Lessons Learned Taking out the Garbage
Recently I had the privilege of speaking at the Pete Hegener Leadership Award dinner hosted by the Economic Council of St. Lucie County, Florida. This prestigious award is named in honor of the late Paul J. “Pete” Hegener, the former president of Core Communities and the visionary behind the development of Tradition, an 8,000 acre Master Planned Community. The award recipient must exhibit commitment to a vision and the extraordinary ability to recognize and work with the talents of other individuals, being able to put their interests ahead of his or her personal goals.
My remarks began with a story from my childhood. As many of you may know I was orphaned at age 6 and being too old to be adopted I spent my childhood and teen years in many different foster homes. I learned a valuable lesson while taking out the garbage at one foster home that helped me understand at a young age the difference between leadership and managing.
Here is the story:
When I arrived at my third foster home I was given a list of chores to do, one of which was taking the trash cans out to the street for the garbage men. These were old beat up metal cans with skinny handles and seriously dented bottoms. They were always full to the brim and were too heavy for me at 8 years old to lift, so I attempted each week to push them down the rough asphalt driveway to the street.
For weeks I was frustrated that as I pushed these cans, their jagged bottoms would dig into the asphalt and tip over 2-3 times enroute to the curb and garbage would spill out. So rain or shine I would have to clean up the mess and continue to move these cans to the curb. However one glorious day I had an epiphany. Instead of pushing these cans which dug in and seemingly refused to be moved if I could somehow lift the front of the can maybe it wouldn’t dig in.
So, I took one of the skinny handles in both hands, lifted the front ever so slightly and magically the can followed me right to the curb. I used this approach every time thereafter and never had a can dump on me ever again!
Over the years of building companies and leading wonderfully talented people I have reflected on this event in my life countless times. I have always felt just attempting to manage people can be a lot like pushing those trash cans. There is plenty of effort expended and if people dig in from being cajoled and pushed, then mutual frustration becomes the reality.
Leading people on the other hand is a lot like my epiphany moment. Get out in front, lift people up and lead the way. Managing from behind is not an option. Here are a few things I have also learned from experience about leadership:
1) Any communication that tells people they are wrong will not be received. Allowing people to explain why they think they are right opens the door for correction.
2) Praise and cooperation works better than scolding, intimidation and orders.
3) Treat mistakes as wonderful opportunities to teach.
4) Allowing people to fail is the only way to ensure their success in the future.
5) Start every meeting off with wins (the positives), as no one wants to go to meetings where the topic always is what is wrong & needs to be fixed.
6) Hire & surround yourself with people better than yourself. They will inspire you and the culture created will inspire them.
7) Invest in your people. Unless you build people you build nothing that lasts.
8) Be sure every individual sees the difference they are making in the organization & with clients. It gives them confidence and real ownership.
In summary, we all have opportunities to learn through life events and education. If you’re a leader then LEAD your team. People want direction, guidance, and knowledge of your game plan for a successful future. If you provide these things people realize you are all about them and not about you. As I said when I closed my remarks at the leadership dinner, “Pete Hegener demonstrated leadership not management.”
A good lesson and example for all of us who want to leave a legacy.
C.Richard Weylman CSP, CPAE has been inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame. To date 219 individuals have received this honor including legendary communicators such as Ronald Reagan, Zig Ziglar, Og Mandino, Jim Rohn, and General Colin Powell.
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