You know…the old saying “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Well, Executive Coach, Trainer and Consultant, Mandy Schumaker has turned this around on a dime by encouraging all of us to truly spend more time and be more curious and (as new or newer dogs) to find out what we can learn from those men and women in leadership roles who have been around the block dozens of times. Thank you Mandy for a wonderful post!
His name was Freddy. And Earl. There was Colleen and Wayne, all who had put a significant amount of time- over 120 cumulative years, into the organization for which I had just been named a director…and their boss. I was much younger than any of them-by 15 years or so. I had been warned by my boss that each of them had a “poor attitude” that they were curmudgeons, bitter about the company; felt they’d been “screwed over” by previous managers. As a leader who had worked at several different organizations before, I had learned to suspend judgment around people’s performance until I had time to observe it myself. It was also important to me to get to know all the people who worked for me. That meant sitting down with each of them for a one-to-one meeting several times over the course of a few weeks to hear their stories and ideas.
As I got to know these four individuals, and heard their stories and really listened to what they were saying, what their concerns, frustrations, long-lost hopes and dreams were, it was apparent that they had lost their drive. Their meaning of work and that fire- in –their- belly feeling for their work had gone underground. The more I asked them about their opinions, about what was working, what wasn’t working, what they would change, who were the high-performers in the department, who were the slackers, the more it became apparent that not only did they have a good take on the current situation, they also had excellent ideas for how to streamline the work. Each of them had ideas on how to structure the department for greater efficiency and productivity.
As the months rolled by, we began to make changes within the department, fairly substantial changes, including structural changes, process changes and implemented standards and procedures which many employees found uncomfortable in which to adjust. As changes and decisions were made, I found myself relying more and more on the opinions of Freddy, Earl, Colleen and Wayne. They had the experience, the organizational history, the respect of their peers to provide very well-rounded opinions and suggestions about what might work. They were innovative and creative in their approaches to problem solving and one could see them become more engaged, more excited, as they became re-invested in the organization we were about to retool and restructure.
In time, these four individuals became very successful team leaders and managers of their respective areas. Our department flourished, revenues were up, expenses were down, productivity was up and so was employee morale.
When was the last time you spent time with a Freddy, Earl, Colleen or Wayne? Find one of them today, ask them what they think, what they think is working well, what would they change, how would they do it? I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised by what you hear and you might even find the answer to the problem you’ve been trying to solve all along by yourself!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mandy Schumaker, Higher Performing People is a former sales and management executive in the newspaper industry, who has extensive experience in mentoring, leadership development, sales and marketing, facilitation and team building. She has a gift for helping executives and entrepreneurs maintain their focus and hold themselves and others accountable, which in turn helps them to become more effective, more productive leaders.
Mandy holds a BS in Journalism from Indiana University. She is a certified coach through Coach, Inc., and is certified to administer the Myers -Briggs Type Indicator. She resides in South Portland, Maine with her husband and two sons.