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  • Writer's pictureDavid J Wudyka

What I Told My Son About Leadership

Leadership is one of the most heavily researched topics in the history of Management thought. Some people believe that we’ve “got it” by now. Of course, that’s never the position of researchers. That’s what they do.

But the outcomes of leadership research are often presented as theories or modified theories. The practical skills of leadership appear to be missing. If we dig for it, we can find what is often referred to as the “soft” advice about leadership. But soft advice can be the most important advice.

My son just changed jobs. It’s time for some timely wisdom. It’s a great inflection point in his career.

He’s becoming a General Manager.

He’s 31.


Here is what I told him….

1) Know your business/Know your products

When I think of this advice, I think of a consulting friend who was a Labor Relations Manager. He was elevated to the President’s Board by demonstrating his knowledge of the Company’s business. Normally, the HR Department staff doesn’t possess this knowledge and is overlooked for such consideration.

Similarly, know your Company’s products. It will impress people in positions of power when they realize that you have taken the time to learn about them, while others have not. It’s a delineator.

One of the most impressive Executives I’ve ever known was a man who I met for a meeting on “Mahogany Row.” Later in the meeting he went down to the shop floor with me and demonstrated how to operate the machinery of the business.

I never forgot him.

2) Know your Company’s history

Learning about your Company’s history shows that you have an interest in the evolution of your Company. It explains how the Company has gotten to where it is now.

It would have been great to have attended an Onboarding meeting at Apple Computer if Steve Jobs had visited it to describe the history of Apple. I believe that the participants in that meeting would be supercharged with motivation to go out and make a difference on Day One.

They would be connected and engaged.

3) Get to know your employees

We all play a role in the workplace. Your employees have real lives too. They’re all struggling in some way. Let them know you’re on their side and that you appreciate them. Be someone they can be proud of. They will “have your back” when you aren’t there.

Even better, ask them what they expect of you. Share your expectations with them. This is called a “Psychological Contract.” I always use this Management technique. Each time, every time.

My father was a Textiles Supervisor. He came to work one day and saw one of his employees crying. He asked her why? She said it was because he didn’t say “hello” to her that day, the way he did each day with all of his employees.

Do they care? I think they do.

4) Meet your customers

Even if there is no business to discuss when you visit them. Even disgruntled customers, past or present.

This isn’t about “Sales calls.” They happen all the time. That’s not the message. It’s about you and your interest in your clients. You will probably earn new business that you didn’t expect.

They will never forget that you took the time to visit them.

5) Learn from your predecessors’ past mistakes

You can be sure they’ve made some. Learn from them and avoid them in the future.

6) Watch the numbers! (i.e. the financials).

Create a set of auditing measures that your Financial expert can provide on a regular basis. Carry them in your pocket. Watch for trends, good and bad. The company that does not measure itself will ultimately fail.

7) Identify a “#2” to help you

I know… you’re leading a small company. As the General Manager, you are “Mr. Outside” now. So you’ll need a “Mr./Ms. Inside” when you’re away. This must be a dependable, trustworthy person.

You will know who he or she is when you get to know your employees.

8) Shape the HR function. It should “add value” to your company.

Don’t overlook this valuable resource, as it often is (I know... I’m in the HR field!). It’s real role is to make a company better through its activities. Hire better people, create great Compensation plans, improve Employee Relations, create better Benefit plans, develop people to perform at higher levels. You get the idea.

9) Shave your beard. This is Dad speaking!

10) Have some antacid tablets handy.

Hopefully, you won’t need them.

Now get started… I’m so proud of you!

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