What Style of Leader Are You?

(2024-05)

What style of a leader would you say you are?  I had a couple conversations recently where someone told me I was a servant leader.  Another person told me that my style really impressed him.  When he saw the impact of my leadership expressed at my retirement party in 2019, this impact (expressed by the audience comments) became a vision for his leadership style.  That discussion was very humbling to me.  (It got me thinking about my leadership style, and how many different styles of leadership there are.) 

It had been a long time since I examined my leadership style and tried to categorize it.  The last time I did that was in an MBA class on leadership I had in 2000-2001.  For our individual term paper, the professor required us to write a paper with references and a visual that detailed our leadership model.  I published my term paper as one of my first blog posts (see https://mrhensonllc.com/my-personal-leadership-model/ for the post).

I recently reread Robert Greenleaf’s classic “Servant Leadership.”  This book, which was radical when released, is one of the seminal works on the servant leadership style.  The author lobbies for application of servant leadership to education, business, foundations, and most forms of organizations.  I related to most (if not all) of the author’s positions.  If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it.

I decided to find out how many different styles of leadership exist through an internet search.  This yielded many opinions and lists of leadership styles.  The various websites I visited indicated that there are anywhere from six to twelve leadership styles.  Most had other names for similar styles.  A lot of the articles pull the foundational three leadership styles from a study by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1939.  Lewin’s study contrasted authoritarian, democratic, or laissez-faire leadership and its effectiveness on children’s art projects.

I was surprised at the different websites that offered opinions or descriptions of different leadership styles.  I expected the Harvard Business Review to have an article on the subject.  They didn’t disappoint.  Not only do they list various styles, but they give good advice on when to use the various styles.  Check it out at https://hbr.org/2024/04/6-common-leadership-styles-and-how-to-decide-which-to-use-when and see for yourself.

I got a lot of information and insight from this review.  While there is no consensus on the number and name of various styles, there seems to be agreement that the most successful leaders flex their style depending on the issue(s) they face.  My experience with good (and not-so-good) leaders validates this thesis.

Many years ago, one of the employees on my team gave me some excellent feedback when they were transferred to another unit.  They told me I was like an umbrella for the team.  I took the rain and other “stuff” that rolls downhill and let the rest of the team carry on without disruption.  I was humbled by this also.

After reviewing both the feedback I’ve received about my performance, my personal leadership model, and my recent internet search, I’ve solidified my thinking around styles of leadership.

There are indeed many different styles.  There are many different humans in leadership roles.  Each will be unique.  They will also apply what they’ve witnessed of others (both good and bad).  I believe it’s both nature and nurture.

I also believe that a leader should be aware of their preferred style of leadership.  Knowing your primary style allows you to share it with your team.  Also, as you are aware of your preferred style of leadership, you can also be aware of when it might not be as effective as it should be.  This will allow you to flex your leadership to best fit the situation facing you as a leader.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Research suggests that the most effective leaders adapt their style to different circumstances — be it a change in setting, a shift in organizational dynamics, or a turn in the business cycle. That’s why you need to stay attuned to your environment, understand your impact on others, and adjust your approach accordingly.” 

My preferred style of leadership is to be a servant leader.  I recognize there are situations I’ve faced where I needed to flex my style to be more effective.  I’ve also learned from my mistakes where I didn’t adapt and change my leadership style to fit unique issues.

How about you – what type of leader are you?  What type of leadership do you perform best under?  Would you like help in assessing your style of leadership, or in adapting your style?  Drop me a line ([email protected]) if you’d like to discuss further.

As always, please share your thoughts and feedback on this subject.

Yellow Bugs and Other Life Lessons

(2024-04)

My last post (https://mrhensonllc.com/long-way-home-making-memories/) got a few comments.  One of the comments was from one of my favorite friends from my life in Northern California.  Ray Abraham posted a simple comment on my personal Facebook page about the post.

Ray’s impact on this trip, and my life in general, was so much more than getting our bikes ready!  He was one of the primary influences in my motorcycle riding.  I met Ray at church in Northern California.  At one point, Ray hosted a small group in his home along with his lovely wife Kristen.  My wife Julie and I loved this small group.  One evening, Ray showed us his two motorcycles.  I caught a case of “iron lust” looking at his bikes.  Ray was excited when I expressed interest in his bikes and willingly shared the details on them.

Later, Julie gave me a special birthday present when she enrolled us in a motorcycle safety course.  Once we completed the course, we could get our motorcycle endorsement on our driver’s license.  Of course, I shared this with Ray.  He was excited for me and told me to let him know when I got my license.

I still remember the day I left the DMV after successfully getting my motorcycle license and calling Ray.  I believe it was a Thursday.  Ray said to pick him up Saturday morning and he would go with Julie and me to buy the necessary equipment.  We went to the local motorcycle supply place and with Ray’s consultation bought the right safety gear.

Ray also surprised us by showing us an ad he found online.  He said, “I think this may be the perfect bike for you.”  After buying our gear we went to look at it and fell in love with the bike.  Ray facilitated the negotiation and purchase and then drove the bike to our house (since he was quite experienced).  He loaned us a few motorcycle safety videos and told us we shouldn’t ride our bike until we’d seen them all.

Ray and his wife Kristen rode together.  He drove while Kristen enjoyed the scenery.  They took us riding with them many times.  It was so much fun riding in Northern California that Julie and I decided that we needed another bike.  That started another round of traveling with them on the weekends.  Before we rode three bikes together, Ray gave us an excellent safety briefing about traveling in a group.  Whenever we’d stop, Ray would provide feedback (always in a positive, encouraging manner).

We really enjoyed our time on the motorcycles with the Abrahams.  In addition to riding with them, we got a great kick out of the small group they hosted.  It was truly a special time, mostly because Ray and Kristen are very special people!

Somewhere along the way, the Abrahams suggested we watch “Long Way Round” on Netflix.  When we got transferred to Houston, Julie suggested we take our own long road trip.  When I mentioned it to Ray, he was quite enthusiastic and said it’d be great.  He also agreed to keep our bikes for us at his place until we were ready.

As my post stated, our start was delayed a bit.  So, not only did Ray get the motorcycles ready for us, but he kept them for a few months – a true friend indeed!

In addition to the many motorcycle safety lessons, I learned a few life and leadership lessons as well.  They include:

  • The Yellow Bug Syndrome:  At one of our small group meetings, Ray gave us some homework for the week.  He asked us to be on the lookout for any yellow Volkswagen Beetles and to count how many we saw during the week.  It was an odd assignment at first because Ray didn’t tell us the point of the exercise.  At next week’s meeting, Ray asked for a report.  Everyone saw at least one and many of us saw quite a few.  The reason Ray asked us to do this was how quickly we adapted once we had a target to look for.  He said we could use this technique to be on the lookout for ways God was working in our lives.  We could also be on the lookout for many other things (positive impact, nice people, happy stories, etc.).  To this day, I use this technique to be on the lookout for many things – it works!
  • Be prepared to act when your people are ready to learn or do something and help them on their schedule.  Ray was prepared to act when Julie and I went beyond just appreciation of his motorcycles.  Once we got our licenses, he was all in on leading, coaching, and supporting us.
  • Positivity is contagious.  Ray is one of the most positive people I know.  He can always be counted on to share good thoughts, encouragement, and advice in a kind and uplifting manner.  It was powerful for me as a recipient.  I also saw Ray encourage so many other people.
  • Seek out and find a good life partner who complements your skill set.  Ray has that in his wife Kristen.  The two of them are perfect for each other.  They exhibit true commitment to each other.  They shared a lot of marital counsel with many people.  I am most fortunate to have been on the receiving end of their words of wisdom.
  • Give yourself away.  Ray is always willing to share, help, and be there for people in need.  He was famous for his grilling skills in our small group.  He even set up a wonderful afternoon one weekend and taught grilling to our church’s men’s group.  I got hooked on The Big Green Egg by Ray and am so glad I did!

Ray’s understatement on my post in Facebook sums him up.  He was so much more than a motorcycle custodian.  He is an excellent example of what a good husband, father, and friend should be.  He also showed me the power of a good coach. How about you – do you have a good coach in your life?  If not, you should find your own Ray Abraham.  Everyone needs one!  THANKS RAY!

Long Way Home (Making Memories)

(2024-03)

Last October and November, I had some entertaining pictures show up on my Facebook page from fifteen years ago (October 2008).  For ten days in a row, my memories showed up and it got me thinking about social media, memories, family, friends, and adventure because I joined Facebook in 2008 strictly to share these events.

First, a little background is necessary.  I got transferred from California to Texas in mid-2008.  My wife and I had lived in California for six years before this transfer.  While there, we picked up a new hobby and interest – motorcycle riding.  California is a great place to ride motorcycles.  During our last year in California, we watched the documentary “Long Way Round” and decided to ride our bikes from California to Texas instead of shipping them.

We visited our daughter Eliza in Manhattan before the transfer.  One evening, while out with Eliza and her friends, we told them of our decision to make the long road trip.  It was over drinks that they convinced us to join Facebook and share pictures from the trip so they could enjoy the trip with us.  It was a good idea, so we joined Facebook and got a digital camera to capture pictures along the way.  My wife and I both turned 50 in 2008 and thought a long road trip would be an epic way to celebrate this common milestone.  We referred to our trip as “Long Way Home” in deference to the documentary we loved.

We planned to leave California in the Fall of 2008 (early October) to avoid any severe weather.  Well, Chevron had other plans in mind and scheduled a conference in California in the last half of October.  This meant leaving four weeks later than planned.  We left Walnut Creek, California on October 31, 2008.  The night before, we had our last dinner with dear friends in Walnut Creek, which was an excellent time.

We rode over 2200 miles in ten days.  Out of this total, only 300 miles or so was on the interstate system.  Riding the smaller roads and some back roads was what we wanted to do and were glad we did.

As I reviewed the ten days’ worth of memories on Facebook, I jotted down some of my favorite recollections.  My notes included:

  • Day One: Lafayette, CA to Paso Robles, CA
    • Our first stop was in Salinas, the location of the National Steinbeck Center.  John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors.  It was great to take the tour and enjoy learning more about him.
    • We headed down Highway 101.  A pleasant diversion along the way was at the Mission San Miguel.
  • Day Two: Paso Robles, CA to Barstow, CA
    • We started our day having breakfast with my friend at a local diner.  We found many great diners along the way.  This was the perfect start!
    • We took Highway 46 from Paso Robles to Bakersfield.  Along the way, we passed the intersection where James Dean died in a car accident.  It was humbling.
    • We passed the Lost Hills oilfield, where Chevron still had an operation.  Being a fourth-generation oilfield person, I had to stop and admire the place.
    • We rode in the rain from outside of Bakersfield all the way to Barstow.  The rain brought in very cold temperatures that lasted the rest of our trip.  Some of the strongest rain was in the Mojave Desert – who knew?  Riding in severe rain was the first character-builder of this journey.
  • Day Three: Barstow, CA to Kingman, AZ
    • After the rough, rainy ride the day before, we slept in and got a much later start.
    • Drove through Needles, CA and found the site of the Imperial 400 Motor Inn.  This place was where the infamous “alligator dive” incident from my youth occurred.  I’ll probably need to make an entire post about that experience!
    • After Needles, we took a 50-mile ride on Route 66 at sunset – what a great experience!
    • The one bad thing about this leg was that we ended up going over a mountain pass in the dark. Two character-builders in two days: first riding in the rain; and then riding in 2nd and 3rd gear through many s-curves at night!
  • Day Four: Kingman, AZ to Sedona, AZ
    • We rode from Kingman, AZ to Seligman, AZ on Route 66 (also known as “The Mother Road”).
    • We stopped at an antique shop in Hackberry, AZ, where I found a number of old petroleum marketing items.  Too bad I was limited on carrying space.
    • For lunch in Seligman, we ate at the Road Kill Café in spite of its name.  Another good diner along the way.  The food was just fine.
    • At the head of the canyon entering Sedona, I ran out of gas.  Fortunately, my motorcycle had a reserve tank, and I could switch to it while driving!  Yet another character-builder!
    • We made it into Sedona in time to see many remarkable sunset scenes.  We said we should make it back to Sedona.  We’ve yet to make that a reality.
  • Day Five: Sedona, AZ to Show Low, AZ
    • We couldn’t stop at every scenic overlook, there were just too many!
    • We did manage to stop at the “World’s Largest Kokopelli” in Camp Verde, AZ.  There was a gift shop where we each picked up a souvenir that we’ve still got over 15 years later (I got a kokopelli key chain and Julie got a kokopelli hat).
    • We stopped for gas at Payson, AZ.  Julie asked a local for a good place to eat lunch.  He recommended an Italian place which turned out to be phenomenal!  Locals usually know where to go and eat!
    • The entire day was cold and very windy.  Some of the crosswinds were incredibly fierce, testing our skill and nerves.  Four straight days of character building experiences!
  • Day Six: Show Low, AZ to Socorro, NM
    • The day started very cold.  After 50 miles of riding, it had warmed up to only 45 degrees!
    • We rode over/past the Continental Divide!
    • Well, after 14 years, we stumbled upon the Very Large Array – something Julie’s wanted to see ever since we started watching “Cosmos” with Carl Sagan. She wanted to visit it the first time we moved to California, but it was out of the way.  Wouldn’t you know it was on Hwy 60!  I remember popping over a summit and seeing a vast valley full of what looked like white teepees.  They turned out to be the 27 radio telescopes of the VLA – very cool.
  • Day Seven:  Socorro, NM to Artesia, NM
    • Our first stop on the way from Socorro to Artesia, New Mexico was in Carrizozo. After 74 miles of cold, windy riding, we stopped to fill up. Julie asked a state policeman where to get a cup of coffee. He told us to go to a quaint shop in town. We had the best coffee of the entire trip there! Other than this stop, good coffee was hard to find.
    • We drove through Roswell, NM.  We stopped and did a bit of sightseeing but didn’t see any aliens (that we could recognize).  It was a fun stop that got us out of the cold riding weather.  We wore rain gear just to have one more layer of clothing!
  • Day Eight:  Artesia, NM to Sweetwater, TX
    • In Artesia, we stopped to see a bronze statue called “The Rig Floor.” It was done in 1.25 scale – brought back many memories from my childhood. Dad let me visit the real rig floor many times as a kid – it was always an impressive sight.
    • We had a close call in Lamesa while looking for a place to eat lunch.  Julie took a spill on her motorcycle making a turn.  Fortunately, only her pride was hurt!
    • After a week of hard and fun riding, we made it into Texas.
  • Day Nine:  Sweetwater, TX to Killeen, TX
    • Driving into Coleman, TX, I was particularly excited to see an old Texaco station. I pulled over to fill the bikes up, only to find that the station was an antiques store – it was interesting nonetheless!
    • We spent a long time in this antiques store, and only bought one thing – a very long rolling pin.  We had enough bungee cords to strap it on the back of one of the bikes – I’d like to hear what people said when they saw me pass them on the highway!
    • We made it into Killeen and had dinner with my older sister Sheri.  It was good to see her, and to know that this was our last night in a motel.  We were both looking forward to a night in our own bed!
  • Day Ten:  Killeen, TX to Houston, TX
    • Went through a couple of small Texas towns and was able to ride around their town squares.
    • After we got home in Houston, I took a look at the odometer of my motorcycle:  finishing mileage: 21507; starting mileage: 19275; miles driven: 2232. Cost: unknown. Experience: priceless!

After we got a shower and fresh clothes, we sat down and enjoyed a bottle of sparkling wine.  As we discussed the events of the trip, my wife said an amazing thing – “we should do that again someday.”  I was humbled and impressed.

As I looked back through the Facebook memories, I also reflected on a few lessons I learned over the ten days.  The lessons I learned included:

  • Fear truly is False Expectations Appearing Real.  In spite of the enjoyment I got out of motorcycle riding, I was still quite timid at times.  The early days and character-building experiences really bolstered my confidence of riding.
  • Take that first step that commits to go “all in” for an intimidating experience.  Once we took that first step of riding the first day, there was no turning back.  Each of the tough times proved we could get through them.  Once we were committed, we couldn’t turn back.  In the end, it was well worth it.
  • Traveling together is better than traveling alone.  I had a great cheerleader with me in Julie.  She bolstered my confidence numerous times.  I hope I helped her a bit as well.
  • Cheerleaders are great!  We started with the encouragement of our daughter and her friends in New York City.  As I posted the pictures each night, I got replies from my Facebook friends that made it easier to get up the next morning and get back on the motorcycle.

Are you facing a seemingly dauntless project or task ahead of you?  Take that first step and fully commit.  You’ll either experience success or learn something about yourself.  Have you had experiences outside of work that built your character to tackle a tough assignment at work?  I applied my learnings to various projects and tasks.  I’ve found there are parallels in life.  The challenge is application!

I welcome any thoughts or comments you have.  Let me know if you’d like to discuss how to apply these learnings in your life.  Perhaps my stories are prompting you to think about a challenge you’re facing.  Send me an email or call me, I’d love to add value to your journey.

Try New Things

(2024-02)

I recently read a great quote from an author named Neale Donald Walsch:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

This quote really resonates with me.  There have been many times I’ve been at the end of my comfort zone.  I admit to turning around more often than pushing on.  When I do continue to push past, I find that I learn something.  Sometimes I learn a lot!  In October of 2023, I went beyond my comfort zone and tried something new.  At 65 years old, that’s not necessarily the common thing to do.

Our two oldest grandchildren had their Fall Break in October, so we drove with them to Tennessee.  Our daughter Hannah joined us in Tennessee with her younger son a day or two later.

We all had a great time in Tennessee.  The weather was nice and there was plenty of outdoor activities.  The grandchildren had a blast.  I also had an opportunity to bring my two-year old grandson to take trash to the local “convenience center” (a county-run operation with dumpsters for trash and recycling).  He really enjoyed the new experience.

The highlight of the week was a trip to the Echo Valley Corn Maze.  This place, a 15-acre family farm, is located outside Jefferson City, TN.  It has a number of attractions including mazes, pumpkin patch, petting zoo, rides, and other activities (see https://www.hauntedcornmazes.com/echovalleycornmaze for more information).  The six of us (three adults and three children) had a wonderful time!  I hope it will become an annual tradition.

Toward the end of our time in Tennessee, my wife suggested we rent a U-Haul tow dolly to give Hannah a break on driving home.  I reluctantly agreed to this.  While I have pulled U-Haul trailers many times, I was apprehensive about pulling Hannah’s car.  It would be the first time using a tow dolly, and I was afraid of damaging her vehicle.

The plan suggested by my wife had a few selling points.  The six of us could ride together and we could pack all of our luggage and belongings in Hannah’s vehicle.  There would be three adult drivers, so no one person would bear the responsibility of the long drive.  All three children would be together, and we’d have three adults to help them.  In spite of my apprehension, I agreed.

As is usual with U-Haul, the support and guidance were excellent.  The equipment was easy to use and we made the trip back to New Orleans safely and without incident.

In looking back at this episode, I learned a few things:

  • There is power in traditions.  The week in Tennessee with our family reminded me of a great tradition we had in my family growing up.  During our summer break, my parents would let each of the children spend a week with our grandparents one at a time.  I have many fond memories of time spent at my grandparents with my cousins.  These memories are still special to me.
  • It’s never too late to try new things.  I was 65 years old when I first towed another car and I survived!  In fact, the time with the family all together on a road trip was very special.
  • The first step to trying something new is usually the hardest step.  That first step can be intimidating if you are apprehensive.  Fear is a tricky thing.  I learned an acrostic about fear that has helped me face my fears.  FEAR is False Expectations Appearing Real.  While I routinely share this acrostic with others, I don’t always practice what I preach.  I’m trying to do better.
  • Always have a supportive network in place.  My wife and daughter were instrumental in helping me overcome my fears in this small endeavor.  Watching the three grandchildren enjoy their time together on our road trip validated this was the right thing to do, in spite of my fears.

How about you – when was the last time you tried something new and different?  Do you agree with me that the first step is usually the hardest?  What’s keeping you from taking the first step?

We are in the start of 2024.  This is usually the time for resolutions, behavior change, and goal setting.  What’s next for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feedback.  In the meantime, keep learning and trying new things!

The Ballad of Hobie Mike

(2024-01)

While one would think helping a neighbor in their time of need is always the right thing to do, it can sometimes come with surprises.  Othe story of our surprise is still the source of laughter in my family many years later.  In 1967, I was in fourth grade living in a small town in Oklahoma when I took part in my parents’ support for a neighbor.    One of my friends, Pat, lived down the street from me.  Pat’s mother passed away a week before Christmas.  Pat had a younger brother named Hobie Mike, who was five years old at the time.  My parents offered to keep Pat and Hobie Mike over the weekend so their father could handle the funeral arrangements.  On Saturday, my father decided to take the three of us with him to work.

At that time, Dad was a drilling fluids engineer.  His job entailed going to the rig site, checking the status of the drilling fluids, and adjusting them to meet the requirements of the drilling team.  I always enjoyed going with Dad and had been numerous times.  We had a rhythm that worked well for both of us.  Dad had only two rules for me.  I was to never go under the rig floor, where the blowout preventer was located, and I was prohibited from climbing up the derrick.  I could go on the rig floor, but only if the driller or tool pusher was aware of my presence and allowed it.  I also knew to come running when Dad blew the horn of his company car. 

This Saturday, we were to visit the rig located outside the town of Cordell, Oklahoma which was drilling an exceptionally deep well.  The rig occupied this site for over a year, so I had been there many times.  I was looking forward to showing Pat and Hobie Mike around.  Here is an aerial photo of this rig.

We arrived at the rig site and we went into Dad’s company trailer with him.  He sat us down and told them that I knew the rules and that we were to stay clean and not get dirty.  The three of us went on our way exploring the area.

You can notice that at this location, there were at least three reserve pits.  Reserve pits are commonly used in onshore drilling (see https://glossary.slb.com/en/terms/r/reserve_pit for background).

It was cold this December Saturday, and there was a thin layer of ice over portions of the reserve pits. This drew our attention immediately.  The reserve pits were one of the places I explored on my rounds.  Pat and I found two long sticks and poked holes in the ice.  We also threw rocks and clay clods on the ice while on a berm between two pits.  Pat and I heard a crack, turned around and saw that Hobie Mike was in the wastewater.  He tried to walk on the ice and fell in!  Fortunately, Pat and I were able to rescue him with our long sticks.

I was severely panicked, as we had violated Dad’s one admonition – to not get dirty!  We ran back to Dad’s trailer.  Dad cleaned Hobie Mike up well (there was a shower in the trailer) and dressed him in a spare pair of coveralls.

I don’t remember Dad expressing very much anger that day.  He said he was disappointed that we didn’t obey him and told me that I should have known better.  He didn’t raise his voice or make a big deal of it to Pat and Hobie Mike.  I remember laughing with him and Pat at the look of Hobie Mike in Dad’s coveralls.  I’m sure there’s a picture of him, but I haven’t seen it in a long time.

The four of us rode back home together and the ride was pleasant.  I don’t remember Dad acting angry at all and do remember him explaining to Mom what had happened.  Mom took it in stride and washed Hobie Mike’s clothes.  We got him fully cleaned up and back to his father on time.  I remember how this day brightened up a bleak time for my friend, his brother, and father.

I learned a few things from this story:

  • Friends help friends in times of need.  My parents’ help was vital to Pat’s father.  Their family lived out of town, so he was on his own arranging the funeral.  Our help allowed him to concentrate on the arrangements and helped him until his extended family arrived.
  • Be careful who you delegate significant duties to.  A nine-year-old shouldn’t be totally responsible for a five-year-old.  I know my Dad felt bad about the situation and what he should have done differently.
  • Watch your reactions – especially around little ones.  Dad’s reaction was gracious and generous.  He knew making a big deal would further traumatize Pat and Hobie Mike, who had lost their mother.  Instead, he made it seem like an adventure.
  • Sometimes doing good things for others has unexpected consequences.  This should never prevent graciousness.  Being kind wins out in the end.

I have told this story many times to various people.  I’m sure my family has heard it numerous times.  Despite the unfortunate aspects, I have fond memories of this day.  I found the aerial photo of the Cordell rig while cleaning out Dad’s house this year.  I hung it on my office wall.  I smile every time I look at this photo.  The most important lesson I’ve learned about this story is that joy comes in reminiscing about good memories!

Have you been reluctant to reach out to others in tough times?  I have and regret it.  I’m glad for the memory of this story and am proud of my family’s support to Pat’s family.  Have you had joyful experiences helping others in tough times?  This story reminds me to be aware of the pain others around me are going through.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this post.

The Toxicity of Divisiveness

(2023-9)

I recently saw a television commercial that caught my attention instantly.  It started off with a voice and a simple message on the screen – “THIS COUNTRY HAS NEVER BEEN SO DIVIDED.”  My mental reaction was to expect a political commercial, so I stopped what I was doing to pay attention.  It turned out to be a commercial for a licorice candy company (licorice.com).  After the attention-grabber, it asked a question – are you a licorice lover or hater?  Check out the commercial on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYnvfNgFEsg).

This commercial resonated with me because it was aligned with a theory I have that over the past few years there has been more division in society.  It doesn’t seem to be getting better.  Instead, I think it seems to be getting worse.  I am concerned about the societal impacts and the mental toll this seems to be taking on people.  What challenges does this give a leader?  What impact is it having on life?

In the U.S., division seems to spike around presidential elections.  I first noticed this in the run-up to the 2008 election.  The country seemed to be polarized between the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin ticket.  A staggering amount of vitriol rose.  This seemed to die down until the run-up to the 2012 election.  Folks on both sides (red vs. blue, Republican vs. Democrat, etc.) argued with each other over the success of the first Obama/Biden term.  At work, there were two individuals who sat next to each other in an open office.  These two were opposites politically.  Their team leader knew this and would periodically insert a comment that would fire up a heated debate between the two.  I’m embarrassed to admit that that team leader was me.  I’m glad that these two individuals rose above their differences and respected each other as colleagues.

It really grew during the 2016 election cycle.  There seemed to be more vitriol between the Clinton and Trum camps.  On the U.S. Election Day in 2016, I was on a business trip to Panama.  The U.S. election was a hot topic there with locals and Europeans.  It had also been a hot topic in Brazil, where I’d been many times that year.  I was struck by how many people outside the U.S. had their eye on our election and by how polarizing the discussion got.  Even the day after, there were many people who were either overjoyed or deeply depressed.

I have noticed that this state of division or polarization has expanded beyond politics.  Religion is always a hotbed of division.  I see this becoming more intense lately.  Think back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was disagreement over social distancing, masking, vaccines, etc.  In the U.S., there have been numerous demonstrations and riots over race, police violence, abortion rights and many others. 

In New Orleans, there have been three local topics that are very polarizing.  First, a few statues depicting Civil War officers were removed by the city government.  Second, there was a campaign to rename streets to remove any reference to Civil War personalities.  Third and most intense issue was the recent recall petition to remove the current mayor (Latoya Cantrell – see https://mrhensonllc.com/leadership-lessons-from-latoya/ for more detail).

I tested my theory and observation that this division and polarization has gotten worse.  I found quite a few published articles that validate that polarization seems to be an issue, at least in the U.S.A.  The opening paragraph of a 2020 Scientific American article entitled “Why Hatred and ‘Othering’ of Political Foes Has Spiked to Extreme Levels” really caught my attention.  It stated “In 1950 the American Political Science Association issued a report expressing concern that Americans exhibited an insufficient degree of political polarization. What a difference a new millennium makes. As we approach 2020’s Election Day, the U.S. political landscape has become a Grand Canyon separating blue and red Americans.”  I feel it’s only gotten worse since this article was published.  This article also stated that 1861 (leading up to the Civil War) exhibited probably the worst example of hatred and violence in the U.S.

I found other internet articles that talked about the rising level of division and polarization from sources such as Time magazine, Forbes, Psychology Today, Intelligent Management, and Beyond Philosophy.  If you are interested in any of these sources, please reach out to me via email at [email protected] and I can share links to the articles.

It can be tough for a leader to navigate through such division and controversy.  I have been in situations in the past where teams have been rather polarized.  I tried to neutralize the intensity of discussion and disagreement while respecting both sides of the topic.  Sometimes, the topic is clearly dogmatic and one side “wins” and should, due to policy, ethics, or morality.  Most often, that’s not the case.

Dissension, disagreement, and polarization can bring a great deal of turmoil to a team.  The website Beyond Philosophy posted an article entitled “10 Things to Do When Leading in Turmoil” which did a good job giving suggestions to leaders in times of turmoil.  The article can be found online at https://beyondphilosophy.com/10-things-to-do-when-leading-in-turmoil/ and the ten things are:

  1. Be seen and seen often.
  2. Embrace honesty.
  3. Set out the plan.
  4. Roll up your sleeves.
  5. Situate yourself on the front lines.
  6. Communicate regularly.
  7. Encourage, don’t discourage.
  8. Put your feelings to one side.
  9. Stick to your principles.
  10. Find your patience.

While the article addresses change in general, I found them excellent reminders for a leader to keep in mind when confronted with polarization.  I have seen people use the “us versus them” mentality to promote and provoke dissension and disagreement.  The leader should not let this mindset poison the team.  Visible, authentic leadership is needed during times of turmoil.

In times of polarization, the leader should be the one to pull the team together.  I didn’t do this during the 2012 election and now realize my actions were wrong.  What do you think?  Have you seen a leader deal well with polarizing situations?  If so, how did they handle it?  Are you facing a situation that needs harmony instead of discord?  Send me an email or comment on this post if you’d like to discuss it further.

The Power of Humility

(2023-8)

Do you think humility is a strong character trait?  If you hear that a person is a humble leader, do you assume the person is weak?  Is humility in a leader a good thing or a bad thing?

humility word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

I have worked for humble leaders and self-important leaders.  I have also studied many leaders throughout history.  Notable leaders in history include Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington.  These four had a strong sense of self-confidence.  I personally believe humility is a powerful character trait for a leader to have and it will increase the likelihood of success for a leader.  I also believe that a humble leader must have strong (but not overly so) self-confidence.

I read two books this year that have sparked my review of humility in leadership.  One of the books was on humility as a trait and the other talked about a particularly humble leader that is not well known.  The first book about humility was “The Power of a Humble Life” by Richard E. Simmons.  The author considers one of life’s greatest paradoxes – that strength is found in humility.  Read the book synopsis on Goodreads  (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38340752-the-power-of-a-humble-life).  I highly recommend this book! 

The second book was “Indianapolis:  The True Story of the Worst Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man,” by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.  I started reading this book because I’m a World War II history buff and heard it was good.  I knew about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and wanted to read the latest book about the tragedy.  Read the book synopsis on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36373560-indianapolis).  The story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, late in the war by a Japanese submarine, has been the subject of many books.  This book also examines the leadership of the skipper, Captain Charles McVay III.  Captain McVay was one of the survivors and was unjustly court-martialed for the loss of the ship.  Most of the survivors fully supported Captain McVay and respected his style of leadership.  The fact that many of them worked tirelessly for fifty years to set the record straight speaks to their respect of Captain McVay.

I’ve had the privilege of working with and/or observing a few humble leaders.  The first one was my father.  I’ve already written about him a couple of times, so will refer you to one of my posts (https://mrhensonllc.com/leadership-lessons-from-dad/ ) for a start.

One of my favorite bosses and leaders was Thom Garrett.  Thom was the General Manager of trading at Chevron.  I worked with Thom for six years in various roles and then for a few years more until he retired.  Thom graduated from West Point and served as an 82nd Airborne Ranger in Vietnam.  With that military background, I expected a tough, rigid leader.  He was anything but.  I learned so much from him, both as a leader and a man of faith.  He was always very open and approachable.  He inspired through example.  Thom lived the life of a humble leader.

I also worked for Dave O’Reilly before he became CEO of Chevron.  I first heard of Dave from someone who had worked with him for many years.  He referred to Dave as “the CIW” – CEO in Waiting. Dave O’Reilly was in the queue to become CEO of Chevron.  Later, I was asked by a different manager to give a presentation to Dave when he came to visit our group.  I worked up a draft one Sunday on a flipchart in my office.  I brought my youngest daughter Hannah with me.  She worked on an assignment while I worked on my presentation.  Hannah asked me for ideas for a cover design for her report, so I made a sketch on the corner of my flipchart.

The next day, I showed my boss the flipchart and got her approval.  She liked the presentation.  I told her I would clean it up and put it in a PowerPoint presentation for our meeting with Dave.  Her response was “leave it on the flipchart, it’s just Dave.”  When I gave my presentation Dave also liked it.  He asked only one question – what was the drawing in the corner?  I told him about Hannah’s report.  He said he liked that idea as well!  I was touched.

A few years later, Dave was named CEO of Chevron.  He continued the tradition of an annual town hall.  I lived in Houston and got to attend the town hall in person since Dave was visiting for the broadcast.  I approached Dave to say hello, and he surprised me.  He asked me if Hannah got a good grade on that report – he remembered!  He was a great CEO and a humble leader.

In addition to reflecting on my personal experience with humble leaders, I did a little internet research and found quite a tremendous amount of information validating the theory that humility is a characteristic of good leadership.  Some of the notable website articles included:

One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 2:3, which says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”  This verse summarizes my view of humility in leadership.  It is a key leadership trait.  Humility in leaders attracts followers – most people are willing to follow a humble, authentic leader.  The facades some leaders try aren’t real.  People see through them easily.

Do you agree with me that humility is a vital part of effective leadership?  I welcome your insight and thoughts on this.  If you’d like to discuss this topic, or any other leadership perspective, please email me at [email protected].

That’s Not What You Said

(2023-7)

While doing some research on this post, I stumbled upon the following quote: “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.”  This quote resonated with me as we have recently been working with contractors on maintenance and home improvement projects.  On some occasions we didn’t get what we asked for.  When we reflected on the issues, it became clear that I hadn’t specified clearly and concisely what we were hoping to achieve and how we wanted it to be done.

After the first issue, it reminded me of some training I had taken many years ago on Reinforcement Based Leadership (RBL).  It also caused me to do some research on construction specifications for small home improvement projects.  I found out that our experience wasn’t unique.  I had not followed a core principle of the training: pinpointed behavior is vital to achieving the right results.

I also saw this not only on our home projects, but in a major road construction project on our street in New Orleans.  In the span of almost three years, I had three different driveways.  The first one was our existing one.  This one was replaced by the second one.  The pouring of the concrete on the second driveway was completed during a small rainstorm.  This left us with an unattractive, spotty driveway.  It was functional but didn’t meet the specifications in the contract between the city and the contractor.  We were not alone.  The contractor had to replace at least six driveways!

Our experience was much less costly.  Our first big project was to replace our upstairs deck with a composite deck.  While this material is more expensive, it should withstand rain and sun exposure for a much longer time.  While the work was going on, I made my first mistake.  I didn’t really inspect the work fully until they were “completed.”  It wasn’t done correctly.  They had damaged the flashing, which caused leaks.  I spent significant time getting the contractor to correct the work and do it right.  There’s still a little bit that needs redoing.

I sat down with my wife and discussed the situation.  After looking back at what happened and why, we determined that not only had I not given clear, concise, and pinpointed instructions I hadn’t supervised the construction effectively.  Fortunately, we had several projects that required contractors, so I had the opportunity to improve.

For the next two projects (work on our fascia and turf replacement) I set clear expectations upfront.  I also watched over the projects more actively and provided feedback as they progressed.  Both projects went better.  We still haven’t got what we were hoping for.

I looked back on some of my RBL training materials to find ways to clearly lay out expectations and pinpoint behaviors for success.  I also checked in with one of two consultants that provided me with training – Aubrey Daniels International.  Their website has an excellent article (find it at https://www.aubreydaniels.com/media-center/organizational-solutions/articles/pinpointing-objectivity-and-achieving-alignment).  The website offers a pdf download of this article, which I highly recommend for leaders (and anyone in need of ways to be objective and specific to describe desired performance).

I also investigated construction projects and found that contractors also experience poor results from dialogs and contracts with clients.  ConstructConnect, a construction project software provider, published an online article entitled “5 Reasons Construction Projects Fail.”    Inadequate specifications and directions were referred to in a number of the five reasons.  (See https://www.constructconnect.com/blog/5-reasons-construction-projects-fail#about for the blog article.)

After my research and review of my recent experience, I’ve learned a lot about setting expectations.  The lessons I learned include:

  • Learn from your mistakes.  I continue to be amazed at how simple this truth is.  It’s also incredibly powerful.  Our interactions with contractors continue to improve as a result.
  • Clearly and specifically lay out your expectations before starting.  I’ve also found it helpful to discuss your expectations with at least one trusted person.  They can help you ensure that your expectations are indeed clear and specific.
  • Align your expectations with all stakeholders.  It’s important to get everyone on the same page right from the start.
  • If you want a contractor to clean up after the job is complete, make it a requirement at the start.  While this may seem obvious, it is a pet peeve of mine.  I’ve had to clean up after contractors in the past and I didn’t like it.  It’s the little things that can make a difference.

I am a firm believer in setting clear and specific expectations.  I also have experienced the benefits of pinpointing behavior to improve performance.  Despite my “head knowledge” in this area, it is not one of my strengths.  I struggle with this a lot.  It’s humbling to look back on my training and realize that I am not applying the knowledge.

How about you?  Have you had similar issues with contractors?  How did you handle it?

Do you have issues with employees not performing up to their potential?  Have you tried to pinpoint behavior and set clear expectations?  I would like to help.  I always learn something by helping others achieve their goals.

Let me know what you think.

Dust in the Wind

(2023-6)

It’s been a year since my father passed away.  Late May brought about a seminal event in progressing through the grief of his death, the sale of his former home of almost 30 years, which occurred on May 31.  As I walked through the house for the last time, I couldn’t help but remember the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind” which is one of my favorites.  (Check out the lyrics at https://www.lyrics.com/lyric-lf/295741/Kansas/Dust+In+the+Wind – the music is haunting).

I did a complete walk-through of the house to ensure it was cleaned out and prepared for closing.  In less than 24 hours, the home that held memories was only a house.  By this stage, there were no reminders of my parents left.  I was stricken by the thought that we should cherish the memories we have of loved ones lost.  It’s not about the house, it’s about the memories.  There is now a new owner of that house, but there are still memories I will not forget.

Dad passed away on July 20, 2022.  We started going through his house on Labor Day weekend as family members were in town for his funeral.  We spent Labor Day weekend until May 30, 2023, going through the house dealing with the household items my parents had amassed in 92 years (almost 30 of them in the same house).  Sorting through this estate was a lengthy process.  When it was all over, there was an impressive set of statistics related to the belongings my parents left behind:

  • We took ten loads of items to the local Salvation Army.  I think we stocked their showroom for a few years!
  • We got a local junk removal person to pick up several times as the local community didn’t allow us to take it directly to the dump.  We called on this person on three separate occasions.
  • Before the loads to Salvation Army, we dispersed belongings to at least nine households within the family.

When I showed up to finish the cleaning and prepare for the closing, I also picked up a few items that I had left for staging.  In addition, I left Dad’s tools locked in the shed.  When I got there, the shed was unlocked and some of the tools were missing.  In addition to being angry, I also couldn’t understand how this happened.  The shed was no longer locked.  I jumped to conclusions as to what could have happened.  This lasted less than an hour.  Once I calmed down, it dawned on me – it was just stuff.  I still have a good many of Dad’s tools, which give me joy whenever I use them.  I can replace the stolen tools.

I did a little research on grief while preparing this post.  I found the final walkthrough both therapeutic and sad.  In the end, the closure brought a contentment that I couldn’t explain.  I reviewed the Kubler-Ross model of the Five Stages of Grief (check out https://www.psycom.net/stages-of-grief for a simple explanation of this model).  Over the past year, I have progressed through these five stages.  Getting the last look at Dad’s house helped me accept his death.

After checking out the lyrics to “Dust in The Wind” I felt like that song didn’t fully express the wide range of emotions I’ve felt.  When I think of my dad, I remember the song “Daddy’s Hands” sung by Holly Dunn.  It’s a special song to me because my wife sang it at my grandfather’s funeral.  I reread the lyrics recently and see that they are applicable to my father as well.  I will always cherish our relationship.

Throughout the process of sorting through possessions and preparing to sell Dad’s house, I’ve learned a few lessons:

  • It’s just stuff.  While some physical objects do provoke emotions, it’s memories that are important, not the objects.  I needed to let go of the stuff (this helped me quickly get over the theft of a few tools) and retain the memories.  I plan to do that.
  • Integrate key possessions to strengthen memories.  I have a few items from both of my parents that cause me to think of them.  I use Dad’s Cross pen daily.  I have hung some of my parents’ artwork in my house.  I also carry a money clip from my maternal grandfather.  These things remind me of the impact my parents and grandparents have had on my life.
  • Mom and Dad’s legacy has been dispersed to family and others.  Family members will think of my parents when they see the belongings they have integrated into their respective households.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions.  I need to do a better job of reacting.  I saw that clearly after I reacted upon discovering the theft of tools.

I’ve come to realize that Dad’s empty house doesn’t matter nearly as much as the memories.  I plan to recall as many memories as possible and keep the memories alive.

Have you had similar experiences?  I’d love to hear about your experience and how you dealt with it.

Leadership Lessons from Latoya

(2023-5)

In the past couple of years, I have reinforced some of my thinking and beliefs about leadership by watching bad leaders in action.  Can one learn from poor examples as effectively as from good examples?  In other words, is learning what not to do as helpful as learning what to do?  I believe it is.

There are many examples of leaders who are out of touch and arrogant in their behavior.  This seems to be a trend that isn’t limited to business, it also affects civic leaders.  I’ve seen many examples of this lately.  My go-to person for bad leadership happens to be the current mayor of New Orleans, Latoya Cantrell.

Latoya Cantrell became mayor of New Orleans on May 7, 2018.  She is the first woman to hold this office in the 300-year history of New Orleans.  She became mayor after serving as a member of the New Orleans City Council from 2012-2018.  This length of service would normally be commendable.  If you do an internet search on Latoya Cantrell, you will find more articles concerning scandals than positive accomplishments.

Now that she’s in her second term as mayor, there have been numerous scandals and examples of bad leadership.  Even setting aside the politics of the scandals, the results speak clearly on their own.  Some of the outcomes from the Cantrell administration include:

  • Crime has increased.  When you look at the period Latoya Cantrell has been involved in New Orleans city politics directly (from her time on the City Council through her time as mayor), crime has been on a steady rise (see https://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-New-Orleans-Louisiana.html for data up through 2020).  New Orleans became America’s murder capital in September 2022 when it recorded 52 homicides per 100,000 residents.
  • Infrastructure issues are not being addressed.  If you do an internet search on ‘New Orleans Potholes’, you’ll find many stories documenting the deplorable state of the streets in New Orleans.  One story (check it out at https://www.fox8live.com/2022/03/10/pothole-repairs-take-over-200-days-complete-new-orleans-average-officials-report/ for the story) reports that it takes the city over six months to address potholes.  There’s even a page on the city’s website about potholes (https://nola.gov/next/public-works/topics/potholes/).  It’s ironic that the statistics for filling potholes stopped in 2016!
  • Scandals and corruption involve the mayor frequently.  Since she’s been elected, there have been numerous scandals involving Cantrell.  They include:
    • Charging almost $30,000 in unlawful upgrades (flights and hotels)
    • Paying her “image consultant” $231,000 out of city funds
    • Living in a luxury apartment owned by the city without paying rent
    • Spending an inordinate amount of time with a member of her security detail (an affair was alleged in the divorce filing by the spouse of the security officer)

Because of these results, Cantrell faced a recall earlier this year.  The recall vote was unsuccessful, so Cantrell will serve out the rest of her term.

So, what can leaders learn from this example?  I have done a bit of reflecting on Cantrell’s leadership, and have come up with a few lessons:

  1. Results speak for themselves.  It doesn’t matter what the leader says if their efforts don’t yield positive results.  Latoya Cantrell does defend the city, but with the data strongly against her, she comes across as disconnected from reality.  A leader needs to speak the truth and take responsibility for their results.
  2. Don’t let your position go to your head.  Being a leader can bring temptations.  These temptations, when acted upon generate a sense of entitlement.  Latoya Cantrell justified her upgrades, “image consultant”, and luxury rent-free apartment based on her position.  In my opinion a humble leader is more effective and gathers willing followers.
  3. Leaders serve their constituents, not the other way around.  This is a follow-on to letting your position go to your head.  A leader’s team will make or break the leader.  A servant leader gets good results because of their team.
  4. As a leader, recognize you will be watched (even when you don’t expect it).  Public leaders have much less privacy than the average citizen.  All leaders must be aware that they will be watched with more scrutiny than the average person.
  5. Don’t take offense or retribution for criticism.  Leaders will always be magnets for criticism.  As a leader, I tried to embrace criticism to evaluate my actions.  I acknowledge that the struggle is real.  I want to defend my actions.  In retrospect, there is usually a nugget of truth, a learning moment, or a validation to my strategy in all criticism.  A leader who responds in an even-handed manner will show not only poise but will show that they will listen to feedback.
  6. There is a right way (and a wrong way) to behave in public.  During this past Mardi Gras, Latoya was photographed obscenely gesturing to a float rider.  This picture went viral and reflected very poorly on her.  A good leader wouldn’t respond in that manner or would take full responsibility for an inappropriate response.

As I researched Latoya Cantrell for this post, I found that I could quickly point out lessons I could apply to my leadership.  These lessons didn’t change my opinion of her leadership.  Instead, they reinforced my personal leadership style and beliefs.

How about you – do you think you can learn from other peoples’ mistakes or wrong (at least in your view) approaches?  Do you learn from poor examples as well as good examples?

Do you surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you hard truth about your own behavior?  I’ve also found that while hard truth sometimes hurts, I’m a better person for listening and accepting it in a non-defensive manner.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Do you learn more from positive examples or negative examples?  Do you have someone who will “tell it to you straight” when you make mistakes?