mark-homeIn my quest to read 50 books in 50 weeks and to blog about it, I had the opportunity to engage personally with many of the authors. One of those authors I reached out to was Mark Sanborn, author of the Fred factor, Fred 2.0 and many other wonderful business and leadership books.

Mark is also one of the industries top-level speakers and in high demand. Many years ago when I first thought about speaking and writing for a living, I looked for people who were already successfully doing just that. I sat down with Lisa, our social media partner from ActuateSocial, pulled up Mark’s website and said: someday I want to do what he’s doing.

While I was blogging about the Fred Factor I left a message for Mark on his website and received an immediate response. Not only did he did he offer to retweet and post my blogs on his site, he realized that we also lived in the same city and offered to meet me for lunch. It was not a hollow promise and we met just a few weeks later.

Mark surprised me even more by showing up with copies of several of his books (that he signed). He not only gave me the books, but he also gave me his completed and undivided attention for over an hour. He let me ask him tons of questions about the business and gave me honest answers and feedback. He didn’t look at me as competition but as someone to give a helping hand too. Of course, looking at me as competition would be like a lion seeing an ant and worrying about that ant becoming the king of the jungle but regardless, I knew that he was giving me his most valuable asset – his time and I’m still very grateful. We remained in touch and he has always been a go-to source for me to this day. I hope to one day have at least half the positive impact he has had.

Mark Sanborn, author of the Fred Factor and Fred 2.0, is a Fred.

I believe that leadership is one of the hardest concepts to grasp. We all know good leadership when we see it but it can be hard to identify the specific characteristics of a good leader, because it varies from one individual to another, and it is even more difficult to try and replicate those characteristics. Companies will spend millions of dollars trying to replicate another successful business model but one of the most important things they will often forget is that culture and change must be leader-led. It doesn’t do any good to send your management team and their subordinates to a program like 7 Habits, or some other business improvement seminar if the leader doesn’t embraces the concepts themselves.

“The first job of leadership is to help people see their significance,” — Mark Sanborn (113).

I try to get my students to understand this in my aviation job targeting course at MSU Denver. Some of them wonder how by being an airline pilot or air-traffic controller they are actually contributing to other people. Are you kidding me? As an airline pilot, taking your job seriously, being a professional and getting my family from point A to point B, or getting me home from a business trip which has enabled me to earn money for my family and provide for their livelihood, is a huge contribution.

But what if you’re not an airline pilot? What if you are the head “fry guy” at McDonald’s. Your job is significant as well. By being a professional, being careful to follow the health code requirements, and being courteous and pleasant you have helped my family have a meal that won’t make them sick later on, and your demeanor may have just helped turn a mediocre or even a bad mood into a better or even a happy one. Regardless the role, the job of a leader is to help their employees or subordinates understand their significance.

If you are a manager, supervisor, business owner of any type, I imagine you would love a team of Fred’s working for you. Fred’s are people that add value, eliminate worry for you and your clients or customers, they make things better, they are happy and living in the moment, the take the little extra effort that makes all the difference. But their are some requirements to leading Freds:

  • You must lead by example. You can’t command, decree, issue a fiat or send a memo to staff to make everyone Fred-like. We have seen this common theme through all of our 50 books series. There is no such thing as leading-from-behind. You must be willing to model the performance you desire (Sanborn 115).
  • First, address the positive. Focus on what’s right, not on what’s wrong. Face it, what’s wrong is always available. Recognize and be grateful with what’s right and who is doing great work. It’s too bad the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, because that means they always get the attention. Give the recognition where it’s due (Sanborn 115-116). You may still have to put some attention to the underperforming, but do that after you’ve addressed those who are doing well.
  • Encourage people to try. One of the problems many companies experience is that they find a successful model, then they ride it into the ground. They become fearful of change because we, as humans, cherish certainty. Certainty is a survival instinct. We think, ‘hey, this worked yesterday and we didn’t die, let’s do it again today.’ The problem with that is that while you or your company is doing the same thing over and over, the environment you live in, the economy, the world, other people, are changing. Be ready to reward the attempt, not the outcome (Sanborn 116). We saw this explained in The Year Without Pants: WordPress and the future of work. In successful companies, employees are encouraged for trying new ideas and thoughts.
  • Ask for and share ideas about how to be like Fred (Sanborn 116). A huge part of being successful is sharing ideas with others.
  • Remove barriers and obstacles (Sanborn 117) To often, leaders will see a significant challenge and send their staff in to handle it. This is not leadership. This is cowardice and your staff knows it. Of course, all leaders need to send their personnel into uncomfortable situations because it is part of their growth, but it’s got to be at a level they can handle. You wouldn’t ask a six-year-old to drive a car, but you may ask them to go upstairs by themselves to get a toy they want. Overcoming the fear of the boogeyman is something a kid needs to learn. But if you heard a loud noise upstairs and you knew no one else was home, would you send your kid up there first to investigate? (I would hope not) So why, as a manager, do you send your staff into situations you yourself wouldn’t confront?
  • Be their champion (Sanborn 117). When your Fred’s do something noteworthy, tell everyone. Just today Christina, the manager of the Barnes and Noble in Westminster, Colorado, approached me to tell me she’s going to try to spread the word about my comments on her staff that I blogged about the other day. That’s Fred-like.
  • Give them the freedom they need (Sanborn 117). Being a 7 habits facilitator I recently attended part of the recertification course. We talked about how all of us start out being dependent on others. Unfortunately, some of us never leave that stage to go on to become independent, much less interdependent. Some managers and leaders have handcuffed their staff so much they’ve created the very dependency that they will gripe about to other managers. I like that Mark says that you shouldn’t treat everyone equally – you should treat them fairly – performance should have its privileges (Sanborn 118). This is why I dislike any system where longevity is the only reason for promotions or pay raises. It rewards mediocrity. Reward trying new things. Reward performance, not “seat-time.” Reward success.
  • Teach the Fred principles consistently (Sanborn 118). You don’t hit the gym once, do a massive workout and then expect the results to continue on without continuing to work out. Being a Fred is not a class – it’s a daily commitment.
  • Recognize and reward (Sanborn 119). “Behavior that is rewarded tends to be repeated,” (119). Got that?
  • Enjoy (Sanborn 119-120). Mark says that if you’re not enjoying the process of helping people become Fred’s you’re probably doing something wrong (120). Fred’s don’t work hard because they have to or because management ‘told them to do it,’ they work hard because they want to — leaders create ‘want to’ in others (Sanborn 120).

I want to thank Mark for his friendship and his mentorship, but mostly, after meeting him I want to thank him for being genuine. He truly lives his quote: Integrity is the distance between our lips and our lives. The most powerful prose and inspirational speaking will be of little use if we can’t back them up with a life well lived, a life that demonstrates try leadership and the spirit of the extraordinary. 

I was wonderfully surprised that the author of the Fred Factor and Fred 2.0 talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s only appropriate that a Fred write a book about being a Fred.  

Sanborn, Mark. Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013. Print.

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