Category Archives: Leadership Strategies
In virtually every organization there are people who seem to never learn or grow. Oftentimes we classify them as disengaged, subversive, or troublemakers, and look to dismiss them.
I have observed repeatedly a fair number of people that have slow learning curves which takes them a while to learn the fundamentals of their job. Yet I have been amazed at how many have blossomed over a longer period of time than others into solid team members and even became strong leaders in their own right.
What was the cause for the transformation?
Many people grow in proportion like a bamboo tree.
When a bamboo tree is planted and watered it doesn’t sprout for the first year, or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth. It takes five full years for the typical bamboo plant to finally break ground.
Once it does, it is actually one of the fastest growing plants in the world, sometimes growing at a rate of 35 inches in a day.
What is the cause for this tremendous growth?
In the course of the four-year period of seeming nothingness, the tree is growing a complex underground network of roots. These roots are so vast and extensive, that if you were to uproot a grown tree you would find it difficult to do so because of the root system.
It’s roots store all that water and nutrients, and create a myriad of conduits to support the rapid growth of the tree when it’s time has come.
And when the tree has come to full maturity, it possesses a denser strength than brick or concrete and a higher tensile strength than steel.
Sit back and think of the people in your organization that don’t seem to be growing. Are they working hard? Listening? Are they staying loyal, staying put with your company?
These people might actually be growing under the surface in ways you may not notice. These could be future impact players who, with the right combination of water and nutrients – training, encouragement, and entrusted responsibility – could shoot up from their place and make their presence known.
Just because we don’t see anything happening on the outside – stellar performance, heads nodding in agreement, skills being mastered in our timeframe – does not mean your people are not learning and growing. They may very well be developing some strong roots underneath.
Every leader is responsible for giving their people the necessary ingredients for growth and development. If you withhold any ingredient, you stunt their growth. When you liberally apply training, vision, knowledge, trust, and other internal and external resources, you may see quick growth. But if you don’t see anything quickly, be patient and wait. They are growing, you just may not actually see it.
Invest your time into everybody. Don’t be prejudiced by the outward displays of growth and performance. You just might discover some people ripe for rapid growth.
People that will be strong as steel – or a bamboo tree – in their value and loyalty to your organization.
Some time ago I conducted a training session for a number of restaurant employees. I prefaced my training session with an explanation of how restaurants made money, and that the average restaurant makes about a 5% profit.
As soon as this fact rolled from my mouth, a number of servers who were present with their owner turned to her and questioned “Is that right?” The owner nodded and confirmed “Some months, yes.”
The staff then turned around to me and many of them exclaimed, “Well, we’ll need to help Cathy make more money then.” The sense of teamwork to rally and help their boss make her business more profitable was the most incredible aspect of that training.
Usually in consulting with business owners, I find that most of them never share the financials with their employees.
The usual excuses abound:
“They don’t need to know.”
“I can’t trust them, why should I show them the books?”
“It’s not their job to know.”
“We can’t show them what we really make.”
“They’ll want a raise!!”
Then there are always the unspoken excuses that being open-book will reveal issues, such as impropriety, false reporting, bleaker financial pictures, and so on.
Business owners and leaders who want to increase engagement can easily develop trust by adopting an open-book culture that lets employees know the financials, a more connected and positive workplace results. This study from the University of Michigan underscores some of the benefits of this approach.
Here are some of the other benefits of adopting an open-book culture:
- It give employees information to make informed decisions
- It builds trust in all directions of the organization
- It enables people to make decisions to better increase bottom line, without being told so
- It gives employees a better understanding of how strategy and goals are, or are not, meeting financial goals
- It holds leadership and the entire organization accountable for financial stewardship
- It indirectly asks people to give input on ways to help make revenue, and save on costs
- It gives people a deeper insight as to your industry so they can develop their knowledge more thoroughly
- It also builds more experts in your industry and deepens your organization’s competency and acumen
While it’s clear there are so many advantages for open book leadership, there is one disadvantage however – holding unethical leadership accountable. The case is pretty clear, if you want people to open up and engage, you will need to open up your books first.
Keeping employees engaged is similar to the process of using a balance scale.
On a balance scale, if you place weights more on one end than the other the scale will tip towards the heavier side. Employee engagement is very similar.
Envision the scale with two distinct balances on either side – one is engagement and one is disengagement. Each side has has a weight that can only be placed on one side – one weight is positive impact on your people (engagement), and the other is negative impact on them (disengagement).
Each organization has an employee engagement scale, but so does each team and each individual.
The overall goal of leadership is to weight the scale so heavily on the positive engagement side, with virtually no negative on the other balance. However the delicate nuance is to understand each individual’s scale and ensure their engagement side is properly weighted.
The challenge is to understand the principles of negativity and employee disconnect, and how any negative actions, including yours, are counted on the employee’s scale.
Negative impacts to your staff almost always outweigh the positive.
It takes a large amount of positive to offset negatives when they do occur.
Unlike weights on a physical scale which has constant density, employee engagement has variable weights based on the dynamics of the individuals and basic human principles of interaction. Consider the following variables:
- Positives are lighter while negatives weigh more
- Negatives can vary in weight from individual to individual
- More than one positive is needed to offset negatives
- Small and seemingly normal positives may not outweigh negatives
- Both weights have varying degrees of visibility – positives need to always be visible (public and tangible); negatives are usually invisible and hard to discern as many leaders are blinded to them
- Negatives gain increasing weight over time (distrust grows) where smaller negatives can carry an enormous weight
- Staff Appreciation Days, Thank You cards and Employee of the Month programs are good positives, but are too infrequent to offset constant year-round negatives
Some items that are heavier positives:
- Sincere apologies
- Concrete actions to correct poor leadership
- Increased valuation of a person
- More voice
- Public praise and apology
- Deferred leadership role, showing trust for your people to showcase their talents
While not an exhaustive list, these examples show the intricacies of how mindful leaders need to be in creating a culture of total engagement.
By gaining more awareness of the correlation of negative and positive weights that get placed on an employee engagement scale, you can create a better leadership style that puts more positive engagement weights and builds a deeper and more committed team in your organization.