By Jim Struck

The other day I was reflecting on my career and the various roads I have traveled. I recognized that the “road” started long before my career. It started with the people that invested in me as I grew up and continued with each successive job, even the bad ones. My parents, my brother, Joe Keaney were all people that established the foundation of my character, my attitudes, thoughts, and skills for dealing with people.

My first boss out of college, Gene McLemore, taught me much about work, about being a husband, father, and a responsible human being. Gene was one of those bosses that you learned more from by watching him. As a “kid” just out of college there was a lot for me to observe…work ethic, dress, how he treated his people, how he listened, how he treated his wife, his children, how he gave direction, his attitude, and sense of direction. Gene had an authenticity that permeated all areas of his life.

After graduate school came Fred (not his real name). Fred was certainly smart enough, a good strategist, knew his job, was nice and charming when he wanted to be, but mostly he was arrogant, not a good listener, had questionable ethics, and wanted control of everything. Yes, this was one of those experiences that may have not been positive, but I found myself making as many mental notes about Fred as I did about Gene…they were just stored in a different folder labeled, “Things Not To Do.”

Fortunately, I have been blessed with far more “Gene’s” than “Fred’s” in my life. People like: Tom Zminkowski, Larry McDaniel, Bob Sinneave, Bill Mirandon, Nels Sheridan, Dick Horn, Al Keily, Mike Alshire, Tim Moore, Cliff Jaebker, Dick O’Bryan, Paul Usher, Bill Lammers, Kittsy Williams, Nancy Schoenenberger, Judi Silverman, John Campbell, Colleen Gallaway, Marija Milivojac, Toby Spreitzer, Chris Jarvis, Keith Jewell, Keith Lauter, Gene Hornback, Dave Mueller, Andy Jankowski, Ron Ernst, Keith Carlson, Ken Smith, Dennis Kamman, Tom Gavinski, John Boss, Steve Keller, Dick Feldman, Lynn Zettler, Debbie Satterthwaite, Paul Satterthwaite, Dave Rodriguez, Mike Naville, Rob Roby, Gil Gabanski, Richard Smith and most especially, my wife Trudy. I’m sure I’ve missed some. There are and will be others.

Okay, so now you have a bunch of names that mean nothing to you. What’s the point? The point…who is on YOUR list of names, and maybe as important, whose list are you on?

The people in my life have always been a key factor in me “getting to the next level,” but it doesn’t end there. Each job required that I possess a certain personal capability to do it, the technical components, the job requirements. In addition the journey has been about me learning to see my blind spots…those things that made me less effective. Learning to listen more, be more open to change and to hearing the difficult messages about myself, my performance, the performance of the department or organization. This led to greater humility. Greater humility led to greater character, willingness to listen more and sometimes, listen less…holding on to the right thing to do in the face of adversity.

Getting to the next level often involves taking the toughest journey of all, the inward journey. We’ve talked about that from time to time, and maybe we will again.

I want to leave you with some concrete steps to the next level of leadership. Zinger and Folkman in their book, The Extraordinary Leader, cite a number of things in their last chapter that they would encourage people to do to become great leaders. Listed are the ones that have had the most meaning to me.

  1. Develop and display high personal character.
  2. Develop new skills, including enrolling in developmental experiences.
  3. Find a coach. (While this may seem self-serving given what I do, they list it because of the capacity for a coach to help us hone our awareness and direction much faster than what we can do on our own.)
  4. Identify your strengths. “Self-development is making oneself better at what one is already good at. It also means not worrying about the things one cannot be good at.” Peter Drucker
    1. List your major contributions over the past two or three years
    2. Specify precisely the things the organization expects from you and for which you ware held accountable
    3. Be clear about what you cannot do, as well as what you can do
    4. Look for demanding assignments that make a difference
  5. Identify your weaknesses and find ways to make them irrelevant.
  6. Fix fatal flaws.
    1. Inability to learn from your mistakes
    2. Lack of core (basic) interpersonal skills and competencies
    3. Lack of openness to new or different ideas
    4. Lack of accountability
    5. Lack of initiative
  7. Connect with good role models.
  8. Learn from your mistakes and negative experiences.
  9. Seek ways to give and get productive feedback AND learn to absorb it in an emotionally healthy way.
  10. Study the current reality the department or organization faces.
  11. Learn to think strategically.
  12. Communicate with stories.
  13. Infuse energy into every situation.
  14. Allocate specific time for people development.
  15. Plan and execute change initiative.
  16. Become a teacher/trainer.
  17. Study the high performers and replicate their behavior with others.
  18. Volunteer in your community.
  19. Practice articulating your vision for your group and organization.
  20. Prepare for your next job. Think ahead regarding the skills you will need. My addition: understand that skill development also includes the inner journey.
  21. Be a great parent – involved, listening, guiding, fun, encouraging, discipline with love, raise them for their well being, not yours
  22. Be a great husband/wife – involved, listening, respectful, serving, fun, loving, thankful, communicating,

Hopefully, the combination of my story and a ‘list’ will encourage you on your own journey to the next level.