When I was in the Coast Guard, I spent two years stationed aboard the tall ship Eagle. Although the ship was a sailing barque, it did have an engine (we named it Elmer), and I worked in the engine room. The way the engine worked on the Eagle was this. When the ship was under sail, the propeller shaft was disengaged from the engine and spun freely so as not to create drag. Sometimes the engine would be running, and sometimes not, but when we were under sail it had no effect on the forward movement of the ship. But if the Captain ordered the engine to be engaged, we pulled a heavy lever called the Sail Clutch which engaged the propeller shaft to the reduction gears connecting it to the engine.
Imagine your organization as that ship – an organization you want to move forward. Your leadership efforts are like the engine – good old Elmer, and your employees are like the propeller. It doesn’t matter if the engine is at full speed, unless the engine is connected to the propeller it will not move the ship. If you are working at full speed but not connected to your employees, you’ll fail to make any progress. By the way, no one will stop you. They’ll just let you keep on running at full speed wasting your energy for no purpose. You need to find your own sail clutch to engage your employees. Find a way to connect your hard work with their potential. The best sail clutch to engage your employees is clear, assertive communication. Don’t leave room for guessing.
Engagement happens with individuals not groups. It happens one day at a time, not overnight. Find out what is important to them. Have conversations about that even if it’s not work related. Listen, really listen. No multi-tasking while they are talking. Look them in the eye when you are talking to them, not over your shoulder while you’re typing on your computer. No trying to tell better stories. They don’t care about your stories. If they send you an email, please respond (even if you don’t think it’s a question). Get out of your office and go to their work area to reduce formality. A better connection always occurs when you go to them rather than waiting for them to come to you. Ask questions, and then ask follow up questions. It’s not that hard, but it does require inititive – yours.
One third of high school graduates never read another book in their life after high school. Over 42% of college graduates never read another book after graduation. With so few readers, is there any wonder that there is a leadership vacuum in the United States? I read non-fiction books all the time, and still feel I don’t read enough. I constantly scan Amazon for new leadership related books, and visit bookstores when I travel to my presentations, continually searching for that new concept or idea I can pass along to my audiences. If you want to become a committed student of leadership (and you should), you need to read – a lot. You don’t always have to agree with the whole book or any of it for that matter. There is no requirement to “Drink the Kool-Aid” as some might say. Just search for those little gems – those tiny take-a-ways that might make reading the whole book worth your valuable time. Sometimes it’s just a single page or a sentence – maybe an abstract concept, but there’s almost always something of value in any non-fiction book you read.
I learned the importance of reading leadership books from people like Gordon Graham – one of my law enforcement leadership mentors. Gordon even gave me advice on how to read leadership books, and that advice was reemphasized by one of my favorite authors and fellow National Speaking Association member – Larry Winget.
In his book “Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life” Larry offers some great reading suggestions. I’ve summarized Larry’s ideas here and combined them with Gordon’s and my own. Here are seven basic rules for reading leadership books.
- Buy the book. Don’t borrow it from the library or a friend. They’re not that expensive. They are simple a tool, and you need your own tools.
- Mark it up. Use a highlighter to mark those sections that are important to you. Use a pen to write in the margins. Always read your books with a highlighter and pen.
- Don’t loan anyone your books. See rule #1. You’ll probably never get it back, and if they follow rule #2, it will have highlighted sections that are important to them and not you.
- Read several books at one time. It’s OK to have bathroom books, travel books, and books on the night stand all at the same time. Some books (and locations) are more conducive to a very short read, and some are better for a long read (like on a plane). Be a sponge and soak up the information wherever you are.
- If you decide the book has nothing to offer you, don’t be afraid to stop reading that book part way through it. Just pick up a new book and start fresh. You don’t have to force yourself to complete really bad books. Time is too valuable and there are too many good books to read.
- Set aside reading time each day. An hour is ideal, but even 15 minutes is better than nothing. Everyone can find some time during the day whether it’s an official “reading time”, or just a few minutes at breakfast, at bedtime (or in the bathroom).
- Go through your old non-fiction books once each year. Just read the highlighted parts, and the notes you wrote in the margins.
To download a free PDF version of my Leadership Reading List, go to www.ronglidden.com/contact-info.html
Chief Ron Glidden
Have you ever worked with a morale killer? You know who I’m talking about – those people who suck every bit of enjoyment out of your job. They can be found everywhere – in every size organization. They thrive on negativity and promote low morale. They cause reduced productivity, burnout, stress, sick time abuse, employee turnover, conflicts between coworkers, and negative interactions with the public. They drain your energy and your budget. They exist for lots of reasons, but the sad truth is we allow them to spread their poison in our organizations because we hate confrontation – at least with coworkers and subordinates. We may have to tolerate negative attitudes (we can’t write a policy that forces everyone to be happy), but when attitudes evolve into unacceptable behavior, real leaders draw the line. Don’t tolerate behavior you determine to be unacceptable in your workforce. If you want to improve morale, you must hold people accountable.
Chief Ron Glidden (Ret.)