Changing the Approach

If we want to have the exponential impact I referenced recently, I don’t believe there’s any other option than to buy into the idea that it all starts at the top! While there will certainly still be plenty of hard days, changing the approach we take will be one of the most critical things we do in addressing our profitability killers - especially the highest risk areas!

In mid 2018, Cindy and I had decided to build an “executive summit” onto the tail end of what was already a fairly full day leadership development event we were hosting. This session was to be geared at putting local business owners and high level executives in a small room together where we facilitated round table discussions around very specific leadership topics that had been addressed throughout the day leading up to that point. We were very intentional about who we invited to be part of this session. The main event had around 200 participants from 70 or so companies but this final 90-minute segment would be paired down to no more than 50. We worked through the complete list of attendees and identified the ones who had the level of responsibility we were targeting for this type of interaction. In talking with each of them one on one about the value that exclusive session could provide them, the most common response we received was that they had never seen an opportunity to be with a group of their peers where the sole focus was on leadership. Many of them were part of industry focused peer groups but none of those had carved out specific time to dial in on developing how they led their organizations. From those conversations, and that first “executive summit” session, our Executive Leadership Elite Think Tank (ELETT for short) was born!

Based on a clear need we saw in putting together that executive summit session, we went to work immediately in crafting the criteria for something we could do for local business owners and executives that would help them key in our building best-in-class leadership cultures in their respective organizations, showing measurable return on the time and money they invested to be part of the group, while creating stronger business relationships with their peers in other industries. I’d love to go down a rabbit hole here and tell you all the amazing things we’ve seen come from this group since, or even how it’s grown into a model we’re able to offer on-site for our larger clients, but I won’t… What I will stress is one of the primary things we’ve held as a core principle for membership in that group; a strategic focus on leading rather than just supervising or managing the teams each member is responsible for. We set some criteria to serve as a baseline for the size of team each participant has, largely based on a scene from The Princess Bride where there’s a comment that goes something like this, “You can’t fight five men the same way you fight one man.”

Quite frankly, we were far less interested in the size of the organization or total revenue than we were in ensuring each individual in that group had a heart for leadership. I’ve been around folks who managed facilities with hundreds of employees and did hundreds of millions in annual revenue who couldn’t lead silent prayer! The team members in those organizations were there for a paycheck and when a comparable paycheck was offered somewhere else, that’s where they went. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching individuals with a primary goal of serving their team and the clients who did business with them, and I’ve seen many of those organizations grow exponentially!

If we want to have the best possible impact throughout our organizations and effectively deal with the things that kill so much profitability, we’ll need to change the approach from just managing the processes and procedures to leading the individuals who are engaged in those processes and procedures! I’m certainly not advocating that we no longer need to manage, but a healthy mix can make all the difference…

It's Not a Question of Either/Or!

One of the most powerful lessons I learned in the fifteen or so years I worked in behavior-based safety had nothing to do with safety and was only indirectly related to human behavior… That lesson was in how much the act of serving others impacted the influence an individual could have on those around them. The process I had responsibility for was driven by a group of hourly shop floor employees (I was an hourly employee the entire time too) with only one management team member serving on our steering committee. As these hourly team members from all areas of our facility developed their skills in this unique approach to safety, I frequently saw their peers go directly to them for help in getting issues addressed rather than following the traditional chain of command and asking their immediate supervisors for the same support. Quite honestly, the folks who were engaged in that behavior-based safety process had developed reputations for being able to get things done! The results they were responsible for achieving earned authentic influence with the large majority of the people working around them; a kind of influence that not all of the supervisors had earned…

I’ve shared this quote from John Maxwell before and I’ll share it again now, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less!” One of the most frequent complaints I heard from the supervisors and managers throughout our facility during that time was tied to their employees not bringing issues to them. In many cases, the employees actually had brought the issues to them at some point, or at least something similar, and hadn’t gotten any real resolution. Too many times, they hadn’t even gotten feedback! The hourly team members who were involved in the behavior-based safety process had been empowered to take action and get results AND we made a point of being intentional about following up with the folks who brought issues to our attention. That earned a level of influence that will never happen through handing out job assignments at the beginning of a shift.

To be completely fair, the ones engaged in that behavior-based safety process had an unfair advantage, one that I’ve seen far few organizations provide to their supervisors and managers. Like each of the most active behavior-based safety team members, nearly every supervisor in the facility at that time had been extremely high performers in technical roles prior to becoming a supervisor or manager. The biggest difference I saw was that we provided a tremendous amount of training and development on soft skills for the folks in the behavior-based safety process. Soft skills were occasionally mentioned, at least in passing, during some of the supervisor meetings I sat in on but rarely received much focus - and there was certainly no expectation for them to take specific actions to apply anything that was briefly touched on…

Make no mistake though, I’m not suggesting that the work they were doing wasn’t critical; it most certainly was! I am suggesting that we’ll never be as effective as we can be with the teams we’re responsible for when we’re focused solely on the authority that comes with our position instead of balancing that with a healthy dose of earned influence. If we’re serious about getting measurable results by changing our approach, we definitely need to be experts at managing the processes and procedures we’re charged with overseeing but we can accomplish so much more with (and through) our teams when we’re just as effective at leading as we are at managing and supervising. With that in mind, let’s look at how quickly the results can follow when we bridge that gap!

Combining Leadership & Management

When I searched the phrase “results of combining leadership and management” the vast majority of the links I found were to articles comparing and contrasting the two. I make it a point to be as loud as I possibly can in emphasizing that adding manager to a title does not automatically mean any leading is gonna get done! My main concern though after reading through close to a dozen of the articles that came up in that search was that nearly all of them focused almost entirely on only contrasting the two skill sets rather than detailing the powerful results that can be achieved when someone becomes effective in both. Even the articles suggesting that these two different but critical skills could co-exist alluded to how rarely it occurred.

One from the Harvard Business Review opened with this quote made by Abraham Zaleznik in 1977; “Business leaders have much more in common with artists than they do with managers.” Every single one, in some form or fashion, shared a variation of this statement from

“Generally speaking, management is a set of systems and processes designed for organizing, budgeting, staffing, and problem solving to achieve the desired results of an organization. Leadership defines the vision, mission, and what the "win" looks like in the future. It inspires the team to embody the beliefs and behaviors necessary to take the actions needed to achieve those results.”

Thankfully, that same article from, which was appropriately titled The Fundamental Differences Between Leadership and Management; Combining Visionary Leadership and Great Management Achieves Winning Results,  closed with a section called “The Power of Great Leadership and Management Combined” that shared this:

“When a company has great visionary leadership but poor management capability, the transformation will only get so far. When the opposite is true, the vision will not be powerful, or even worse, will be totally flawed. Or it will never develop in the first place. With great leadership but marginal management, the change effort can make some significant gains but will eventually slow. Where the magic happens is when great leadership intersects with solid management. Change is messy and it's never perfect. It usually takes longer and has a greater cost--hard and soft--than is originally anticipated. But with visionary leaders who have the best interests of the company and its culture in mind, supported by great management throughout the company, winning results are likely to happen.”

Before we move onto how changing the approach we take by earning the genuine influence required to lead authentically while still effectively managing the processes we oversee produces quantifiable results across every area of our organization, I NEED you to understand that this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky idea that only a select few individuals will ever be able to achieve! Just like none of us were born knowing all we do today about running our respective departments or entire businesses, no one came out of the womb as an amazing leader. Both skill sets can be (and need to be) developed intentionally over time. The biggest difference I’ve seen is that most organizations have processes in place that help us grow into effective supervisors and managers. I won’t pretend that developing our leadership skills to mirror those management skills will be easy but I promise it’s not complicated! For what it’s worth though, not effectively dealing with profitability killers like poor communication, low engagement, and high turnover ain’t easy either.

If both options are hard, doesn’t it make sense to pick the hard option that provides the results you really want?