11 Lessons My Father Taught Me About Managing & Leading Teams

This is not going to be the traditional type of post where I write about SEO, Content, Infographics, or Web Design, but instead a look back at what I have learned from my father about managing and leading people.

Preface


My father grew up in Ridgewood, NJ. His father was a brilliant engineer (who held many patents), and his mother was a school teacher for close to 50 years. He attended Paul Smiths College in northern NY State (Paul Smiths, NY to be exact) and during the summers worked on my grandparents farm (which is where he met my mother).

Unlike many people today, my father held the same job with the same packaging company (Jefferson Smurfit, which later became Smurfit Stone, and then Stone Container) for close to 30 years. He started in the maintenance department where he fixed the large machinery, learned the ins and outs of every machine and kept the factory running. During his 30 years at the plant he worked his way up through each position at the company, learning the skills needed to succeed and build valuable employees. Because of his success he was appointed GM of the Northeast Region for Stone Container. A few years back he took a new position with a competitor and has succeeded there as well; starting as a production manager and is now the Regional GM for the company’s 7 manufacturing facilities spanning the Northeast and Midwest United States.

11 Lessons My Father Taught Me About Managing and Leading Teams


Although there were many lessons I learned growing up, and am still being taught today, below are 11 things I learned from my father about business, management, and leading a team. Some lessons you will notice have stories behind them, some were observations, and yet others were comments said in passing that led me to develop my own thoughts.

If You Ask Someone To Do Something Make Sure You Can Do It, Or At Least Know What It Takes

The fact my father worked his way up through the company, learned the skills it took be be successful at each level, and gained powerful insights, is one of the reasons I think he is such a great manager and can relate to all levels within a company.

In my opinion this is one of the most important aspects of leading a team, and where I feel many managers and leaders fall short. I believe that if you ask someone to take on a project you should at least have enough knowledge of how it’s done to understand the scope of the work, the pitfalls that can develop, and what it will take to be successful. This belief was the driving force that made me develop a group of test sites 9 years ago to learn SEO, and has since driven me to learn CSS, HTML, and most other things I might need to ask a team to do. This process of learn-by-doing (which I continue today) helps me gain the insights that are needed to evolve and become a better leader and manager.

Provide Solutions

If you are going to point out concerns with a process or product make sure you also provide solutions to that problem. If you don’t provide solutions you are doing nothing more than being pessimistic and negative. Make sure these are not just opinionated solutions, but rather have numbers and even implementation costs to back them. The more you can prove value in your solutions the more likely they are to be utilized.

Be Positive

There are many things that can go wrong for a business or that you will suggest to the upper management team that they will overlook or not see value in. My father always said, “The key is to stay positive when faced with adversity. There is no perfect job where everyone will always do exactly what you want or agree with all your solutions. So as a leader and a manager you must learn to roll with the punches and always look on the positive side of things and be persistent”.

Nothing Takes the Place of Persistence and Determination

A quote he used to instill in me was:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. – Calvin Coolidge

This quote, which I still know by heart today, is one of the driving forces that keeps me pushing forward in the face of adversity or when I am told “it can’t be done”.

Lead by Example

When I was younger, my father would go into work on the weekends if the plant was running behind schedule, and I would always ask to tag along. He would go in early, before everyone would get there for their shift, which started at 6am (which is one of the reasons I am up each morning at 5am, starting my day).

In the main area of the plant where the large printing presses were, and in the rear of the plant where the corrugator (which actually made the sheets of corrugated for the boxes) was located, the temperature would get well over 100 degrees in the summer.

I remember sitting inside my fathers office (which he was rarely in) and seeing a new air conditioner sitting collecting dust. One afternoon, when he returned from the plant floor I asked him, “why don’t you turn on the AC unit to cool it down in your office?”. He replied promptly and directly saying, “what type of message would that send to the people working their butt (he used another word) off out on the floor in the 100 degree heat if I, as their leader, was sitting in an air conditioned office. If they don’t have AC, neither do I.”

Your Job is to Build Valuable Employees and Teams

The old adage “There is no “I” in team” could not be more true. When transitioning from doing the work, to managing or leading people who do the work, it is important to understand that what you will be judged on will change. The successes or failures that your team has are a direct reflection of your success or failure as a leader. This makes your new role as a manager and leader, one that builds strong teams and helps employees evolve their skills.

Don’t be Afraid of Conflict

My father was very specific to point out that there is a difference between causing conflict for the sake of being difficult, and causing conflict for the sake of evolving a process or product. Let me explain.

Causing conflict for the sake of being difficult is a negative action that does not advance a product or process in a positive direction. If you plan on causing conflict to bring attention to a concern or how something might be done better, make sure you stay positive and back your conflicting views with data or information that would give insight into why you are suggesting change.

Close the Loop

If you ask someone to do something make sure you show them the result of what they have done or hold them responsible for not doing what they needed to do. This will not only build trust in your leadership skills and build confidence within your team members, but it will also show that each person on your team has a unique value when trying to achieve goals.

Build Confidence

Spending time with my father at the plant I noticed a wide range of management styles; from micro-managers and managers trying to lead by fear or bullying, to those whom I respected more and were closer to the management philosophy that my father held. I can’t completely explain how he did it, but as I observed my father speaking with team members, his tone would always lend itself to building confidence and instilling in them just how valuable they were, while still saying what needed to be said.

Stay in the Trenches, Don’t Separate Yourself

As I mentioned above, my father was rarely in his office. He was always out on the plant floor talking with the employees; if nothing more than giving them a hard time about their sports team losing or telling some crude joke that could only be repeated inside the walls of the plant. What I didn’t know at the time, as I sat in his office playing on his computer, was that by being in the trenches and not spending time secluded in his office, he was actually building rapport and trust with the employees.

Because of this I have never taken the opportunity to have my own office. I prefer to be in the trenches with my teammates, and not be seen as a leader that manages from a distance.

You May Not Be Friends Outside of Work, But at Work You Will Work as a Team

Growing up I was heavily involved in sports, mainly baseball and basketball. My parents were always there for support and up until I was in Junior High School my father coached each team I was on and my mother ran the concession stand.

It was a warm day in Ilion NY, and we had just finished a Little League Game (we were the Tigers). There was some conflict off the field between two of my teammates (Shane Mitchell and Carmen Newton) that reared its ugly head on the field during the game, causing us to lose. I can’t recall the exact reason for the conflict, but I am sure it was something insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

I remember overhearing my father talking to them after the game. He pulled them aside and said, “whatever issue you two have off the field, it will not come through the gate. Once you step on the field you will leave your issues outside, respect one another as teammates, and work together as a team to win the championship”. (In case you were wondering we ended up winning the championship all 3 years we were all teammates.)

I hope these stories about leading a team gives you some insights into how to better manage or be a leader. I am still in the process of working many of these into my own leadership style (and learning more from my father) so that I can evolve as a leader. If you have any personal stories please leave them below in the comments.

I will leave you with a quote that was given to me by my father just before I went off to college, and I still have on my desk today.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt