“I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together—how to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together as a team. There’s always just three things I say: ‘If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, they did it.’ That’s all it takes to get people to win.” —Paul “Bear” Bryant
Paul “Bear” Bryant was one of the greatest college football coaches to ever lead a team of young men down the field. He was also a “plow hand” from Arkansas. A blue-collar worker. The blue-collar world has produced some of the greatest leaders of all time, so you should be proud and hold your head high. Without them, the world as we know it would not exist.
There’s nothing holding you back but you. As my blue-collar friend, Donovan Weldon, stated so well, “The only person between you and success is you. Move! The only person between you and failure is you. Stand firm!” Those are strong words of wisdom. Donovan started on the bottom just like you and me. But today, he’s the CEO of Donovan Industrial Service in Orange, Texas.
Donovan’s success didn’t happen by accident. He made it happen. You can make things happen too! He’s a blue-collar leader who believes in and develops his team on a regular basis. I know because my wife, Ria, and I had the privilege of being brought in to speak to his team about leadership in 2014. They are making it happen on purpose, for a purpose!
It’s time for you to stop playing small and start playing tall. A college degree is not required for you to play at a higher level. Not having one is simply an excuse some people use to continue playing small. If you want a college degree, use what you will learn on these pages to find a way to get one. If you don’t want a college degree, use what you learn on these pages to make it happen without one.
You are the key to your success. You must believe in yourself. You must grow and develop yourself, which is what you’re doing as you read this book. Do not stop growing! And when the time is right, you must bet on yourself.
Understanding your role as a team member is another must. Those on the front lines often underestimate themselves because they can’t see the big picture. They can’t see the value they have to offer. Far too often, their boss isn’t a high-impact leader and needs a lot of growth and development too. Bosses are often given the title without any formal development.
Teams are made up of “I”ndividuals, so there are many Is on every team—regardless of how many times you hear, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” As a matter of fact, you are one of them. Every person on a team is an “I” and has the potential to lead (influence) the team, positively or negatively.
You must understand there are many official and unofficial teams in the organization where you work. They are very dynamic and constantly changing.
When most of us think of which team we are on, we immediately think of our peers—the ones on the same crew, in the same department, or working on the same job. This is our core team, but it represents only the smallest team we’re on. We also support other teams, as others support our team.
When we choose to contribute beyond our immediate team, we are choosing to be part of a bigger team. Often, this requires only a choice to do so. Your choice to get involved in other areas sends a clear message to the high-impact leaders.
When you play tall, you choose to contribute because you know it will increase your influence and your impact on the front lines. If you want to play tall, you should want to be noticed, to be selected, to volunteer, to share information, to accept more responsibility, and ultimately, to make a contribution at a higher level.
As a direct result of your choice to step up, your influence increases. You’re demonstrating you can lead from the front lines and will be seen and respected by all high-impact leaders as a high-impact leader. Your actions will not go unnoticed.
When you play small, you choose not to contribute because you don’t want to do more. If your goal is to coast until payday, it won’t be a secret you can keep. When you make every effort not to be noticed, not to be selected, not to volunteer, not to share information, not to accept responsibility, and ultimately not to contribute, you will absolutely be noticed.
As a direct result of your choice not to step up, your influence decreases. Your influence on the front lines and with your leaders will be diminished. You are more likely to become reactive and frustrated, blaming others for what you have chosen. Blaming others will further reduce your influence.
You first make your choices—then your choices make you.
“The most valuable player is the one that makes the most players valuable.” —Peyton Manning
Want to learn more? Join me October 18-19 in New Haven, Connecticut, for TDI: Driving Innovations Across Industries.
Note: This post is adapted from Blue-Collar Kaizen: Leading Lean & Lean Teams.