Great Leaders Look for Opportunities to Show This

Great leaders know that success is the result of extra efforts by amazing employees. These leaders look for opportunities to show their appreciation.

Looking for Opportunities

Last week, I was out in the factory and saw my company’s top mechanical engineer working on a drill press. He was modifying parts so they could be used in production. I knew he had been there all morning reworking these parts because we had a big customer order that had to go out. It wasn’t his job but he did it anyway because he cares deeply about the success of our company.

As a leader, I couldn’t just walk by and ignore his efforts. I stopped and talked to him. I told him how much I appreciated him and the work he was doing. He didn’t have to be standing at a drill press all morning working on these production parts but there he was. I had to acknowledge his extra efforts.

The Problem with Most Leaders

The problem with most leaders, however, is they miss these opportunities. Most leaders are sequestered in their offices and oblivious to what’s happening with their teams. They are unaware of the extra efforts their best employees are doing every day. These employees are left feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.

One of the most frustrating things I see in leaders is a negative or indifferent attitude towards people. Many choose a career in leadership who don’t have an appreciation for the impact they have on their teams. Unfortunately, these leaders usually find they are less effective when they lack a people-focused mindset. The reason is that leadership is inherently a people business.

“Leadership is a people business.” Jon S. Rennie

The entire role of a leader is to motivate a team of people towards accomplishing an objective. Great leaders know this and they know it’s important to show appreciation. They also know people are messy. People have issues, problems, emotions, quirks, hang-ups, baggage, and can be unpredictable. A great leader can see past the flaws, love their people, and motivate them to do great things. In my opinion, you can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

“Great leaders aren’t afraid to love their teams.” Donald Miller

A CEO who Cares

Donald Miller, founder and CEO of Storybrand, sees it the same way. I like his thoughts on this subject as he reflects on the culture he built at his company. One of the core values he put in place was to “make his employees’ dreams come true by serving clients faithfully.”  I thought it was interesting that he purposely intertwined serving customers with the dreams of his employees. In his view, loving your employees and showing appreciation means helping them reach their full potential.

“Great leaders can see the greatness in others when they can’t see it themselves and lead them to their highest potential they don’t even know.” Roy T. Bennett

Miller credits the growth of his company to the “secret ingredient” of love. Things changed at his company when they started to live out these core values. As he loved and respected his employees, they loved each other, and they worked as a team to better serve customers. He built a culture of respect with a foundation in love.

He has two fundamental rules which have helped him create a culture of love and respect:

  1. Hire people who are better, smarter and faster than you.
  2. Never mess with their hearts.

Make a Positive Impact

If you’re a leader, you have a deep impact on the lives and careers of the people working for you. You need to be patient with their flaws and take time to truly appreciate their contributions. The biggest problem with employee engagement in most companies today is that employees feel their bosses don’t appreciate them.

Imagine how they will react when they see their boss truly cares!

Reach out to me a Twitter and let me what you do to show appreciation for your team members.

The Problem with Short-Term Bosses

I was talking with some former colleagues the other day about a manager we all knew who had recently been fired. Her time in the role was short and now it was over. None of us were really surprised. She was brought in from outside the company to stir things up. And she did. Upper management wanted quick results so she focused on short-term fixes. She was a bull in a China shop. She brought in her own people, boosted the financials by deep cost-cutting, fired long-term employees, and instituted a top-down autocratic management style. She was laser-focused on short-term results and refused to listen to the concerns of employees and other managers. Anyone who challenged or questioned her authority was let go.

As you can imagine, the business results improved but morale dropped sharply. The good employees eventually all left the company and most of the institutional knowledge left as well. The only people who remained were those that were loyal to her and those that were quietly waiting for her to leave. Fear and anxiety became the norm. As a result, company performance ultimately fell off and all of the short-term gains she had made vanished. The company began to lose money and market share. Eventually, upper management had no choice but to fire her. The damage was done.

“You can’t build a long term future on short term thinking.” Billy Cox

Time and time again, I see companies bringing in short-term managers to fix long-term systemic problems. Often these companies have fundamental, structural flaws that need to be addressed. They have complex problems that need long-term, systemic thinking. Consider the examples of Radio Shack, Sears, K-Mart, and General Electric. Each of these companies has deep-rooted issues that have taken decades to develop. For years, leaders of these companies have focused on a series of attempts at short-term fixes. In the end, this short-term mindset has done little to address the underlying, long-term problems.

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken

Consider a similar company, Levi Strauss & Co. The iconic denim brand reached its peak in 1996 with $7.1 billion in sales. After that, sales declined rapidly. Competition from other brands and a lack of creative and new ideas pushed it from the center of American culture. Young customers were fleeing to newer and trendier “designer jeans.” Levi Strauss was going the way of Blockbuster. It was just a matter of time.

In 2011, a 28-year Proctor & Gamble executive named Chip Bergh took over as CEO. He inherited a company steeped in debt, struggling to reinvent itself in the highly competitive U.S. denim market. Instead of a series of short-term actions, however, he developed a long-term plan to put the iconic brand “back in the center of culture.” Instead of cutting costs, he invested in innovation and a new research-and-development center called the Eureka Innovation Lab. He also went back to basics. He focused the company’s efforts on making the best jeans, especially for women. He purposely stopped chasing other clothing categories that were a distraction. He also became less reliant on retail chains like J.C. Penny’s and Macy’s. Instead, he expanded the network of Levi-branded stores.

What’s even more surprising, is that Levi’s board gave him the time to execute his plan. And, it worked. After six years of implementing his turnaround strategy, Bergh finally saw the results. Levi sales grew by 7.7% in 2017 and by 13.9% in 2018. Last week, Bergh announced plans to take Levi’s public after a 34-year absence from the stock market. Bergh now feels that Levi Strauss has the potential to be a $10 billion company. He stated that “Levi’s lost a generation of consumers in the early 2000s, but today our customers are younger than ever—and we’re gaining momentum as we bring them back.” Long-term thinking brought Levi’s from the brink of collapse back into the center of culture.

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.” Bruce Lee.

Stories like this give me optimism. Senior managers of other struggling companies should be able to see the extraordinary turnaround of Levi Strauss and realize the time and effort that was required to make this happen. This is clear evidence of the power of long-term thinking and the patience required to allow these turnaround plans to come to fruition. Maybe someday we will see an end to short-term managers and the illusion of quick fixes.

Long-term thinking saved your favorite jeans. It can save your organization as well.

As always, reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think.

If you are looking for a good book on long-term thinking, you should read Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking Is Your Best Short-Term Strategy. This book reveals how some of the world’s most prominent business leaders resisted short-term pressures to successfully manage their organizations for the long term, and in turn, aim to create more jobs, more satisfied customers, and more shareholder wealth.

A Good Leader Has Your Back

Strong leaders support their employees and create a high performing culture. Those that don’t create an organization based on fear.

I had spent thousands of dollars of the company’s money to get to this point. It was my first trip to the high power test lab and I was nervous. I was the lead mechanical engineer on a project to design a new electrical apparatus that would be safer than anything available on the market. It would be a breakthrough if we succeeded.

I ran all the calculations. I was confident we would pass the test but I was worried our design might not survive the initial shock wave. An electrical short at 15,000 volts is violent and, despite my calculations, I knew anything could go wrong. I spent the morning getting everything ready for the first test. By noon, it was go-time. There was no backing down.

Less than one second after the fault current was applied, my worst fears were realized. The gear exploded violently. Parts flew off in every direction. It wasn’t just a failure, it was an absolute disaster. I had failed spectacularly.

I walked over to the test bay and surveyed the scene. The product was completely destroyed. There was nothing left but a smoking carcass and the smell of melted copper. I knew I had to call my boss and I knew it wouldn’t be good. I would probably lose my job for this. I was discouraged. My days as a design engineer were probably over.

I returned to the control room and called my boss. I explained what had happened. Expecting the worst, I was shocked at his response. He said, “Do you know why it failed?” My answer was yes. He then asked, “Do you know how to fix it?” Again, my answer was yes. Without any emotion, he said, “Well, get back here and get the redesign done so you can return to the lab.”

I knew right then my boss had my back. Instead of chastising me, he had encouraged me. Instead of losing my job, he had given me a new assignment. My respect for him skyrocketed. After that interaction, I knew I had a good boss and I wanted to make him proud. And I did. I returned to the lab a short month later and passed every test. We were the first to the market with this new technology

A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. – Russell H. Ewing

This happened to me more than 20 years ago and I can still remember exactly how I felt that day. I felt empowered knowing I had a boss who would stand behind me even if I made a mistake.

A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him. – H. S. M. Burns

Unfortunately, many bosses these days don’t understand the power of supporting their employees. Too many bosses won’t back up their team members when bad things happen. As soon as anything casts a shadow on the leader, they abandon their people. They don’t want to get in trouble themselves. They are looking out for their own careers. They walk away and let the employee take the fall.

This is the worst type of leader. When something goes wrong, they immediately leave you hanging or worse, they throw you under the bus. They want all the glory, but they don’t want to take any blame for failures. What’s worse is that everyone in the organization knows this and it deeply affects the culture.

When employees know they have a boss that won’t back them up if anything bad happens, they stop taking chances. They stop trying new things. They stop pushing the envelope of what’s possible. They’re afraid to fail. And that fear grinds the organization to a halt. The organization becomes stagnant and good people start looking for other opportunities.

“A bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.” – Unknown

I will never forget the kindness of that boss. He put me ahead of his own career. I’m sure he caught hell for the delays and expense but, he never mentioned anything to me. He knew I was doing something that hadn’t been done before and there was a chance for failure. He stood behind me and motivated me to get back up again and keep going. In the end, the product was a success and the company was enormously successful because he had my back.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

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