In almost 11 years of writing “Reading for Leading,” I think I’ve only once written about my wife. Much as I love and admire Jennifer, I’ve tried to keep her out of this, and I’ve appreciated that about 99.5% of my readers have as well. So, as she enters the last 10 days of being Michigan’s governor, I break my own rule. I do so for two reasons. First, I exercise this personal privilege to publicly share my admiration (and to share this video for those curious about her leadership legacy). But the other is frankly more important and that is to use her as an example as you and I try to lead with our best selves.
It would take chapters to discuss all of her strengths, and I’d guess I could spend a few pages on her shortcomings, but here are three dimensions of her leadership practice that inspire me.
1. Accept. Adjust. Advance*. When you lead well, you don’t do the opposite: Blame. Deny. Wait. Whether they were her own rare but inevitable mis-steps, flubs by her team, or simply facing the mind-numbing challenges Michigan faced as a million manufacturing jobs evaporated, Jennifer got up every morning and focused not on who screwed up, self pity, or wishing and hoping, but on what was in her power (and much of which appeared to be beyond her grasp). I tell myself all the time to “be like Jen,” when my natural inclinations are to obsess over my stupid mistakes or to get mad (or want to get even 😎 ). Let go. Move on!
2. Build people up. Jennifer does both parts of this activity. She does the personal-emotional side by seeing people, encouraging them, and thanking them. Frankly, this takes some work, for her basic make-up is to be a restless, driving leader (an ENTJ “field general” in the Myers-Brigg/Keirsey schemes). I have complemented her – sometimes by not complimenting her – but encouraging her to keep doing the personal part, and she does it with warmth and genuineness. She also does the second up-building part by delegating tasks and sharing power well. Her cabinet and team have been freed and encouraged to “enlarge their territory,” which, more than her own leadership, has caused the Pew Foundation Center on the States to score Michigan among the top-3 states for the way it’s been managed.
3. Disciplined focus. Peter Drucker long ago said of executives, what is true of all of us: our time is precious, and the best of us focus our time on what’s most important. For Jennifer, this may have been her main area of growth as a leader. In the early years she wanted to do everything: cities, arts, higher ed, early childhood ed, a massive poverty reduction program, etc., and because she delegated so well her team got much of that done. But she became laser-focused on the core vision: diversification and education for 21st century jobs. If Michigan becomes extraordinarily competitive in the decade ahead, I expect it will, it will have been laser-focus that made it happen. She also had a laser-like discipline when it came to ethics and modeling the way. This weekend Delta handed me boarding passes that upgraded us to first class. As she did every time that I was aware, she said no, and “made me” turn them back in…for Row 27. I had rationalizations: it’s 4:00 AM, obviously they have unpaid seats available, we can get on quietly and not be seen. But she was right – modeling the way, staying squeaky clean, and offering me an example of great discipline, a seldom appreciated aspect of leading with your best self!
Love to have you share your observations on Jennifer’s leadership and on your own heroes and heroines!
Have a wonderful holiday, and enjoy a little break from RFL!
* I offer props to Joe Caruso, a Michigan writer and leadership expert who was the first I heard to describe the three A’s of accept, adjust and advance. I have included in my own thinking and practice the concepts of Acknowledge and Apologize, which often belong to the Adjust part of the sequence.