5 KEYS TO UNLEASH GREATNESS ON YOUR TEAM

I meet some amazing leaders in my work. People hire me to work with their organization and I end up a better person by spending time with them. One such leader who has become a good friend is John Liston. John was formally a regional director at Great West Life, and now is the principal of Liston Advisory Group. John lives what he leads. He’s a person of strong character. He’s passionate. He cares. He cares about his people. He cares about the work. He cares about his organization. And his approach to leadership produces results. When he was at Great West Life, his was the top region in Canada in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This spring we ran a customer service program together for a police department.

In a recent conversation with John about his coaching experience with his daughter’s Under 19 Ringette team, he explained how he coaches the same as he leads. Same philosophy. Same approach. Same leadership. Here are John’s five keys for unleashing greatness within a team:

1) Hire great people. You need to know the skills you need from your people and, more importantly, you need to know the kind of attitude you want from the people around you. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Building a great team means knowing precisely the kind of person you want on your team. It means hiring s-l-o-w-l-y. Take your time. Ask questions and assess the right fit. If you study what most people do in business you find that they spend their time hiring for competence (resume, experience, etc.) and almost always fire for character. What John, and other great leaders do, is hire for character and train for competence.

2) Create an environment for people to be their best. When are you at your best? Typically it is when you are focused, but not worried about mistakes or failing. In John’s words, “When we win, we party; when we lose, we ponder.” This means it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. See the best in people. Fit people don’t fix people. Find their strengths and build on those strengths. Find a place where people can take their gifts, their passion, and their talents, and make a contribution. It takes coaching, mentoring, and, most importantly, time. When you create these environments, people “chose to” come to them; they don’t feel they “have to”.

3) Understand the why (the reason) before the what or the how. At the 1963 Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, Martin Luther King did not stand up with a “strategic plan.” Martin Luther King had a dream. He gave people a reason. What’s vital in building a team – as well as building a life – is to not confuse the means with the ends. John Liston understands this. He understands that people aren’t accountable if they aren’t motivated. If they aren’t accountable, it’s because they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. A vision is what gives people a reason to get on board. John uses the vehicle of sport to teach character. Character is the why. Character is the goal. Sport is the means to that goal. Some people get confused and think sport is about winning. Professional sport may be, but all others are about character. Winning is a by-product. It works the same in business.

4) Execute with precision. John is a master of accountability cultures. He understands that you have to inspire people, and then you have to link that inspiration to clearly defined outcomes and a precise way to get there. This is where John is tough. He models the values. While he cares about people, he has a precise, results driven process for creating an environment for people to hold themselves accountable – to themselves and to each other.

5) Celebrate success. In John’s words, “you have to know what success is, know how to get there, and know how to celebrate it when you’ve achieved it.” You have to know what constitutes success and shine a light on it. Tell the story. Acknowledge people. Catch people being successful. You have to care and you have to connect. Celebration can be big or it can be small, but most importantly it has to be meaningful.

John’s passionate, inspiring energy is contagious. It’s always been important to him to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements. John is the kind of leader people want to work for. He’s also the kind of friend people seek.

What kind of environment are you creating on your team?

6 WAYS TO INCREASE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

I’ve never seen more “employee engagement programs” thrown at employees, and we’ve never seen lower engagement scores. So what’s going on?

One way to look at the challenge of employee engagement is to observe the relationship between three concepts: achievement, expectations, and happiness.

Happiness results when your achievements meet your expectations. For example, if your expectation of your boss is “100”, and she achieves only “80”, then we say your happiness score is -20. On the other hand, if you have an expectation of your boss of “80”, and she hits “100”, then your happiness score is +20.

What happens when this same boss, who meets the expectations of one employee, doesn’t meet the expectations of another employee? One employee will be happy. The other will be unhappy. Maybe the problem isn’t the boss. Maybe the problem is the nature of our expectations. While bosses and organizations certainly need to work hard to achieve a highly engaged culture, employees share the responsibility of hard work to achieve their own level of engagement while simultaneously decreasing their expectations. To paraphrase John F Kennedy: ask not what your organization can do for you, but what you can do for your organization.

Lazy employees (i.e. they don’t want to achieve much) combined with high expectations, is called entitlement. And entitled people are never happy. Have you ever noticed that the most entitled people in your office are the ones that are the most miserable? Many people bring enormously high expectations to work and to all their relationships. My mother had a scholarly word for this kind of person: spoiled.

It appears to be human nature that the more we get, the more we expect. Research will bear out that the societies with the lowest GNP are often the societies with the happiest people. They are likely happy because their expectations are lower. There’s something to be said about simply being satisfied with what we have.

While I’m all in favor of bosses developing ways to create environments that engage people, I know some leaders who could deliver the moon for their employees and they still wouldn’t be happy. This is because most people who are unhappy at work aren’t just unhappy at work. They are unhappy with all aspects of their lives. We all need to examine carefully our level of expectations. To increase your happiness and engagement at work:

1) Carefully examine your expectations. It has been said that expectations are premeditated resentments. Often, high expectations stem from unhappiness in your life and expecting others (e.g. your boss) to make you happy. This is a formula for discontent, both for you and for your boss who might be trying too hard.

2) Take 100% responsibility for your own happiness. Your life will change the day you decide that all blame is a waste of time. Taking 100% responsibility means that you take responsibility for getting your needs met instead of demanding that someone do it for you.

3) Be careful about over achieving. It’s good to set a goal and achieve it – providing it meets an expectation. But if you are an overachiever who continually expects more and more of yourself (and usually others too), you’ll never be happy. You’ll always be striving for the next achievement. The only way to fill that hole is to learn to be satisfied with what you have achieved.

4) Give what you expect. My parents used to say, “You don’t get what you expect. You get what you give.” No amount of employee engagement programs can possibly fill all the insecurities and unhappiness that employees bring to work. To counter the frustration of not getting what you expect, clarify what you expect, and then give that. For example, if you expect appreciation, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

5) Realize that you can’t meet everyone’s expectations. Like a request, an expectation is not an agreement. Realizing this will un-complicate your life. It is absolutely impossible to meet everyone’s expectations of you because it is physically and mentally unattainable for any human being to be all things to all people.

6) Practice gratitude. The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. We all need to look at ourselves when it comes to employee engagement. It’s a shared responsibility. Yes, positional leaders have a responsibility. But so do employees. What you focus on grows. What you appreciate appreciates.

Seven Ways To Enlarge The Lives Of Others – The Work Of The Best Leaders

“Believe in your heart of hearts that your fundamental purpose, your reason for being, is to enlarge the lives of others. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on will take care of themselves.”   – Pete Thigpen, Former President, Levi Strauss

Not long ago, I had the privilege of touring the plant of a client who hired me to help improve the culture of his organization. As we wandered around, the CEO introduced me to everyone we came across – in the halls, the offices, the labs, and on the shop floors. But he didn’t just know everyone’s name and title. He made a point, whenever possible and appropriate, of making a brief – and positive – comment about everyone. When he introduced me to the janitor, the caretaker’s eyes widened and brightened as the CEO told me how he puts pride into everything he does and that he’ll be greatly missed when he retires next month after more than a quarter century of service. Every employee smiled as they were introduced and the CEO said something positive about the unique contribution they individually made to the well-being of this company. This CEO understands a fundamental responsibility of leaders: to enlarge the lives of every one of their employees.

As I think of my own staff, I realize that I often take them for granted. I give them work to do, put pressure on them to deliver on their accountabilities, and attempt to give them support to do their work. But do I actually make a conscious effort to enlarge their lives? We all get into our routines, our habits, our mundane patterns. In a world of incessant demands, it is easy to lose touch with the people around us and the real work of leadership.

Here are seven ways to enlarge the lives of others:

  1. Care. Enlarging the lives of people isn’t a technique. You can’t fake it. People will see right through you. We all get busy and forget to notice people. Your staff will forgive you for forgetting. What they won’t forgive you for is not caring. Enlarging the lives of people involves caring about people, not manipulating them. People are uplifted and better by being around people who care about them.
  2. Serve. Serving means having a commitment to people’s growth as much as finding the resources to help them get their job done. Serving means making the success of others more important than your own. Serving means making others look good and being willing to not take the credit. Great leaders know that you can’t necessarily make people happy, but you can help them take pride in themselves and their work – by seeing their worth, beyond what they may see in themselves.
  3. Make Time. Enlarging the lives of others takes time. Take time to learn names. But more than that, take time to learn about what matters to people you serve, the names of their family members, and the kind of things they do when they are away from work. Leadership is more than just wandering around. It’s tuning in. It’s paying attention. It’s being in touch. Carry a notepad and make a note of what’s important to the people on your team.
  4. Challenge. If you are going to enlarge the lives of others you have to push them beyond their comfort zone. You have to set a standard that stretches them. And you have to encourage them. “You can do this;” “I trust you;” and “I believe in you;” are enlarging statements. Then model the way. When was the last time you encouraged someone to go beyond what’s easy? When is the last time you did something for the first time?
  5. Accountability. Collin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, once said that “everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.” You don’t enlarge the lives of people when you let them off the hook or hold back from having the difficult conversations. Set clear standards and hold people accountable. It enlarges the lives of everyone.
  6. Safety. Enlargement is about creating an environment where people can grow. Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist, says that a cell has only two options in life: to grow or to protect. If the cell perceives its environment to be toxic it will go into protection mode. When it perceives its environment to be nourishing, it will enlarge. To enlarge the lives of others, you must create an environment that is physically and psychologically safe – safe to work without harm, safe to make mistakes without fear, safe to be honest without retribution, safe to be yourself without judgment.
  7. Appreciation. Appreciation is about acknowledging (both privately and publicly) effective, productive action. Appreciation is recognizing people when they take special care in a delivery, when they go out of their way to fix a glitch in a product, when they make a customer feel extra special, when they send the order out early, when they go the extra mile. Appreciation isn’t empty praise. Appreciation is genuine recognition when someone makes a difference. It’s about catching people doing things right rather than succumbing to the seemingly natural tendency to criticize. Say thank you. What you appreciate, appreciates.

When you are mindful and intentional about making these actions a habit, the lives of people around you will naturally enlarge. As you help people grow in this way, it will inevitably come back to you in the form of commitment, loyalty, and results. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life and your organization will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on really do seem to take care of themselves.

Five Ways to Make Others Feel Valued – THE BIG VALUE OF SMALL

According to the Greek storyteller Aesop, a little mouse ran up and down a sleeping lion who awoke, grabbed the poor helpless rodent and opened his big jaws to swallow him.

“Pardon, O King,” cried the little mouse, “Please forgive me. I promise never to climb on you again. And if you let me go, who knows what I may be able to do for you some day.”

The lion was so intrigued by the idea of a mouse being able to help him that he lifted up his paw and let the critter go. Some time later, the lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters tied him to a tree while they went in search of a wagon to transport him to the king. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the lion’s sad plight, quickly jumped at the opportunity to help him. He gnawed away the ropes, setting the lion free.

We live in a society that values big. Big profits. Big paycheques. Big companies. Big titles. Big fame. Big offices. In this world of big it’s easy to get the crazy idea that you aren’t valuable if you are small, or perceive yourself to be small. But Aesop’s little tale of the lion and the mouse teaches a wise lesson. The tiny mouse is every bit as valuable as the lion. According to Aesop, importance is not based on size, but rather on the value you bring to others. It’s a simple matter of changing the context. The person who brings the most value is the most valuable.

One of my clients is a manager of employees who run the fitness centers, indoor tracks, pools, courts, and arenas at a university. They drive the Zambonis, keep the pools clean and look after students when they come to work out or play in the facilities. And, in an institution where the academic mandate is the highest priority, these employees don’t feel valued.

Who’s to say that those who provide for the health of a student and the health of the community in which that student lives are any less valuable than the professors who hand out the grades and grant the degrees? Without a healthy, well-rounded student, the degree doesn’t mean much. And without a great student experience, they are going to find other universities. Everyone is unique, and everyone has value. Everyone makes a contribution. And each person’s unique contribution is vitally important.

Value isn’t measured by the size of your office, the size of your paycheque, or the size of your business. Value is measured by your contribution to others. How do you make people around you feel valued? Here are five simple strategies.

  1. Believe in yourself.In order to believe in others, you have to believe in yourself. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are right.” Everyone is talented, unique, and has something to offer. If you don’t believe that applies to you, then start hanging around people that do believe it and soon it will start sinking in.
  2. Get moving. Don’t wait to be appreciated or valued. My dad used to tell me that waiting is not a very good strategy. Instead of waiting, bring to others whatever you expect from others. Instead of waiting to be seen as being valuable, bring more value, every day, to the people in your life. If you want to be appreciated, get so busy appreciating others that you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.
  3. Stop to recognize beauty. Don’t take people for granted – especially your best people. We’re all busy. Like beauty, you don’t see the value others bring when you’re in a hurry. Slow down. The best way to recognize value is to stop and listen to what people have to say. Listen for their opinions. Listen for their input. Listen for their wisdom. Stop every so often to recognize the beauty and the value in the people around you. Express appreciation. You never know when you may be in need of their unique talents.
  4. Create space. Just as you have to recognize the value of others, you also have to pay attention to people or projects that aren’t adding value to your life or your business. When people or projects are sucking the energy out of you or your organization, it might be time to let go and move on.
  5. Choose quality over quantity. Don’t strive to be the biggest. Instead, strive to be the best. Don’t confuse the concept of doing big things with doing greatthings. It’s not about making the news; it’s about making a difference. Bigger is not the objective. Bigger is a side effect when you are committed to bring value instead of size to whatever you do.

When it comes to bringing value to others, the little things are the big things.

Seven Ways To Counteract the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity

When returning to the office after a holiday or simply getting up in the morning to greet a new day, take a moment to ask if you are inspired or expired? Do you look forward to your life and your work, or do you dread getting out of bed? We all know people who are expired: past their shelf life in a job and resigned to “doing time”; who “quit and stayed.”

Gravity is the downward pull that enables life to exist on this planet. But if you don’t develop habits that counter the pull of gravity at the physical level, you eventually experience its long-term effects on your body, such as hunched shoulders, compression in your back, joints and internal organs, and tired, sagging muscles.

A pull similar to gravity in the cultures we live in is the pull of mediocrity. Mass consciousness is toward what is easy, and if you don’t have a strategy to counter the pull of mediocrity, you will one day find yourself psychologically – and likely physically – hunched over, rigid, tense, sagging, and expired – unable to experience the fullness of your potential.

Here are seven ways to counter the effects of the pull toward mediocrity and help you discover a source of inspiration.

  • Take 100% responsibility for your inspiration. Take a look in the mirror and search for the sources of your own inspiration. We are not going to be inspired everyday, but don’t blame others because you aren’t feeling on top of the world. Maybe you need a simple shift in attitude, a little more rest, or a new set of friends. Perhaps it’s a simple decision to change your attitude. Regardless, it’s your life. Take responsibility for it.
  • Have a vision. The pull to the future is a source of inspiration, whether it’s a list of inspiring goals, a compelling vision, or a dream. Years ago what inspired me to get up at 5:00 AM and run 10 miles in freezing temperatures was a dream to qualify for the Canadian Olympic team. While I didn’t make the Olympics, what I did make were the seeds of good discipline and strong character. Whether you are nine or ninety-five, it’s never too late for dreams that can lift you out of the pull of mediocrity.
  • Live a life of service. Nothing gets you out of self-pity more than making life better for someone else. One sure way to guarantee an uninspired life is the path of self-centeredness. Get out of yourself and adopt an attitude of gratitude. “We are, each of us, a miracle. Within every one of us, the pilot light of hope never dies,” wrote Og Mandino. A sure way to ignite that inner flame is to choose service over self-interest. Concentrating on inspiring others rather than waiting to be inspired, can itself be inspiring.
  • Track your energy level. Be aware of the activities or relationships that energize you and those that consume your energy. Pay attention to the people you spend time with, the food you eat, the music you listen to, the television programs you watch, the work you do, and what you do in the time away from work. Ask yourself what gives you energy and what depletes you. What activities in your life and work fuel that inner flame? Take an ‘energy inventory.’ What do you need to take out of your life? What do you need to bring into your life? Start making choices that increase your energy.
  • Know what inspires you. We all need a well-spring of inspiration from the world around us. An unexpected teacher, a new experience, a great leader, a word of encouragement, a good book, a story or a poem, can all be a source of inspiration. Overcoming a challenge or embarking on a new and unfamiliar adventure can be inspiring. A spiritual practice such as meditation, yoga, or prayer that quiets you and taps into the light within you are also sources for inspiration. Even spending a little time each day improving your attitude can be inspiring. Stay plugged in to the source that supports and sustains you. What inspires you: poetry, song, novels, dance, story, visual arts, film, theatre, time in nature? Who uplifts you? Expose yourself to those guides, writers, poets, artists, musicians, songwriters, environments, actors, teachers, friends, colleagues – anyone or anything that awakens you.
  • Find Inspiring People To Be Around, “In everybody’s life at some time, our inner fire goes out,’ wrote Albert Schweitzer. “It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Who inspires you? Find a book club. Start an Ideas Group, where people take turns sharing good ideas. We have had an Ideas Group in Cochrane, Alberta for the past 16+ years. Or simply develop a good friendship with a person who knows how to bring the best out of you.
  • Be present to life. At some point in your life you will be standing alone, when there is nothing or no one to inspire you. In these moments it is important to remember that your greatest source of inspiration will always be within you. The best way to access this is to be still, even while you are busy, and be present in the present moment. Whether its stopping to realize the beauty of a sunset, the magnificence of a flower, the wonder of a child, or the peace that comes from supporting a friend or colleague, if you are mindful you will discover that life itself is one continuous moment of inspiration after another. Instead of the future or the past, inspiration is your experience of being alive, right now.

The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali says, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world.”

OPTIMAL HEALTH Maximizing Organizational Capacity Through A Well Functioning Aerobic System

As a former competitive distance runner, I learned that there is a difference between health and fitness. Health is when all the systems in your body are functioning optimally, especially the aerobic system (your bodies capacity to use oxygen). Indicators of health are energy, endurance, and calmness. Fitness, on the other hand, is the ability to perform a particular athletic activity. Fitness is about speed and strength: a well-functioning anaerobic system.

Many times during my running career, in an effort to get fit, I compromised my health. My ambition was stronger than my capacity. Injuries, low energy, and a decreased immune system were some of the outcomes of this imbalance. As I matured as an athlete, I discovered that in order for the body to work effectively, health and fitness must both be present and in balance.

Unhealthy people fall mostly into two categories: those who are inactive and over-rested, and those who are over-trained and under-rested. Studies are now showing that both inactive people and over-trained athletes exhibit essentially the same symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Chronic fatigue
  • A depressed immune system
  • Circulatory problems
  • Susceptibility to injuries
  • Hormonal and insulin imbalance

The only difference between the two groups is that inactive people tend to have an excess storage of fat, while over-trained athletes have an insufficient storage of fat.

I use this metaphor when helping leaders improve organizational effectiveness and achieve regenerative success. To succeed long-term, both health and fitness are necessary in organizations and in life. It can be said that leadership represents health, while management represents fitness. Thus, different indicators measure an organization’s fitness and it’s health:

Organizational Fitness                        Organizational Health

Strategy                                                          High Trust

Expediency                                                    Flexibility

Marketing                                                      High Energy

Performance                                                 Endurance

Operational Excellence                              High Morale

Profits                                                             Employee Engagement

Technology                                                    Low Turnover

Organizations focus on the fitness side of the equation when ambition exceeds capacity. Fitness is also easier to measure than health. Managers are reluctant to examine health because it’s hard to quantify and it can point to failings of leadership. An over-emphasis on organizational fitness and an under-emphasis on organizational health will result in imbalance. Indicators of organizational imbalance and ill-health include: exhaustion, disengagement, high turnover (or worse, people “quit and stay”), distrust, an over-reliance on employee engagement surveys and an under-reliance on conversations, lack of focus, inflexibility, and unclear priorities.

To gain some balance and improve your organization’s health try some of the following strategies:

  • Spend less time in front of your computer and more time in front of people.
  • Narrow your priorities. Bring more focus into your work.
  • Start talking about your espoused values, and, more importantly, how you can live them – in concrete behaviorial terms.
  • Whenever you take on more work, ensure you have the resources and the capacity to get it done.
  • Start taking people for coffee, and stop taking them for granted.
  • Catch people doing things right. Shine a light on success.
  • Talk with people, not to Listen more; talk less.
  • Tell more stories, especially when they focus on success.
  • Appreciate good people and good actions. Recognize. Acknowledge. Cherish.
  • Replace entitlement with gratitude.
  • Decide that all blame is a waste of time.
  • Bring a servant mind-set to everything you do.
  • Get more rest.