Once again I find myself experiencing the malady which every writer periodically experiences – the malady of “writer’s block.”   Since my creative juices were drained and nothing was flowing from my brain to the keyboard of my computer, I decided to peruse through some past issues of The MBA Dispatch to see whether reading some of my previous columns stirred up new ideas. 

Sure enough it did stir up one good idea.  I decided to update and rerun some columns from a number of years ago.  An earlier version of this column appeared in the March 2013 issue of The MBA Dispatch.

Helpful Hints for Executives

Recently during a conversation with the Director of a Community Supervision and Corrections Department, she reminded me of some “helpful hints” that I had given her shortly after she was appointed as Director and said that they had proven very valuable to her. 

 It occurred to me that “helpful hints for executives” might be a good topic for this column.  Many of these hints were passed on to me by people I considered mentors, by other probation directors or by other friends or are ideas I discovered while exploring the role of a leader. 

Regardless of their source, they proved invaluable to me and I thought they would be worthy of consideration by readers of this column.  Here they are for whatever they are worth.


Helpful Hint # 1

The time to build your political capital is when you don’t need to!

If you knew someone who only came to see you when they wanted something, would you be eager to see that person or to do something for him/her?  As a young Chief Probation Officer I quickly learned that I never had too many friends in influential positions—judges, county commissioners, other county department heads, the directors of other agencies, etc. 

I began to develop friendships with them when I did not need anything. I tried to help them in whatever way I could.  While I never asked many of them for anything, when I did approach one of them with a request, they would help me if they could.

Be thoughtful. Be considerate, Help others.  Send little notes of congratulations when someone, their spouse or child did something worthy of recognition. 

A key skill for any successful leader has to be that of building relationships. Build as many positive relationships as you can and see what happens.           


Helpful Hint # 2

Never Ask a Question to Which You Don’t Know the Answer!

Trial lawyers quickly learn after they have had a witness blurt out something that is detrimental to the lawyer’s case that it is best to never ask a question to which you do not know the answer.   

As a young Probation Director (that was certainly a long time ago), I quickly learned the value of this advice. When I had an item that needed to go on the agenda for the meeting of the Juvenile Board or Commissioners Court, I visited with each member to learn if they were supportive of what I was proposing.  If I found that more were opposed to the idea than were supportive of what I was proposing, I pulled the item from the agenda. I would visit with those who were opposed, find out what their objections were and spend time overcoming them.  I only put it back on the agenda when I had enough votes for the item to be approved. If I could not change their minds, then I never brought it up for a vote.  Why put it on the agenda if the answer was going to be “no.”


Helpful Hint # 3

You Can Either Hire Tough and Manage Easy Or Hire Easy and Manage Tough!

When you make it a practice to hire tough, everything else gets easier. Too often managers make the mistake of thinking it is better to have an employee than to have a vacant job and, as a result, hire someone to fill the vacancy rather than waiting to find the right employee. 

Unfortunately, what many of the managers who take that path learn is that it would have been easier by far to manage without the employee than it is to manage the employee they just hired. Someone once told me, “The most difficult employee you will ever manage is the one you should not have hired in the first place.” 

What you spend on time and resources as the result of a poor hiring decision frequently makes that the most expensive employee you ever hired.  

If you have questions about this column or have topics you would like to see addressed in this column, please submit your questions or suggestions to ceo@melbrown.org.

Helpful Hints for Executives
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