that?  We all want to put out fires and rescue people, right?  It was a major stretch for me and I am so thankful for that opportunity when I was in my twenties, because while it was a lot of very quick nerve-racking learning, it evolved my business acumen and set a foundation for my future.

Another was when I was promoted to Director of Business Continuity.  I was in that role only a short while before four hurricanes hit back to back in Florida.  It was a major stretch because it quickly evolved my leadership and broad thinking acumen through a major and highly visible crisis situation.

Another was my move to Sam’s Club.  Moving out of the security/emergency management business was terrifying for me because it’s what I knew best and what I was trained and skilled in.  There was a lot of comfort in it.  But this move to Sam’s Club completely stretched me in different directions that I never expected and grew me in a number of different areas (e.g., systems development, marketing strategy, how to use insights data, etc.).

While these are just a few of the many stretches in my own life, the key is that each of these experiences and exposures builds upon the previous and broadens and strengthens who you are as a person.

Again, I’m thankful for all of these opportunities – but like Rometty and Duke –  each of these opportunities also came with risk.  Mainly – the risk of failure.  Each was a step outside of doing what was comfortable.  Each was a little unnerving at times.  While there were many failures, all of them were learning opportunities.  And while sometimes daunting, I also found that I survived from each experience too…which made me better and stronger for taking that risk.

Likely, if you examine your own career, you’ll find that the same holds true for you too.

Now, each of us are at different places in our lives and have different drivers and motivators.  Some are happy to stay where it’s comfortable and don’t want change.  And that’s cool.

But for several of us, we want to be challenged and stretched.  We want to learn and grow.  We want to evolve.  We want to do more.   If this is where you find yourself, then you should really examine your life and see if taking a risk to step out and do something new is for you.

Whether in your professional or personal life, stepping out into the unknown is when you will learn the most.

I found a quote from an interview that Rometty did last year that perfectly sums up this concept of risk taking and evolution.  She said, “Growth and comfort do not coexist.”   And I must agree.

QUESTON:  When did you learn the most in your career?

Choose to Be #1

A couple weeks ago, my company had our annual Year Beginning Meeting.

For those of you unfamiliar with these types of events, picture a concert venue with 2,000-3,000 of your closest friends from across the nation gathered together to listen to the leadership team share the vision and direction for the new year and get fired up with some good ol’ fashion rah-rah-rah!

I love these meetings!  You can feel the energy and excitement crackle in the air!  But no meeting is complete without some catch phrase or mantra that whips the crowd into a frenzy.

And this year did not disappoint!  

As our senior leaders stood on the stage, they would shout, “WE CHOOSE TO BE…”

And the crowd would shout back, “NUMBER ONE!

Particularly dynamic was our EVP of Operations, Todd Harbaugh.  Todd is a fantastic public speaker and always seems to bring it all home.  His carefully crafted, yet genuine delivery makes you want to break through walls, swim oceans, and run through fire to be your best.

This particular message from Todd drove home the point that we have a choice every day to do our best….or not do our best.

If you think about this logically –‘doing your best’ more often than not has a fairly positive outcome.  NOT doing your best usually has a less than desired result.  So, why would we not want to do our best?  Have you ever woke up at the start of your day and thought, “Man, today I think I am just going to be #2.”  Or “I really don’t want to do my best today.”  No.  If this is who you are, you usually don’t think anything.  You slide by in your day only to wonder later where the day went and why you didn’t get anything accomplished or why you’re not progressing in your career.

Choosing to be #1 is a mindset shift.  It’s a purposeful choice.  You have to be intentional about delivering your best….and then have the moxie and will to follow through on it.

But what does “doing your best” really mean?

Todd further drove this home for the crowd.  Todd shouted, “We Choose to Be…” and the crowd would roar back “NUMBER ONE!”  Then he would continue, “…in Talent Development…” “…in Innovation” and so on .  There were five areas in all.  But with each topic, he explained exactly what he meant and what he expected.

Todd’s message focused on the things that were right for our company.  But what is right for you or your organization?  What should you be #1 in?  After all it’s a choice.

Is it sales?  Creative/artistic design?  Talent development?  Project management?  Innovation?  Customer experience?  Leveraging Influence?  Philanthropy?  Volunteerism?  A special pursuit? A specific skill?

It’s really up to you.  So, here’s the exercise.

Sit down with your favorite writing utensil and a post-it note.

At the top, write, “I CHOOSE TO BE #1 IN:”

Try to come up with 3 areas that you should (or want to) give your best in.  More is okay – but you don’t want too many as you lose focus.  Try not to exceed 5.

Once you’re done, read aloud – “I CHOOSE TO BE #1 IN …..”

Now, don’t be timid.  Say it like you mean it!

Repeat it until you believe it.  After all, the only person you have to convince is yourself.

Now take that note and post it somewhere you’ll see it at the start of your day (e.g., your bathroom mirror, on your coffee machine, on your treadmill, in your office, on your rear view mirror of your car, etc.).  They key is to remind yourself early in your day that you are choosing to be #1 at these things.  And when you see that note, read it out loud – with conviction!

As I said earlier, choosing to be #1 is a mindset shift.  You can’t be flippant about it.  Be intentional.  It will make a difference in your life.

Personally, I CHOOSE TO BE #1 in developing people, serving my customer, and innovating well-thought out solutions.

This works equally well in your personal life.  For me, I CHOOSE TO BE #1 as a husband and father.

WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE?

A Quick Friday Leadership Lesson

As is always the case, I had a different plan for a post this week, but changed my mind at the last minute. But it’s okay…..because it’s Friday.

Last night, a colleague of mine forwarded out a great summary of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. You may know John Maxwell for his many lectures or books on leadership (e.g., The 5 Levels of Leadership, Talent Is Never Enough, and Everyone Communicates, Few Connect just to name a few).

I haven’t read this book in particular, but have been exposed to many of the teachings.  As I read through the summary, I thought this would be fantastic to share with those of you that haven’t seen it before or at least it would be a great reminder for those of you that have seen it. The information is very timely as we are off and running in 2012.

Why? Because every organization needs great leaders at all levels. And they need them now.

To drive this home, the end of the summary included the five sentences below. I’ve brought them to the front because I think they make a great point.

Personnel determine the potential of the organization.
Relationships determine the morale of the organization.
Structure determines the size of the organization.
Vision determines the direction of the organization.
Leadership determines the success of the organization.

Are you the leader you need to be? Are you determining and/or driving the success in your organization?

I’ve included the summary of the laws below. While they are all great points, my favorites are #20 and #21.

Thank you Sonia Spinks for sharing this with our team! We appreciate your leadership!

Enjoy!

Jason

_____________________________________________

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

1. The Law of the Lid. Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness. The higher you want to climb, the more you need leadership. The greater the impact you want to make, the greater your influence needs to be. Even though there is a lid, you can raise it.

2. The Law of Influence. The true measure of leadership is influence-nothing more, nothing less. If you don’t have influence, you will never be able to lead others. True leadership is not awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned. The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate. If you want to find out whether your people are capable of leading, send them out to volunteer their time in the community because if they can get people to follow them there, then you know that they really do have influence.

3. The Law of Process. Leadership develops daily, not in a day. Becoming a leader is a lot like investing successfully in the stock market. If your hope is to make a fortune in a day you’re not going to be successful. What matters most is what you do day by day over the long haul. Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance. The goal each day must be to get a little better, to build on the previous day’s progress. You can be a great leader, but it won’t happen in a day. Start now. You don’t become a champion on the field or court. You become a champion in your daily routine.

4. The Law of Navigation. Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Have a vision for the destination and understand what it will take to get there. A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do. Navigators draw on past experience, listen to what others have to say, examine the conditions before making commitments, and make sure their conclusions represent both faith and fact. The secret of the Law of Navigation is preparation.

P redetermine a course of action.
L ay out your goals.
A djust your priorities.
N otify key personnel.

A llow time for acceptance.
H ead into action.
E xpect problems.
A lways point to the successes.
D aily review your plan.

5. The Law of E.F. Hutton. When the real leader speaks, people listen. True leaders have character, relationships, knowledge, intuition, experience, past success, and ability.

6. The Law of Solid Ground. Trust is the foundation of leadership. You can’t take shortcuts no matter how long you’ve been leading people. You start with certain amount of change in your pocket, then with every decision thereafter, you are either building up more change or paying it out, and then when you are out of change, you’re done. To build trust, one must exemplify competence, connection and character. Character makes trust possible and trust makes leadership possible.

7. The Law of Respect. People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves. When people respect someone as a person, they admire them. When they respect her as a friend, they love them. When they respect them as a leader, the follow them.

8. The Law of Intuition. Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. A leader has to read the situation and know instinctively what play to call. People need a goal to galvanize them. Know who is for you and who is against you. Whenever leaders encounter a problem, they automatically measure it, and strive to resolve it.

9. The Law of Magnetism. Who you are is who you attract. You draw people to you who possess the same qualities you do. Birds of a feather flock together. You tend to attract and be drawn to people of similar attitude, generation, background, values, life experience and leadership ability. The better leader you are, the better leaders you will attract. If you think the people you attract could be better, then it’s time to improve yourself.

10. The Law of Connection. Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. Connections happen between individuals. A great leader stands in front of his team and sees more than the collective group, he sees individuals. To connect with people in a group, relate to them as individuals. Leaders initiate connection with people. Walk slowly through the crowd and shake hands and encourage and express gratitude. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.

11. The Law of the Inner Circle. A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him. Associate with good people. Look for these type of valuable people – potential value, positive value, personal value, production value and proven value. As iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off everything you possibly can to them. You have more potential that you haven’t reached, and if you want to get there, surround yourself with the best people possible.

12. The Law of Empowerment. Only secure leaders give power to others. Lead by lifting up others.

13. The Law of Reproduction. It takes a leader to raise up a leader. If you try to keep others down, then you go down with them. Raise giant-killers like David who raised up a group of mighty men. We teach what we know and reproduce what we are. Spend time with great leaders.

14. The Law of Buy-In. People buy into the leader, then the vision. The leader finds the dream and then the people. The people find the leader and then the dream. People at first don’t follow worthy causes, they follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. People want to go along with people they get along with. Leader + Vision = Result.

15. The Law of Victory. Leaders find a way for the team to win. When the pressure is on, great leaders are at their best. 3 components of victory: 1) unity of vision, 2) diversity of skills, and 3) a leader dedicated to victory and raising players to their potential.

16. The Law of the Big Mo. Momentum is a leader’s best friend. Constantly fight negative momentum. Two keys – preparation and motivation. It starts with a little progress. Momentum helps teams perform better. Momentum is easier to steer than to start. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

17. The Law of Priorities. Leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Pareto Principle: If you focus on the activities that rank in the top 20% in terms of importance, you will have an 80% return on your effort. Three R’s: What is required? What gives the greatest return? What brings the greatest reward? Increase focus, but reduce number of actions.

18. The Law of Sacrifice. A leader must give up to go up. Leadership means setting an example. When you find yourself in a position of leadership, people follow your every move. Sacrifice is an ongoing process, not a one-time payment. When you become a leader, you lose the right to think about yourself. As you rise in leadership, responsibilities increase and rights decrease. If leaders have to give up to go up, then they have to give up even more to stay up. The higher you go, the more you give up.

19. The Law of Timing. When to lead is as important as what to do and where to go. 4 possible outcomes: 1) The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. 2) The right action at the wrong time brings resistance. 3) The wrong action at the right time is a mistake. 4) The right action at the right time results in success.

20. The Law of Explosive Growth. Leader’s math: To add growth, lead followers, but to multiply growth, lead leaders. It’s the leaders responsibility to build the people who are going to build the company. Leaders who develop followers add one at a time. Leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth.

21. The Law of Legacy. A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. Leadership is one of the things you cannot delegate. You either exercise it, or you abdicate it. A legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to do great things without him. Success is not measured by what you’re leaving to, but by what you are leaving behind.

%d bloggers like this: