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When Leaders Wear Work Boots

By Bill Prosch

May 20, 2019

Working with client companies in my role at Violand Management includes the opportunity to work on various projects with operations staff members. Recently, near the end of a meeting, I asked a project manager how he knew he was being successful at his job. This is a question I frequently ask, as it helps me to understand what success looks like in the eyes of the people I’m working with. And understanding this allows me to ensure that we are working toward a common goal. The response I received honestly shocked me.

I expected to hear something about making his boss happy, or how much money he earns, or possibly even the title he holds. My assumptions were wrong. Instead, here’s what he told me.

“First, I can gauge how I’m doing by the attitude of my technicians. If they’re motivated, positive, and making our customers happy, I feel successful. Second, I pay attention to the feedback from the customers and adjusters we work with. Again, if they’re happy with us and sending us referrals, I feel successful. Next, I look at how we’re controlling our Cost of Goods Sold. If we are meeting or staying under our targets, I feel successful. I look at what kind of feedback our customer service reps are getting. If that feedback is positive, I feel successful. Last, if everyone around me is reporting that they’re successful, I’m successful.”

Did you notice that in this project manager’s response there wasn’t one word about his wants or needs? His success is the by-product of making others around him successful. Think about that for a minute. If he can focus on ensuring the success of his subordinates, customers, and company, he feels successful.

His response was incredibly enlightened and mature. And here’s the best part―this wasn’t made up or contrived. He didn’t have days, hours, or even minutes to craft a response to my question. His answer came out immediately after I asked the question, in that exact order.

You would expect this level of maturity in a manager in his forties or fifties, but what’s truly incredible in my eyes is the fact that this project manager is in his early thirties. I mean no disrespect to those in their twenties and thirties; it’s simply that most of us need to fall down, get up, and brush ourselves off countless times over the years to gain this level of insight. His focus has matured from “me,” to “we,” to “them” in what seems like an instant. He grasped the concept that he would never truly be successful while focusing on himself or even a group he was part of. Rather, he understood that if you focus on helping everyone around you succeed, your own success is almost certainly guaranteed.

If I was a customer, I would want this project manager running my project. If I were the owner of a restoration company, there’s no doubt I would want him driving my projects. And if I was a technician, I would love reporting to a guy like this. After all, who wouldn’t follow a leader who wants nothing more than to help you be successful?