Jim Woodrum is a man of vision. He currently serves as the Huddle chief strategy officer and has over 31 years of experience in leadership roles. Jim is our resident expert at reading people quickly.
His thoughts on growing into a leader are rich and we hope serve you well.
Q: First off, where do you think you learned your identity of leadership?
JW: I've been fortunate to be surrounded by a number of people I would consider strong leaders, but I think when you get into the business world, you need someone to explain the "why" behind leadership. For me, I met that guy early in my professional life while I was in grad school.
Today, when I come to any difficult decision I pause and consider how this mentor of mine would respond. I have trained myself to trust his wisdom over my instincts. When I am in a situation that my immediate response is different than how I imagine he would answer, I default to how he would respond and am then pushed to further evaluate – in many ways, although he has passed, he is still teaching me about leadership.
He was a guy full of life lessons and able to teach about business, people and life in general. I intentionally volunteered a lot of my time to be around him more and learn everything I could from him.
Q: What would you say to professionals interested in growing themselves as leaders?
JW: Be fearless.
One of the most important things in being an effective leader is adopting a nature that is willing to accept new challenges and never back down from a situation.
Of course, people have limitations and I’m not suggesting that leaders ignore what they and their team are capable of, but you can't be afraid of a challenge.
Fearless people say, I'll do it. I may fail, but I'll be better because of it."
I would suggest to those hungry for leadership to stop convincing yourself out of things. Too many people choose to say, "I shouldn't take lead on this project because I don't know enough” or "I can't close this deal." Fearless people say, "I'll go do it. I may fail, but I will learn enough that the next challenge that comes will be easier.”
Welcome new challenges. Be willing to fail. Failure is a great teacher on the journey of leadership.
Q: How do effective leaders handle confrontation?
JW: As a leader, you don't need to speak first. Learn to listen well. A lot of best confrontation resolution practices are about drawing in information from everyone involved.
Even the biggest problems typically are rooted in a lack of communication and lack of knowledge. Gather all the information you can -- both verbal and nonverbal. Learn how to do this well.
Again, it takes a fearless leader to admit when he is wrong, and in doing so you really display selfless leadership to your team. This is another opportunity to show fearlessness – but one of the most difficult.
My wife and I recently had to do a double take on one of our kids who recently deserved our trust, but we made an effort to stay more involved than we probably should have. We realized our error and gave him a sincere apology. I messed up. Being a parent, a business owner or a leader doesn't come with a manual. Embrace your mistakes. Be kind to others when they make mistakes. Listen first.
Q: What do you consider the greatest compliment you can receive as a leader?
JW: I’m flattered when one of my employees takes another job.
It seems very backwards to our culture who often responds to someone leaving with questions about their employee's satisfaction, their leadership skills as an employer, or their ability to pay their employees adequately, but it is a great compliment when someone hires someone away from you. Why? It proves their worth.
You, as a leader, have developed somebody in a way that is attractive. Those who are working under you have skills that are desirable. Leaders grow their employees up. Leaders look to advance others. Remember, not all job changes have to be outside of the company to advance someone’s career.
Leaders grow their employees up. Leaders look to advance others.
Q: That’s a very interesting answer and I’m certain a hard perspective to learn to adopt. In day-to-day work, what practices do you believe are essential to grow into a strong leader?
JW: Gratitude. Tell someone you are thankful every time you can.
Gratitude is key. If you can learn to be gracious despite the situation, you will become a strong leader. Be thankful in the good moments and the terrible ones. Thank people especially when things are going wrong. I use the phrases "thank you in advance" and "thank you for your understanding" a lot. Learn gratitude and apply it even it little ways -- it will go far.
Look for ways to serve other people. Find someone you want to be, chances are they are someone who exhibits gratitude, and emulate them.
Look out for "Part Two" of this interview with Jim next week!
In part two Jim will dive deep into "failing well" as a leader and motivating your team through failure.