Growing Leaders Salute: Interview with Dan McCarthy

September 22, 2012 — 1 Comment

Danbiopic 231x300 Growing Leaders Salute:  Interview with Dan McCarthyAs my regular readers know, on Saturdays I do a “Salutation,” about something warm and positive going on in the world.  As I am meeting kindred spirits through my writing and leadership, I realized that some of the warmest stuff happening is coming from the people passionate about growing leaders.  And so, I am expanding my normal Saturday gig to include a “Growing Leaders Salute:”  interviews with great leaders dedicated to growing great leaders.  Thanks, Dan McCarthy for being my first honoree.

Q:  You have an interesting background both working within companies and with companies as a consultant…as well as interacting with leaders through your blog.  How do you feel these varied experiences have informed your leadership philosophy?

A:  While I enjoy writing, I wouldn’t have anything to write about if it wasn’t for the work I’ve done inside companies, working with real managers, as well as my own experience as a manager. Writing about these experiences helps me get clearer on who I am and what I stand for.

Blogging has enabled me to widen my reach, but just as importantly, it forces me to stay current and continuously learn, by interacting with readers and networking with other leadership bloggers like you.

Q:  Why do you write?  What inspired you to write a book?

A:   I’m lucky in that my work gives me a sense of purpose. I help to develop great leaders, and great leaders have the ability to have an extraordinary impact on their employees, their employee’s families, their organizations, and their communities. I feel a great sense of responsibility – I take it seriously – and I also get a great amount of personal satisfaction.

Deciding to write a blog – and then a book – was again an extension of that purpose.  With a company, I might be able to reach and impact a few hundred leaders and aspiring leaders – maybe up to 1000 indirectly? But with writing, I have the potential to touch millions.

Q:  Who have been your most significant mentors?  How have they influenced you?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have had good, supportive managers. I’ve learned a little bit from each one of them. There’s not one that stands out more than the rest. Actually, I’ve only had maybe 1-2 bad managers, and as flawed as they were, I still learned a lot from them.

Q:  You have worked with so many leadership compentency models over the years, acrosss a variety of industries.  In your mind what are the top 3 leadership competencies vital in any organization?

Hmmm, hard to say, it’s all so dependent on the organization. But if I had to pick 3, they might be leading change, leadership presence (which would include authenticity), and listening.

Q:  What is the most important advice you would give to new leaders?

A: Ah, what a timely question! I just wrote a post that’s scheduled to appear on the 9/27 SmartBrief on Leadership, and then in my own blog on 10/1, called “25 Tips for Managing Your First Direct Reports”. I know 25 sounds like a lot, but I could have written another 25! But if I had to pick one, it would be:  Embrace your role as a LEADER.

This one’s not as obvious as it sounds. I managed employees for over 20 years before the light went on for me and I realized what an extraordinary and rewarding responsibility leadership could be. Don’t take it lightly.

Q:  What is the biggest mistake you see leaders make when developing others?

A:  Well, if you asked me “what’s the biggest mistakes managers make”, I’d say it’s that they don’t develop their employees – and that’s too bad. But let’s assume we’re talking about leaders – those managers that have the best intentions but like all of us, stub their toes now and then. I’d say it’s feeling like they have to have all of the answers, instead of seeing their role as asking great questions. Giving advice is easy – but when you do, you’re missing out on a chance to develop. Asking the right questions gets employees to see things from a different perspective, and come up with their own answers.

Q:  What makes you “skip to work?” (feel fully engaged, energized and ready go?)

A:  Coffee. Lots and lots of good, strong coffee. (-:

Q:  In your book you list “The 10 Greatest Management Theories, Models, or Methods.” How would you articulate your leadership philosophy?  What is most important to you?

A: I wrote a post about this in 2008. In fact, everyone should take the time to write down their leadership values, rules, philosophy, etc….

As I look back at it, I think I’m still following each of these rules:

Dan’s McCarthy’s Leadership Rules:

  1. I fully appreciate and embrace the awesome responsible that comes with being a leader and never take it lightly. I’m responsible for the success of the unit I lead, and contribute to the success of my company. I have a huge impact on the success and lives of my employees. I also have an indirect impact on the community in which I’m a part of, and that my employees are a part of. So if I screw up, it’s not just me that impacted, I’m messing with the lives of others that are depending on me.
  2.  As a leader, I hold myself accountable to the highest standards of behavior. When making a decision, I ask myself “would I be comfortable with the details of this decision plastered all over the Wall Street Journal or company intranet?” I look at myself as a role model, for my team and others. If there’s even the slightest chance of offending someone, then I keep it to myself. If I see a wrong, I’ll speak up. I won’t “let my hair down” after hours or off-site – as a leader, there is no “on” and “off” switch.
  3.  One of the most important things I’m responsible for is the development and growth of my employees. It’s up to me to make sure they are engaged in meaningful and challenging work that helps them stretch and grow. And in order to help develop others, I need to development myself.
  4.  I’m responsible for creating a team of “A” players. My goal is to hire, retain, and promote only the best. If someone is a C player, my job to is turn them into an A player or help them find another role where they have a better chance to be an A player. I will hold my team accountable to the highest standards or performance and behavior, and offer no apologies for expecting my team to work harder and behave more professionally than other teams around us.
  5.  It’s my job as a leader to ensure my organization’s work is strategic. That is, all of our goals and activities need to be aligned with the overall goals and mission of the larger organization. I owe it to my organization and to every member of my team to ensure our work is meaningful, and will have little tolerance for non-value added work.
  6. Any organization I lead will always have a strategy and goals. Any individual I lead will always have a set of objectives and a development plan.
  7.  I understand and embrace the importance of team meetings and individual 1 on 1s. These meetings are not a nuisance or distraction – they are the day-to-day manifestation of leadership.
  8. I need to be an advocate for my peers and my manager. Their success needs to be as important as my own success. I’m responsible for their development too.
  9. I should be positive and optimistic – about my company, our products and services, our clients, our goals, other departments, etc… I’ll challenge when appropriate, but it will always be with the intention of constructive improvement. Humor is OK – cynicism and sarcasm are not.
  10. As a part of a leadership team, it’s up to all of us to challenge, debate, and speak up when we disagree. But when we leave we leave the room, I’ll respect the final decision, publicly support it, and do all I can to help successfully implement it.
  11. My employees are bright, capable, responsible adults and I need to treat them that way. I am not all-knowing or blessed with superior judgment because of my title. I don’t need to be aware of all details, be involved in all decisions, or dictate how they do their work. Treating employees like children and micromanaging is the ultimate form of disrespect and poor leadership.
  12.  I’m still working on this one – but I need to listen and ask questions, and be open to possibilities. Listening as a leader means fighting the natural urge to evaluate and react, vs. listening to truly understand another’s worldview and consider the possibilities. (Then I can evaluate and react)

Q:  What advice other advice do you have?

A:  To me, the most rewarding aspect of leadership is developing others. At the end of the day, other than a maybe a handful of individuals like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, few will remember your business accomplishments. But – we all have the ability to help our employees achieve their goals, to help them grow, and to help them reach their full potential. Those are the leaders that will always be remembered.

I’ve been to enough retirement parties, and when the great leaders are celebrated, those are the kind of things they are remembered for, not their business accomplishments.

So what do you want to be remembered for as a leader? What would you like to hear people who you managed saying about you? Now, start doing those things today and tomorrow!

The Book

Dan has a new e-book, The Great Leadership and Succession Planning Kit. See my review of his book.

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