Tag Archives | Servant leadership

The Leadership Void

Undecided businessmanWhen I’m invited in to help executives refine their organization’s culture, I start with learning as much as I can about the executive team before I start learning about their company.

Why? Because leaders of organizations maintain the current culture, whether it’s beneficial or not, productive or not, engaging or not – and whether they know it or not! Senior leaders of teams, departments, regions, business units, etc. have the authority and responsibility to change policies, procedures, and norms – which can change the culture for the better.

My discovery process allows me to learn who this executive team is, how they lead their organization, how they communicate, what they validate (through recognition and praise), what they value, and what their desired culture is.

I immerse myself in relevant data – documents like employee satisfaction or engagement survey results, mission statements, strategic plans, internal newsletters, and more. I spend hours reviewing these cultural “artifacts” before I begin executive interviews, which offers much more detailed information on the executive team and how it operates.

One client shared their new vision statement and strategic plan. The CEO was quite proud of these documents. He told me, “We worked for two weeks on the vision statement. The strategic plan didn’t take that long – we already had pieces of it formalized.”

The problem? The vision statement was full of buzzwords and didn’t specify what this company did for their customers or why customers should care. It simply stated that the company “creates value for shareholders, employees, and customers.”

The strategic plan didn’t include any clear strategies at all. There was no outline of new customer needs to be addressed or new market opportunities that will be explored. The plan simply presented percentage growth targets for existing products and services.

I asked the CEO what employees’ responses were to the vision and strategic plan. He said reaction was rather subdued – and that the executive team had gotten feedback that employees didn’t know what the company’s strategy was, even after reading the documents.

These documents were not helpful. They didn’t provide the clarity that was desperately needed. The vision wasn’t clear. The strategy wasn’t clear.

This organization was operating in a leadership void. In the absence of leadership, strong personalities fill the void. We’ve all seen it.

In some cases, those strong personalities provide clarity of purpose and strategy. Those strong personalities create a cooperative work environment. They propose clarity and direction, and proactively align plans, decisions, and actions to move their team forward.

However, in most cases, these strong personalities provide clarity for the player’s own benefit – not the team’s or organization’s benefit. An “I win, you lose” mentality gets embedded. What gains traction are norms that pit people against each other rather than aligning each other to common goals and shared values.

Left to our own devices, us humans typically serve ourselves rather than engaging together to serve others. Politics and power become the coin of the realm, not cooperation and service.

The executive team I worked with didn’t realize they were causing difficulties with their bland vision and strategic plan. They didn’t intend to abdicate leadership – and they were frustrated to learn that’s exactly what they’d done.

I worked with the executive team to create a more actionable, present day purpose statement and a clarified strategic plan that set context for business branding, marketing, and operations for the next three years.

Their executive team is embracing their purpose, values, strategies, and goals. They’re working cooperatively so that every function and unit aligns to their company’s organizational constitution.

They’re not done yet, but the politics, power plays, and self-centered behaviors are diminishing.

The executive team is optimistic about their culture transition, which is terrific.

How clear is your team or company’s present day purpose? Do team members understand your strategies and goals well enough to articulate them to others? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © alpha spirit – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Your Character is Showing

business woman lyingThe 2016 US presidential race is heating up, which means the time is ripe for truth-stretching, name calling, and worse.

This week’s “I’m running for president” announcement by one candidate was so filled with distortions and untruths that fact checkers immediately pounced.

In another case, a news anchor was suspended for six months for “misrepresenting” his reporting experiences. In an interview this week, the anchor said his ego drove him to embellish stories.

What causes humans to embellish, to lie, to discount others, to take credit, or worse? Financial gain or showing they are smarter than others or winning while someone loses are outcomes that may drive us to lie.

For me, it all boils down to character – moral character. And, moral character matters.

Moral character is at the heart of many philosophers’ ideologies. We can learn about virtue and character through the writings of Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus and others.

In fact, one of Heraclitus’ most popular quotes is “ethos anthropos daimon“, which roughly translates as “character is fate” or “character is destiny.”

Being of strong moral character means we are trustworthy. We are reliable. We do what we say we will do. We treat others with dignity and respect. Not once in a while, not most of the time, but all of the time, in every interaction.

Every plan, decision, and action reveals our character. We may think that our selfish drive is invisible to others, but it is not. It is amazingly transparent and consistent. If we are self-serving, it is obvious. If we are of service to others, it is obvious.

I have utmost control over the quality of my moral character. Should I be of grace and of service today, or should I screw everyone over so “I win” and they lose? It’s my choice.

Maintaining strong moral character takes effort, energy, reflection, and intention. It doesn’t happen naturally. We live in a society that reinforces “I, ME, MINE,” daily. If we want something different, something that serves others more than ourselves, we have to invest in those behaviors and those decisions.

Even when you are successful in aligning to strong moral character, others around you might behave in less giving ways.

For example, my worst boss asked me to lie. Years ago, in my non-profit executive life, my branch team of volunteers and staff worked our butts off to raise $25,000, which was double what they had ever raised before. But at the campaign’s closing dinner, with 300 people in attendance, my boss told me to get up in front of everyone and tell them we had raised, not $25,000, but $30,000. I refused, and announced the real total.

My boss wasn’t happy. Neither was I. He felt that I let him down. I felt that he had revealed his true moral character, and I had discovered his values were much different than mine. I didn’t want to interact with him anymore. I left that job as quickly as I could.

Make the choice today to be trustworthy, to do what you say you will do, to be kind, to be gracious, to express gratitude for effort as well as for accomplishment, to be reliable, to be respectful with everyone.

You’ll be able to hold your head high – and you might even influence others to be more respectful and of service, over time.

How do you maintain your strong moral character? How do others whom you respect demonstrate their strong moral character? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Steven Coburn – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Demand Ethical Behavior

crowded football stadiumThis week the world of football (soccer in the US) was shocked by the US Department of Justice indictment of 14 defendants for alleged FIFA kickbacks of more than $150 million over the past twenty years.

What was more shocking to me was the response of the FIFA president, up for re-election within hours, who said, “We cannot constantly supervise everyone in football . . . you cannot ask everyone to behave ethically.”

What an amazing admission by Sepp Blatter (who won re-election, despite the “distraction” of the arrests). Blatter believes he is not responsible – nor is any leader – if someone in their employ breaks the law (or bribes officials or launders money, etc.).

This is not just a FIFA leadership problem. Many company, region, department, and team leaders around the globe believe the same thing: “Leaders cannot ask their people to behave ethically. I am not responsible for whether my leaders or team members behave in an ethical manner.”

These issues are prevalent across the globe. For example, the CFO of the Phoenix VA hospital testified last June that the hospital environment was toxic, the “most dysfunctional place I’ve ever worked in my life.” She reported she was subject to sexual harassment, racial slurs, and bogus investigations during her two years there.

Phoenix VA administrators didn’t just focus on harassment of the CFO. They were apparently preoccupied with accusing and investigating one another for years – all while veterans awaited care in a system of backlogged appointments and fabricated wait-time reporting.

Here’s another example. In Denver, a former sheriff’s department investigator reported that he was told by his captain to avoid logging into evidence a videotape of inmate mistreatment that occurred last month. If the tape wasn’t logged into the evidence system, the incident would not be investigated further. The department has suffered systemic problems including poor training of officers and mistreatment of inmates for years.

The reality is that leaders are, indeed, responsible for the creation of productive workplaces that treat everyone with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.

Where leaders create clear performance expectations and hold people accountable for those, results and profits steadily grow. Where leaders create clear values expectations – like integrity, honesty, cooperative interaction, etc. – and hold people accountable for those, employee engagement and customer service steadily grow.

Where leaders do not create clear expectations of performance and of citizenship, a void is created. In the absence of leadership, we humans will fail. We are flawed beings. We make mistakes. We are tempted to take advantage of systems and circumstances. Most of us resist those temptations; some don’t.

Leaders can absolutely ask – yes, even demand – that everyone behave ethically. By formalizing performance standards and values expectations, the ground rules are clearly set. The hard work comes after these expectations are formalized. Leaders must then model the performance and values in every interaction, showing they are champions of their desired culture. And, they must hold others accountable for both performance and values.

They do that by gathering performance data, feeding it back, and coaching players to success. They do that by gathering values data – inviting feedback from peers, employees, and customers to assess the degree to which players are modeling desired values and behaviors – and feeding it back, and coaching players to desired citizenship.

It’s not easy, but it is the right thing to do.

What do you think? Is ethical behavior demanded in your organization? How did your great bosses demand integrity and honesty? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Csaba Peterdi – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Cog in a Wheel

I interviewed a key leader in a client organization recently. I was gathering perceptions of the organization’s culture. I’d spoken to senior leaders and was now engaging with next level leaders for their insights.

This key leader was tired. His ten-member team had been running hard over the last year, shorthanded. They have three open positions. “Everyone is doing their fair share but the workload just doesn’t let up,” he told me. They’d been actively recruiting to fill the job slots but haven’t found qualified people to plug in. Many strong candidates had multiple offers for more money than their company was offering.

“This is a really good company but no one gives us any credit for the extra work everyone is doing,” he said. “We feel like cogs in a wheel. No one is paying any attention to us.”

Among other things, this leader is experiencing the negative impact of the improving job market. People are confident that they can get a better job quickly so are leaving their current, probably uninspiring roles by the thousands. A recent USA Today article noted that over 2.8 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2015, up from 2.7 million in February.

This leader – and his team – is also experiencing a lack of appreciation for their efforts, which recent studies have found – unfortunately – to be quite common. Tiny HR’s 2015 Engagement and Culture report found that only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work. Over 25% of employees reported they don’t have the tools to be successful in their jobs.

That lack of validation and appreciation can definitely lead to employees deciding to look for a different job where their contributions are recognized.

Why do leaders ignore genuine contributions by teams and players? It may be that these leaders believe that effusive praise and encouragement is fluff. These leaders think, “I’m paying them fair wages. I don’t need to thank them every minute, as well, do I?”

Or it may be these leaders simply don’t think about praise and encouragement, at all. They didn’t get it from their bosses so they don’t think it’s important today.

Or, it may be that these leaders are spread thin themselves. They know that they’re not providing positive, validating feedback to their employees and they feel badly for it. They apparently don’t feel badly enough to change their behavior and proactively praise aligned contributions, though!

A cog in a wheel is an important element; it keeps the machine running smoothly. If it’s cared for – cleaned, oiled, and polished regularly – it will serve the machine well for years. If it’s not cared for, it will break – bringing the machine to a halt. The breakage may even cause greater damage to other parts of the machine!

Humans deserve to know where they stand, regularly. A leader’s time and energy invested in dialog, genuine appreciation, and validation of aligned efforts builds employee engagement and well-being. Those, in turn, inspire employees to apply their skills in service to team goals and customers.

Employees are not cogs in a wheel. They are the face of your company and the foundation of your organization’s products and services. Treat them well, daily.

What do you think? How did your best bosses express genuine appreciation for work well done? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © zarg404 – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Role of Mood in Inspiring Aligned Behavior

Angry grumpy pissed off senior mature man gray backgroundMonths ago I was delivering a day-long leadership program for HR managers. The program was part of a week-long conference at the company’s headquarters. One hundred attendees were split among five classrooms.

Participants were excited about what they were learning and were very engaged. They clearly felt the program could help them not only with managing their own development but with coaching their internal clients to manage their direct reports more effectively.

In the midst of the afternoon’s main activity (structured rehearsals – we never call them role plays!), the senior vice president of HR popped in to my classroom to observe. He came in with a grumpy demeanor and a frown on his face, and leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.

Participants’ reactions were immediate and interesting. They all glanced up at their SVP’s entrance. They all noticed his posture and mood – and looked away. A few looked at their role play partners and rolled their eyes. Participants went on with the activity, but the volume in the room was much subdued after his entrance.

What caused this SVP’s unhappy demeanor? It’s impossible to guess; it could have been one or more of a hundred different variables.

What is important to understand is that a leader’s mood and tone impacts their team’s (or department’s or company’s) players. Leaders do not have neutral impact. Their plans, decisions, actions, and moods are scrutinized by their team leaders and team members quite frequently and quite carefully.

Leaders’ actions and moods either improve player engagement and contribution or they erode it. There is no middle ground.

Am I saying that leaders cannot show displeasure? No, I’m not. I am saying that leaders have greater positive impact by expressing disappointment from a servant leadership place rather than a frustrated parent place!

Think about your best bosses, those leaders that created a safe, inspiring workplace where you were immensely productive and thoroughly engaged. It is extremely likely that your best boss’ moods were positive and consistent; those moods didn’t fluctuate wildly.

Our best bosses validated our efforts and accomplishments promptly – and they redirected our efforts when we missed the mark. They expressed their disappointment firmly and kindly, asking us to shift our actions. They did not discount our value as people while doing so.

All of us experience disappointment and frustrations. When we take our frustrations out on our colleagues, family, or friends, we create dissonance and distrust, not respect and dignity.

I coach leaders to “put on a happy face,” to act positive and optimistic even when things are not going as planned. It requires effort to wear that happy face. It may require that leaders insulate their teams from the confusion going on outside their team.

Leaders need to be honest with how things are going – don’t say things are fine when they’re not. Do, however, present the realities from an optimistic viewpoint, not a depressive one.

Even if a bad mood arises, the most effective leaders set that mood aside, and present a kind, pleasant, and non-judging approach in every interaction.

What do you think? How did your best bosses manage their moods to reduce negative impact on team members? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © pathdoc – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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