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.

PEOPLE ARE WORTH IT – Connection As A Path To Leadership

Dad once looked down an assembly line of women employees and thought, “These are all like my own mom – they have kids, homes to take care of, people who need them.” It motivated him to work hard to give them a better life because he saw his mom in all of them. That’s how it all begins – with fundamental respect. – Bob Galvin, speaking of his father, founder of Motorola

Leadership is about connection. It’s not just a rational, analytic process. If you are going to influence people; if you are going to get past compliance to genuine engagement; and if you are committed to creating an environment that produces the results you need, you have to reach people’s heart. If you simply give your employee a job description or list of expectations that are required to do their work without a sincere interest in them as a person, you relegate your people to simple “task-doers,” rather than genuine contributors. In order to lead, people need to know you care. They need to know you have a vested interest in them as a person, a genuine commitment to their wellbeing that goes beyond what they do or what they achieve.

What this means is that in order to engage people, you not only have to know yourself and have a high level of engagement in your own work, you also have to be engaged with the people you are attempting to engage. The first condition of leadership is connection.

Making a connection with employees begins by asking and sincerely seeking to understand the fundamental engagement question: “What do each of your employees need to be motivated?” Because every person is unique, it’s most likely that each employee will have a different answer to this question. If you don’t know the answer, then you are just guessing. And the risk of being wrong is too great. It’s much better to simply ask the question and set out to discover the answer.

Before he hires people, a leader in a long-term care organization asks the engagement question this way, “What are you passionate about? What would excite you to come to work here?” In his world, answers deal with interests in areas such as end of life challenges, dementia, HR/labor relations, and health and safety. He then asks: “How can we, as an organization, help you develop that passion?”

After listening to their response, he concludes with: “If we can help you develop that passion within your role, do you mind being a resource, coach, mentor, etc. for others in this organization?” Over many years, he has yet to have anyone say no. He then sets out to help them develop a plan that will grow their area of interest and contribute that talent to the organization. In this leader’s view of engagement, you have to give people a sense that they are needed and find a way to connect to their unique talents and passion. His motto to engage people (employees and residents alike) is to give them both a voice and a choice.

Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, ask three fundamental leadership questions in relation to anyone you serve (customers, clients, external stakeholders):

  • What are you doing to get to people’s heart?
  • What are you doing to make a connection to your employees, those you serve?
  • What are you doing to uncover your employees’ passion and talents?

In her book, “Kids Are Worth It,” Barbara Coloroso, the world-renowned parenting expert, says parents need to create a home environment that provides six critical life messages:

  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you.
  • I know you can handle life situations.
  • You are listened to.
  • You are cared for.
  • You are important to me.

It’s no different for employees. To be engaged, we all need to work – and live – in environments that support these fundamental messages.

What’s your way of connecting? What worked or did not work for you?

Employee Engagement Surveys – Not The Whole Story

I’m not against employee engagement surveys. I’m just not in favor or our over-reliance on them for an accurate picture of an organizational culture. Reading employee engagement surveys is like reading a newspaper or watching the news. It’s interesting, there’s an element of truth in them, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s more of a photograph, a small spectrum of what’s actually happening. Surveys turn your organization into a noun, while conversations make culture a verb, a living breathing entity. Surveys give you a sense of what’s going on, but you always have to go further if you want an accurate picture. Here are some suggestions for using surveys more effectively and appropriately:

  1. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership. While thorough surveys provide excellent data and get you started with a snapshot of your culture, don’t rely on surveys alone to do the job. You also have to get out of your office, wander around, and be in touch with people. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need. Then listen to what they say. If you use the excuse that “people aren’t honest with you when you do that,” that’s a good indication you haven’t been out of your office enough to build trust. To be committed to culture, leaders need to be out of their office about half of the time or they just aren’t leading.
  2. Shorten your surveys. People are getting surveyed out. I’ve seen employees answer low because they are angry about having to do so many surveys! Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne (www.eepulse.com) is designing employee engagement and 360 Feedback surveys that take three minutes to complete. Dr. Welborne believes that you can get pretty much all the information you need in about three minutes. She might just be on to something.
  3. You don’t have to survey everyone to get an accurate picture. Television ratings are not determined by calling every single person watching TV. Pick a good cross section of people to survey and give the rest a break. Switch it up so you aren’t surveying the same people every time.
  4. Don’t mistake climate for culture. Climate is how people feel about the organization and their work (what you get from an employee engagement survey). Culture is what causes them to feel that way. Employee engagement surveys may tell you what the climate is, but they don’t necessarily get to the culture. Every culture has both the “visible” culture and the “real” culture. The real culture is what people talk about when the boss isn’t there. If you want to find out about the real culture, don’t send surveys to your employees. Send surveys to your employees’ spouses or best friends. Culture is measured by what people talk about when they get home from work. Ideally, we want to build a level of trust so people would have the same conversation whether the boss is there on not. You can only get the real culture by getting into the cafeteria and the hallways and listening to what’s going on, and more importantly, why it’s going on.
  5. Never ask a question about something you don’t know how to fix and you aren’t prepared to fix. Every survey question implies a promise that you are going to take action based on the answers you get. And if you break that promise, things will get ugly. I like Mark Murphy’s (Leadership IQ) experiment as an example of how this works. Tonight at home, make some popcorn. Then ask your spouse if they want some and when they say “yes” just ignore them. Now multiply that by a few thousand and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Don’t use surveys to abdicate leadership accountabilities. You must live your values, and have a way to ensure that this happens at every level of your organization. Your actions as leaders define your culture more than your value statements do. Actions really do speak louder than words. The goal is to align your actions and your value statements. The more you connect with people and really listen to what they say in a variety of ways, the greater your chances of bringing your claim and your reality into alignment.
  6. Remember that culture is a shared responsibility. Culture isn’t something that you do for or to people. Culture is something you create together. We institutionally deny the fact that each of us – through our perceptions and our choices – is actually creating the culture that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have co-created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Check out my website www.irvinestone.ca/assessments for an instrument that assesses both the manager’s and the employee’s responsibility for creating a workplace worth working in – using and adapting the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.