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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?

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.

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.

Nine Questions That Will Change Your Life

For the past twenty years my work has been devoted to helping leaders, at all levels and in all walks of life, realize and express their true greatness in the cultures where they work and serve. I have been fortunate to work with thousands of leaders from around the world and it has been a remarkable journey thus far.

I have learned from the conscious, authentic leaders that they need more than techniques, tools, and strategies to be a successful leader. The best leaders I have met understand that they also need to grow as people. They understand the importance of character, integrity, wisdom, maturity, and caring. They understand that great leadership starts with being a good person. It is that simple and that difficult.

When asked what life experiences prepared them for leadership, rather than management training seminars or MBA programs, leaders say such things as, “coming to terms with a life-threatening illness”; “spending a month in a silent retreat”; “recovery from an addiction”; “facing the death of a family member”; “raising a family”; or “investing in a long-term coaching or psychotherapy experience.”

Leadership is not an event. It’s not a noun. Leadership is a verb, a life-long process, a journey of coming to know yourself. You don’t get promoted to being leader. You have to earn the right to be called one. There are no effective tools, only tools that allow greater effectiveness by the person using them. Without a tool-user capable of applying the tools consciously, there is no lasting effectiveness. For this reason, the user’s development and maturity are just as important as the development of techniques and their objective excellence.

One of the ways you can mature as a person and thus prepare yourself to lead, is to make room for reflection and contemplation in your life. Below are nine questions that, when reflected and acted upon, will deepen your personal leadership presence.

  1. How much is enough?

Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in a relatively orderly fashion. When cells start to grow out of control, it’s called cancer. Rather than dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form new, abnormal cells. When the human instincts of ambition, achievement, and material success are unbridled, they become cancerous. How much work is enough? How much money is enough? How much success if enough? Work is a tool to create and sustain the quality of life that we most desire. All action, including work, needs to be measured against your values. How much do you need to sustain a good life?

  1. What do you do that you love?

Authenticity is where ability and passion intersect. What do you do that fulfills you? What fills you up? What do you do that brings you meaning? Often people get trapped doing what they are very good at but not passionate about. While these efforts may bring rewards, they don’t bring fulfillment or meaning. What brings you deep satisfaction may or may not be found in your paid work. When you discover work that you both love and are good at, count that as a blessing. Where in your life do you do what you love?

  1. What is your gift?

Every one of us has a unique talent. As the Celtic writer John O’Donohue put it, “You were sent a shape of destiny in which you would be able to express the special gift that you bring to the world. If someone else could fulfill your destiny, then they would be there in your place, and you would not be here. It is in the depths of your life that you will discover the invisible necessity that has brought you here. When you begin to decipher this, your gift and your giftedness come alive. Your heart quickens and the urgency of living rekindles your creativity. When you can awaken this sense of destiny, you come into rhythm with your life…” What is your destiny? What is your gift?

  1. Who do you love?

“I need somebody to love,” sang the Beatles, and they got it right. Devoting yourself to someone and experiencing the full range of the anguish and ecstasy of love, makes you a better person. To love requires courage, vulnerability, compassion, and presence. All these are not just qualities of a good lover. They are qualities of a good person. And they are qualities of a good leader. The decision to love is always a risk, and it is in taking that risk that one meets the full life. In leadership, if you cannot connect, you will be incapable of leading. Embracing love, in all its challenge and splendor, will teach you to live and to lead.

  1. For what purpose?

Leadership is both passionate and consuming work. So strong are the emotions of leadership that they will overwhelm those who have not developed a sense of purpose. A life without purpose is like a ship’s captain without a compass. The winds of demands and distractions, accompanied by the whims of emotions, would shipwreck even the best of us onto a reef of frustration. A sense of purpose inspires you, gives you traction on the steep slopes of self-doubt and discouragement, helps put failures and successes in perspective, and shines a light that enables you to keep walking in the darkness.

  1. Who do you listen to?

Leadership, by its very nature, is a force of attraction. Attraction means others will demand your attention. Technology makes us even more accessible to the wrong or unfocused messages if we aren’t both mindful and strategic. In the frenetic world of overload, listen to the right people through selective hearing and focused attention. Leadership requires both the capacity to listen and the capacity to know who to listen to. It also means learning to listen to oneself, distinguishing your inner voice from the voices placing demands upon us. And one has to structure in time for a nourishing community and self-reflection that helps regain perspective and restores spiritual resources.

  1. What are you committed to?

The poet William Blake once asked, “Does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so? …All poets believe that it does, and in ages of imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm persuasion of anything.” What immovable conviction do you have? What is your firm persuasion? What do you know you will complete, regardless of the obstacles?

  1. What difference do you make?

Ultimate success, the success that surpasses success, is significance, the difference you make in the lives of others. Significance is not measured in the balance sheet, the win-loss records, the trophies, or the fame or notoriety you manage to attain. Significance, or supreme success, is found in the hearts and lives you have touched that are in some way better because of knowing you. Significance is ultimately measured in changed lives, strong character, and sustained values, rather than in material gain, temporal achievement, or status. As David Brooks states in his book, “The Road To Character,” there is a difference between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. What is written on your résumé is very different that what will be said at your funeral. What difference do you make?

  1. What are you grateful for?

I learned years ago from one of my mentors, Dan Sullivan, to make your gratitude bigger than your success. Gratitude is what makes success rewarding and a life-long journey rather than a destination. Gratitude will bring joy and change everything in your life. What you appreciate, appreciates. All efforts to achieve with the intent to impress others, gain approval, avoid rejection, or gain fame will eventually be unsatisfying. Gratitude is what makes success worthwhile, because gratitude enables you to come from a place of wonderment, joy, and personal satisfaction. Don’t climb a mountain so the world will see you, climb a mountain so you will see the world.

My father used to say that it isn’t the answers that determine the character of a person; it’s the questions. Being a good person and a good leader doesn’t require pristine answers to these questions. What it requires is a willingness to carefully seek the truth that speaks to you and the patience to persist, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty. Becoming a person who has earned the right to be called a leader is a matter of continual investigation and vigilance.

Leadership Lessons From A Gas Bar Manager

While preparing a leadership development program for a retail company that owns several gas bars, I spoke to some of their gas bar managers. Instead of merely gathering data on the company operations, the connections were significant and the conversations were quite inspiring. Some of the managers have never been to a formal leadership course. Most started with pumping gas and were promoted because of their accountable attitude. Many are in their mid-twenties. They reminded me that leadership, at it’s core, is meant to be simple. While many of the managers I interviewed were switched on to great leadership, I was hired to help them get this leadership philosophy of the few into the actions of the many.

Leadership – whether it’s in an organization, your home, or in a classroom – is about remembering a few simple principles that you apply consistently. Here are some lessons I was reminded of after spending time with these amazing Gas Bar Managers:

  1. As a boss, employees are always watching you. Your attitude as a leader sets the tone for everyone. If you jump in and work with your team, if you are happy pumping gas and talking to the customer, if you bring a grateful approach to everything you do, you set the tone, not by what you say, but by who you are and what you do.
  2. You shouldn’t have to “hold” people accountable, or at least, it should be a tool of last resort. If you have to hold people accountable, you likely haven’t done your job up front to inspire them and earn their respect. When people trust you and respect you and know what you expect, they’ll generally do what they say they’ll do. It is respect and trust we are after, not accountability with a hammer.
  3. Good gas bar managers are not in the gas bar business. Instead, they are in the leadership development business. One manager, whose direct reports are mostly part-time employees between the ages of 17 and 20, put it this way: “I’m a mom, not a friend to these kids… I’m not running a gas station; I’m parenting 120 kids. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to have them come back years later, after they’ve become CEOs, engineers, doctors, or leaders in this company, and tell me that their work at my gas bar made a difference in their lives.” This leader understands that her ultimate goal is building leaders. You inspire others when you bring a higher purpose to what you do.
  4. Fire people quickly if you’ve made a mistake and have the wrong person in the job. When you get rid of a toxic person, it can help everyone breathe a little more freely. While you always want to support and guide people, don’t try to fix Focus instead on fitting them – helping them to either move somewhere else in the organization or somewhere outside the organization.
  5. While the numbers are important, you don’t get the numbers by focusing on them. You get the numbers by caring about people. It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it as a leader that matters in the long run. Profits and people are both important, but they must be kept in balance.
  6. Make the workplace fun. If people don’t enjoy coming to work, if they aren’t among friends, if they aren’t listened to and valued, they won’t stick around. Be flexible. Have parties. Celebrate success. It usually doesn’t take a lot of additional resources to have fun – if you get creative and find the people that will help you. Genuinely listen to input. Make it a place they will refer their friends to.
  7. You can’t manage people by having a boss’s name-tag. You get employees to do the right thing because you inspire them. Just because you have a title doesn’t make you a leader.

In summary, what I learned – or was reminded of – from these gas bar managers was : Treat people like people. Give what you expect. Find something that inspires you every day so you have something to bring to work. Bring an attitude of gratitude to everything you do. Do what you say you are going to do. Have high expectations of yourself and others: no one takes pride in doing something easy. Don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and do some of the dirty work with employees (you don’t earn respect from the sidelines); if they make a mistake, take responsibility for your part of the screw-up.

Overall, pretty good advice from a group of hardworking, successful front-line leaders. Their wisdom and leadership principles are applicable to all generations, all organizations, and all families. It is a great reminder that I am very fortunate to have amazing clients that are a continual source of inspiration.

Balancing Accountability With Caring

Any parent who has ever said no to a child understands that leadership is not about being popular. You have to be secure within yourself to do the right thing – for the benefit of the greater whole. A recent consulting project reminded me of this. A CEO was brought in to a failing company eighteen months previously to bring it out of the red and make it profitable. The former CEO was known throughout the organization as “Mr. Popular.” Everyone loved him. He was their “buddy.” Expense cheques were freely approved. There was no such thing as budgets. And, like the inattentive captain of the Costa Concordia, he was driving the company into the rocks of bankruptcy. While all the partying and love fest was going on, most of his employees had no idea where he was taking them. Thankfully the board caught it and dismissed him before disaster struck.

The new CEO, a brilliant, accountable, focused leader had to be “less than warm” in her approach to turning the company around. Many of her employees did not understand where she was coming from, and perceived her as cold, distant, and uncaring compared her to her predecessor. Like a courageous parent committed to accountability, I heard her say to her employees, in no uncertain terms, “Trust me. This is for the good of this company and the employees – in the long run.”

Now that the company has turned the corner through her leadership, it is obvious that many of these employees would not even be employed today under the former “popular” regime. Yet for sometime, the new CEO has been perceived by some of her direct reports and managers as “unapproachable,” “disconnected,” and “removed from her people.” They had no idea that, by saving the organization and the employees’ jobs along with it, she was actually very caring.

How do you become respected and liked and still hold others accountable? This is a question that every leader must grapple with. It is also a question that has application for every employee. Here are seven points to consider as you wrestle with this question:

  1. Being a leader is not for people who need to be liked or need to be popular. At times, you have to be willing to stand alone with the courage of your convictions.
  2. Even though you don’t need to be liked as a leader, if you aren’t liked by at least most of your people – you’ll have difficulty making impact in the long term.
  3. As an employee, some things are not as they appear. Few bosses come to work with a motive to mess up the place. While there certainly may be poor leadership at times, unless you are a psychopath, all behavior comes from a positive intent. Before judging, take time to discover the underlying motive of your boss’s behavior and be patient.
  4. Because leadership is a presence, not a position, everyone in an organization is a potential leader. You can be a leader today by deciding to be what you expect from others. If you want more compassion from others, start by being more compassionate to
  5. Leadership is ultimately about caring, but you can’t always count on it appearing as such. When you are fostering accountability by holding the line on a principle, you may come across as anything but compassionate. Accountable people accept this.
  6. You must be driven by a motive of caring even when you are holding others accountable – caring about people, caring about your work, and caring about the organization as a whole. While caring and accountability won’t always be in balance, you need to know when it’s out of balance and how to get it back.
  7. You don’t become liked by pleasing people and giving them what they want. That’s merely a fix that passes with the tides of popularity. You get to be liked by letting go of your need to be liked, serving people by being committed to giving them what they need, earning respect from living in alignment to your principles, and then by being humble and authentic.

 

Now that this CEO has begun to turn the company around, she’s concentrating on turning her relationship with her employees around. In order to accomplish what she did, she needed to be tough, and while her resolve remains firm, she can turn her attention to connecting with others and showing her caring side. She’s working at being vulnerable by communicating her intentions and exposing a little more of her humanness, both of which are vital to connecting with others. She’s reminding herself to be more kind and approachable, and lightening up a bit. As a result, people are actually starting to like her, and in the process, she is earning the trust and respect of her key people.