In ancient history, Athens was at war with Sparta. After Athens survived the plague, and yearly attacks on her homeland, the people began to regain confidence. The Spartans had agreed to a ceasefire of sorts for a few years. Athens decided it was time to flex some muscle and become the ultimate power in the Mediterranean. They would do it by defeating Syracuse on the island of Sicily, hundreds of miles away.
Athens had trained the greatest navy of the ancient world, they built the grandest galleys, and had the best rowers.
But Athens had a bad habit of killing their generals when they lost. In an effort to enhance their chances, they sent three generals with equal authority on this expedition, Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus.
When the Athenians drew close to Sicily, the Athenians should have attacked directly, taking the Syracusans unprepared. But the three generals could not make a decision, one wanted to wait to gain allies, one wanted to attack, and the other, Alcibiades, was recalled to stand trial in Athens.
Alcibiades, it turns out instead of returning to his homeland, went to the enemy, Sparta. There he encouraged the Spartan assembly to join the Syracusans and fight against Athens in Sicily.
As a result, after three years and hundreds of miles, the campaign was lost, as was the whole of the expeditionary force. The galleys sunk, the survivors hunted down in the Sicilian wilderness.
Athens was on its way to ultimate defeat.
I have had times when I have struggled to make a decision, I know the clock is ticking, and that I need to make the call. But my personality dictates that I wait, and think, for a a few minutes at least.
I remember earlier in my career, I would make decisions about staffing, or about hours or pay with my team members out of fear. I was afraid they would sue me if I did something wrong. Don’t ask me where I got that idea, it just seemed to be the case.
I was afraid of making a mistake, and I was afraid of making someone mad. In doing so, I made some people mad anyway. It seems that some people will get mad no matter what you do. I gave an employee a raise once, because I thought she was expecting one, we couldn’t really afford to do it, so it was a small raise. She threw the biggest fit that she got such a small raise. The whole time I am thinking, I should have not given you the raise, then you could still be upset and I could keep my money too.
By making decisions out of fear, I hindered my ability to hire and work with the team I wanted. I slowed down the growth and progress of my business.
I hope I have learned from the Athenians that I can empower people to make decisions and that they won’t be penalized if they do their best. Learn from our mistakes, and don’t scare away your best team members because you’re afraid.
Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.
I saw Larry the cowboy again this last week. He attends my church, so I usually see him on Sundays. But seeing him this time reminded me of some more lessons he shared with me on horsemanship, and leadership.
He told me that horses, like people, need a few things to be effective companions and good workers.
Security. A safe place. Somewhere they can be comfortable and not feel harassed or in danger.
Friendship. Someone to talk to and get to know outside of the professional sphere.
A Leader. Not being afraid of confrontation. Knowing where you want to go and sharing that.
He also described one way he uses Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits in leading and rehabilitating his horses. He told me that he never appreciated the Seven Habits until he thought one day about his horses and how he could use it with them.
He said to First Seek to Understand. Before acting on a certain behavior, find out why, or what is causing the behavior. And then you can address the source, and not just the symptom.
Lastly, he said something that showed to me his passion for his profession. He said that a horse and a man are the ultimate team. They were meant to work together. They complement each other’s strengths and buoy up the weaknesses.
In summary, I learned from him that if I can provide security, friendship and be a leader, my team will be happy. If I seek to understand before I intervene, I will more likely help than hurt. And if the right team comes together, they can be…
I have owned my own business for 5 years and I thought I knew how to hire people. Then I looked back at my record, and realized how wrong I was.
In my past, I had hired and let several people go in my few short years in business. I never felt (with a couple of exceptions) I had the right people on board. I had learned early on, that if someone didn’t fit, that I shouldn’t hold onto them for too long. I knew they could do a lot of damage to my business. But I almost always ended up in the same situation a few months later after we had hired somebody else.
To borrow a metaphor from Jim Collins, I was good at getting the wrong people off the bus, but I kept inviting their friends right back on.
Dave Ramsey teaches in his book and lectures entitled EntreLeadership, that business owners need to:
1. Take more time hiring. Three or four times as long. And make it an involved process.
So what if you miss out on some opportunities on the way, because guess what: if you hire the wrong person too quickly, you will have to let them go and then start over anyway. I learned that I should take the time up front and avoid the turnover I had been experiencing.
Dave Ramsey also explains his process in-depth in his book, but I will share a couple of my favorites:
2. Do you like them?
I had hired people before that I did not want to invite over to my house. I didn’t want to spend extra time with them. Hello! If that wasn’t a clue, I don’t know how much clearer a sign I needed. Don’t waste time working with people you don’t like, especially if you hired them.
3. The spousal interview
In my last round of hiring, my wife and I took out our final candidates and their spouses to dinner. A double date, essentially. It was great, we got to see them interact in a social setting, and we got to see that they weren’t married to “crazy” as Dave Ramsey puts it.
We have worked hard in our business to develop a certain culture and we wanted to introduce new people who would respect and improve it, not drag it down. We succeeded in that regard so far, and actually like to have our team over to our house occasionally.
What successes or failures have you had hiring or being hired?
I loved my DVR when I had cable. Not only could I watch my shows when I wanted to, but I could do something even more profound.
I could skip the commercials.
I could circumvent the negative side of television. It felt like I was cheating, almost. Why is that? What is so disdainful about the commercial breaks, and their attention-grabbing tactics?
It’s the interruption.
I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s 1999 book, “Permission Marketing“, and even though it is a little dated, he describes some concepts that are more true now than ever before.
Seth describes the dilemma of all marketers. He says that they are trying to grab the limited time and attention of the public. He says that “interruption marketers” try to take your attention away from your interest any time they can. If you are watching TV, they interrupt your program. If you are reading a magazine, they try to grab your eye as you turn the page. Or they pop up on your computer. I think of it as the type of marketing that people complain about. The annoying ads…
On the other side, “permission marketers” are trying to build a relationship with you. Instead of counting on love at first sight and running off to the wedding chapel, a permission marketer would go on a few dates first and then ask you to marry him.
In permission marketing, the person has to “opt-in” in order to receive material from you as the marketer. They have to give their permission because they are interested already. You have provided something of value for them, information, entertainment…and now they want more.
This process takes time, Seth Godin says you build these relationships by turning strangers into friends and friends into customers. He also says that this takes a leap of faith. It takes faith to put away the TV ads, the direct mail, and actually get to know people. Slow down and build trust with people, it can pay off in the end.
This can apply to a leader and her team as well. If she spends time with and gets to know the members of her team, they will trust her. She can help them reach their goals.
How can you focus on relationships to turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers?