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Roosevelt's Rough Riding Leadership

Upon reading an article in the New York Times about actor Tom Berenger, I went on YouTube and watched the 3-hour TNT Mini-series "Rough Riders" about our 26th President, Teddy Roosevelt. What a story. I am a huge TR fan anyway, having read at least ten books on his life. My favorite was the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. A few years ago, I visited his home, Sagamore Hill, now a museum on Long Island. They had to kick me out.

Teddy was a force of nature, larger than life in all he did. He had no equal, he was peerless. Some say, one of the 20th century's great leaders. You ei-ther loved him or you hated him. Edith Wharton wrote, "If you are spread-ing light to the world, it may be accomplished two ways, be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." Teddy was both. His daughter, Alice, once said, "He wants to be the corpse at every funeral and groom at every wedding!"

Here is my short list of admirable leadership qualities TR possessed. How many could improve your leadership skills in your business?

  • He had an extraordinary love of learning. He read a book a day! He spoke German and French fluently. That skill came in handy when he charged up San Juan Hill and captured a German-made machine gun that didn't work. The wounded German soldier told them how to use the gun as TR translated German to English. It was the turning point in the battle that made him famous; a true American Hero.
  • He truly cared about his men. He memorized 1,250 Rough Riders' names. He would wander the camp at night encouraging his men, asking questions and listening to their concerns. To shift their focus from the fear of the next battle, he often asked the question, "What are you looking forward to after this war?" Brilliant.
  • He led by example. He was fearless as he led the charge up San Juan Hill at 40 years old. What he lacked in military knowledge he made up for in courage and audacity. He was a man of destiny.
  • He accepted criticism from his boss, Col. Leonard Wood and demon-strated humility and a willingness to change. Not an easy task for TR. He was used to being the silverback gorilla in the troop.
  • He was brutally honest in his assessment of any situation, including his opinion of President McKinley: "That man has the backbone of a choco-late eclair!" (No, Teddy, don't hold back; tell us how you really feel!)
  • He loved action, the thrill of the battle, yet he was not afraid to show his emotions. At the end of Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, as he sat crying, one of his men said, "It's okay Colonel, we won." He replied, "It's never going to be this great again." He was reflecting upon what he later called his "Crowded Hour," the most gloriously exciting time of his life. His heroics put him in the governor's mansion and, eventually, the White House.
  • He was a devoted husband and loving father of six children. A true leader at home and work. He had the kind of balance few men in his po-sition ever attain. He created the first "home office" so he could spend time with his children. The world came up to Long Island as a result.
  • He bounced back from personal and professional adversity in his life. He lost his wife and mother on the same day! Next to Lincoln, he was the most criticized president this country had ever seen. Yet he kept charging up hills.
  • He changed careers many times in his life: student, ornithologist, politi-cian, soldier, author, speaker, big game hunter, naturalist, world trav-eler, explorer and diplomat. He was a true Man of Letters, writing over 50,000 in his lifetime. Moreover, he wrote 35 books, many on different topics!
  • He gave everything he had to the moment. Whatever he was doing, he gave it 100%, whether it was writing a book, delivering a speech, riding a horse or leading a charge. "Carpe Diem" was his mantra. Ever excited about the next big thing he was going to do, the phrase "Bully" was of-ten heard with great enthusiasm.

Our 26th president was the brightest candle and biggest mirror of the 20th century. There will never be another "Teddy." A true man of destiny. I need to watch that movie again… it's so "bully!"

Leadership Lights the Way in Adversity

The Pink Elephant in the Room

It is certainly an unprecedented time in the trades (as it is everywhere else in the world). HVAC, indoor air quality, home performance and other home services contractors across the United States are seeing all sorts of changes driven by the pandemic, the economy, weather, technology, customers, etc.

We have all been impacted by the recent events. However, I want to take a moment to acknowledge anyone who has been impacted medically or lost someone to the disease. Also, I want to give thanks to EVERYONE who has stepped to serve and help others in any capacity. Even home service contractors are now deemed what I call “Essential Life Sustaining and Enhancing Services.” You are all HEROES.

James Lane Allen, Novelist, said: “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”

Adverse conditions can reveal a business’s strengths, weaknesses, and lack of strengths. I distinguish between weaknesses and lack of strengths because they are vastly different. A weakness is a flaw in the way a business operates. A lack of strength is a gap in how a business operates. In other words, think in terms of a skill you know but have not yet mastered (weakness) versus a skill you have not yet learned (lack of strength). These are important distinctions, so you know how to allocate resources to solve problems at their core. Adversity will also reveal the true character of a business’s leaders.

The glaring issue many contractors are facing right now is navigating turbulent times they may be experiencing perceivably created by the pandemic. I say perceivably created by the pandemic, because the original thought of what you think the problem is in any situation is typically just a symptom and not the root cause. To CURE any problem permanently, you must treat root causes, not symptoms.

You Either Make Excuses or You Are Empowered

Contractors and their coworkers are some of the most caring and hardworking people on the planet (and their families often make endless sacrifices), yet often do not get the rewards they deserve for their efforts. That’s sad, a shame, and easily correctable.

As a consultant, trainer, coach, and software developer for contractors, the biggest problem I see contractors face is themselves. While most contractors may be good at what they do as a craft, many lack the business acumen to achieve a commensurate amount of success. And when adversity strikes, many suffer not because of the symptom of the moment, but rather the root cause that existed long before adverse conditions reared their ugly head.

As Malcom Forbes said: “When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought they could always get worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better.

Things could always be worse. As long as you are breathing and have a beating heart, you have an opportunity to make things better. You do not have a problem. The people on the other side of the grass 6 feet under have problems they can do nothing about.

Congratulations! Since you are reading this article, you have an opportunity, my friends. To save us both time I am going to give you the same tough love I give my clients. You need to quit making excuses and saying you were obLIvious for not seeing the obvious. That is the “LI” you tell yourself because you did not deal with a pre-existing condition or you do not have the tools, processes, people, etc. in place to be aware.

Either way, there is no excuse.

The problem is not the problem, it is your thoughts about the problem that determine if you respond or react. All outcomes are 10% event and 90% your response to the event. And do not get me started with the excuse of not knowing HOW to solve a problem. DO NOT let the tyranny of HOW paralyze you from acting. It is only another excuse. Any goal or problem-resolution is 20% mechanics and 80% psychology.

Leadership Lights the Way

You cannot operate and optimize for abundance and expansion from a place of fear and contraction. Fear and contraction come from reaction to outside stimuli. Expansion and abundance come from creation. You cannot be in creation mode when you are in reaction mode. The only difference in the two words is that the ‘C’ is hidden in the word reaCtion and you “C” it clearly at the front of the word Creation. Your problem is you do not “C” when you are reacting, so you are not creating the outcome you desire.

As the Rolling Stones sang: “Time is on your side.” Take a leadership role NOW and revisit the foundational elements of your business. Is your vision, mission, core values, organizational chart structure, detailed job descriptions, and culture positioned to drive success, even in adversity? Do you have adequate internal financial controls, capital and cash reserves, reports and optics to understand business performance and proper pricing structure for each department? Have you addressed the operational weakness and gaps in your business? How current and accurate are the processes and procedures that ensure consistency in performance and get employees reporting out versus leadership having to check in? Where do the deficiencies of knowledge, execution, communication and accountability exist in your business? Even the best businesses can be better.

Review all the above areas every year. This year the torpedo was a pandemic. What is the next torpedo? Build your business to sustain multiple torpedo hits. Otherwise, the results are self-inflicted wounds, stagnation, low revenues and profitability, layoffs, contraction, liquidation, and possible bankruptcy.

By building a better business, you may find that when adversity strikes next time (and it most certainly will), you will not only survive, but you can thrive. You will be able to expand when others contract. You will experience abundance while others experience scarcity and loss. If you choose to continue as you are, you may become obsolete or extinct fare sooner than you would like. The pace of change and external forces will likely only accelerate and increase in intensity. Be prepared.

Be the leader your business needs and deserves. Be the leader that lights the way in adversity.

Generational Leadership

Managers Will Be More Effective Leaders Once They Understand the Generational Differences in Their Workforce.

While on a business trip, I ran into a very successful person. Completely self-made, he had started several successful companies and amassed quite a fortune. I asked him what he felt was the single most important skill or attribute behind his success. Without hesitation, he said, “I am good with people.” He went on to explain that he had learned the skill of being able to quickly size up people so that he could effectively communicate with them using ideas and metaphors they could understand and appreciate.

I have written two articles that are closely related to this: The Importance of Employee Retention and Use Personality Assessments to Manage Your Business. In those articles, I mention the importance of understanding personality types when selling to prospects and dealing with coworkers. In this article, I will specifically cover how to tailor your leadership style to different generations of people. By combining an understanding of generational differences and personality types, you will be in a far superior position to deal with a wide variety of people.

The American workforce can be divided into five distinct groups which are identified as generations. Each of these generations has formed their own set of values and attitudes towards work that are often different from the other generation.

With the workforce growing older, this may be the first time that five generations of people find themselves working together. This creates a challenge for managers because each generation differs in how they view work and each requires a slightly different style of leadership.

There are five generations in the workforce today. They are: Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z.

Note: There is some disagreement among experts as to what the actual birthdate ranges are for each generation. For the purposes of this article, I will use "Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace” by Ron Zemke, Claire Raines and Bob Filipczak as my source.

The Veteran Generation (born 1922 to 1943)

I realize that this generation is quickly leaving the workforce. However, many people in this age group find themselves needing to work or simply wanting to work.

Some might call them the "Greatest Generation.” They are the most straight forward, no-nonsense generation. They are frank, polite, practical, and very dedicated to their work. They believe in conformity, authority, and rules. They have a very defined sense of right and wrong. Their personal relationships are based on personal sacrifice. They are respectful to authority and believe in a hierarchical style of leadership. One of their biggest turnoffs is rudeness and vulgarity.

Leadership Tips

They want structure and strong leadership. Create a firm set of rules and enforce them equally. You must not play favorites. If someone is late to work, you must enforce policies otherwise the Veteran Generation will see you as unfair and weak.

Do not allow rudeness and vulgarity in the workplace. If you are a manager or owner, it is especially important that you do not curse or treat people in a rude manner. This is a Veteran Generation pet peeve.

Allow this generation to share their wisdom with younger people. Give them the opportunity to mentor and train members of the other generations. Personally, this is my favorite generation. We should all enjoy them while we still have them.

Baby Boomers (born 1944 to 1960)

They are optimistic, expressive, and possess a strong work ethic. They have a strong commitment to quality and doing a good job. Often, they view their career and themselves as the same thing. They are likely to put in long hours at the office, including evenings and weekends. They enjoy solving problems. They believe in building their career over the long term and having loyalty to their employer. They will either love or hate their managers and will likely be blunt about their feelings. They prefer leadership through consensus. They are family oriented and value health and wellness.

Leadership Tips

You must keep this generation busy and give them an opportunity to make a difference, otherwise they will look elsewhere for career opportunities. Be sure to show a sincere appreciation for their hard work and dedication to your company.

This generation did not grow up with technology. Pair them up with younger generations to teach them about technology. Do not assume they can’t or will not embrace technology. This highly driven generation has a strong work ethic. They will learn what they must to do their jobs effectively.

Generation X (born 1961 to 1980)

Largely independent, they have a skeptical often cynical outlook on life. They don't define themselves through their work. They see themselves as free agents and marketable commodities and can be “job jumpers.” They are largely unimpressed with the job titles of their authority figures. They believe in leadership through competency. They are often reluctant to commit to single close, personal relationships. Some of their most admired leaders are Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, and Ronald Reagan. Their biggest turnoffs are clichés and hype.

Leadership Tips

Clear and open communication is important for this group. Allow them to be part of the decision-making process. Ask them for advice whenever possible. Managers need to earn their respect as opposed to demanding it. Reduce their tendency to “job jump” by explaining why the company is doing what it is doing. Provide a career path, mentoring, and ongoing training. Allow them to feel important.

Generation Y - AKA: Millennials or Nexters (born 1981 to 2000)

They have a very hopeful and positive outlook on life. They are determined workers but are concerned with balancing their work and personal life. They want flexibility in work hours, appearance, and desire a relaxed work environment. They are respectful to authority, and likely believe in leadership through consensus with an emphasis on team effort and "pulling together.” They value teamwork but want everything done immediately. They are concerned with affecting change and making an impact. In their personal lives, they are likely to have many good friends as opposed to one or two “best” friends. They believe in inclusion and loyalty.

Leadership Tips

They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Be sure your company has a clear mission and purpose. Show them how they can help the company achieve its mission and purpose. They will want to use technology to solve problems. Provide a flexible comfortable work environment. Ask them for feedback. Praise them in public.

Generation Z AKA Post-Millennials (born 2001 to present)

They have never lived without the internet and are very tech savvy. Great multitaskers. They are imaginative and believe that they can change the world. They are very entrepreneurial.

Since they are just entering the workforce, little is known about their leadership styles and preferences.

Leadership Tips

Start with the idea that they are much like Generation Y. Remember, this generation has likely never heard a dial tone or busy signal. They are super tech savvy and will expect your company to be using tablets and other technology. Pay close attention so that you can learn more about them and adjust to their values and attitudes towards work.


When speaking about generational differences, it is easy to generalize and oversimplify. While everyone is unique, each generation is largely shaped by the experiences encountered during their formative years. With five generations in the workplace, it is important for leaders to understand the basics of each generation so that they can quickly adapt to their differences. Keeping each generation happy will be an ongoing challenge.

That challenge is one that contracting companies and their leaders should begin confronting as soon as possible. To learn more about leadership principles and strategies, visit and download a free packing of training resources including videos, templates, industry research and more.

Progressive Leaders Pursue Greatness Not Success

Success is a destination. It's measured by a point, a moment in time, an achievement, an accolade, a goal, a key performance indicator, a metric, etc.

Anyone can be successful, but not everyone can be great. Greatness finds no one. It's a lot of little things. Greatness surrounds itself with greatness. What will greatness require of you to achieve and sustain?

Everything you've got!

Top leaders adopt the mindset of growth, progress, abundance, extraordinary, passion, purpose, intention, intensity and relentless unwavering pursuit of their goals. I call these people "Progressive Leaders".

A Progressive Leader is someone who creates, inspires, prepares, and directs people to perform, individually and collectively, at the highest level consistently under the most challenging conditions in pursuit of a shared and valued goal.

Progressive Leaders believe that talent and ability are not fixed. They understand that abilities and skills can be nurtured, encouraged and developed, and elevate others to regard effort, perseverance, and learning from errors as the route to mastery which can improve the performance of themselves and their team. You are either winning or learning, never losing or failing.

Progressive Leaders lead from the guiding principle to inspire, to aspire, to desire to catch fire to go higher, and embrace being passionate about people, process and progress, not perfection.

Progressive Leaders aspire and rise to greatness and inspire others to follow. Progressive Leaders want to shift from acceptable to exceptional, from excellent to extraordinary, and from success to greatness. Winning or achieving goals is considered success, and while top leaders want to be successful, success to a Progressive Leader is mediocre and unfulfilling. As Tony Robbins says: "Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure."

Okay is NOT okay. Good enough isn't good enough. Good is a 4-letter word when you're reaching for more. When you're working for extraordinary on your way to achieving greatness.

You may be awesome, but have you achieved greatness? Greatness is about who you become in the process. All great leaders are successful, but not all successful leaders are great.

All company leaders want to grow, evolve and improve sales, profits, and customer happiness. In other words, leaders want something different, better and more. To have something different, better and more, YOU must become and do something different, better and more in the mind of the coworkers and consumers you serve.

Progressive Leaders are people of dignity, honor, integrity, and strong character. They set the example, not live up to one. They are the best, not hope to be the best. They believe that greatness can only be attained if they care more than others think is wise, do what others are unwilling to, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.

It has been said that Hell is dying, going to Heaven and meeting the person you could have been. Potential is perilous. Regret is ridiculous. Raise your standards, design the life you desire, don't live a life by default.

Greatness is trying to find every one of us. We must get out of our own way and act with intention and intensity every day. Kaizen, or what Tony Robbins calls CANI – constant and never-ending improvement – means you make little improvements (1%) in all areas every day.

Growing and serving others is one of the highest callings in life. A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. Share your light. Just as iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. Pass on your passion so that it pays back, forward, multiplies with compound interest and pays dividends to everyone it touches.

Stop working a very costly time-consuming job, and build a business that serves people extraordinarily, and benefits you and boosts your life, rather than one that consumes your life. Start living the life you design, paid for by the business you own, driven by the people you develop and serve.

Stop playing small and stop playing not to lose. You only get hurt and lose. And when you are winning, don't stop going because winning is ONLY good enough. The love of winning is second ONLY to the hatred of losing and changing the game.

If you want to build better businesses, develop people better. Progressive leaders develop people and build businesses for greatness, not success. Shift from operating a business to owning a wealth and prosperity generator that lifts all people.

Change the way you and your people think and act. Shock the world. Always ask yourself what's the most extraordinary thing you can do next, because that's exactly what you can and should do next.

Challenge accepted paradigms and preconceived notions of what it means to be in business, not the business of contracting or the trades, but rather the business of business and people. Change your perspective and you will change your status and results. Seek innovation and differentiation, not competition and assimilation. Stand out, don't fit in.

To unleash your full potential, you need to unlock your mind and the minds of your teammates and change the minds of those your serve. Unshackle your thinking. Don't look at ideas and think or say, or let others think or say, "that will never work." Don't accept reasons why something won't work. Reasons are just excuses. Find ways to make your ideas work.

"A closed mind will always find a thousand excuses. An open mind will always find a thousand ways." – Unknown

Don't ask why not ... ask a better question. Ask "how will we MAKE it work?" Don't settle for the first answer. Find the best answer. Hack your brain. It's not that failure is not an option. You will fail, but failure is only failure if you don't learn from it and try again like Thomas Edison.

How you are going to work the problem and transcend the issue? The idea or problem is never the problem. It's the story you tell yourself about the idea or the problem. Shatter expectations; create extraordinary experiences for co-workers, customers, community, and causes; and positively impact peoples' lives.

Are you chasing success or greatness? Success is reaching the summit. It's a destination. Greatness is a state of mind. It knows no bounds or limits. Greatness always has another level. Level Up. LIVE LIMITLESS!

Nice Guys and Gals Finish First!

Have you ever heard someone say, "Nice Guys Finish Last!"? Ever been to a funeral for a MEAN guy? Not too many people attending. I have been fascinated by the topic of leadership for over twenty years. I've read books by championship coaches in sports (Bill Belichick, Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Wooden), in business (Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Alfred P. Sloan) and politics (Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan).

They all have a number of things in common. Here are a few ideas to improve your culture borrowed from the best contractors from around the globe and from some of the best leaders.

Ask and answer:

  1. Where is the bus going?
  2. Who is on the bus?
  3. Are they in the right seat?

Train and educate your associates like crazy. Create your own curriculum and "In-house University" and require 50 hours of technical training and 50 hours of SOFT SKILLS training a year.

Put pictures on the wall of your associates; it will play a big part of your positive culture.

Celebrate the success of others in unique ways and share in the financial gain.

Measure everything. Reward what you want repeated; it's the greatest management principle in the world.

Promote from within whenever possible.

Make certain your facilities are world-class: clean, organized, and shiny.

Become innovative marketers and use shopping-list pads, letter openers, mugs, pens, newsletters, coloring books for kids, water bottles, sunglasses, shopping bags, and magnets with their logo. The list goes on and on. The most successful business leaders know that the name of the marketing game is "remember me" and they do it as well as anyone in their industry.

Build your company on service agreements and inspire everyone to sell and market the company 24/7/365.

True servant leaders do lots of little things to make people feel good. In a word, they practice "Acknowledgment and Recognition"!

Be a nice guy or gal. It really is true, NICE GUYS AND GALS FINISH FIRST!

It doesn't cost any more to be nice; it's a long-term strategy for success. I love doing book signings after I make a presentation. It's my favorite part of the process. I get feedback and it makes both my audience and me feel good. Taking extra time is good business, for the long-term. You just never know. Do want to take your company to the next level? Be nice. Be nice to your employees and your customers. Take the time to go the extra mile. Work harder than anyone else to be nice. If it works for Coaches, CEO's and Politicians, maybe it will work for you…


Leadership and management, while quite different, go hand in hand.

Management activities focus on coordinating and developing resources to produce a desired result.

Leadership activities focus on influencing people in a way that inspires them to become better versions of themselves.

I experienced this for the first time while working at Barker's Mobile, a full service gas and auto repair station in Speedway, Indiana. Terri Barker was the owner.

First day on the job, Terri put his Manager’s Hat on and told me how he expected me to behave, what he expected me to do, taught me to do it and defined what results he expected from my efforts.

My schedule was to clean the bathrooms, sweep the bays, take out the trash and sweep the lot by 4:30 (after school).

Then, attend to the full service gas pump island. Ask, “how can I help you?” with a smile on my face, fuel the vehicles and wash the windshields. Check the oil, tire pressure, wiper blades, headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals and air filters. Offer to replace, clean or repair anything needing attention, collect for services rendered and wish them a “Great day.”

At 7:30 pm I was to take inventory of the quarts of oil, headlights, taillights, turn signal lights, tires and wiper blades. Then, complete the daily inventory report and put it on his desk. Next, close out the cash drawer and deposit the locked cash bag into the safe. By 8:30 we would “lock up the shop.” He even allowed me to build out my 1970 ½ Chevy Camaro after hours…

Terri would start his day by reviewing how much product was sold compared to deposits. This was his way of determining if we were doing our job.

Two weeks into the job, Terri put a 20-dollar bill in my locker with a note that said, “Keep up the good work.” In 1980, that was a lot of money for a 16-year-old kid!

One day, I came into work not feeling well so I went through the day doing as little as possible. The next day, I got away with doing even less. No one seemed to care; No one said anything to me and as such I thought it was ok … so I continued to just get through the day.

A few days later I found a note in my locker from Terri asking me to meet him in his office at 5:30.

When I walked into his office, Terri put his Leadership Hat on. He stood up, shook my hand and started asking questions about me: How is school? Everything ok at home? Are you going to try out for the football team this spring? He seemed genuinely interested in me…

After he was satisfied that I was ok, the conversation turned towards performance at work.

“Tom, I’m confused. We pumped roughly 1,000 gallons of gasoline from your full service island. That equates to about 50 vehicles during your shift.

“How is it that none of those vehicle needed oil, headlights, brake or turn signal lights? Oil changes or tires? Air filters or a tune-up?”

I was speechless. Didn't know what to say. Terri just stared at me without saying a word, waiting for me to answer his question. Fifteen seconds of silence felt like 15 minutes. I finally found the courage to say, “Sir, I haven’t been feeling well for a couple of days and forgot to do those other things.”

Terri replied, “Well, what do we need to do about this?”

Once again, I was forced to say something about my behavior… “It won’t happen again. I’ll get back to doing what I need to do.”

Then Terri asked me a really tough question: “What can you tell me right now that would make me believe that your telling me the truth?”

I was petrified. What could I say?

Finally, I realized that there was nothing I could say. So I replied, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to make sure it won’t happen again.”

Then Terri said, “You understand the consequences, right?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“Tom, I like you. You are a good young man. Let’s get back to work.”

Two weeks later, I found another $20in my locker with a note that said, “Keep up the good work.” Those $20 bills kept coming every two weeks for the time I worked at Barker’s Mobile as long as results exceeded expectations.

What a great example of the delicate balance between managing and leading.

As a manager, Terri taught me how to perform a well-defined process and held me accountable to complete each task in a fashion that delivered a predictable result (daily). That's what good managers do.

As a leader, Terri made me think about my behavior and influenced me to become a better employee. He also recognized and appreciated a job well done. That's what great Leaders do. They focus on influencing people in a way that inspires them to become better versions of themselves.

The Genius of Leadership: Effective Leadership Practices

We all crave good leadership! It is exciting, challenging and rewarding when we are involved with effective leadership, and it can be frustrating as an employee when we recognize leadership is off course. One of our main "opportunities" in contracting is to find, recruit, hire, train and develop people around us to improve our company's execution. In this era, developing and creating that environment for prosperity is difficult unless we understand the true genius of what leadership can accomplish.

Simply put, effective leadership is rare in business and in life!

It is only occasionally that we see the kind of leadership we wish we could be exposed to in our own business lives.

Think of effective leadership as creating "Followship."

Leadership is about setting a direction, a course, what we can call "True North."

The individuals in the organization trust this direction and course so well -- they buy-in to the direction and course with such passion -- that they follow, and become less of an individual and more of a team defined by the culture set up by this leadership principle! It requires constant communication, reinforcement and discussion about the vision, values, behaviors, and how it all relates to the purpose of the company.

When these attributes are present, most team members will do whatever it takes to make certain the direction is fulfilled!

How does this apply to the owner or a manager inside of a contracting company?

We are trying to build a business and improve the performance of the business at the same time. This business of yours is in many cases like one of your very own children, and in some cases, you may spend more time with (or in) it than with your family as a sacrifice to build for them. Suffice to say, the amount of energy, time, desire, passion and sheer will required to make the business grow and prosper is enormous.

Yet rarely do we see the owner working on improving his/her own leadership skills – to grow themselves personally so that, as the business grows, the owner stays ahead of the needs of the business and the people inside of the business.

In other words, you need to frame your leadership practices to be responsible to your people, not for your people.

As a leader, you have to be able to hold them accountable for the work they are to perform at the standards you have established, and that means you have to create an environment of accountability and standards in the first place.

In an issue of Harvard Business Review, there was an article in which Jeffrey Immelt, who replaced Jack Welch as CEO of General Electric, discussed how much time he actually spent in the development of people in GE, not just his direct reports. These are the key leaders inside GE. He stated that over 40% of his time was dedicated to the development of these people because they were so crucial to completing the work of GE.

This idea made me consider that choice of priority in time dedication.

It made me think about how a small business owner like myself, with few employees, could afford to commit to such an endeavor? The truth is the smaller the business, the more critical it is for this very behavior to occur, which is opposed to our technical nature in the trades of doing the key work ourselves.

The time spent developing your people is critical, and in many cases probably exceeds the 40%.

The real issue is when you spend time with them, what are you doing?

If effective leadership is about setting direction, and then building a team of personnel to be able to achieve the end game towards this direction, there are a number of things that MUST happen every day to make this happen:

  1. Have a clear, well-articulated vision for the company
  2. Define core values and the behaviors that a company wants from each value
  3. Set concise expectations and standards for each role – tie these to individual goals
  4. Develop this talent by making the tools, training and resources available to execute
  5. Be willing to ALWAYS change – change is part of the fabric of the company
  6. Foster ongoing communication – a positive environment to work and learn
  7. Operational Excellence –Execution – Measure the metrics (KPI's) and communicate them
  8. Reward excellence – share the wealth but also appreciate, show respect, give recognition

These ideas may seem like common sense, but while they are in practice within our industry, proper and complete execution is a rare occurrence. Far too often we see only some of these areas being practiced, which lead to more bumps in the road than needed to happen.

It all comes down to one issue: Leadership must be aware and understand the need!

Everything defined here is grounded in the concept of developing other leaders, and the accountability for these ideas being effectively implemented is the responsibility of the primary leader or owner of the company. We have to set the structure and raise others around us, and that takes time and commitment.

Why is it so difficult to put these ideas into place?

The good news is that, because leaders are developed and not born, you can adapt your leadership skills and improve, becoming more effective at leadership.

If you want to change, you can. The human mind can focus and achieve anything if we desire it.

One of the human mind's greatest attributes is its ability to adapt and change! Sometimes we just ignore that potential or allow ourselves to be distracted by the "static" around us, the daily crises in contracting. When that happens, we have no method to reinforce our goals, our leadership work requirements: to help others become more effective.

We have to learn to become an effective business leader first, before we learn to become more effective at the business.

Most of our industry started by getting into the business first and becoming immersed in the work of the business, never really committing to the idea of changing themselves along the way as they grew the company.

Even leaders with natural skills that focus on doing so many things correctly can get trapped in a comfort zone. They may not continue to challenge themselves to change and become even more effective leaders.

No matter how successful you are, if you are not committed to constant change, and continuous self-improvement, the business eventually will grow to your level of incompetence. This is the cliché known as "The Peter Principle."

I suggest the following: Commit to the idea of continuous self-improvement.

Leaders who want to continue to grow learn this lesson early, as noted below by leadership expert and author John Maxwell:

Change is personal – I can identify what I want changed

Change is possible – I can do it

Change is profitable – I am rewarded

Maxwell calls these the three P's of change.

Becoming a better leader of your company and for your people requires a personal change. Of course it is possible, and if you are focusing in on changing the right kinds of leadership attributes in your personality, it will no doubt be profitable as well!

Maxwell has written many books and lectured worldwide on the subject. In his book Thinking for a Change, Maxwell writes that the following sequence must be in effect for a leader to effect real change, so review the six steps and take a personal inventory of whether you understand the process or not?

Step 1 – You Must Change Your Thinking to Change Your Beliefs

Step 2 – Changing Your Beliefs will Change Your Expectations

Step 3 – Changing Your Expectations Changes Your Attitude

Step 4 – Changing Your Attitude Changes Your Behavior

Step 5 – Changing Your Behavior Changes Your Performance

Step 6 – Changing Your Performance Changes Your Life

The whole point of learning to become a more effective leader of a contracting company is to reach your chosen goals, whatever they are. Mine has always been a model to print money while I was on a beach -- time and money freedom -- while providing our team members with a quality work environment and serving our communities.

It rarely starts this way and must be developed with your people and your leadership.

Are you at your stated goals?

If not, you'll likely have to change, and this will likely require you to improve your leadership skills to reach said goals.

Clear and Inspired Thinking

As an owner or key leader in your company, you need to have a place and time to create clear and inspired thinking so you have the ability to sort through the challenges. Planning time is usually robbed and forsaken for crisis time, but in my own experience these are choices made by people who do not understand how to get out of the time trap.

In order to be more effective at leading your people and setting your direction, and even defining the goals of your company, you need time for yourself that allows you to think clearly and with enthusiasm.

Willingness to Change

You must understand Maxwell's abovementioned six steps, and you must embrace the need to adapt. Don't change for the sake of change, but under real, necessary change, such as adding specific processes to your business so you can train personnel to the right standard, and do it correctly each time. That requires change if you are in control and feel the need to have it done "your way" -- you may have to change.

A willingness to adapt is required, or you will not reach the next level. On the other hand, if you follow the six steps, and begin with changing how you think, you can indeed reach the next level, and probably well beyond!

Surround yourself with people that are at another level than you are

A great lesson in sports is to always go up against people who are better than you, so you will always have a focused effort on improving. Competing against those who are already better than you make you figure out how to compete differently in order to improve. To improve, one must stretch themselves to the limit.

Surrounding yourself in business with people who challenge you to think differently is the same concept, and will only lead to you learning a great deal from them. This requires a certain humility and courage as well as trust, and is a good reason to have a mentor or coach, or people around that will be honest with you about you.

How do we improve our Leadership?

  1. Commit to changing the way you think.
  2. Find people who are smarter and better at what they do than you are, and develop a personal inner circle.
  3. Seek a mentor, someone who can give you a non-biased opinion that is candid and fair to help you grow and learn new skills.
  4. Self-evaluate what kind of a leader you really are and look at a self-improvement plan. Develop the plan and take action.
  5. Define a personal vision and mission in your life. What is your purpose and why are you doing what you do? This will not only add clarity, but incredible focus!
  6. Refine your personal and professional goals.
  7. Start mapping out how you have to change to become more effective at leading your company and your employees.
  8. Map out how the business has to change. Set your priorities and begin changing – based on your priorities. Ask questions in your business practices -- Why do we do it this way?
  9. Make time in your schedule for clear, inspirational thinking time.
  10. Maintain a planning period that allows you to reevaluate your position, skills, and goals regularly. Once a month is a minimum.

Becoming a more effective leader is hard work, and requires all of us to self-reflect on who we are now and what we aspire to in business and in life. It is heady stuff, yet if we take the journey's first step, which is to realize our company depends on us to adapt first and help raise others, we are well on our way to time and money freedom.

The challenge requires dedication, discipline, and a desire to adapt, but the journey to becoming the best leader we can be is well worth it.

21 Leadership Tips from Nordstrom

There is a Todd Wilson in every graduating class. He is the early bloomer who has a mustache in the 9th grade. He is a three sport star without really trying. He passes all his classes without doing homework. Todd was 6'2" and 200 pounds at 15 years old. Todd scored 27 points in a junior high school basketball game, could punt the ball 60 yards and had a 90 mph fastball. He had real influence. Whatever he wore, you wanted.

One day in a business class my sophomore year, I asked him about his shoes.

"Oh, I got these at Nordstrom and Best at Aurora Village. My mom buys all our clothes and shoes there."

"Why Nordstrom and Best?" I asked.

"Well, I can take anything she buys there back with no receipt, even if I just don't like them and they give me free pair, no questions asked."

Word of mouth. Malcom Gladwell calls these people, "Marketing Mavens."

Nordstrom founder Johan (John) Wilhelm Nordstrom was born in 1871 near Lulea, Sweden, 60 miles from the Arctic Circle. His father died when he was eight years old. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 16 with $5 to his name, arriving in Seattle in 1896.

While working at a saw mill in Arlington, he read a newspaper account of the discovery of gold in the Klondike and headed to Alaska to seek his fame and fortune.

He invested in a claim on Gold Run and worked it for two years. He came back to Seattle with $13,000 and started a retail shoe company with his good friend Carl Wallin. Their first store was at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street in 1901. His three sons eventually came to work for him. They struck real gold selling shoes. He came into the store every day, well into his 90s.

I have read three different books about Nordstrom. The most recent, "The Winning Team," was written by his son Elmer J. Nordstrom.

This is an attempt to understand the unprecedented success as Nordstrom continues to defy the odds in its fourth generation of leadership. Today, Blake, Pete and Erik Nordstrom serve as co-presidents of Nordstrom Inc. Just like their grandfathers did. From one tiny store, Nordstrom has grown into a leading fashion specialty retailer with a global reach. In 2016, Nordstrom earned $3.34 billion.

So why are they so successful? What exactly do they do from a leadership perspective that allows them to continue to prosper? Here is my list. Submitted for your approval.

  1. Elmer said, in is delightful little book "The Winning Team," "Dad taught us to believe in ourselves and success comes from hard work."
  2. Empowerment. "Trust your employees and children."
  3. Teamwork. John's three sons made a great team. They discussed every key decision at length and only went forward after they were in total agreement. That philosophy continues to this day.
  4. Open Door Policy. You can walk into the president's office and ask any question without an appointment.
  5. Every employee starts at the bottom and works his way up.
  6. They hire from within whenever possible.
  7. Cash is king. From the early days, they were frugal and reinvested into expansion and remodeling.
  8. Their operating principles that have not changed in 116 years? Quality, products, massive selection and extra-mile service.
  9. They offered "Employee Stock Options" in the sixties, when that was unheard of.
  10. They encourage competition by making internal sales public and their sales people work on commission.
  11. They treat their suppliers and vendors with respect, kindness and pay them on time.
  12. Their leadership has always studied their competition. They formed an association of shoe retailers, a kind of mastermind group in the early 60s, again, unheard of for that time period.
  13. They studied growth trends and expanded into markets that were booming.
  14. Every generation wrote about what they did, in an effort to understand their own success.
  15. They treat their employees like royalty. "Nordies," the loyal people who stay and fit into their corporate culture, are extra-mile salespeople.
  16. They hire the best people, train them like crazy and get out of their way.
  17. Decentralized Management. Driving decision making to the front lines.
  18. Humility. They give the credit away to their employees.
  19. Leadership gets out of the office and walks around, calling employees by name, and asking about their family and interests.
  20. They constantly look for and find ways to add value. You can still get a shoe shine for $2!
  21. They invest in the community. The Nordstrom family was responsible for the success of several hospitals and brought professional football to Seattle in 1976, becoming 51 percent owners in the Seattle Seahawks.

I need to contact Todd Wilson and thank him for the referral. I wonder if he still shops at Nordstrom? After all, he doesn't need a receipt to get some new shoes, but can he still throw a 90-mile-an-hour fastball? Thanks Todd.

Book of the Month

"The Winning Team" by Elmer Nordstrom (1985)

This little "Bathroom Book" comes in at 99 pages. It is cogent, succinct, simply written in a conversational style. There is gentle, humble quality to the writing. I believe it was written to honor his father.

"Writing this book was not my idea. However, occasionally I am asked to speak to our personnel, to tell them about the old days and the things that worked well for us. For the most part they are simple things, but it is good to hear about them now and then, so that they are not forgotten. Unfortunately my brothers aren't here today, so it is up to me to write this book. I would like to dedicate it to their memory. Here then, is our story." — Elmer Nordstrom