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Dan Dowdy: Great Leaders Must Be Able to Have the Tough Conversation

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Why did you become a leader? Recently, I read a book by Patrick Lencioni called The Motive. The book asks leaders to reflect on why they got to the position they’re in and what their goals are while they’re in it. In the book, Patrick refers to two separate motives that leaders fall under: reward-centered leadership and responsibility-centered leadership.

Reward-centered leadership is the idea that becoming a leader is a reward for all the hard work you’ve put in. It suggests that leaders have “done their time” and should be able to pick and choose the tasks they want to take care of and avoid.

Responsibility-centered leadership refers to the thought that as the leader, you have the responsibility to invest in your team’s growth, serve your team, and have the discipline to sit down with your team members and have difficult conversations when they’re necessary.

Let’s step back for a second. When I came into a true leadership role in 2010, it wasn’t necessarily because I earned it. Not that I wasn't a hard worker or that I wasn’t striving toward a leadership role in the future. At that time, I was running a service truck as a master plumber in Texas and was happy doing so. So when I was pulled up to a leadership role, I thought to myself, “I still have so much to learn as a technician.” But like a lot of trades business owners out there, I was second generation and the leadership role was in my DNA. Growing up with humble beginnings and great parents as role models allowed me to develop a strong work ethic. But when it came to the leadership role, I had no formal training. All I had was advice that my Dad had given me. Things like: “you must walk around and feel the business, then make decisions based on your intuition.” It may not have felt very helpful at the time, but the funny thing is that with all the formal training and coaching I’ve had over the last 10 years, intuition does still play a big role in my leadership strategy.

During the transition into my new role, I had become a reward-centered leader. My ego, mixed with the current culture of the business, had me always thinking about what was in it for me. The success of the family business had me riding a high and thinking it was all about Dan. That mindset and motive was all wrong and man did I pay for it in the long run. People want a leader that is willing to lead by example, build relationships and do the hard things that are required to be a great leader. I always say that when I am looking for a potential leader in my own business, I look for three things: character, work ethic and initiative. You cannot teach these three things as adults, they must be taught at an early age. So, I want to ask you again, why did you become a leader and what motive are you leading with?

To See Change, You Need to Make One

People with personalities like mine — call it a people pleaser, peacemaker, 9 on the enneagram — have a knack for shying away from the difficult conversations. Whenever someone would do something against the rules at work, I knew I needed to have a conversation with them but I would give it just enough time to tell myself that it is not as bad as it seems. Convincing myself that the difficult conversation does not need to happen and that just somehow magically everything will work itself out. If you can relate to what I’m saying, I hope this blog helps you to realize the importance of working through that comfort zone in your life. I am not saying you have to be harsh or start fights with the people you lead. What I’m saying is that you need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and have the difficult conversation in a respectful way.

Everyone has blind spots in their lives. The blind spots may be things that they do that annoy people or possibly take the company in the wrong direction for one reason or another. One of my biggest blind spots as a Visionary was having an idea and then expecting people to stop what they were doing and complete the idea I had, thinking that it was an easy task. In reality the task I was asking for was a big deal. My blind spot was seeing what it took to make my vision a reality. Having the difficult conversations with your team will hopefully bring their blind spot to awareness or help them to change the behavior that is not tolerated in your business. These are conversations that we should be willing to have with the people we lead, otherwise we cannot expect them to magically change. Reminders for the difficult conversations with your team...

- Praise in public, have difficult conversations in private
- Check your emotions. It's business… not personal
- Let them know their value they have in the company and that you care about them
- Be direct with the issue at hand, no beating around the bush
- Ask questions to understand their point of view — no assumptions!
- Come to common ground and set clear expectations of what it looks like to succeed
- Set a follow up 30 min talk a week, later to check in and see how the progress is going

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

I’ve met a lot of home services business owners that have a similar personality to mine. I think that the key characteristic is wanting to serve others as a business, i.e., being in the service industry for the right reason. My challenge to you all today is to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable and show your team that you are willing to have the difficult conversation. Communication is the one problem that almost every business out there would say is their biggest weakness. Communication is not always just referred to as communication with your customers, it is also internal. Without the willingness to take this step, you will always have communication and accountability problems in your business. Always remember that what challenges you changes you.

I’ll say that again for the people in the back… WHAT CHALLENGES YOU CHANGES YOU!

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