Brian Layer grew up in the mid-west, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point where he played football, basketball, and ran track. Brian is a devoted husband and proud father, holds three masters degrees, is a self-taught guitar player, enjoys drawing and is a voracious reader. When we asked our CEO to describe Brian he said, “Brian is a man of great character – someone whom I’d trust with everything I have, and one of the best leaders I’ve ever known.”
While at West Point, Brian played basketball for Coach K.
OUR FAVORITE QUOTE OF BRIAN’S
“If it’s stupid, it’s not our policy.”
Following is an interview with Brian where you can get to know him through his own words and insights.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS BUSINESS?
During 30 years of Army leadership, I developed a competence for leadership development. As my responsibilities grew, my job increasingly became dependent upon my ability to lead other leaders. I found I really enjoyed helping them transition from direct leadership to a more executive level as their responsibilities expanded. That journey is tough for most and can be pretty intimidating. I like to plant a few seeds—teach, coach, and mentor—and watch leaders grow into and through their new responsibilities. My legacy is being lived every day by the people I’ve led and mentored. I’ve found I can help some leaders and their organizations succeed out here in the real world as well.
WHAT DO GREAT LEADERS DO?
Regardless of context, great leaders figure out how their organization can win in their competitive environment. First, they begin with a clear vision of what they want to become, creating a clear purpose for the organization. Next, they describe what it takes to get there—that becomes their mission. Then, they emphasize a set of values describing how they should behave while completing their mission. Finally, they focus all their energy on tying people, programs and processes to that purpose so the entire organization is moving toward the vision with as little friction as possible.
That said, what a leader does isn’t nearly as important as who a leader is. Great leaders get enduring results because others trust them to take them in the right direction. When people chose to align their future with someone else–be it a spouse, a leader or a mentor–who that other person is always matters more than what they do.
WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE TAUGHT YOU ABOUT LEADER DEVELOPMENT?
There are neither born leaders nor perfect leaders. While some are wired with certain advantages—physical, mental, emotional and social gifts that make them attractive—that can only carry them so far. Every leader is a work in progress and leaders get in trouble when they think they have it all figured out, lose their desire to learn, or stop listening.
Thank goodness, humans don’t have to learn everything from personal experience like other species. We can prepare for future challenges by learning from the experience of others. Given our improved access to information, we should be living in the golden age of leadership but we aren’t.
Commitment to continued growth is a real challenge for executives who have achieved so much and have so many competing demands. Still, the finest leaders I’ve worked with never get too comfortable; they remain passionate about learning and preparation.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN DEVELOPING EXECUTIVES?
While many are reluctant to seek help, most new executives are surprised by the challenges that accompany their new responsibilities. It’s helpful to have a guide. This transition is like jumping from the beginner slope to black diamonds; you’re still skiing but everything moves faster and the cost of mistakes is higher. You have to learn to focus farther ahead to navigate the obstacles. If you don’t you’ll crash because the windows of opportunity to adjust appropriately are so much smaller.
Because their operating environment has changed, executives have to learn to manage themselves differently. They not only have the pressure of those tight windows but they also have an exponential rise in the demands on their time. Almost universally, they struggle with priorities. Should they put their effort on the present or future, product development or distribution, employees or stakeholders, work or home? Managing ourselves can be far more difficult than managing others and most executives struggle with the trade-offs.
Finally, most leaders climb the ranks because they are exceptional people leaders but when they get to the corner office, their habits change. They start to spend more time on product and process and less time on people. Everybody likes to say people are their most important resource but only the very best executives demonstrate it with action. It’s the people! Hiring the best, training them to be better, developing them to lead and creating an environment where they can thrive has always been the difference between winning and losing. This is truer today than ever.
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS?
You should go into every leadership position with the mindset that you have a duty to earn your position one good leadership act at a time. You may have a fancy title with broad authorities but you aren’t really a leader until you earn the respect and trust of the people who have to follow you.