April 2013 Pearls of Professional Wisdom

John, at the beginning
of his 34-year career
Words from the Wise
Mr. John Cole

Recent Retiree, former Executive in the Defense Industry
April 2013

This guy, my dad, has given me a lot of good advice over the years. Personally, but especially professionally.   This month, in honor of his retirement, I'd like to share some pearls of wisdom I've collected from him over the years.  Each of these warrants elaboration, which is why I told him he should write a book!

On working with others:

Respect everyone for their contribution, regardless of role or rank.

Be the most positive and enthusiastic person you know; no one likes a wall-hugger.

Be of few words, succinct and well-spoken, never offering too much information or wasting people's time. Tell people things on a need-to-know basis.

Never cry about work, at work.

Work is about people.  Smile in the hallways. Make a point to remember people's names, their spouses' names and kids' names.  Sit with different people in the lunch room and get to know them.

On performance:

Focus on performing well rather than looking good.

Proofread your emails before you send them and always write in complete sentences. Compose every email as though it could be forwarded to the president of the company.

Support your boss.  If you can't or won't, get a different job.

Silent disobedience is a cancer to an organization.  If you have something to say, say it.

Ethics and Integrity trump Outcome.  When deciding how to handle a situation, consider how your behavior would look as a headline in the local paper.  Otherwise known as the 'what would my mother say' litmus test.

Do what makes sense and make decisions based on common sense, not on organizational politics.

On leadership:

Good leaders direct ego away from the self and promote the success of the whole organization.

Senior leadership is in place to empower and support the workforce, not vice versa.

Praise publicly, criticize privately. 

 Swiftly reward extraordinary performance.

Avoid trying to show you are the smartest person in the room but rather make others feel that they are.

Leaders Make Decisions.  If a decision needs to be made, either make it or establish clearly what information you need in order to make it.  Don't "kick the can around."   To quote Ed Breen, former Motorola executive, "Make 10 decisions and get 8-9 of them right and we'll recover on the other few!" 

During hard seasons such as bad news or crisis, lay-offs or the loss of a big contract, it is extra important for management to be visible and not hide in their top-floor offices.

Delegate to the lowest level of competence and accountability.  

Empower the people who work for you to think and do.  Along those lines, as a leader, render your own opinion later so as not to discourage others from forming their own.

The benefit of reversing a subordinate's bad decision often does not justify the cost.

Hire people you know can do the job you are hiring them for... and then let them do it. Micromanaging is not leading!

Ask good questions to guide others in making decisions instead of dictating next steps.

Before making major changes, always stop to ask the question: What problem are you solving?  

Don't fix things that aren't broken.  Change for the sake of change alone wastes resources and distracts from the mission.

Gramps' New Boss

Around all the retirement activities this month, quite a few people would come to talk to me about my dad.  Of all the things that coworkers or strangers-who-knew-him would come up and tell me about working with my father, the recurring theme was that he cared about people.  Alongside intuition and integrity, something that made me proud to be my dad's daughter was when people told me that he had affected their life or their career in a positive way.  He took a chance on them, or invested in them, or simply listened.  He always believed in mentor-ship and developing people, not just managing them.  

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