Leadership tips

October 2023

Start Leading by Being Your True Self

As I began writing this month’s tip, it became incredibly apparent that this would be tough for me because I would have to be privy to some of the things I encountered as a young leader.  For years, I have struggled with what I would describe as being in my head, which means that even on the best days, I would have this voice telling me that something would end up going wrong.  Although I knew that wasn’t a positive way to think, as someone who has been in a professional career for less than five years, I was likely to experience some difficult times. 

When I was eighteen, I began working as a salesman at our local Lowe’s and immediately fell in love with business.  Throughout the next three years, I would constantly ask my managers how they got to where they are now.  Their answers were closely related, saying that being tough, listening to customers, and understanding the financials were critical.  I, young and relatively ignorant, would think, “What do you mean you have to be tough?”  That management stuff seemed so easy when I wasn’t walking in their shoes, dealing with superiors, subordinates, and other stakeholders in the company.

Skip forward another few years, and I landed an internship with Amazon within the CHA2 facility in a metropolitan area of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Again, I was blessed to have a great manager I could learn from during my internship.  This individual served numerous years in the Marine Corps and was an absolute beast.  Three weeks into my placement, my manager received a promotion and was transferred out of the facility within two weeks.  To my surprise, the area operations manager said, Alex, we aren’t hiring a replacement, so you will have to step up and run the team in his absence.  Again, still relatively ignorant, I thought running the pack-and-ship process alongside other managers would be easy, and wow, I was wrong.

People not showing up for their shifts, individuals getting into yelling matches across the conveyor belts, and technology problems are just a few examples of what I saw throughout the first week in my new role.  I was stressed and beginning to get a pleasant taste of what my old management team at Lowe’s was encountering.  These little issues took my energy, and I couldn’t even think long enough to plan for the next shift.  Luckily, I entered a bookstore that evening and purchased Ken Blanchard’s book, The Servant Leader.  Being a shorter book, I could get through it in about two hours.  The next day at work, I was electric, ready to take on the day, and kicked ass with everyone. The only thing I had to change was getting my butt out of the chair and constantly walking around the 1.2 million square foot facility.  I was picking items, packing boxes, and loading trucks day in and day out.  At that point, I had no time to worry about the little things and could observe the issues each department encountered first-hand and collaborate on removing all barriers. 

Again, we fast forward another few years, and I begin working at 3 Promise Labor Services as the new business development manager.  I was always a little indifferent about staffing companies because they often get a bad rap for sending underqualified employees to job sites, leading to an unsafe and unproductive environment.  Within a few weeks, I immediately retracted my preconceived thoughts and fell in love with our business model and what we were enabling our customers to be able to do.  About seven months later, after some success in that role, I was promoted to company president.  The next several months, we saw record headcount and revenue and continued growing rapidly.  Our team was on top of the world, and nothing could stop us.  Well, we should likely never say never.  Going into 2023, we saw a massive decline in the industries we served and quickly went into the red throughout quarter number one.  Now, as we are leaning into the end of the year, we have positive net income and will end the year well.  As the leader of 3PLS, I had to dig deep into my heart and remember that all I can do is work on myself and support my team.  The following three paragraphs give you a glimpse into what I encountered and how I am continuously working through each matter.  

Self-reflection: Self-reflection is critically essential because whether we like it or not, we, as leaders, are constantly being assessed by our peers.  I struggle constantly with remorse for making bad decisions and saying the wrong things in certain situations.  This caused me to become slightly depressed in my mid-twenties because I was always concerned about what others thought about me.  After much reflection, I realized that I am not alone in this game of life and that what people thought about me wasn’t nearly as bad as I had initially thought.  Keep your head down, treat others with respect, make calculated decisions, and never look back. 

Take your health seriously: From the time that I was five years old until my junior year of college, I was always one of the most overweight individuals in the room.  One day in 2017, I decided to purchase a pair of running shoes and began a weight loss journey that would ultimately change my life.  I stopped eating poorly, cut back on alcohol consumption, and lost nearly 110 pounds in eighteen months.  Moreover, since then, I have competed in a marathon, and numerous half marathons and won a local 5k running series in my hometown.  Unfortunately, two injuries halted my running for nearly six months a year ago.  This occurred when I was promoted to my current position at work.  Not being able to run and dealing with increased stress at work, I began drinking alcohol heavily again.  I did not drink all day every day, but when I did decide to drink, I would binge until I would nearly black out.  This caused me to lose friends due to acting out, oversleeping for work events, and not treating my family well.  The only way that I am getting through this is by working with a life coach, surrounding myself with people who struggle with alcoholism, and focusing on my overall health.  I thought I was invincible in my twenties, and let me tell you, I was dead wrong.  If you don’t take care of yourself, then there is no way that you can take care of your family, friends, or people that you work with.  If you struggle with something, please feel free to call me if you need a support system because I’ve been there, and it is never a good feeling to be alone.

Don’t forget where you came from: When I was growing up, everyone had high expectations for what I could accomplish in life.  Although I was never a great student in school, my charismatic and caring attitude was something that many people thought would take me places.  My family always told me never to forget where I came from, which I didn’t understand until about six months ago.  I travel for work two to three weeks out of the month and experience things my mother and father wouldn’t even imagine.  Growing up in Southeastern Ohio, my family never traveled to Las Vegas, Austin, Phoenix, or internationally.  When I was young, I aspired to be a businessman who lived out of a suitcase traveling on airplanes.  Suddenly, I was twenty-two and traveling to big cities like these each month.  I wouldn’t say that this gave me a big ego, but I was beginning to feel like I made it.  I began talking differently and being someone that I was not.  Luckily, my cousin, who has had a successful career as a professional dirt bike racer, looked at me one day and said, “Who even are you now?”  That crushed me to the core, making me realize that I was trying to be something I was not.  Too many people on social media will tell you that you need to leave family and friends in the past if they don’t match the life you want.  I believe that this is one of the most dangerous ways to lose being your true self, and extremely unhealthy for our well-being.  Your family and friends (the good ones) care about you, support you, and lift you when you are down.  Keep them close, appreciate them, and never leave them in the past. 

In conclusion, this leadership tip bounced around quite a bit, but my writing here comes 100% from my heart.  Life isn’t easy; Business isn’t easy; Asking for help should be.  I care about the well-being of the individuals who took the time to read this tip, and I want to be clear that if you are going through tough times, I want to be accessible for you to talk to.  If you do not understand yourself, it will be incredibly difficult for those around you to develop trust in your leadership.  Take the time to work on mental and physical health while supporting those around you to do the same.   

About the Author

Alex Hogan has worked with two companies under Watertown Enterprises since 2018.  He began his professional career in safety, working in several positions with Malta Dynamics Fall Protection.  Alex is now the President of 3 Promise Labor Services, which focuses on staffing hundreds of skilled construction laborers throughout the United States.