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You’re Not Alone in This Leadership Confusion

Many myths about leadership abound. One of those myths, in particular, steers leaders in the wrong direction. Be careful how much you embrace it.

You’ve heard this myth often, expressed in different ways:

  • “It’s lonely at the top.”
  • “The buck stops here.”
  • “Never let them see you sweat.”

What’s wrong with these aphorisms? Nothing, as long as we consume them in small doses. But swallowed whole and as our only diet, they lead us to conclude the wrong things about the nature of leadership and create confusion.

The Views on Leadership are Distorted

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How others Measure and Manage Employee Morale

Most leadership pundits talk about morale in business the same way they’d describe cotton candy at a state fair. Everybody likes it; nobody’s against it. It’s fun to have. But in essence, it’s just a sugary substance spun with a lot of hot air.

I beg to differ.

Morale has substance. It has weight. And it matters. It’s not something a leader spins from hot air; it is something that a leader can grow only over time and with unremitting attention. If you think leadership is all about “hitting the numbers,” and that soft and squishy stuff like morale is no different than cotton candy, think again.

 The late Roger Milliken, former CEO of Milliken &Co., and winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, once put it this way: Continue reading

Are your Employees Over-managed and Under-led?

Are your employees over-managed and under-led? That describes the state of leadership in most of the organizations with which I have consulted over the past 20 years. It’s too bad.

I am not sure how we got this way. I think it’s from two generations of leaders taking too-much-to-heart the old adage: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” I think we have lost sight of what the “it” in that sentence is supposed to refer to. As your high school English teacher used to say, the pronoun “it” in this case has a vague antecedent. Continue reading

8 Key Questions to Overcome 360 degree Feedback Problems

When it comes to 360-degree feedback, be warned that it is much easier to lose trust than to build it.

In the beginning, 360 assessments were seen to be a development tool. They were not conceived to be used as a tool for performance appraisal. As their use has grown, however, they have come to be used by some organizations for evaluation, not just for development. This has pulled the rug out from under the original intent and caused a lot of problems for many. Continue reading

The Best Leadership Advice I Never Took

Have you ever been given a really good piece of leadership advice… and then didn’t follow it? Did you later regret not following it? I did. And I have. And I learned a lesson from it.

I hope it might be instructive to share my own lesson with you.

30 Years ago yet seems like yesterday

It happened over 30 years ago. I remember it well. I was 20 then. College student. Enrolled in Naval ROTC. Training to become a leader in the Marine Corps as a Marine officer upon graduation. Each summer, we ROTC students went through various sorts of military training. Continue reading

Here’s a 150-year old Lesson in Employee Engagement Training

An innovation in the retail industry that began in 1878 holds lessons for leaders of today. If you are a leader in any type of organization today and want to improve employee engagement, you can learn from a revolutionary, but little known chapter in American retailing history.

Next time you go to the mall or to a grocery store, look closely to spot an innovation that is so common, you probably take it for granted. And you can thank F. W. Woolworth for it. You see, shortly after Frank opened the first Woolworth’s five-and-dime store in 1878 , he did something that store owners had not done before….

Touch it, feel it, buy it Continue reading

Are you Working for a Bunch of Hypocrites?

For years, I have listened to company owners lament: “If only we could get all our employees to act like owners.” To which I have replied, “But they are not owners, so how could you expect them to act like owners, unless you favor hypocrisy. Is that what you want…a company of hypocrites?

Unless your organization is willing to set up a meaningful ESOP, stop bellyaching about the fact that your employees don’t act with the same ownership mindset that you do.” That’s my usual diatribe. After it settles down, I continue with a bit of explanation. Although (in most cases) employees are not owners of the company, what they are owners of are: their own lives, their own careers, their contributions to the quality and quantity of work they produce, and the degree of joy and satisfaction they gain from their work. Continue reading

How NOT “Holding” Employees Accountable Improves Performance

What’s wrong with holding employees accountable? Accountability is a good thing. Isn’t it?

At the very least, it sure is a popular word in leadership circles. Next time you’re around a gathering of leaders, listen to the conversation for a while and you are sure to hear the question…. “What one thing do you wish you could do better?” And the most common answer you’ll hear is: “How can I do a better job at holding employees accountable for results?

You want this too, correct? I used to want to do the same thing. Eventually, though, I came to realize that this leadership thing is backwards. I had been thinking that the subject here was accountability. But look at the question again… “How can I do a better job at holding employees accountable for results? Continue reading

3 Key Leadership Development tips for New Managers

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted!

Things are different now, aren’t they? If you are like most newly promoted managers I’ve ever talked with, you’re in a state of shock from all the things that are different. That’s okay. You’ll adjust. Here are 3 tips to help you cope.

1. Leverage yourself. Especially, leverage your time, your energy, and your talent. Realize that your job is no longer to do the work; it is to lead others who do the work. Chances are, you were really, really good at what you did before you were promoted. In fact, that’s partly why you were promoted. You may be tempted, therefore, to “help” your people by doing their work the way you know how to do it so well. Don’t go there. It’s no longer your job to do the work, employee development is. It doesn’t matter if those for whom you are now responsible are not as competent as you were. Don’t do their work for them. You’ll never leverage yourself that way. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you now have 10 direct reports. By your estimate, they are on average only half as good as you were when you did that job. Ten people, each at half of your competence, can still produce 5 times as much output as you could do alone. If you did the work of one of them, the group’s productivity would increase to 5.5 times what you could do alone. But, that’s where your employee productivity gains stop. if you will concentrate instead on leadership, motivating them, teaching them, directing them, there is where you’ll find leverage. In a short while, let’s suppose that each employee on your team can now, on average, perform the work 80% as well as you could when you did that job. Well, now you’ve increased your effectiveness 8 times. You’ve gone from 5x to 8x. That’s what I mean by leverage.

2. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Learn from others who have gone before you. Leadership is a much studied science and art. Last time I looked, there were over 112,000 books on leadership available through Amazon.com alone! Unfortunately, many of those are not backed with tools and techniques to implement what they reveal. This frustration was why the Beyond Morale Online Employee Engagement System was created. The program has been developed over 30 years of science, leadership training and coaching. Others have experienced a fast track to effective leadership using the program.

3. Ask for help. You don’t have to be a know-it-all. In fact, know-it-alls are the type of new managers who are most likely to fall into the temptation of #1 above. You can ask for help in 3 “directions” so to speak—up, down, and sideways.

  • Ask your team. Sure, you know what the job is like; you were just recently doing it. But, be honest with yourself, aren’t there a lot of ideas you kept to yourself simply because not one “above” you cared enough to ask? You can be different.
  • Ask your peers. Spend time with others who hold the sort of leadership position you now have. They’ve faced many of the same pressures, challenges, and perplexities that you now face.
  • Ask your boss. Your boss’s job is to help you succeed. Your boss’s goal is to gain leverage, too.

Keeping these 3 simple tips in mind will go a long way to making your transition to manager an easier and more enjoyable one than you can imagine. Leverage yourself. Don’t reinvent the wheel. And ask for help. Good luck!

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Sustaining Employee Engagement thru the Downturn

Have you ever noticed how people respond to a crisis? They rise to the occasion. They engage each other. They put their best foot forward. It happened in New York after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. It happened in businesses across the globe when the recession started. Employees rallied to support their companies and their teams. They engaged. For a while.

Then what happened?
It happened slowly at first. Enthusiasm waned. Things reverted to normal; in many cases employees became even less engaged than before the recession hit. A survival mood set in. “Don’t rock the boat.” “Protect your own job; little else matters.”When that mood becomes permanent, your organization gets stuck in a rut. A rut dug by employee disengagement and fortified by fear. What can a leader do? How can you keep employee engagement high when crisis turns slowly into the new normal?

If you are in a leadership role, here are 4 things you can do:

1. Communicate. Often. And never stop communicating. Even bad news is better than no news. Remember, your job is to think about the big picture AND to communicate your vision of that picture to your people. Don’t be like the chief marketing officer who once told his ad agency that it was time to pull their latest ad off the television because viewers were tired of seeing it. And it hadn’t even aired yet! He had seen it so many times during development that he was tired of it. And he mistook his own fatigue of the message for others’. Just because you think you have communicated something important to your employees, say it again. Staying informed invites being engaged.

2. Tell the truth. Candor goes a long way. Truth builds trust. And trust leads to employee engagement. Employees will give their best for leaders they can trust.

3. Ask for help. After three years of recession, nobody knows all the answers any more. If you think your job is to have all the answers, you are a very lonely leader. When you don’t have the answers, ask for help. Your people may surprise you. Engaged employees feel empowered to speak up and offer up fresh, new ideas. One fresh idea may be all that’s needed to  jumpstart your team.

4. Find ways to celebrate. Even in a bad economy, there are things to get excited about. Employees still have birthdays; they still achieve milestones in their lives and at work. People get married; kids go off to school. Your company lands a new contract or ships a new product. Somebody gets an award. Honor these moments. Celebrate the little things and bigger things will come along.

Keep these four tips in the front of your mind. Put them into play. Stay at them and you’ll sustain your employees’ engagement through even this lengthiest of downturns.

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