Tag Archives | Servant leadership

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.”

Bad Bosses Erode Performance and Engagement

How engaged are your employees at work? How productive are they?

Great leaders – those who inspire top performance AND genuine team member engagement – pay attention to both productivity and employee engagement, every day.

Why? Because a work environment that treats team members with trust, dignity, and respect in every interaction boosts engagement, service, and results.

The biggest influence on employee engagement? Jim Clifton, the Chairman of Gallup, says it’s the quality of your leaders. In his post, Millions of Bad Managers are Killing America’s Growth, Clifton states that an estimated seven million lousy managers are “not properly developing or worse, are outright depressing . . . millions of US employees.”

Tiny HR’s 2014 Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture report found that 49% of employees are not satisfied with their direct supervisor. Only 21% of employees said they feel strongly valued at work.

In Workfront’s 2015 Work-Life Report, sixty percent of employees believe bad bosses (those who are demanding, overbearing, and mean) have the greatest negative impact on work-life balance. Poor work-life balance is costly. 68% of employees report poor morale, while over 40% report employee burn out, high turnover, and poor productivity.

These studies – and many more – underscore the significant impact that the quality of your leaders have on team member engagement, service, and results.

I don’t think companies intentionally hire bad bosses. I do believe, though, that companies tolerate bad behavior from bosses far too frequently.

Any instance of bad behavior – be it yelling, cursing, demeaning, etc. – erodes trust, dignity, and respect. Why would companies allow these interactions? In my interviews with senior leaders, they frequently report bad behavior – but they discount the negative impact. “Oh,” they’ll say, “everybody knows that’s just how Bob is.” Or they might tell me how Bob’s team “always comes through at the end of the quarter.” Or they’ll say, “Bob doesn’t know any better.”

Or they’ll say, “I’ve tried, but nothing works. I don’t know what else to do.”

These are difficult conversations if your company has never formalized how people need to treat each other at work. If the only targets you set are performance standards, then people – bosses and team members – often behave badly to deliver those results.

The best way to move forward – and to hire aligned bosses moving forward – is to craft an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution is a formal statement of your company’s (or team’s or department’s) purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals.

By formalizing the values you want modeled in every interaction – including defining values in observable, tangible, behavioral terms – you create clear agreements with your leaders about how they are to manage their team members as well what performance standards are required.

If, for example, you have a “respect” value and one of your behaviors is “I treat everyone in a civil manner at all times,” you can measure the degree to which leaders actually do treat others civilly. If they do, praise and encourage them. If they don’t, redirect them promptly.

If they continue to treat people badly, lovingly help them out of your organization. The quality of workplace interactions is too important to leave it in the hands of mean leaders.

Want to learn more about creating workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution? My latest book, The Culture Engine, will help.

Don’t let bad bosses erode team member performance and engagement. Demand civil treatment and model it, in every interaction.

What do you think? Do you believe that bad bosses erode engagement and performance in your company? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © katie_martynova – 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.


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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.”

The Purpose of Leadership

Businessman Making Presentation To Office ColleaguesWhat is the leader’s reason for being? I see quotes and posts from all corners of the globe on this topic.

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to engage a number of leadership thinkers on this idea. The range of responses is wide!

Some suggest that the purpose of leadership is to deliver results through others. Others see the leader’s purpose as developing more leaders. Even others see the leader’s primary responsibility is to make the vision come to fruition.

I believe that effective leaders do all these things and more.

What is missing for me in most of these responses, though, is the answer to this vital question: “To what end?” Who or what is changed when “leadership” happens? Who is being served when “leadership” efforts are applied?

If the outcomes of leadership efforts primarily serve the leader (in the form of bonuses, credit, promotions, etc.), others enjoy fewer (or no) benefits from those efforts.

If leadership activities discount or erode employee contributions or value, that inhibits employee engagement. Team members who feel discounted or taken advantage of won’t serve customers kindly or respectfully, nor will they willingly apply their skills in service to team or company strategies and goals.

In 25 years of consulting with leaders, I’ve never observed self-serving leaders positively impact my “big three” – employee engagement, customer service, or results and profits. They might get short term results, but over the long term, each of the big three are negatively impacted.

Can a single, all-encompassing purpose statement for leadership be crafted? Here’s my best thinking at this point in time.

In The Culture Engine, I present a template for creating an effective organizational purpose statement. Let’s refine that template for leaders. We need a succinct declaration that explains what effective leaders do, for whom, and “to what end” – how employees and customers are positively served by leadership efforts.

What do effective leaders do? They set performance targets. They demand cooperative interaction. They validate efforts. They celebrate accomplishments and team work. They listen and learn. They refine policies and procedures to make employees’ jobs easier. They hold themselves and all others accountable for performance and values expectations.

Whom do effective leaders serve? Their primary customers are their team members. Their secondary customers are those who purchase the team’s (or company’s) products and services.

To what end do effective leaders serve? They inspire aligned contributions by all team members in a trusting, respectful work environment.

By combining these answers into a crisp statement, we arrive at this purpose of leadership:

“Effective leaders set high standards for performance and values, validate efforts and contributions, and ensure cooperative interaction and performance in a trusting, respectful work environment.”

Does this statement align with how your most effective leaders behaved? What is my leadership purpose statement missing? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Monkey Business – 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 Authenticity Factor

Keep it real concept.To what degree are you genuine and authentic with your work colleagues – bosses, peers, and team members – in daily interactions?

Dictionary.com defines authentic as “not false or copied; genuine; real.”

If we ponder how our great bosses behaved with us, it is extremely likely that they were real. They demonstrated authentic care and service to us.

They interacted with no hidden agendas. There was no smoke and mirrors; there was simply honest discussion, transparent decision-making, and in-depth engagement.

Our great bosses kept their commitments, delivering on their promises. If they were unable to keep their commitments, they told us why, well in advance of the deadline. They also explained how they were trying to get back on track, as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, leaders that demonstrate authentic care are not the norm. For example, TinyHR’s 2014 engagement and culture survey found that 49% of employees are not satisfied with their direct supervisor.

In my work with clients around the globe, I hear about team member’s frustrations with their leaders all the time. These frustrations are often founded on the leader’s lack of consistent authenticity. Employees tell me, “I don’t know which boss is going to show up each day – Jekyll or Hyde.” Or “She says one thing then turns around and does the exact opposite. We see it every day.”

If leaders don’t demonstrate behavioral integrity – keeping their promises and modeling the organization’s espoused values – they erode team members’ commitment and contribution. Tony Simons’ excellent book, The Integrity Dividend, found that employee’s commitment goes up with observed behavioral integrity from their leaders. That causes employees to apply discretionary energy in service to their organization’s customers and goals.

The benefit? For one hotel chain, $250,000 annual profit growth for every 1/4 point gain on a 10 point scale!

There is another benefit to the leader’s authenticity. When leaders demonstrate authentic care, team members are much more likely to demonstrate authentic care with each other.

The coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich, is a player’s coach – team members love to play for him. He’s authentic and genuine. One way his genuineness plays out is that Popovich often devotes a portion of team meetings to the culture and history of team members.

Last June, in the midst of preparations for the championship series with the Miami Heat, Popovich opened a meeting by leading a team discussion about Mabo Day. Point guard Patty Mills – an indigenous Australian native – was surprised and honored by the coach’s actions.

Popovich believes that knowing one another’s stories off the court binds team members together on the court. “It builds camaraderie. They feel connected and engaged and do better work.”

Authenticity matters. Genuine care matters. Be real, be honest, be available, be present. Only then can you build positive relationships, serve others consistently, and inspire aligned behavior and contribution.

How did your great bosses demonstrate authentic care? How well do you know your colleagues’ history and stories? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Want hands-on guidance for boosting productivity while reducing drama at work? Join me in Denver for my Culture Leadership Roundtable. This series, based on my book, The Culture Engine, meets one-morning-a-month starting in April.

Photo © creative soul – 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 these 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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