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Leaders Shape Others, Intentionally or Unintentionally

Leadership is a powerful thing.  Associate are watching just about everything you do and say.  From their observations, they take their cues about what is expected, what’s important, what’s funny, what’s approved and disapproved of, and so on.  Your words and actions actually have the power to shape the direction of a person’s life, and certainly their career.

Let me tell you a story about a leader whose words altered my life direction.  I went to high school in the small country town in Texas.  There were two things I loved most about high school, basketball and my agriculture/shop class.  I pretty much loved all things outdoors, including my horse, calf, chickens and fishing in the stock tank near my house.  Our school Ag/shop program served as the local free vet service to all the farmers around.  It also served as the fence, gate, trailer, and squeeze shoot builders for everybody in the county, and consistently won first place in regional county fair shop competitions.

I loved it so much that in my junior year I began to dream about becoming a Veterinarian.  I had no idea what it took to be a vet, so I spoke to “Doc” Price, my Ag teacher, whom I highly respected.  Not only was Doc a great guy, but he was the only person in town who had a Master’s Degree, so surely his advice on something like this should be followed, right?

I’ll never forget his response to my inquiry.  He said, “Tony, if you want to be a Veterinarian you are going to have to hold an “A” average in English”.  Talking about getting the wind knocked out of my sails, there was no way I could get my grades in English up to an A average in the next year.  I could have made straight As through the rest of high school and still couldn’t have averaged an A.  In my mind, the man, the leader, the person whom I looked up to most, just told me that becoming a Vet was virtually impossible.

I now know that he said those words to encourage me to buckle down and study, but they did more than that.  They really discouraged me for a while, and changed my life trajectory, sending me on a different career discovery path.

His words have also served to help me understand the power of my words as a leader.  So, I challenge you with these questions:

  • Am I careful in the use of my words to, and around my Associates?
  • Do my words help people grow and develop, or do they tear down and destroy?
  • Are my words encouraging or discouraging to those I lead?
  • How do I respond/react to Associates when they have completed a job successfully?
  • How do I respond/react to Associates when they make a mistake?
  • What is the tone they hear from me in our daily interactions?
  • Do I make my expectations clear enough for them to follow?
  • Do they know and really believe that I care about them as a person?
  • Do I really care about them as a person?
  • Do I welcome their ideas, criticisms and questions, or do my words and actions I shut them down, leaving them feeling as if, “we don’t pay them to think”?
  • Do my interactions with those I lead leave them better off or worse?
  • What one or two things will I do differently to ensure my words are positively impacting those I lead?

All this to remind you to be intentional with your words and actions, knowing they are shaping the future of those you lead.


The Well Trained, Emotionally Intelligent Leader

In a previous article we discussed the positive impact that a well-trained, emotionally intelligent leader can have on the health and well-being of our Associates.  The article concluded with, “What does this kind of leader look like?”

Before we answer the “What they do” question, we begin with the understanding that the best managers are in these leadership roles because they genuinely want to lead.

  • They are not in the role simply to advance their paycheck
  • They are not in the role simply to gain “power”
  • They are not in the role simply because they were good at their job and someone decided to make them the next leader. Being good at a job does not equate to being good at leadership/management (a mistake made by too many organizations)
  • They are sincerely interested in learning how to improve their leadership
  • They are humble enough to know what they don’t know, and to ask for help

Now, let’s look more closely at what they do:

  • They provide clear goals, objectives, role expectations and guidelines
  • They frequently let their Associates know how they are doing, i.e. they provide frequent feedback
  • They hold everyone (fairly) accountable to their goals, seeing to it that everyone carries their expected share of the workload
  • They communicate frequently, honestly and as transparently as possible to keep associates informed
  • They treat all Associates fairly and justly; they have an “open door” policy
  • They are approachable
  • They ensure that everyone in their department is treated with respect and dignity
  • They seek feedback from their Associates (and they listen to it)
  • They invite Associates to express their opinions, thoughts and ideas to improve things (and they listen)
  • They welcome Associates’ opinions and ideas and take them into consideration when making decisions (and they listen)
  • They provide as much decision control to their Associates as possible, depending on their assessment of the Associate’s capability
  • They involve Associates in change efforts
  • They are quick with recognition and appreciation (again, distributed fairly)
  • They are invested in the growth and development of those they lead

By the way, employees who perceive that their supervisors treat them fairly and justly have 30 percent lower incidents of heart disease even after adjusting for other risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol and inactivity.  They have 70% less stress, 70% more job satisfaction, 19% increased productivity and are 22% more innovative when solving problems.

Leadership and Associate Well-Being

We speak regularly of the importance of Associate wellness and well-being in the workplace.  We give a lot of attention to engaging Associates in health building activities, such as daily exercise, weight loss and healthy eating.   We ask employees to engage in fitness challenges from time to time to add a little competitive spirit to these fun activities.  I am certainly a big believer in these.  My wife and I run four to five times each week.  We try to log a half-marathon every Spring and Fall.  I ride my road bike as often as possible.  My family has a “Wall of Pain” in our house that is literally lined with pictures commemorating various race completions.  I’m not a nut about this stuff.  It is just something we do for fun.  Will it make us healthier in the long run?  I really don’t know.  There are so many variables in that equation, all I can do is what I believe to be the best for my health and well-being.  My hope is that you will do the same.

In discussing health, wellness and healthcare with one of the country’s leading experts on corporate benefits, I was reminded that one of the best things we can do to help improve our Associates’ health and well-being is to grow our leaders and improve our culture so that employees are happier at work.

Intuitively I thought this to be sound advice, but I wanted further confirmation, so I dove into the research.  The research confirms that leaders, managers and front line supervisors can have an incredibly positive (or negative) impact on, not only on Associate Engagement, but also on their health and well-being.

A well-trained, emotionally intelligent leader/manager can have a positive impact on Associates in the following ways:

  • Lower stress
    • Working for a toxic boss elevates stress and stress hormones, the effects of which linger as much as 50% longer than task or performance oriented stress.
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved sense of justice and fairness
    • Resulting in reduced sickness related absences by 1.2 to 1.9 times
  • Increase immunity to illness, which translates into lower absenteeism
  • Lower rate of employee depression and/or burnout
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Increase in overall life expectancy
  • Improved immune system, resulting in fewer illnesses and related absences
  • Improved social connections, which improves all the biological and psychological related improvements listed above
  • Improved sleep and reduced inflammation, resulting in less fatigue, improved productivity and fewer accidents on the job

The next great question is:  What does a well-trained, emotionally intelligent leader do differently than those other types?

Gallup Declares that 68% of the Workforce is Still Disengaged!!!

I love the work that Gallup has done on employee engagement.  They define employee engagement as the mutual commitment between the employee and the organization whereby both give each other their very best.

What’s so disturbing to me about this latest proclamation is that after all the investment companies are making in employee engagement, Gallup says that 68% of workers are still disengaged.  I am not sure whether to believe this or to believe someone is simply generating stats to try to sell me more of those “really helpful solutions.”

However, I do know that if disengagement is still so high, then the investment companies are making, and the solutions that have been provided thus far are obviously focused on the wrong things at minimum, or so poorly executed that they are not producing anything resembling the desired results.

I think that this is why I have come to rely heavily on a philosophy that I have developed over the years as a Human Resource Executive, Business Owner, and Executive Coach.  Simply put, “This is Not Rocket Science”.  Everyone wants to play on a winning team.  What your employees want from you is for you to develop the processes that attract, keep and grow winners who can come together to do what they do best every day.  When all is said and done it is simply about executing the fundamentals of human resources, business and leadership better than your competitors.

As a human resources executive I will focus my team on building out the ten fundamental strategies for Getting, Keeping and Growing Talent to help the organization’s Operators (business partners) create a high performance organization.  Those top ten strategies are:

  1. Hire Right
  2. Onboard effectively and consistently
  3. Compensate competitively (total rewards including benefits)
  4. Train Effectively (employees and managers)
  5. Create employee Growth Opportunities (career paths)
  6. Build bench strength in critical positions (our future is dependent on this)
  7. Create accountability/manage performance effectively and consistently
  8. Connect employees to Mission/Purpose
  9. Create a Safe Working Environment (physically and psychologically)
  10. Ensure Compliance with labor and employment law on all occasions.

And while a Human Resources team focuses on executing these with excellence, they must remain fully aware that these strategies are not executed in a vacuum.  That is why an HR staff and the company Operators must be true business partners, working together to ensure that these are executed better than our competitors.  So, the true job of the HR team is twofold.  First, know what excellence is in each of these strategies.  And second, build a partnership with your operators to enable these strategies to be executed with excellence so they have the kind of impact on the business goals that we are all trying to achieve.

Does It Really Take a Psychologist?

I have been serving organizations and leaders in various capacities my entire career.  My training, education and work experience have all been focused on the growth and development of people, personally, spiritually, physically, socially and organizationally.

When I transitioned from ministry and psychology to business, I envied the folks with the MBAs, until one of my clients, who had his MBA and was also well positioned in his organization, expressed envy for my training in psychology, and said, “I think it takes a Psychologist to lead an organization these days.”  That was when I came to understand how much all of us, regardless of the educational discipline and work experience, can learn from each other and must rely on one another to build great organizations, that produce great products/services, and great people.

I came across research recently that indicated that only 17% of employees report contributing high levels of discretionary effort, meaning that they go above and beyond the daily demands, pull more than their share of the load, and tend to be the hardest workers in the work group.  That same research indicated that only 70% of those same workers intend to stay with their organization.  In other words, 30% of the hardest workers are considering leaving for another opportunity!

With the war for talent being at its peak, and promising to stay at this level for some time, leaders must engage their business and their psychological thinking to attract and retain this workforce and answer the question, “What are high performers looking for from their workplace?”

In no particular order, here is what I believe these high performers are looking for:

  • Compensation – that is a given. Do your homework to ensure that you are paying (total comp package) market value for good talent.
    • Compensation that’s a reflection of their effort (the reason I love bonus and gainsharing types of programs)
  • Respect
    • Demonstrated by leaders valuing their ideas, listening to their feedback, and honoring their work/life needs.
    • Respect that gives them greater and greater autonomy to do what needs to be done (I.e. not being micromanaged).
  • Feedback
    • Subjectively: Directly from their supervisor that tells them how they are doing in the job
    • Objectively: Visible metrics that show them and the team how they are performing against the goal.
  • Discipline that ensures that the “high performer” pool is growing, i.e. that you are challenging the low performers to step up or move out so they can be surrounded by others like themselves who are committed to their own and the company’s success.
  • Pride in their work and in their company. The realization that they work for a great company that does great things, makes great product, and serves a noble purpose, to the degree that they are willing to recommend it to their likeminded friends.
    • Pride in the fact that they are playing on a winning team, or that is the vision everyone is aspiring for.
  • Optimism about the future. Confidence in the future of the company and about the opportunity for their growth and advancement.

This is where the multiple disciplines come together.  Blending the financial and business metrics with the leadership and organizational culture to co-create a high-performance workplace designed by, with, and for high performers.