This week’s episode features Artie Lynnworth, a long-time Mentor, author, motivational speaker, and global executive. Artie is an expert at change management and walks us through the techniques he has used to create successful cultural change. He outlines surefire ways to foster team building and inspire team members to be passionate about implementing strategies that will benefit the organization. Artie reflects on his 25 years of mentoring and the amazing personal and professional transformations he has witnessed in his mentees. Artie also shares his habits for success, his advice to young professionals, and his favorite quote.
Brown: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Menttium Podcast. This is Solveig Brown, and today I am going to be talking about leadership, life, and the power of mentoring with my guest, Artie Lynnworth. Artie is a former gymnast and coach, a private pilot, a bluegrass banjo and classical guitar player, a martial arts practitioner, author of several books, and a motivational speaker.
Artie has been a mentor for Menttium for over 25 years. During his 40-year career, Artie started out as an electrical engineer and rapidly progressed to various corporate leadership positions, including plant manager at several sites across the USA, senior vice president, responsible for global business and general manager of his company’s operations in Chile, South America. Welcome, Artie. I am so glad to have you as a guest today.
Lynnworth: Thank you Solveig and 25 years working with Menttium, it’s been an honor and pleasure for me every one of those years. It’s great to be with you today and I’ll help your listeners any way I can.
Brown: Thank you Artie, we appreciate that.Artie, one of your books has an unusual title. Can you tell me how Slice the Salami: Tips for Life and Leadership One Slice at a Time came to be?
Lynnworth: I’m smiling and laughing with my strange title. I’ll get to that in a minute too. There’s really two parts to your question. One is, how did I become a writer, what prompted that? Two is, where did that weird title come from? I’ll address those separately. As background in my 40-year career, I had the fun I’ll call it, and the opportunity to be a changemaker in our corporation. I was lucky. I did well and had good teamwork to help me do these things. But as a result, I was often put in situations to motivate change in an organization, change the culture, get worst in class to best in class or even perhaps more challenging, getting good to great. My company would occasionally ask me to do speeches nationally in the U.S. and occasionally internationally at our other sites to talk about how to do the change process and t are tips for success. During one of those speeches, a gentleman came up to me at the end and he said, “Artie, this was really good stuff. You ought to write a book about that”. I’m getting goosebumps as I’m thinking about it, because that was a pivotal moment in my life. I had never thought about writing books or anything like that, but I like coaching and helping. That triggered something in my brain, and it was the seed that got planted.
Fast forward 10, 20 years later, while living in Chile, South America, a friend of my wife’s cousin, a stranger to me, at 75 years old was making a trip around the world and we had arranged for him to visit us in Chile. We had corresponded quite a bit before he came, and it turns out he, John Laplante, was a journalist and an author. As we got to meet each other and do things together, the long story short was he said to me like the Nike expression, “Artie, if you like to communicate and write and share, just do it”. So, that was the intersection of two things. A guy after a presentation saying, you ought to write a book and an influential guy, 75 years old going around the world by himself. He wrote a book about that later. At 80 years old, he wrote a book about being the oldest Peace Corps volunteer at 80. He was inspiring to me. He’s now 92 years old and still inspires me and he said, just do it.
When I retired and had some more time, I dedicated my first year of retirement to writing my first book. Now we get to the strange title. What was I going to put in it? The initial working idea was tips for leadership. Having come from 40 years in corporate leadership, starting with a blank sheet of paper, what would I give as tips that I wished I knew 40 years earlier. I put those down chapter by chapter, beginning with change making, time management, teamwork, and ethics and so forth, and had my sister-in-law do some initial editing. She said, I’m retired from IBM, but I wished I had a book like that, not to become a corporate leader, but to help me in my life. The title changed to Tips for Life and Leadership One Slice at a Time. But where’s the crazy title come from?
Often when we’re thinking about making a change in our life, we end up saying, I’m gung-ho about this. I’m going to jump right into it. Take an exercise program, for example. I’m going to get all the right clothing. I’m going to join a gym. I’m going to work out three hours a day. And what happens? A day later, you have aches and pains and charley horses, and that good idea just went out the window like a lot of others that start with too much and you’re unable to swallow the idea. There’s the analogy with the salami. If you want to eat a salami and try to eat it whole, you can choke on it. Yes. But if you take a slice at a time and make a tasty sandwich and it becomes positively reinforcing to you, you like it, you’ll do it again. You’ll have another slice, and you’ll do it again. You’ll have another slice, and before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole salami. So that became the first chapter of the book, because the book is about how to make change in your life for the better. And the title was, consider the salami and take this book, take these ideas a slice at a time and work it into your life. So, an intersection of a guy saying you ought to write a book, a motivational, inspirational older guy at the time, I’m now 74 so that guy was about the same age when he inspired me, that connection said write a book, and my thoughts of how can I help others based on my life and leadership experience generated the title and the contents of that book.
Brown: That is such a great story Artie. What I like about the first part is that you recognized that moment when someone said something and it lit a spark in you where you realized, that’s it. We all have those moments that are bigger than just the moment, and I like that you held onto that spark, and you didn’t have time to do it then, but you remembered years later. Then with the great example of the person traveling around the world. The title is such a good metaphor for doing a little bit at a time and a good reminder.
You talked a lot about change management just now, and in your book, you note that to lead yourself and others to excel, you must be good at the change process. Throughout your career Artie, you have been an expert at leading change management, which has resulted in increased safety, increased profitability, and increased employee engagement among other things. Can you give us an example of a change you implemented and talk about the techniques you have used to create successful change?
Lynnworth: That was my most fun at work; seeing what was needed, the gap analysis, closing the gap and motivating a team to get it done. I could give you lots of stories on safety, the work environment, quality, and customer service. I’m going to use profitability as my example because everybody gets to the bottom line one way or another, so you want to talk about numbers. My process number one is you have to be an effective leader if you’re going to effectively make change happen. There are three things employees are looking for in a leader. First is, does the leader care for me? Second, can this leader help me? And thirdly, can I trust this leader? It becomes about touching on all those aspects to make the visceral connection, the real connection. You can’t fake sincerity. Any employee is going to see right through that. You have to care about your employees. You have to take the time to see what you can do to help them, and you have to build trust, and that’s something you earn over time. It doesn’t happen instantly, but it’s like first impressions. It begins with the first impression and goes from there.
So, what was my process? Small plant, large plant, I’m talking up to close to a thousand employees, my priority for me was to get to know every single person, meet every single person, and try to remember as many of the names as I could. I would have my administrative assistants start me out with several pages the names of all the employees and the shifts they worked. I made a point to go to every operating area, every control room, night shift, day shift during my first weeks and months on the job. Many of the employees told me, this is the first time in years I’ve ever met, for example, the plant manager. It’s not just stopping in, knocking on the door, waving a hand, and saying, I can check the box, I met John or Jane. I took the time to sit and talk with them because there’s two things that happen when you are “management by walking around”, that’s the expression, but it’s more than just walking around. If all you’re doing is touching base and passing on, you’re going to have two things that happen. One of them is going to be, it is very shallow. They talk about sports, they talk about the weather, it’s not really a productive conversation. The other thing that happens is they figure it’s the only time they’re going to see Artie Lynnworth, so I better grab him by the throat and tell him every concern I’ve had for the last 20 years that nobody has taken the time to listen to me about. Neither one of those are productive. So, in the early conversation, it’s mostly just getting acquainted, but what’s important is the repetition, and that’s my point. Go around, meet the people, repeat, repeat, repeat. Eventually that depth comes where you can build trust. They understand what you’re saying, they hear the repetition, and then you have to get into the concept of changemaking.
At this point, you must assume they know you care about them. It’s real, it’s not fake. They know you can try to help them, and they trust you. So now what are you going to do as the leader? You have to get your message across. There’s a great book years ago, by an author named James Belasco, who wrote a book called Teaching the Elephant to Dance. You can have a visual picture of that. The point is, how do you make clumsy, slow, big organizations move? He tells the story about how baby elephants are a little easier to control than giant elephants, so when the circus folks are trying to control that elephant in the circus tent, they put a strong chain around one of the ankles. They put a strong, long stake down in the ground, and the elephant gradually is conditioned to know he or she can only go a few feet from the stake, and something is going to tug on the chain and they’re going to stay in place. Unfortunately, as the elephant gets giant, it’ll rip that stake right out of the ground, but fortunately, the habit pattern has been there.
That’s the habit pattern of slow organizations that are slow to change, slow to move, and difficult to get a new culture instituted. But what happens, and here’s the point of the story, when the circus tent is on fire, the elephant smells the smoke and sees the flame. Even though it’s got a chain around its ankle or even a stake in the ground, it hightails it out of the tent. As leaders, our job is to have those who work with us smell the same smoke we smell, see the same flames we see, so that they are inspired and share the vision to move to success as we want to have them move. We see the gap, we set the vision, and they’re inspired to follow.
So, the story about profitability, we had a program for profit improvement in our manufacturing plant. I would make a point to let everybody know this was our theme. We had a three-part theme, safety, quality, and cost. But I’m talking now about change management for cost control. Long story short, within a year we became corporate leaders of the corporate award for profit improvement programs globally because I was able to connect with the people so they understood and clearly saw the vision. I reinforced to them, and we can talk later about positive reinforcement, how every single person makes a difference, and it adds up $10 here, $10 there, times a hundred, times a thousand. You’re starting to make profits and that’s what we did. The good story is this is repeatable. About a year later, I was transferred to another plant, a new person on the block. Several hundred people and I began the same process and I’m proud to say that the plant became the next year’s corporate leader for profit improvement. The process works. Engage with the people, show them you care, show them you can help them and then, show them they can trust you. I hope that answered the question.
Brown: That answered the question. I’m taking notes as you’re talking. That’s a great recipe and I like that it is repeatable and it’s about connecting with people. It also sounds like you really got the team invested. Once you got people to smell the smoke and see the fire and this example you gave as trying to increase profitability, reduce waste, how did you foster team building and passion for getting results?
Lynnworth: Again, coming back to the leadership side of it, it’s a focus on service. A lot of times we as employees say we must please the boss. We’re thinking about service upward. We’re not necessarily thinking about service sideways or downward. I had a nice conversation with one of my employees years back, I still remember his name, Tom Muir. I can visualize myself sitting across the desk from him in his office and I was asking him, what are things I can do to help you? He said to me, let me give you a story. He said, you know how you could be the coach of a group of hurdlers on a track team. What’s our objective? Our objective is to get to the finish line first. We’ll be a good team when all of us get to the finish line before all the competition. So, what’s the role of the best coach? Even though it may not be legal, the best coach is a few steps ahead of the runner and knocking down each hurdle. What happens is every one of your team members gets to the finish line before everybody else. Now, of course, you can’t do that in a real race. You can’t do that in real life, but you can do that if you have a service orientation to your team, because you are in a position. You have the authority, you have the responsibility, you have the resources, the connections that many of them never have, never will, just because of hierarchy. But if you can knock down hurdles for them, then your team can win. Your team can get whatever the objective is to go forward.
As you are working with your team knocking down hurdles, the one other thing you can do to develop the right continuous improvement is to reinforce the right behaviors. It’s one thing to knock the hurdles down. The other thing is what are they going to do? There’s a great book by Aubrey C. Daniels. It’s called Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement. I read that book several times and a number of his other books. The short story there is, we train animals. They’re not going to get it right the first day, so you must reinforce any movement in the right direction. We’re trying to change culture in an organization. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen with every person, but we must look for their intent to try to help the team. Their intent to move that boulder a little bit further along, a little further up the hill, whatever. As we leaders find the ways to connect with them and reinforce that behavior that’s moving in the right direction, they all start moving in the right direction. That flywheel effect keeps building momentum, building steam, building power, and like John Maxwell says, “teamwork makes the dream work”. When they’re all working together, when they’ve been positively reinforced for their attempts to get better and better, they’ll keep wanting to get better and better. If you’re service oriented to them, with them, for them, and they’re working their side of the equation to keep trying to do better, it’s a winning combination.
Brown: It’s that servant leadership model where you’re giving to them, they’re giving to you. Can you talk more about positive reinforcement? You talk about it in your book. Can you show how that works in real time? In your book you give some specific examples of how to do that, and you said it works great for kids, spouses, workers, everybody.
Lynnworth: First, you have to ask yourself, what is it you’re trying to accomplish? Where’s the gap? Then be overt in the conversation. For example, if I have an employee in a staff meeting that I know has good ideas but they’re quiet or shy, and they’re not coming up with good ideas, I might specifically ask, what’s your thought on this? Draw them out a little bit. Then of course when they answer, I say, that’s a good idea. But then if it’s still a pattern of behavior that’s not moving in the right direction, I might have a one-on-one, so not to embarrass them in front of everybody else, but have a conversation like, hey, Solveig, I’m paying you to be a contributor to the team, and that doesn’t mean in isolation because there’s synergy in brainstorming. There’s playing off each other that works. We’ve all done that. Go to Mars or go to the moon where you try to figure out in priority order whether you need a match, you need oxygen, or you need something else. You do it alone as a test first, and then you do it with a few other people and without fail when the few people get together and brainstorm about the best priority, they get a better answer. So, I need Solveig, I need Jane, I need Joe to give their ideas, even if they’re not the best ideas yet. It sparks other ideas in everybody else. I have the conversation with them about expectations and how important it is that their ideas get surfaced, and then I’m going to look for every opportunity when they on their own give an idea to figure out how I can motivate them and positively reinforce them.
It’s worth mentioning that the idea of positive reinforcement is not in my eyes, it’s in the eyes of the recipient of the recognition. Now, let’s say Solveig, you are embarrassed by being rewarded in front of your peers, because you figured you’re not going to be seen well by the others. Then I may need to be careful to not reinforce you right when you do it, but make sure at the end of the meeting to talk to you and say, Solveig, that was exactly what we were talking about yesterday. Those kinds of ideas, look how your ideas sparked James. Then that sparked Bob and that sparked John, and that came back to Mary and look where we ended up thanks to your initial thought. So that positive reinforcement, however it’s received positively by the employee, is what we’re trying as leaders to foster. Reinforce the movement and the right behavior, whether it’s getting more participation in meetings, getting them to meetings on time, being better prepared when they come to you with problems. Instead of saying here’s an issue, they say, I have three suggestions, and this would be my recommendation. Is there anything I’m missing? That’s all training. It’s all coaching on how do you get a monkey put on your back or how do they come up with solutions and you give them more advice if needed, or just say, go for it.
Brown: What I also hear you saying too is that you make it known to the people you’re working with that everyone matters. That everyone has a good opinion to contribute. It also sounds like you are good at helping people get out of their comfort zone. How have you done that? I think that’s an issue that a lot of people struggle with. They want to take risks, they want to be able to contribute more, but it’s scary. How do you help people get out of their comfort zone?
Lynnworth: I think part of it comes from forty plus years before when I was a gymnast. In the sport of gymnastics, it’s an individual/team sport, but you’re on the equipment by yourself, by your lonesome in front of everybody and the judges. But the practice is done in the gym with other people. You have the coach, but what typically happens is the more senior gymnast coach, the novice gymnasts that are just starting. As a result, all of us learn how to be helpful team players and how to coach other people to success. I use the example of gymnastics because it’s very real about scare, fright, and comfort zone. When you think about it, when gymnasts are learning techniques, they are flipping themselves upside down in the air and could literally break their necks and die. It’s as simple as that. So, as a coach, as a spotter, as the person whose hands help keep the head from hitting the floor and rotating the hips when they need to, for those who can’t see me on the podcast, I’m waving my arms around because that’s what gymnasts do when they’re describing how they are working a move or a technique, you learn to progress in increments.
It comes back to the whole coaching, training, and positive reinforcement model. If the first time you tell somebody to do a backflip, and they jump up in the air on their own and land on their head, I doubt they’re going to try it again. As a leader, as a coach, as a trainer, and that’s what our leadership roles are, you explain what needs to be done. You give them the basic mechanics and then you hold onto them so they succeed. They have to succeed to try it again, scary as it is. Then, you reinforce the next most important thing for them to learn. Again, I’m getting goosebumps now, but I love leadership stuff. We can’t feed them with a fire hose. You can’t tell them; you didn’t get the back flip and here’s fifteen things you need to do the next time. You can’t do that. It’s the same at work. You can’t tell them your presentation was not bad, but here’s eighty-five things you should do to do it better next time.
Pick the next most important thing for them to focus on, particularly if it’s frightening. Like doing a backflip. Well, you better tuck a little bit tighter because you’ll rotate faster. That will get your feet to the ground first instead of your head. This next one, I’ll hold you. You jump and spin but try to grab your knees and pull a tighter tuck and get your feet around first. So, you incrementally let them feel the success, learn the technique, and then when you judge they’re starting to do it, you need to back off. Let the bird fly. So, the spotter would then be there for a sense of confidence, but say, I’m not going to touch you. You’re going to do it one way or the other. Then they do it on their own without being touched. Then you back off and you say, I’ll watch you from a distance. Then it’s theirs, they have it from then on. It’s the same in an industry, in a business, in a work environment. Hold them so they succeed. Don’t let them fail as you’re trying to coach the next important refinement in whatever skill they need to be coached on. Give them the reinforcement so they sense the success themselves and then give them some space to do it on their own and build their own confidence. Does that make sense?
Brown: That makes sense and now I’m the one that has goosebumps. That is a powerful story of how to do it. It goes back to slice of salami, one slice at a time. It’s that whole notion of small changes and small steps in the right direction, and especially when something is scary or out of your comfort zone. It has to feel rewarding as a coach or as a leader when you see people that were afraid to do things like either a backflip or were afraid to speak up in a meeting and then all of a sudden that moment where they realize they can do it on their own and they’ve been empowered.
Lynnworth: Frankly, why do I love working with Menttium for 25 years? Because you and Menttium in the process feed me with the joy and pride of seeing that success in mentees. When I’m working with someone through the course of a year, month by month, talking with them, nudging them into their discomfort zone and then talking about it. I write in my book, “sometimes we win and sometimes we learn”. It’s not a question of winning and losing. It’s a question of winning, reflecting, and learning so the next time you can try to win more. So as a mentor with Menttium, that’s the joy. You may know about two weeks ago I met for the first time face-to-face with a mentee, Elsie Chapa, who was in Mexico at the time, 17 years prior. She was my mentee and we’ve maintained a relationship since then. I would be so honored and proud when she would write to me and say, I’ve got an opportunity for a new promotion or a job change. Artie, what do you think about this one? We’d chat for a little while and she’d move on, and she’d move up. Often during a year, the mentees get these kinds of opportunities and I start out with someone who’s working in X position and by the time the year is over, they’re already into something bigger and better and doing things they didn’t themselves know that they could do.
Brown: It is powerful. What about when you were younger in your career, did you have mentors that helped you and did that make an impact? You are so passionate about mentoring, you’re so passionate about giving back, so I’m curious who were those people for you?
Lynnworth: There’s five that come to mind. I got every one of these in my head. It’s just like when that guy came up and said, you ought to write a book. These are moments in your life you don’t forget. When I first started out as a new engineer just out of college and starting to meet some of the other people in this two thousand employee chemical plant, another engineer named George Spears, said to me, Artie, you’re just out of college. You’re still in the routine of going to school and studying and taking tests. Let me give you this recommendation. If you’re thinking of leadership, get yourself a master’s in engineering administration. Syracuse University, where my wife and I graduated from and where I was working in the area, offered an engineering administration course. It’s like an MBA, but it’s offered out of the engineering school. George was one of my first mentors saying, do something more with your career, continuously learn, continuously grow. It took three years, and I went to night school and in the middle of everything else going on, I got a master’s in engineering administration. It was the best thing I ever did.
Jack Richards, my first boss, at the same time while I was learning about going for a master’s degree, my first boss had a sign on his wall because he was not embarrassed to post it. He knew himself and it said, “not to decide, is to decide”. What did it mean? He was a procrastinator. He had trouble making decisions, but he was a loving boss. I love him for how he helped me. He took me under his wing. I’ll never forget his coaching to me, giving me guidance on how to work within the system, how to work with different employees. Reminding me and saying, although I may not be so good at making decisions and procrastinate sometimes, if you can be thinking about that, remember what’s on my wall as my reminder. You’re never going to have all the information. Don’t get into analysis paralysis. When you need to decide, decide. So, that was Jack Richards, my first boss.
Don Daley was a higher up in the organization, but I was lucky he took me under his wing also and would coach me about the bigger picture of where to go with your career and how to prepare. One thing that was nice, he was a transparent, open door policy guy and we got to chat a lot. I wrote about it in my book, Don’t Be Afraid to Cross the Threshold. He made me feel comfortable to talk with him, even though he was a big guy in the corner office. He was a good mentor, and it turns out that I became a sounding board for him, and it was a nice two-way street where he would want to find out what the ground swell thought about this issue or that issue. So, have the courage to seek mentors. Reach out for them and you’d be surprised by how many will respond.
Quickly, going through just a couple more, I had a guy named Jim Scott who came from the military, and he was very hierarchical and what I learned from him is work through the organization. He gave me a lot of latitude because his style was Artie, I gave you this order, you need to go execute it and I’ll expect to have it done on time, on budget, whatever. He didn’t micromanage me and I really liked that feeling, and of course I tried to emulate that later in my career.
Another guy I had was Howard Collingwood, he was a director. I was now a plant manager, and he was a courageous guy, and his approach was, take some chances. We’re here to support you, but if you have some ideas, go for it. We did some fun, safe, appropriate, and ethical things, but we did some stuff people hadn’t thought about and I learned a lot from that. If I may, let me just talk to the other side of that coin for a minute. Everybody has good advice for you, but I wanted to share this with you. Not all the advice is going to be good and not all the advice is going to work for you. You must be your authentic self.
I have two examples. That guy, Don Daley, who was great, he was terrific, levels above me. He gave me good advice and at one point we were in an organization structure where he was trying to change some of the culture and wanted us all to be a little more sophisticated and professional-looking. This was a manufacturing plant with several thousand blue collar workers. In the beginning, I was taking my mentor’s advice and I wore a tie walking around the plant. This was in Florida in August heat. One day a blue-collar worker came up to me and I was glad he spoke up and he said something like, you have to be crazy Artie wearing a tie here or in Florida. What are you trying to do? Who are you trying to impress? That was a learning moment for me. You need to take mentor advice, but this man was also a mentor. In that moment, that blue collar craftsman was a mentor, and I never wore my tie after that. Of course when I was in meetings I would, but going out in the plant, I was able to be more trustworthy, more acceptable, more lifelike and real. That was more my authentic self without my tie, despite my mentor saying I should wear it.
One other example, just quick to finish this story, you’ve noticed by now I’m a cheerleader type. That was my natural style. Again, a good intentioned human resource professional sat with me quietly and he said, Artie, if you’re looking to move up in the organization, and I’m shaking my head for those who can’t see me. He was shaking his head and he was saying that cheerleader thing, you have to simmer it down, you have to quiet it down. That’s not sophisticated enough for the big leagues. So, watch your step, be a little more subdued and you’ll go further. I tried it, but it didn’t work. I didn’t feel authentic, and I have to say, I went back to cheerleading and I had lots of success anyway. You have to be appropriate for the place. You’re not going to do handstands and cartwheels in an executive board meeting, but when I’m passionate about something, my people are going to know it. When I’m enthusiastic, they’re going to smell the smoke and see the fire that I see and smell, and that comes from a visceral connection with the people around you. So, listen to your mentors. It’s 80/20; 80% of the advice you get is going to be great, but don’t make it on the assumption it’s going to be one hundred percent.
Brown: That is great advice, and I like the reminder that you still have to be authentic to yourself and who you are and not try to pretend to be somebody else at work. In your book you observed that managers are good at getting things done, but leaders are good at knowing what needs to be done. Do you have a process for coming up with a strategic vision and direction to know what needs to be done?
Lynnworth: Yes, and maybe the headline is, it’s not remote control, you have to be on the ground. Half my career was managing chemical plants around the USA and the other half was managing businesses around the world, so there are different objectives and requirements in each of those kinds of jobs. But my process as you asked, my approach was the same in both. It goes back to what we talked about earlier. Setting foot in a new plant, whether it’s a thousand people or a hundred people, and wanting to meet them face-to-face, wanting to hear what their concerns are, wanting to listen, earning their respect, and finding out what’s going on. Now in the beginning, when you’re doing this face-to-face stuff and if you’re inexperienced at it, just ask a lot of questions. You don’t have to be the know-it-all. In fact, again, I love a lot of John Maxwell’s quotes. He says, “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
Brown: That’s powerful.
Lynnworth: It’s not about going around the plant or going around the business environment and impressing them with your knowledge. You don’t have to be the smartest thing since sliced bread on the planet. But they do need to know you care about their issues and that your job is to solve their problems, whether it’s the boss’s problems or the subordinates’ problems, or the customer’s problems. So, my process was simply to do that; go out and meet them, go out and know them, and for myself, assess what the issues were, where the gap analysis was. The good news is for the listeners, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s like doing back flips. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
In the beginning, I might not know when I’m walking around a new plant what I have to pay attention to, but I will tell you, Solveig, when I walked into a new plant some years later, literally almost the first day, the gap analysis would be imprinted in my mind. I would look and see the housekeeping. Is the place messy or neat or orderly or not? I would look and see if people were following safety procedures or not. I would look and see attitudes. Are they smiling? Are they grumpy? Are their heads down? You pick up a lot visually and obviously you pick up a lot by chatting with folks. As you do it more often, it gets quick to see, here’s three or four things we should jump on right away.
It’s the same in the business world. I had the fun again of picking up a business that for seven years had not made any profit. Fortunately, the company couldn’t sell the business. Nobody wanted it. Customers were running away to the competition. This was my first job going from manufacturing to business. I guess they figured, well, Lynnworth can’t screw it up any worse than it already is, so let’s put him in there as the vice president. It was a plastics division, and I didn’t know a lot about the business. But I asked a lot of questions, and I made a point to see every one of the employees, and I made a point to learn what our people do, the research center, what are they doing, what do they need? The salespeople go out on sales calls and of course visit our most important customers. Then they ask them, what we are doing wrong and what we need to do to fix it, and what we need to do to get more of your business and listen, and then work on the issue with our own people in house.
The process works if we’re sincere at trying to help the client. If we’re sincere in trying to help the employees in the plant. If we’re sincere in trying to solve the boss’s problems and work on the issues in the community, in the plant with the business, it works. That’s the process I followed and have enjoyed the successes that I write about in the book and that I teach in the book. That’s what the book is about. When I started the book, each chapter was, what can I teach someone that they can learn, that I had to learn by benefit of good mentors and the hard way.
Brown: Exactly. I just read the book this weekend and there are so many good actionable items in it. It is fantastic, and I like that you are paying it forward to help the next generation of leaders with your hard-earned wisdom and expertise. I like how you talk about the importance of listening, observing, asking people what needs to be done, and then figuring out that big picture of how to take the small steps to get there.
Lynnworth: You’re just paying it forward. A comment on paying for any who might be wondering. I don’t push my books to make book sales. I made my money in my corporate life. All my book royalties go to charity, so when you buy the book, you can see on my website where it goes, but when you buy the book, the royalty ends up going directly to a charity. All I want to do is pay forward the lessons I’ve learned and help those that I can’t touch directly. It was always a pleasure with the mentees working one-on-one month by month, with the people in the plant, with my gymnastic teams. That reward is immediate and right there, but there’s lots of folks who might benefit from a book, and I might never see them other than seeing their five-star reviews on Amazon. It’s a good feeling to know it’s happening and that the book is out there, and that people can get it in soft cover or digital version and learn from it.
Brown: That’s so true. Artie, do you have any habits that you feel have contributed to your success?
Lynnworth: Yes, two come to mind immediately. One is, you must have a fail-safe follow-up system, your word is your bond. If you say you’re going to do something, make it work, and I’ll talk about that in a second. The other one, and this may sound weird, don’t “try” anything, but let me clarify. What I’m really saying is don’t say I’ll try to do X. Get in the habit of saying I will do X. When you say, I’ll try, you’re building an excuse. Let me talk about that one first and then I’ll work back to the fail-safe follow-up systems. When somebody says, hey, here’s something that’s needed, when can you get it done? I’ll try to get it done by Friday. That’s a non-response. You’ve already built in an excuse. Well, I’ll try. I said I’d try. All right, I didn’t get it done on Friday, but I tried. That doesn’t deliver anybody anything. So, we must build a habit of committing ourselves.
I once read somewhere that pioneers, when they crossed the USA, used to get to a tough river crossing and what would they do? They would stand on the edge of the riverbank and take their expensive leather hat and fling it across the river. A commitment to get to the other side, or else they’ve thrown away their favorite hat. So, if you are going to make a commitment, make a commitment. I’m going to get to the other side. I’m going to do it for you. Solveig, you need this by Friday, I’ll get it done. Now, it has to be realistic. You’re not just going to say, I’ll get it done by Friday and say the words, and then fail on your commitment, because that’s the other side of the next thing I’m going to talk about, which is the fail-safe follow-up system. My word is my bond. If I say I’m going to get it done by Friday, I better get it done by Friday. So, make commitments that are real and have a system of follow up so you can advise people if you’re running into trouble. But get out of the habit of saying, I’ll try; it’s just a habit. People say, I’ll try to get it by Friday. No, get in the habit of saying I’ll get it by Friday and then think about what you have to do to meet your commitment. Organize yourself.
That jumps into the first one, a fail-safe follow-up system. Decades ago, I started with notes to myself and checklists. I got what I love and still use, even in retirement is an accordion file with 31 days to the month and 12 months to the year. When I have a commitment that’s due on a certain date, I’ll put it in my follow-up in advance enough to make sure I can get it done on time. Sometimes I’ll make lists. A lot of times, so I don’t have to do double work, I’ll take a piece of paper and if the piece of paper is something you gave me, and I have to get an answer to you by Friday, I’ll have that piece of paper on top of my desk. My process is the night before I organize my work for the next day. Then the next day, it’s a continuous process several times a day when I’ve completed the task to not just jump to the next task that was on the list as a priority from the night before. Things may have changed between midnight and 8:00 AM and between 8:00 AM and noon, and between noon and 2:30.
When you’re focused on a task and it gets done, take a deep breath, give yourself a pat on the back, and then look at your whole list and look at what new things came in. The process is the next task I do is the most important priority to be done next. That might mean it’s a five-minute job just to get it over and done with and out of the way and then you jump into the one-hour project that must get done. The typical advice, do your most important ones early in the morning so you have a lot of slack time to catch up if it runs out, rather than make it the last thing of the day. But have a follow up system that lets you look at your priorities every day and review your priorities through the day as you finish each task and go to the next one. With that, then you’ll have your commitments, and if you see you’re running behind, let people know. Particularly if it’s with a boss, give them enough time so that they can either help you with changing priorities or adding resources. That’s what a boss controls. Change the priorities and say, all right, it’s not that important or those six other jobs that you thought you also had to have done by Friday, let’s let them slide to next week. I’m the boss, I can do that. You stay focused on this one to get it done by Friday, that’s the priority. Or they can help you with resources. I’ll give you Jack, Jane, Joe, and Mary to help you work on this, and then you can get it done. Advise your boss when you’re running behind. It’s a verbal contract. You don’t want to breach your contract, so give enough advanced notice so your boss can either give you priority or resource help. You should come with the solutions to say I can get it done if I had A, or if I had B, I can still get it done by Friday. Don’t just come on Friday morning and say, boss I can’t do it. It’s too late.
Brown: Yes, and that comes from checking throughout the day to see where you’re at and see what comes in. That’s a powerful habit. You have had a four-decade career that has been impressive. It’s taken you all over the U.S. and to South America. What would your advice be to up and coming leaders?
Lynnworth: Read my book. Seriously it ties with that. The first thing would be continuous learning. Just like George Spears said to me, get a master’s in engineering administration. It doesn’t matter what you learn, learn more. Whatever you’re in, learn more depending on what your career aspirations and interests are. Let’s say you’re in one phase of a business and you’re curious about another phase of the business. Take a course, look it up online, get a book. Seek a mentor, someone who you think is good in that field and say, hey Solveig, can you help me with this? I’m thinking about that field. What would you recommend as three good books to read? Can I watch you do your work? What would you suggest I do to get prepared? So, continuously learn and seek mentors.
The other thing would be to know your strengths. Sometimes we get too hung up on I’m not so good at this or that. Frankly, we spend too much time trying to fix everything. Unless a weakness is a make-or-break situation, don’t worry too much about it. Go to your strengths. If you are good with people, work on people issues. If you’re good with numbers, work on the number issues. If you’re good with strategy, work ahead of the curve on the strategy and techniques. Work your strengths, because where your strengths are is where you get your own self positive reinforcement. You’ll be happy about spending a few more hours on something you like doing, whereas if you’re working on your weaknesses, you’ll be distracted ten times out of twelve and you won’t stick with it very long. You just need to stick with it long enough so it’s not a glaring deficiency. Work your strengths. Power your strengths. Leverage your strengths. So, yes, read my book, but more importantly, continuously learn, find your mentors, seek them out, and work your strength.
Brown: That is great advice. Artie, we have time for one final question. Do you have a favorite saying, quote, or motto?
Lynnworth: I have more than one.
Brown: You can say multiple ones if you want.
Lynnworth: I’ll give you a few. Early in our lives, my wife and I read this quote by Art Linkletter, and it is, “things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out”. What it’s really saying is not everything works out the way you hope, wish, or expect. The question is, what do you do next? Do you grump about it? Do you moan about it? Do you pity yourself? Do you fret about it? Or do you say, all right, what do I need to do to adjust? That’s that sometimes we win, sometimes we learn attitude. So, “things will work out best when you make the best of the way things work out”. I like that phrase and it helps keep you focused; you can get through this. There’s always a way around it and in fact, one of the things that sets leaders apart is they have an innate belief there’s always a solution. You have to believe there’s always a solution. You may not know it right now, you may have not figured it out, but you seek to find that solution and you’ll find a way to make it work out for the best.
The other one I previously mentioned was, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. That speaks to how you should be a service-oriented leader. You have to be sincere about caring for them. If you want a lot of good quotes, I’d say go to John Maxwell. He’s just got so many great leadership books and he’s got a way with words. I can’t remember all of them, but I do write them down and they inspire me from time to time. I think with those two I’ve given you, it’s enough to get started and provides a little bit of a glimpse of my own philosophy of life and leadership.
Brown: Yes Artie, thank you so much. Those are fantastic quotes and thank you for being our guest today. I really appreciated you sharing your wit, wisdom, and wealth of knowledge about leadership, change management, mentoring, and life. For those of you who would like to read more of Artie’s practical advice to enhance your life and work, you can order his book, Slice the Salami: Tips for Life and Leadership, One Slice at a Time on Amazon or at artie.lynnworth.com, and remember, all proceeds go to charity. Thank you so much for listening to this Menttium podcast, and thank you again, Artie.
Lynnworth: You’re very welcome. Solveig, it’s been a pleasure and I wish everybody the best as they work these exercises. Take care.