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Making Leadership Stick

by Paul Kearley

June 11, 2014

Leadership is the art of leading people towards a common goal.

~In memory of William Wayne Mercer, June 11, 1947 – October 25, 2007

I don’t know if he ever took a class on leadership, or wrote a doctorate on increasing execution or gaining engagement, but my friend and mentor Wayne was a natural in making things work and building a team. I learned most of what I know today about leadership, just by watching and being coached by him. Let me explain.

When I first met Wayne, I was a young junior high student going to Holy Spirit School in Newfoundland. Wayne was my geography teacher.  I was also very interested in hockey, and would play whenever given the chance because I loved to skate.  At that time, in the community I grew up in, once you had finished playing bantam aged hockey, your hockey career was over, until you reached the age where you could play junior hockey.  That meant that I had another 4 or five years until I could lace up the skates again.

I was devastated.

At that point in my life, hockey was my escape from the stresses of my life, and the prospect of not playing or not being on the ice was not an option that I wanted.  I found myself still going to the games and watching them, but just as a spectator.  That is until Wayne approached me.

Wayne was a referee, and a very good one, and the only one in the area at the time.

“Paul, how would you like to come referee with me?  I could really use someone like you who knows the game and is one of the best skaters around?  This way you cannot just be in the game, but you can be on the ice for the whole game.  And, you can make a big difference in how the game gets played.  What do you say?”

I didn’t even have to think about it, I was hooked from the very beginning.  In the next 5 years, under Wayne’s guidance I went from a level nothing to a CAHA level 4 referee, capable of refereeing senior level hockey and international hockey games.

The process was far from easy, as it took a lot of learning, lots of patience and hours and hours of ice time honing my craft.

But this is not about me.

This is about Wayne and how he built the team from just him to a local referee association of about 10 people and then on to being a major player in the development of a provincial one.

In retrospect, what Wayne had was a passion that was contagious that he loved to share. And because of that, we caught his dream and helped to give it legs to grow.

The only true mentor that I have ever had in my life was Wayne Mercer.  I believe that my enthusiasm and my drive to create come directly from him.

Even though we never ever mentioned the words vision, engagement, or execution he embodied them all, and instinctively knew how to build them.

So, how could someone who never talked that language be such an expert on them?

That’s easy.

He instinctively knew that to create something, you had to be something.  And to create something with a team, you had to convey confidence in them that they could be something.  And that is exactly what he did.  Wayne made me believe that I could be and do anything that I wanted.  And, with that kind of belief in me, I would not let him or his vision down.

And the same applies to business today.  If you are building a team, and want them to catch your vision, there are a few absolutes that must happen before the team gels into the way you want it to.

First, you must be able to project confidence.  If you believe that you can achieve what it is that you want to achieve, in many cases that is most of the battle. I followed Wayne, almost blindly because I knew that he knew his business, and I trusted him to lead me into the areas that would help me grow.

Second, to lead people, and to make your leadership stick, they must be given permission to make mistakes as they learn.  Personal and professional growth is not a sure thing process.  In order to discover things about yourself or about how the business works, you must be allowed to “experiment”, and the leader who is always telling people what to do misses out on a very important part of the whole growth cycle. It’s been said that success is a poor teacher, and in the area of growth, if you are always winning, how can you know what real success tastes like if you haven’t tasted any sort of failure. Wayne let me make the mistakes, but he also talked me through them after they happened so I could learn to recognize them and learn from them.  From a leadership perspective, to build a team, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Third, to build trust, you must stand behind them and support them.  Most of the great leaders I know in business know that when you are working with a team, you have to recognize that and give them the credit.  The leader says look what “we” did, not what “I” did.  They give recognition when something important was done, or even when they see an improvement made, and they do it sincerely.  When they compliment, they make sure the person knows what they did, and also why what they did was important.  This way there is never any doubt.  I always knew when I had done something good, because Wayne would always tell me instantly and after each recognition statement, I felt like I could go out again and take on the world for him… and I would have too.

These are a few simple guidelines to building a team.  Of course there are more, many more, but please try these few simple ideas and you will soon have your team pointed in the right direction and making amazing things happen.

Make this your best week ever.

~ Paul Kearley
Managing Partner, Dale Carnegie Business Group – Maritimes Division
(506) 432-6500 / pkearley@dalecarnegie.ca

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