Archive: October 2009

The “New” New Reality of the Workplace

October 29th, 2009

Today we face unprecedented marketplace challenges for our business and our careers. The economy takes one step forward and one backward almost daily. How to deal with the uncertainty of this as leaders? Well for one, being a student of change is critical to all of us today. We have a choice every day. Are you the victim? I lost my job and it is their fault! Or my sales are down and there is nothing I can do about it! Or will you learn to embrace change; maybe even relish in exploiting it. Yes taking full advantage of it. There is on old proverb,” Now that the barn is down I can see the moon.” In action there is always something to take advantage of. To use to your advantage.
There is something to be said to being a student of change and knowing the phases of it:

  1. Blame. It is not your fault at all.
  2. Acceptance. It has happened and there is nothing I can do about it.
  3. Embrace it. I know it is a way of life and I am willing get on board.
  4. Exploit it. I intend to make the change itself. I am going to take advantage of change around me and use it for good. To make improvements.

As a leader this has a real impact on how we handle the day to day. We are in the era now of relatively limited growth markets and where demand is quite limited. This has a tremendous impact on our approach to business and the environment we create. What should we be thinking about? I may have more questions than answers.

  1. How do we rethink careers paths in an environment of limited growth?
  2. How do we make the right investments in our business that actually get a return?
  3. How does your business model transition to this new era and make money?
  4. Are you actively involving employees in your business?  Gathering their ideas as they talk to customers?
  5. Are you willing to reinvent your leadership persona?

As a leader in an entrepreneurial business over the last 20 or so years I have seen leadership success and setback. The common denominator is a willingness to embrace change that is rooted in good instincts and hard work to gather information as you make strategic directional changes to the business. Nothing stays the same. Leaders must be willing to shed legacy thinking and be willing to cannibalize their own success and know that destruction is part of the process of business success!

The Leadership Puppet Master

October 11th, 2009

Leadership is so complicated because we make it so. We read how famous leaders did it. We model ourselves after our boss. We mimic the actions of our peer group and our leaders at work. Yet being one is different than imitating others. To stand alone as a leader is hard. And the way to do it even more challenging. My mentor explained to me years ago that the mark of great leadership is when we help our employees close the gap between how they are performing and what they are actually capable of. This is not necessarily by sending staff to training or by words alone. In many cases it is driven by a corporate culture that encourages experimentation. That likes some kind of risk taking when it benefits the customer. 
Most businesses today use the wrong motivator. We have all seen the surveys, leaders think that money and benefits rank highest for employees in terms of need/want. And perhaps today during the recession we are experiencing a narrow window of time where this is what people have their eye on. However, the rebound will come slowly. And all of us will forget eventually. And it may not be an era of free agency like the mid-90’s or of organized labor in the mid 1900’s. However, eventually all of us will want to be “actualized” at work again. We will want our salaries to rise, for a bonus to be possible, for career paths to be made clear again. And we will forget about how we have needed to make sacrifices and to be conservative at work, at home and in our communities to get by.
So what is the right motivator? It is not contests or short term things for long. They work for short bursts alone. These short term tricks of leadership are like the Puppet Master manipulating from above.  The employees are the puppet, they do what they are told, they follow along. Then one day it stops working. And on to the next contest right? Wrong. The best leaders lead without strings. They create an environment where others can move freely and trust. Where folks are encouraged to think about and explore what they are capable of. Think of it this way, in most companies trust is earned. You start on your first day with an empty bucket. And everyday through your actions, and performance a little trust goes in. Why not fill the bucket to the top on day one? The trust is there for the employee to cherish and to build immediately on. It is the this confidence and trust that help your employees close the gap.
To lead without strings you must create an environment of accountability. Where accountability comes from within. It comes from the team, not top down.

    To lead without strings you must allow for failure. Do you celebrate it and learn from it?
    To lead without strings you must be vulnerable as a leader.  Do you share enough with your team or is there a gap?
    To lead without strings you must be willing to admit that you are wrong.  Is your leadership persona capable of handling it?
    To lead without strings you must listen.
    To lead without strings you must give away your authority.
    To lead without strings you should help dream.  Dream about what they want and what they are capable of.  You must raise the bar and watch people achieve it.

This is a no strings zone!

Rolling up your sleeves as a leader!

October 8th, 2009

When was the last time you led by doing, by making something happen yourself? I know we are taught to delegate. To encourage others to grow and to develop new skills. Create more “leverage” by getting others to do more than you can do yourself. In many ways this is the basis for any business. But how many times have you worked for a leader who is all advice and no action? I know a few. They talk a good game. In fact they talk a great game; because that is all there is to their game. The talk is easy and full of big words and it sounds good. Until you try and take it back and implement it, what did they actually say? I bet if you think about it, you know this person where you work too.
Leading by doing means helping to keep a new business deal alive by staying close to it. By listening and watching people do their work. It is our job to eliminate barriers to their success. To look to areas where we can improve the business. It means looking for ways that customer service might be slipping, or where an employee might need a kind word or strong push.  
What do you see when you look? My father owns a few restaurants locally, Kid Shelleen’s and Klondike Kates. They are neighborhood landmarks. A college town meeting place for alumni and students. And the neighborhood pub. His leaders are taught in the business to start at the front door and look at the business with different eyes. What could be more Outside-In® (customer oriented)? Is there anything that could be done better to improve the customer experience? For the restaurant manager it means is the floor clean. Are menus wiped down and in the right spot. Are any customers trying to make frantic eye contact with a server. This list goes on and on. What is the equivalent for your business? Can you stand at your store front and see what needs improvement?
Truth be told I have been there myself. I have had employees work for me who would seek “translation services” from others in the company after leaving a long meeting with me. Nothing is  more embarrassing in the world as a leader than thinking you have had real impact and then finding out in fact you made things worse! We may only get 15 minutes to really energize and assist someone, and frankly that should be the goal. If I get 15 minutes a week to have a really incredible impact that carries an employee to the next week or next session, then that had better be the outcome. BUT, often times it is not. 
Not that the ability to talk is not important for a leader. Leaders must “encourage the heart” for staff. They can do this by defining  a business’s purpose. They create the future vision for the business.  They can bring to life the “Why” for the reason the business actually exists. This is where the ability to communicate can have the right impact on a company. Regular storytelling makes sense here.
How can roll up your sleeves and have real leadership impact?

  • Shut up and Listen. Make sure you know the real problem.
  • Get up from behind your desk and do it yourself. Lead by example.
  • Focus on the details. Don’t micromanage, rather get closer to the business.
  • Get closer to your business. Get off your pedestal and dig in to the work.
  • Ask questions and meet with staff with consistency  and also when they least expect it.
  • Teach others to plan their day and maximize what they achieve.

This list is certainly not all inclusive, and I would love your thoughts on how a leader can rollup their sleeves and make something happen in their business! What do you see when you stand at your store front and roll up your sleeves?

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