Are you a Can Person or a Can’t Person?


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Are you a Can Person or a Can’t Person?
Either way, you’ll convince yourself.

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

AT A RECENT CONFERENCE OF PRINT PROVIDERS I heard an interesting talk about leadership and the challenges of running a business today. I thought you might be interested. The talk was termed “The Cyclone of Complexity,” alluding to a storm that is not slowing down and makes running any business harder and more demanding than at any time in the past. Some of this is due to the pandemic and the assorted shortages and supply chain issues it spawned, but leadership is still leadership.

The speaker, Francis McMahon, EVP at Canon Solutions America (formerly Océ), suggested 10 points of leadership that that business owners, executives, and managers further down the food chain can apply to keep businesses moving forward and succeeding.
  • Drop the job title: Not carrying your job title around with you helps change the nature and tone of every action and conversation because titles can get in the way of getting things done. You may be justifiably proud of the business you built or helped build and your efforts show up in your job title. Still, most people in your organization know who you are and may be less than impressed: to some you may just be a “higher up.”
As McMahon said this I recalled a night in a print-and-mail shop, shooting video. Joe, the president of the company, dressed in his usual jeans and a t-shirt, was pulling sealed envelopes off an inserter and putting them in trays to be mailed out. Working next to him was a second-shift guy who had no idea the man a few feet away ran the company. Fifteen minutes later Joe was driving a forklift. This was all real: we didn’t stage anything. Over the next couple of days Joe told me all kinds of things about his employees, because he knew them. And because he cared.​
  • Care: Think about it: If you don’t care about the people you work with, why should they care about you, your company, or the job they do? Make a point of asking about your team members about themselves, their lives, families, and interests. By learning about them you are building a rapport that can pay long-term dividends and increase loyalty
  • Admit your flaws: No one is perfect, can do everything, or has all the answers. For example, you know a lot about your business but chances are there you don’t know how things really work. This is OK. It is perfectly all right to ask about the details of any part of your operation. Your team members will probably be happy to show off their expertise. Not only that, but the people doing a job every day may have ideas for how it could be done better. Ask!
  • Listen and be inclusive: This helps build a team, aids group thinking and is related to admitting your flaws. One of the greatest strengths of a good leader is being able to listen, especially to people who know more about what they do than the person who runs the company.
  • Elevate people, build them up: People love recognition and appreciate it when “the boss” uses them as an example. Be sure to give public credit for achievement. I remember being at a presentation that crashed while the CEO of the company was on stage. One of his geeks came out and fixed the problem. The CEO thanked the tech guy, then turned to the audience saying, “It’s great when you have the best people.”
  • Set people free: Provide ownership and responsibility. This can be hard to do but many people take pride in what they do and want the ownership. And, when they are made responsible for making something happen, they make sure it does. Thanking or praising them publicly for their efforts helps ensure you get better results and happier people.
  • Reach for the stars: This is contagious. By striving to do things thought to be “impossible” you won’t succeed every time but do it often enough and your whole team begins to think they can all achieve more.
  • Be positive: “Are you a Can Person or a Can’t Person?” asked McMahon. “Either way you are right—because you’ll convince yourself.” He noted that much of America has created a can’t culture. Moreover, most businesses have a ‘can’t person’. When talking with ‘can’t people’ it’s important to let them onboard because they could do something. That helps change the conversation.
  • Walk with purpose: Don’t just saunter around. Whether you are just going to see a person across the shop floor or heading to a meeting, walk as if it’s important. Your people notice this because the way you walk can convey a positive attitude.
  • Earn trust: All these points are part of being honest, open and supportive. When you, your fellow execs and managers do these things your people will do more and help your business be more successful.
“So why do some succeed?” McMahon asked. Leadership is a mix of inspiration, influence, perspective. He noted that basic leadership comes down to getting someone to do something because they want to, not because they are told to. Changing the mindset of people who work for and with you—so they want to do something—is just one result of following these ten points.

“Leadership is a soft skill,” wrapped up McMahon. “Take your role seriously. And lead.”


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  • He noted that much of America has created a can’t culture.
Ouch, that in itself is a pretty negative way to view the American workforce. Sure every firm may have that negative person but "much of America has created a can’t culture. I disagree.


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Ouch, that in itself is a pretty negative way to view the American workforce. Sure every firm may have that negative person but "much of America has created a can’t culture. I disagree.
I agree with you @TJPrinter . To generalize "much" of America as can't people is ridiculous. Just look at all of the people that flock here from other countries because they believe they 'can' make a better life for themselves. Look at all of the people who go to college because they believe they 'can' get skills needed for a good job. (of course, then they somehow become people who "can't" pay back their school loans...but that's for another post 😜). Consider how many people buy a new car or house because they believe they 'can' afford it with their job.

Since the presentation was focused towards business owners or leadership, I do think it's worth noting that some companies can create a "can't" atmosphere for their employees. Some companies have so much nepotism, it can make employees start to realize there isn't much hope in promoting beyond a certain level. I'm sure people can share other instances where a company sucks any amount of motivation out of their employees in other ways too. Additionally, poorly governed areas can also make entrepreneurs develop a "can't" attitude about starting or continuing to run a business because of all the regulations, taxes, and crime - hence why so many people are leaving CA and Illinois as examples.


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