My father, Luther Clemons, has been leading people for almost 50 years. His first official leadership role was as a sales manager for the Alabama Power Company in 1966. I was 2 years old. Since then he has invested 40 years with the same company in Nashville, Tennessee. Today he is 74 years old and still as invested in his work as ever. He leads 32 employees who have been with the company a total of 500 years.
As a Christian leader, I am first a follower of Christ and a leader second. And I want to continue to learn and grow in both areas of my life. I am grateful for my earthly father whose constant love and example has continually pointed me to my heavenly Father. I have been blessed to learn practical leadership lessons from him, so I wondered how he would respond if he knew his advice could impact many other leaders.
Question: What have you found to be the most important thing that motivates people to work hard and execute well?
Answer: One thing I’ve learned over the years is there are renters and there are owners. Owners take care of the work, they go the extra mile; they own it. Renters don’t care as much. I like to compare it to someone who owns a house or rents a house. A renter doesn’t take care of the house, doesn’t repair things that are broken, and in some cases will leave the house in worse condition than they first found it. An owner of a house invests in the house, cares about everything in the house, and is proud of the house. Hire people who are owners.
Q: If you could go back in time for a do-over, what would you have done differently?
A: I would have read more and studied more in order to be better prepared. In leadership you are tested every day. Every day the questions change, and therefore, the solutions change.
Q: What would be the one thing you would tell a leader about hiring good employees?
A: In my years of experience I have noticed that people generally hire people who have less education, less experience, less intelligence, and are basically less capable than the person hiring. Hire people who are more educated, more experienced and more intelligent than you are. I also think hiring people who have a stable family and home life can prevent distractions and keep employees focused on their work. Look for people whose passions and abilities match.
Q: Because leaders lead, they also make mistakes. Has there been a time in your career that you made a mistake in leadership, thought it could have other implications, and had to either correct or redirect? What did you learn so it wasn’t repeated?
A: I need to get input from more people and be open to their input. I have learned over the years that being patient in making decisions is always best. Never make decisions based on emotion.
Q: How have you handled low-performing personnel?
A: They have to be held accountable because they will need that accountability to perform better. The high-performers need accountability because they need the recognition. I would also look at your own leadership. Most employees will do a little less than their leader. It may be time to elevate your leadership and take it to the next level to bring the team up to the next level as well.
Q: If I took your place in your job what would be the one thing you would want me to know?
A: It’s not just one thing, and my advice would not be about the job. You must conduct yourself morally and ethically in a way so you are beyond questioning … your overall success is who you are as a leader.
Q: You love your work as much as anyone I know. What is it about your role, work, and business that has kept you engaged for so many years? Or is it because of how you are wired?
A: I was raised on a farm and so I had the training to know what it meant to work hard. I wanted our team and company to succeed, so I have always been willing to go the extra mile even at my current age, so I guess I am an Owner.
Q: When you look back on your life, who was the most influential leader in your life and what characteristics did he have that you wanted to mirror?
A: Felix Cofield, my first manager. He wasn’t the most educated leader, but he had what it took to lead people and everyone wanted to follow him. Not only did they want to follow him, they wanted to be like him. He believed in me so much. I really worked hard to help him succeed in his role. He cared not only about me but also about my family. I will never forget the investment Mr. Cofield made in me. You don’t have many people like that in your life, so appreciate and value those who pour into you.
Q: What advice would you give to young leaders about handling stress?
A: Don’t worry about the past or what you can’t control. I have noticed that when people are really stressed it can sometimes be a sign of a lack of confidence.
Q: What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned in almost 50 years of leading people?
A: As a leader you have to clearly express the vision and make sure people know where you want the team to go. Then empower them to do what it takes to achieve the vision.
Faith Whatley is the director of adult ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. She and her husband, Jimmy, have two grown children, an amazing daughter-in-law, and live in Nashville, Tenn.