Be the farmer

Be the farmer

I find farming to be a fascinating industry. There is a beauty and calmness to be seen as you drive by a field of growing crops. Underneath that calmness are highly skilled workers, complicated machines, and a focused plan and team to bring it all to life. Today, we’ll look at how our leadership can benefit from being more like a farmer. 

Successful farmers lean into diversity


As a child, I grew up down the road from a peach orchard. Every couple of years there would be news stories of the family and workers starting controlled fires in barrels around the orchard in hopes of keeping the blossoms alive when a severe cold front came through. Sometimes they were successful and some years there were virtually no crops at all. Their entire success or failure rode on one crop and its return on investment was totally out of their control. 

Many successful farmers leverage the power of diversity to better protect their income and also strengthen and increase the value of the land that they own. An example of this is crop rotation. A farmer may plant corn, and they know that the corn takes a lot of nitrogen out of the soil as it matures. Instead of using valuable resources and money to replace the nitrogen after the harvest, they may plant beans in the same spot after the corn is harvested. Beans add nitrogen naturally back to the soil and produce a second layer of income from the same plot of land. 

In the same way, a leader gets more value out of their team when they invest in diverse thoughts and experiences in others. A team composed of the same life experiences, talents, and behavioral traits as each other is like the peach orchard; susceptible to critical failure with just one misstep. A diverse team on the other hand fills in the gaps of the other person, adding value in their own unique way. 

They pull crops at the right time


The time to pull crops can be tricky. Pull too early and the crops haven’t matured/ripened enough and you lose a good bit of value. Wait too late and the crop can be ruined. We all know the speed of business is extremely fast in today’s market and everybody wants things now, including leaders with their expectations for their employees. I could share many examples where I’ve seen a leader promote a person or expand their responsibilities too early resulting in that person leaving the organization and a mess behind them. 

Remember that your people are all growing at a different pace and a timeline that worked for one may not work for another. Slow down, nurture, and support your people on their timelines to help ready them for that next evolution in their work responsibilities and careers. 

Farmers hate weeds just as much as you


No leader looks forward to the problems that happen on the team, just as a farmer hates seeing weeds pop up despite the amount of work that they put in beforehand to prevent them from sprouting. Weeds (problems) are going to happen. Just like a farmer must remove the weeds to maximize their crop, a leader must remove obstacles and problems so that a team can thrive. 

It’s important to be proactive in addressing issues that you see – communications, behavior, and performance among the top themes before they grow into larger, work-stopping issues. Think back to a time when you had to deal with a big conflict or issue involving another person. More than likely you can draw a line back to when the issue had presented itself but had not yet manifested itself into the big issue it was when you finally addressed it. Farmers also know checking on weeds, isn’t a one-time activity, they have to constantly check for new ones that pop up overnight. In the same way, it’s important to consistently check in on your team and do health checks to make sure things are running smoothly, and new problems haven’t popped up in a new spot. 

Farmers are disciplined


On the surface, farming may seem easy – throw some seeds in the ground, wait, collect the crops, and make money. In reality, farming is hard work requiring a very disciplined person who is strategic, a master of time management, and a good people leader in order to turn over a successful crop in a season. If you remove any of those three traits from a farmer the likelihood of being successful drops significantly. You’ll also serve yourself and others well by modeling the same disciplined mindset and leadership style. Previous shows that can help with strategic thinking, time management, and people leaders include:

Follow the farmers’ way of life by being a disciplined leader who is patient and caring with your team, while making sure that you have a diverse mix of talent. You’ll see your team grow and mature in a healthy way and will reap the benefits of your leadership for years to come. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a song

Be a song

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a house that had hundreds of records and there was constantly music being played somewhere in the house. Songs can hold a lot of power too. Hearing a certain song can bring you back to a specific place in time, it can create an emotional response and it can help you focus and motivate you physically to get things done. 

Today we’ll look at the parallels between a great song and fantastic leadership.

Every song has a structure


Every song out there is held together by multiple layers of structure. You have the tempo, which drives the speed of the song, the time signature which dictates the feel of the song, and the key which rules which notes to play. Without those things you don’t have a song, you have noise. 

Think about times that you’ve worked on a team where there wasn’t much formal structure. More than likely there was a little, or a lot, of chaos. Certainly, there was a lack of direction and accountability, and more than likely it either slowed down the team’s ability to get to an objective or perhaps you never arrived at the conclusion that you wanted in the first place.

Here are some tips to ensure you’ve got a strong foundation for your team to make a great impact

  • Be clear on who the leader is, and what everyone’s role and responsibilities are. 
  • Lay out a clear timeline on due dates, progress updates, and meeting cadences. 
  • Communicate where to go for questions and support. 
  • Make yourself available for questions from the team. 
  • Check-in on progress and learn of pain points and hurdles. 
  • Adjust the structure as needed for the team. 

 Don’t beholden yourself to a set structure with no willingness to deviate. One of my favorite kinds of music is math rock. It’s a music style where the musicians are heavily knowledgeable about the rules and structure of music and use that knowledge to mix things up in new, exciting, and unexpected ways. Be willing to mix things up to keep them fresh and relevant while your team rocks its way to success. 

A great song connects emotionally to the listener


There are songs out there that people connect with on a very emotional level. Maybe they connect with the lyrics as it gives them comfort. Perhaps the song represents a specific memory or moment you had that was very important to you. The music itself can even stir or elicit an emotion from you by itself.  A great song connects with your soul in a special way. 

A person’s connection to their team and the work that they do is very influential in whether that person stays or goes somewhere else. In fact, it’s one of the leading reasons why a person leaves their job (SHOW XXX) 

As a leader, you find the ability to connect with others and to emotionally connect people to what they value will serve you very well. Here are some other shows and resources to help you continue that journey.

We’ve talked about the power of storytelling as you are leading and influencing others. Doing so with data is huge. It validates what you are saying. Couple that with an emotional pull and you have people drawn in and connecting to what you have to say. 

A great song is an anthem for others


My wife and I go to a lot of live shows. (Over 125 bands since 2022) No matter who we see there is always a crowd screaming the lyrics back at the singer. Hands in the air, fists pumping, jumping up and down….. the song is their anthem. It’s inspiring to them and drives them on multiple levels. They are all in!

Connecting with a person’s Values to their work is critical. how are you supporting that connection for their success and the success of your business? You’ve got to be a leader worth following – you got to be their proverbial anthem as they march to greatness in their work. Here are some self-reflection questions to help you determine how much of an anthem you are for others.

  • Would people follow you to another job or company?
  • What is your turnover compared to your peers?
  • Do you bring excitement and positive energy into a room or take it away?
  • Do people on your team feel empowered to do what needs to be done?
  • Do people emulate your style and practices?

Remember as your leadership becomes that song that everyone loves to listen to, to make sure that others have a chance to shine and be recognized as well. All the instruments knowing when to step up and when to step back and support also help a great song become even better. 

For another look at the power of music in leadership be sure to check out Show 107 Finding Leadership in Music and Show 367: Be the Record

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a scuba diver

Be a scuba diver

I love scuba diving. Between the calmness of the water, the unique experiences, and how you tune in different parts of your body that you normally don’t pay attention to, it’s a wonderful activity to participate in. 

Last summer, I attended a Scouting leadership conference at the University of Tennessee. During one of the sessions, we taught scuba basics to scouts in the Olympic pool there on campus. It was a great reminder of the leadership principles that we can model after scuba divers. 

Prepare before you jump in


The first thing that you do before exploring underwater is a proper gear check. Does your mask work correctly? Does your tank have air and are the gauges and hoses working properly? Does your vest inflate and deflate as it should? Do your fins feel right? it could be a bad day for you if you just jump in without doing the safety checks first. 

We face the same caution in our professional and personal lives, especially in areas where we are very comfortable. The ability to improvise is a great trait that serves you well in both your work and home life. The issue comes when you overuse that skill. You’re likely to come across as less professional, and your guests aren’t served as well or even consistently. More importantly, in some situations, you can be putting yourself and others in danger. 

Don’t shortcut the prep time and attention to detail that needs to happen to be successful in your role. 

Go slow to enjoy things


Time just seems to move slower underwater. There is so much to see and take in underwater! If you jump and simply swim around as much as possible, then at the end of the day there is really no difference between scuba diving at a coral reef or an Olympic swimming pool.

Life moves fast. In a few short months, we’ll dive into our time management series that gets at a core challenge: How do we manage time for ourselves and others when everyone is so busy? Run! Run! Run! is how many people operate their day (I’m guilty of this at times as well). One of the most important lessons that my mentor taught me early in my career was to slow down and spend time with my people. The work will always be there, if you finish a task another one will be right behind it. Your people however will not always be there. It’s one of the few guarantees of work. Slow down to enjoy and invest in your team. Admire the hard work and progress that the team has made. Taking time to slow down, also gives you a better appreciation of your job and the role that you play. 

Keep close to your team


When diving, you should always have a partner, and your group should always have a team leader that keeps a headcount of where everyone is. Nearly all accidents happen in part because a person was on their own. 

There is certainly a balance that needs to happen between micromanaging (Show 314, 315) and undermanaging (Show 325)
In the middle of that spectrum is a leader that gives their people the space that they need, but also the support that they want in order to be successful. 

  • Have a regular cadence of check-ins that makes sense for you and the other person. 
  • Listen and learn about things going on outside of work. 
  • Observe how they interact and accomplish their work. 
  • Coach in the moment instead of letting things escalate. 

Keeping close to your team is important for the health of the team and the individual. 

Panic = more problems

Sometimes things can get weird while diving. Perhaps the air regulator malfunctions, you get turned around or disoriented, or you have an unexpected encounter with wildlife. The worst thing that you can do as a diver in those moments is to panic because it only agitates the situation further. Divers are trained to remain calm, signal for help, and surface in a timely fashion if it is safe to do so. 

It is guaranteed that things are not going to go your way every day. In those moments of chaos, others will look to you to set the tempo and demeanor. Panic and surely they will as well. Remember to remain calm, and let the initial emotion wash through you as your brain needs a moment to catch up and then react. Your initial reaction is often not the best one. 

Be like the scuba diver. Prepare for your week, take some time to slow down and enjoy the work, spend time with the team, and don’t panic if things go off the rails. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a rower

Be a rower

I love the sport of rowing. It’s exciting to watch the boats as groups of 4-8 rowers work in unison to get the small vessel, sometimes only as wide as your waist, to the finish line. It’s not uncommon for these races to come down to the wire with a second or less separating the leader from other contenders. 

From the training to the race, there are quite a few things that you can model in your leadership based on rowers. 

As Mike and I have taken the journey to get stronger and better shape, one activity that we both have picked up is rowing (on machines in our homes). It’s a fantastic full-body exercise that can be as challenging as you want it to be. 

Rowing is also a great sport to watch and participate in, with races usually coming down to a second or less 

Focus on the present when things get real

All the training is well and good until things get real and the situation doesn’t go as planned. When you think of Olympic-level champions, you may not think of Canada, but they won Olympic Gold at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. 

One of the rowers, Adam Kreek, does a great job of telling an engaging story of their win that day. They raced enough to know that it would take the team 220 strokes to get to the finish line. He tells about the millions of strokes that were put in during the training just for it all to be reduced down to 7 strokes. Don’t worry about the other 213 strokes. Their coach had them put in 7 solid strokes, all out, and then refocus for 7 more. 

There are a lot of distractions going on during the short amount of time that the race happens. (the crowd, the other boats, your teammates, your pain, etc) Adam shares how a distraction got the best of him for just a split second causing him to lose control of his oar. Both he and his called out to focus on the present. He was able to recover and the team moved on to victory. 

Adam’s loss of focus could have easily cost his team the gold. In the military, we are taught that a loss of focus at the wrong time can cost you and others their lives. When a situation gets critical in importance and timing, stress consistency in order to be successful, help your teams stay laser-focused on what is directly ahead of them. One of the teams that I work with were struggling with a project that could have long-term implications for thousands of people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issue was that the debate about the long-term was costing us work on a short-term solution that needed to be settled that week. My mantra became, “Let’s focus on what we have to fix today so that we can have a chance to influence the future.” Once they changed their focus to the present, we were able to knock out a solution in under 24 hrs. 

Embrace a group ego and shared leadership


I firmly believe in the power of servant leadership and the thought of others over self. At the same time, I also believe that there is power in group ego. One of my proudest accomplishments during the operations-focused part of my career was restoring a region that was previously the most respected and highest-performing area but had lost its way. I leaned hard into shared success and touted the pride and honor of being a part of our team. Leaders bought back in and began owning their part of our success. In just two short years, we did it, restoring sales success and lowering turnover tremendously through the process. 

The best rowers embrace the same mentality. Adam owned his error in the race. He called himself out and kept moving forward. That year at the Olympics, the Canadian team was catching all kinds of attention for what was regarded as unsportsmanlike conduct. The guys weren’t provoking anyone, but they were so sure of what they had built that they simply ignored the competition, because they felt the only true competition was themselves – to either win it or lose it. 

Do your people take authentic pride and joy in being a part of your team? Is it propped up in a superficial way or will it wether any proverbial storm? Here are some tactics to begin to instill that in the teams that you are a part of. 

  • Share the vision of where you want to go. Help them see the Why and the future state that you are trying to move towards. 
  • Brag on each other’s progress. 
  • Share examples of how the team is influencing the larger strategy. 
  • Share feedback that you are getting about the team
  • Share customer stories about the group. 
  • Celebrate and spread the news as others reach their career goals as a result of being on the team. 

Create a team of leaders


The Canadian coach would tell Adam and the team that rowing was 90% athletic skill and 10% leadership. He lived that out as the team collapsed during the Olympics prior to their gold medal run.  

The team had the first half of shared leadership down – a strong vision of the goal and how to get there. They lacked the power of the second half – they heavily relied on their coach for inspiration, direction, and accountability. Once they leaned into the power of leadership in each other, they unlocked a whole new level of potential. They no longer needed the coach to call out opportunities. Each was brave enough to do it themselves. The team’s point person ebbed and flowed depending on the situation and individual strength of the other rowers on the team. 

Serve your team by building a group of leaders that is not dependent on your singular focus and vision. Your team will be better served, more adaptable, and have higher success as a result. 

Sometimes success comes down to the inches and the details of the work that you and others do for your shared success. Adam’s team won the gold medal by a little over one second, which equates to 220 inches. How many strokes did it take the team from beginning to end? 220! They beat the next-best team by one inch per stroke. 

Build pride in your team, help everyone own their responsibility, lower the focus down as things get challenging, and create shared leadership along the way. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH

Be a dolphin

Be a dolphin

Dolphins are loved across the world for their intelligence, playfulness, and curiosity. You’ll likely be hard-pressed to find a person who has a grudge against dolphins unless you are John Oliver.  There are several things that we can learn from dolphins to apply to our own leadership and life walks. 

They put others above themselves


Dolphins are very social in nature. As opposed to sharks, who live a solitary life, dolphins live in and operate in groups, called pods, ranging in size from 5 – 30. They live, eat, and sleep together and will always come to protect others in their pod where there is danger.  They understand the importance of the group and will put themselves in danger in order to help others. 

Do you find yourself living and working a solitary life like the shark, or do you do your best to contribute and raise the value of the whole team? Spend some time today thinking about your contributions to the teams that you are a part of. Celebrate those partnerships and the impact that you are having! We’ve done a number of shows on teamwork including:

They openly share knowledge and information


Another great quality about dolphins is their willingness and ability to teach others in their pod. Older dolphins will focus on hunting skills and other activities and attributes for younger dolphins to thrive as they grow. 

It’s said that knowledge is power and that is certainly true. Some co-workers will leverage knowledge as collateral in their role, hoarding info for a sense of power and safety. The behavior is rooted in a sense of safety; if I am the only one that knows how to do a task, then I should be invaluable. 

Good leaders and partners know the power of letting go of knowledge instead of hoarding it for themselves. You often can make yourself more promotable by showing that you have developed your replacement as you interview for the next role. Openly sharing your skills and knowledge also provides you an opportunity to delegate tasks and responsibilities that free you up to do new and different things yourself. 

They shift leadership responsibilities


Dolphins are very social and even though they live in pods, there is no clear-cut leader based on seniority or dominance. Leadership is fluid and natural. The leader will change depending on the situation around them and the strengths and abilities of the individuals in the group. They are egoless in nature, willing to step up and lead when needed but also just as willing to give up the spotlight and let another member of the pod shine. 

I love this approach to leadership and often try to model it in my own life. Give those around you a chance to shine and lead when the situation is right. I will look for opportunities for the junior members of my teams and those I work with a chance to take on a part of the project or at speaking opportunities in front of a senior leadership group in order for them to get experience and recognition. The other bonus is that they often are the subject matter expert or they bring a whole host of knowledge and experience to the table that I do not have, which only makes the solution to the problem all the more stronger. 

They are playful & curious


You’ve probably seen videos, or even experienced for yourself, the playfulness and curiosity of dolphins. They are known to check out passing ships in the wild, they enjoy playing in waves, and all around enjoy their lives.

Life is full of change and it seems like we are always in multiple serious world events happening at the same time. Add that on top of all the challenges that happen to you as an individual and it can get overwhelming. Remember to enjoy the small moments that happen throughout the day. I’ve been in a season of constant meetings, so for me having a chance to spend a few moments with my sweet little dog between meetings is great. Also, be mindful to set a block of time every day to do something for yourself that you enjoy. That may be some exercise, a hobby, or watching a show among other things. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of time, anything to help break up your day and to give your mind a chance to engage in a different way is helpful. 

Be the dolphin by leaning into the power of teamwork, freely give your knowledge away, let go of ego while leading, and remember to take some time to have some fun along the way. 

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH