Leading with Trust

Catch People Doing Something Right – 4 Ways to Build Workplace Morale

Happy FacesCreating a workplace culture that breeds high morale and engagement doesn’t happen by accident. It requires leadership – wise, empathetic, discerning, thoughtful, strategic, and caring leadership. And it’s a leadership you can’t fake. It has to flow from the ethos of who you are as a person.

For the last 18 years I’ve had the privilege of working for Ken Blanchard, a man who knows a thing or two about leadership. Along with his wife Margie, he has created a leadership development company that embodies several principles of a high engagement culture. In traditional Blanchard style, I’ve taken some complex issues of morale and engagement and tried to crystallize them into simple truths that all leaders can use to build morale in their organizations.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Too many work environments are focused on catching people making mistakes. In a well-intentioned effort to improve productivity and efficiency, leaders are prone to reduce an employee’s performance into raw data, metrics, and statistics. Every detail is parsed and analyzed and people’s shortcomings are readily pointed out. Years ago Ken Blanchard said, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous cycle built on the concept of catching people doing something right. One of the easiest and quickest ways a leader can improve workplace morale is to notice, encourage, and celebrate the good things that are happening. It’s a common occurrence at The Ken Blanchard Companies for us to start meetings with the agenda item of “praisings and celebrations.” We take time to intentionally focus on the good things people are doing and celebrate their successes.

Be Other Focused

Another strategy for enhancing workplace morale is to serve others. It’s hard to be self-centered, critical, and myopic about your own business when you reach out and help others less fortunate. We have an in-house charity organization called Blanchard for Others that supports numerous local, national, and world charities. Employees have a voice in not only directing funds to these organizations, but getting personally involved. Employee volunteer efforts are encouraged through the use of “Blanchard Ambassador” hours—paid time off apart from an employee’s own vacation time—that allow team members to serve with charities locally and abroad. You can build employee morale by not only engaging their minds at work, but their hearts as well.

Treat Your People How You Want Them to Treat Your Customers

The manner in which you treat your people will be the manner in which they treat your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have a catchy customer service slogan, wallpaper the office with posters of the company mission statement and values, or create fancy marketing materials touting your brand promise, if you treat your people like they’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, and have to be micromanaged, they’ll treat your customers the same way. At Blanchard, people are extended a fair amount of autonomy in their roles to do what’s in the best interest of our clients. Leadership takes this same approach with employees through various programs like Infant at Work, where new mothers are encouraged to bring their infants to work until they reach 6 months of age. The company also sets aside a certain percentage of our profits for employees to donate to the charity of their choice through our Give Back program. The employee, not the company, decides where that money will be used. Autonomy and flexibility are key components in creating a high-morale workplace.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

To plagiarize Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan (“It’s the economy, stupid”)—It’s the culture, stupid! At the end of the day, the creation of a high-morale, highly engaged workforce is about intentionally nurturing the norms and behaviors you want in your culture and extinguishing those you don’t. Every day Ken Blanchard leaves a “morning message” voicemail for the entire company. In that message, Ken takes the opportunity to reinforce the core values of our culture. He praises accomplishments of individuals, share concerns for those in need, discusses his latest insights about life and leadership, or shares other inspirational ideas and encouragement.

Any single one of these strategies is insufficient in itself, and certainly not appropriate for every organization. However, taken together, they weave together to form the fabric of our culture that results in a highly engaged, positive morale workforce. It doesn’t matter your industry, geography, or size of organization when it comes to building a high-morale culture. It starts with leadership. It starts with you!

This post was originally published at Switch & Shift as part of a series on workplace morale. I encourage you to check it out!

Fail Your Way to Success – 4 Tips for Going from Zero to Hero

zero-to-heroFifty years ago this week, Jim Ryun failed his way to success when he became the first high school track athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile. Ryun decided to try running only after being cut by a church baseball team and his junior high basketball team. Ryun said, “I’m glad those failures were there because I didn’t linger in a sport that I couldn’t do anything in. I failed on to the next thing, until I found something. That was a gift from God to me.”

“I failed on to the next thing, until I found something.”

In reading about Ryun’s story this week, I was struck by his positive point of view about failure. It reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned over the years through my own experience (yeah, I’ve failed a lot!), as well as from John Maxwell’s excellent book on the subject, Failing Forward.

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Persistence pays off — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate you from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction – a zero life. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it means to go from being a zero to a hero – learning to fail forward.

Performance Anxiety – Not Just a Problem in the Bedroom

Performance Anxiety 2Performance Anxiety…words often reserved to describe a person’s worrisome beliefs or fears regarding their sexual performance in the bedroom is now being used to describe the same debilitating effects on performance in the workplace. That’s the message from a recent publication by Vadim Liberman of The Conference Board, detailing the “performance anxiety” that has gripped many in corporate America. Years of corporate restructuring, shuffling people between positions, adding, deleting, and modifying roles, departments, and jobs has taken its toll on people. The mantra of “doing more with less” has become the norm as business continues a slow recovery from the economic recession of the last several years. Employees who once feared losing their jobs are now feeling insecure about keeping their jobs.

Liberman’s basic point is that people are having trouble keeping up with the amount of tasks added to their plates and the pace of change occurring in their organizations. Recession-driven layoffs, restructures, and job modifications have forced people to take on extra work, new job duties, or assume different roles and it’s taking a toll. As job scope increases, people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to accomplish, and it leads even the most engaged employees to gravitate toward focusing on the least complex, simple tasks they can control, rather than focusing on the most important and complex issues that need to be addressed.

According to Liberman, much of the fault lies at the feet of senior leaders. Whether it’s pursuing the latest management fad, reorganizing on a whim, or doing a poor job of managing change, senior leaders can be prone to lay the blame of organizational failure at the feet of employees who aren’t performing up to snuff, not taking into account those same employees are still trying to come to grips with the previous round of changes. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli says, “Today, work demands are through the roof. Not just the amount of work but challenges that employees do not know how to meet, in part because they may not be achievable.” Workplace frustration leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of trust and confidence in leadership.

I can identify with these conditions. The team I lead has experienced increased job scope and responsibilities over the years as our business has grown more complex and demanding in today’s global economy. “Task saturation” is a word we’ve used to describe this condition and the insecure, frustrated state of mind it induces. Here are six strategies I’ve found helpful to deal with this “performance anxiety” in the workplace:

1. Create a safe and trusting environment—The number one job of a leader is to build trust with his/her followers. Fostering a culture of safety is essential for trust to not only survive, but thrive. People need to know they can count on their leaders to look out for their best interests, protect them when necessary (even from themselves sometimes), and to genuinely care about them as people and not just worker drones showing up to do a job. Simon Sinek speaks to this truth in his insightful TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe.

2. Ask people for their opinions—One of the most tangible ways leaders can combat frustration and insecurity in the workplace is to ask people for their opinions. But asking is just the first step; you have to do something with what they tell you. The higher up a leader rises in the organization, the easier it is to lose touch with the daily frustrations and battles your employees face. It’s easy to oversimplify the problems and solutions our people face and dismiss their expressions of frustration as whining or griping. Listen with the intent of being influenced and be willing to take action on what you learn.

3. Start, stop, continue—As you consider your next round of corporate restructuring, job modification, or process improvements, ask yourself these three questions: What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to continue doing? I’ve found it’s easy to keep adding new tasks while continuing to do the old tasks. It’s much, much harder to identify those things we should stop doing. We can’t continue to pile more and more work on people and expect them to perform at consistently high levels. There is only so much time to accomplish the work at hand. As an addition to the start, stop, continue strategy, I’m seriously considering adopting a strategy from the simplicity movement: for every new task I add for my team, we have to eliminate one task. Enough of task saturation!

4. Manage change, don’t just announce it—Managing a change initiative involves more than just announcing a new strategy. That’s the easy part! The hard part is actually implementing and managing the change well. People go through specific stages of concern when faced with a major change and leaders need to be equipped to address those concerns throughout the process. By addressing the information, personal, and implementation concerns of employees, leaders can be much more successful in helping their people adapt and endorse the change initiative.

5. Focus on development of boss/employee relationship—One of the primary factors in an employee’s success, satisfaction, and engagement on the job is the quality of the relationship with their boss. Intentional effort needs to be placed on cultivating high-quality boss/employee relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. Frequent and quality conversations need to occur regularly between the boss and employee so the boss is aware of the daily challenges faced by the employee and can work to remove obstacles.

6. Foster empowerment, control, and autonomy—People don’t resist change; they resist being controlled. Much of today’s workplace frustrations are caused by workers having a lack of empowerment in their role, little control over what effects them at work, and scant autonomy in how they perform their tasks. Leaders can build engagement by focusing on the development of these three qualities in the work people do.

Performance anxiety in the workplace is like organizational high blood pressure—it’s a silent killer. This silent killer is not always evident through outward symptoms, but it’s always lurking underneath causing damage day after day. We have a choice…will we do anything about it?

“Get Lost in the Game” – 6 Ways to Perform Your Best

“I told him to get lost in the game.”

That was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s advice to one of his star players, Julius Randle, during half-time of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game this past Monday night. Coming into the game, Randle had been averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds, yet entering half-time he had scored just 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and was clearly fazed by the pressure-packed environment of the championship contest. Calipari knew his player was out of rhythm, trying too hard to contribute and forcing the action, rather than relaxing and letting the game come to him. Calipari wanted Randle to get lost in the game, to be in the flow.

The flow is the metal state you’re in when you’re fully immersed in an activity that consumes your entire focus, energizes your attention, and produces a deep level of satisfaction and joy through the process. In the groovein the zonewiredin the momenton fire…and my personal favorite, beast mode, are all ways of expressing this condition. It’s when we do our best work and experience the most fulfillment in our activities. It’s also a rare and fleeting circumstance to be in the flow.

How can we be in the flow more often? How can we get “lost in the game?” First, we have to understand the conditions that lead to flow experiences. Second, we have to take steps to create the environment for us to get in the flow.

Conditions for Flow Experiences
There are three basic conditions you need for flow experiences:

  1. A clear goal – This is why you often hear athletes talk about being in the zone or having tunnel focus when it comes to their activities. Whether it’s trying to hit a pitched ball, complete a pass, score a goal, make a last second shot, or cross the finish line ahead of others, there is a clear goal that lends purpose, structure, and process to the task at hand. A lack of clear goals is why we often don’t experience the flow at work. Unclear goals make it difficult to narrow our focus and attention and leaves us feeling stuck or overwhelmed with the work in front of us.
  2. A balance between your skills and the challenge of the task – If you perceive you have the skills to meet the difficulty of the challenge ahead of you, it’s easier to get in the flow. If you believe you’re ill-equipped or don’t have the talent to accomplish the goal, anxiety and stress will prevent you from achieving a flow-state. Conversely, if you believe the goal is not challenging enough given your experience and skills, you’ll encounter boredom or apathy. You need the goal to be challenging enough to capture your attention, while simultaneously having enough skill to give you the confidence that you can tackle the situation.
  3. Real time feedback on your performance – You can feel when you’re in the flow. It’s those occasions where you lose track of time because you’re completely immersed in an activity and things just, well…flow. And when you’re not, you feel like you’re trudging up a muddy hill, taking one step up and sliding back two. Flow is sustained by receiving feedback on your performance. When you see you’re performing well, it increases your confidence and desire to stay in the flow. When you see you’re off course, you can make adjustments to get back on track and in the flow.

How to Increase Flow Experiences
We can take concrete steps to help increase flow experiences at work that will allow us to perform our best. Here are six suggestions:

  1. Connect your work to the bigger picture – Too many of us view our work with a microscope rather than a telescope. A microscope allows you to zoom in on the details of a particular object, ignoring the surrounding area. A telescope, on the other hand, allows you to see long distances away—the big picture. Rather than being uninspired by the small tasks you have to do, connect them to the importance of the big picture. Figure out how your work contributes to the betterment of the world. How does your work help improve the lives of people by meeting their needs or desires? All work has redeeming value and it’s up to us to discover it. Tapping into the bigger picture will add motivation and commitment to your work and help you achieve flow in your activities.
  2. Clarify and prioritize goals – If your goals aren’t clear, work on gaining clarity. Figure out specifically what you’re trying to accomplish, what the standards are, the deadlines to meet, or the deliverables being produced. If you’re challenged with too many goals, work on prioritization. If you have conflicting priorities from multiple stakeholders, you may have to involve your supervisor to help you. Get clear on what you need to accomplish and then apply laser-like focus to your activities.
  3. View work as a game – Games in general, and video games in particular, lend themselves to flow experiences because they are immersive in nature. We get wrapped up in figuring how to reach the new level, unlock the next treasure, or beat the “boss.” You can apply the same principles to your work. Engage your mind in thinking about how can you accomplish things faster, better, or easier. Are there other ways you can approach tasks or activities that may bring more fulfillment? Look at work as a game you’re trying to master and let your creativity run wild.
  4. Seek out bigger challenges and/or improve your skills – Complacency, boredom, and apathy are flow killers. If you find your work lacking in challenge, seek out new ones. Work with your supervisor to see if there are increased responsibilities you can take on, project teams you can join, or other ways to add more challenge in your work. On the flip side, worry, stress, and anxiety are also flow killers. If you find your work is too challenging, explore skill development opportunities. Go back to school, read books, get a mentor, or seek out additional training to boost your confidence and capability to meet the challenges you face.
  5. Find your sweet spot – Your sweet spot is where your skills are matched appropriately to the challenge, and when you find that place, you have the greatest chance of achieving states of flow. Finding your sweet spot might mean following point #4 above, or it might mean transforming how you do your work by changing/improving processes, delegating it to someone, or collaborating with others.
  6. Choose your motivation – Your supervisor is not responsible for motivating you. You, and only you, control your level of motivation. You can choose to be disinterested in your work or feel like others are imposing work on you, or you can choose to shift your motivational outlook by focusing on areas of your work where you can exhibit autonomy in your activities, mastery over how well you do your job, and satisfaction in the relationships you build with others.

Kentucky ended up losing the championship to UConn and Julius Randle never really got into the flow of the game, finishing with just 10 points and 6 rebounds. However, it doesn’t negate the wisdom of Coach Calipari’s advice. We do our best work when we get lost in the game.

Forget Accountability – Follow These 5 Steps Instead

AccountabilityI don’t like the word accountability. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. I think it’s because it assumes the worst about people. When we talk about accountability, it always seems the assumption is a person is incapable of, or unlikely to, follow through on his/her commitments. So we spend a lot of time and energy creating systems, processes, or consequences to make the sure the person is held accountable.

I prefer the word responsibility. To me, responsibility has a positive connotation. It’s starting with the mindset that a person will be responsible if he/she is given the necessary tools and training. If a person is responsible, you don’t have to worry about him/her being accountable. Responsibility breeds accountability. Whereas focusing on accountability is only treating the symptoms of a performance issue, addressing responsibility is treating the root cause.

So how can leaders help their people develop an inherent sense of responsibility? Here’s five steps to get started:

1. Create a motivating work environment – You can’t motivate anyone. (What? Did he just say I can’t motivate anyone? Isn’t that one of my primary responsibilities as a leader?) Yes, I just said that. You can’t motivate anyone. Every person is responsible for his/her own motivational outlook. What you can do is create a work environment that allows your people to maximize their sense of autonomy, increase their level of relatedness with others, and develop competence in their work. Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are the variables that allow a person to be optimally motivated and it’s our jobs as leaders to foster an environment that brings out the best in our people.

2. Let your people take the lead in goal setting as much as possible – Think about your own experience. When have you felt the greatest sense of commitment to a goal? When you created it yourself (or had a hand in it), or when a goal was assigned to you? Most likely it was when you were involved in setting the goal because you had a sense of ownership. It was your goal, not someone else’s. Your people will exhibit more responsibility for accomplishing their goals if they are involved in setting them.

3. Be clear on expectations – If people are going to be responsible, they need to clearly understand the expectations of their commitment. Many times our frustrations with people not being accountable is due to a lack of clear expectations. Make sure people know why the goal is important, what the deadlines are, and what constitutes success. If the situation requires you to follow through with negative consequences, do so. Don’t make hollow threats.

4. Use the right leadership style – Your people have different levels of competence and commitment on each of their goals. It’s your job as a leader to flex your leadership style to provide the proper amount of direction and support your people need to accomplish their goals. If you don’t set your people up to be responsible and successful in achieving their goals, that’s on you, not them. (Hold yourself accountable…errr…responsible).

5. Let go – I’ve written previously about balancing control and responsibility. It’s easy to grab control from people when you see them underachieving or shirking their responsibilities. That doesn’t help your people develop responsibility and it only adds to your stress level and workload. If you’ve properly trained and equipped your people, you need to let go and let them succeed or fail on their own.

Starting with these five steps puts the onus on your people to live up to their responsibilities. It’s up to them to hold themselves accountable…to be responsible. The leadership mindset underpinning these steps is one of trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Trust your people to rise to the occasion, to be worthy of your trust. Odds are they will prove themselves to be responsible and you won’t have to worry about holding them accountable.

Three Leadership Lessons From Comic-Con

Comic Con 2013

Photo by K.C. Alfred / U.T. San Diego

This weekend was the annual Comic-Con event that’s held every summer here in San Diego. Nearly a 130,000 people visit the convention that celebrates a variety of comic arts and pop culture elements like animation, horror, science fiction, television, and movies.

Having attended a few Comic-Cons myself, I can say that you never know what you might see or experience, but one thing is certain – it’s always an interesting, unique occasion. In a very warped, twisted sort of way (which is appropriate given the topic), Comic-Con has many similarities to the workplace and can teach us valuable lessons about leadership. Here’s a few things I’ve learned about leadership from my Comic-Con experiences:

  1. People Like to Wear Masks — Comic-Con is like an early Halloween. Attendees often wear the outfits of their favorite comic/TV/movie characters and over the years I’ve seen Wonder Woman, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Storm Troopers, Zombies, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and just about every other “___man” character out there. In the workplace people like to wear masks to hide their fear and insecurities. Leaders have the responsibility to develop trusting relationships so their people aren’t afraid to be authentic and vulnerable.
  2. Passion is Powerful — Why did tens of thousands of people mindlessly go through the motions at work this past week and then suddenly turn into excited, engaged, and passionate (obsessed?) participants at Comic-Con? It’s because Comic-Con taps into their optimal motivational state by allowing them to demonstrate their competence (everyone is an expert at Comic Con), develop a sense of relatedness with others who share their interests, and celebrate their autonomy and individuality (hence the freedom and encouragement to wear costumes). Workplaces that want to tap into the discretionary energy of their employees should look to incorporate these same principles into the work people perform and the organization’s culture.
  3. Everyone Wants to Belong — People from all walks of life are not only welcomed and accepted at Comic-Con, they experience a sense of belonging. Two weeks ago I wrote about the difference between fitting in and belonging and Comic-Con is a real life example of where geeks, nerds, kids, adults, industry experts, and Hollywood stars are all on equal footing. A primary goal for leaders is to develop a team culture where their people feel they are valued for who they are, not just what they can do.

Comic-Con is a one-of-a-kind experience that always offers something new and unique. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could design our workplaces to offer the same sense of excitement, commitment, and engagement? Feel free to leave a comment and add to the discussion.

Build Trust Today or Lose Talent Tomorrow – 3 Tips to Keep Your Top People

dear-boss-i-quitIf you ask organizational leaders to name their top five challenges, there’s a good chance that retaining key talent will be on the list. Every person and role in your organization is important, but there are mission critical jobs and high performers that contribute substantially more to your bottom line success and it’s those people you can least afford to lose.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an increasing trend in voluntary turnover and the rate of unemployment for people with college degrees is about half the national unemployment rate and is decreasing. There is expected to be an ongoing talent shortage well into the next decade as Baby Boomers retire, technology and job specialization increase, global competition for talent rises, and education systems struggle to keep up with the demands of business.

Not only is competition for talent going to increase, the Hay Group reports that 20% of employees plan to look for a new job in the next two years and another 20% plan to leave within the next five years. The reasons cited for jumping ship? Of course the chance to make more money somewhere else is always high on the list, but there is a growing discontent among the workforce after years of low to no pay increases, increased pressure to “do more with less,” and low levels of trust with organizational leaders who have shown little to no regard for their employees.

Building and nurturing high-trust relationships with key talent is essential for keeping them on your team. Here’s three tips to help you build trust and retain talent:

1. Learn the skill of building trust – Yes, you can learn to build trust. Most people don’t give much thought to building trust. They think it “just happens” over time like some sort of relationship osmosis. The fact is that trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors and if you incorporate those behaviors into your leadership practices you will have high-trust relationships.

2. Foster a culture of engagement – High performers are more willing to stay in jobs and organizations where their needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are being met. All people, especially your top talent, thrive on being in control of achieving their goals. They want to continue to develop their competence and expertise and establish meaningful relationships with team members.

3. Ask them to stay – Unfortunately, most leaders don’t ask their top performers to stay until they’ve submitted their resignation and are walking out the door. You can build trust with your key talent by engaging in courageous career conversations. Ask your top people what it will take to keep them in your organization and try to find creative ways to provide them opportunities for growth, learning, or expanded responsibilities.

Managing high performers can be just as challenging, if not more so, than managing poor performers. In most cases of poor performance, you can identify specific job skills or personal attributes that need to be improved and put a plan in place to work on those specific issues. When it comes to high performers, you’re constantly having to be creative and find new ways to keep them engaged and growing which can be absolutely exhausting!

Regardless of whatever talent management and retention strategies you employ, building a foundation of trust is critical to the success of keeping your best performers. You can choose to build trust today or lose talent tomorrow.

Three Critical Skills for Managing the Overextended Workforce

DoingMoreWithLess“Doing more with less.” I cringe whenever I hear that phrase because it feels so punitive and unsupportive, and if you’re a leader, I suggest you completely eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary. Whenever you utter those words to your team, your people feel like you don’t understand their circumstances and it erodes trust and confidence in your leadership. They think you just don’t get it.

I’ve found three strategies helpful in dealing with the challenge of doing more with less:

1. Communicate the reality to your team – Share all the information you have about your business, including the good, bad, and ugly. Let people know what’s going on. Information is viewed as power, and if you withhold it from your people, they view you with suspicion and think you’re untrustworthy and power-hungry. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act in the best interests of your organization.

2. Create a high-involvement strategy – If you’re sharing information with your team, the next step is to solicit their involvement in helping solve your business challenges. Ask for their ideas and gather their input. Who knows better how to solve your pressing business issues than the people who are doing the work on the frontlines? There is an old saying that goes “People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” Get your people working with you, not against you.

3. Dial up support for your people – Listening is a great first step in letting people know you care. Take time to understand their frustrations and challenges so you can make better informed decisions. Another way to support your people is to jump in the trenches with them and help them get the work done. Why do you think the President always tours disaster areas, picks up a shovel, and helps workers for a period of time? He does that to send the message that we’re all in this together and he’s not too busy to lend a hand. Being visible and present is key to supporting your team. There’s no way your team is going to follow you if you’re missing in action when the bullets are flying.

On Wednesday, May 8th, 9:00-10:30 a.m. PST, I’ll be one of three speakers conducting an online workshop on this topic of “doing more with less” and managing the overextended workforce. Motivation expert Susan Fowler will be speaking on “Motivating Yourself and Your Team During Stressful Times” while leadership speaker Ann Phillips will address “What Leaders Can Do To Recognize and Head-Off Employee Meltdowns.” I’ll share “How to Become the Kind of Leader that Others Trust.” I hope you’ll be able to join us!

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Two Things Your Boss Should Never Have to Talk to You About

Tyler RoyA few weeks ago I was watching my son compete at a high school track meet when I ran into Tyler, a young man whom I had the pleasure of coaching in baseball a few years back. Tyler was there to cheer on his sister, a member of the opposing squad, and we caught up on how his baseball season was going. Tyler plays on his high school’s varsity team but isn’t getting quite as much playing time as he’d like.

I see Tyler fairly regularly, and since he still calls me “Coach,” I couldn’t help but offer some on-the-spot coaching to help encourage him. I said “Tyler, when I coached you I always appreciated that I never had to say anything to you about your effort and attitude. You always worked hard in practices and games, gave your best effort, and always displayed an excellent attitude with coaches and teammates. Effort and attitude are two things that you completely control. You can’t control how much playing time you get, but you have 100% control over the amount of effort you give and the attitude you choose to have. Keep working hard, have a great attitude, and your time will come.”

Your boss should never have to ask you to give a better effort or improve your attitude.

There are a lot of things about work we can’t control – angry customers, heavy workloads, annoying co-workers, bad bosses, or dysfunctional teams, just to name a few. But your personal effort and attitude? Totally under your control.

Here’s some coaching tips that may help you improve in these areas:

Effort

  • Be organized. Plan your work. Work your plan.
  • Prioritize. Balance the urgent and important tasks. Don’t just work hard, work smart.
  • Don’t multi-task. It’s a myth, it’s stupid, and it doesn’t work. Start a task and finish it.
  • Stay focused by working in 20-30 minute phases and then take a 3-5 minute break. It helps you maintain your attention and energy levels.
  • Identify the high performers in your role. Watch how they work. Do what they do.
  • Keep learning, growing, and improving your skills.

Attitude

  • Focus on the positive elements of your job, not the negative.
  • Follow Mom’s advice. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Assume best intentions. Most people aren’t trying to intentionally ruin your day.
  • Get a coach or mentor. Having someone to help you see the bigger picture keeps things in perspective.
  • Exercise. Eat healthy. Pick up a hobby. It’s important to take care of yourself and find ways to relieve stress.
  • Prayer, meditation, solitude, and other spiritual practices help keep you balanced.

Effort and attitude, two things always under your control. Will you control them?

How Does Santa Motivate the Elves? Three Lessons for Leaders Everywhere

Santa at WorkEven though Christmas is just two days away, I was able to convince Santa to take a break from his final preparations to grant me an exclusive interview. In last year’s interview Santa riffed on many of the practices that make him one of the most revered leaders of all time, and with employee motivation and engagement being a hot topic this year, I decided to ask Santa his thoughts on the matter. Enjoy the leadership nuggets I mined from the chubby and jolly guy in the bright red suit:

Me: Hello Santa. I know you’re busy getting ready for Christmas and I appreciate you taking a few minutes to speak with me.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! No problem! I’m always eager to help other leaders. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for people who have a passion for serving others.

Me: Finding ways to motivate employees so that they’re fully engaged in their work is a chief concern for leaders today. Based on the way you run things at the North Pole, it appears you’ve got this figured out. What’s your secret?

Santa: My secret? Ho, ho, ho…that’s a good one, Randy! The secret is that there is no secret! I work hard at creating an environment that allows my team of elves to do their best work. The credit for being motivated and engaged really goes to them.

Me: So tell me more about the environment you’ve created. What specifically have you done that has allowed the elves to be so successful.

Santa: Well, if I had to boil it down, I would say that I’ve learned three primary lessons when it comes to helping my elves be motivated and engaged. The first is that I’ve learned my crew works best when they have a great deal of autonomy. In my early days I used to be a bit of a micro-manager and I found that sapped the spirit right out of my team. The elves are clear on the goals we have to achieve and the boundaries we’re operating within and they have the authority and responsibility to get the job done the way they see fit. They design the work systems, create the metrics we use to manage our work, and evaluate the quality of everything we produce. I’ve found that when they are in control of achieving the goal they take a lot more ownership and use their discretionary energy to make sure we succeed.

Me: I would imagine that in order for the elves to be autonomous, it places a large burden on you to make sure they’re setup to succeed. Is that right?

Santa: Absolutely! I have to provide them with the training, tools, information, and any other resources they need that allows them to succeed. Many leaders think having autonomous employees is letting the “inmates run the asylum”, or in my case, the elves running the workshop! Ho, ho, ho! But the truth is, having autonomous employees means each one of them is thinking like an owner of the business and putting forth their best effort.

Me: You mentioned three lessons. What is the second?

Santa: The second lesson I’ve learned is that developing a sense of relatedness with and between the elves is critical in helping them to be motivated and engaged. I take time throughout the year to meet one-on-one or with groups of the elves to make sure I’m maintaining a personal connection with them. I try to foster a team spirit by doing things like celebrating birthdays and having a gift exchange at Christmas (White Elephant gift exchanges are my favorite!). Within the elves we’ve created a buddy system where new elves are partnered with senior elves who help them learn the ropes of the job. Being connected relationally with your boss and co-workers helps people be engaged at work.

Me: That makes a lot of sense, Santa. When I think back on jobs where I’ve been the most motivated, they’ve been ones where I’ve had really positive relationships with others. Tell me about the third lesson you’ve learned from your experience leading the elves.

Santa: The third lesson I’ve learned is that the most motivated elves are those who are continually developing competence in their careers. Whether it is learning to operate new machinery in the toy factory, attending a training class to expand their skills, or expanding their knowledge of their current job, I’ve found that everyone enjoys expanding their competence on the job. I try to structure both formal and informal learning opportunities for my team, so that if they choose, they have the chance to keep growing on the job.

Me: So to recap, the three lessons you’ve learned deal with creating an environment for the elves where their needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are being met. Is there anything else you’d add for leaders reading this article?

Santa: I would add one thing. Motivation isn’t something that a person either has or doesn’t have. Everyone is motivated in one way or another. They key question is “What is the quality of their motivation?” I have a belief that you can’t motivate anyone. It’s up to each person to choose their level of motivation. But what I can do is help create an environment that encourages and allows people to be optimally motivated. That’s what I try to do with the elves.

Me: Well, Santa, it certainly seems as if you’ve been successful in helping the elves be optimally motivated! As you know, I have a particular interest in trust. What role does trust play in motivating the elves?

Santa: Trust surrounds and permeates the whole process of helping the elves be optimally motivated. It is both the foundation and the outcome. Without a foundation of trust, the elves wouldn’t be willing to take the risk to partner with me and participate in these strategies. And by taking the risk and seeing the success of our efforts, it nurtures and strengthens those bonds of trust.

Me: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. Once again, your insights into leadership have been tremendously valuable.

Santa: It’s been my pleasure. Oh, and don’t forget the most important thing! Be sure to leave out a plate of warm, chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk for me on Christmas Eve! Mrs. Claus is trying to get me to eat more fruits and vegetables…something about this new health and wellness program our Elf Resources department is doing. But I figure I can splurge a little for just one night a year!

Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are three critical factors of motivation taught in Blanchard’s newest training program, Optimal Motivation, created by Dr. David Facer, Susan Fowler, and Dr. Drea Zigarmi.

Frankenbossnoun; 1. A mean boss that terrorizes his or her employees; 2. A boss whose behavior closely resembles that of a half-brained monster; 3. A jerk.

With Halloween just three days away, I told my wife that I wanted to write an article about the bad, clueless behaviors that make a leader a “Frankenboss” (see definition above). Sadly enough, it only took us about 3 minutes to brainstorm the following list. If any of these describe your leadership style, you might want to take a look in the mirror and examine the face that’s peering back at you…you might have bolts growing out the sides of your neck.

You might be a Frankenboss if you…

1. Lose your temper – Some leaders think by yelling or cursing at employees they are motivating them. Baloney! Losing your temper only shows a lack of maturity and self-control. There’s no room for yelling and screaming in today’s workplace. Our society has finally awoken to the damaging effects of bullying in our school system so why should it be any different at work? No one should have to go to work and fear getting reamed out by their boss. If you have troubles controlling your temper then do something to fix it.

2. Don’t follow through on your commitments – One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to not follow through on commitments. As a leader, your people look to you to see what behavior is acceptable, and if you have a habit of not following through on your commitments, it sends an unspoken message to your team that it’s ok for them to not follow through on their commitments either.

3. Don’t pay attention, multi-task, or aren’t “present” in meetings – Some studies say that body language accounts for 50-70% of communication. Multi-tasking on your phone, being preoccupied with other thoughts and priorities, or simply exhibiting an attitude of boredom or impatience in meetings all send the message to your team that you’d rather be any place else than meeting with them. It’s rude and disrespectful to your team to act that way. If you can’t be fully engaged and devote the time and energy needed to meet with your team, then be honest with them and work to arrange your schedule so that you can give them 100% of your focus. They deserve it.

4. Are driven by your Ego – The heart of leadership is about giving, not receiving. Self-serving leaders may be successful in the short-term, but they won’t be able to create a sustainable followership over time. I’m not saying it’s not important for leaders to have a healthy self-esteem because it’s very important. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to be hard to generate the self-confidence needed to lead assertively, but there is a difference between self-confidence and egoism. Ken Blanchard likes to say that selfless leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.

5. Avoid conflict – Successful leaders know how to effectively manage conflict in their teams. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our culture tends to have a negative view of conflict and neglect the benefits of creativity, better decision-making, and innovation that it can bring. Frankenbosses tend to either completely avoid conflict by sweeping issues under the rug or they go to the extreme by choosing to make a mountain out of every molehill. Good leaders learn how to diagnose the situation at hand and use the appropriate conflict management style.

6. Don’t give feedback – Your people need to know how they’re performing, both good and bad. A hallmark of trusted leaders is their open communication style. They share information about themselves, the organization, and they keep their employees apprised of how they’re performing. Meeting on a quarterly basis to review the employee’s goals and their progress towards attaining those goals is a good performance management practice. It’s not fair to your employees to give them an assignment, never check on how they’re doing, and then blast them with negative feedback when they fail to deliver exactly what you wanted. It’s Leadership 101 – set clear goals, provide the direction and support the person needs, provide coaching and feedback along the way, and then celebrate with them when they achieve the goal.

7. Micromanage – Ugh…even saying the word conjures up stress and anxiety. Micromanaging bosses are like dirty diapers – full of crap and all over your a**. The source of micromanagement comes from several places. The micromanager tends to think their way is the best and only way to do the task, they have control issues, they don’t trust others, and generally are not good at training, delegating, and letting go of work. Then they spend their time re-doing the work of their subordinates until it meets their unrealistic standards and they go around complaining about how overworked and stressed-out they are! Knock it off! A sign of a good leader is what happens in the office when you’re not there. Are people fully competent in the work? Is it meeting quality standards? Are they behaving like good corporate citizens? Micromanagers have to learn to hire the right folks, train them to do the job the right way, monitor their performance, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

8. Throw your team members under the bus – When great bosses experience success, they give the credit to their team. When they encounter failure, they take personal responsibility. Blaming, accusing, or making excuses is a sign of being a weak, insecure leader. Trusted leaders own up to their mistakes, don’t blame others, and work to fix the problem. If you’re prone to throwing your team members under the bus whenever you or they mess up, you’ll find that they will start to withdraw, take less risk, and engage in more CYA behavior. No one likes to be called out in front of others, especially when it’s not justified. Man up and take responsibility.

9. Always play by the book – Leadership is not always black and white. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to being a leader and the best ones learn to use good judgment and intuition to handle each situation uniquely. There are some instances where you need to treat everyone the same when it comes to critical policies and procedures, but there are also lots of times when you need to weigh the variables involved and make tough decisions. Too many leaders rely upon the organizational policy manual so they don’t have to make tough decisions. It’s much easier to say “Sorry, that’s the policy” than it is to jump into the fray and come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.

10. You practice “seagull” management – A seagull manager is one who periodically flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies away. Good leaders are engaged with their team members and have the pulse of what’s going on in the organization. That is much harder work than it is to be a seagull manager, but it also earns you much more respect and trust from your team members because they know you understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis and you have their best interests in mind.

I’m sure you’ve had your own personal experiences with a Frankenboss. What other behaviors would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

ONE B1G THING by Phil Cooke

Have you discovered what you were born to do? Do you believe that you have a unique destiny that you were put on Earth to fulfill? In his latest book, One Big Thing – Discovering What You Were Born to Do, Phil Cooke offers numerous insights and encouragements on how you can stop being average at so many things in your life and start becoming extraordinary at one big thing.

Cooke suggests that discovering your one big thing comes at the intersection of two questions: (1) What am I supposed to do with my life?, and (2) In a hyper-competitive, cluttered, and distracted world, how do I get noticed?

To help you discover what you’re supposed to do with your life, Cooke encourages you to engage in an honest self-evaluation by answering these four questions:

  1. What comes easy for you? We often discount our natural strengths when looking for our one big thing, when many times our greatest skills and passions are right under our own nose.
  2. What do you love? You’re probably familiar with the old saying, “Find a job you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Cooke subscribes to the same line of thinking and encourages you to determine what you’re passionate about doing and then find a way to get someone to pay you to do it.
  3. What drives you crazy? This could be something that’s broken that you want to fix, something that’s working that you want to improve, or it could be something that breaks your heart and compels you to action. Sometimes the things that make us the most crazy is also what ignites our passions.
  4. What do you want to leave behind? All of us will leave a legacy. The question is, what kind of legacy will you leave? How do you want to be remembered? Answering this question can help you determine the answer of how you want to live your life.

Once discovering your life’s purpose, Cooke believes you have to distinguish yourself from the crowd in order to get noticed. Not surprisingly, given his expertise in media production and branding, Cooke advocates that living your one big thing is your personal brand. He makes a solid case for having an authentic personal brand when he says, “Too many people think that developing or influencing their own brand is about becoming something they aren’t, when it’s really about discovering what they truly are.” Keeping in line with his belief in the value of self-awareness, Cooke writes, “Ultimately, a significant part of being different is being honest about who you are and how you’re perceived.”

I don’t think Cooke breaks any significant new ground in the One Big Thing, but I think he offers wise counsel and helpful guidance for seekers on the journey of discovering their life’s purpose, particularly the four questions listed above. My biggest take-away from the book was the affirmation that for the vast majority of us, discovering our one big thing is a life-long journey that usually finds its fulfillment in living our lives in authentic harmony with our most important and treasured values.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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