What Your Employees Want You to Know About Authenticity

One obvious requirement of business leadership involves the universally respected value of trust. This leads us to the topic of authenticity. Are business leaders today seen as highly rated by their authenticity or are they seen as disingenuous, shallow, self-promoting or even dishonest? Are business leaders trusted? This is a hard problem to quantify. Entire industries, as we know, are sometimes marred by isolated scandals that lower the public’s view of them. When an oil tanker leaks, the reputation of an entire industry sinks. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, bankers were considered the scourge of their times. When authenticity erodes, profits tumble and the public wants someone punished. In a publicly traded company, this often goes straight to the top office. Your business is a microcosm of this dynamic. If a business leader is disingenuous or dishonest, middle management becomes restless and employees sense trouble. Discipline breaks down as employees begin to take shortcuts and feel more anxious about their job security. Morale falls and turnover rises. Blaming becomes commonplace. In the words of Ricky Nelson, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got please yourself.” Trying to please everyone is an energy drain. Who respects a leader who tries to make everyone happy all the time at the expense of her values? This is not sustainable. It’s a recipe for burnout. Authenticity promotes stability, strong company values and teamwork. It also promotes clarity and loyalty, both of which contribute to productivity. What can you do to establish greater authenticity among a diverse group of managers, division leaders and employees? Here are what your employees want you to...

Don’t Give Worry the Keys to Your Mental Real Estate

When the pressure is on, we worry. Everyone makes up stuff to some degree. Why allow these stories to occupy such valuable mental real estate? Some of us are more susceptible to worry than others. Regardless of your propensity to ruminate, it is quite expensive. For one thing, it raises your cortisol level which has a negative impact on your immune system. It gives credibility to the expression, “I’m worried sick about _________.” Worry looks important and it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere–think rocking chair. So why do it? If you worry, it’s proof that you care. If you don’t worry, you are an unfeeling, callous person. So, do you do it to impress others? Does it solve anything? Just as I suspected. Nobody is impressed. It is an unproductive habit of recycling the same thoughts without any action to find a solution. With uncertainty of the outcome, it’s natural to envision the worst possible result. Most of the time what you worry about doesn’t happen or the outcome is not nearly as terrible as you imagine. Why spend sleepless nights turning it over and over in your mind and it makes no difference. None. Determine what you can control and make a plan to address your concerns. With brutal honesty, acknowledge the issue. Is it health, financial, relationships or business? Get the facts, not beliefs or opinions, about your dilemma. Identify the ideal outcome when the problem is resolved. Calculate the value of the ideal outcome. Decide what action is required. Take the first step. Be willing to experience something better than...

Leadership Hacks to Play the Long Game

Ask someone to define leadership and they might say something such as the ability to get others to follow. Can’t argue with that. How do leaders behave? It’s mostly about what you do, not what you say that demonstrates leadership. Having a leadership title is the easy part. The following are five hacks that leaders use: 1)      Use your company’s mission and values as a filter to make good choices. Ask “Is this action in alignment with our mission and our core values?” You have clearly articulated your mission and values, right?  2)      Play the long game. (Or, as my mother would say, “Look past the end of your nose.”) Know the long term and short term impact of action you take. For example, ongoing mentoring for employees has a long term impact. Initially you may not see much of a return on the investment. It’s not either/or for long term or short term action and decisions. It’s both/and.  3)      Recognize cyber security is a core business issue. Invest in the people, processes and technology to protect your business. This applies to a business with a team of two or a staff of hundreds. Cyber security deserves C-suite attention. 4)      Support people on your team by giving them guidance. It is unrealistic to expect people to improve without affirmation, correction and training. As the leader, it’s up to you to provide this often and consistently.  5)      Honor your word. Truth telling leaders not only build trust inside their companies but outside as well. Trust is a strong foundation. This is not an exhaustive list of leadership hacks. It’s not even in...

Take the Short Cut to Go the Long Way

Entrepreneurs like to get things done quickly. They do not like to waste time because time is money. It is tempting to take a short cut because it seems faster initially. While a short cut works out occasionally, it most often takes longer and costs more. We think fast is better. I heard an Atlanta developer say “patience is a sign of laziness.” Steady progress in pursuit of a worthy goal makes sense. Haste to get something done not so much. Think of getting your team to embrace a goal you know is important to accomplish. The goal is simple, important and measurable. If the team knows why it’s an unrealistic to pursue it, they resist. To push ahead is a set up for delays down the line. In fact, the goal may even go off the track all together. If you are forced to abandon it, the resources you invested are wasted. If you have not fostered a culture of debate, the team says “yes” but behaves in ways to sabotage the efforts. “Short cutting” the switchback on a hiking trail is a bad idea.  It creates a new path up and down the hill which is faster. In time it kills vegetation and creates erosion. Restoring the trail to a functional state takes significant effort and resources.  Staying on the designated path takes longer in the short term. It pays off in the long term. Use the following seven steps to start: 1)      Determine a goal or process that is simple, important and measurable 2)      Allow discussion amongst the implementers 3)      Debate the advantages and problems 4)      Make a decision (keep separate #2...

What to Do When Urgency Meets Complacency

Are you thwarted by complacency in your organization? It is a common problem especially in successful companies. Complacency is an expensive habit to practice. Resting on your corporate laurels lulls you into a feeling of security that is counterfeit. There are dangers lurking everywhere. Having experienced successes, people relax to enjoy the results of their hard work. It’s not only great to celebrate but it is also important. Be careful not to get stuck here. In order to move forward as a healthy company, adopt a sense of urgency. Your long term success depends on it. Be mindful not to demotivate your people by giving short shrift to the small steps they have accomplished in pursuit of a goal. For example, a young woman I know was working to lose the weight she had gained during her second pregnancy. She proudly announced to her husband that she had lost five pounds. His response, “When are you going to lose the other fifteen?” I could not hear her response. The look on her face was not an endearing one. Strike the balance between enjoying success and striving for the next goal with a sense of urgency. In a learning organization, you never arrive at the place you can stop improving. When you hear someone say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” be alert. The complacency habit is developing. Use these steps to ramp up the sense of urgency: 1)      Have clarity about the purpose and mission of the company 2)      Articulate the goals that achieve the purpose and mission 3)      Listen to the people responsible for executing the goals...

Why Leaders’ Words Matter…..A Lot

It is true. Words are free. Underestimating their power is costly.                                Haven’t we all said something we later regretted? In some cases, we are unaware of the impact of our words for good or ill. Words have power; choose them wisely. Business leaders, for example, unwittingly stymie creative thinking with “Have you thought about this ______?” How can a simply question shut down the very behavior a leader wants to encourage? By virtue of your position as the leader, your words carry significant weight. From the boss, “Have you thought about this….” is more a directive than a question. When the boss suggests something that’s permission to act without owning the decision. If the action has a bad outcome, it wasn’t your idea. After all, the boss told you to do it, right? Command and control is an efficient style of leadership. First, the boss knows best and he has the path to success mapped out. The only thing employees have to do is show up to do what they are told. Thinking, creativity and innovation are not valued. These behaviors can be messy. In addition, it’s difficult to engage people when the only idea that matters is the boss’s idea. Businesses with this culture have a track record of high defection. Make the most of the words you choose. Flattery and hyperbole hold empty promises which are easily detected. Blatant lies and falsehoods—well, no need to state the obvious. Use your words to build an engaged team that understands how they contribute to your company’s success. These questions are a good place to start. Five questions every good...