AUSTIN, Texas — People judge others all day long — and many of those judgments tend to be negative.
But good leadership requires a substantial dose of tolerance.
That was the message from Garrison Wynn, author and motivational speaker who has a background in manufacturing, telecom and financial services.
In the keynote speech at the Cornerstone Credit Union League's Annual Convention here last week, Wynn — who also has performed standup comedy — mixed insight with laughter, often making himself the butt of his jokes.
To show the importance of listening to others' ideas, Wynn noted early in his professional career he was a "young boss" at the age of 27 at a Fortune 500 company.
"All my employees were older than me," he recalled. "I told them I was going to lead them to the 'Promised Land.' I told them we were going to do things my way or the highway."
This approach was not successful, according to Wynn. "They had a nickname for me: 'Punk Ass Manager.' You can't be effective when your nickname is 'Punk Ass Manager.' "
After the roar of laughter died down, Wynn explained the lesson: "In business, if you criticize others' ideas too much, they will never use yours. We judge all day long, but good leaders make people feel important. They have to make people feel heard."
According to Wynn, the questions leaders have to ask themselves are: Do you want to be "right" or do you want to be effective? Do you want to be "right" or do you want to be successful? Do you want to be "right" or do you want to retain top talent?
What people want is sincerity, multiple solutions to problems and to "look good," he said.
"People trust those who are what they really are. They want options, they want prestige. Train your people so they can look good in front of members. The No. 1 thing people value is feeling valuable. When they feel that way, they perform better and are more likely to embrace change."
Clarity, For Clarity's Sake
Wynn said he once was lost in the country, and asked a local resident for assistance. The man said Wynn should drive down the road "a piece," then make a left turn "where the old schoolhouse used to be."
Upon hearing these unclear directions, Wynn became angry. He pointed out to the man the fact "a piece" could be one mile or a million miles, and the description of when to turn was dependent on a landmark that no longer existed. "You are dumb," he told the man.
"I might not be the sharpest person in these parts," came the reply, "but I'm not the one who is lost."
The lesson: no one cares how smart you are if you are not clear.
"If you cannot simplify an idea, people think you don't understand," Wynn told the crowd. "People need to know what the leader says."
Every generation likes to put down the generation or generations that follow theirs, said Wynn, who added some of this is unfair. Millennials, who are in the workforce now as twentysomethings, are constantly being hit with the label "entitled."
"You hear it all the time, 'These young people are entitled.' Well, we raised them that way," he said.
Wynn then sought out two people in the audience — older and younger than 30. One, identified as "Wayne," is in the older crowd, while "Paul" volunteered he is 25.
"You can shame Wayne," Wynn explained. "You can tell him, 'Wayne, you screwed up that deal and made a member really unhappy. You need to go fix it.' And Wayne will say, [adopting a goofy voice] 'Okay, I'll go fix it.'"
But if a manager were to try that same tactic with Paul, when the manager got to the end of the rant, Wynn said Paul's response will be, "Yeah, but I'm still awesome!"
Said Wynn: "Too much self-esteem can cause a lack of ambition because young people are taught they are okay no matter what."
The problem with leadership, he continued, is older bosses wishing the younger people would be like them. "To attract young people, the company needs to have the right environment — there needs to be tolerance."
According to Wynn, older generations need to realize that each generation receives a different upbringing, and therefore has different outlooks on life. He addressed Paul from the stage, stating, "You are 25, I am 54 do you think we had the same experience in high school?"
"No," Paul guessed.
"That's right," Wynn said. "When you were in high school you were told, 'Just say "no" to drugs.' When I was in high school in the late Seventies, our shop teacher was showing us how to make a bong."
"True story," he added, as the room erupted in laughter.
"Every generation has a different experience, and cannot understand that things are different," he said. "My generation was taught to compete in kindergarten; today's generation is taught to partner."
Young people are necessary in the workforce because of what they bring, Wynn said. He said today's generation believes every problem comes with multiple solutions.
Leaders need to keep one principle in mind when working with employees of any age: You cannot lead by example if you are a bad example.
"Let's get back to my shop teacher. He had three fingers on one hand. So when he started lecturing us about table saw safety, we ignored him."
Wynn said sometimes "negative" people are good to have around so the company does not get blindsided by circumstances the optimists did not see coming. The foundation of "true agreement," he asserted, is open and honest disagreement.
"If leaders freak out from hearing the truth, they stop getting the truth from their people."
There is a lot of talk in today's business environment about change, whether it is new technology or new attitudes. Wynn said "change" is not the issue, "resistance to change" is the issue.
"We all must adapt. Heroes and cowards feel the same fear, but the action they take next separates them. Great leaders help people when things go wrong. If you believe in your own value you can demonstrate value to others. Credit unions give people an experience they cannot get at a bank, so demonstrate that value to the public."