On a chilly Sunday evening recently I watched a young man take his first successful steps as a leader. It reminded me that leadership doesn’t need to be complicated or hard. And if you follow the same five simple steps to lead that he did, your chances of success are pretty good, too.
Here’s what happened…
It was cold, and the breeze was just enough to make you wish you had another layer to put on. It had been dark for a couple hours. It was nearly closing time.
Jack was our lead “Tree Wrangler.” He and his team of Scouts had been working in our tree lot all afternoon. They had been stocking the racks, guiding customers, trimming, netting, and tying trees on cars. They had done a good job, but now the boys were tired and ready to go home.
Our tree sale lot is in the middle of town. We sell Christmas trees every year as part of our fund raising effort for the Scout Troop. It’s a great activity because it provides funds for us to do things like go to Summer Camp in Virginia. It’s also great because Scouts build an understanding of how a small business works.
And, importantly, it’s an opportunity for the boys to practice leadership and learn about teamwork.
Just a week before, a tractor-trailer had pulled up on Friday morning with a load of 1,000 trees. It was fun to see that teamwork in action as the troop set to work unloading the trailer and stocking the yard. It was like someone kicked an ant hill.
(check out this time-lapse video of the Troop getting it done).
Now we were a week into the sale, business had been good, but it was time to close up and go home for the day.
In the tree lot that evening we had four adults and six Scouts, plenty of manpower to get the job done. In fact, the adults could have accomplished it all themselves in just a few minutes. But that’s not what we’re about. The boys lead the troop, so it is up to them to make it happen.
I called Jack over to discuss what was coming. Jack had worked at the tree sale in previous years, but hadn’t been a shift leader until recently.
We talked about how one of the key tasks of a leader is to be able to visualize and anticipate the future, and then prepare for it.
I asked him what he thought needed to be done and why, so that we could close up and go home.
Jack already understood that the tree lot had to be locked up and safe for the night, but also fully ready for customers the next day the instant it opened.
He quickly rattled off a list of things we needed to do to make that happen: re-stock trees to fill all the gaps on the sales racks, rake and clear the ground, put away the trimming tools, close up the sales trailer, put up the “closed” sign, turn off the lights. He clearly knew what needed to be done, but it was a jumbled list of tasks in his head.
The trick is now to simplify and organize that list.
I gave him some feedback: “So what I heard you say was that there are several tasks to be done over here (pointing) by the sales trailer, a bunch of stuff to do over here (pointing) by the tree trimming area, and some things to be done out on the tree racks.”
He agreed. Next step? Delegate. Match your resources against the tasks to be done. I asked him, “How can you organize so that all that work gets done?” He thought that assigning specific people to do the tasks in each of the three areas would be good.
That sounded good to me, too. But let’s go one step more with this: form the Scouts into teams; each team focuses on one of the areas. And ideally, someone is in charge of each of those teams.
I told him that the adults would pitch into help the teams, but it was up to him to get things going and to supervise the effort until we were done. He said he understood, so I told him I’d go and start restocking trees to the sales racks.
About five minutes later, I was putting an eight foot Fraser fir on the rack when I heard Jack’s voice through the trees – he was gathering the Scouts. I paused to listen.
It was one of those moments when you can just tell that someone “gets it.”
Standing in the middle of the tree yard, Jack was explaining what had to be done. He spoke about each of the three areas in succession and what the tasks were in each. He asked Scouts which jobs they wanted to be involved with, and formed them into buddy teams.
He told them that when these things were done and the lot was ready for tomorrow, they could all go home. Then he put them to work.
In just a few minutes we were done; trees restocked, yard cleared, tools put away, lights out, and everything ready for the next day. The team had done well, in large part because their leader had done well. Jack had been in the thick of it, helping out, yet still making sure all tasks were completed. It was time to go home.
Simple Steps to Lead – The Takeaway
Jack is well on his way to becoming a good leader, based on what I saw in the tree lot. But not everyone is simply selling Christmas trees. What we do day-to-day can be a lot more complex. Yet the concepts for leadership are universal, regardless of what you happen to be doing.
To get things done, follow these five steps:
1. Anticipate and Visualize. When you know what you want to achieve or can see what is getting ready to happen, you can prepare for it. When the team sees that you are thinking ahead and preparing, they will trust you more; they will be more willing to follow.
2. Clarify the Why. Knowing WHAT to do is only part of the solution. If you are going to inspire and guide, communicating the WHY is important, too. People work better when they understand how their efforts contribute to the big picture. And if they have to make decisions without you, there’s a better chance they will make good ones if they know the ultimate goal.
Related: Start With Why
3. Simplify and Organize. Break out the work to be done into chunks that are easy to understand. In the tree yard, Jack organized by location, but you can also do it by the type of work, or the sequence it has to be done in.
4. Delegate. Match the people with the right skills to the right jobs. Some jobs may require special abilities or experience, so start by pairing the right people to those tasks. If you can match people to tasks they would prefer to do, all the better. If you can form teams, that’s great too, just be sure to put someone in charge of each one.
Related: How to Delegate
5. Supervise, Support, Encourage. Once that’s done, you don’t sit back. You supervise and support them. Check on how the teams are doing. Do they need more resources? Are there problems to solve? Are they doing the job correctly? Look for people who are doing it right, and offer some positive reinforcement.
Sometimes, you pitch in to help – it sets a good example, demonstrates that you believe the work is important, and helps get the job done.
But don’t get too caught up – you have one more task to perform as the leader, and it may be the most important one:
1. Anticipate and Visualize…
Question: Which of these steps is most important to you? What techniques to you use to ensure you do it well?
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