Tag Archive for: leadership development

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.

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.

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?


The Essential Matters – What Is Your Reason For Being?

Last month I was meeting with a group of very talented managers in a debrief session for an event I facilitated in December. We were discussing, among other things, employee engagement when one of the leaders said that what he learned in my session is that employee engagement can be boiled down to one word: authenticity. When people are authentic, they are engaged. They are committed to their own development and they are committed to bring to bring value to others.

Authenticity is about being the person you were created to be and bringing more of that self to what you do. When you are working in an environment that supports and encourages you to be authentic, you are naturally going to be engaged, empowered, and loyal. Authentic leadership is ultimately about discovering your own authentic nature and then creating a culture that enables others to discover and express theirs. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

A helpful way to express, in practical terms, what it means to be authentic was shown to me by an authentic leader I worked with last year. The focus of my work with his organization was to help him build a stronger, more aligned, high-performing organizational culture. After the workshop he emailed me a diagram of Ikigai (生き甲斐), a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an Ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self and answering three fundamental questions:

  1. What do you love? Pay attention to your energy. Energy is a good indicator of what you love. We are energized by things we love and depleted by things we don’t. Leaders are the stewards of organizational energy. Leaders inspire or demoralize others by how they mobilize, focus, invest, and renew the collective energy of those they serve. To be aware of how your energy affects those around you, it’s important to pay attention to your own energy. How do you feel when you are doing certain things? Is it natural for you or are you trying to imitate somebody? What activities drain you? What activities fill you up? What work would you do if you weren’t paid to do it? What is your passion? What do you love?
  2. What are you good at? You can become good at many things with repetitive actions and thoughts, but this question is asking you to look deeper inside yourself to discover a yearning that is in need of expression. We all have unique talents and gifts. Whether these come easily or not, there is a longing within us to be expressed. It might require developing or it may come naturally. Just as good leadership is about fitting people, not fixing people, when you are doing what you are good at, it fits, not fixes who you are. Discovering what you are good at emerges from asking yourself questions like, “What have you been yearning for? What do you desire intensely to do? What do you do well – that you don’t remember learning? What are your strengths? What are your gifts?”
  3. What does the world need? What is the world asking of you? Where in the world do you feel needed? Perhaps, through your own experiences of grief or compassion you have found a capacity to reach others. Or maybe you see an opportunity to provide a service that is in high demand in the marketplace. Even if you can’t find your passion or your gifts, what the world needs is for you to be at peace with yourself so you can bring peace to the world – a positive, caring attitude to whatever you do. The world needs whatever you can contribute today. Above all, the world needs a generous spirit.

In the upcoming year, set aside some time away from the crushing wave of demands of daily life, to search for and gain some clarity about your Ikigai – your authentic self. Set aside some time every week to reflect, write in a journal, and ask yourself some of these questions. Take a course and explore a hidden passion;  create an authentic community – a coach, mentor, therapist, support group, or confidants – to help guide you to the truth about yourself and what you most desire to bring to the world. Don’t be concerned if you don’t get complete clarity. This is an ongoing, life-long process. What is important is persistent attention. Living authentically is a journey, not a destination.

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, the Austrian poet and novelist:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.  Try to love the questions themselves.  Do not seek the answers which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything, live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.

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.

From New Year’s Resolutions To New Year’s Renewal

Making New Year’s resolutions is for those interested in growing, being a better person, and improving themselves. New Year’s is a good time for taking an inventory of our lives to discover where changes need to be made. Just as the fiscal year end of a business  provides an opportunity to take an inventory of stock, a new year provides an opportunity to take stock of our lives. It’s a good time to celebrate successes from the past year, reestablish intentions for the new year, evaluate your life, and set goals for the future. This is a ritual I have done at the close of each year and opening to the next, for many many years now.

Here is some of my thinking about New Year’s resolutions for you to reflect on…

  1. Whatever you call it – resolutions, goals, habits – make sure they are yours. Make sure that your intentions are authentically yours, not someone elses. Resist that natural indication to compare and conform with others. Joy in life comes from being true to who you are meant to be. If you are trying to keep up with the Jones, sooner or later they will refinance! One way to ensure that your resolutions will last no longer than a few weeks is to make them out of guilt or inadequacy or inferiority, rather than an honest desire to make a change in your life that comes from within you.
  2. Before making any kind of resolution for change, be sure to celebrate the past year. There’s a correlation between those who make resolutions and those who are hard on themselves. It’s always easier to find areas that need changing than to find areas that need celebrating. Make it a point to bring gratitude and recognition of progress into your new year’s resolutions.
  3. Along with celebration, bring kindness and patience – for yourself and for others. Life can be difficult, but it’s a lot easier with compassion. A new life is much more likely to grow in the soft, rich soil of compassion than in the rocky ground of judgement. As Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully expresses, “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.” When you think of compassion, think first of yourself. This is where true compassion starts.
  4. Before making any kind of resolution, ask if you are actually committed to change or if you simply making a resolution because that’s what you do this time of year. There’s nothing wrong with not making a resolution if there’s nothing in your life you want to change right now. And there’s nothing wrong with a resolution for the sake of a resolution. Just be honest when you find yourself “off track” in the middle of January. Don’t make a promise to change if you aren’t ready. Whenever you break an agreement, either with yourself or with others, you erode your self-respect.
  5. If you are serious about making changes in your life, find a mentor, someone who will guide you, support you, and hold you accountable along the way. From my experience, you will never make changes in your life alone. You’ll only create discouragement.
  6. Take an inventory of what “growth” means to you. Be careful about defining growth as simply “more” or “bigger.” “Bigger” isn’t always better. “More” isn’t always satisfying. Think about growth as qualitative not just quantitative. Just because you lose weight doesn’t mean your life will be better. Just because you make more money doesn’t mean you will be happier. Peace is reflected in your relationship to the present moment, experiencing the beauty and magnificence that surrounds you now. Quality of life will sustain you in a way that quantity never will.
  7. Whatever changes you decide to make in your life, make room for rest, renewal, and delight in your busy life. In the relentless busyness of modern life, we probably all need to rediscover the rhythm between work and rest. The only life form that doesn’t rest is cancer. A truly successful life is one of balance, perspective, and presence.

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year,” writes G.K. Chesterton. “It is that we should have a new soul.” As you let go of last year may you enter the new with a renewed energy that is fresh and vital. Be good to yourself, and be well this new year.