Is Teambuilding Worth It?

When someone mentions teambuilding, do you cringe?  If your boss told you the team was going to complete a teambuilding exercise, would you think you were filming an episode of The Office?

Teambuilding has proponents and opponents.  I’ve taken part in many exercises, and at one point in my career, I was the facilitator who subjected teams to this form of torture. 

I actually don’t believe it is a form of torture, but I’ve also seen a lot of money wasted on fruitless teambuilding activities.  There have been times in my career when I thought it was a form of torture, but there have been significant emotional and bonding experiences that have come from them.

In my recent research on teambuilding, I haven’t found anything that goes against my basic belief.  This belief is that teambuilding can be very effective, but if it’s not done with intent, it can actually be destructive to the team.

I’ve taken part in many different forms of teambuilding.  Two of the more notable ones included a three-day visit to a dude ranch in the Rockies in Colorado and an extensive ropes course in the desert of Arizona.  These two were rather memorable to me because they were a disaster.

The dude ranch event turned into a three-day boss-bashing event.  Fortunately, I was not the boss (just another one of the bashers).  A lot of feedback was given and improvements suggested.  Unfortunately, nothing changed afterwards.  The boss was traumatized by the event.  Then, when he returned home, he found that his wife had left him, taken half the furniture, and filed for divorce.  He didn’t change his ways and none of the improvements were implemented.

Karting Northern Ireland | High Ropes Northern Ireland

The ropes course did nothing but advertise to a broad group of my peers that I have an intense fear of heights.  This session was also not impactful because the group of people rarely interacted with each other.  It’s hard to build a team where there isn’t one.

I’ve facilitated and participated in many teambuilding activities that proved to be very successful.  I like focused teambuilding.  As a leader of a team, I firmly believe in understanding each team member’s motivations (see my Personal Leadership Model post here https://mrhensonllc.com/my-personal-leadership-model/). 

For every team I’ve led, I’ve tried to integrate teambuilding into our routine activities.  I’ve found that when team members know more about each other, they understand more about the things that drive an individual to work.

During one of my roles at Chevron, I managed teams in ten different locations in Canada, the USA, and Mexico.  I recall having 12-15 direct reports.  We met periodically.  Our mission was to supply products in the global marketplace.  These products were manufactured in nine different plants.  When I took over this role, these nine different plants viewed each other as their primary competition.  I spent significant time changing this mindset.  I wanted them to beat our true competition, not each other.  As part of this, I needed to build a cohesive team with a single vision.  (I plan on writing a separate post on the power of a simple, compelling vision.  Stay tuned!)

At every in-person team meeting, we devoted some time to a teambuilding activity.  The team member who was hosting the meeting got to pick and schedule the activity.  We had a diverse set of activities, and really got to know each other well.

Early in 2006, I called a meeting in New Orleans and held the meeting at one of a key suppliers’ facility.  This plant, along with the surrounding community, had been hard hit by Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.  Our team meeting was held six months after Katrina.  Since I called the meeting, I decided and scheduled the activity.  I contacted friends at Chevron’s upstream Public Affairs team and asked if there were any community service efforts still underway.  They recommended a local group that was repairing musician’s homes so they could return to New Orleans.  I was told after six months it would probably be “light clean-up.”  I set the date and committed my team.

When we met the local coordinator at the musician’s residence south of Chalmette (a suburb of New Orleans), we found out we would help a local musician return to his home.  Turns out, he hadn’t opened the door since Katrina.  The house had been in the area with a lot of flooding.  The water filled the entire one-story residence.  The musician was rescued from his roof.

Instead of “light clean-up,” my team spent almost five hours gutting the home down to the studs.  My team was fierce and efficient.  At the end of the day, we were all whipped (and smelled very bad).  I was proud of the team.  One of my team had purchased printed t-shirts for us.  Unfortunately, I believe most of us trashed them after, as we didn’t think they could be cleaned!

Ten years later, I ran into my key supplier contact in Singapore (who I had invited along with us).  He shared with me and other colleagues that this event was the single best teambuilding he had ever participated in.  I was humbled.

What did I learn from this experience?  There were three key things:

  • Vet the activity properly.  I trusted my Public Affairs colleagues and didn’t fully vet the host organization.  I should have used Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” creed.  I would have fully prepared myself and my team better.
  • Teambuilding that gives to others brings a different perspective to your team.  We had a very productive meeting afterwards.  The team was easily able to rally around each other in order to achieve our common goals.
  • Teambuilding is an investment, not an expense.  I still have good relations with many members of that team.  I was humbled by the remark from the key supplier ten years later.  The cost was minimal (t-shirts, transportation, and clothes).  I told the team that if they wanted to dispose of the clothes they wore that day, I would reimburse them.  The cost was minimal, compared to the improvement in our team’s cooperation and support.

Have you had good experiences with teambuilding?  What activity is most memorable to you and why?  Please share your thoughts and comments.

Diversions – Foe or Friend?

Do you hate distractions?  When you are “locked on” to a goal, task, or vision, how do you deal with distractions?  I have historically not dealt well with them.  I believe all Type A personalities or leaders try to stay on task or target and don’t deal well with distractions.  Two weeks ago, my mindset was changed.  I can clearly see the value in a diversion, provided you keep the end in mind.

My wife and I recently returned to New Orleans from Tennessee.  It’s a long drive – over nine hours.  We usually like to drive straight through, with as few stops as possible.  This past week, we took a diversion.  On the way to Tennessee the previous week, my wife saw a sign for the Little River Canyon National Preserve.  We had previously discussed a leisurely return trip taking two days and seeing the sights along the way.  We added this place to the list of sights to see on the way back.

We got to Tennessee and were deeply involved in a number of activities and tasks.  We ran out of time and decided to drive back in one day.  We passed a couple of places in Tennessee and north Georgia and decided to skip them, as they were too far off I-59.  The Little River Canyon Center is about 20 minutes off the interstate, so when we got close to the Fort Payne, Alabama exit, we decided to make a diversion.  Being that close to the Interstate, we wouldn’t lose much time if it wasn’t worth it.  (For more information about the preserve, take a look at https://www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm)

We took the exit, and went to visit the Little River Canyon Center.  We were impressed with the visitor center, and agreed to take a scenic drive along the Little River.  We started at an overlook and made an agreement if it wasn’t worth it, we’d turn around and head to New Orleans.

We got to the first stop and were awe-struck by the majesty of the scenery.  We decided to take the scenic drive for half of it, and were very glad we did.  The pictures attached to this post don’t do the scenery justice.  If you ever find yourself driving on I-59 in northeast Alabama, you should allow some time to slow down and enjoy this preserve.

I thought about this diversion when we got back to New Orleans, and could easily see the application to leadership.  As a leader, odds are good that you have a solid vision and destination in mind for your organization.  If you are like me, you want to stay on task.  Life doesn’t happen that way.  Sometimes, even the leader needs a diversion.

The scenery of the Little River Canyon rejuvenated me on the long journey from Tennessee.  We didn’t lose that much time, and enjoyed the deviation tremendously.  Not only do leaders need a detour periodically, but they should embrace it.  We stayed on task and ultimately met our goal of returning to New Orleans safely.  This time, we did it in a relaxed manner.  There’s nothing like a waterfall or beautiful, clear river flowing to calm nerves and give such positive feelings.  Instead of feeling pressured by the deviation, I was relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

How do you deal with distractions in your personal or vocational life?  Do they stress you out?  I know in the past, there were times in my leadership journey that I got very stressed when someone, something, or some event took me off task.

In the past, one way I’ve dealt with departures from my goal or task was to avoid them.  I could generally sense them coming, and would take great measures to side-step them and stay focused on my goal, task, or vision.  Sometimes I still do this.

I learned last week to truly welcome diversions.  They can have a calming, peaceful, energizing effect.  I was centered, happy, and devoted to the ultimate vision of a safe journey.  Sometimes, distractions can have the same effect on the leader.  As long as the leader keeps the end in mind, welcoming the diversion can have its rewards.

As you proceed along your own leadership journey, I challenge you to re-think your reactions to diversions.  Don’t give up on your vision or ultimate destination, but react with the knowledge that this particular deviation may end up having a very positive impact on your leadership.

There’s a phrase I heard from former service members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The phrase is “embrace the suck.”  While that may not be very glamorous, it could be a good start to reacting differently to departures from the path you’ve set for yourself.  The other well-worn phrase is that every cloud has a silver lining.  Keep the end in mind, but embrace the potential learning and rejuvenating impact of diversions along the way.

Have you experienced the surprise benefit of diversions?  I’d love to hear your comments. If you are looking for someone to coach you on your leadership journey, email me at [email protected].

The Toxicity of Divisiveness

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to worry about the world.  Is it just me, or has the world become rather dichotomous?  (Dictionary.com defines dichotomous as “divided or dividing into two parts.”)  It seems to me that the level of divisiveness in the world is worse than it ever has been.  Do you agree?

As I look back over the past 5-10 years, I see this phenomenon ramping up around three topics: race, politics, and health.

I can still remember the divisiveness that was in the US in the 1960s.  Race and politics were hot topics then, and the nation was split severely.  I don’t recall these two issues expanding globally like I see them now.

The topic of race heated up significantly in 2014 around the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  I won’t go into the events, but I was stunned and humbled by the vitriolic dialog spreading around.  I was humbled by some sane voices arising from that event.  My favorite, calm voice during this time was Benjamin Watson, a player for the New Orleans Saints.  His expression started as a Facebook post.  He had enough to say that he wrote a book about it entitled, “Under Our Skin.”  I highly recommend this book.  It was impactful enough to me that I’ll probably write a separate post about it.  The subtitle to the book says it best: “Getting real about race – and getting free from the fears and frustrations that divide us.”

The race-related incidents haven’t calmed down much since the Ferguson event.  I would argue that they’ve gotten worse.  There have been incidents and resulting protests (and sometimes riots) recently.  The topic of race divides us.

Politics really took a dichotomous turn leading up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and don’t seem to be improving yet.  The only good thing I got out of the dialog leading up to that election was that I fully understand my position on the political spectrum.  I am neither Republican nor Democrat.  I classify myself as a constitutional conservative.  I have done a lot of research on the history of the formation of the United States and really embrace our founding principles.  I also see where this issue isn’t dichotomous for me, it truly is a spectrum.  I also see that respect for others’ beliefs is a fundamental aspect of the formation of the United States, and made the basis of the First Amendment.

The latest divisive issue I label as health.  The COVID-19 pandemic truly divided us on a global basis.  Whether it be social distancing, masks, vaccination status, lockdowns, or science, you’ll find a sharp spirit of us versus them.

What is the impact of this divisiveness, and how does a leader address the issues in a way that draws the team together rather than apart?

I have witnessed significant impacts of this divisiveness:

  • Lines are drawn and adhered to.  People don’t view things as a spectrum but view everything as dichotomous.
  • People become entrenched in their viewpoint.  Critical thinking and respect seem to have disappeared.
  • Relationships have been strained, and in some cases ended.  I’ve seen and heard of friendships that have been destroyed or families split.  In my opinion, this is not only sad but unnecessary.
  • Jobs have disappeared.  Many people have lost their livelihoods because employers don’t respect employees’ beliefs, or they crater to pressure from others.

I encourage you to read the transcript of Brian Williams’ final broadcast from MSNBC.  I have mixed feelings about Brian Williams.  At times I’ve agreed with him, and other times have not.  I believe he hit the nail on the head in his signoff about the environment of toxicity he sees happening in our country.  You can find the video and the transcript of this at https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/brianwilliamsmsnbcnewssignoff.htm

I have crystalized my personal beliefs because of seeing this pervasive divisiveness.  First and foremost, I believe there are very few things that are truly dichotomous.  To put it differently, there is very little black or white and a lot of gray positions in this world.  As a leader, I need to recognize this and ensure I keep an open mind and heart.

Secondly, I believe the leader should exhibit mutual respect for their followers and stakeholders (everyone, actually).  One aspect that is vital for the leader to nurture is the diversity of thought.  I need different perspectives and viewpoints to ensure that I stay on the right path.

Mutual respect allows people to agree to disagree and still achieve their mission.  As a slight deviation, one of my favorite slogans is from Combat Flipflops.  Their tagline is “be a better human.”  I love this.  You may not agree with someone, but you shouldn’t belittle or disrespect them in your response.

I recognize this post may trigger some strong feedback.  I’m okay with that.  It helps me make sure I keep an open mind and heart.  I’d love for you to share your thoughts, but I ask you to first count to five.  Let’s start unifying our own circles of influence.

Persistence – Yes or No for a Leader?

What does it mean to persist?  Is persistence a good quality to have as a leader?  Is there a “dark side” to persistence that a leader needs to avoid?

Dictionary.com defines the verb persist as “to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc.”

I’ve been thinking about the trait of persistence the last few months.  Since my retirement, I’ve reflected a lot on my challenges, successes, mistakes, missteps, and decisions.  From what I’ve read, that is common among retirees.  Even Bruce Springsteen sang about reflection in “Glory Days” (although that wasn’t necessarily positive reflection).

I’ve received feedback from many people that I am persistent.  Most of this feedback is positive.  Some of it reflects “areas of improvement” for me.  I’ve also been given the feedback that persistence is both one of my strongest strengths and one of my biggest faults.  Upon reflection, I agree with that assessment.

Persistence is a topic that has been considered by many to be important.  While researching the topic, I stumbled upon some excellent quotes about persistence:

  • “Persistence is self-discipline in action.”  Brian Tracy
  • “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”  Calvin Coolidge
  • “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.”  Napoleon Hill
  • “Paralyze resistance with persistence.”  Woody Hayes
  • “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins; not through strength, but through persistence.”  Buddha
  • “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.”  Steve Martin

I’ve applied persistence several times in my life and career and received positive outcomes.  The absolute best example of this is my pursuit of my wife, Julie.  We met in high school (junior year).  I was smitten by her and asked her out many times.  She really didn’t want to date me and turned me down numerous times.  I wore her down with persistence!  Last December we celebrated our 43rd anniversary, so it looks like it’s going to last.  ?

My entire career at Chevron was an example of my persistence.  I started after dropping out of college.  I finished my undergraduate degree in Marketing while working and raising a family.  I continually sought better-paying, challenging jobs that would help me provide better for my wife and daughters.  This was often tough.  It started off hard due to a lack of a degree.  It stayed challenging because I wasn’t an engineer.  When I look back on it, I see many times I persisted.

Another example of persisting was conquering my fear of public speaking.  Those who know me now may be surprised, but I used to freeze up and actively avoid speaking in front of others.  I signed up for a public speaking course that Chevron offered and followed up with being a guest speaker at a management program called SSKP (Supervisory Skills and Knowledge Program).  To be an SSKP guest speaker, you had to commit to four sessions of a particular topic.  One session was to audit a guest speaker, then you were the guest speaker for three subsequent sessions.  I thought three sessions would help me.  It worked because I was asked to do over 40 sessions on many different topics.

I also positively applied my persistence to my commercial career.  This started as a crude oil trader.  A person can’t be a successful trader without persistence.  There were many times I made a bad call or got on the wrong side of the market.  I had to stick with it.  As they say in the movies, failure was not an option.  This later helped me negotiate larger deals in my business development roles.

I can also remember a couple of times when my persistence didn’t achieve the right results.  One job I applied for in Chevron involved a move from California back to New Orleans.  My family had been in California for four years and were really enjoying it.  My wife and I discussed the potential and agreed that I should apply for the job and take it if four conditions were met.  The conditions included a raise, a promotion, and two other conditions we can’t remember (this was over 20 years ago).  I interviewed and was selected for the position, and I accepted the offer.  A big problem was that none of the four conditions were met.  I accepted the position because I thought it would be a good thing for my wife and daughters to be close to my wife’s family.  Big mistake.  My family went from thriving to floundering.

The other time when my persistence didn’t achieve the right result was when I was trying to improve my group’s performance.  I used the data my team knew about to monitor expenses (based on direct expense accounting information).  I managed my team’s efforts to control expenses using this data.  I also used this data to keep my supervisor informed of progress.  I didn’t know that there was a separate management information system that included the basic accounting information and other allocated expense and revenue.  I was diligently managing using the wrong information!  It was like I was trying to drive a car only looking at the engine temperature.  That didn’t end well!

Based on my experience and research, I’ve come to believe that persistence can be very beneficial to a leader.  Persistence can keep a leader on task despite adversity or resistance.  I also believe there is a “dark side” to persistence – not letting go when you should.  It’s a balancing act to know how far to push.  You also need feedback to ensure you’re on the right track.

Have you applied persistence and experienced positive returns?  Do you believe it is a positive trait or skill for a leader?  Have you ever seen it misused or abused?  I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments.

American businessman pushing a big stone with persistence word while climbing on the cliff. Shot at sunset time

Follow the Leader? I Don’t Wanna!

In the spirit of full disclosure, the answer to the question posed in the title came from a child I know.  That was their spirited reaction to any direction they didn’t agree with.  To the Type-A leader, or Alpha-Leader, there is a similar reaction.  Leaders want to lead.  Many leaders have very large egos.  Some would say they must so they can lead organizations through turbulent times.  A question popped into my mind a couple of weeks ago – do good leaders also need to be good followers?

I’ve long thought about this question and have come to the position that I believe good leaders can be some of the best followers.  I wondered if I was alone in thinking this.  Late last year (2021), I stumbled across something in my daily Bible reading that got me thinking.  I was using “Every Man’s Bible, New International Version.”  This version is rather good.  One thing I like is that it includes commentary from the editors in ways different than other Bibles I’ve read.  I liked reading the periodic one-pagers entitled “Someone You Should Know” which highlights a person in the Bible.  In 3 John, the editors highlighted Diotrephes and focused on a single verse: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us” (3 John 1:9). Their point of highlighting Diotrephes was “good leaders honor others; bad leaders praise only themselves.” (Every Man’s Bible, page 1637)

This inspired me to do some more research on followership, as it’s related to leadership.  I started with a simple web search – “are good leaders good followers?”  I didn’t know if I’d find anything good – boy, was I surprised!  There were a lot of great things.  Three things stood out to me:

  • A blog post by Michael Hyatt entitled “Why the Best Leaders are Great Followers – Five Hidden Attributes That Command Respect”
  • An article published by Forbes: “To Be a Great Leader, Learn How to Be a Great Follower”
  • A Harvard Business Review (HBR) Leadership Research article entitled “To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower”

I’ve mentioned Michael Hyatt a couple of times before, so you’re probably not surprised I liked his blog post!  In this post, Hyatt lists three characters in the Bible who started out as followers and became great leaders in their own right – Joshua, Elisha, and Peter.  Hyatt lists five characteristics of good followers.  These characteristics make great leaders (in my opinion):

  1. They are clear.
  2. They are obedient.
  3. They are servants.
  4. They are humble.
  5. They are loyal.

Forbes and HBR are two popular business publications.  The author of the Forbes article (Bernhard Schroeder) shares his Four Rules of Following:

  1. You’re not following, you’re a leader-in-training.
  2. Put your team first.
  3. Believe in yourself and your leader.
  4. [It’s] what you follow, not who.

These are very good rules for following.  I think they also come in handy in training a leader.

I really enjoyed the HBR article.  I used to subscribe to the HBR, and looked forward to reading each edition.  A sentence in this article really stood out – “without followership, leadership is nothing.”  The authors reported on their analysis of emergent leadership among 218 male Royal Marine recruits who embarked on the elite training program after passing a series of tests of psychological aptitude and physical fitness.  They examined whether the capacity for recruits to be seen as displaying leadership by their peers was associated with their tendency to see themselves as natural leaders.  The results of their analysis were staggering.  Those who saw themselves as natural leaders were viewed as having leadership potential by their commanders.  But the recruits who saw themselves as followers ultimately emerged as leaders.

These three articles support the premise that to be a good leader, you must learn how to be a good follower.

I developed a reputation as a good follower.  For the most part, I am a conformist.  However, there were times in my leadership career when I was a poor follower.  Two times stand out to me.  One of my bosses, while delivering my performance feedback one year, said that he appreciated that we were mostly aligned in our approach to getting results.  He told me 95% of the time we were aligned, but that other 5% was quite ugly!  Ouch, that hurt.  I worked on being more diplomatic with him and ended up on a positive tone.

One of the lowest points of my career happened partially because I wasn’t a good follower.  I didn’t fully establish a positive relationship with one of my bosses.  I didn’t fully understand her expectation and missed many cues to her dissatisfaction with my performance.   This resulted in my removal from that position – the only time that happened to me.

I learned a couple of lessons about leadership and followership:

  • Being a follower under a poor leader is tough.  When you believe leadership is heading in the wrong direction, express your concerns in a respectful, reasonable manner.  If your opinion isn’t accepted, follow anyway.  Don’t say “I told you so” if it doesn’t work out.
  • Being a follower when you wanted to be the leader is also tough.  In my last job, I wanted to be promoted to the leadership of the group and never was.  I missed out on the promotion three times and ended up training my new boss two out of three of those times.  This was very humbling.

I strongly believe that good leaders can and should also be good followers, but not all good followers can be good leaders.

How good of a follower are you?  Do you struggle to follow when you don’t appreciate the leader’s vision or direction?  If you are a leader, I challenge you to read the three articles I’ve cited.  Develop your own opinion.  Let me know what you think.

No More New Year’s Resolutions!

I give up – I refuse to do another New Year’s resolution!  I don’t have any for 2022, and I don’t plan on ever doing one again.  It’s February, and I’ve just finished my first draft of my personal goals for the year.  None of the goals resembles a resolution.  You might be thinking – what gives?  Well, to offer a phrase that’s been overused since March of 2020, I’m following science.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had New Year’s resolutions many times in the past.  I like the start of a new year 1 it gives me the opportunity for a fresh start or clean slate.  I usually start the new year strong, with determination that I’d follow my resolution for the entire year.  I rarely do.  Turns out, I am not the only one.

I was a member at the Downtown Houston YMCA for a few years.  I enjoyed that facility.  It had all the equipment I needed, and was easy to access.  I joined mid-year once.  I found the gym not only accessible, but I could always use the equipment I wanted to.  It was great!  Unfortunately, this only lasted for a few months.  The first time I went to the YMCA after New Year, I was bummed out.  Not only did I have a hard time finding a parking place, but I couldn’t use my preferred equipment.  There were so many people there!

For a while, I grumbled about it and even considered quitting.  Being a procrastinator, I never got around to cancelling my membership.  After about six weeks, I noticed I could easily find a parking spot and equipment.  A lot of people started off the new year joining the YMCA, but gave up on their resolution after a while.

This year, I decided to do something different.  As I’ve stated in previous posts, I use the Full Focus Planner (FFP) by Michael Hyatt as my daily planner.  The FFP does an excellent job of integrating annual goals, calendar, task lists, and project management.  I’ve been using the FFP since its inception.

This year, I decided to read Michael Hyatt’s book “Your Best Year Ever” (YBYE) before I wrote up any goals.  This book is one of the best self-development books I’ve seen in many years.  Not only is it inspiring and great for helping write up your goals, but it is full of references to studies and research done in the field.

I started drafting my goals while reading the book.  Once I finished the book, I reviewed the draft goals to ensure they fit the formula for success.  I’ve now settled on these ten goals for the year, and have started working them in earnest.

What have I learned from taking a different path to annual goals:

  • I need to devote more time at the end of the year to review my progress and plan my next year’s goals.  Michael Hyatt states, “when we obsess on what’s wrong, we miss what’s right.” (YBYE, page 59).  My favorite leadership author Dr. John C. Maxwell used to say that the old phrase “experience is the best teacher” was inaccurate.  He says “evaluated experience is the best teacher.”  I plan to follow the After-Action Review process at year-end.  This process, developed and utilized by the U. S. Army, includes four simple steps:
    • State what you wanted to happen.
    • Acknowledge what really happened.
    • Learn from the experience.
    • Adjust your behavior.
  • As part of my annual review process, I plan to review the YBYE book while looking both back (at the current year’s goals) and forward (to the upcoming year’s goals).  This book is not only full of opinions backed by solid research on achievement and success, but it gives you very clear guidance on how to write goals that will maximize potential success.
  • I will be judicious about sharing my goals only with people who either have a vested interest in me achieving them, or with people who can hold me accountable.  One of the studies mentioned in YBYE indicated that sharing your goals actually affects your brain the same way as achieving the goal.

I’d like to hear what you think:

  • Do you regularly use New Year’s resolutions to change behavior or achieve goals?  What’s been your track record of success?
  • What is your process to develop, monitor, track, and celebrate success?

Leading Through Adversity

Leaders must be able to deal with adversity readily.  In my opinion, adversity is like a forge. The forging process is essentially the art of heating and working hot metal into shape.  By working the metal in this way, it increases many of the metal properties, including structure.  Leaders are strengthened and shaped by going through adversity.  Can you recall a time in your leadership journey where you faced adversity?  Did you come out of it as a stronger leader?

I faced adversity a lot in the period of 1999-2002.  This was a time that defined me as a leader, and crystallized my approach to leadership.

I was in a good job in 1999 after my family had relocated to New Orleans in 1998.  This put us much closer to family after four years in California.  I had very little stress in my vocational life, and decided I would go back to school and get my MBA.  I joined the Executive MBA program at Tulane University at the age of 41.

The intensity of the EMBA program was challenging at the start.  We met every other weekend for class and had study team meetings in between.  I was a member of an amazing study team which stayed together for the entire EMBA program.  We were all located in New Orleans and rotated our meetings at each other’s offices.  In addition, I had a great support network at home.  This changed drastically about six-seven months later, when I was offered a transfer and a promotion to a different role in Houston, Texas.  I had to move my family at a time when our oldest daughter was leaving for college and our younger daughter was going into her sophomore year of high school.  That was tough on the two of them, as well on my wife and I, as we tried to hold our family together.  During this time, I was traveling back to New Orleans every other weekend to attend school.  I was learning a new job with a totally different team at the same time as navigating my family through a significant emotional event.

This time was particularly tough for my leadership – both at home and at work.  At home, I was very fortunate that my wife pulled up the slack.  We wouldn’t have made it through as a family without her leadership.  I’m a blessed man!

As for work, in late 2000 I switched to a complex job from one with a relatively simple scope.  I was now responsible for a global team of crude oil traders and operations personnel.  While my title was West Africa Crude Trading Team Leader, I had no direct reports.  My team included five traders in three locations (London, Houston, and Singapore) and operations personnel in numerous countries (which included Angola, Nigeria, UK, Canada, US, and Singapore). 

In addition to a new team and the pressures of my EMBA program, I was in a new job in a new location.  For school, I was flying back to New Orleans from Houston every other week.  For work, I had a tough international travel schedule.  In 2001 (when I wasn’t in school), I flew to Norway, London, Nigeria (twice), and Angola.  In late 2001, I flew to Europe for the last week of school.  This last trip included my family.  Once school was over, we took a much-needed vacation to London and Europe.  I thought that my stress level would decrease significantly after school.  Unfortunately, this lower stress level only lasted a couple of months.

In late 2001, the merger between Chevron and Texaco was approved and moved forward.  I went into another new job as Planning Manager for ChevronTexaco’s Global Trading division.  I was to have an analyst to help me.  Due to immigration issues from 9/11, my analyst (a Philippine citizen) couldn’t get a visa.  I was on my own to prepare the first business plan for the new Global Trading organization.  I plan to write a post about this time, as it was extremely disappointing and was one of the low points of my 40-year career at Chevron.   I finished out 2001 thoroughly disliking my job.  I was miserable at work.

The next year, there was a small reorganization at Chevron and the Global Trading organization was merged with Chevron’s worldwide fuel oil trading and marketing organization.  This year was another transition year for us in three ways:

  1. Our younger daughter graduated from high school a year early and headed off to college in the fall of 2002.
  2. I got another new job and transfer to California in the summer of 2002.
  3. In the fall, my wife and I became empty nesters!  We were in California; one daughter was in college in Louisiana and the other was in college in Oklahoma.

The new assignment in California turned out to be my favorite job in my entire career.  This was despite being a part of an oil spill response (see https://mrhensonllc.com/incident-command-leadership-insights/).

Was my work life adversity-free after 2002?  Absolutely not!  Almost twenty years later, I can see that the time of 1999-2002 was full of adversity.

This period of adversity truly gave me a stronger level of leadership.  While in my EMBA studies, I articulated my personal leadership model (see https://mrhensonllc.com/my-personal-leadership-model/).  In my new role in 2002, I was able to apply this model deliberately.  I strongly believe it was a key to the high performance of that team.

On a personal note, I’ve noted how my daughters’ independence was forged during this time of adversity for them.  While they made sacrifices for all the moves and transitions, they have both developed into strong women and mothers – fierce leaders!

My belief is that strength does come from adversity.  Adversity in a leaders’ life can make them a stronger leader.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What adversity have you gone through?  Did it make you a stronger leader or person?  Have you seen the improvement as a result?

Leadership Lessons from Dad

Recently, I wrote a post on what I gained from an extended visit with my 91-year-old father (https://mrhensonllc.com/time-with-dad/).  That time, as well as my ongoing visits and phone conversations with Dad, got me thinking about what leadership lessons I learned from Dad.

My Dad made the leap from individual contributor (Drilling Mud Engineer) to manager in 1968 when he was promoted to District Manager.  Apparently, Dad had been a good Mud Engineer and his company (Baroid) promoted him to a position that had a few engineers, truck drivers, warehousemen, and administrative support reporting to him.

I was a young boy at this time, but I thought it was a great move for Dad and our family, even if we had to move from Weatherford, Oklahoma to Pampa, Texas.  The reason I thought it was a good move was that it meant that Dad would have more time at home with us.  As a Drilling Mud Engineer, Dad had to monitor drilling fluids for multiple wells in his area.  It was a demanding job that took him away from us a lot.  I was glad to have him around more!

One thing I remember about this transition was that Dad picked up a book or two on management (I remember Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management being one of them).  I was naturally curious and was glad Dad always made time to discuss the books and what he was learning whenever I asked.

Dad’s move into management changed my mind about what career I wanted to follow.  As a boy, I wanted to be a Drilling Mud Engineer like Dad when I grew up.  I was devastated when I found out that I couldn’t because of my colorblindness (this was before PH meters, when you had to determine the PH of the drilling mud using a treated piece of paper that changed colors depending upon the PH level).  My mom, whose father was colorblind, worked with me about accepting my colorblindness.  She found out that I could be a pharmacist and be colorblind.  Once Dad became a manager, I decided I wanted to be a manager – Management was my first major in college.

Dad worked for Baroid for over 30 years, with over 20 years in supervisory/managerial roles.  During this time, I watched Dad at work and listened to his stories about work.  I’ve learned a few lessons from him:

  1. Study areas of your job you don’t know.  Just as Dad bought and studied books on management, I applied this practice many times during my career.  The study can include book reading, internet searches, and discussions with experts.
  2. Study your new organization.  Observe as much as you can without making any judgment calls (if you can avoid it).  Get to know your people as well as the organization chart.  Recognize that when a new leader shows up, people will request things the previous leader denied.  Make sure you seek all sides to any story or request.
  3. Get to know your people.  This aspect is an integral part of my personal leadership model (see previous post).  As John C. Maxwell would say “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I can remember Dad making many home and hospital visits.  He knew a lot about the people that worked for him.  He made quite an impression when he showed up at a wake for a union employee in New Orleans.  They had never seen any manager or supervisor outside of work – it made quite a positive impact.
  4. Stand up for your people.  Dad advocated strongly for employees he believed in.  I remember a few times that the first thing Dad told his boss when he was notified of a new job was who the boss should pick to replace him.
  5. Be loyal to your employer, but don’t roll over.  Dad was very loyal to Baroid.  There were a few times when things occurred that he didn’t agree with.  He was always vocal about sharing his opinion.  Once he shared his opinion, he returned to doing his job as well as he could.
  6. Tough negotiators don’t have to be jerks.  Dad has many stories about various negotiations.  One theme from all of them is that he had respect for who he was negotiating with.  He lived by the “it’s business not personal” creed.  I tried to emulate this in my negotiating style.  I still have friendships with people I negotiated with.  Mutual respect is the foundation of successful negotiating (in my opinion).  I plan on writing a few posts on negotiating, so stay tuned!
  7. Let your record speak for itself.  Dad wasn’t one to “toot his own horn,” both at work and outside of work.  He spoke up for himself, but let his results do the most talking.  I came to embrace this in my career. 
  8. Stories can have a positive impact.  Dad is famous in our family for his stories (some of them we’ve heard more than once!).  He is able to defuse situations with stories.  He was also able to connect with people easily using stories.  While I enjoyed sharing stories, I also tried to make sure I didn’t tell them to the same people too many times!  (If I did, and you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)
  9. You have to make hard decisions in order to succeed.  Dad is always free with me about some tough decisions he had to make.  Telling me about the issues lets me know that I am not alone in the process.  I could always discuss my tough situations with Dad.  He can commiserate and advise at the same time.
  10. Quiet anger can be effective.  Dad was never one to yell.  He could affect my behavior very strongly simply by telling me he was disappointed in what I did.  I recognized the power in this.  I also don’t think yelling or losing your cool at work is the way a professional would behave.  I know from feedback that my anger was evident in other ways.  I also know that it brought about positive changes.
  11. Do the right thing.  Dad is a strong Christian.  He firmly believes in doing the right thing.  He believes that right will win in the end, and so do I.  I’ve never felt bad about doing the right thing!
  12. Enjoy the ride.  Dad really enjoyed his job.  It showed in his actions at work and at home.  I like this approach.  I lived by the belief that we should have fun at work.  The more we enjoy the people we work with, the more we can accomplish.  I try to have fun.  Life is too short!

As you can tell from this post and the other post about spending time with Dad, I love my father.  I am rather proud to call him a friend as well as my father.  My Dad was my best man at my wedding.  I still can’t think of a better person.

I’d love to hear your comments.  What did you think of the 12 lessons?

Henson family, 1960. I’m on my Dad’s lap. He was 30 in this picture.

Hurricane Ida Thoughts

The 2021 hurricane season ended at the close of November.  Each hurricane season since 2005 has reminded me of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 29th of that year.  We (my wife and I) were living in California at the time.  It was surreal watching from afar.  We had plenty of family in the New Orleans area, so we kept our eyes glued to the television for updates.  We visited New Orleans a few times after the storm and were humbled by the aftermath.  Three notable scenes were:

  1. West End Boulevard: this area is a large median (neutral ground for locals).  After Katrina, it was used as a transfer point for debris from people gutting their homes.  It was an amazing amount of trash and debris.
  2. Highway 23: this highway runs from the New Orleans area to Venice, Louisiana.  I got to see an album of pictures and videos taken after Katrina that showed a phenomenal amount of devastation.
  3. Community Service: I had the opportunity to take my leadership team to clear out a musician’s home six months after Katrina.  It turned out to be the first time the house had been entered since the storm.  We ended up gutting the house to the studs.  I’ll share more of that story on a different post.

For the summer of 2021, we planned to spend a month in Tennessee to escape the heat and humidity of New Orleans.  It was a lovely time, until late August.  Hurricane Ida formed in the Gulf and was headed to New Orleans.  When it was clear that New Orleans would get hit, we wisely decided to stay put in Tennessee.  Once again, we experienced that surreal vision of watching the destruction from afar.  As it turned out, Ida made landfall on August 29, 2021 – exactly 16 years from Katrina.  Power was knocked out for the entire area.  We decided to stay in Tennessee until our power was restored.

About two weeks after Ida, we made the trip back to New Orleans from Tennessee.  We could see the impact of Ida from afar as we drove.  Trees were down, signs were missing, and debris was evident (more so as we got closer to New Orleans).

When we made it to metropolitan New Orleans, we were humbled at the extent of damage.  Blue tarps were everywhere – they are used to cover roofs that have been damaged until the roof can be repaired or replaced.  A massive number of trees were down.  Two blocks from our house, we passed the local YMCA.  It was quite bizarre to see military Humvees with red crosses on them parked out front.  Apparently, they had been using the YMCA as a local field hospital for first aid cases.

We pulled up at our house, and didn’t think it was so bad.  Granted, it was dark.  When we got up the next morning and made our rounds, we noticed more damage than we originally thought.  A piece of siding had fallen off our house and dented our car.  No trees were down, but quite a few limbs were broken.  There was more roof damage than we thought, and quite a few of our windows had leaked.

It took us a couple of days to come to grips with what was happening in the city, even after two weeks.  We had power, but many areas still hadn’t.  There were piles of storm debris all around.  We couldn’t get anyone to help out with our damage – it wasn’t as severe as others, and they were booked.  Two weeks after the storm, the city still hadn’t been able to start picking up trash.  It was over three weeks after the storm (close to a month) before we got our first trash pickup (no debris, only cans).  Then, the city reduced the pickups from twice weekly pre-storm to once weekly.  We still haven’t returned to pre-storm service levels, and the city hasn’t resumed recycling pickups.

About a week after our return, I drove someone to Houma for work.  Houma was where Ida made landfall, and received the worst of the wind damage.  I was deeply affected by the scene surrounding me.  I didn’t know I had it so good in third-world New Orleans!

I learned a few lessons from my Ida experience:

  1. Beware of PTSD after an emergency.  My wife and I were “in a funk” for 2-3 days upon our return.  We were depressed about the damage to our house, as well as the damage our daughters and family members experienced.  It took us a while to pick ourselves up and carry on.  Don’t underestimate the mental and emotional impact – take care of your mental health!
  2. Normal doesn’t come back quickly or easily in a major disaster.  Here we are over three months after the storm, and things are not back to pre-storm levels.  The extent of the power outage in the area, and the brave and tireless efforts of the linemen from all over the US, cannot be adequately expressed.  The fact that we got power restored relatively quickly is amazing.  The other services (groceries, trash, gasoline, repairs, etc.) took a long time to return.
  3. Make sure you get to know your neighbors, and develop good relationships with them.  Because we had good connections with a few of our neighbors, we were able to find out more about our house and the neighborhood while still in Tennessee.  Once we returned, everyone was sharing contacts for roof repairmen and handyman services.  We truly are in this together!
  4. Emergency response plans for your family are absolutely essential.  My wife and I have long prepared plans for disasters.  I believe it’s due to my training at Chevron – it was ingrained in me, and I brought it home.  Fortunately, my wife sees the benefit to this.  We had a reasonable plan, and we readily adapted it to the situation on the ground.
  5. Local leadership can make or break a community’s response to a crisis.  There have been a few books written on the breakdown of leadership at all levels (national, state, and local) during Hurricane Katrina.  Hurricane Ida was no different – there were breakdowns everywhere.  The mayor of New Orleans did not declare a mandatory evacuation.  This bureaucratic step bogged relief efforts down, and hurt many people.  The parishes (Louisiana’s version of counties) didn’t coordinate efforts very well.  This caused confusion.  This happened to be an election year for many of the local officials.  I would have thought they would have concentrated on getting good things done for the most people.  This didn’t seem to motivate many of them.  The best examples of leadership came from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  They seemed to have the right approach – they just wanted to help others get their lives back.  Values really drive leadership styles!

When I look at how the various communities in Southeastern Louisiana have responded to and recovered from Hurricane Ida, I am surprised at the difference.  Some have rebounded, while others are still languishing from the effects of the storm.  I can’t help but think that my last lesson is the most important one.

What examples of leadership during crises can you share?  Do you and/or your family have an emergency response plan?

Please share your thoughts.

Setting the Tone

One of my favorite leadership sayings it “The leader sets the tone.”  How does a leader set the tone and environment for his/her employees to be motivated to succeed?  I’d like to share with you a story as well as the lessons I learned from this situation.

During a lot of my career at Chevron, I worked in an open office environment.  During a particular phase of my employment, my cubicle was located very close to a person not on my team.  To protect their identity, I’ll refer to this person as Becky. 

I enjoyed interacting with Becky over a period of 1-2 years.  She was always cheerful.  When she was at work, she was very industrious.  I didn’t see her wasting time with idle chitchat or gossip with other coworkers.

In spite of this, Becky didn’t appear to be having fun at work in her role (or on her team).  Instead of exhibiting a “9 to 5 mentality” (also known as “checking your brain at the door”), I would say she exhibited more of a “8:15 to 4:45” mentality.  Work appeared to be a necessary evil to her – she wasn’t having fun.

While I could tell she was industrious, I could also tell that there was more to Becky than met the eye.  My conversations with her indicated a high intelligence, along with good opinions.  She didn’t feel free to share her opinions, because she didn’t believe her opinion was valued by leaders in her team.

Because of her intelligence, skills, and personality, I wanted Becky on my team.  When a position on my team opened up, I actively recruited her to apply.  She nailed the interview (as I expected), and impressed the selection team.

Once Becky was offered and accepted the position on my team (a lateral move for her), I started applying my personal leadership model (see https://mrhensonllc.com/my-personal-leadership-model/ ).  I spent quite a bit of time getting to know Becky.  I sought her feedback on what types of assignments she enjoyed, and her preferred recognition style.  I also asked for feedback on what I could do as a leader to help make her job more enjoyable.  I also started to understand her sense of humor, and what she enjoyed.  I applied all this information to provide meaningful assignments, appropriate recognition, and the right level of fun on the job.

This information helped me to set Becky up for success and let her excel.  Over time, I witnessed a transformation in her.  She had a “spring in her step” and smiled more at the office.  Her work output consistently exceeded expectations.  She was also willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.  She stepped up in key leadership roles and experiences.  Becky gave me feedback on my leadership that was actionable.  She initially gave this feedback when I asked for it, and grew to proactively share feedback she thought would help me develop.  I appreciated all of her feedback – it truly helped me improve.  The change in her behavior and output was recognized by many leaders in the group.

I learned three key lessons from this experience:

  1. My personal leadership model works!  Becky’s example was one of many applications of this model.  The results were the same: the team achieved success, Becky realized her potential, and I grew my leadership strengths and dealt with my weaknesses.
  2. Motivation is unique to the individual.  What motivated Becky was different that what motivates me, and was different than others on the team.
  3. The leader’s challenge is to find what motivates the individual.  The leader should not deliver “canned motivation” that is the same to everyone.

Becky has since gone on to achieve great things.  She’s confident, happy, and self-assured.  She’s now viewed as a high-performing individual.  She will continue to add value in whatever role she’s in.

I’d love to hear your comments.  Do you have a personal leadership model?  Have you experienced a leader who drew out your unique strengths, values, and goals through motivation that was tailored to you?  How did that work?