Spirit of the Squirrel

Did you know that squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter?

That’s why they work so hard in the fall.

Food is scarce in the colder months so they prepare by finding and burying large stores of acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts.

So, what does this have to do with leadership?

Everything.

You see, squirrels don’t see their hard work in fall as hard work at all. They see it as important and worthwhile. If they don’t put in this effort, they will starve in the winter.

The spirit of the squirrel is this – worthwhile work.

Worthwhile work is doing something because you know it’s important. You know how your work affects the big picture so you are motivated to get it done right. It’s a simple concept I learned years ago in a book called Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.

Worthwhile work is doing something because you know it's important. Click To Tweet

The problem is that most bosses don’t take time to help employees connect their work to the bigger picture.

I saw this at one manufacturing plant I led when I first arrived. We were producing 15,000-volt circuit breakers for electric utilities to ensure the power stayed on.

When I first asked employees what they did, they would tell me they drilled holes, ran a CNC machine, or plated parts.

Management hadn’t connected their work to the bigger picture.

As far as they knew, they were just making widgets in a factory.

So, we set about to change that by teaching and showing employees how the products they produced were vitally important to the electrical grid and what would happen if there was a failure of one of our products in the field.

It didn’t happen overnight, but in time, the employees at this plant began to understand that their work was important, their work was worthwhile. There was pride in what they were doing.

Instead of making widgets, they were helping keep the lights on.

Like a squirrel in the fall, their motivation changed. Their work was now connected to the bigger picture. They realized how important their work really was.

I tell this story because I was reminded of this simple concept in a recent podcast episode I did with Max Hourigan.

Max is a company commander in the Army National Guard.

His company of infantrymen was called up to respond to the COVID crisis. His entire team of soldiers was converted into COVID testers. They were trained to become medical personnel and to man mobile testing centers during the initial wave of the pandemic.

When I asked Max how his soldiers responded to being asked to go to the front lines of a global pandemic and act as medical personnel, his answer sounded familiar.

He said – at first they were concerned. They were worried about their health and that of their families. Being on the front lines meant possibly being exposed to this deadly virus. They also had apprehensions about being trained to conduct medical tests.

Over time, though, they all realized how their work impacted the bigger picture.

They realized they were helping to stop the spread of this virus.

They were proud of what they were doing.

Their work was important. They were doing worthwhile work.

The questions I have for you are this – Have you connected your team’s work to the bigger picture? Do they feel they are doing worthwhile work?

Have you connected your team’s work to the bigger picture? Click To Tweet

If you haven’t, you need to start today.

Connecting employees’ work to the bigger picture changes their perspective.

Nobody wants to be just a cog in the wheel. They want to know the work they are doing has meaning and is important.

Try this and let me know how it goes.

Deep Leadership Podcast

PS. I recommend subscribing to the Deep Leadership podcast so you don’t miss an episode.

Driving out Despair

A recent guest on the Deep Leadership podcast, Steven Mays, got me thinking.

He said that one of the most important actions a leader must take is to drive out despair.

In more than 30 years in leadership, I have never heard anyone say anything quite like that.

But, if you think about it, it makes so much sense.

One of the most important actions a leader must take is to drive out despair. Click To Tweet

Despair is the complete loss of hope.

It’s the feeling you have no control over what is happening in your life. If I think back over my 22 years working on corporate America, I witnessed a lot of despair.

I saw people who felt they were in dead-end jobs with no hope of a promotion.

I saw employees who became disengaged because their bosses were too busy to listen to their ideas or ignored them completely.

I witnessed the frustration when corporate bosses made decisions without talking to front line personnel.

In truth, I saw a lot of despair in the workplace. There seemed to be a significant percentage of employees who felt they had no control over what was happening in their lives and careers.

And from what I can tell, the problem is getting worse during this global pandemic.

Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”

So, the question is – are you a dealer in hope?

What are you doing to drive out despair in your company?

What are you doing to drive out despair in your company? Click To Tweet

A simple thing like genuinely asking employees how they are doing can demonstrate that you care about what they are going through right now.

Giving employees a platform to provide input on your next major decision will give them a sense of control.

Acknowledging the current situation with the economy but giving them a clear vision for the future will provide much-needed hope.

Now more than ever, leaders must take action to drive out despair.

What does that mean for your organization? Talk to your team and find out.

Deep Leadership Podcast

 

Listen in to my full conversation with Steven Mays here. He is a former submarine officer and author of the book, The Power of 3: Lessons in Leadership. This is a fascinating episode where we talked about what leaders need to do to be effective at leading their teams.

The Problem with Career Complacency

In the past three weeks, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend.

I have been contacted by a number of people who have been let go by their companies.

Sadly, the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy and the job market.

But, it’s even worse than that.

The scary part is that the people who were let go are the best of the best. They are veterans, they have degrees from top universities, and they have decades of leadership experience. They are the last people I would expect to be looking for work right now.

It is a powerful reminder that none of our jobs are safe.

Unfortunately, I understand this situation all too well.

In 2014, I found myself out of a job through no fault of my own. I was the vice president of a major corporation and had more than 15 years of dedicated service. One morning, I came into work like every other day and by that afternoon, I was out of work.

No warning. No heads up. Nothing.

I was left shocked and confused. I couldn’t understand how a company I had worked so hard for could just toss me aside like that. Especially, with all my knowledge, education, experience, and a history of getting things done.

But that’s the thing I learned. None of us are safe!

That experience taught me some powerful lessons.

And, if you’re lucky enough to still be employed during this crisis, you need to pay attention. You need to understand that your company doesn’t care about you or your career.

Your company doesn’t care about you or your career. Click To Tweet

I’m sorry if this is a shock to you but you alone are responsible for managing your career.

So, here are four simple rules to manage your career in this crisis:

The first rule is this – don’t be complacent.

Don’t assume that your years of hard work and dedication will mean anything when they start making a spreadsheet of “heads” to be eliminated. You are not that special to them. You are a number on a spreadsheet.

The second rule is – don’t let your connections go stale.

Don’t be that person who only calls people when they need something. Stay in regular communication with your network. And, if you have a small network, you need to grow it…starting today.

Understand this – your next job will come from someone you know or someone who they know. You’re not getting a job by posting a resume on a job board.

Your next job will come from someone you know or someone who they know. Click To Tweet

The third rule is – build your personal brand.

When I was let go, I was a nobody outside my company. No one knew who I was or what I stood for.  Don’t be like I was. You should have a personal website and you should be writing regularly about what you know and showcasing your skills. Just keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date isn’t good enough anymore.

The fourth rule is – build multiple streams of income.

When I was let go, my salary was my only source of income. All my eggs were in that basket. Don’t do this. Use side hustles to develop other sources of income that you can turn to if things go belly up.

Who knows? One of your side hustles may be your next career.

One of the people who helped me through my career transition was John O’Connor.

He helped me step up my game in terms of networking and personal branding. I recently had him on my podcast and we talked about how to manage your career during a crisis.

Everyone needs to listen to this episode.

This global pandemic should be a wakeup call for you and your career. Don’t wait until you are out of work before you take action.

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P.S. I’m asked all the time if I provide signed copies of my book? The answer is yes. Click here and press the large orange button for signed copies.