Tag Archive for: accountable leadership

Fostering Initiative – How To Get Someone To Take Out The Trash

As a young man, I learned a valuable lesson from my parents. Although it didn’t sink in until years after I left home and started assuming adult responsibilities, the importance of taking initiative was planted early in my life. Initiative is the willingness and ability to assess and take action on things independently. It’s the will to act or take charge before others do. Taking initiative is foundational to leadership. When you create a culture of initiative most of your work as a leader is done because you are inspiring others to be leaders. It’s considerably easier – and more enjoyable – to live and work in a place where people see work that needs doing and step up to the task, when they don’t wait for direction but take the initiative to create direction, and when people pick up after themselves instead of expecting someone else to do it for them. How to create an environment where people learn to take initiative has been a passion of mine for some time.

After facilitating a three-day leadership workshop in Oklahoma, I was out for dinner with a technical sergeant from the US Air Force who had twenty years of experience in a variety of leadership roles. We agreed that taking initiative is vital to success in life and it is perhaps even more important in the military. We came up with five strategies for creating a culture of initiative:

  • Answer why. Show people that what they do has value to the organization. Every employee needs to know why his or her job is critical to the success of the team. Make sure you have this conversation. If you want someone to take out the trash on their own initiative, without having to be told, just telling them to “take out the trash” is far less likely to be successful than if you explain why taking out the trash benefits the entire unit. Even better than you telling them why, get them to tell you why it is important. They have to see the big picture, and how the job in front of them fits into that picture. We are much more likely to take initiative when we have our own skin in the game and understand how the work we do makes a contribution to the greater whole. While chores are always part of a good team, it’s having a sense of contribution that motivates people.
  • Make it safe. This is a critical leadership imperative that you have to continuously work on. Do people feel safe to ask questions? Do people feel safe to make mistakes? Do people feel safe to say, “I don’t know how to do this and I need help?” I have found, from observing leaders for more than thirty years, that there is a relationship between a leader’s stress level and how safe people feel around them. The best way to create a safe environment is for you to be at peace with yourself as a leader. If you are walking around tense and stressed, you create tension and it feels unsafe for people to open up. And people who are open are more apt to take initiative. If you want people around you to take initiative, find ways to lessen your own stress level.
  • Be Respectful. You will have an easier time fostering value in a culture when people know you genuinely care about them. If they sense your caring, they are more likely to respond in kind and offer caring in return. When you have earned their trust by investing honestly in their life – by genuine acts of listening, investing in the trust account, showing interest, and expressing concern, they are more willing to take initiative and step up for the good of the team.
  • Lead by example. As a leader, you have to model the way. People need to see that you expect nothing from others that you aren’t willing to do yourself. Do your people see you taking out the trash? Do they see you cleaning up after yourself? Do they see you taking initiative? Initiative is about taking ownership, and ownership starts with you.
  • Don’t over do it. Having said all this, we always have to be careful to not do too much for people. Any strength, taken too far, becomes a weakness. Initiative, my father would say, cannot be taught; it must be caught. We will inevitably take initiative when we are uncomfortable enough. Remember: making it safe, being respectful, leading by example, doesn’t mean we have to rescue people from their unhappiness. If you always take out the trash, why would others take the initiative? If you are always walking around making it safe, you want to check that you aren’t coddling your team members and making it too easy for them. Sometimes people have to smell the garbage before they’ll pack it up and take it out to the dumpster.

Q12 Engagement Survey: Who is Responsible?

The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit

The Gallup Q12 (https://q12.gallup.com) is a survey designed to measure employee engagement. The instrument was the result of hundreds of focus groups and interviews. Researchers found that there were 12 key expectations that when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement. So far more than 90,000 work units and 1.7+ million employees have participated in the Q12 instrument.

Comparisons of engagement scores reveal that those with high Q12 scores exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup organization also uses the Q12 as a semi-annual employee engagement Index – a random sampling of employees across the country.

The engagement index slots people into one of three categories:

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their organization and their work.
  • Not-Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They are sleepwalking through their workday. They are putting in time, but not enough energy or passion into their work (“Quit and stay”).
  • Destructively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.

The Q12 Index

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your organization make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

The limitation of the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey (https://q12.gallup.com) is that it only measures half of the equation: the manager’s responsibility to build an engaging relationship with their employees and to foster an engaging workplace culture. The Q12 Talent Engagement Audit below, adapted from Gallup’s Q12, measures the employee’s responsibility to build an engaging organizational culture.

Take an honest inventory of yourself in the following areas to assess your level of personal responsibility and commitment to do your part as an employee to build a workplace culture that is worth working in.

  • Have you clarified with your boss what is expected?
  • Have you clearly and respectfully asked for the resources you need to do your work right?
  • At work, have you created the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you given recognition or praise to your colleagues for doing good work? How about to yourself?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, know that you care about them as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who you encourage in their development?
  • Have you earned the credibility so that your opinions seem to count?
  • Does your own personal purpose make you feel your job is important?
  • Are you committed to doing quality work?
  • Have you taken the time to create a good friendship at work?
  • In the last six months, have you taken the responsibility to talk with your boss about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had created opportunities to learn and grow?

What do you need to continue doing to sustain your commitment to 100% responsibility for the culture you work in?

What do you need to start doing to take more responsibility for the culture you work in?

What support do you need? Who will help hold you accountable?


Acknowledging Others

I received an email this week from a friend who told me he had recently written letters to 10 people who had made a significant difference in his life. He felt this was a project that he wanted to do, and as I was on his list, he wrote and expressed appreciation for the difference I had made in his life. He wrote to some people who had died (his parents) and to two or three people from different phases of his life. He benefited greatly from doing this exercise as he reflected and gave thanks for the tremendous support and excellent role models in his life. He shared with me how doing this exercise became a great reminder of how blessed his life has been. It also helped him be humble. He would not have had the success and absolutely wonderful life he enjoys today without the help of all the good people he has known. He was also challenged to live his life so that he might be an example and a help to people.

It reminds of how Zig Ziglar has a “wall of influence” in his office, photos of 25 people who made a difference in his life.

How are you acknowledging others?

Should we be expecting our leaders to “Walk The Talk?”

I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard the phrase, “The leaders in this place don’t ‘walk the talk.’” I’d be wealthier than a lottery winner. I’ve heard this said about leaders in every walk of life – business, politics, and government.

I understand the frustration when people see a lack of congruence from their leaders between what is espoused and what is lived. It’s called an authenticity gap. While the frustration is legitimate, the problem is the way we see the problem and the way we approach it. A lack of congruence will prevail as long as we continue to see this as a leadership problem. In fact, I contend that we are actually contributing to the problem by the way we view the situation.

There will always be an authenticity gap in our positional leaders because of the nature of our expectations.

No one will ever meet our expectations completely for “walking the talk” because we are human. Think about it. Where in your life have you maintained all the habits that you know are important? Do you exercise as much as you say you should? Do you always eat what you say is a healthy diet? Do you spend as much time with the people you love as you say you should? Do you ever watch more TV than you know is healthy? Where do you have perfect alignment between your espoused values and your actions? Where in your life have you completely closed this “authenticity gap?”

I contend that it’s not the gap that’s the problem. The real problem is that we aren’t talking about the gap – directly, honestly, and respectfully. What authentic, accountable leaders do, rather than pretend that there is no gap, is create a space for people to honestly and respectfully discuss the gap and work toward closing it. What authentic, accountable employees do, rather than complain about the gap with a sense of entitlement, is have the courage to face the incongruence directly when they see it.

If you are working in an environment and feel that your positional leaders are not “walking the talk,” here are some suggestions:

  • Strategy #1
    Start by giving what you expect from your leaders. Take a careful inventory of yourself. Where are you not “walking the talk” in your professional or personal life?  Where is there an authenticity gap in your life? Try taking the focus off your leaders and bring it back to yourself. Deciding that you have co-created the world around you – and therefore you are the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability.
  • Strategy #2
    Once you have earned self-respect and credibility by working at closing your own authenticity gaps, initiate courageous, open, and respectful conversations with your leaders about that gap in yourself and in your culture. Be sure to bring your solutions, not your complaints to these conversations. Bring a copy of your corporate values to the discussion and ask for feedback about how you can better live these values as an employee.  If you don’t have clear corporate values then make up your own and bring these to the conversation for open, respectful dialogue.
  • Strategy #3
    If you are a positional leader, be aware that you are always being watched and there will always be people in your organization who perceive you as not “walking the talk.” Talk openly about this. Invite feedback continually. Turn your value statements into concrete behaviors and commit publically to living these values, while simultaneously fessing up that you are human, that you won’t ever be perceived as getting it perfect, that you are open for constructive feedback when you get off track, and that you expect the same commitment from your those who report to you.

What’s your experience with leaders not “walking the talk?” I’d love to hear from you.