One question to determine your focus as a leader

On a recent trip to Chicago, I got to catch up with a friend that I had not seen in 28 years.  We talked about family and the paths of our lives, and as luck would have it, we also talked about leadership.

My friend David has spent many years in software development.  He told me that he had some great bosses and some terrible bosses, but he could always predict the kind of leader they would be by how they answered this question:

“Who is more important, your boss or your employees?”

He said that if people said “their boss”, he knew that there would be micromanaging, political games, under-the-bus throwing, posturing, and general butt-kissing.  Employees were treated as second-class citizens, and they felt it!

On the other hand, if a leader said “my employees” are more important, David said the results were the exact opposite.  He said this meant the focus was on support, development, and growth for the employee, PLUS being an advocate for the employees with the rest of management.

He also went on to tell me about one of his best bosses, who happened to be a terrible “manager”.  David’s examples of this person’s poor management skills were: approving vacation time 6 weeks after the vacation happened, not knowing everything about the software business, and never having a performance review.

“However”, David said, “I never felt like I needed a performance review because I always knew where I stood.  We didn’t need a formal process to let me know how I was doing, my boss communicated that to me just about everyday.  To me, that’s a much better place to be than having a once-or-twice-a-year blindside about your performance because your manager praised you all year instead of being honest about how you could improve.”


The last morsel of leadership goodness we talked about was that David CHOSE to not go into a leadership role during his career. “A lot of people chose the leadership route because it was the only way to make more money.  I didn’t.  I really didn’t have the desire, nor did I feel like I wanted to develop the skill set.”

If you are going into a leadership role because you think you should (but don’t want to), or if you are only in it for the money, chances are you will be more interested in pleasing your boss than your employees.

And now we know how well that turns out…

What do you think? Where is your focus?

Thanks for reading!


About the author: During this visit with David, Matt tried his first “baked pancake”. It was at Richard Walker’s Pancake House just outside of Chicago. Matt got the “Baked Cinnamon Pecan Pancake“. It was pretty amazing!


Need a locksmith or a business lesson?

Meet Joseph Schneider, an enterprising young chap who I met while waiting to board a plane to Las Vegas. Joseph is currently working as a locksmith, and will soon be starting his own locksmith company called Auto Lock Doctor. In case you were wondering… yes, he is going to wear a lab coat!


But this post isn’t an ad or testimonial for ALD, because quite honestly I have never used their service. (At the time of writing, the business wasn’t even open yet.) This also isn’t about the topsy turvy world of the locksmith biz, where Joseph has almost been shot at and once had to refuse service to a 300 lb drunk guy. Instead, this is about a young entrepreneur who didn’t like the way his company was running, so he took matters into his own hands by starting his own business.

When I asked him what he would do differently in his own company, the first word out of his mouth was “professionalism”.

“Our image is everything. The first thing a client sees is our vehicles, they have to look good. Our technicians have to look good, too, not all disheveled and messy.”  (Joseph hesitated getting his picture taken because he had worked the overnight shift and came straight to the airport.)

He continued, “We also have to get our name and face out there. I know a lot of people in the car business, and have built relationships with people who need our services. I’ve gotten involved with some organizations and associations that many companies in this business would never consider partnering with, which is why they are going out of business.”

My natural next question was, why wouldn’t they partner with some of these organizations?

Joseph’s frank and honest answer? “Because they are run by old guys who don’t or won’t listen to new ideas.”

(If you read my last post about generations, you will know that I can’t really blame Joseph for this outlook. And, if you are one of these “old guys”, you just got a clue about engaging the younger generation – listen to their ideas.)

So, Joseph is an entrepreneur with a vision and a business plan. He’s also young, only 23 years old. For those who think the “kids today” have no get-up-and-go, let Joseph be a shining example of how wrong that is.

To give you a little more perspective on Joseph’s outlook and how he might run his business, I want to share the story he told me about how he got his first locksmith job.

Joseph’s Dad was a mechanic, and Joseph himself had worked on a lot of cars in his day. He went with a buddy to see about getting a job at a local locksmith, but was turned away because he was too young. (He was 22 at the time, and this company did not hire anyone under 25). While there, he saw them refuse to help someone who locked the keys in the trunk of a Mercedes. The company didn’t have the capacity to deal with Mercedes, so they didn’t think they could help. Joseph saw this as lost business, and said, “I’ll bet you $50 and a job that I can get that trunk open in less than 2 minutes, without triggering “lock down mode”. (As it implies, lock down mode renders the vehicle completely inoperable and costs $1400 at the Mercedes dealership to fix.) He told them that if it did go into lock down mode, he would pay the $1400. They had nothing to lose.

Joseph got to work. He knew that by removing and replacing some fuses in the right order that it would reset the security system and he could pop the trunk.

Less than 2 minutes later, the trunk was open and Joseph had a job offer.

To me the lessons from Joseph’s story are almost endless.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • If you don’t like your situation, change it. You have the power.
  • Don’t be so stuck in your ways that you can’t listen to new ideas. Not only will your business suffer, but so will your relationships with others.
  • Appearance counts. Professionalism counts. Getting yourself out there counts.
  • People want an opportunity to prove themselves. Don’t allow hidden talents to stay hidden.
  • Take a risk. What’s the worst that can happen?

What else do you take away from this?

Thanks for reading.


About the author: Matt has personally locked his keys in his car while it was running. Oops.