Lessons in Leadership

By Andy Weaver, Senior VP of Administrations

"Managers muddle – leaders inspire. Leaders are people who inspire with clear vision of how things can be done better.  What we are looking for are leaders at every level who can energize, excite and inspire rather than enervate, depress, and control."

-Mr. Jack Welch

I am often asked, ‘Have you always been like this?’

My retort often is complicated and followed by a humble deflection to another topic or praise for another.  Simply put, I am, at 39 years old, the leader I am today because of others. Others that took the time to help mold me; people like my mother, grandfather, step-father, uncle, and Army leaders like Sgt. Maj. Shannon Brown, Col. Dale Lyles, Col. Shawn Gardner, and Generals David Wood and Corey Carr.

Another Army mentor of mine, Col. Zsolt Szentkiralyi, asked me when he retired in his deep, direct, baritone voice, “Weaver! How you gonna pass all these great experiences down so that other generations can learn from you, son?” 

Well Zsolt was correct, it’s every leader’s responsibility to share their experiences so that others learn from the great experiences and try not to mimic the bad. I wanted to share a few of the many principles, especially as we begin the Communication - Leadership-Innovation-Fulfillment-Engagement (C-LIFE) talks in a few weeks and as we begin to embark on our leadership and development program. I felt it would be timely to provide you the lessons I have learned from the leaders I have served, as well as from the soldiers that served under my commands. 

Leaders are Reflective - Reflective thinking adds to your experience and gives you a true perspective on how you think and how you take future action. “Hindsight is twenty-twenty”.  Most of us have heard that before. Reflective thinking is more than hindsight. All of us have thought, “I should’ve done…I could’ve done…I would’ve done.” That’s “reflective thinking,” but it is only useful if we learn from it. When used properly, reflective thinking will provide valuable information for you and your team.   

One of the greatest experiences in my life was the opportunity to attend graduate school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA.  Gonzaga is a Jesuit school and believes firmly in “reflective thinking”.  In fact, Jesuits pause three times daily and reflect.  They reflect on what has happened; what is happening and what is expected to happen the rest of the day.  What they are doing is taking ownership of any negative actions or thoughts that have occurred and focusing on remedies and solutions on how to make it better the remainder of the day.

This internal, three-times-a-day audit still resonates with me daily. I don’t always get to it three times a day, but I get there at least once for a five-minute period. For me, it’s an opportunity to recharge and start anew.  Do you reflect?  Do you give yourself time to think?  If not, why not start today.

Leaders Get Bloody - Leaders take risks and reward others that do the same.  Risks should always be based on analysis, data, and experience. One my favorite things to say in the Army was “the first one over the wall usually gets bloodied”, now who’s ready to over the wall with me”?  Unfortunately, this was often in a literal sense during my service tenure, but also has relevancy in the corporate setting. 

In the Army, we had a focus on “risk mitigation”.  I detested this focus.  What “risk mitigation,” screamed to me was a collective avoidance in taking risks, often accompanied by the dreaded and expected “paralysis by analysis”.  I felt “risk adaptation” was the proper phrase in regards to risk.  I often discussed this with my soldiers in combat.  Risks are inherent to combat.

By empowering them to take these risks, they performed at or above their level of experience or rank. They felt trusted, they felt ownership, they felt a part of something bigger then themselves. These feelings and principles are not solely tied to combat.  They apply to what we do at Celadon. As a leader, are you empowering others to grow and feel a part of something bigger then themselves? Are your employees growing? Do they feel empowered?

Leaders Challenge and Like to be Challenged - “Yes men” or “yes women” do not contribute to the team because they keep the status quo or stay on the wrong path by always agreeing with you. They do not understand the necessity of excellence and they rush to failure; “yes men” only expend the energy required to get through something so they can move to the next objective with few results.

You need energetic, creative people willing to discuss, debate, and at times, argue. People who are willing to be confrontational are passionate and believe in their ideas. If you sell your idea to them properly, they will support you, too. When you give people the freedom of discussion, argument, and debate, you tell them that you value them and their opinions. They will contribute to the organization with all their heart and energy.

Have you ever known anyone to put his or her agenda before yours or the organization’s? It is a natural tendency for us to put our agenda before anyone else’s —we cannot help it because we are human. If you have concerns about a team member seeking a personal agenda, confront them head-on. Talk to them about it because their agenda may be in line with the organization after all. If it is not, let them know they have a choice to change.

Leaders Value Building Teams - The top two roadblocks to team thinking are complacency and the protest “we have never done it that way!” Team thinking moves people from competition to cooperation and collaboration.  Some leaders feel that they must go into a job with all guns a blazing and lay a path for others to fear. That kind of leadership is easy and simply lazy.

A true leader’s first step should always be to develop relationships and to show his or her team that they truly care. Not only do they care at work, but also they care about whether or not their employees have a positive interaction at the dinner table with family when they sit down nightly at the dinner table. This second step must always begin by listening.

To build relationships and make your leadership personal, show your team that they come first before the big organization. It will come back to you in dividends. When there is a problem, get the rest of the story from them. There is always more to it than what you see on the surface.  As their leader, let them know who you are, your principles, your beliefs, and what you value. Talk to them about your family and make your life real to them. Most importantly, let your team know what you expect out of them as individuals and as a team.

Leaders Communicate - When in doubt, communicate robustly and often.  Never be afraid to over communicate! Simply put, be yourself and be transparent!