Can you imagine what would have happened if in a brainstorming session at Apple several years ago Steve Jobs said something like,
“Listen up everybody. A guy approached me earlier and showed me an old jukebox that still works. It reminded me… I love jukeboxes. Always have. Always will. So, I am dedicating millions of dollars to the mass development of jukeboxes. If we market ourselves effectively, I think every home in America will have a jukebox within ten years.”
I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to conclude the entire organization would have considered Jobs not fit to remain at the helm. Steve Jobs was a brilliant man, but part of his brilliance that often goes unnoticed is that he purposefully chose to surround himself with “think outside the box” people. He wanted a culture that dared to be innovative – to not just be in front of the competition, but to revolutionize the way people interacted with technology. The result: over 50% of all American households now own at least one Apple device.
Everyone can’t be Steve Jobs, but every organization can strive to be innovative.
Leaders can stop and listen to the ideas of those in the trenches. They can take the time to study employee development trends and, even when budgets are tight, find a way to implement a pro-development culture. Organizations who ignore strategic allotment of such energies may soon find themselves facing a major talent crunch. In other words, they may attempt to survive by remaining a jukebox culture in an iTunes world.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like jukeboxes. When I was a teen, I loved going down to the arcade, dropping a quarter in the jukebox, and heading off to save the planet from space invaders. But here’s the deal – what used to involve a trip from my house to the arcade now involves grabbing my iPad and having the entire music universe at my fingertips. I can still enjoy a jukebox occasionally. I might even purchase one for my game room one day, but I can assure you I won’t strap one to my back and carry it around with me for my music listening pleasure.
Organizations must similarly adapt. I am not advocating tossing out every tradition or sentimental memory. However, you do need to recognize that our greater culture’s technology is dramatically shifting. That means the way we equip our employees who serve that greater culture must shift as well. Some questions to consider:
- Who are our “brilliant” people?
- Are we listening to their input?
- What non-functioning systems are we still trying to make work?
- Do we have a mechanism in place to creatively brainstorm solutions?
- What part of our past is foundational and what part is no longer functional?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. So drop a quarter in the jukebox, make your selection, and share your feedback – or you can just tell Siri to do it.
Happy Training and Development!
Sometimes great leadership lessons come from unexpected places. This week, we have had a 14-year-old boy named Noah, who has both mild mental retardation and autism, as a house guest for spring break. His gentle, loving spirit is an inspiration in general, but what caught me by surprise was his modeling of exceptional leadership traits that we should all be striving to achieve.
You always know exactly where Noah is coming from. When he wants something, he communicates with directness to make his expectations very clear. (“I want mac and cheese not steak.”) All too often, leaders fail to communicate clearly what their expectations really are, and their team is left to speculate on what success looks like. The net result is anxiety and frustration among followers who are ready to march if they can just figure out where the leader wants them to march!
Although it sometimes feels a little blunt, you know exactly what Noah is thinking at all times. (“I don’t like green beans.”) Too many leaders spend so much time “packaging” their comments to avoid any criticism that their team is never absolutely sure what the leader’s agenda is or what the leader really thinks about a particular subject. Followers who are unsure about what the leader really thinks will always translate that fuzziness into a lack of commitment. Clarity always precedes commitment.
A Passion for the Mission
Noah used our iPad to create his own movie production operation starring Mr. Potato Head, Buzz Lightyear, and a wide cast of other characters. Each movie production involved lighting and dialogue and action (lots of action). With each movie “production”, his enthusiasm for the effort was unmistakable. As leaders, our team needs to know that we authentically believe in the mission. If we are passionless about the mission, our team will be even more so. Being lukewarm never inspires passion in your team.
Excitement for the Vision
As he produced each of his movies, Noah wanted to share the vision he had created with everyone. His enthusiasm for what he was creating made you want to be a part of it. As a leader, if you are excited and enthusiastic about your vision, it will be contagious. If your team thinks you find the vision boring, so will they — and a boring vision will never inspire great accomplishment!
Honor, Dignity and Respect for Others
Noah puts his dishes up on his own, treats each person he talks to with respect, and generally treats everyone in a way that lets you know he cares about you as a person. He doesn’t care who is most important, who has the most money, or who is the most powerful. You can just tell that he authentically cares about you as a person “just because”. There is no greater key to developing committed followers than for them to know that you authentically care about them as individuals.
Great leadership lessons sometimes come from unexpected places. And great leaders are constant learners who are passionately committed to their mission; convey excitement about their vision and expectations with honesty and clarity; and treat others with honor, dignity and respect no matter what.
I’m thinking about the personal challenge of being a free agent. I work for myself, and I serve in a number of collaborations and independent contractor business relationships. I teach in a community college and speak in multiple gatherings under more than one umbrella, including my own.
But when I am not speaking or teaching, I work… alone. In a home office, with my Pandora Radio on and my iMac and my iPad. I see no one, I interact with no one, and I have to develop my own work approach — my own work schedule. I am in charge of strategy, execution, marketing, networking, content development, and anything/everything else for my own Me, Inc.
It’s likely that if you work in the public sector, then your experience is somewhat different than mine; but in reality, every one of us ultimately functions as a team of one. I teach that all persuasion is self-persuasion; all motivation is self-motivation.
Well, it is also a self-leadership world. We really do have to persuade and motivate and encourage and lead ourselves.
Here’s a wonderfully profound and simple line from the book The Inner Work of Leaders:
“Every person leads a team of one.”
So, the question is, “How do you lead yourself?”
If you think about leadership in general, you know the elements: a leader sets the agenda, does a little to a lot of overseeing of execution, coaches and encourages, and rewards and criticizes at just the right times in just the right ways. Leadership done right involves successful building of functional teams and provides correctives that are needed.
Let me make one very specific and practical suggestion: you need to schedule a weekly meeting with your leader — i.e., with yourself. That meeting is to go over what you would go over with any leader. Ask these questions:
- Am I doing what I need to do be doing with my time?
- Am I meeting with the people with whom I need to be meeting?
- Am I spending enough time in marketing and networking? (It is common wisdom that you have to do some actual marketing every day!)
- Am I successfully working on my short-term challenges and saving the right amount of time to work on long-term strategy?
- What am I not doing well, and what do I need to do to better and/or correct for greater success?
This list of questions is simply illustrative and can grow to be pretty long. But without that weekly meeting with your leader (you!), then these questions will go unanswered, and then forgotten.
So, are you having that weekly meeting with your leader/yourself? It may be time to take the job of leading yourself much more seriously.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Good leaders are catalysts. As a catalyst, a good leader causes good things to happen that wouldn’t happen without his/her leadership. Leaders cannot do everything, but they can make decisions and do things that cascade into something dramatically more dynamic. That’s what it means to be a catalyst.
If you don’t think you have that kind of ability as a leader, check out this short video and consider the way that Coach Peter Morales served as a catalyst.
What a heart-warming video, right? And obviously, it all started with a decision that the coach made to let Mitchell play. Think for a moment about what Coach Morales’ decision did.
- It honored and elevated Mitchell and gave him an opportunity that only the coach could give him.
- His example motivated his team to be unselfish as they sought to help Mitchell score a basket.
- It energized the people who might otherwise have been just casual spectators to cheer for something greater than a game. The crowd saw a bigger picture and a greater purpose.
- It even motivated a player on the opposing team. (Wouldn’t it be great to be the kind of leader who brought out the best in everyone—even people who seem to be the opposition?)
Not every decision has that kind of dramatic impact. However, every decision a leader makes empowers someone and dis-empowers someone, and a wise leader never forgets his/her role as a catalyst.
Way to go, Mitchell! We’re all proud for you! And thanks, Coach Morales, for giving us a great example of what it means to be a catalyst.
“Any publicity is good publicity.” Ummm… sure. Maybe for celebrities, but many organizations know that’s not the case.
However, you shouldn’t be so focused on preventing or reacting to bad press that you forget to be proactive about good press.
YOU need to be the one getting the word out about your organization’s progress because, let’s face it, it’s not the kind of news the media will be knocking down your doors to find out about.
Who else is going to spread the word about your budget surplus? What about that sustainability award your department received?
It doesn’t always have to be something major, either. It can be any relevant information that lets the public know that you truly are serving them. However, it only works if you Keep it Simple (remember?)
With or without the media, you have a job to inform your audience. You know… the people subscribing to your newsletters, receiving your e-mail blasts, and following you on your social media websites. They’re the people you have to keep in the know—and they’re the ones who are most likely to have stake in the information you give them.
Besides, if it’s a slow enough news day, your story will be reported by a local media outlet anyways—just don’t expect it to be featured front and center.
“At long last I have been learning to work. By that I mean that there is in my daily life a satisfactory predominance of activity over passivity, of reality over fantasy, of creation over conception. It continues to astonish me that this simple human ability to work brings so much additional pleasure, order, solace, and meaning to my life.”
– Sarah Ruddick, A Work of One’s Own
Most employees do not have an aversion to work. Quite the contrary, millions of employees show up daily and expend countless energies moving the business strategy or their organizations forward. Along the way, they learn to do their jobs effectively. A question I wrestle with however is, “While employees are learning to work are they also learning to love their work?”
You’ve heard the adage; “It’s not work if you love doing it.” Well, that may be true for some professions, but according to statistics, many Americans are not as satisfied with their jobs as you might think. In a November 2012 poll, Gallup reported, “Overall, just under half of American workers, 47%, are completely satisfied with their job, while 42% are somewhat satisfied, and a combined 11% are either completely or somewhat dissatisfied.
So, what is an employer to do? Obviously, you cannot make employees love their jobs. However, you can create an atmosphere that encourages employees to fully engage in their work. Here are a handful of ideas to consider:
Focus on creating trust. If employees do not feel safe, they will not take risks. Whether that be exercising creativity or reporting malfeasance, employees who are mocked or fear reprisal or retribution simply will not fully engage. Don’t just say, “You can trust me,” but model it relentlessly.
Catch them doing something right. Peter Drucker’s counsel to “find employees doing something right” is timeless. If you do not consistently say, “Thanks!” or “The way you handled that situation was awesome!” or “Keep up the great work!” then you may find yourself experiencing turnover. Don’t embrace the “blame others when things go wrong” mentality. Instead, look for what is working and encourage employees to keep doing it!
Don’t sit on your pinches. Several years ago, I heard a broken expectation described as a “pinch.” Pinches hurt. The harder the pinch, the more pain experienced. In the workplace, we must encourage our employees to not sit on their pinches! In other words, when expectations are broken, take time to talk through it, change processes if necessary, rectify if possible; and if not, allow time to vent, adjust, acclimate, and move on.
Let’s keep the conversation going – what contributes to you loving your job?
Popular speaker and prolific author Dr. Gary Smalley used to say that if you want to build good memories and a close family, go on a vacation and hope that something goes wrong. Why? Because it’s when there’s a problem that people rise to the challenge and bond together.
I’ve discovered that this same principle works with teams in the workplace, too. We don’t usually have to “hope” something goes wrong. There’s always a crisis that appears to be a distraction or a hindrance to our success, right? But, maybe what seems to be a problem is actually a blessing in disguise.
I work with a particular city that has great chemistry within its management team. While many cities battle to break down silos and overcome turfism, this city exemplifies teamwork. When I asked the city manager why it was this way, he spoke about a crisis that they faced in the past that forced the team to work together.
Max DePree says that the first task of a leader is to define reality, and that’s what the city manager had to do. As he honestly communicated, “This is what we’re facing, and we must face it together,” it brought his team together. Even though they are all excellent leaders in their own areas of expertise, they are even stronger as a team.
So the next time you’re facing a crisis, large or small, seize the opportunity to make the most of it. Here’s how:
- Shoot straight.
Define things accurately. Don’t be melodramatic, but don’t water down the truth, either.
- Focus on finding the solution—not on placing the blame.
(There’s probably enough blame to go around, but that’s not the issue right now.)
- Abandon yourself to the strength of others.
Here’s a tricky part. You may already know what needs to be done. However, instead of declaring the solution, it may be more beneficial to allow your team to discover and develop the solution together. Yes, it will take more time, and they may not do it exactly like you would have, but the dividends in terms of teamwork will be worth it. (Besides, it may be a better solution!)
- Keep calm and carry on.
One of the best leadership lessons I ever learned was from a retired navy officer. He often said, “There is no real crisis until there is a crisis of confidence.” As the leader, you have to define reality; but, at the same time, you have to project confidence. Good leaders avoid both denial and panic.
Within those parameters, your staff will find the energy, chemistry, and creativity to meet the challenge… and you might just discover that in the process they become a team.