Tag Archive for: communication

Personal Leadership – A Culture of One

Operational accountabilities are about what has to be done in an organization. Leadership accountabilities, on the other hand, are about how the work gets done. You have to take both into consideration if you want to build a great culture. Culture defines the how.

It is important to regularly assess how your people are achieving operational results, and it is just as important to regularly assess your culture with a Culture Inventory:

  • Are people clear about the values that are espoused – the way we do the work?
  • Are there clearly defined behaviors attached to each of the values so that the expectations of the how are explicit?
  • Are there clearly defined promises between the manager and the employee about what both are agreeing to?
  • Are there clearly defined support agreements, so everyone feels supported?
  • Are there clearly defined consequences – both positive and negative?
  • Is the follow-through clear, so that the agreements remain current and remain useful?

Just as it is good for a regular Culture Inventory, is it important to take a Character Inventory – an assessment of our own personal way we are at work and in the world. Similar to how an organization has a culture – a way of doing things, individuals also have a way.

Much emphasis in organizations is put on the what, and this is true with individuals as well. How many people do you know emphasize the achievements in their life but don’t pay attention to the kind of person they are becoming in the pursuit of these achievements? A Character Inventory assesses the kind of person you are – how you are living your life.

If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have or what you can do, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s an act of caring to pause every so often and take an inventory of your character.

  • How are you doing in areas such as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity?
  • Are you one person in public and another in private?
  • Do you focus as much on what kind of a person you are in the world as much as on what you want to achieve in the world?

Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader in any capacity.

Here’s a list of actions that demonstrate strength of character. See how you measure up with this list, or take the time to write your own list:

Let go of what you want.

Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice living below your means, not getting everything you want, and finding freedom in enjoying what you have.

Do something difficult every day.

“Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will improve. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.

Clean up after yourself.

Something eats away at your character when you sit in your mess or leave your messes for someone else to look after. And if you really want to experience character, walk through a park close to where you live and clean up garbage left behind by someone else.

Look beyond yourself.

Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. We can all find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.

Spend less than you earn.

This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antidote to the entitlement that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Before you criticize the culture you work in or the leaders of the culture, take a good look in the mirror. Leadership is about PRESENCE, not position. What kind of presence do you bring to your work? What kind of person are you? What is your “way” of being in the world? As a personal leader, you are a culture of one. Make it a daily practice to review your character in relation to your daily life, your friends, your acquaintances, and your work. Keep striving to be a better leader by being a better person. This is the real satisfaction and ultimate goal in life.

Humanizing Our Workplace: Leading With Care Rather Than Fear

A long-time client told me a few weeks ago that his first task, as a recently hired manager in a power company, was to “humanize” the plant. When I asked what he meant by this, he explained that he was brought in to change the culture from one that was described as “management by chopping people’s heads off” to “leadership through respect.”

“How are you going to do that?” I asked him.

“I’m not quite sure, to be honest,” he replied. “I’ve only been here a couple of months and so far most of what I’ve been doing is wandering around, asking questions, observing the operation, and learning about the plant and what people do here. This has given me a chance to open up with the employees, have them get to know me a bit, and have me share some of my expectations and my approaches to leadership.”

He then told me about an employee he had taken aside so he could acknowledge the quality of the employee’s work, his attention to detail, and the example he was setting for his team through a strong work ethic and positive attitude. After hearing this honest feedback the employee fell silent. With tears in his eyes he responded, “In my twenty-five years working at this plant, you are the first person to tell me I’m doing something right.”

Humanizing our workplace isn’t about gimmicks or fads. It’s about respecting ourselves enough to show genuine respect for others. It means creating a caring environment and embracing a commitment to help people grow, just as much as it means getting good results. Humanizing our workplace is about creating a space where people feel safe to be who they are. It’s a sustaining, simple, down-to-earth philosophy that liberates us from “chopping people’s heads off” to focusing on what really matters. In short, it isn’t about being right; it’s about being real.

The word organization comes from the word “organ.” Organizations aren’t machines that can be managed like a piece of equipment or with a technical procedure. Organizations, at their core, are about heart, soul, and human beings. Work has to provide opportunities for personal growth, as well as financial growth. If it doesn’t, we are spending far too much of our lives there with far too few rewards.

While there are no rules for humanizing our workplace, below are ten guidelines that may help you in your journey to make your organization a more human place for everyone.

  1. Resist the tendency to manage by email. Humans need face-to-face contact. Get out on the floor. Walk around. Ask questions. Your purpose isn’t to be interesting. It’s far more important to beinterested. If you can’t get people face-to-face, at least pick up the phone and talk to them. Emails, furthermore, can be a black hole that consumes your whole day. So set boundaries around your computer time.
  2. Pay attention. One primary difference between a boss and a leader is that bosses “know” while leaders “learn.” There is a time for certainty, when we must tell people what needs to be done. But true leaders spend much of their time listening and watching. They make a point of learning. Tom Peters tells us that the four most important words in the English language are, “What do you think?” Employees can teach us a great deal when we slow down and listen to them, when we ask them what they think. Humanizing our organizations means paying attention to what people need and to the impact our actions have on others, and when we notice our own mistakes. Paying attention is about self-awareness, humility, and gratitude. When we are sincere, four additional words that will never let us down are, “I’m sorry” and “thank you.”
  3. Take care of yourself. Caring about others has to come from overflow and not emptiness. Caring about ourselves means having consistent habits that ensure we are taking care of what matters most to us: our health, our most important relationships, our own development, and our sense of inner peace and well-being. We won’t get respect from others if we don’t respect ourselves. We can’t jumpstart anyone else unless our own battery is charged.
  4. Make your expectations clear. Humanity in the workplace means clarity. It’s disheartening for people to go home at the end of a day, not knowing if they’ve met their boss’s expectations. Be clear with people. Tell them what you expect. Tell them the standards you have, not just for operational results, but also the kind of attitude you expect to see, in concrete, behavioral terms.
  5. Be sure that support follows your expectations. There’s nothing wrong with expecting a lot from people. Just be sure that with every expectation comes an equal commitment to provide support. Make sure that your people have the resources to do what you are asking of them. It’s inhuman to expect something from someone when they don’t have the ability to do it, and there’s no commitment to support them.
  6. Be honest. Honesty is the single most important attribute in a leader’s relationship with employees and fellow workers. Honesty means acknowledging people’s good efforts. But to really care about someone we also have to be willing to say, “Bob, I care about you and about your work, and I have to tell you that you aren’t performing as well as you need to get the job done.” Humanizing the workplace means setting standards and applying them equitably and individually and firmly. Following through on consequences, even if it means firing someone, is an act of caring if it’s done with clarity, honesty, and respect.
  7. Don’t just push harder. When my computer doesn’t do what I want it to, I often just push the keys harder. Pushing harder doesn’t work with computers and it doesn’t work with human beings. When things aren’t working we have to step back and take time to understand, re-clarify, and develop a new plan of action.
  8. It’s about creating value. I learned years ago to first bring value to others before expecting something from them. This principle applies to every relationship, from selling a consulting contract, to getting a job, to earning a team’s trust. Humanizing our workplace starts with a continual commitment to finding out what’s important to people and adding value to their life.
  9. Be the source. My mother used to say, “Be careful what you give to the world because whatever you give will come back to you.” If we bring negativity, disrespect, and animosity to our job, that’s what we get back. Start giving to others what you expectfrom others. If you feel you aren’t getting acknowledgement for your hard work, get so busy giving others recognition that you won’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and philosopher, reminds us “this is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
  10. If you don’t care about people, do yourself and your organization a favor and get out of management. I say this with absolutely no disrespect to anyone. Just be honest with yourself. If you don’t have any desire to bring humanity and caring to your job, if dealing with people is too stressful, save yourself a heart attack and other people a lot of heartache and step down from the arduous job of management.

What’s The Difference Between Communication And Just Passing Along Information?

I serve as vice-chair on an international nonprofit board. Our chair is passionate about her work and about staying in contact with board members around the world. If she has a weakness, however, it’s that she assumed that sending emails to board members meant she has actually communicated with them.

“I can’t understand why he didn’t get the message. I was so careful about crafting a clear email that outlined all the facts.”

We have had some long discussions lately about the difference between passing along information and actually communicating a message.

The problem, of course, is not in her intent. The problem is that texting and emails are great ways to pass along information. They are just a lousy way to communicate. I’m all for technology, but it is critical to understand the limitations.

To communicate you need conversation and dialogue. Even the phone can be limiting when it comes reading body language as a response to a message.

If you aren’t allowing time for reactions, questions, open dialogue, clarification, and a space for reflection, then all you are doing is passing along information. You aren’t communicating.

What have you learned about what it takes to communicate? What, for you, is the difference between passing along information and communication?

photo credit: Love you to (license)

Leadership: Lessons From My Father

As Father’s Day approaches this weekend, I have been reflecting on my late father, Harlie, one of the first leaders in my life. He was a true mentor leader – even though I didn’t fully realize it when he was alive. Here’s some lessons I learned from him and hopefully you can relate them to your work as a leader.

  1. Give what you expect from others. Harlie engaged me by first being engaged himself. Leadership is about energy, and if you want energy on your team, you must bring energy to your team. Energy – whether it’s positive or negative – is contagious. Harlie was passionate about so many things. He was passionate about learning, about growing, and about life. As a former national gymnastics champion, he kept himself in great shape. He lived what he led. If you want engagement from others, you must be engaged. We cannot give what we do not have.
  2. Be motivated by love. Great leadership is largely a matter of love. If you are uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because leadership involves caring about people, not manipulating them. Dad was tough on me when I needed it, but I never doubted his motive: he genuinely cared. He cared more about me than the results which were a means to a higher end. Harlie was motivated by love. You can’t fabricate love; people will see right through you. What you can do is decide to care about people. People don’t care how much you know until they know  how  much you care.
  3. Live your passion. Our basement was filled with evidence of Dad’s passion: exercise equipment, a tumbling mat, weights. Every morning Dad would exercise at the crack of dawn. Although he couldn’t always get me engaged, especially in my early years, he lived his passion. He preached the importance of exercise without saying a word. When I was in junior high, Dad took me to the YMCA to teach me how to exercise on the parallel bars. I didn’t have the strength to lift myself up, much less do any maneuvers on them. After several disappointing attempts, Dad soon got the message: I was just not meant to be a gymnast. Even though I have memories of him being disappointed that he couldn’t engage me in gymnastics, he kept his own passion alive.
  4. Tune in to what drives people. When I was 14, dad was teaching me to drive our old 1954 Chevy truck. When I pulled over into a farm yard a mile from our home, dad sensed that something was wrong. We sat in silence for a few moments and I opened up about an incident in physical education class. “We ran a mile  and I couldn’t finish it without walking… I came in last, but I want to be the best miler in our zone track meet next year.” Dad knew little about running, so we went to the library and found every book we could on running. Dad became my coach, and the next spring I won the mile race in our zone track meet. Everyone has a passion. Everyone is engaged about something. The key is to create the space to listen and tune in to what matters to people. When you are committed to helping people find and express their voice – their unique gifts and passion, you’ll get engagement.
  5. Have a vision of greatness. Greatness wasn’t an external thing for my father. His life was about making a difference, not making a buck. He never had a mission statement. But he had a mission and it was expressed in how he lived his life. When you have a vision, whether it’s expressed explicitly or implicitly by your actions, it inspires people. In his “I have dream speech,” Martin Luther King did not say, “I have a strategic plan.” While plans may be necessary, it is dreams that inspire, uplift, and engage us. “If you want to build a ship,” writes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “don’t herd people together to collect wood, and don’t assign them to tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Whatever your vision, live it well and you will inspire others to engage with you.
  6. Be a good gardener. Dad was a good gardener and he taught me a lot about leadership by the way he gardened. No plants ever grow better because you demand that they do so or because you threaten them. Plants grow only when they have the right conditions and are given proper care. Creating the space and providing the proper nourishment for plants – and people as well – is a matter of continual investigation and vigilance. But another reality about gardening is that you really don’t have much control over the harvest. Despite your best efforts, for a myriad of reasons, some plants simply won’t make it. You can’t engage everyone. It’s a reality we all live with.

Power is Derived By The Power of Your Attention

Whatever you focus on will grow. In other words, focus on what you want. If you are married or in a significant relationship and you want it to grow, put your focus on what you love about your partner. If you want your workplace to be a better place to come to work, focus on what you love about your job and where you work. If you want a better life, focus on what you are grateful for.

If you wish to change some aspect of your life, this power of focus can also relate to your habits. Tie your attention to the solution, not the problem. Shift your focus. If you have a bad habit when you come home from work, such as overeating, find a good habit that will replace it. If you have a good exercise regime or practice, but go through your day dreading it, shift your focus. See it as an opportunity to experience the power of your body.

If you aren’t enjoying your job, before you think of leaving it, discover a higher purpose for your work and shift your focus from misery to possibility. Tap into your potential and end the cycle of drudgery and pain in your life. The joy of that possibility can imbue your day. In the end, it is all a matter of where you place your attention.

What is Culture? Are You Wasting Your Time With Fancy Value Statements?

Value statements don’t make a culture. Ask Enron, whose values were communication, respect, integrity, and excellence. How many companies have you known who have the value of “safety” written fancily on their web site and the walls of their offices, but in reality, have a deplorable safety rating? There’s a big difference between value statements and values. Value statements are what we claim to be. Values are what we actually do. Your culture is not your statements. Your culture is your actions.

So…What is culture? Culture is the “the way things are done around here.” You get an indication of your culture by listening to what people talk about when the boss isn’t in theroom, or how you describe your workplace with your closest friends. If you want to know what you culture is, don’t read the web site or look at the fancy value statements on the wall. Look at who you hire. Look at who you promote and what actions get recognized and rewarded in your organization. Culture is no different than life: How you act will speak so loudly that people won’t hear what you say. Culture isn’t a noun. Culture, like love, is a verb.

Does this mean that developing clear statements of values is a waste of time? No. It’s important to clarify the values and principles that you expect should guide the actions of every employee in your organization. The mistake that most executive teams make is that they think that writing down the values is all it takes. Executives make a huge mistake when they take their senior management team to the mountains and return to “roll out” the “10 Commandments” in a communication strategy from the front of the room.

In reality, clarifying the values is just the beginning of building an aligned, engaged, accountable culture.

Once you get the value statements on the web site and the walls, you have to create the conversation. You have to make noise about the document. Ask questions. Challenge respectfully. Tell the stories. If you haven’t found contradictions in the values and the guiding principles you espouse, you haven’t had deep enough conversations. You haven’t invested enough. You have to turn the statements into actions, and actions into promises. You have to hold people accountable – at every level – for living the values.

It’s okay to be misaligned. That’s human. Don’t be afraid to see the misalignment. While you will want to focus on the positive, and shine a light on actions that demonstrate a support of the values, don’t be afraid to embrace the negative. Invite people, especially your direct reports, to challenge you when they see the misalignment. Having a standard gives you something to aim at.

Are you wasting your time with fancy value statements on the wall? Not if you are committed to getting these off the wall and into the hearts and hands of every employee.

It doesn’t really matter that you understand what culture is. What matters is that your design and deliver one that matters.