How to Lead a Redneck

by Chip R. Bell

We can thank Hapeville, GA native Jeff Foxworthy for giving rednecks their due. Oh, the label has been around for a long time. It has been a pejorative term used to characterize ignorant, rural, bigoted folks who were usually missing teeth and lived largely South of the Mason Dixie line.
It has also been a term of pride. Just ask most any Hank Williams loving, gun-toting, pick-up truck driving, I’d-rather-fish-than-play-golf person you know. “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go,” sang Hank Jr. (a.k.a., Bocephus), vividly capturing redneck regional pride. Most true rednecks would not miss an episode of Duck Dynasty any more than their parents missed Hew-Haw.
Even if you did not consider yourself a redneck, most Southerners who grew up rural laughed at Jeff’s non-stop one-liners: “You might be a redneck…if there are more than five McDonald’s bags in your car; the Home Shopping operator recognizes your voice; the taillight covers of your car are made of red tape; you financed a tattoo; or, you’ve ever been involved in a custody fight over a hunting dog.
The redneck experience is unique. Most are God-fearing, nature loving, family-oriented lovers of freedom. Most get a lump in their throat when they hear the national anthem and will go out of their way to respect someone in a military uniform. So, how many rednecks work for you? What do you think about a training class on how to lead a redneck?
About this point in this blog, you are suspecting something out of the ordinary is afoot. You are already considering the fact that this blog is not really about rednecks at all. It is about the danger of labels and typecasts.
I have been consulting organizations for over thirty-five years on how to foster a more humanist workplace. And, I have watched the profession go through lots of very savvy efforts to pigeonhole employees into categories or styles or features in order to make leadership more scientific and prescriptive. During the start of the diversity push, there were classes on “how to lead people of color” or “what women want from a leader.”
Then, there was the personality instrument era. I have been in organizations that put people’s DISC, Myers-Briggs, and FIRO-B scores under their cubicle name plates so leaders could get an instant interpersonal roadmap for effective interaction. Meetings were battlegrounds of buzzwords. “Your critical parent is talking to my high D.”
Now, we are learning about generational differences. I need to lead Gen Xers differently than Baby Boomers. Millennials need more of this and less of that. So, what I do with the redneck under my leadership who likes Mozart more than George Jones? And, what about the baby boomers who are “can-do,” achievement-driven early adopters who could care less about work hours?” It can all be very confusing when people don’t somehow fit in the neat little boxes we have created for them.
Making an Ass Out of You and Me
I am a student of human behavior and an avid reader of books, blogs and articles on what makes people tick. I believe self-understanding is crucial to a well-lived life. And, I think leaders are influencers of people, not just a driver of results. Leading in the key of personality can orchestrate a harmonious, productive work environment. Great leaders never forget that people are complex and often unpredictable. Their work life is influenced, not just by the primary components of their life—family, career, health, prejudice—but also by their internal reaction to these components.
I am reminded of a story Stephen Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He boarded a subway in New York City to go home. A young man and his three young children already occupied the subway car he chose. For three stops, the children jumped on the seats, yelled at each other, and acted completely unruly as their father sat silently. Stephen was amazed the father made no attempt to discipline his kids. At the next stop, the young man got off with his kids. As he exited the train car he turned to Stephen and said, “I am so sorry my kids were loud and rowdy. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Leadership is not about the pursuit of assumption. We know the result when we dissect the word “assume.” Leadership is about leading everyone using a set of values that reflect the best of who we are as people. It is about authenticity, honesty, compassion, empathy and a zeal to bring out the best in others. It is also about a commitment to a purpose, a dedication to being a good steward of the resources for which we are responsible, and a remover of barriers that prevent human potential from being unleashed. It is about leading for the long-term health of both the organization and the people that make it up.
Great leadership is recognizing that people are different; each is a unique creation. Great leadership is the recognition that diversity provides a rich tapestry of talent and growth. It is the abhorrence of decisions about people based on some ethnic, cultural or physical feature unrelated to high performance and excellence.
Learn much about generational differences. It is a fascinating topic. It enriches our understanding of ourselves; it deepens our knowledge of others. Be careful of the ease with which our insight can breed stereotyping instead of appreciating; labeling instead of loving. Remember all generalizations are false, including this one!

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