Name: John Verrico
Organisation: Share Your Fire, LLC
Communication professional with more than 40 years in government and the military, and translated that experience to helping others realize and share their stories.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope John's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
I think the most challenging thing for a leader is to remember that they are not the center of the universe. It is no longer about getting recognition for their own accomplishments, but about understanding that the success of a teammate is reflected on the leader themselves.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My evolution as a leader started in the Navy as I gradually got promoted through the ranks. At every level in the enlisted ranks, we received leadership training and were often transferred to a different post to allow us to grow and be accepted in our new rank instead of just 'one of the guys' who happens to be wearing a different insignia. Our focus as Navy leaders was to help those in our charge to become successful. But even though I served in positions of increasing responsibility, I think my epiphany at becoming a leader was during my time serving on the Board of Directors with the National Association of Government Communicators. A member that I had recruited and later recommended to become a board member, ultimately was nominated to become the Association's President. He wanted to turn down the nomination, saying, "It's not fair for me to become president before you are." I realized I had absolutely no envy or jealousy, and was truly proud and happy for him. That's when I knew I was a leader. I encouraged him to go for it and he did. Later, I was elected as the Association President myself, and over the years, several other members that I had recruited became Board members, including two others who had also been elected as President. In retrospect, I realized that I became good at recognizing leadership potential in others.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Unlike most leaders who seem to be proponents for early-to-bed, early-to-rise, I have learned to work with my natural biorhythm. I am a night owl by nature, usually getting a second wind later in the evening. I find that my most creative times are late mornings and late evenings. I try not to schedule meetings before 9:30 or 10 a.m., allowing myself and others plenty of time in the morning to prepare. I usually focus my creative energies on projects later in the morning into the early afternoon. My afternoons are normally full of meetings, then I take a break in the late afternoon using that time to review materials and notes. Then, after dinner and some family time, I tend to work on projects requiring more creativity. That seems to be when I do my best, most eloquent writing. This is also when I do my editing on things I may have produced earlier. I tend to go to bed late, and I always read in bed for a bit before going to sleep. I prefer fiction for this light reading, as it helps me unwind from the day, focuses my brain on a single issue (the story in the book) so that I am not ruminating over looming responsibilities. This allows me to get better rest and I can start fresh the next day.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Every action you take, every word you speak, every attitude you exhibit can and will make a significant impact on those around you. Lots of little daily occurrences lately have reminded me that a smile is contagious, but so is a frown. One interaction or one incident can set the tone for the rest of the day and all the interactions that follow. The lesson here is that while we cannot control everything that happens to us and perhaps not even the way others behave, we can control our reactions. When life throws us manure, we can wallow in the stench or use it for fertilizer.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
While there have been many books that I have learned from while on my leadership development journey, I would say that The Fred Factor, by Mark Sanborn, stands out. The book tells the story of a mail carrier named Fred who goes above and beyond in carrying out what could be considered as menial tasks of delivering mail. Fred took exceptional pride in his work, got to know the people on his route - not just as customers, but as fellow humans with real lives full of successes, troubles, loves, and challenges. By taking the time to know the people he served, Fred was able to excel and bring to them something more than simply a stack of bills and packages. This story struck a chord with me, encouraging me to really get to know the people in my life so I can better serve.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
We’ve all heard it before – be humble, don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t let your title go to your head. But I would say that the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be in a position of authority nor have a fancy title to be a leader. Simply by exemplifying good leadership behavior makes you a leader. Look around you and observe the behaviors of others. Hopefully, we’ve had some really good, encouraging bosses and people that exude positive attitudes and energy in our lives. The key is to learn from them. What made them a good boss or such a pleasure to be around? Even more likely. we’ve probably had some bad bosses or known difficult people. Its even more important that we learn from them, recognize the mistakes they are making and determine how not to repeat them and how to counter them. We can choose the behaviors we want to emulate. Think about those that made you feel good about yourself, that helped you feel as if you mattered. Take on those characteristics when you deal with others.
Some additional advice - Learn something new every day. Be adventurous, try new things, go new places and always make new mistakes.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I will share two:
Take the time to give the gift of yourself. A former colleague that I had not seen in many years recently reached out on social media to thank me. I had no idea what for until she reminded me of a brief conversation we had more than 15 years ago. She was pondering applying for a new job which she was afraid was above her skill level. She told me that our discussion helped her realize she should reach out beyond her safety zone and to stretch, and how her skills at that time were an applicable foundation. She got the job and had a wonderful career and was recently promoted to a top spot in her organization. Just those few minutes of my time helped create a career path. You never know the impact of your words.
The second I want to share was when I was conducting a training session in leadership communications. One of the attendees said "Its not my job to motivate my employees. We give them a paycheck for that." I asked him about his position and he admitted that not only had he been with the organization for more than 35 years, but also that he could make much more money if he took his skills elsewhere. Understanding then that he was not motivated by his paycheck, why then would he assume that others are? The lesson from this was the realization that we should never assume. We don't know what goes on in other people's lives and what drives them, so don't make decisions based on unfounded assumptions.