A couple of weeks ago, I found one of my all-time favorite leadership books, which had been packed up in a box for almost two years. I have read and re-read this book so many times that even with it packed away, I could distinctly remember several parts of it. Finding it was like a reunion with an old friend. Good books are like good friends—you remember a lot about them even when you aren’t with them, but when you’re with them, you realize that there’s so much more to them than what you remembered! That’s what it was like for me as I reacquainted myself with this book.
I’m talking about Leadership is an Art by Max DePree. This book, originally published in 1989, is rich with leadership insights and was foundational in shaping my own philosophy of effective leadership. DePree was the longtime CEO of Herman Miller Furniture Company, widely recognized for its innovation and quality. It’s a company with soul, so not surprisingly, when DePree writes, he speaks less about the mechanics of leadership and more about the soul of leadership. He raises some issues that many others ignore. If you want to be a great leader, it’s not the only leadership book you should read, but it’s one you shouldn’t skip.
DePree talks about the importance of creating the right kind of culture for employees to be successful. He doesn’t neglect the importance of structural environment, but says that managerial environment is even more important. But how do you create the right kind of managerial environment?
He suggests that if you understand what questions employees are asking themselves about their job, you will know what kind of culture you need to create. Here’s a list of questions that DePree says employees are asking themselves:
- Does what I do count?
- Does what I do make a difference to anybody?
- Why should I come here? (Especially on Mondays!)
- Can I be somebody here?
- Is there for me any rhyme or reason here?
- Can I “own” this place?
- Does coming here add any richness to my life?
- Is this a place where I can learn something?
- Is there anybody here I can trust?
- Is this place open to my influence?
What he’s really getting at is the matter of employee engagement. And since we continue to hear that only about 20% of American employees are fully engaged in their jobs today, perhaps one of the solutions is for managers to start building a “Managerial Culture” in which employees could answer these questions positively. I’m pretty sure that not only would it result in employees being more engaged, efficiency and production would rise as well.