“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.”
– Leo Tolstoy
Leadership is not about identifying issues, it’s about resolving them. It’s so unfortunate that “management” as a career path to leadership creates so many bad habits. As a “manager” you need to identify work and divide it across your team. As people move up the ranks, they often continue this pattern of work identification and delegation. This results in what I call the “issue spotting disease”. The notion that spotting an issue and then discussing strategy/solutions is the work of leadership. Executives often fall into this trap with disastrous consequences.
Most issues follow a consistent pattern; there are very few new or unique problems. The role of the executive is to create frameworks and decision-making patterns that resolve these repeating patterns once and for all. If the issue is unique, then it requires the executive’s time and attention, otherwise, the work of leadership is putting systems and processes in place to eliminate a repeating issue.
The second trap is believing that leadership in a crisis is effective delegation. All too often executives in a crisis revert to old habits of spotting issues and delegating solutions. Good leaders lead from the front not from behind. We all remember the movie Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson, playing William Wallace, gives a rousing speech to his army and then charges into battle. Literally, he is the first man into the fray. Movies are replete with this type of heroism.
I remember being 15 years old working at the Nordstrom men’s sportswear gift wrapping station a week or so before Christmas. I had a huge line, customers were getting grumpy and I was overwhelmed and stressed. I didn’t have the experience to know what to do or even to ask for help. I was suffering in silence – so were our customers.
The next thing I know, two people started helping me and we spent the next few hours wrapping Christmas presents. I actually started to have fun, the customers were happy and the Christmas spirit began to take hold. The two people that helped me were Jamie Baugh, President of Nordstrom and Mr. John Nordstrom; I really had no idea who they were or how “important” they were, I just needed help. They walked by, saw a huge line, rolled up their sleeves, and started working. They led by example.
Sure, there was a systemic problem that needed to be fixed – hire more cashiers and gift wrappers! Suffice to say, we were never understaffed in that department again. However, they didn’t delegate the solution to the problem, they managed an acute crisis and worked on the systemic challenges later. All the while teaching me and others a valuable lesson in leadership. When things settled down, Jamie told me that I should never be worried about asking for help because taking great care of customers was our only priority.
I spent the next 12 years working at Nordstrom, and that experience set the tone for the rest of my career. The only thing that matters is taking care of customers. That means hard work for everyone, including staff, managers, and leaders. We should always lead by example and do the hard work with our teams, then resolve the long-term problems later. Anyone in leadership could have identified that we had long lines and unhappy customers; how many would have rolled up their sleeves and wrapped Christmas presents with a 15-year-old?
Let’s go be great,