Leadership = Indebtedness
What!?! This was probably your first response in reading the title of my March blog post. Max DePree, author of “The Art of Leadership”, wrote one of my all time favorite lines when he said, and I paraphrase, leadership is a condition of indebtedness and we leaders must give to our people. It is a combination of believing that everyone brings something to the table, diversity matters, and you must master your approach. I do not plan on claiming mastery of these skills until somewhere around 2044 ( my likely retirement date).
Friend, the world has changed and it is time to get our hands calloused when it comes to our work. If you are like me, you grew up professionally in an environment where you “pay your dues” and “wait your turn”. I recoil a bit when I read or encounter comments where “Sally has been here 10 years, you should hire her”. Sally is probably great, but it could be naive to suggest Sally could do a job based on tenure alone. The reverse is true of this situation. Bobby has just finished his first year of work in the new department and 2nd year post grad. Bobby states that he has “mastered his craft” and is ready for a promotion into management. The “pay your dues and wait your turn” has given way to “you owe me” and “I want it now”. What I desire to hire is someone that has coupled both personalities: the drive of the “I want it now” and the patience of the “pay your dues”.
So what does this have to do with the theory of “leadership = indebtedness”. Let’s first take a look at DePree’s first step, everyone brings something to the table. In building Compliance teams I have always focused on hiring people of integrity and high character. The goal is to get it right 80% of the time. If 8 of 10 people have high character and integrity, they tend to be humble, want to learn, yet still desire growth. I have hired parking garage attendants, HR specialists, hospital workers, and business professionals with no AML experience, many of which have turned into immeasurable assets. Each person brings something different to the table. The experienced internal brings company knowledge and helps new-to-company employees adjust. The parking garage attendant brings organization, drive, and efficiency. These experiences rub off. Mixing a diverse workplace together can be magical, assuming you nail the character and integrity pieces. Picture 100 unique people each placing a brush stroke on a canvas. One stroke is plain, 100 strokes = art.
The final piece outlined by DePree is the leadership approach. As a leader, regardless of your organization size, your job is to incorporate each person into the canvas. Your department is the art studio. It allows your artists to find their potential and share their experiences. It is a place to allow your artists space to achieve and learn from mistakes. It gives you an opportunity to challenge and stretch them, which will create meaning in their careers and life. Is it possible to execute this environment when you work an “assembly line”… day in and day out the work looks the same?
Friends, I have done the same Compliance work for the past 13 years and have been in the financial industry since I was 18 years old. I have managed 1 employee and I have led 125 employees. The key is to consistently provide opportunity, but that opportunity doesn’t have to be daily. If you are like me you can’t afford to have turnover. You also strive to keep employee satisfaction high. I have been successful in both areas by employing a few key strategies:
1) Know what drives your people- if you have more than 100 people, this could be challenging (but still doable). I have 122 FTE and I know them by name, face, and where they came from. I take notes and try to meet with each person in a 1:1 every year, focusing on development and not work. You add value to your people when they know YOU care and YOU know what drives THEM. You can then empower them to find and use their gifts.
2) 9-box, oh how I love the 9-box. It allows me to create a deep bench of talent. How do we mai train the drive of the “high performers/low potential”? How do we provide enough “meat” for the “high/high” until promotional opportunities are available? 9-box allows you to group similar employees and execute a sound action plan.
3) Think Tank ‘Em! Take your 9-box, mix the lot and build think tanks (an IBM strategy if it sounds familiar). Bobby is great at efficiency, Sally at quality, Tommy at projects, and Susie at subject matter expertise. Hand them a process and make it more efficient!
Friends, this works at home too! As I write this I have my 5 yo and 2 yo hard at work on laundry. Jackson, the 5 yo is a bit OCD while Colin is aggressive. We have a laundry shoot in our bathroom and I can’t carry it downstairs because of surgery. Colin is carrying clothes from the bedroom to Jackson, who is meticulously putting them into the shoot, and I am downstairs ready to sort and wash. Every good process needs a boss, and my wife is ready to instruct us when needed 🙂
Have a great month everyone! Find your way to being an indebted leader this month!