Last week I highlighted five principles of leadership I wanted to pass on to my grand kids. They apply to a profit-making business, not-for-profits, charities, a team and just about anything. This is Part 2.
1. Figure out how God made you and spend your life developing that.
When I was in my twenties I joined an agency and together with my wife moved to Brazil. By that time of my life I was starting to think that my wiring was for management with some capacity to teach. However there was considerable pressure in the agency to do tasks that were more “sacred” in nature. I knew that I wanted to please God in all things but in my second year in Brazil, I was given the challenge of leading a high school in Belem, Brazil. Sometimes people wondered why I wasn’t out on the frontier reaching people who were in the jungles, but occasionally someone encouraged me in my leadership functions. Through this I discovered that it is important to not try to be someone you aren’t meant to be.
Mason Hawkins, a friend of Warren Buffet says, “…the thing I admire most about Warren is his passion in knowing what his strengths are and keeping his focus on those strengths.”1 This focus on playing to his strengths lies at the heart of Buffet’s success.
2. Work hard to choose the right heroes.
My father was very strong about this while I was growing up. He talked often about choosing the right friends and good heroes. Since sports was important to me, my father often talked of character, and not skill and charisma only. One lesson he insisted on was to hang out with people better than me who will help me improve; hang out with people who behave worse than me and pretty soon I will become like them.
When I was in university in the 1960s, the hippie movement surfaced and it seemed focused on the anti-war movement and the drug scene. I knew I needed a hero and someone to be my mentor. I found this person in a WWII hero like my dad who was a school teacher near my university. I had lunch with him and his family weekly and we discussed what was going on in the world, how I should think in relation to my studies, and how I should live. That relationship was key to my survival and growth in college.
3. Learn to manage your time and eliminate distractions.
Many people call me organized and some people think I should be more of a people person. I have tried to have a balance between work and leisure, but this lesson reminds me that I was often distracted and lost control of my time. I remember that when I led school teacher meetings and also team meetings in a not-for-profit, I would let the discussion go randomly according to people’s interest. This usually led to lack of productivity, frustration and wasted time. I learned finally to have an agenda, predict potential outcomes and hold people (including me) accountable for their time talking.
It is said that Bill Gates manages his time with detailed precision, such as “6:47 shower” and “6:57 shave.” This is beyond what most of us should do. But it is healthy to plan your day and learn to say “no” to things that do not contribute to the results you wish to accomplish that day.
4. Seek to bless others and help them improve.
I once heard Daniel Gunaseelan, Founder and CEO of the successful Gateway Ventures (a leading supplier to the gas and oil industry) in Asia say, “…it is all about how I can be a blessing.” Mark Russell in his book The Missional Entrepreneur 2 says essentially the same thing about business owners in Asia who endeavored to operate businesses which were holistic, focusing on every element in the lives of their employees and community.
This lesson came to me when I discovered that some of my employees were afraid of me. I was shocked when I discovered that their perception of me was that it was “all about the job”. They did not see me as their advocate in any way, or that I wanted them to develop. I started to change my outlook on my colleagues when one day a Swiss teacher in our international school just outright told me that she was scared of me. After that I determined to bless people and empower them to be successful. This lesson is one that can be developed at a very young age.
5. Hold firmly to foundational values and determine to follow them.
Most of us know that values of integrity, trust, faithfulness, love, perseverance, fairness, etc. are important; but practicing them can be a challenge sometimes. Often we can be tempted to exaggerate something to make it seem bigger and better. When I was young, sometimes I exaggerated my successes on the hockey rink; and when I was a truck driver in the summer while in university I sometimes exaggerated the size of the trucks I drove or the number of hours on the road. Later it became easier to exaggerate the size of the student body (rounding up of course) or the budget of our school. I had to stop it. Integrity has become important to me and I try to remember not only my spiritual roots but also Harry Truman’s quote, “Do right and risk the consequences.”
My father would remind me (and Warren Buffett also has stated it) that “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and just five minutes to ruin it.” Be a person of integrity – always!
2 Russell, Mark 2010, The Missional Entrepreneur, New Hope Publishers, Birmingham, AL.
Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures