Great Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Love Their Teams

Love their Team TwitterOne frustrating thing I see in leaders from time to time is a negative attitude towards people. Many choose a career in leadership who don’t like dealing with people. Unfortunately, they usually find they are less effective as a leader with this mindset. The reason is that leadership is inherently a people business.

“Leadership is a people business.”

The entire role of a leader is to motivate a team of people towards accomplishing an objective. Great leaders know that. 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 actually love their teams more than they love themselves.” Donald Miller

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 means helping 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 as 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 explains that love can be quite scary, though:

Love doesn’t give you complete control over people. Love means you can’t disrespect them when you’re frustrated. Love means you really understand that people aren’t just a cog in a wheel. Love means you have to allow people to hurt you and let you down, and they will, just as you will them. But love also means you forgive, you don’t keep score, you show grace and you protect each other at all costs.

 And sometimes, protecting people means you have to let some people go. People that don’t fit into the culture or try and take advantage of the environment need to be dealt with. The sooner you address it, the better it is for that employee and the rest of the team.

He has two fundamental rules which has 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.

What do you think? Does love belong in the workplace? Can a culture of love and respect boost a company’s performance? How will employees react when they feel their boss truly cares about their hopes and dreams? Why don’t more leaders practice this? Let me know in the comment section below.

The Truth about Authenticity

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While fake news is often hard to spot, phony advertising, inauthentic companies, and fake people aren’t.

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day and I heard it. I wasn’t listening for it, but it was obvious. Commercials on podcasts usually involve the host telling you how great a product or service is. It’s typically something they have used personally and they give you their own perspective. It’s almost like an endorsement, so advertisers normally give the host freedom to ad-lib. The result is an advertising segment that seems genuine and authentic.

That’s why it stood out to me when the host of the podcast read this advertisement segment verbatim. It was for the new Toyota CH-R. The ad seemed like it was written by a high-priced Madison Avenue firm. Every word was carefully selected, the message was perfectly crafted, and it was likely focus-tested to provoke a picture-perfect response. The host even read the flawless, well-written legal disclaimer at the end. To me, it sounded phony.

In the podcast world of personal-endorsement-style advertisements, this one felt fake. It didn’t seem truthful or genuine. It was over-produced, over-engineered, and too perfect. It wasn’t real.

“There’s authenticity in a first take.” Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame would agree. He made a living off being “authentic.” He said, “Dirty Jobs didn’t resonate because the host was incredibly charming. It wasn’t a hit because it was gross, or irreverent, or funny, or silly, or smart, or terribly clever. Dirty Jobs succeeded because it was authentic.” The show was the first of its kind. There was no script, no rehearsal, and only one take. They turned the cameras on and Mike responded and reacted to his environment. It was genuine and people loved it.

“I believe the enemies of charm are deliberateness in much the same way I would argue that the enemies of authenticity are production.” Mike Rowe

Companies can also be inauthentic when they aren’t true to their message. Think about Subway restaurants. They’ve used the advertising slogan, “Eat Fresh,” since 2002. They came under fire when it was discovered they used azodicarbonamide in their bread as a conditioner. Food blogger Vani Hari, of the popular food blog Food Babe, originally drew public attention to this issue. She revealed that azodicarbonamide was the same chemical used in yoga mats and shoe rubber. In 2014, after public pressure grew, Subway stopped using the chemical in their bread recipes.

But the damage to Subway was done. Subway’s sales fell. They lost 3% in 2014, despite opening 778 new stores. They faced eroding public perception regarding the quality of their food while still using the “Eat Fresh” slogan. The main reason they lost consumer confidence was because they were seen as phony and inauthentic. You can’t claim “Eat Fresh” and use a yoga mat chemical in your bread.

People can be fake as well. People who make promises with no intention to keep them, those that make friendships only for personal gain, or those that have hidden agendas are seen as shallow and phony. You can probably name people with these qualities where you work. They can be successful in the short term but only until people learn their true character. Then, no one wants to work with them.

“People with good intentions make promises, but people with good character keep them.” Anonymous

In a world where we are surrounded by phony people and messages, how can we be more authentic? Let me suggest three things.

Be true to the first take. Avoid over-processing and over-engineering your message. A product training video, for example, that has a few mistakes seems more real than one that has been carefully edited. A quick, witty tweet delivered at the right time will get more attention than a perfectly polished post. We are bombarded daily with highly-engineered, focus-group tested messages. An honest first-take is refreshing and seems more authentic.

Be true to your company promise. What does your company stand for? What is the brand promise? Whatever it is, make sure you are delivering to that promise. If you commit to 24 hour deliveries, make sure you are built for speed. If you promise the “lowest prices,” make sure you know that’s true. If you claim “eat fresh,” then know what’s in your recipes. Being true to your brand promise will make you appear more authentic.

Be true to others. Nobody wants a fake friend. Be real. If you make a promise, deliver on it. Build relationships based on mutual respect not hidden agendas and personal gain. Be there for people in the good times as well as the bad. Put others ahead of yourself. Don’t talk behind their backs. Show respect for everyone on your team. Being true to others and being a person of character will make you more authentic.

Let’s get rid of fake news and, while we’re at it, let’s get rid of phony advertising, untruthful companies, and fake people. Authenticity is rare. We will stand out if we embrace reality and stop being so over-engineered on fake. Embrace your genuine self, be original, and see what happens. It certainly worked for Mike Rowe.

What do you think? Does authenticity stand a chance today? Are there other reasons why “Dirty Jobs” had such mass appeal? How can we employ authenticity in our messaging? What are some other examples of authentic or inauthentic companies? What was the result? Let me know in the comment section below.

5 Ways Leadership can Transform a Conflicted Workplace

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When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you. ~ African proverb

If you’ve spent any time in the corporate world, you have dealt with office politics and departmental conflict. Over the past 20 years, I think I have seen every type of workplace culture, from teams that were aligned, externally-focused, and successful in the market to those which were more dysfunctional, internally-focused and operating in constant conflict. In every case, it was the leader that drove the culture.

The problem is that internal negative conflict and office politics can kill a company’s morale and performance. CPP Inc., the creators of the Myer-Briggs Assessment, published a study on workplace conflict a few years back. Their findings were interesting. According to the 5,000 employees surveyed:

  • 85% experienced some level of regular internal conflict at work
  • 29% dealt with internal conflict on a frequent or continual basis
  • 12% said that disagreement among senior managers was frequent or continual
  • 16% said a recent dispute escalated in duration and/or intensity
  • 27% have seen conflict lead to personal attacks
  • 25% have seen conflict result in sickness or absence
  • 9% have seen conflict lead to a project failure

Their findings showed that U.S. employees spent an average of 2.8 hours a week dealing with internal conflict costing companies more than $359 billion in productivity.

While internal conflict can’t be totally eliminated, it’s the role of the leader to align the team to focus on achieving the organizational goals.   The energy spent fighting internal battles needs to be redirected towards activities that add value and move the team forward. Here are some ways a leader can transform a conflicted workplace:

Set the Example. As a leader, employees are not only listening to what you say but also watching what you do. If your team sees you regularly bad-mouthing your peers or spending energy fighting turf wars, they see that as acceptable behavior.

Focus on the Competitors. If your organization is spending time fighting internally, your competitors are probably winning. I regularly remind my teams that, “the enemy is outside the four walls.” I explain that the problem isn’t with marketing, production, engineering, accounting, sales or any other internal department or group; it’s the competitors we need to worry about.

Focus on the Customer. The customer is the final judge of the performance of an organization. I’ve seen many internal battles fought over the right way to do something without ever involving any customers. Getting your team to spend time with customers changes this. It will help you gain a common understanding of what customers really want which will focus your organizational energy on meeting those needs.

Get the Organizational Structure Right. Often times, the organizational structure itself can create conflict. This is especially true with large global organizations. I’ve seen situations where teams were brought together to accomplish a task, all having different reporting structures, different bosses, different priorities, and limited authority. Conflict and escalation was inevitable. As a leader, it is important to ensure a clear organization structure with simple reporting lines, common goals, and delegated authority to get the job done.

Align the Incentives. In large corporations, it is not uncommon to have a variety of incentive plans for different departments, functions, activities, and levels. It is also not uncommon for people on the same team to have incentives that are in conflict with each other. The sales manager, for example, might be incentivized on order dollars while the operations manager might be measured on revenue margin percentage. This could set up a serious internal conflict, for example, when considering a large order with low margins. Part of the role of leadership is to ensure that, for the most part, the incentive structure aligns the team around a shared set of common objectives.

As a leader, it’s important to get the most out of your organization. If your teams are constantly fighting, politicking, positioning, and expending energy locking horns on every issue, you may be operating in an internally conflicted workplace. It’s your job to fix this by aligning the team and turning the energy into creating value for your customers and stakeholders. You can do this by setting the example, focusing on the competitors, focusing on the customers, getting the organization structure right, and aligning the incentive plans. It is important you send a clear message that you are all on the same team and the only victory that matters is winning in the market place.

What do you think? Can some conflict be good? Are there other issues that can create internal office conflict, like strong personalities, pressure to perform, or past experiences? What other activities can be done to minimize the internal battles?

Leadership means Running Towards the Fire

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Courage is Being Scared to Death, but Saddling Up Anyway ~John Wayne

I’m a trained firefighter. Actually, I’m a U.S. Navy veteran who served on nuclear submarines which means I have been trained to fight fires. It’s probably no surprise that a fire on a submarine is one of the most dangerous things that could ever happen on board. Smoke can quickly fill compartments and asphyxiate sailors. The heat and flames can spread to weapons, volatile materials, and critical systems creating catastrophic damage. A fire can quickly destroy a submarine if not extinguished immediately. That’s why we were trained to ignore our natural instincts to move away from the fire and, instead, run towards the fire to put it out as quickly as possible.

Business is the same way. There are situations that can occur that, if not addressed immediately, can cause catastrophic damage. These might include a product failure, a customer complaint, a supplier quality issue, a change in the market landscape, new technology, an employee situation, or any number of challenges that businesses face each day. The problem is that people in businesses also have a natural tendency to move away from or ignore problems.

Take for example the recent announcement of the bankruptcy of Radio Shack. Joshua Brustein refers to it as a “slow-motion collapse” because the warning signs were all there but Radio Shack’s management team did little to attack the problems. They didn’t run towards the fire. The market had changed dramatically. Other companies, like Best Buy, were doing a better job solving technology issues for customers. Wal-Mart and other low-cost retailers now sold many of the components, wires, and connectors that only were available in the past from Radio Shack. Radio Shack became stuck in the past and reduced to only the last resort for customers who couldn’t get their problems solved somewhere else. As a result, stores were empty, employees sat idle, revenues fell, and their stock lost 99.6% of its value. On top of that, they hadn’t shown a profit in three years.

As leaders, we can’t allow this to happen to our businesses. It is critical we create a culture where leaders and employees run towards the fire. Like firefighters, our teams must be trained to ignore their natural instincts to move away from or avoid problems. The future of our organizations may depend on it. There are three simple ways to create an organizational culture that attacks problems head on:

Lead from the front. There are large problems facing your business that only you can solve: A major problem at a strategic customer, a change in the competitive landscape requiring a new strategy, a significant market shift, or a new technology introduction. Your employees will be looking to you to lead the effort to attack these issues with tenacity. How you respond to these challenges will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

Celebrate those that run to the fire. I tell my employees that, when it comes to priorities, they should always take care of the customer first. I have had the pleasure to receive dozen of calls and e-mails from customers who were extremely happy with how one our team members dealt with a problem. I always make a point to thank these employees personally and discuss it in staff meetings and town hall events. The employees who take a relentless approach to taking care of a problem before it gets out of control are to be celebrated.

Attack the fire while it’s still small. There is a universal truth about problems and fires. The longer it takes to attack them, the larger they get. Almost every significant issue that gets to senior management was a smaller problem that could have been resolved in the early stages. That’s one of the reasons I believe in having a strong set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure the performance of the business in real time. Negative trends in price, margin, product mix, customer satisfaction, quality, or on-time delivery can be quickly identified and addressed before they get too large.

I should also make another point about firefighting. I have also witnessed another extreme in business leadership with organizations that lacked structure and stable processes, where its employees were always putting out fires. Most of the management team simply moved from crisis to crisis. This is an unhealthy organizational situation and this is not the kind of firefighting I am referring to. It is the leader’s job to build a stable, smooth running business. Having to run to a fire should be the exception not the rule.

Ignoring or moving away from the problems that face your business can have catastrophic effects. We can see it play out with the bankruptcy of Radio Shack. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create a culture where employees resolve issues quickly. We can do this by leading from the front, celebrating those employees who live these values, and attacking problems before they get out of control. We need to teach our employees to ignore their natural instincts and move towards flames. The future of our organizations may depend on it.