Don’t Let Your Leadership Philosophy be a Mystery

Since you’re going to want to lead your team within Intimate Proximity, you should provide them a written copy of your leadership philosophy. It will take the mystery out of your expectations for the mutual benefit of you and your team.

You’re just starting out in a new position and you’re eager to learn the lay of the land. You’ll want to get to know the people, the processes, and the products before you can start making any difference. However, while you are checking out all of these new things, everyone will be wondering about you. Instead of keeping you a mystery until you’ve decided to come out of your shell, you’ll find it surprisingly effective to let your team in on the secret early.

In the first few days at a new job, I provided my extended team a copy of my bulleted leadership philosophy. I put my thoughts in writing to help folks understand what I prefer, what I must have, and what I just won’t stand for. I wanted to ensure that there weren’t any surprises about my expectations. Then, during one of our weekly team meetings, I provided explanations and background for each of my bullets: each of them has real meaning to me. I also provided a note called Eight Facts About Rob (Only One Isn’t True) primarily to have some fun but also to let them understand that I take my thoughts on Work/Life balance very seriously.

What do you want your team to know about you? Give them a summary page that they can post on their wall. When you provide this list in writing, you control the message. You needn’t worry that they might not take notes on a point you’re emphasizing or that you say one thing but they write down something different.

Give a copy to your boss, your peers, Human Resources, or just about anyone you’ll come into contact. Have them all hold you accountable for walking your talk.

Communicating your expectations with your team early will help reduce anxiety and confusion and will help you lead within Intimate Proximity as soon as possible. You and team will be glad you did.

Eight Facts About Rob (Only One Isn’t True)
  • He used to sing with a Grammy-nominated artist
  • He was a winning finalist in a David Letterman’s Top Ten comedy writing contest
  • He is a former Airborne Ranger
  • He currently speaks three languages
  • He was once arrested in Switzerland
  • He has filmed non-Baseball Hall of Famer Jose Canseco starting a riot
  • He has been photographed with two sitting US presidents
  • He is a K(2) on the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" scale
Rob Johnson’s Leadership Philosophy with Explanation

Lead within Intimate Proximity: close enough to shake hands
Intimate Proximity is a leadership paradigm with a very simple premise: to effectively lead, you must be close enough to touch. Necessary and useful handshakes, high-fives, and pats on the back can only be given in person. This is how I plan on staying close to the team.

Integrity: It’s like glass: can’t be fixed once broken
I need to be able to trust those I work with. I will never lie to you and I expect that you will never lie to me. If you fail to meet that expectation, I probably won’t be able to trust or work with you again.

Meetings start on time, with an Agenda, and a Purpose/Task
We all have the same 24 hours but have different priorities on how to use that time. Since time is a limited commodity, I don’t want to waste it. My meetings will start at the same minute that I’ve scheduled them, not 1, 2, or 5 minutes later. Be there before the meeting starts. To make the best use of our meetings, I will have planned and provided an agenda to keep us on track. We will also have a purpose and a task so that we know why we’re meeting and what we're trying to accomplish.

The best idea wins: It doesn’t matter who brings it
As Nobel-laureate Linus Pauling put it, “The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas.” Ideas will stand on their own merit regardless of your position, experience, or education.

Work/Life balance: I don’t have any, I only lean on the “life” side
I’ve never met anyone who never thought of work while at home and never let their home life get into work. We’re just human and the two will always blend. For me, there is only “life” but I happen to spend several hours of it every day at the office. When my family calls during the day, I will provide them my full attention as required. When it’s time to work, my job gets my full attention. The best we can do is to give each its proper priority at the appropriate time.

Stress: Gap between where you think you should be and where you think you are: this can be managed
I don’t accept that a situation is just inherently stressful. I’ve spent years studying stress and helping to counsel others on management techniques. I’ve found a helpful model to explain and manage stress: it’s the gap between where you think you should be and where you think you are. When you understand that you have the ability to move one or the other of those two to lessen the gap, you’ll be able to better manage your own stress.

A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard
This is one of my favorite essays extolling the virtues of working through a problem without undue hesitation, questioning, or avoidance. I vigorously hold to the tenets of “make it happen” although this should never a long-term strategy.

Reporting (a verb) is a waste: we will reduce or automate it
I’ve found very little value in the act of creating a report while reports (as a noun) can be very useful. We shall implement techniques to either reduce our reporting requirements or find ways to automate the processes. I would rather have my team thinking about improvements rather than remembering to report what has happened.

Continuous improvement: every new achievement is only a new observation point
We shall celebrate each of our achievements but will have to recognize that they will just be launching points into even more improvements. We cannot get caught looking back with phrases like “it used to be so much worse back then”. We won’t become complacent with new victories. Instead, we will have earned the right to look into better ways to improve upon that which had already been updated. There was no way we could have considered chasing best until we had reached better having just come from good.

I work for you: I cannot succeed unless you do
I don’t provide direct value to the company. I don’t make, test, or deliver anything. My job is to help you do your job. How can I be considered a success if you’re not? One of my jobs as leader is to remove obstacles. Tell me what’s keeping you from being excellent and I’ll find a way to change it. Secondly, I have to train you for tomorrow’s challenges. I’m convinced that none of us have next year’s required skills, we will all need to learn!

Do routine things routinely: that way we can leap off into crises when needed
I got this great advice from one of my favorite leaders, Bob Merkl. If our day to day tasks constantly send us into crisis mode, we’ll never have the time or energy to handle the real crises when they show up. Let’s find ways to make the routine parts of our job as boring as possible so we’ll have more time to think about the truly challenging things.

Leading leaders: Don’t wait to ask, tell me what you intend to do
You’ve been given authority in your job to lead the function. Don’t just tell me what you think or what you recommend, tell me what you intend to do. More than likely, I’ll tell you to go ahead. By having all of us lead, we won’t be dependent on just me to make all decisions. I probably won’t be the smartest, most educated, or experienced in most of these decisions anyway.

Permission to fail has been granted: Go try something hard
I don’t believe humans have the capacity for zero defects. To the contrary, I think that if you’re not failing at something, you’re probably not trying. I would rather you try to leap five steps ahead and fall back three than if you just creeped one step at a time. If you tell me that what you’ve done was with the best intentions and judgment and it still was a mistake, I’ll back you up.

Make a mistake? Learn, adapt, and press on; Don’t hold on to it
Did you just take my advice and fail at something? Find out why it didn’t work, apply the lessons to your next attempt, and keep moving on. Let others know what you experienced and let them learn from you. Do not let your failure get you or keep you down.

Bad news doesn’t get better over time
As my father would teach me, it’s best to bring bad news out as soon as possible. It only gets worse as it festers.

Politely ask for what you want, you never know when you’ll get it
One of the best jobs I ever got was because I ran into the right guy and politely told him what I’d like to do. It turns out that he and the leadership team had just been discussing their need for that exact role. They never would have thought to seek me out. Never hope that anyone will be able to read your mind. You have to articulate the desires of your heart to have any chance at getting them.

You can/should tell me “No” and tell me “This is what would be better …”
I can be rather persuasive and that’s not always a good thing. Don’t think my idea is best just because of my presentation and my position. I count on my team to hear me out and debate ideas on their merits. However, I also don’t like simple nay-sayers. If you disagree with something, I expect that you come up with an improvement.

Want vacation time? OK
If you request to take time off, I expect that means that you’ve evaluated the time you have been allocated, the requirements of your position, and how you can get tasks accomplished during your absence with help from someone else. I’ve yet to say no to a request when all of these have been covered.

Better to talk with and to people than about them (even when it’s uncomfortable)
We’ve all been talked about and no one likes it (except when it’s praise). Let’s pay attention to how much time we spend talking with and to each other understanding that they’re different. If I find that others have been talking about your performance, I am not afraid to have an uncomfortable conversation with you. I’ve done this several times before and nobody enjoys the first chat. However, in each case, the team member was able to turn their performance around and improve dramatically all because of frank feedback. We all appreciate it in the long run.

Performance issues: Coach, counsel, writing
If you’re not meeting the standards of your job, I’ll talk with you right away. Let’s fix it before it gets too bad. If my coaching doesn’t get us where we need to be, you and I will sit down to confirm our expectations. If that still doesn’t get us there, we’ll have to engage in a written plan for improvement or re-assignment.

If emotion can be taken wrong in an email, it will; go talk with folks
It’s rare that anyone would read an emotional email and think “Oh, they’re probably a lot happier than it seems.” If you find that you have strong emotions about what you are about to write, do yourself and your recipient a favor and go talk with them instead of sending an email. You could unintentionally lose hours and mutual respect in confusing back-and-forth messages.

Harassment: I won’t tolerate it; I take it personally
I will not tolerate the harassment of anyone on or off my team for any reason. While I take most business related stressors with a grain of salt, I take harassment very personally. I promise that this will get my full, professional, and uncomfortable attention as we resolve the matter.

Promotions: You should be doing the next level already
Those who are best suited for a promotion are already performing at that level but the pay and title haven’t caught up yet. While we’ll all have to learn on the job, I do not believe in giving someone a position that they have to grow into. It’s not fair to them or the organization as they typically spend most of their time trying to stay afloat.

We will leverage strengths, not try to fix (non-fatal) weaknesses
I want to spend time making your great even greater. You will do better with what you naturally prefer to do. I don’t want to try to make you simply well-rounded. Here’s a baseball analogy to help make my point: Coach: “OK, Lefty, you throw a mean curve but you’re the worst hitter on the team. You’re going to spend Spring Break improving your swing.” Lefty: “But, Coach, I wanted to try the Knuckleball this season…” Spending any time fixing non-fatal weaknesses is just a waste of energy.