I know! A lot of people don’t like the word “boss.” They think it sounds … well … “bossy,” as in “bossing people around” and “you’re not the boss of me!” and “I’m the boss so you have to do what I say.” I didn’t use to like the word either until I discovered that it can be used as a term of endearment.
When I was the director of an international school in China, many of the local Chinese staff referred to me as “Laoban” (boss). When leading teams in certain parts of the US many of my Spanish-speaking teammates would call me “Jefe” (boss). Even some of my English-speaking teammates have straight-up called me “boss.” None of those was being used derogatorily, they were used with genuine affection. So, I came to accept the word “boss” and even began to appreciate it because of what my teammates were communicating when using it.
Over the last 15 years or so I have used a specific question when I interview people regardless of the organizational level for which they were a candidate. That question is,
“Could you tell me about your best boss?”
I learned a lot about a person from their answer to that question. I learned, for example, how they like to be managed. But, I also learned a lot about great leadership from those answers. There are some pretty good bosses out there. There are some bad ones, too (I also asked people to tell me about them). But the good ones have these two things in common.
- They found a way to CONNECT with their people-as people.
- They were able to CHALLENGE their people to become and achieve more than they thought possible.
If you lay those two qualities down on a grid with CONNECT as the horizontal axis and CHALLENGE as the vertical axis, that will give you a 4-quadrant matrix that describes what kind of boss you are. The best bosses are well into the upper right quadrant of that matrix which is called “The Engager.” They CONNECT and they CHALLENGE.
When Leaders are Engagers, they have those qualities people use to describe their best boss. Do you want to be the best boss your people have ever had? Reply “boss” in the comments to let me know you do.
Two weeks ago I wrote about restaurant staff who work hard to provide a great dining experience in the midst of all different kinds of customers. Just the other day I saw a picture of a sign someone had put up that said, “The whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up.” Great point! I kept that in mind last night when Suzi and I and another couple (different couple from the ones I wrote about before) did a progressive dinner date. We went to one restaurant for dinner and another restaurant for dessert (no, we don’t live our whole lives in restaurants). At dessert, I actually thanked our server for showing up to work today. That restaurant was busy and the wait staff was a bit harried and they did their best.
Every once in a while you run into a superstar like Bailey who I wrote about two weeks ago. She’s the one who put “orange juice” on top of our sundaes. This story isn’t mine, but I love it and wanted to share it with you.
Another Super Star
Several years ago I read a good book by John G. Miller called QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life, At the beginning of Chapter One he tells this story.
It was a beautiful day when I stopped into Rock Bottom restaurant for a quick lunch. The place was jammed. I didn’t have much time, so I was happy to grab the one stool they had available at the bar. A few minutes after I sat down, a young man carrying a tray full of dirty dishes hurried by on his way to the kitchen. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed me, stopped, came back, and said, “Sir, have you been helped?”
“No, I haven’t,” I said. “And I’m in a bit of a hurry. But all I really want is a salad and maybe a couple of rolls.”
“I can get you that, sir. What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a Diet Coke, please.”
Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we have Pepsi products. Would that be all right?”
“Ah, no thanks,” I said with a smile. “I’ll just have water with lemon, please.”
“Great, I’ll be back.” He disappeared.
Moments later he returned with the salad, the rolls, and the water. I thanked him, and he was quickly gone again, leaving me to enjoy my meal, a satisfied customer.
Suddenly, there was a blur of activity off to my left, the “wind of enthusiasm” blew behind me, and then, over my right shoulder, stretched the “long arm of service” delivering a twenty-ounce bottle, frosty on the outside, cold on the inside, of–you guessed it–Diet Coke!
“Wow!” I said. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a smile and hurried off again.
My first thought was Hire this man! Talk about going the extra mile! He was clearly not your average employee. And the more I thought about the outstanding thing he’d just done, the more I wanted to talk to him. So as soon as I could get his attention, I waved him over.
“Excuse me, I thought you didn’t sell Coke,” I said.
“That’s right, sir, we don’t.”
“Well, where did this come from?”
“The grocery store around the corner.” I was taken aback.
“Who paid for it?” I asked.
“I did, sir; just a dollar.”
By then I was thinking profound and professional thoughts like Cool! But what I said was, “Come on, you’ve been awfully busy. How did you have time to go get it?” Smiling and seemingly growing taller before my eyes, he said, “I didn’t, sir. I sent my manager!”
The Point(s) Of The Story
That server was clearly amazing. And the author goes on to make his great points about asking the right questions like, “What can I do in this situation to make a difference?” rather than what he calls “incorrect questions” like, “Why do I have to do everything around here,” and, “Who’s supposed to be covering this area, anyway?”
I would also like to give some recognition to the manager in that story. How many managers do you know who would respond to their employee by actually going to the grocery store and buying that coke? That person understood their role in supporting amazing performance. In my book, that makes them pretty amazing, too.
One final point. There is a lot of complaining going on in the world these days, much of it is justified. But, there is also amazing happening. Keep your eyes open for amazing, acknowledge it when you see it. Better yet, be amazing.
After three years of blogging and over 30 years of leadership in various organizations, I’ve decided to offer some of what I’ve learned in an online course. You may have seen my Facebook video last week. If not, here’s a link to that.
I’ve learned a lot about leadership over the years. I’ve learned from mentors and from my experience with success and failure. It has been my privilege to serve clients in multiple industries including healthcare, airlines, sports and entertainment, food manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, education, and several non-profit organizations.
When I transitioned from full-time ministry to the business world almost 25 years ago, I wrote the following personal mission statement: “to build relationships within my sphere of influence through which I can help people discover and achieve their capacity for excellence.” That has been my purpose. Now I want to expand that sphere of influence by offering this online course.
I know that the skills contained in this course will help people lead better. Whether they are new in a leadership role or a CEO or business owner, these skills will make them better because they will help leaders connect with and engage their people. In fact, these skills are transferrable to all of life, not just business or non-profit leadership.
Here’s a link to my new web page. There you will find a link to the free webinar called “Engager Dynamics Bookends.” Take 40 minutes to view the webinar. It might just be the best time investment you make all month.
Happy 3rd Birthday, Engager Dynamics! My firsts post, Star Performance, went up on April 15, 2018, so this is celebration week. This time last year, who could have imagined what was in store? We thought we’d be out of this pandemic lockdown soon for one thing. We sold the home we’d lived in the longest of any since we got married and moved to “The Ranch.” Let’s not even mention the interesting politics with the campaigns, the rallies, the demonstrations, the conventions, and the election. What a year!
Work, for those who still have jobs, has largely become a virtual world of masked colleagues at least six feet away if not miles. Connecting is more important now than ever. This is a good time to talk about the fact that connecting is more skill than natural talent. We can learn to connect. True, some people seem to connect more easily than others, but we can all learn to connect. Great connectors tend to draw on one or more of several factors to create a connection. Here are five to consider. Which of these might you have? The factors will be different depending on with whom you’re connecting.
Relationships – who you know.
A quick way to gain credibility with an individual, a group, or an audience is to borrow it from someone who has credibility with them. “Who” you know can open the door for you to connect with someone. I was at a convention in Orlando, Florida in August of 2019, for example. I met a guy and we started talking. You know, the small talk that we use to find something in common. As it turned out, we had lived in the same town during high school and knew some of the same people particularly a guy I had played football with. There was an instant connection. The level of conversation changed from small talk to connection.
Insight – what you know.
If you share an area of expertise generously with others, you give people reasons to respect you and they will develop a sense of connection with you. What are you really good at that most people aren’t? Can you draw? Are you good with Excel? Are you a history buff? Whatever it is that people look to you for can be a point of connection when you share it with them.
Success – what you have done.
People want to be successful and they seek out others who have accomplished something to get their advice. If you are successful in anything you do, there will be people who will want to listen to you and connect with you.
Ability – what you can do.
If you have a high level of ability in an area, others may want to connect with you because of that ability. Excellence connects. Individuals who perform at a high level in their profession often have instant credibility with others. People admire them. They want to be like them. They feel connected to them. When they speak, others listen.
Think about Michael Jordan. He’s made more money from endorsements than he ever did playing basketball. Is it because of his knowledge or use of the products he endorses? No. It’s because of what he can do with a basketball.
Sacrifice – how you have lived.
If you’ve made sacrifices, suffered tragedy, or overcome painful obstacles, many people will relate to you. If you have been able to remain positive yet humble in the midst of life’s difficulties, others will admire you and will connect with you.
Not everyone is Michael Jordan. But you don’t have to be him to be recognized for your ability at something. Ability is only one possible way to connect and these are only five of many possible connecting points. When you find a connecting point with someone or with a group, you can sense a switch from communication to connection. Finding those connecting points is a skill. I’ve just given you five places to look.
Could you imagine investing the money to buy a thoroughbred racehorse, investing the time and energy into training the racehorse but never letting them out of the gate, never letting them race? Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that? They wouldn’t. But, that’s what leaders sometimes do with the people they lead and are working to develop. They hesitate to let them race.
Last week I wrote that Experience is the 70% component of Leadership Development. If you’ve got some thoroughbreds in your stable then take the following as advice from an article called, “The Process of Training a Racehorse for the Kentucky Derby.
“Besides conditioning and timing, it is important to get horses used to racing against each other. It is not uncommon for a farm to train their horses together on the track in the morning. This allows the horses to get used to getting bumped by other horses and the dirt flying up in their face, and allows them to learn to be guided to the rail by their jockey.
On Jan. 1, when horses turn three, they are eligible for the Kentucky Derby®. In order for an owner or trainer to get their horse admitted into the “Run for the Roses,” they must enter in a series of qualifying races called the Road to the Kentucky Derby®.
If the colt is then one of the top qualifiers in the series for the Kentucky Derby®, you’ll see them at the starting gate!”
Getting bumped by others, getting used to dirt flying up in their face, and learning to get to the rail is what experience is all about. It’s how leaders learn to win.
Why We Don’t
Some leaders hesitate to release their people into experience. What might cause such hesitation?
- Lack of Time – leaders focus on getting things done and may not see time available to guide their protégés through the experience they need to grow. So shortsighted – investing the time now will save immeasurable time in the future.
- “I do it best” – you may be more skilled at a certain task than the people you’re developing. However, if the task is not one you must do and your people can do it 80% as well as you, let them do it. It’s the only way they will get better.
- Past Failures – You’ve invested in someone before and they failed. No one I know likes the feelings associated with failure. But, like with anything else, we learn from our mistakes and do better next time.
How We Can
Here are some thoughts to help overcome the specific reasons we hesitate I just mentioned.
- Use your Calendar – make coaching a recurring entry on your calendar. That is when you will invest focused time and effort into the people you are developing. This is a Covey quadrant 2 activity. It’s important but not urgent. these are often the things that we overlook but could bring the greatest return.
- Set a Threshold – establish prerequisites for delegating certain tasks. What knowledge or skill must a person demonstrate before you will assign them certain tasks?
- Use the “Scientific Method” – Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Now we have the electric lightbulb. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. When we fail, we should evaluate what went wrong, learn not to do that again, and construct another experiment using what we learned from the last one.
Racehorses have to race. You’ve walked them around the track and let them stand inside the starting gate (Exposure). You’ve provided them with proper nutrition, guided them in their gate, and taught them when to move to the rail (Education). Now you have to let them race. Release them to do their thing so they can gain the Experience that will make them a champion.
We currently live in California where there are 16 separate climate zones. We learned that the hard way one summer day after we first moved here. It was over 100 degrees in the Central Valley where we live, so we decided to go to the ocean. We chose to drive into San Francisco to enjoy the Wharf. We loaded our family of 7 into the mini-van all dressed in T-shirts and shorts and headed to the city. It was when we got out of the van at the Wharf that we discovered the short drive (less than an hour) had take us way out of our climate zone. It was in the lower 60’s in the city and we were too cold to enjoy the day.
Gardening and landscaping is interesting in California for the same reason. Nurseries and Garden Centers have to stock according to the climate zone(s) represented by their customer base. “Will the plants I want grow well in my climate zone?” The answer to that question can be different only a few miles down the road.
What Growth Climate Are You Creating?
People are like plants. We thrive and grow in certain climates better than other climates. One of the first components of a growth climate is the basic beliefs or assumptions you have about people. What you believe about them will determine how you behave toward them.
Some people have the following or similar basic assumptions about people:
- They are uncommitted.
- They are basically lazy.
- They are irresponsible.
- They are merely resources you use to accomplish my goals.
What kind of climate do you think comes from those basic beliefs? I believe it would be a cold, dark climate filled with fear of failure and a punishment-based motivational model. Have you ever experienced a climate like that?
The Golem effect is in full force here. The Golem effect says that negative expectations by supervisors produce poorer performance from employees that tend to reinforce the negative beliefs of the supervisors which, in turn, generates more negative expectations. It’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Opposite of the Golem effect is the Pygmalian effect. It says that our beliefs about others influence our actions toward them, which impact their beliefs about themselves, which cause their actions toward others, which reinforce our beliefs about them. It is a positive cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
We are more apt to create a climate for growth when we believe:
- People will do what makes sense to them.
- People want to make a difference.
- People don’t want to fail.
- People want to grow personally.
- People need and respond to encouragement and appreciation.
What a different climate those beliefs would create. But, how do you change your beliefs? Are they permanently ingrained or can they change? I believe they can change. Often the only thing required to change them is to spend a little time getting to know your people. When you listen to them, 9 times out of 10 you will be amazed especially if you’re open to being amazed.
Sunshine and Rain
Once we have the foundational beliefs right, what can we add to the environment to promote personal growth for ourselves and our people?
Exposure – give yourself and your people opportunities to try new things. Let them attend meetings they normally don’t have access to. I’ve had people apply for promotions they didn’t expect to get just for the exposure to the process. One value of exposure is that it often generates questions which will lead to the next step.
Education – encourage yourself and your people to take classes. They could be toward certifications or just to answer those questions that came from Exposure. But, have a purpose for classes and don’t assume taking a class is the sum total of development. It’s always only a step.
Experience – the difference between Exposure and Experience is that instead of attending the meeting, you have the person lead the meeting. You let the person be lead for a day. You walk, or let your people walk in someone else’s shoes. These are amazing growth opportunities.
You have to be willing to let people fail safely for any of this to work. Failure is part of growth. In fact, we often learn more from our failures than from our successes. Failure may feel like “dung” but dung makes a great fertilizer.
A Word About Weeds and Suckers
Part of cultivation for plant growth is pulling weeds and cutting away unhealthy growth. That’s also necessary in personal growth. Correcting bad habits and redirecting people are part of the growth process. Sometimes you may even have to remove a toxic person from the team in order to promote a growth climate. That’s extreme and a last resort, but is sometimes necessary.
Just like California with it’s 16 climate zones, your climate doesn’t have to be the same as the one down the road to grow beautiful plants. But it has to be conducive to growing the plants you want.
Last week I listed one of 7 barriers to good listening as “The Speed Gap Trap.” I called it that because of the gap between the speed of speech and the speed of thought. I called it a trap because it’s in that gap that most good listening gets stuck. Most often people don’t listen well because their minds wander while the other person is talking or because they use the gap to plan their reply.
Bonus Brain Time
There is a completely opposite way to look at the speed gap. It can be listening’s worsts enemy, or it can be listening’s greatest ally. What makes the difference? Intentionality. You can learn to use the gap to your listening advantage.
Before we go any further, I want to try an experiment with you. Think about a red balloon . . . What came to mind? Was it a big hot air balloon or a smaller helium filled birthday party balloon? Now, think about a green chair . . . Did you have a specific chair that came to mind or did you imagine one? It doesn’t matter. The point of the experiment is to show that you can choose what you think about. If you followed the instructions, you directed your mind to a red balloon and a green chair, and you did it in no time at all. You’re pretty amazing!
What you are experiencing now is something called meta-cognition. That’s a fancy word for thinking about your thinking. You have the ability to examine your thought processes while they’re occurring. Think about that. If you apply that ability while you are listening, you can turn “The Speed Gap Trap” into what I call “Bonus Brain Time.” Use the speed gap to think about your listening and direct your thinking to focus on the speaker.
Putting Bonus Brain Time to Work
Try an exercise. During your next conversation, practice being aware of how you are listening. First, pay attention to your own posture and attention. Are you giving eye contact? Are you listening to what is being said or are you planning what you will say next? One signal that you are planning what to say next instead of listening is the urge to interrupt. If you feel that, you are more than likely not listening as well as you could.
Next, pay attention to the person talking. What words are they using? What are their body language and facial expressions saying to you? I call this listening with your ears and listening with your eyes. How do the things they are saying come together to form a picture (listening with your brain)? How do you feel about what you’re hearing (listening with your gut)? Does it strike you as authentic? Is there any prejudice on your part that would lead you to believe one way or another?
After the conversation is over, make some notes. How did you do? What did you learn about the person who was talking? Even more, what did you learn about your listening? Yourself as a listener? Practice that same process over and over. It will be very useful as you develop your listening skills.