Leadership and the Attitude Contagion

catfrownDuring my active career, I used to spend a lot of time travelling for business so hotel stays for me became somewhat commonplace. And, I experienced a variety of attitudes from hotel staff as well.

On one particular trip to Toronto, I stayed in a hotel that was, and is, a rather posh place to hang your hat so I was quite looking forward to the experience.

Even so, on arrival, I felt an unmistakable chill in the air… and it wasn’t the air conditioning. The bellman, a rather tall and portly man, looked distinctly unhappy. In truth, his attitude toward me had a whiff of disdain about it as he unlocked the door to my room and ushered me, unceremoniously, inside. Hmmm, I thought, not a good start.

Once in the room, I realized there was no hair dryer in the bathroom. And so I phoned housekeeping. The Housekeeping department tersely informed me that while they would supply me with a hair dryer, I would only be allowed to keep it in my room for half an hour. Really?

This person didn’t sound happy either. Needless to say nor was I.

In contrast, my husband and I once went on a short road trip to Vancouver, Washington. We stayed at the Heathman Lodge, an upscale hotel built to blend harmoniously with the Pacific Northwest environment.

Here, we were warmly welcomed. The hotel staff was upbeat, positive and friendly. I saw no miserable faces, no reluctance to serve and no disdainful glances.

In the restaurant adjacent to the hotel our experience was even better. The wait staff was more than accommodating. And each morning at breakfast, Cecily greeted us with a cheerful smile. Cecily exuded happiness. She and the others, who all remained cheerful in spite of the busy breakfast period, helped us set our own moods for the day

People were happy. And so was I.

So what’s the message here? Well, there are a number of them but one that stands out for me is this. Attitude is contagious.

If you are a leader, formally designated or otherwise, know that you are probably also a Chief Attitude Officer.

Simply put, that means the atmosphere in your place of work is created largely by the attitude you bring to it. And, as it is unlikely anyone wants to encourage an attitude that creates unhappiness in employees and customers alike, here are a few thoughts about making positivity the contagion of choice:

Know What You Value

Being clear about what is important to us as human beings is critical to creating a kind of internal compass that guides our choices and decisions. In the workplace, knowing what we value and doing work that aligns with those values is equally important. If there is a misalignment of values between the leader and those who follow, then generally, a less than positive working environment is the result and poor attitudes tend to prevail.

Be Consistent

Okay so it’s one thing to be clear about our values. It’s possibly another to demonstrate them consistently. Like it or not, the leader is the role model. If the leader strays from the values being espoused, it is likely that everyone else will too. So, not only do we have to be clear about what they are and believe in them, we have to live by them and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to them as well.

Be Generous

Most businesses and organizations provide service in some form or another. And, even within organizations, everyone serves someone. To me, generosity is the key to success in this.

Generosity is one of those things that spills over from one person to the next. It makes sense then that if a leader’s approach to those who follow is generous in nature, that attitude will transfer to others and serve to lift the mood of everyone who comes in contact with it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

 

Note: This is a refreshed version of a post I wrote in 2010

 

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The Importance of Being Purposeful

This is a refreshed version of a post I wrote in March, 2010

=======================================

why-am-I-hereWhen I first came to Vancouver to take up my new role as a Human Resources Consultant with a major bank, my boss and I agreed that I should go on a road trip and meet with as many corporate banking employees as possible. It was sort of an orientation thing for me and perhaps provided a chance for everyone else to give me the “once over”. Coming from Toronto, it seemed I was automatically not to be trusted.

On one occasion, I was to talk with a number of Corporate Account Managers. My intent was to get to know them as individuals; to learn about their ambitions; their challenges; and how we might better support their efforts. It is entirely possible though that I did not adequately declare my goal, because the first person I encountered, pulled his chair very close to mine; stared sharply into my face and said, “I make money for the bank. What do you do?

Aside from the obvious attempt to intimidate me, his question was meant to suggest that as a person who made no direct contribution to the bottom line, whatever my purpose, I was an expense to the organization and consequently, of less value.

This is not an uncommon perspective to take, especially in large organizations. But at the time, I couldn’t help but think  there was something gravely missing from this outlook.

It occurs to me now that “making money for the bank”, while an admirable outcome, did not tell me anything about what this fellow saw as his purpose. And, for me at least, there is something lost when a person seems to view his primary raison d’être as making money.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I like money as well as the next person and there is a primal need to earn it and manage it prudently. But, the purpose of most jobs, or even most businesses is probably not principally about money. It is more than likely something else, something that has to do with providing a service. Making money is an outcome of that. The amount of money earned is usually determined by the quality and consistency of the service delivered and the ability of those who deliver it, to engender loyalty among a growing constituency.

But sometimes I think we forget. We take our eye away from our fundamental purpose and allow ourselves to get fixated on the dollars. And that’s when we risk running afoul of ourselves. We become greedy. We get our priorities out of order. And then we get into trouble.

For instance, there continue to be number of “recall” situations in the automobile industry. Somewhere along the line, I suspect the affected companies have strayed from their fundamental purpose, which to me goes something like; Make good, reliable cars & keep people safe, or something to that effect. It doesn’t have to be complicated. People just have to know what it is and be able to access it when they need to re-focus.

And that is where good leadership is key. People need to know why their jobs exist; whom they are there to serve; and how it all fits together.

I think this is so because…

It helps us in making good decisions and prioritizing appropriately.

If we train ourselves to ask the question; How will doing this, (or not doing this) help me to serve my purpose? The answer will often give us the information we need to move forward.

It helps us when we tackle problems.

Often problems can start to build on each other and become so complex that we get lost in them. When this happens, it sometimes helps to get back to the basic questions like;  What is my main purpose and who am I here to serve?

It helps us stay connected to the overall purpose of the organization.

Knowing why our jobs exist and how they fit into the bigger picture makes it easier to stay focused on what’s important.

It gives value to every role in the organization, not just a few.

If you nurture a culture that identifies the purpose and value of each job in relation to the overall vision and to each other, everyone in the organization has an opportunity to feel important.

It promotes good stewardship.

If we are clear about our purpose, it is that much easier to recognize and fulfill our responsibilities to those we serve.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

Oh, and here’s an afterthought for you to chew on…or not.

I tend to be an idealist and often write about the way things “should be” but I find myself having to acknowledge that some people actually see “making money” as their primary purpose, and no kind of proof to the contrary could convince them otherwise. 
However, for most of us anyway, a purpose like that is too fragile and volatile to sustain and build on over time with the consequences of the ups and downs such a purpose suggests being way too heavy for most people to endure.

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Employee Engagement…What’s in a Name?


Naming-pic1A few years ago,  I was spending a lot of time at the hospital. My husband had had a serious stroke and so my days were spent largely going to and fro, admittedly in a bit of a haze. I didn’t have time to notice too much of anything outside the small sphere of my personal concern but there was one thing that stood out, one thing that I noticed each morning as I walked past.

The Hospital Human Resources Department had changed its name to The Employee Engagement Department.

At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what they might be doing differently now that they weren’t doing when they were called The Human Resources Department. And it started me thinking. It’s easy to change a name but not so easy to live up to it. In the case of the hospital employees, I wondered what their experience was like working under the newly popular umbrella of Employee Engagement. Were they more interested or involved? Were they happier? Were their issues and concerns being heard more than before? Were their opinions being sought out more often? Were their teams more functional and productive? Did they feel more energized and valued? Were the hospital’s costs better managed or the patients’ experience enhanced?

Of course I don’t know the real answers to any of those questions except to say that my short observation of this particular hospital staff led me to believe that not much had appreciably changed.  And perhaps that’s the point. You can change the label on something but it won’t make the substance of it any different unless you a do something differently or introduce something new. Simply calling it something else just doesn’t get the job done. So maybe there are a couple of ways of looking at this. Do you change the name first to create a mental visual around what you want to achieve? Or, do you re-label only when you can be satisfied that what you have to offer bears a reasonable resemblance to the name you give it? I’m kind of leaning to the latter here. After all if you take a cherry pie and label it “apple”, it may resemble an apple pie from the outside but unless you change what’s inside, it’s going to stay a cherry pie no matter what you call it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Note: a refreshed version of an original posted in March 2010

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Leadership & Creating an Environment of Service

Servamt Leadership 2 No_optA lot has been said about the leader as “servant”. I expect, given that it is a relatively young term (having been ‘born’ in 1970), it is also subject to wide interpretation. As such, while some people will experience great results from their efforts to serve, others will consider it a fad that will go away if they ignore it. Still others will make every effort to embrace the notion of the Servant Leader but find themselves exhausted, confused and possibly resentful because people seem to be walking all over them.

So what to do?

Well, first I’m thinking that we need some clarity about what it means to serve or be a servant. So I looked it up in a number of dictionaries and found this:

“Servant leaders are humble stewards of their organizations’ resources.”

A Servant is one who serves another, providing help in some manner.”

“A servant is a person who performs duties for others”.

So far so good.

Then I went to the Thesaurus for some synonyms for the word servant. Between the words attendant and steward lay these words, lackey, flunky, minion and drudge.  Okay then, herein may lie a problem.

Perhaps it is that many of us, when we think of the term Servant Leadership, take this subservient perspective (a.k.a. lackey, flunky, minion and drudge). In other words, it suggests that by serving, we are also submitting to the whims of others for no other reason than to render them superior. And, let’s face it, our egos are going to have a hard time with that. So, if you have been leaning in that direction when you think about the notion of Servant Leadership, I have some good news for you. I don’t think it’s about that at all.

Here’s what I do believe it’s about. It’s about…

knowing the Over-arching purpose I believe a good servant leader will focus on an over-arching purpose. This purpose becomes the master and the guide for all activities undertaken within the framework of the company. The leader serves the purpose through people. For instance, Southwest airlines’ over-arching purpose is stated as: “To provide the best service and lowest fares to the short haul, frequent-flying, point-to-point, non-interlining traveler.” This simple statement lets everyone know why Southwest Airlines is in business and whom it is there to serve.

However, in order to succeed, this understanding of service must permeate the organization and so it also becomes the role of the leader to:

Serve the people who are working to fulfill the over-arching purpose. This means providing the resources needed for people to do their jobs well and happily. It includes delivering needed training, supplies, connections, information, accommodation, direction and anything else that allows people working in the company to move the organization closer to the achievement of its purpose.

Encourage and develop an environment where people serve each other.  Where we can go wrong with this servant leadership thing is that we fail to expect all people working in the organization to serve too. Or, we simply don’t convey it very well.

Those who believe servant leadership to be a role only for the designated leader would be wrong. In truth, an environment that embraces service will do so in an all-encompassing way. This means that regardless of title or position, each person will both lead and serve another, or a group of others, to achieve company goals and make a contribution to the achievement of its purpose.

So, having said all that, what does it actually take to create this environment where service is king? Well, for what it’s worth, this is what I think about that.

It takes Discipline: Staying focused on the over-arching purpose and using it, as a guide for providing service to others is not easy. As humans, we can become easily distracted. It may be easy to stay the course and remain true to the purpose when times are good. But, when they are not so good, it becomes tempting to stray and do what is expedient instead.

It takes Humility: Putting others before ourselves is sometimes a challenge, especially in business, but humility is an essential ingredient in a successful service environment. I’m not talking about being obsequious here. I’m talking about simply being unselfish and mindful of others’ needs and contributions.

It takes Collaboration: Simply put, in order to serve the purpose and each other, we have to learn to work together, avoid internal politics and protectionism and share our ideas and resources with each other more freely.

It takes Trust: Trust is often an earned thing. However, a leader who serves the people will, in my view anyway, start from a platform of trust rather than skepticism. In my experience, people respond well to a leader who conveys faith in their intent. People who feel trusted are more likely to be willing to serve the over-arching purpose. Will you be disappointed? Yep, from time to time you will. But, if you start out not trusting my hunch is you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

And:

It takes Faith: I’m not talking about the religious kind of faith here. I’m talking about the kind of faith that makes you believe so strongly in your company’s purpose and its people that all of your activities centre around them and the financial results that you realize from that come as a by-product of your collective effort.

So, is servant leadership for the faint of heart? I’d say no. Is it about subservience, or slavery? Certainly not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Note: this post was originally published in 2010.

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Filed under communication, Customer Service, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, organizational Development

Trust: If You Build It, They Will Come…and Stay

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Trust. It’s a small word and yet, it holds the key to success in just about every walk of life. And, it’s one of those things that is often hard earned yet easily destroyed. That makes it precious.

From a corporate perspective, we all pretty much know that building trust in organizations is key. But what does it look like when it’s in action? Well,

here are some ideas around what we might see in an organization that has successfully built high levels of trust.

As a Boss, people are open and candid with me. They trust that I’m not in the business of shooting messengers or punishing anyone for giving me straight and honest information about myself or anything else for that matter. People working with me, are not afraid to be creative or try new things. And, when they make mistakes, they own up to them and are willing to share their lessons with others. As a boss too, I strive for transparency in my dealings with others and that means I talk to them, ask for their opinions and listen to their advice. I feel well rewarded and highly regarded.

As part of a team, I don’t waste time engaging in gratuitous political maneuverings. I focus instead on building solid and positive relationships with my colleagues for my benefit, and for the team. I trust them to do the same. I make sure I fulfill my responsibilities to the team and the organization and take pride in both what I produce and what the team produces. My team and I enjoy working together and pitch in to do whatever work needs doing, even if it is technically “not my job”. I always get the credit I deserve for the contributions I make. I feel that I belong.

As an individual contributor, I make sure that I understand my role in the organization and if I am unsure, I ask someone who can teach me. Similarly, if I have knowledge that someone else does not have, but needs, I am not hesitant about sharing what I know. I trust that sharing will give us all the power we need to do our jobs well and succeed. I feel competent and important.

As a sales person, I believe in my product. My clients’ needs come before my own. Many of my clients have been with me for a long time. I continue to work to earn their ongoing loyalty. I am not afraid to approach my boss if I think my client has needs that could be met differently. I offer my ideas freely. I have earned my clients’ respect. I do not feel the need to compete with my colleagues except in a way that challenges us all to do better. I feel productive and successful.

As an organization, we continue to experience growth in our business. Our client base is strong and increasing. Our employees are actively engaged in building and supporting our business. We value their contribution and make every effort to acknowledge their accomplishments in a variety of ways that have meaning for them. We feel confident about the future.

Okay, so some of this might sound a bit utopian. I mean, I used to have a boss that hid around corners at lunch hour trying to catch people taking more than their allotted time for lunch. While hopefully, bosses who behave like that are going the way of the dinosaur, I suspect a lot of work has yet to be done to build the kind of trust it takes to bring all of the scenarios I describe to life.

Nonetheless it is perhaps something to strive for because the price of under-valuing, (or worse, not doing), the work of building trust in organizations is very high indeed.

I am reminded, strangely, of a little clip from the movie City Slickers where Jack Palance’s character, Curly, talks about the “one thing” that holds the secret of life. Here it is:

When it comes to the secret of successful organizations, I tend to think that the “one thing” is trust.

What do you think?

*Note: originally posted in February 2010

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The Story of A Great Leader

teacherIf you were to ask me to describe someone who demonstrated greatness in leadership, I
might be tempted to paint the picture of a larger-than-life super hero, perhaps a president, a king, or a captain of industry.

I might not come up with Roberta Guaspari. Nonetheless I believe she is just that, a great leader.

Roberta Guaspari teaches children to play the violin. When she first started, she was a single parent to two young boys. To earn her living she arranged to provide violin lessons in school to the children of East Harlem. What she had going for her was the love of music; the ability to play; and the strong desire to make a difference for children whose opportunities were limited by their circumstances.

She has a clear and passionate vision which is simply,“for kids to have music in their lives

She believes that her vision is important because music, “empowers these children with the ability to make something beautiful that allows them to believe in themselves and know they’re special”

This is Roberta’s primary purpose, to help children love music, play music and believe in themselves. It is not about money or attention for herself but about something bigger than that, much bigger.  She is a great leader because not only can she see a better future for the children she teaches, she helps them get there, even against great odds.

In 1991, Roberta’s music program was cut from the school board budget. That meant, not only was she out of a job but the children (and their parents), who so depended on her, would lose something that had become vital to their development and future.

Roberta did not back down. Instead, she kept her focus. She forged relationships with people who had the power to help. And they did. She plucked up her courage and made much larger strides than I suspect even she thought herself capable of. Throughout it all, it seems  she never lost sight of her primary purpose.

Empathy, Vision, Focus, Determination, Courage, …and a violin. This is what makes Roberta Guaspari a great leader.

And, (the violin, notwithstanding),  such qualities exist in other great leaders, each of whom typically:

  • Have clear, well-articulated visions of the future
  • Lead with great will, humility and focus
  • Build strong alliances with a variety of people
  • Strive to achieve things that are greater than themselves and for the greater good

To demonstrate that the kind of leadership I describe can bring great results, here is a clip of Roberta Guaspari presenting her students at Carnegie Hall in a fine performance accompanied by Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Mark O’Connor.

Great leadership Indeed.  that’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

Note: This is a refreshed version of a post I wrote in 2010.

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Five Elements That Help Create Real Teams

2137737248_e9f3e429d1_zThe word “team” is a perfectly good word but one in great danger of crossing the line that divides meaningful language from jargon. We’ve probably all heard it.

You have to be a team player“, they say.

I am a team player,” they write on their resumes,

And, even CEO’s talk to the masses of the importance of being on the “team”

You get the idea.

The point is that we throw around this word “team” in a very cavalier fashion, maybe because it has that warm glow of inclusion about it. Who knows?

So, what do we have to do to ensure that we are creating real teams?

Well, I have a few thoughts about that and here they are.

We are likely creating a real team when we ensure that:

Everyone on the team clearly understands its purpose

This seems a bit obvious but really, sometimes people come together assuming that they share the same idea as to why they’re there but this isn’t always the case. As such, it is always wise to ensure that the purpose and objectives of the team are commonly understood. It might take a little extra time and patience to get there, but failing to gain this kind of clarity can result in people running around like chickens in a yard, accomplishing nothing.

Individuals on the team each know their roles in fulfilling the purpose

Presumably, when we form teams, we do it with some idea as to how each member can contribute. However, it is always a good practice to give people an opportunity to say where they might make their best contribution. After all, it stands to reason that we do our best work when we are operating from our strengths. And, I expect we are that much happier about it too. As well, knowing where we, and our skills fit into the fulfillment of the team’s purpose helps us keep on track.

Individuals on the team see their roles as being no more, or no less important than anyone else’s

To me, a true team does not involve hierarchy. Yes, there is usually a team leader in the formal sense but the thing that is placed highest in the minds of all of the team members, including its leader, is the fulfillment of the purpose. That means that the work becomes more important than any individual’s need to be, or be seen to be, the boss.

We pay attention to the team dynamic every time a new member is introduced

The nature and culture of a team is something of a sensitive thing. The informed leader will appreciate that the introduction of a new member requires a period of adjustment, a little time to review team roles, skills and potential contribution. It is a time of orientation for the new member and for re-balancing and re-connecting to the purpose for the rest. It need not be a long drawn-out thing but without it, it is easy to lose the clarity required to get things done.

The team works together until its purpose is fulfilled.

It must be said that when one purpose is fulfilled, it is not unusual for teams to re-form and focus on achieving another goal. In this way teams can stay intact for a long time, changing and transforming as new people join and others leave. However, I think that in order to have a raison d’être a real team always needs to be able to easily connect to a tangible purpose.

Of course, nothing is simple. There are all kinds of teams… independent teams, interdependent teams, multi-disciplinary teams, sports teams, project teams, self-managed teams. Each has its challenges. But, it seems to me that no matter how big or complicated the team is, to capably function as a team, these elements have to be present.

Otherwise, it’s probably a group.

And by the way… you don’t have to be a member of a team to fulfill a worthy purpose or accomplish good things. But, if you say you are part of a team just know that it takes more than just saying it to make it so.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams, Teambuilding