Leadership development is a big deal in business. People write about it, talk about it, define it, teach it, and throw the word leadership around without giving it much thought. In any business, especially for entrepreneurs, leadership is the key ingredient to success. Bad or ineffective leadership—or none at all—is the key cause of failure. A lazy boss ends up with lazy workers. A profane boss ends up with a rude and coarse staff that do poorly with customer relations. A hyper-critical boss inspires fear and demotivates.
The best leadership development is the kind you live. You will likely find yourself in a leadership role of some sort in just about any employment situation. You might not have a staff of thirty reporting to you, but somebody at some point will follow—or challenge—your example. This is something I’ve thought a lot about over the years and have developed a philosophy and an approach that begins with the goal of being honest with people, but figuring how to do that without being bossy, emotional, or taking away a person’s dignity.
But I Don't Feel Tardy.
For example, years ago I had two sales reps who were late all the time, totally unreliable. Come to think of it, I have a couple on my team right now (haha, you know who you are). Punctuality is high on my list of values, and it should be on yours, as well. Time is valuable and wasting something valuable belonging to someone else is disrespectful and almost always unnecessary. Excuses? Bad traffic doesn’t cut it anymore when a few clicks will give you a Google map with real time traffic conditions. Flat tire? Modern tires seem to last forever and many are designed to withstand a nail or other small puncture. When was the last time you saw somebody fixing a flat tire alongside the road? Power outage? Now that every electronic device has an alarm clock in it, you can’t oversleep because a storm knocked out your power. Once someone told me they couldn't get their car out of the garage because of the power being out. Uh...yeah, ok.
Keep in mind that I'm not talking about someone that is late once in a great while. I'm talking about those that are habitually unpunctual. There really aren’t many “good” excuses for being late—a funeral, goes an old joke, preferably your own. If being on time is important, you’ll always give yourself an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour. If you don’t get a flat tire and traffic is light, you’ll get to work early, maybe even before your boss, and what an impression that will leave!
Anyway, these two fellows who were chronically late were both likable and had potential, but I was getting frustrated and close to showing them both the door. Instead of yelling at them (Mom and Dad’s job), or threatening them (carrots work better than sticks), I used a construction that’s become part of my lingo. I called each man into my office and told him, “When I think about the word irresponsible, I think of you.”
It was a hard conversation to have with one of those guys, who I’d been mentoring through a tough time in his life. I went on to talk about what he needed to do to get on track, and warned him that if he failed he would be let go. I had a similar conversation with the other fellow.
The other guy quit soon after. The young man I was mentoring, however, went on to become one of our top managers breaking some sales records for the region, and was never late again. We had never discussed how he felt about that talk until I heard him mention it in a speech much later as an experience that changed his life. Had I yelled at him, or just threatened him, he might have stayed but I would forever have become in his mind the guy who belittled him. It was a valuable lesson for us both.
Breakfast On You?
Today, I have a little bag of tricks I use to motivate and guide people. First and foremost, I don’t run meetings that waste time. I prepare for them. Everyone knows that if I’ve scheduled it, it’s important for them to be there.
And I instituted a rule for those who are late: they have to stop on the way to work to buy everyone breakfast or snacks, even if it’s just donuts. When it happens—which is rarely now—I don’t have to say a word. When the late-comer walks to the front of the room with donuts, I just give him or her a hearty thank-you in front of the group and flash a smile. The result: my management staff are always early for meetings. This makes the time use even more efficient because we start just when everyone’s all warmed up and ready to do business. It also takes away all the stress of wondering what I am supposed to say to the person that was late. I used to get upset when people came late. Now however, I have to admit, we all route for someone to be a little late. Everyone loves those donuts.
- John Wasserman, Author, No Shorts, Flip Flops, or Sunglasses: How to Get and Make the Most of Your First Real Job
by John Wasserman
Proceeds benefit Children's Dyslexia Centers