Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader
I’m proud of you. You’re bold—courageous, even. You’re holding a book with the words “Management Mess” prominently featured on the cover. Never mind that people nearby—perhaps on a train or plane, standing in line at Starbucks, or your colleagues around the office—could see you holding this book and immediately associate you with the word “mess.” You could have easily been showing off a different book with a different title: The Burden of Perfection; The Genius’s Guide to Leadership; perhaps even From Great to Greater. People would definitely be impressed seeing you read a book like that. But that’s not me, and I suspect that’s not you either. I didn’t attend an Ivy League school, and I don’t peruse the heady academic tomes on the latest management theories. I came up through the leadership trenches. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had enough ambition and drive to keep at it, even when I failed—and I failed often.
I wrote this book for those who feel they weren’t perfectly groomed for leadership—those with a bit of a “mess” in them, whether that comes from being an outsider, a lack of experience, a lack of training, or all of the above. There are likely people I know who think I’m the last person who should write a book like this, probably a few people reading it right now. So I’ll get this next part out of the way:
I have an intense personality that’s often turned up to 11. I’ve been mean, petty, selfish, and self-absorbed. I’ve made genuinely good people cry, no doubt caused talented associates to choose to leave the organization and, regrettably, used my position and temper to sometimes belittle, demean, and stifle the contributions of others. But I’m also known as the leader whose division you join if you want your career and skills to blossom. I’m a close friend to many, and I’m the guy you call at any hour to bail you out of jail, a bind, or any other emergency. I’m also the guy who keeps a chilled bottle of champagne ready to pour for impromptu houseguests. I am an honorable husband and a nurturing father; a champion, supporter, and mentor to countless people who have experienced extraordinary success in their careers. I have a handful of God-given abilities I work hard to use and magnify (humility is not one of them). I am, in short, a human being: I have flaws and talents; failures and triumphs.
If you’re a fellow traveler along the leadership path, I’ve written this book for you. It’s a reflection of my experiences, both messes and successes, run through the crucible of the real world—shaped, validated, and often corrected by the deep expertise and thought leadership of many colleagues, friends, and mentors at FranklinCovey. I was lucky to have landed at FranklinCovey—a company that provides industrial-strength management and leadership advice to the Fortune 5000 and beyond, throughout the world. So, even as I careened and sometimes crashed through the ranks, I couldn’t help but pick up on the principles and practices that the most successful leaders get right. These proven insights (many of which are included in this book) helped an admittedly imperfect leader rise to the C-suite.
I’ll be one of the first to admit leadership isn’t always rewarding. It can feel like a bottomless pit of problem solving and adult-sitting. Leadership is exhausting, repetitive, and requires a constant stretch of your emotional and intellectual skills. It demands an “always on” mentality, as you’re expected to have all the right answers and make all the right decisions, often on the fly. Most days, candidly, I really don’t enjoy it. But it doesn’t mean leadership isn’t important; on the contrary, often the things we struggle with yield the biggest return (nobody drinks a kale smoothie because it tastes good). It’s okay if you admit that leadership can be hard and unenjoyable. We’re travelers on this road together. But the benefits of being successful at it can be life-changing.
Maybe you’re ambitious and bright, but leadership hasn’t exactly felt like a calling from on high. Perhaps you’re the first person in your family to attend college, let alone a board meeting. Or maybe you skipped college altogether. Maybe you’re a woman rising to the top of a male-dominated industry or a veteran starting to make their way through the business world and drawing from a very different set of leadership styles and experiences. Maybe you’re the person asked to lead the same people who, days earlier, were your peers, or perhaps you’re the highly regarded MBA who has to lead someone like me. If so, this book is for you and anyone else who approaches leadership with a sense of unease, trepidation, or feeling like an outsider.
Of course, no single person is a complete “management mess,” nor has anyone I’ve known been a total “leadership success.” We are a bundle of varying talents and fears, expressed through the daily decisions we make. I wrote this book to broaden those talents, set aside limiting fears, and promote better leadership decisions. To accomplish this, you’ll find 30 challenges, honed by FranklinCovey through years of research and development, tens of thousands of client implementations, and countless coaching engagements. I’ve referenced the various thought leaders and experts behind these challenges throughout, representing a collection of wisdom, expertise, and practical advice spanning more than four decades. I’ve also highlighted individuals who have impacted me as exemplars of a particular principle, and shared stories of people who fell into a management mess—altering names and identities, unless I’m referencing myself (which my wife believes is way too often for a book of this size).
The challenges in this book will make you a better leader and are organized into three parts: “Lead Yourself” (Challenges 1–8), “Lead Others” (Challenges 9–21), and “Get Results” (Challenges 22–30). If you’re not put off by examining how principles can collide with the real world, or how I’ve had to learn many leadership lessons the hard way, I invite you to take each of them to heart. You can read them from 1 to 30, or skip to topics that resonate the most in the moment. At the end of each challenge, you’ll find prompts for moving from “mess to success.” How you choose to implement these is up to you—pick one a day if you’re feeling up to it, or one a week. Whatever the cadence, do your best to take the challenges off the pages of the book and into your real-world leadership roles.
So let your colleagues see you reading a book with “Management Mess” on the cover. Break it open at lunch and proudly sit across from your boss! Because inside, the principles and practices collected here come from some of the best leadership minds around. Use my experiences with them as a shortcut, a cautionary tale, or a skill worth adopting. I promise you, I won’t be pulling any punches. And since you’re only thirty practices away from having more successes (and fewer messes) in this adventure we call leadership, let’s get to it.
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