Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Role Of A Leader

It was 36 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a pretty good football player in high school, not a star, but at least one the key starters. I played nose guard on defense and when we were in the red zone close to the goal line I would sometimes go in as a running back to punch the ball across the line. I was a big guy even back in high school, a good athlete, but not the best… then everything changed.

In my senior year the head coach came to me and said that he was going to make me the captain of the defensive squad. I was excited, honored, and proud… I was going to be one of the team captains! Then he explained something about my role as a captain. He said, “John, if you’re going to be one of the captains you have to lead by example. You’re going to need to work harder than everyone else, play the best you’ve ever played and help the rest of the team to be excellent. That means coming to practice early, studying the playbook, supporting the coaches, working hard in the weight room and always coming in in the top three on sprints and long runs.” As I said earlier, I was a pretty big guy in high school, I think the word would be fat, and I had never, ever come in anywhere close to the top three on any running drill. Coach must have seen the fear in my eyes and said, “You can do this Bear (my nickname in high school), I have confidence that you can stand up and be a real leader for this team. Can I count on you?” I immediately answered, “Yes Sir.”

The next day, after the coach announced that I was one of the team captains, I started coming in in the top three in every drill. I ran faster than I ever had, I pushed myself harder than I ever had, every time I got tired I just kept saying to myself, “I’m the captain, I have to set the pace, I have to lead by example.” The metamorphosis was amazing, I literally changed my performance, dramatically, overnight. That’s when I realized it… I could have done it all along. Apparently, I had always possessed the ability to run fast and for long distances, but when I was just one of the guys on the team it was easy to come in last, there was always a few of us “heavy guys” bringing up the rear. But the minute I accepted a role as a leader I knew that everybody on the team was watching, all the coaches would be watching, everyone in the school would be watching me, and I could not let them down.

It is the same thing in my business career when I’m running a company I understand that I live under a microscope. My team sees everything I do, they see what I don’t do, they hear what I say, and they hear what I do not say. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – everything you do has an impact on how you are perceived as a leader. I love this, because it pushes me to perform better than I might on my own, just like on the football team I have to run faster, work harder, do more homework and deliver the highest level of excellence I can, because if I didn’t I couldn’t ask anyone else on my team to do it either.

Over the years, based on this experience, I have developed my own definition of leadership.

“Leadership is being a living example of what you hope your followers will one day become.”

I hope you found this helpful and will share it with your network. Thanks – John

 

Do You Have A Team Charter?

I have been teaching quite a few high-performance teams workshops in the last several months and have been surprised to discover that not one group I worked with had ever created a “team charter.” By this I mean, a written list of rules and expectations that the team all agrees to and guides the way they work together. I believe this is an essential document to help people clearly understand their role on the team, what behavior is appropriate and what things will not be tolerated. Without a charter, members of the group are simply guessing at how they are supposed to act and behave together as a team, leading to assumptions, politics, rumormongering, conflict, lack of accountability and ultimately lack of results. To help your organization avoid these issues here are a few ideas of what a team charter might look like:

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review recommended that a team charter should include these basic foundational tenets:

  • I agree to be on time, realizing everyone’s time is limited and extremely valuable.
  • I agree to show respect to every other member of the team and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • I agree to give my best effort in accomplishing every task, the team’s mission, and our shared purpose.
  • I agree not to engage in any gossip about my team members and to put a stop to it if I encounter it.
  • I agree to communicate early and often pertaining to any time off needed for my personal life.
  • I agree to handle disputes, perceived offenses, or conflicts with dignity and professionalism.

This is the charter from a nonprofit organization I worked with:

  • Be accountable
  • Think before you speak
  • Ask for clarification
  • Set clear expectations
  • Treat people with dignity and respect
  • Empathy
  • Ask for help
  • Be direct and loving
  • Look for the positive first
  • Create safety zones where people can be honest in their feedback without fear of retribution
  • Be present
  • Check up on folks
  • Helpful and supportive
  • Communicate professionally
  • Spend time together
  • Have fun

This list is from a manufacturing company that I assisted:

  • Listen to each other with an open mind without interruption
  • Share knowledge, information, and experience with those who can benefit
  • Take key decisions based on reasoning, not rank
  • Express concerns only to those responsible for dealing with them
  • A responsibility culture, not a blame culture
  • Base our work on the ‘customer’
  • Strive for continuous improvement
  • Behave with integrity
  • Positively challenging dishonesty or destructive behavior
  • No ego

These are just a few ideas to help you in creating your team charter, however, it is essential that you develop a written, clear, and well-communicated charter that everyone on the team is fully committed to and agrees to support at all times. Without this document, it is impossible to build and sustain a high-performance team.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments and if you found value in this article I hope you will share it with your entire network.

Thanks so much – John

How To Lead Four Generations At Work

A great new book from Kelly and Robby Riggs.

Buy it from Amazon HERE

Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.

 

Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!

Questions:

  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.

 

Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

How to Get the Best Talent for Your Company

The last video I posted was on the importance of having top talent in your organization (here is a link). I got a great follow-up question from my friend Brandon West the owner of PHOS Creative (the company that does our digital marketing) asking: “Do you have any resources that would be helpful to us in starting a stronger recruitment initiative? Sites, books, tools, contacts, etc.” Instead of writing him a long email, I decided to just shoot this video with my best ideas on how to find, hire and retain top talent.

Please send me any business or leadership questions you have and I’ll be happy to shoot a video with my best ideas and suggestions.

I hope you will share this video with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

Here is the book I talked about from Geoff Smart and Randy Street – I very highly recommend it.

A very important question…

What is Your Philosophy of Business?

Here is a powerful idea that is fundamental to creating a culture of accountability…

 

 

**** The Australia events have passed ***

 

 

Several people have asked to see the pyramid I mentioned in the video — here are two of the slides I developed for this program – hope these help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google Research on Key Habits of Top Managers and Leaders

Here is some really powerful information on what it takes to be a highly effective manager and leader. It is based on a Google research project that looked at 10,000 of their top employees. I urge you to take a few minutes to watch the video – I think you will find it very helpful.

Also, please share this video with anyone you feel would find value in the ideas I cover, I believe these concepts can help a lot of people to be more successful.  Thank you very much – John

Remember to share this with your network

*** If you have not read it yet, here is a link to download my short eBook on how to build and sustain a winning culture – for FREE!

 

 

 

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The Single Most Important Leadership Characteristic

For more than 20 years I have taught leadership at startup companies to the Fortune 50 and the single most important trait for highly effective leaders has always been the exact same thing. I can show you dozens of major research studies from around the world, representing millions of respondents, and they all say the exact same thing. When I teach classes on leadership and ask the attendees what they look for in a leader they would willingly follow, it’s always the exact same thing…

HONESTY

However, it is getting harder and harder for people to believe this.  In nearly every arena; business, politics, religion, science, education…there are “leaders” who have no problem lying. I’m not talking about small mistruths, or perhaps twisting the facts a little bit, I’m talking about boldface, in-your-face, complete and utter lies. So-called “leaders” who can look you straight in the eye and tell you something that they know is absolutely false.

I am NOT taking any sides here. Every side of everything now has people who seem to have no regard for the truth and are willing to say anything, no matter how outlandish, to advance their position. When I open the floor for questions at my events, inevitably someone will ask, “If telling the truth is so important, then why do we have so many leaders who don’t?” My response: “I don’t know. It does not make any sense to me. I would not consider those people leaders; however, they are in leadership positions. I don’t understand how people like that rise to the top positions in organizations. It drives me crazy.”

The Death of Honesty?

I refuse to believe that we have come to a place in society where lying is an acceptable, even expected, behavior. I’m at the point where I question the validity everything I hear and read and that is painful and frustrating. It makes me physically tired to listen to the news and hear the constant stream of stories about “leaders” who have been lying, cheating, stealing, killing… and mostly getting away with it. I cannot fathom the damage this has done to our society and the example it is setting for our youth. It terrifies me to think about a generation of young people who have been raised watching authority figures lie, and then lie about their lies.

But I believe there is a solution and it starts with you and me.

Now more than ever I feel that it is essential to be a living example of honesty and integrity. It is only through modeling these behaviors, in even the most challenging situations, that we can demonstrate that character, authenticity and truth telling are truly the most essential characteristics of leadership. We need to make more of an effort to highlight and showcase successful leaders who build great companies on a foundation of honesty, fairness respect and generosity. We also need to call out “leaders” when they are dishonest, when they mislead us, and hold them accountable for their destructive actions and behaviors.

This will not be easy. There is a tsunami of misinformation, lies, fake news and manipulation coming from all directions. Again, I am not taking any sides here, I am simply saying that it is up to you and me to hold ourselves to the highest standard of honesty and integrity in our personal and business lives. I will end with one of my favorite value statements, from one of the greatest leadership institutions in the world, West Point.

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Sounds like a good plan to me.

 

For more of John’s ideas on leadership here is a link to his book