Go big or go home

management advice Russ Kathrein

When talking about commitment, there is a well-known comparison of the difference between ham and eggs. With regard to the eggs, the chicken is involved, but with regard to the ham, the pig is committed. When it comes to being a leader, you can’t merely be involved. You have to be committed to the decisions you personally make, and to those of your organization.

Previously working in large organizations, I witnessed a number of leaders who would purposely distance themselves from a decision or new initiatives being done by their team so that they would not be tainted if the decision was wrong or the initiative failed; it would also give them the opportunity to blame their team for the failure. The only thing worse was a leader who was a micro-dabbler. Like a micro-manager, they immersed themselves in the details of the initiative at some point in the process (usually the beginning), then they disappeared from the process, as if it were a new toy they lost interest in. If they did reappear, it usually was at the point of success: They then would again immerse themselves in “their” initiative, usually screwing up things because they didn’t understand what was being done, but they now wanted to be involved. A true leader takes credit for failures as well as successes.

Success is not always assured at the start of an initiative. One way to make sure your team is aligned is to think bigger than your initial plan and design your structure or your effort with the bigger plan right out of the gate. An example would be the decision to get into installed sales. I have personally seen many managers tentatively dip their toe in the waters when it came to installed sales by “hiring a guy” to install a product for a customer without a bigger plan in mind. They thought they would “figure it out” and grow bigger over time. If you don’t have an endgame envisioned, how do you know if you are succeeding?

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When I was managing operations in Colorado prior to the downturn, my team was exploring offering framing services. We determined that to be effective and to service the builder the right way, we had to frame more than a couple houses a month. So, we bought a local framing company that gave us the initial volume we needed to do things right and jumped in with both feet. Within a year, we were framing more than 1,000 houses annually. When we decided to offer installed millwork out of our millwork shop, again we committed to ramping up quickly so we could justify the cost of the services that we felt would differentiate our business from the competition. It was a big leap of faith in both instances, but our entire team knew what our end goal was and that we had to get there. If we had timidly entered the business, our team would not have been as committed to the success of the effort.

At Alexander Lumber, we recently made the decision to completely exit our smaller, rural markets, and concentrate on our builder strategy in our mid-sized and large markets. It wasn’t that all of our small markets were bad or losing money. We could have easily shut down those that were not performing and run the others as mini cash cows for as long as they were profitable, while we concentrated on our new initiatives in the rest of the business. The problem is, we would have only been involved with the businesses in the smaller markets, not fully committed. In the end, we decided to make the change all at once, along with some internal structural changes that aligned with our strategy, so that our entire team knew on which part of the business we were committed and focusing all of our efforts.

As a leader, when you commit yourself and your team to an initiative, you provide clarity to all those involved and you take away much of the doubt. When you act timidly toward a new endeavor, you set the energy level low; people will pick up on it, which often ensures results that will be less than hoped for. So, don’t be a chicken, and take the plunge. The only way to have epic success is to have epic dreams combined with epic effort.

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