Friday the 13 “spooky” leadership lessons for October

Living in Texas, I do miss out on some of the delightful aspects of October from childhood. The crinkle of leaves, burning firewood, and the brisk night air is replaced by just… moist hot. However, I can still sneak away from being an adult to rewatch all my favorite horror movies to enjoy the season. So to stay in the holiday spirit here are 13 leadership lessons on Friday.

1. The most significant challenge is never really expected

None of the characters go into a story expecting machetes, hatches, or claws. They have entirely different concerns and goals. Looking back at my most significant challenges every single one seemed to come from nowhere as I was more concerned with other things. Running through bizarre scenarios is a very beneficial tool for rapidly dispatching mundane challenges.

2. Don’t split up

Perhaps the cardinal rule. Tempting because a team can cover much more ground but a loner is more likely to get stuck in something way over their head. Try to keep at least two people on essential projects to support each other. Going it alone? You might lose them and much more.

3. The people in charge need incredibly compelling evidence

One of the most prominent tropes in horror is that the parents and police don’t listen. While it makes sense for a moody teenager label others dumb, we all understand that an immortal unkillable machine is quite an extraordinary claim. The turning point is always when compelling evidence (usually a body count or seeing the monster). Always use strong proof when appealing to stakeholders to make a decision.

4. Resourcefulness is key; Silver bullets fail

Unfortunately, silver bullets are a one-stop solution only in movies. Even when used they rarely have the intended effect, and the heroes resort to their incredible resourcefulness with the tools and supplies they have. Often jerry-rigging something to help hold the monster at bay or make a daring escape. Just skip the bullet. Use what you have around you instead of trying to get something with impossible requirements.

5. Learning is critical

Always be willing to learn from your mistakes. Predictably approaching a problem because that’s how it was done in the past can leave your team open to some harsh realities in a changing environment.

6. Somebody always warns of the impending danger

There always seems to be warning signs of impending doom that seem apparent in hindsight. News reports about increases in phishing attacks during the holidays, the release of new exciting codes, or even grandma talking about her friend losing her retirement to fraud. We can’t dwell on everything but consider that there is some underlying truth in statements.

7. Your competition is evolving, so should you

Nothing will continue to work forever. If there is no innovation, you will be leading a group forward to the future but back into the zombie-filled catacombs. Without making changes to explore and exploit new opportunities the team will stagnate.

8. Simple is good

The most complicated plans can be put to shame if everything doesn’t line up. Sometimes the most straightforward solutions are the most effective.

9. Take care of yourself

You can’t show leadership if you are out of action. Overworking a body is almost as silly as running away from an ax murderer in heels. Eat healthy food, exercise, spend time with loved ones and on hobbies. Make sure you are ready for work each day.

10. Watch your hubris

More humanistic monsters often make broad generalizing statements condoning their mayhem. A solution that makes sense for one variation has a danger of being applied too broadly.

11. You find out your real companions when everything goes wrong

If team members are suddenly disappearing to leave you to face the problem alone, they will probably run away from every challenge. Not physically but through a deluge of excuses and rationalizations. It is best to sort out who will have the courage to face problems head-on and help the team despite the circumstances.

12. Understand whats behind the mask

Masks are used to portray what we want others to see. We all present a side of ourselves when we go to work, and we often miss unique aspects of our peers. Try to peel back the mask a little bit to see hidden talents or motivations. You can find a secret rockstar passionate about a direction you have never considered.

13. The problem never dies

You can’t just kill a problem. Sure you can slow it down and incapacitate it, but when you turn your back, it will rise again. There are always going to be new iterations of the problem that keeps popping up and evolving. The most important defense is to learn and apply what you know in the past so that you can better deal with the problem next time.

Hope everyone had a few moments to think about how their favorite horror stories and how those lessons, as fantastical as they are, can provide a tool for your leadership toolbox!

Have a Happy Halloween!


Thanks Interns! Three management lessons as temp workers transition


Businesses everywhere are seeing a large supply of cheap expendable labor depart as interns have headed back to school. Often the butt of jokes, undervalued interns are criticized for being inexperienced, undertrained, and very temporary. However, my personal experiences with interns have shown that they provide valuable contributions to the company if the manager is mindful of a few things.

The Interns value to the company

Interns provide the invaluable gift of work hours. Not free, but cheap. Interns are the most straightforward answer to getting items complete that you just need additional employees for tasks in some form of neglect. An influx on work hours can provide the momentum to push that project past the small hurdles and goals to something sustainable. With the right manager, a good intern can provide a fresh perspective and have a desire to complete their projects before they depart.

However, as with all cheap labor, there is often a trap of providing just additional “busy work” which can be spent or projects that just keep the interns producing something, anything besides just breathing. Instead of working efficiently they might be asked to continue a long drawn out procedure.

Equally wasteful, is putting interns on side-projects that are not important enough for your full-time employees. If it’s not important enough for a full-time employee, then my team is not doing it. It’s not going to be a burden for an intern.

In an unfortunate situation involving a bad intern, you can still get some value by pulling other work off your more productive employees. Don’t throw too much valuable time after the bad.

Management responsibilities to them

There are many diverse reasons why an intern would want to come and work with a company. Future career prospects, the type of work at a company, and hopefully the company’s reputation for running an excellent internship program but I never know what drove them until I ask them. It is one of the first things I should be asking when they show up.

What are they expecting and how can you help them get that.

On this latest batch, I mistakenly fell into the trap of being “too busy” and forgot to complete this step. While we were able to provide many learning experiences and let them provide tangible impact to the business, I might have been able to do a better job at aligning work with their interests if I had not slipped up.

Immediate feedback is also a key component. Professionals write scores about how feedback can be uncomfortable for both parties. I find keeping the tone straightforward and prompting leading questions for improvement helped us finish projects better. Also, the intern doesn’t revert just back to receive mode. These conversations should be modeled more like ping pong, both parties should be speaking.

I’m not the best at stepping back and allowing the process to occur. Often I just want to jump forward and drive. Like most people I know, we feel we are good at driving tasks, and we want to get there faster. However, when I allow myself to get trapped in directing instead of questioning, the results are not as good, I kill innovation, and underserve the intern by thinking for them.

I am also somewhat selfish about my interns succeeding in the program. These are people who have been vetted and groomed by the company and have a large potential for future growth. Having a good network of new up and comers is a future investment in myself and my career. One day, I will need either the intern or someone they know to help out with a project or idea.

The more knowledge and experience I provide to the trainees.
The more I support their pursuit of goals.
The more I will be able to draw from them in the future.

Management and Leadership Testbed

During my one on one sessions with employees upward mobility is a top concern. (If it is not you have other concerns). There is no question that the largest resume builders are high visibility pet projects of management and interns are a close 2nd. Interns allow my full-time employees that trial run in leadership.

The largest misconception about the military is being stuck with a Drill Sergeant barking and spitting in your face 24/7. That can’t be further from the truth. My Marine Corp “internship” was marching around with an infantry platoon. I saw that the marines were teaching leadership from the top officer to the lowest ranking enlisted. My manager was a lance corporal with two months experience making sure I didn’t mess up. He was the one grooming me. That decentralized leadership and autonomy being taught all the way to the ground is a core competitive advantage that both Sailors and Marines share.

In my biased opinion, you should follow this model.

While the military has a constant flow of people moving in and out on rotations, my corporate team doesn’t get that luxury. The more junior analysts do not have anyone to train or practice leadership with on a rotating basis.

Interns solve this.

Suddenly, there is a new, inexperienced team member ripe for training. The influx of temporary employees, allows a manager to put even those junior analysts, in a role that requires the management of the intern. It’s a fantastic testbed for your full-time employees to learn to teach. After all, the worst thing that could happen is the teaching of bad habits, which leave after summer! Even a complete failure, will inform an employee which of their leadership tools were more or less effective.

Ready for the next batch?

Sometimes interns are viewed as a bother, someone to babysit during the summer as you move through your typical workweek. Although I understand the concerns about their limited experience and short tenure, I have also grown to view them as an essential part of our growing and developing m team and would urge you to seek interns out the best you can.