What is one of the most important accomplishments of a successful top executive? Leverage: The top goals of the company are delivered by an empowered team that is healthy, functioning well as a team, rowing the same direction, and doing so without the top executive having to do any role other than his/her own. That is top-drawer healthy leverage!
One thing is for sure, though, when we delegate and elevate into our proper role as a top executive, the team reporting to us will make mistakes. These wrecks and mistakes are healthy so long as we are:
- Going the right direction
- In the optimal structure with the right seats and roles defined
- And the right people in those seats
If we meet these three best practice criteria, then the mistakes and crashes will help us grow. Thus the saying, “If we aren’t wrecking, we aren’t riding!”
Leverage: The top goals of the company are delivered by an empowered team that is healthy, functioning well as a team, rowing the same direction, and doing so without the top executive having to do any role other than his/her own.
Isn’t it funny how we learn things when we are kids that come back into focus as adults? Many years ago my older brother and I were learning to ride motorcycles at our aunt’s farm in South Alabama. We had a blast riding motorcycles! Obviously my brother being almost four (4) years older than me meant he was leading, and I was following. He had a bigger bike, a faster bike, and he was better at riding it. I remember coming back from a ride and finally catching up with him. I was a bit tentative weaving through the trees on tight trails. I pulled up next to him and my bike was relatively clean. My brother’s motorcycle was covered in mud. So was he. His handle bars were slightly bent. He had some blood on his elbow. He was smiling like a Cheshire cat! We took off our helmets and he said, “Whew! That was awesome.” Somewhat perplexed I responded, “But you look like you busted it a few times. You are bleeding! Look at you handle bars.” My older brother simply smiled and said, “Mel. If you aren’t wrecking, you aren’t riding!” We put our helmets back on, cranked up, and off we went again. That resonated with me. He was right. I got bolder knowing that it was not only alright if I failed a little, but also expected if I was to ever get better.
Mistakes on a motorcycle usually end up in laying the bike down on a trail, or hitting a tree. It applies to our business as well. Needless to say we had more fun riding once I accepted the fact that if I was not wrecking a little along the way, I was not really riding very hard.
So let’s assess that brief encounter that holds great truth and power for championship cultures. My older brother had much more confidence. He trusted his motorcycle and himself as the rider to ride hard and do great things on his motorcycle. I, much younger and more timid, was interpreting a successful motorcycle ride as not taking risks, taking it slower, and coming back unscratched. I did not know the motorcycle well. I did not know my abilities well. So I rode timidly. After our little conversation, I began to realize that it was acceptable to try harder and make a mistake. Mistakes on a motorcycle usually end up in laying the bike down on a trail, or hitting a tree. It applies to our business as well. Needless to say we had more fun riding once I accepted the fact that if I was not wrecking a little along the way, I was not really riding very hard.
“Mel. If you aren’t wrecking, you aren’t riding!” He cranked up and off we went again. That resonated with me. He was right. I got bolder knowing that it was not only alright if I failed a little, but also expected if I was to ever get better.
Tips for how to apply the lesson of If you are not wrecking, you are not riding to the leadership of our company:
- Delegation implies letting go of the vine. The vehicle we command in our business as the top executive requires multiple drivers, thinkers, decision makers and doers. So the very essence of leadership requires delegation and elevation. It is an absolute fact that delegation will test us because people will make mistakes. They will crash. The hard charging go-getters will have some doozie wrecks! We have to accept and make it acceptable for these wrecks and mistakes to occur. It is part of growing people. What functions at the top healthily duplicates healthily as it proliferates down into the ranks. Likewise, though, what is dysfunctional at the top proliferates down into the ranks as dysfunctional. If the top executive is healthy in his/her ability to structure wisely, staff wisely and then allow freedom of the role to be done by another person, then that is healthy. Wrecks will happen. Lessons will be learned. It will blossom as part of the culture.
- If our leadership team is empowered to make decisions and take some acceptable risks, then their respective team members will see that it is allowed for them, too, to take some well intended risks. What is our response to mistakes and “wrecks” created by our team? Our folks are watching. It is very healthy if they see us embrace the person and coach the improvement. So it is a healthy culture where people can take some risks and know that we have their backs when they have predictable wrecks along the way.
- Make sure our direct reports are going the right direction, and fix failures quickly. Fast-fail is a good thing. So long as we are going the right direction, on top-priority goals, then a failure is simply a learning opportunity. Get back up, dust off, discuss what happened, get them back on the track and wait for the next wreck.
- The window of opportunity closes on slow and scared riders. We want our leaders and their respective leaders to be confident, to take smart risks, to be aggressive and to get through the windows of opportunity before the windows close. I can assure you that mistakes and wrecks will happen in this type of empowered culture. The key is to be very dialed in on goal setting. Have strong weekly meetings whereby directions are known and opportunities and risks are discussed in weekly intervals. We run a one week sprint and reconvene. This helps us true-up our goals, and minimize the risk of wrecks. Accountability is a good thing, but so is empowering the team to learn, grow, and get better through mistakes.
- A-Players want to be coached so that they can advance, mature and take on even more responsibility. In order for us to have an enterprise that attracts, retains and advances these star players, we need to have a culture that allows them to go hard and run into a ditch every now and then. There is an element of trust in empowerment.(Please remember my definition of trust from this previous blog post). Top performers relish being in a culture where they can fast-fail, adjust, and recover. They want to be led, managed, and coached to master the terrain. It is exhilarating for them.
- Command a healthy, functional, winning senior table. When the senior leadership team has a solid vision, annual plan, quarterly plans, a healthy weekly meeting cadence, and a solid meeting agenda whereby 60% of the meeting is solving top priority issues, then empowerment and leverage will prosper. Hard riding will be encouraged, and wrecks along the way will be accepted and coached. This is where EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) is incredible.
- Please remember that I see business in the ideal prism of best practice. We have a current state and an ideal state. I coach the delta and how to traverse to the ideal. So for this blog post, we are discussing a culture that already practices wise and sound business methods. If a culture is not healthy and is lacking in some key best practices, then we probably do not want to start with wrecking! We need to understand a general order of growth from beginner best practices to advanced best practices. It is critical that the best practices below be part of the culture and fabric of the company in order for the best practice of If you are not wrecking, You are not riding to make sense:
- Structure First/People Second.
- Right People/Right Seats.
- Vision, Core Values, Goal Setting all dialed in.
- Regular, healthy, weekly management and departmental meetings occurring where IDS takes 60% of the meeting time.
- No Problem Worship.
- No King Cobras in the Baby Crib.
- Solutions are pushed up and Problems are pushed down.
- Monkey Management – Delegation in motion and ownership of problems is healthy
In closing, there is so much opportunity for us as top executives to infuse more health and prowess into our companies. Remember, those of us that moved into leadership roles were allowed to take risks, get in over our heads, and learn. We were allowed to wreck, get back on the bike and ride. Good leadership, management, and accountability are guard rails on high performing, a-player leaders.
Until next time, cheers!