REOPENING • REENGAGING • REFOCUSING How To Make The Comeback Better Than The Setback

As we emerge from COVID-19 restrictions, new challenges lie ahead. I have been asked by many clients to help them navigate the transition into a new reality. Regardless of whether you have been on the frontlines in an essential service or working remotely, the next few months are critical for planning your personal transition into the new reality. There is an opportunity to rebuild team focus, morale, and productivity, and a renewed feeling of belonging as we emerge into a post-pandemic world.
Here’s a few leadership tips to help you make the comeback better than the setback:
Connect Before You Expect. We all need our teams to be productive and focused, especially as we emerge from the disruption. Parenting over the past forty+ years has taught me (the hard way) that leadership in the home and at work is mostly about connection. When children are safe, relaxed, and cared about, they are more willing to receive our guidance and follow through on their responsibilities. Brain science tells us that this is true for all of us. We are all more likely to be accountable when our perspective is taken into consideration. People are emerging from the pandemic with a variety of emotions – anxiety, excitement, fear, loneliness, exhaustion, grief, self-doubt, and everything in between. It’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay – in fact it is necessary for our well-being – to acknowledge what we are going through, what we’ve been through, and what we are up against going forward. Now is a great time to rebuild connections, listen carefully with compassion and empathy, and take the time to be there. Don’t be afraid of asking people about their mental health status. It’s not about fixing anybody or anything. It’s about community. Connect before you expect.
Think Win-Win. While many of your team are excited to get back into the workplace, many are also as excited to continue to work remotely. While flexibility from leaders will be required, even more important is the commitment to a win-win solution. Take the time to define the needs of the organization and the needs of your team members and make these explicit with everyone. Then take time to create a third alternative that serves both the employee and the organization. Remember – you can’t sink half a ship. You won’t succeed in the long run until everyone succeeds.
Reinforce Personal Responsibility. Personal responsibility is about giving to others what we expect from others. Making this comeback better than the setback means taking personal responsibility to come to work better and stronger than when we left. We all have a part to play in building – and rebuilding – a worthwhile place to work. Accountability isn’t about blaming or finger pointing or fault finding. It’s about taking ownership and recognizing that each of us does our part. Personal responsibility recognizes that waiting for someone to change is never a good strategy.
Make Belonging an Intention.  A sense of belonging, or feeling part of something bigger than ourselves, is a fundamental human need. Knowing that our unique gifts are needed and valued gives us meaning and purpose. When people feel safe to voice their views and to be who they are, are included in decisions that impact them, and are listened to and valued for their perspective, it increases productivity. We all need to be recognized for what we bring and how our contribution and authentic voices and ideas can be powerful and make a difference. A sense of belonging can also mean giving credit when it’s due. You can’t take for granted or assume that everyone feels that they belong. You must be intentional at making it happen. I am committed to making my leadership programs more diverse and inclusive and so I have asked a senior executive from a community services agency whose mother was raised in the residential school system in Canada if she might consider joining and starting the classes of my live-stream masterclass with some smudging, an indigenous prayer, and some teachings from her people.
Attend To Your Authentic Leadership. Authentic leadership means finding your own path and bringing that more fully to the world. As leaders, we spend our lives helping and building others, but do we have an authentic vision for ourselves? Leading authentically requires a strong identity, a compelling sense of self. Thelonious Monk, the jazz musician, said once that “a genius is a person most like themself.” Being an authentic leader is synonymous with being one’s self. It is that simple, and it is also that difficult. The authentic leadership visioning process (which we teach in our masterclass) is about creating something that’s true to your values, to who you are and to your dreams and that will make a lasting impact on the world. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. In essence, it’s not what we can do or what we should do, it’s what we want to do or what we may feel called to do. I encourage you to take some uninterrupted time this summer to reflect deeply on what the next ten years of your life would look like if it were aligned with your truest self. Assess the gaps between your vision and your reality and get to work to close those gaps.
Many people have recently asked me whether we are going to emerge from the pandemic as better people and better leaders. My response is a quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  Ford was referring to the power of belief. Our beliefs are potentially the biggest single force at work in our personal and organizational lives. We all face a fundamental choice as we go forward. You can have trusting beliefs or distrusting beliefs about a problem. The problem remains the same. It’s just how we perceive it. Distrusting beliefs put us in a victim mindset: “There’s nothing we can do. This is horrible. We’re stuck. We’re at the mercy of poor choices and bad leadership.” A trusting belief says, “This is challenging; we were not prepared. But if we stay true to who we are, our values, our vision and our mission; if we treat each other with dignity; if we believe in the spirit of generosity; if we stay true to those beliefs, we can get through this.” Let’s decide to make this comeback better than the setback.

MATURITY: The Responsibility That Comes with Citizenship

One of the highlights of my career is the opportunity it affords me to periodically present to teachers and school administrators. I learned this summer from Allen Davidson, Assistant Superintendent with Foothills School Division in Alberta and Social Studies teacher for seventeen years, of the importance of engaging students in critical thinking around current events. Part of that engagement, Allen says, (https://bit.ly/2oWhX8L), “involves ensuring we (myself and students) all understand diverse perspectives, are cognizant of our own and others’ bias, and that we can safely engage in a civil discourse around current events and issues. [When I was teaching], time was set aside every week for students to explore issues of interest to them and develop their own opinion on the issue. I loved the diverse [views] students brought to the discussion and the confidence with which they voiced differing perspectives.”
With a fall election here in Canada fully upon us and federal parties unveiling their election platforms, Canadians are given an opportunity for a similar rich civil discourse around the current events and most pressing issues facing us as Canadians. However, recent political rhetoric in Ottawa has been dominated not by vision, clarity, and dialogue, but by party partisans blaming and demonizing each other. And the discourse has been anything but civil.
But before we rush too quickly to engage in the blame game by pointing fingers at the all-to-easy target of politicians, it’s important to look at ourselves in the mirror. As I teach my corporate audiences that all change begins with you, the one critical piece missing in almost all political discourse at election time is the matter of citizenship. While it’s obviously important to expect our politicians to give us their vision of a better Canada and their path to get there, let’s not abdicate personal responsibility. Without personal ownership and accountability of every citizen to actively engage and contribute to our democracy, what hope do politicians have to make an impact?  
Said another way, we institutionally deny the fact that each of us, through our perceptions and actions, is actually creating the society and the politicians that we so enjoy complaining about. Deciding that I have created the world around me – and therefore I am the one to start healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability. Let’s not allow personal responsibility to slip all-too-easily away from the discourse. It’s personal responsibility, after all, that will keep the dialogue both civil and constructive.
Here’s three actions that will lend themselves to citizenship – the foundation of every great democracy:
  1. Care enough to stop blaming and criticizing. Life is more than simply growing old. It means growing up. Growing old, any animal is capable of. Growing up is the prerogative of human beings. Once you decide that all criticism and blame are a waste of time your life will change forever. It’s far easier to be a critic than to be a player. That’s why there’s always more critics than players. In an NHL game, for example, you’ll find eighteen people on the ice at any one time if you include the referees and the linesmen. What do you have in the audience? Eighteen thousand critics. 1000:1. That’s about the proportion of critics to players in our society.
  2. Take ownership. One thing I’ve learned is that no one will ever think less of you for raising your hand and saying, “I’m responsible for that.” Explaining his error in judgement over a photo taken eighteen years ago, our prime-minister initially blamed his privileged upbringing for blinding him to the offensive reality of such images and how they are viewed as racist. My response is, “What’s wrong with simply fessing up to a mistake and misjudgment?” Take ownership. A leader’s responsibility is to model maturity and display what ownership looks like. And as citizens, it is our responsibility to take ownership by expecting from ourselves what we expect from our elected officials. It’s a whole lot easier to see the shortcomings in others – particularly if they are as visible as politicians – than it is to see our own blind spots and deficiencies.
  3. Don’t wait for your leaders. Another way of expressing ownership is to give what you expect from others. Waiting, as most of us know, is not a good strategy if you are after results. Indeed, we often wait for, or expect, our elected officials to legislate policies and practices that suit our own interests and in the process abdicate personal responsibility. What we expect from others, especially those placed in a position of leadership – contains a seed of opportunity to bring that to the world. If you want a visionary, benevolent leader with strong character, start by developing these qualities within yourself. If you want politicians to have more integrity, bring greater integrity to the world. Wanting your political leaders to be accountable starts with you being accountable.
My parents would call all this maturity. They, as so many others of their generation who survived a world war and economic challenges that most of us have never known, understood the undervalued virtues of human goodness that make up a civil society. A society worth living in is not achieved by waiting for or expecting our political leaders to be pleasing parents that meet all our wants. A strong society comes rom mature citizens, committed to choosing service over self-interest, duty over demands, contribution over consumerism, and civility over discourtesy. Our politicians are a reflection of our society. While we are undoubtedly in need of a true statesman to lead this country, the best place to find that kind of person starts with looking in the mirror.

Employee Engagement: Is it Really The Boss’s Responsibility?

I grew up in a day and age well before “employee engagement”. I had five different jobs before I finished my university education: I worked on farms and ranches, survey crews, a cement company, a geriatrics unit in a psychiatric hospital, and as a janitor. I learned a lot in those jobs. I learned the value of education, to value people who were skilled at a trade, and the value of hard work.

I remember when, after pouring concrete for ten straight hours, the foreman over heard me complaining about how much I hated the work. He took me aside and said, “Son, we don’t have complainers on this crew. They call this thing work because you get paid to work. You don’t get paid to sit around. If you want to sit around, stay at home and don’t get paid. We pay you well to work, but we don’t pay you to complain. Do that on your own time.”

If I would have talked my bosses in those days about “employee engagement,” I believe they would have thought I had beans for brains. I can picture the foreman on the concrete crew saying, “My work is to get the job done; not to motivate you.”

I know we have supposedly come a long way and are now purportedly smarter in how we manage people, and allegedly are more skilled in the practice of leadership. While everyone agrees than an engaged workforce is beneficial, all of the insights and leadership efforts haven’t moved the dial much on getting them there. In all our efforts to create an engaging environment in our workplaces, I’ve never seen more entitlement.

Like children, the more people do for us, the more we expect. When I was a family counselor, I noticed an intriguing phenomenon: the children in a family that are the angriest at their parents are often the children who have been given the most.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful to learn to communicate with our staff and create an engaging, inspiring work environment. There is lot of research that says happier, more engaged employees are more productive.

Here are five responsibilities of a boss that will help engage employees:

  • Help create a clear vision. People largely change for one two reasons: inspiration or desperation. Great leaders create a powerful why, a clear and compelling shared purpose or cause that inspires.
  • Hire the right people. (I know, many of you had no choice over the employees that work on your teams; you are already behind the eight ball).
  • Be clear about what is expected. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. You need to provide clarity as to the operational accountabilities as well as the kind of attitude that is needed to do the job, and build a link between each employee’s contribution to the why.
  • Support your team with a servant mind-set. Service leadership doesn’t mean pleasing leadership. Service leadership means understanding what supports are required for your employees to get their job done, and that you have their back to do whatever you can to give them the resources and capabilities to do what is expected. What your job isn’t, is to make them happy.
  • Hold them accountable by following through on the consequences. “Everyone on your team knows who is and who isn’t performing, and they are looking to you as the boss to do something about it.” said Colin Powell, the Former United States National Security Advisor. There are consequences to actions, both negative and positive. You don’t build a great place to work when you have low standards or when you let people off the hook. People need to see courage in their leaders, not coddling.

There is, no doubt, a need for caring in the workplace. We absolutely have to support and encourage people and create a place where they can feel safe to be honest and who they are. But let’s be careful because too much support and not enough demands can breed a culture of complaint and entitlement.

What I’m saying is that I’m not convinced that it’s the boss’s responsibility to get an employee engaged. If you can, that’s great. And if you can’t, don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s not your responsibility. Either people want to get their heart into the game or they don’t. You can still be a great leader even if you don’t get everyone on board. Relax and enjoy leading. Who knows? Maybe we’d be better off if bosses got back to what their ultimate job is: to make sure the job gets done and gets done well.

Personal Accountability

A participant in my leadership program this week, Al Brown, President of Industrial Scaffold Services on Vancouver Island, shared a great quote with me:

These require zero talent:

  • Being on time
  • Work Ethic
  • Effort
  • Body Language
  • Energy
  • Attitude
  • Passion
  • Being Coachable
  • Doing Extra
  • Being prepared

Al gets it. He’s built an amazing organizational culture around some timeless principles of personal accountability.

How are you, as a leader, modeling the way?

Hire For Character; Train For Cashiers

The title of this blog came from an executive at Nordstrom Department Stores when I asked him about his hiring philosophy. “We hire for character; we train for cashiers.” Far too often people get hired on the basis of competence, and fired on the basis of attitude.

I am often asked, “So how do we hire for attitude? How do we ensure that the right people are hired? How do we ensure that just because a potential employee has technical competence, that they are the right fit for our culture?”

Here’s a five-step process for hiring the right people in your organization.

Step 1. Clearly define the kind of culture you are committed to create and the kind of attitude you need from your employees. Be sure you have an answer to the following questions:

  • What values do you need your staff to exhibit?
  • What behaviors do you expect from your employees that will demonstrate the kind of attitude you expect?
  • What behaviors do you expect from every employee that will demonstrate your espoused values?

Step 2. Be committed to take your time in the hiring process. The management guru, Peter Drucker, had a favorite saying: “Hire s-l-o-w-l-y; fire quickly.” Depending on the position, the best organizations are prepared to take up to several hours getting the right people on the bus.

Step 3. Bring the right questions to the interview process. Note that accountability is described as:

  • The ability to be counted on
  • The willingness and ability to take initiative
  • Taking ownership for the environment you work in
  • Taking responsibility for the mistakes you make
  • Seeing all blame as a waste of time
  • Choosing service over self-interest
  • Choosing gratitude over entitlement

Here are some sample questions for the interview to help you assess if a candidate is accountable. You can adapt these questions to any of the values that you are hiring for.

  • What does accountability mean to you?
  • Why do you feel that accountability is important in your work and in your life?
  • Where did you learn to be accountable? How was accountability instilled in you?
  • Tell me about a time in your work when you took initiative, ownership, and personal responsibility. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t accountable. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when your accountability was tested under pressure, or when it was easier to be lazy and complacent or have a sense of entitlement instead of being accountable? How did you respond? What were the consequences?
  • When have you had to stand alone from the crowd in order to live this value?
  • How do you anticipate living this value (e.g. accountability) in the job that you are applying for?

Step 4. Be sure that all stakeholders – or as many as possible – in the organization who will depend on this person have an opportunity to ask these questions. Be sure that the questions are asked and answered from a variety of perspectives.

Step 5. Observe the candidate in action under pressure, if at all possible. Depending on the role, a probationary period where you can observe how they are living the value in their job, especially under stress, is recommended.

In the boiler room while you wait in line for the Tower of Terror ride at Disney you will find a sign with a rhyme, written by an American poet named Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It’s fitting to include it here, as no matter how brilliant a person can sound in a job interview, you don’t really know them until they are put under pressure.

It’s easy enough to be pleasant, when life hums along like a song.  But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.

After a stay at a Marriott Hotel where I experienced great service from every employee all weekend, I asked the checkout clerk if everyone gets training in good customer service. After a moment of reflection, she responded, “Well… you can’t train someone to be nice. What we do here is hire nice people and train them how to use the computer.”

A well-designed culture starts with hiring the right people. I’d love to hear from you about how you use in the hiring process to get the right people on board.

Rethinking Employee Engagement: What If It Isn’t About The Boss?

I define engagement in the workplace as the desire and capacity of employees to go the extra mile to help their organization succeed while finding meaning and significance in the work they do. There are no doubt bad bosses and toxic work environments that deplete you, just as there are great bosses who inspire you. But engagement is ultimately about energy, not bosses. Our level of engagement is impacted by our level of physical energy, emotional connection, mental strength, and spiritual alignment to a purpose beyond immediate self-interest. Bosses and your relationship to them are just one form of energy. There are dozens of others. If you are committed to being engaged, be aware of your energy and how your perceptions, choices, and environment impact your vitality.

Physical Energy: What you eat for breakfast or lunch affects your energy, as does the amount of sugar you consume, the amount of exercise you get, and the quantity and quality of your rest and sleep. Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse, it is important to balance energy outflow with a consistent habit of energy renewal. Energy is not limitless. And physical energy fuels engagement. What are you doing to renew your vital reserve?

Emotional Connection: We all know that the quality of our connections impacts our energy. Be mindful of the people in your life that drain you and those that inspire and sustain you. Be aware of how your perceptions and choices impact these connections. Who you choose to be around, just as how you choose to be around them will affect your energy. Making room for activities that bring you joy, just as making time for people who bring you joy, will increase your energy.

Mental Strength: A pessimistic outlook on life drains vital energy, while optimism is a life giver. It’s good habit to learn to be optimistic. I had to train myself to wake up grateful and positive. Learning to be disciplined, to do the difficult tasks first, to tell the truth, to keep a promise, or to stick to a challenging undertaking when it is easier to give up, are all habits that renew essential energy. Like eating sweets, blaming others might give you a temporary high, but it will drain you of energy in the long run. Personal responsibility, on the other hand, is energy producing. How you approach life will affect your energy.

Spiritual Alignment: Discovering and living in accord with your deepest values, aligning with a sense of purpose, pinpointing your passions, or making a contribution, are all energy enhancing pursuits that enable engagement. A life that is purpose driven is an engaged life. Expanding spiritual capacity requires subordinating our own needs to something beyond self-interest. Those who have found a reason for coming to work – beyond merely completing a task or carrying out a chore or getting a paycheck – are the ones who truly enjoy their work and being alive. Finding spiritual alignment fills you up.

While bosses and your relationship to them no doubt impacts energy, the more we take accountability for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered, productive, and fulfilled we become. Blaming your boss for your lack of energy can be just as much of an energy drainer as having the bad boss to begin with. Maybe it’s time to rethink employee engagement: what if it isn’t about the boss?