AutoSuccess Magazine guest blog this week is brought to you by Bill Wittenmyer, parter of ELEAD1ONE. We hope you enjoy his blog! Click here to visit AutoSuccess page.
For this edition on leadership, let me start with a true story that happened about two weeks ago in the Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport. For those of you that don’t know, it is the busiest airport in the U.S., and possibly the world. Further, traveling through this airport on a Monday is always a real treat as it is extremely busy and the trains between the concourses are tightly packed with commuters. On this particular Monday, my first flight was late, and as usual the connection was in another concourse. I rushed down to the train because I knew that if I missed this connection, it would be a wasted four + hours in the airport that would not be as productive as it could be at my destination.
As I approach, the train is tightly packed, so I politely push my way onboard prior to the warning lights for the door closing. Interestingly, I immediately noticed there was more room than I anticipated, and could easily fit another two people with bags. As I stood there happy to have made the train and a step closer to my connecting flight, a man saunters up to the edge of the door. Timidly, he peers into the train looking directly into my eyes, and in a soft voice asks if there is room. My loud voice booms back “Lets go buddy, there is plenty of room. Jump on.” However, instead of making a move to join the crowd, the man remains motionless and again repeats his soft-toned question, “Excuse me, is there any room on board for me?” Again, and even louder this time I respond with, “Come on man, there is plenty of room for you. Jump on, lets go big guy!”
Just as I get the words out, there is a pause and then the doors begin to close. The man remains in the same position outside the train. I am now looking at him, eye to eye, through the closed glass doors and his look of astonishment amazes me. If I could have, I would have taken a picture of his face with my phone. It was truly amazing to see him standing there, horrified that the world moved on without him. A more effective invitation could not have been given to get him on the train. At this point, I jotted down several notes to share with my teams.
What does this have to do with leadership? Well, let me explain my thoughts moments after this happened. The world waits for no one. The world does not invite you to participate. There are doors every day that you can choose to either stare at or enter. In this case, the traveler waited and wanted some miraculous invitation to participate. It was clear that he was not ready to take charge of his life. This story seems like a small, everyday occurrence, but in reality, I bet that his whole life is average. A life full of average results: average pay, average wife and average experiences. The world sits and waits for no one, and certainly not those who approach it with timid actions. Individuals that attack life with bold and concise actions are the ones who get successful results. I can still see the look disbelief in his eyes, with him on the outside looking in as we were pulling away from the platform. People have a choice to either be outside or inside: a choice to bust the doors down and create opportunities.
For weeks now, I have discussed this with my own teams in several different ways, but the reality is the same. I want the best for my teams and the company. I want to push and encourage those around me that average is unacceptable, and they should expect and want more. Further, they are the only drivers that can make this happen. I cannot do it for them. As a leader, I believe there are winners and losers, and it is my responsibility to push the team. It is ok to have high expectations. In fact, I believe expectations should be set at a higher goal than may be possible to achieve. You will never know someone’s capabilities unless you push them out of their comfort zone.
I did not come from the “trophy” generation. Meaning, that when I played sports the best team won the trophy. No trophy was given to the other teams just because they participated. The bar was set high, and winning the trophy was special achievement. The chance to be the winner encouraged players who were not that good to work harder and improve their skills or find alternative activities in which they might excel. As leaders, it is our duty to push our teams further, make them want more and achieve success. Failure happens because we either picked the wrong teammates or did not support them by expecting more. Stop accepting average because they are a “good guy.” That behavior only does a disservice them and the other teammates.
Now is the time to change your thinking and imagine the unimaginable! Concentrate on your top performers and stop wasting the majority of your time with the bottom half of the team. For example, think about the results if you increase the performance level of your top guys by 10% verses increasing that same percentage for low-level producers. It is easy to fall into a mindset that you can somehow improve their performance level by spending more of your valuable time trying to coach and mentor. In the end, the real producers end up getting less time or ignored, and they are the ones that have really earned and deserve your attention -the “kick your ponies and pet your race horses” mentality.
Raise team goals and make them higher than has ever been achieved, and by a lot. Some say that you need to have attainable goals, but what is the worst thing that will happen if your team misses the goal? I don’t have a crystal ball, and most leaders I know don’t either. So why would I limit my team to a goal that I think is attainable? That is a disservice to them and the company. So change your goals, raise the bar, and keep raising it! Continue to reward great work with praise and bonuses but more importantly, reward greatness when they supersede the new goals. Encourage your team to be bold. Encourage them and reward them for making concise moves, clear actions and success. Encourage them to make mistakes, but make sure that they are aggressive mistakes and not foolish ones. Don’t let your team be that guy sitting on the other side of the glass doors looking in as the world leaves them behind.