Milk To Maturity: Installment 1 – Pure Milk

The first phase in leadership is the pure milk phase. Think of how we all come into this world. The first thing we are introduced to for nutrients is milk. For the purposes of this discussion and for simplicity sakes, let’s categorize formula here with milk. Milk provides the fundamental building blocks for what our body needs. As infants our bodies have not matured enough to be able consume anything solid and fruit juice would be detrimental to our physical and mental growth at that age. Budding leaders are similar to infants in this regard. They can only take leading in small doses and those doses have to be palatable and somewhat informal. All an infant knows to do when they have a need is to cry. As a parent you learn to recognize those cries; cries of hunger, cries of wet diaper, and cries of pain. For that infant the world is 100% about their needs being met. When a person begins to enter into the workforce the experience can be much the same. Think about someone just graduating from school and needing a job to pay the rent.  As their employer you watch them live paycheck to paycheck, spending every cent on living life. At this time working is just about living. Living for Friday night or the latest new gadget, there is little thought on saving or using a portion of their money to help others. They are much like the infant, working to meet a need and when that need is not met you may find them complaining. This is not to say all people respond the same, but your average first time job holder is just happy to have their own personal immediate needs met.

My first introduction to the workforce was pretty typical, I was in high school and I got a job at a fast food restaurant. A few times during the week and every weekend I would put on my polyester uniform, clock in, and ask people if they wanted to add fries to their order. Sometimes I would show up late or call out if doing something with my friends was more attractive. Additionally, even though it was an industry no-no, I always consumed the product. Every week when I got paid, the first thing I did was fill up my car with gas, soon thereafter I would buy a music CD or video game and before you knew it, the rest was blown on food and junk. I was always broke before the week was up. All I thought about at that time was working to get what I needed and only working when I felt like it. I would like to say that this mindset changed for me when I moved from fast food into my first corporate job, but it did not. My pure milk characteristics continued and my focus remained on my self interest. The point being here that age plays a part of the maturity process, but is not the sole determinant. I have met many young people over the years with a maturity level far beyond mine, although this is not typical.

IF YOU ARE IN THIS PHASE: If you are in this phase, first of all, enjoy it. There will be fewer times in life where you are not both burdened and blessed with additional responsibility. Try to focus on two attributes: being teachable and listening well. Both of these characteristics will bode you well as you embark on your leadership journey. Teachability goes along with humility and according to Jim Collins in his book Good To Great, that is the differentiating characteristic of a level five leader. As you will learn in your progress, listening well is important. Listening well doesn’t mean fixing, it means hearing what the challenges and opportunities of others really are. Only then can you try to relate to what they are going through and see how you can help remove obstacles. Try not to feel demeaned or less than in this phase. Keep your chin up and understand this is a process. Seek out a mentor, stronger yet, make sure you have a mentor that can provide you with direction and honest feedback about your development through this phase.

IF YOU ARE LEADING SOMEONE THROUGH THIS PHASE: Leading folks in this phase can be a challenge. In the working world we term these jobs as “entry level”. Some that come to mind are file clerks (that was me), customer service representatives, cashiers, the list goes on. Most of the time these are hourly roles with a high attrition rate. As their leader we often assume the role of parent in regards to responding to their immediate self directed needs. We manage the crisis or need of the moment hoping to minimize disruptions to productivity. This is a natural starting point and the pure milk phase is foundational to maturing into the next 6 phases. As leaders, the two key characteristics you should be looking for in the pure milk phase are signs of teachability and good listening. What are those teachable moments where we can help focus those walking through this phase to a purpose that is bigger than them? One thing that I have found effective is to center people around a common purpose. To provide examples of how their work is meaningful. This can this be difficult in the pure milk phase but it can be achieved. Seasoned leaders are good listeners, but they all started somewhere with this skill. Now is the time to be looking for this in a budding leaders This is especially true with millennials who can tend to be easily distracted in their connected lifestyles. Do not be afraid to point out what you are doing. Sometimes coaching is not understood. If you tell them you are coaching, it might be received better than if you just “lectured” them. The next phase of growth is the milk and mush phase. In this phase we will get into how the foundation you lay in the pure milk phase contributes to a budding leaders growth.

Well thats it, our first installment in this series designed to launch our book. As we mentioned in the introduction post, your feedback is important and will be included as we progress through this book. Please post comments on the blog and leave your name so we can include you.

Thanks – Bill & Chris




  1. Millie venus | Reply

    Hi Bill,

    Your sister Melissa is my closest dearest friend! I love what I have read so far and I look forward to reading more! The first thing that came to my mind was Paul speaking to the Corintians. The second thing was from the 7 Habits of Highly Successful people and the habit of “begin with the end in mind”. Best of luck to you, I look forward to reading your book!

    Millie Venus

    1. Bill Rieger Post author | Reply
      Bill Rieger

      Hey Millie! There is nothing like your sister being proud. Thanks for your encouragement and reminder to begin with the end in mind, very appropriate.


Leave a Message