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Leader.

Leader.

When I think of the words “leader” or “leadership”, part of me wants to roll my eyes at the fluffiness. The terms “manager” and “management” just sounds stronger, more determined and more focused.

When I think of a manager, I think of someone who calls people out on their bullshit. He or she is a numbers person. They get down to business, make the tough decisions, streamline processes, and increase profits. When I think of a leader, the first thing that comes to my mind is people. Leaders are people oriented, while managers are business oriented. A person in a position of leadership needs to excel at both.

But here’s what I think…

People are at the heart of everything we do. Brené Brown says humans are wired to connect with one another. They say the number one reason employees stay at their jobs is because of the friendships they make with coworkers.

The skills of a leader outshine the skills of a manager. Yet, leadership skills seem to be highly underrated.

Leadership is hard to define. And this is coming from someone who has been trained in leadership! There’s talk about “natural born leaders”, and while I think there’s some truth to the thought, I think you need to want to be a leader in order to lead.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart, and there is much, much more to it than what people understand on the surface. When I discuss leadership concepts with people, they agree and may even tell a story that justifies their understanding. But unless they practice what they preach, I have little respect for their opinion. There’s a big difference in thinking and doing, and it’s leaders that differentiate one from the other.

Courage.

Courage.

I was reading through some of my old blog posts, and this one proved to be a good reminder of equating vulnerability with weakness.  When I read the statement, my mind instantly conjured up the image:

vulnerability = weakness
vulnerability = courage

I recently took two risks, one right after the other.  The outcome for each was not what I wanted.  And truthfully, I’m still in recovery.

The first was personal, and I was terrified to make the move.  The first few days, I felt totally rejected.  I cried multiple times and spent the weekend hunkered down in my house. I even worried I was falling into depression again.  This outcome hit me hard.

Courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

The second was professional, however the premise behind the conflict was very personal.  I considered withdrawing, because I was fearful. Since the outcome did not fall in my favor, again, I felt rejected.  My feelings were hurt.

Courage is “strength in the face of pain or grief.”

Recovery is a process. While time has passed, and I’m feeling better, I’m not 100% myself again.  But I won’t ever be 100% the person I was before these incidents occurred. I will have grown.  I will have learned, and I will come out a better person because of them.

My goal for this year was to embrace courage.  As 2018 nears a close, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on how I’ve stood up to my courageous goals.  Often we think of courageous acts in life-changing decisions and bold moves, but courageous acts occur in much of our daily activities.  It can be as simple as voicing your opinion when your opinion is in the minority.

While you may not be able to control the outcome of certain situations, there is empowerment in the risk of being vulnerable.  It’s not the result that defines the person; it’s how you handle the process and the aftermath.  It’s finding the benefit in every situation, even if the only benefit you can find is growth.

They say that you should find comfort in the uncomfortable.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I’m actually starting to accept uncomfortable as a new norm. I’m starting to embrace it in some situations, like introducing myself to new people.  This simple gesture is something that has terrified me in the past.  Being courageous during those small moments of vulnerability, I’ve developed new contacts, built my network, found mentors, and made friends.

Focusing on the benefit brings empowerment to vulnerability.  For my two situations, I knew that no matter the outcome, I was going to learn from both.  While it didn’t make either any easier to endure, and although I’m still not quite “over” them, it’s made it a little easier to move on.  Right now, I’m just feeling the side effects.  I’m assessing and self-reflecting, which means I’m growing.  So maybe the next time I take a similar risk, the blow will be a little less hard.

Culture.

Culture.

It seems the word “culture” is popping up everywhere, as people use it to describe the attitude and behaviors of a workforce.  In my area of food safety, I read a lot of articles and such expressing concern that employees simply do not care about food safety.  People cite the need for training, education, checklists, internal audits, etc., etc.  But none of those things matter if the employee, his or herself, does not care about what they do and why they are doing it.  I agree, most employees do not care about food safety, but realistically, I also think that a lot of those people don’t take pride in what they do.  “It’s only a job.”  So how do you get them to care about food safety when they don’t really care about their job?

The definition of care is:

“the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.”

I recently read that once your basic needs have been met, there is no correlation to more money making you happier.  I think a lot of employees consider their job as a fulfillment of their basic needs.  It’s a paycheck that puts food on their table and shelter over their heads.

When I was working in a restaurant nearly 15 years ago, there was no talk of food safety.  I didn’t even know the concept existed.  I was young, living paycheck to paycheck, just trying to pay my rent.  I hated working in foodservice.  People treated me badly, and it took a toll on my self-esteem.  I was trying so hard to keep my head above water financially and emotionally, that I didn’t take pride in what I was doing.  I didn’t care about the “provisions” of our customers.  I only cared about the provisions of my basic needs.  Would I have taken the extra steps to go through a training?  Yes, because it would have been part of my job.  Would I have gone above and beyond my call of duty to better the restaurant for the well-being of our customers?  Probably not.  I was bitter.  Customers treated me like shit.  Why should I care about their well-being when they clearly did not care about mine?  Treat others as you would like to be treated – I was always taught.

Then I look at our field labor employees.  We regularly train them on food safety issues.  I am out there checking them multiple times a week to ensure they are following our food safety policies.  Do I think the trainings help?  Maybe.  Do I think they genuinely care about food safety?  Not really.  I think that they know I will hold them accountable for following our food safety policies, and they follow the rules to not get written up or deal with the wrath of “Sheriff Lacy.”

Of course, I’m generally speaking.  We have some employees that feel passionately about food safety and fully understand that what they do in the field can have a great impact on their job, our company, and public health.  But I also feel passionately about food safety.  I genuinely care about what I do, which leads me to be the example and hold our employees accountable.  I take pride in what I do, and that’s reflective in my attitude and my performance.

The food safety culture of our company directly reflects how I lead the program, and the culture of our company directly reflects the attitude and performance of our leadership.  But that’s in any job, in any industry.  It’s about finding the right people, not just hiring a body.  Easier said than done, I know.  But passion is contagious.  As John C. Maxwell says,

“People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.”

It all starts at the top.  You can train people all you want, but training, education, checklists, and internal audits themselves are not going to improve the food safety culture of your business.  The culture of a company runs deeper than documentation.  Besides, documentation is after the fact.  Those of us in positions responsible for food safety are so bogged down with following up and collecting documentation, that we can’t actually be out there preventing food safety incidents from occurring. This is where the company culture plays a critical part in business.  If employees genuinely care about it, then they are preventing it.

Braving the Wilderness – Part 2

Braving the Wilderness – Part 2

Rather than pitching wild and innovative new ideas that could potentially change everything, we’re staying quiet and small in our bunkers and loud in our echo chambers.

It is sad that our world has become so polarized that we can’t even openly express our thoughts without fear of criticism or repercussion.  People are so fixated on placing the blame on others that we don’t take the time to reflect on how we may contribute to the problem.

In one of my leadership trainings, I was taught that self-awareness is one of the most critical skills a leader can have.  And it is surprisingly a skill that a lot of people lack.  But shouldn’t we understand our own feelings before we judge others for theirs?  We cannot control what others feel as we cannot control what we feel.  So why are we so quick to blame others when they may feel differently than we do about something?

Perspective is a function of experience.

We all have different perspectives, because we all have different experiences.  And our level of self-awareness can influence our experience.  When we communicate our perspectives, we learn from one another giving us new perspectives.  This is how we evolve as people and a society.

Exiting our bunkers and echo chambers is scary.  We are opening ourselves up to the harsh reality of where we are as a society.  A society focused on blame fixing over truly understanding.  We have to be vulnerable by communicating our experiences, and that is braving the wilderness.

Learning Leadership.

Learning Leadership.

The more I strive to be in a position of influence within my industry and my community, the more I find myself in disagreements with people.  In the end, we’re all fighting for what we think is right.  Sometimes, you come out on top, and sometimes you are defeated.  And sometimes the only thing you can do is agree to disagree.

Some people are naturally born as leaders, and some people develop the skills later on.  Everyone has the potential, but not everyone has the desire.

How you handle disagreements tells a lot about what kind of leader you are.  In fact, I think that is what can distinguish you as being a leader or not.  Disagreements need to be handled politely, tactfully, with grace, and self-reflection.  Sometimes you have to take the blow so your team doesn’t have to.  You cannot learn from the experience without reflecting on what went wrong, how you handled the situation, how you contributed to it, and how you could have prevented it.

I don’t always handle disagreements the way that I should.  But that’s okay, we’re all human and make mistakes.  It’s recognizing and admitting that I don’t handle disagreements well that differentiates me as a rising leader.