Today’s guest writer is Dick Evenson. Dick, a friend of mine for many years, founded and manages TWS Consulting; a highly successful marketing company. Dick is semi-retired and lives in Northern Illinois with his wife Georgia. Dick and Georgia enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren. Dick has shared his thoughts on Leadership. Thanks for visiting my website. ~Joe
I start each day by opening lines of communication with the outside world. My choices are USA Today online for national/international news, The Chicago Tribune online for the latest crime report and the Lake County News Sun for current information on my neighbors. Throw in a daily perusal of Facebook for pictures of people’s grandchildren (including mine) and you can establish a pretty solid basis for becoming the know-it-all you’ve always wanted to be.
As I told my wife when I semi-retired, count on me to do three things: read, write and rest. So I have a constant supply of books I’m reading simultaneously. For the Leadership Question, two have been helpful: The Art of Leadership, a zippy little dissertation on what leaders should and shouldn’t do; plus Bill O’Reilly’s book, Old School which introduces the concept that the modern world is divided into two groups: Old School and Snowflakes.
The Art of Leadership is written in a total of 111 pages by J. Donald Walters, a British publisher who died in 2013 at the age of 87. This is the type of book you find at the checkout station of your Barnes & Noble bookstore and can’t resist buying. I whizzed through the book in two hours and here’s what I learned:
— Leadership is not an ego game
— Leadership means taking responsibility and setting aside personal desires
— Leadership means service, loyalty and support
— Leadership means taking action, not relying only on talk
— Leadership is intuition guided by common sense
— Leadership is an art
I agree with all of Mr. Walters conclusions. His views on leadership might seem to be slightly dated, but his major points are spot-on to me. Especially the part about the taking responsibility for your people above all.
Old School is not specifically about leadership. Instead it’s a clever book about growing up in a time past when values, integrity and discipline were the cornerstones of civilized behavior. Mr. O’Reilly, currently being run out of Fox News, claims that today’s younger workers and their “leaders” have degenerated into a misguided, crusading cult of Snowflakes. These are people who wake up whining about safe spaces, being marginalized by their college’s mascots, practicing diversification and deciding what to protest each day. I agree with the author that these folks tend to be pains-in-the-ass whether they are trying to “lead” or being led.
So What Is Wrong With Today’s Leaders?
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Management is not leadership. Management is manipulating people to get them to do what you want, like meeting a sales forecast or achieving a profit level. People, whether they are Old School or Snowflakes, can see right through that crap. They know that these kind of “leaders” don’t give a rat’s behind about their work lives and career goals. So they put up with the single-minded purpose of the manager until they get fed up. Then they leave, in many cases for jobs that their previous employer can’t fathom.
Granted, today’s employee (a majority of whom are Snowflakes) can be a challenge for even a true leader. They job-hop at a moment’s notice. They want to be recognized and praised on a minute-by-minute basis. They have firm opinions on everything and want to be heard all the time. And more than likely, they upset Old Schoolers just by being around the office.
That being said, the lack of leadership today still falls on the people in charge. In a nutshell, too many of them are not focused on building a team that meets the goals of everyone. Often, they have no knowledge of their employees including names, job functions, family and career aspirations. These executives are Manipulators and they use people to advance their own causes and enhance their bank accounts. When they no longer need you, you’re gone, often right before the holidays.
These Manipulators often use clever writers to convey messages that any employee can and does see through. I’ve been fortunate in my career to only have applied my ghostwriting skills to company executives who are true leaders.
Here are three examples of real leaders I have experienced:
Terry Ruhlman. Terry was brought into The Ansul Company in Marinette, WI in the wake of a less-than-perfect takeover by a foreigner who looked and acted more like the clown in North Korea than a corporate leader. Anyway, Terry kicked out the infidels and began rebuilding Ansul into the fine company it had once been and would be again. We were all a little fat and lazy so Terry had a habit of calling his managers at 7:00 a.m. to ask a random question. We soon figured out that 7:00 a.m. was the starting time, not 8:00 a.m. or 9:00. From there, he built us back into a single team with the right focus and the discipline to achieve our goals.
Brad Sebstad. Brad was my partner in the Chicago-based agency of Sebstad, Lutrey & Evenson. He was a clever writer, corporate strategist and raconteur who told some of the best stories about the advertising business. His philosophy was simple: respect your employees, always treat your clients right and screw the government anytime you can. Brad also coined the phrase, “Never own a business where you must maintain a public bathroom.” That just about says it all.
Mickey Reiss. Mickey has spent his entire career running companies. When he came into Rolf Jensen & Associates, he was replacing a legend, Rolf Jensen. What most people didn’t understand was that Mickey was a Leader while Rolf was a Manipulator. Mickey faced a very talented but arrogant group of technical people who needed discipline. He began by instituting his personal belief… Always Do the Right Thing. For your clients, for your profession, for your colleagues and for yourself. Somehow, you always knew that Mickey was aggressive but wanted the best for each one of us.
So what the bottom line on Leadership?
It all boils down to three things. Here’s what I’d tell anyone who wanted to know how to be a more effective leader:
1. Terry was right. Before you can lead a group of people, you need to get their attention and explain where the team is going and why. It helps if you also know each and every one of them.
2. Brad was right. You need to respect your employees, but revere your clients.
3. Mickey was right. Do the right thing. Always.