Perhaps the thought came to him after some time on his first full-time job. Or maybe he was just making small iPhone talk.
"I've been wondering why some people are good leaders and others are ...well... not so much," my son asked over the Verizon Family and Friends Plan network.
Adam usually prefers to chat about his two Papillons (aka the "grandpups") or the director secured for the next box office blockbuster.
But these days, Adam is cutting his professional teeth and beginning to see a world of work that greatly differs from the concepts and theories taught in his college classes.
He's realizing that engineers can theorize a manufacturing process -- but it's worthless without leaders who can effectively and efficiently produce good parts and ship them on time to the customer.
Adam has noticed team leaders who are very effective, and is trying to learn from them.
"I watch what how they do it."
He also observes those who flame out like a 70's one-hit wonder band (see R. Dean Taylor of "Indiana Wants Me").
"I watch how not do it."
Adam said team leaders who communicate well and are positive with employees tend to meet production goals. Team leaders who constantly criticize, curse and shame their employees into compliance "usually aren't team leaders very long."
"So what makes an effective leader...in your humble opinion, Dad?" Adam asked. (He wasn't looking for a complex or rambling answer. His generation prefers a sound bite or a Tweet -- maybe a single-page blog at most.)
I told him I have been fortunate to learn from some incredibly gifted and successful leaders during my 40 years in business and non-profit organizations. But I, too, have dealt with people who were LITOs (leaders in title only).
I prefaced my answer by telling him guys named Covey, Blanchard, Welch, Peters and Robbins have created enormous personal wealth writing and teaching about leadership -- and have become the 1 percent of wage earners loathed by the Occupier Movement. I recommended checking out their books at the library and taking away one or two of their practical tips.
Then, since he asked, I offered three pieces of leadership advice from someone who has ridden (and fallen off) the horse in too many corporate and organizational rodeos:
Your team usually knows the truth. You know they know the truth. So, don't BS them...
Credibility is the most important part of the relationship with your team. If they don't believe you are a "stand up person", you will lose their confidence quicker than a gambling addict blows the third race winnings in the fourth race at Churchill Downs.
Leaders sometimes have to share bad news. It comes with the extra 50 cents per hour in your paycheck.
I have seen bad leaders tell people in their organization only portions of what they need to hear. I have seen bad leaders procrastinate when it's time to share the truth -- and their message gets lost in the rumor mill. I have seen bad leaders who -- at best -- bend the facts or -- at worse -- lie to protect only themselves.
When leaders are honest about bad news, they are more effective when sharing good news. Insincerity quickly unravels any hope of effective leadership. If your staff or organization doesn't believe you when you fib, how do you expect them to buy into anything your say or write in a memorandum?
My mentor and great friend Bud once told me: "A general who gets too far ahead of his troops begins to look at the enemy -- and then gets shot in the back." (Bud is a great study of the Civil War.)
The best leaders learn to satisfy their egotistical desire to succeed by hiring people who are stronger in areas they are weakest and have talents and skills that they don't. They turn them loose and provide support and collaboration.
A visionary leader sets goals, monitors progress and holds the team accountable. An effective leader knows when to get involved, and when to get out of the way.
Be willing to fail.
The worse leaders tread water -- believing that staying afloat is more important than reaching the shore. They don't want to take chances because they believe failures make them look unfavorable to the team or a board of directors.
Organizations thrive when a team is challenged to take the next step. And it is ok to miss the target. (My late father once claimed he penned the quote: "It's better to try and fail than fail to try...")
What if Steve Jobs decided in 1989 that Apple would only make and sell the first MacIntosh home computer? Well, this would not have been written on an iPad.
Remember, Michael Jordan lost 300 games and missed 9,000 shots in his basketball career. Henry Ford went bankrupt five times before becoming a success with a company called (what else?) Ford. Thomas Edison misfired 10,000 times when developing the light bulb.
Leaders take chances and make mistakes. Great leaders learn from them and move on.
Follow those three tips, I told Adam, and read everything you can on Abraham Lincoln. The rest will take care of itself.