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.
When I revamped my hiring process this spring, I had to change so many things. First and foremost was my attitude about who I wanted on my team. I then had to decide how I would attract those types of people.
I learned about the attitude I should have in hiring from another book I have referenced before, Start With Why by Simon Sinek.
One of the author’s themes in this book is that you have to appeal to people who believe what you believe.
Simon shares a story that demonstrates the right way to recruit.
In 1914, an adventurer named Ernest Shackleton set out with a team of 27 men to cross the Antarctic continent, which had never before been done. They didn’t accomplish their mission. After many storms and being trapped in the ice on their boat for 10 months, they traveled hundreds of miles in their life boats to find help.
Eventually they were saved, and all of them survived the ordeal. Simon, in his book, says that this wasn’t luck, but an example of a great hiring process in action.
Before the expedition, Shackleton ran an ad in the London Times for his crew. He didn’t offer benefits. Simon says that he didn’t offer paid time off or amazing pay. This is what Shackleton’s ad said:
“Men wanted for Hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”
If you advertise for the right type of people, the others will weed themselves out.
Ernest Shackleton got the right men for the job because that’s who he asked for.
Who do you want on your expedition? Are you asking the right questions?
I met a horse whisperer tonight.
I have actually known him for years, but had never really talked to him about what he does and how he does it.
We were at a social function and I was standing there, with Larry the cowboy, chatting about nothing in particular. Then I asked him about his work.
His eyes lit up and he talked non stop about his passion and his work with animals and people for 30 minutes at least. He told me things about horses and leading them that I had learned elsewhere about leadership in general. In fact, he uses them to rehabilitate people who are challenged in life for one reason or another. He teaches them to develop a healthy relationship with a horse in a day, and then they can take those lessons and use them with people for the rest of their lives.
Three of the leadership lessons I learned from him tonight are:
1) Look the horse in the eye. You have to build a relationship of trust with the animal, and the eye is the portal to trust.
2) Become the horse’s friend. Exude positive energy. Be positive in your interactions. Smile, laugh, praise often, and reward positive responses.
3) Have boundaries. Don’t let the horse be too familiar. Draw a line and let them know you are still their leader and need respect.
Now I know most leaders don’t lead animals, but lead humans. There is a difference. But I had never thought of the similarities before now.
As Larry was passionately describing his philosophy, I kept thinking how much he loves his work, and how he helps horses and their owners with his teaching. The more he told me, the more I learned about horses and about leadership.
Maybe we’re not so different after all.
How can you apply these lessons to those you lead?
I have rediscovered the power of knowledge. Not just generally learning something new, or going to school or reading a book. I discovered that knowing yourself is the most powerful knowledge you can ask for.
I posted about the Strengths-Based leadership book and philosophy a few weeks ago. Recently, in addition to learning about my strengths, I was introduced to the DISC personality profiles. This was another piece of the puzzle for me. I knew people were unique, but having a name for their tendencies helped me know how to better relate and communicate with others.
I learned that I have a stabilizing personality. I learned about the abilities I have in that regard and also the challenges that I bring upon myself.
I also learned how people are different. If you recognize that people respond differently to certain situations and why, it can help in leadership tremendously.
The DISC profile is divided into four categories, and one person may have any combination of these in varying degrees:
D: is Decisive. Quick to action, not overly concerned with people’s feelings.
I: is Influencer. Engages with people readily, and people are drawn to their personalities. They are funny or just talkative.
S: is Stabilizer. Great listeners, careful of others feelings, methodical decision makers.
C: is Cautious. The ultimate rule-follower. Studious and has great concern for “the right way” of doing things. Detail-oriented for sure.
When I learned about these types of personalities, I could see where my results were accurate in myself, but I could see where my wife’s results were spot-on for her too.
It opened up a new vocabulary to me, and I could see things and name personalities right away.
I had my team take the profile quiz, and we learned about how we can work together better. And we do. It’s great to be able to communicate about this with our team, and regarding how to communicate with clients. We have a language we can use now that was untapped before.
Learning about my own personality has helped me open up and communicate with my team more effectively. They have also learned how to work more effectively with me and each other.
Have you ever taken a personality test, like the DISC test? Were the results accurate?