Medium 9781626569812

Leaders Made Here

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Leaders Made Here
Great leaders create great organizations. However, a scarcity of leaders today means a shortfall in performance tomorrow. Don't gamble with your company's future!

You don't need to hope that leaders emerge from the ranks or that search firms can find the leaders you need in a timely fashion. Hope is not a strategy! You can build an organizational culture that will ensure your leadership pipeline is full and flowing.

Bestselling author and Chick-fil-A executive Mark Miller describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks. Leaders Made Here outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

To bring his ideas to life, Miller uses the story of Blake, a new CEO, and Charles and old friend and colleague, as they search for the best practices from around the world to ensure a continuous supply of their most precious asset – leaders. Blake and his team then translate their findings into a practical plan that any organization can use to create a leadership culture, sustained competitive advantage, and long-term success.

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Human Error


The sound was deafening and the confusion was debilitating. Blake was struggling to pick himself up off the floor and wondering what had just happened. The only light streamed in through a small window near the ceiling as the sun crawled over the horizon.

As Blake strained to scan the room, he could see others getting up. They were all covered in dust and debris. His ears were still ringing from the explosion.

Just a moment before, he was beginning his first meeting with his leadership team as the new CEO and then, this. . . .

“Is everyone okay?” Blake yelled.

“I’m okay,” came a voice though the shadows.

“Me, too,” said another.

A third voice asked, “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Blake said, as smoke began to fill the room. “We need to leave the building—now! Where’s David . . . and Sally?”

Becky shouted, “They’re over here!”

Blake jumped across the table to find both of them on the floor. He leaned over and from what he could see, it didn’t look good. They were both unconscious.


Bet on Leadership


Blake sent Jack an email and was not surprised by the response: See you Thursday morning at 10:00—usual location.

As Blake had done many times before, he made the drive to Gresham Park. From his new address, on the other side of the state, the drive was a little shorter. Blake knew the routine—find the crowd, and he would find Jack.

Just as on other visits, Blake found the table at which Jack was holding court, schooling some unsuspecting opponent on the finer points of the game of chess. The pristine, fall weather seemed to have increased the crowd of onlookers.

“Checkmate,” Jack said in a tone reflecting both excitement and humility. He had won again as he most often did here in the park; grandmasters don’t have many legitimate rivals in this setting. The crowd offered what might be described as a “chess clap”—a golf clap but slightly more subdued.

As the latest student left the table wondering what had just happened, and how it happened so quickly, Jack addressed the crowd, “That’s it for today. Thanks for stopping by. See you next week.”


Second Chance


She was gone. The most engaging, spirited, caring, and beautiful woman Charles had ever known had just slipped away. He had lost not only his wife and the mother of their child, but his soulmate. He was numb.

Tears began to roll down Charles’s face as he stared at the bank of machines that had been trying to extend Ann’s life. They had failed, and Charles was listening to a sound he would never forget. Ann’s monitor was broadcasting the lifeless tone of a heart no longer beating. Would it start again? He knew the answer was no. Not this time.

Many would say Ann had already cheated death. Her diagnosis had given her only months to live, but she was a fighter and had turned months into years. Now, her time was up—no miracle cure, no new treatment, no more experimental drugs. She was really gone.

Charles and Ann had been married only six years; her illness had taken its toll on both of them. Charles looked, and felt, much older than his birthdate on his driver’s license. In some ways, Ann’s passing lifted a tremendous weight—the pain, the waiting, the unknown. These issues were, in part, resolved now but replaced with a new set of realities. In the moment, the burden felt even heavier.


The Assignment


Charles and Blake agreed on a time and place for their first meeting, two hours before Blake’s next leadership team meeting. He wanted to give Charles a little more context before he met the team.

During their meeting, Blake did a great job establishing the facts as he understood them, acknowledging he was still fairly new. Blake and Charles both understood they were operating on numerous assumptions at this point. Part of Charles’s role would be to validate or dismiss these and try to determine what was really happening in the organization.

“This was very helpful,” Charles said. “You answered most of my questions.”

“Yeah, but I think I said, ‘I don’t know’ a lot.” Both men laughed.

“Agreed. But it’s always good to know what you don’t know. The truth is always better than a bad assumption.”

“Are you ready to meet my team?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, one more thing, I have scheduled another meeting after this one for us.”

“Okay, who will we meet?”


Our Point of View


The next meeting was with Charles’s new team. The group was small—only four of them, and as Charles would soon learn, they were competent but lacked strategic direction.

Blake called the meeting to order and greeted everyone. “Thanks for allowing me to crash your meeting today. I know Sally talked to you about her decision. Today, I want to tell you how we’re going to move forward.

“I’ve asked Charles Jones to join us as your interim leader and to help us during the transition. Ultimately, he will help us find Sally’s replacement. For now, I’ve asked him to work with you to begin the process of creating a leadership culture.” Blake continued with a brief bio including some of Charles’s recognition in the field. A couple of the team members already knew Charles by reputation.

“I know you have a lot of questions. Before we dive into those, I want Charles to get to know you a little better. Let’s introduce ourselves and share some of the work you’ve been doing.”

Each member of the team shared a brief work history as Blake had requested, but the conversation also took a very personal tone. As with the earlier meeting, Blake had intended to steer the conversation toward work, but the team had other ideas. Apparently, this was a reflection of Sally’s efforts to build genuine community among the team members.


That’s My Job


During Blake’s next team meeting, Charles shared the draft of the charter to scores of questions. The level of skepticism was high, but Blake was clear: creating a leadership culture was at the top of his strategic agenda. The charter was approved.

In his next team meeting, Charles began by telling the team the charter had been approved by Blake and the senior team. Next, he asked them how they wanted to proceed. An extended discussion concluded with the following:

Action Items

  Talk to key stakeholders within the company about leadership development—starting with Blake’s leadership team members

  Find secondary research on companies that excel at developing leaders

  Compile a list of the current activities underway in the arena of leadership development across the organization

  Create a short list of companies that would be willing to host a benchmark visit from the team

The conversation then turned to their key stakeholder interviews, and the team began to discuss the questions they would like to ask. Basically, they decided to ask open-ended questions about leadership development to explore what these leaders felt had worked in the past and to ask for suggestions concerning the future. Their questions included the following:


Study the Best


As the additional internal interviews were approaching, Charles wanted to be sure Blake and the senior team were comfortable with the team’s external benchmarking plans. During their next weekly meeting, Charles raised the subject.

“Game on!” Charles said as he greeted Blake. “We’ve started our interviews.”

“How’s that going?” Blake asked.

“Based on a sample of one—very interesting! I will know a lot more after a couple more meetings. No doubt the time will be well invested. Today, I want to tell you about our benchmarking plans and be sure we’re in sync on that.”

“You know, I’m a big fan of benchmarking,” Blake began. “However, in this case, I thought we hired you to give us the answers,” he said with a huge smile.

“I could,” Charles replied, returning the smile, “but I want to help the team grow in the process. You and I both know benchmarking isn’t required to build a leadership culture, but an open mind and a bias for learning are prerequisites. Besides, like you, I have always been a huge fan of studying the best. I think it’s one of the ways we combat our own hubris. We can always find someone better at something than we are. Benchmarking done well can really expand our world.”


Scale Matters


Gary contacted the benchmark companies and informed the team all had agreed to meet. Two of the four requested a return visit. He was straightforward in his response; he told them a visit at this time would be premature, because they were very early on this journey. He promised to follow up when more had been accomplished. His candor was appreciated and did not thwart any of the team’s upcoming visits.

For their first visit, the team decided to send Charles, Bob, and Kim. They agreed not to ask Rose to travel until her mom was more settled.

The first company was a large, well-established, global organization in the financial sector. It had tens of billions in assets and had been successful for a very long time. Although the organization had certainly been impacted by the economics of the day, a conservative posture had served it well during turbulent times.

When the team arrived at the firm’s global training facility, they found the place to be well appointed but not flashy—designed to make their usual students, banking and finance professionals, feel comfortable and relaxed. Today the team would meet with Judy Cortez, the executive director charged with leadership development.


The Big Idea


Charles woke before the alarm sounded. His sleep patterns had become tenuous in the previous months. In the midst of it all, he had tried to establish a bit of a routine as part of his path back to normalcy.

After he showered and shaved, he went to a local diner for his usual: scrambled eggs and turkey bacon with wheat toast—no butter. While he was sitting at the counter, someone tapped him on this shoulder.

He turned around to see his mom, dad, and Samantha! He was speechless. He hadn’t seen Sam in weeks. This was not how he expected to start his day.

Stunned and a bit disoriented by the surprise, Charles regained his composure and said, “Hello! It’s so great to see you!”

Bending down on one knee, he gave Sam the biggest hug of her life. He didn’t want to let her go. The flood of emotions was overwhelming. Charles began to cry. Through his tears, he looked at Sam and said, “How are you?” She nodded and began to cry herself. She wasn’t sure why she was crying, maybe just because her daddy was crying. They hugged again as Charles scooped her up in his arms. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”


Let’s Review


As the team assembled for their regularly scheduled meeting, Blake joined them for the first agenda item—the debrief from his visit with Kim and Gary.

Charles was glad Blake had joined them so he could thank him publicly. He also thought it might be a good time to share a little more of his story.

“You guys may not realize what an amazing company you are creating. I am guessing few CEOs would give a day to cover for a consultant to spend a day with his family. This is a testimony to how much Blake values people and how much he believes in creating a leadership culture. His willingness to personally make a benchmarking trip rather than just ask us to do it for him sends a strong signal to the entire organization. Blake, thank you again.”

Charles took a deep breath and continued. “The time with my family means more to me than you know. When we first met, I told you I was in recovery. . . .”

“How’s that going?” Rose asked.

“Great. Thanks for asking.” Charles hesitated and then said, “What I didn’t tell you on that first day is that my wife died a few months ago, and because of my addiction and my rehab program, my daughter, Samantha, has been living with my parents. She’s four years old.”


It Just Happens


The team’s progress was encouraging. The benchmarking trips were yielding both validation for some of what the organization was already doing and ideas for future enhancements. And, although some of the internal interviews had proven challenging, overall they had been productive. The final stakeholder interview was now scheduled; Gary would meet with Amanda to get the CFO’s perspective on leadership development.

Gary showed up early with his questions in hand. He had also talked to the other team members who had conducted similar sessions. He was ready—he hoped.

Gary anxiously stepped into Amanda’s office. “Thanks for agreeing to meet with me. As you probably know, our team is trying to determine how we might strengthen our organization. I’m here to get your perspective.”

“Yes, thanks for coming by. Tell me again, what are we calling this?”

“What are you referring to, ma’am?”

“The project, the program—what is it you have been charged to do, exactly?”


Just Do It


The team was excited about all they were learning. They were even more excited about the pragmatic nature of the themes—it all seemed doable to them. As they approached the final visit, they were eager to test some of what they had learned thus far. Due to travel logistics and expenses for a trip to Europe, not to mention perceptions, Gary scheduled a video-conference with Hans Kline, the head of leadership development for a smaller, wildly successful, global organization with a strong reputation.

“Good afternoon! Thanks for agreeing to meet with us,” Gary said.

“I’m delighted,” Hans said.

After the group exchanged introductions and brief work histories, Charles went to the agenda. “Hans, there are several things we want to talk to you about today. As you know from our initial call several months ago, we are attempting to do what you have already done—we want to create a leadership culture. We’ve done a lot of work since then and reached a few conclusions. One of our goals for today is to get your reaction to our work thus far.”


Never Too Late


Rose contacted David’s assistant and asked for a fifteen-minute meeting. Remembering her first encounter, she told the assistant no chairs were required.

David greeted Rose and apologized for his behavior in their previous meeting. “Thanks for giving me a second chance. Please have a seat.” This was not the welcome Rose had expected, but she was relieved.

“Well, thank you for agreeing to another meeting. As I thought about our last meeting, obviously, I was not on my best behavior, either. Let’s start over.”

“Sounds like a fine idea,” David said.

Rose spent the next few minutes giving David a quick overview of what the team had been doing and what she believed were some of the ideas that might serve their company in the future.

“We just might be able to pull this off,” David said.

Rose tried to hide her amazement. “Thanks for the endorsement?” she said quizzically.

“Well, I must admit, I’ve had my doubts about the whole thing ever since Blake told us about the work, even before he hired Charles. I had huge reservations. I guess that is what I was trying to communicate in our first visit.”


Connect the Dots


Charles knew the next phase of the project was the most critical. All the team had been trying to do thus far was find the truth regarding how to build a leadership culture. Now, they would attempt to translate what they had learned into something culturally relevant for their organization. They needed to create a strategy they could execute.

At the team’s next meeting, after their usual join-up time, Charles went to the whiteboard and asked, “What’s happened since our last meeting?”

“Well, I had an interview with Amanda,” Gary said.

“How did that go?” Bob asked.

“Let’s just say, David is not the only skeptic in senior leadership. Besides that, she offered a few tactical suggestions. I will share those at the appropriate time.”

“What is her primary concern?” Charles asked.

“Well, it’s hard to articulate. Amanda seems to prefer an approach to leadership development I would call ‘spontaneous combustion.’ She said more than once, ‘it just happens’ and ‘leaders just show up.’ She described it like electricity—she doesn’t know how it works—it just does. She seems to be willing to leave the filling of leadership positions totally to chance.”


The Pitch


The next day, Charles was up early again. Based on his newfound commitment to run, he headed for the streets. As he ran, he thought about all that had transpired in the previous few years. He had both regrets and blessings to reflect upon. One of the blessings was the work Blake had given him.

At the weekly check-in with Blake, he was excited to share the team’s progress.

“Good morning. How are you today?” Blake asked.

Charles, talking a little bit faster than usual, said, “Fantastic! I ran five miles this morning. Running has really helped me clear my mind and strengthen my body. How are you?”

“Really good. Anxious to see what you and the team have come up with,” Blake said.

“I can’t wait to share the new strategy with you. We need to know your thoughts. Did we miss anything? Do you think it will stand the test of time? What will others think and do when they hear our recommendations? What should we do next?”

“Hold on—slow down,” Blake said. “One question at a time.”


Decision Time


When Charles left the meeting, his team was waiting for him. “How was it?” Rose asked excitedly.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” Charles said. “They were very good listeners. They asked thoughtful questions and I answered them. Nothing I wouldn’t have expected.”

“What did they say about the assessment results?” Kim asked.

“They were not happy with the numbers. They also were not sure that long-term we were asking the best questions to judge our progress toward a leadership culture. I welcomed their input and promised them a copy of our new scorecard as soon as it is completed.”

“What’s next?” Bob asked.

“We should go back to work. We have a lot to do regardless of how much money we have in next year’s budget,” Charles said.

Gary was a bit confused. “I agree with ‘go back to work,’ but I don’t understand your last comment, ‘regardless of how much money.’”

Charles responded, “Let me say it like this: We now have a picture of the future we did not have six months ago. Even if our budget were cut in half, I still want to create a leadership culture. How about you?”



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