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The Sign Says It All

I haven’t posted in awhile, but I had to comment on this experience. Suzi and I went to the Dairy Queen near the intersection of South Street and Normal Boulevard in Lincoln, NE where we live. It’s an old school walk-up DQ but they’ve enclosed the front where you order. We like this one for several reasons. It’s close to where we live, but it also has cute swings for customers to use while enjoying their treats, and the staff always seem friendly.

On this visit, I noticed their marquis which said, “We have the best employees!” On the door as I went in another sign said, “Employee Appreciation Month.” When I walked up to the counter I said with a big smile, “I appreciate the employees here. You guys are always friendly and you have the best buster bars in town.” There were no less than six young people working inside and they were all busy but every one of them heard me and looked up to smile or laugh.

When a young lady stepped to the register to take my order, I told her what we wanted and then asked, “So, is this a great place to work?”

“Yes it is!” She instantly replied.

“What makes it such a great place to work?” I asked.

One young man who was working at a machine nearby looked up and said, “She likes working with me!” Everyone laughed. That humor and banter told me something about the work culture of that Dairy Queen.

By this time all the staff was migrating to the front of the store as if they all wanted to answer my question. Again, that told me something. Not one of them said anything about the pay or even the hours. Another young man said, “I think the management does a good job.”

“Really?!” I responded, “What do you mean when you say they do a good job?”

His answer told the story. He said, “They get to know us and they care about us. They let us know that people are more important than money.”

Do you know what I didn’t see at that Dairy Queen that night? I didn’t see anyone slacking. Everyone was working. I didn’t see any frowns. Everyone was smiling and having a good time. And, I didn’t see a sign that said “Now Hiring.” Hmm, I wonder why.

It doesn’t matter what your widget is, every business is a people business. If you take care of the people, they will take care of the business.

That DQ is always busy and it’s no wonder. Customers love a place where the people who work there love being there. That happens only when “Management is doing a good job.”

How do your employees feel about working at your place? If you’d like to learn how to create that kind of work culture (even if you don’t sell ice cream), type the word “Happy” in the comments.

A Story of Two Journeys

Every Thursday for the last few months I’ve attended “Perk Up Thursdays.” It’s a networking group that is sponsored by the “Focus Suites,” a project of Southeast Community Colleges Entrepreneurship Center. It’s a great time and I’ve met some wonderful people. There is always a “spotlight speaker” at the event and last Thursday I got to be that person. Here’s a video of my presentation.

 

Best.Boss.Ever.

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.

  1. They found a way to CONNECT with their people-as people.
  2. 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.

Send, Dial, or Walk?

I just devoted three posts to the importance and content of good “Company Communication.” Now I would like to talk about the mode of that communication. Communication, especially effective communication, most often involves dialog or conversation rather than a monologue. What difference does the mode make?

I’ve participated in many interview panels for management-level candidates where one of the questions was, “How do you prefer to communicate with your employees?” 100% of the time the answer includes the phrase, “face-to-face” or “in-person” or “one-on-one.” No one has yet preferred a phone call or text message.  Why? Again, what difference does the mode make?

Send

Even the word “Send” seems to imply distance. I send a package to someone or I send a letter. These days we send emails and text messages. Written communication has an important place in our lives. For example, Suzi found all the love letters her father had sent to her mother before they were married. She displays them in a 3-foot high apothecary jar. It’s quite beautiful to look at especially when you consider all the love that’s memorialized in those words. She treasures them especially now that both her parents have passed away.

Written communication is important when we want to memorialize a conversation for future reference or for legal or sentimental reasons. Writing also gives us the chance to consider our words before delivering them. We can be more clear and organized in our communication when we write it. Written responses also allow us to pause, if need be, before responding to someone. Sometimes that pause can save a relationship.

But writing is less personal. What we email, text, or post on social media happens mostly inside our own heads without the benefit of the other person’s presence to help us form our communication appropriately. That can be impersonal at best and dangerous at worst.

Dial

When I hear the word conversation, I think of hearing someone else’s voice and talking. That leads me to the next consideration for the mode of conversation. Dial. I used to have a bunch of people’s phone numbers memorized. Not any more. Now I just press the speed dial button on my office phone or say, “Hey Google, Call Suzi on mobile” and within seconds I’m talking to her.

That’s the key for this mode. We get to talk to the other person. I get to hear the inflections in their voice, their pauses. Emotion comes through. Their level of interest or understanding comes through much more clearly in a voice conversation. The conversation is also much more immediate. It’s in the moment which is important when what you want or need is urgent. Dial when you don’t have time to wait for the other person to formulate their response or just get around to checking their email or texts. That makes the words, “You’ve reached my voicemail …” very aggravating. Voicemail ranks lower on my list of preferred modes of communication than snail mail, and that’s pretty low.  Are they away from their phone or just screening?

My side of the family lives in Minnesota and I live in California. That’s another huge value to dial technology. It shrinks the world so you can talk to people you can’t be with. Zoom, Skype, and other platforms have made that even more personal with video calling. My Dad and brothers and I get together periodically on a “Thomason Boys” Zoom call. I treasure the chance to see their faces and hear what’s going on in their lives.

Walk

I said walk, but it could be drive or even fly. Face-to-face, in-person communication takes effort but it’s worth it. The difference in value between “dial” and “send” is huge. But the difference in value of in-person conversation over the others is like a race between tennis shoes and a motorbike. There is no comparison.  The clarity of the visual, the audio quality, and the 3-D effect, you don’t even need 3-D glasses!

Okay, I’m being silly, but you get what I mean. There is nothing like an in-person conversation. Just ask a teacher. Our daughter-in-law who is a 5th-grade teacher was able to join Suzi and me for dinner while our son was at an event the other evening. We talked about the difference she feels between online learning and in-person education. Just the ability to move around in each other’s space, to physically go to a student who may need a little help is exponentially more valuable than any online platform.

So, I say send when it’s necessary. Dial when you can. But, by all means, whenever it’s an option, walk.

Course Launch!

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.

Connecting Requires Energy

In my course on employee engagement, I talk about “12 transformational dynamics of engagement.” Those 12 are listed under two types of activities, Challenge and Connection. The idea is that leaders who engage their people have a good balance between challenging them and connecting with them.  John Maxwell wrote a book called Everyone Communicates Few Connect in which he makes the point that connecting will increase your influence in every situation. That’s saying a lot because he makes the argument throughout his teaching that “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” So, connecting increases your leadership ability.

Over the next four posts, I plan to focus on two principles of connecting and then two practices of connecting. Today, the principle is that Connecting with People Requires Energy. If you type “connect meaning” into your browser, you’ll see that the definitions given start with the phrases, “bring together,” “join together,” and “link.” Those are very active phrases and action requires energy. Here are 4 ways to invest that energy in order to connect.

Initiative – Go First

If energy is involved, then someone is taking action. Connectors go first. I’ve read that inside the Walmart headquarters there hang many signs with inspiring and/or challenging statements. Here’s one that is particularly relevant.

“From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every time a customer comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look him in the eye, and greet him.”  —Sam Walton

That’s going first. I once worked with a healthcare system that had what they called the “10 – 5 rule.” If a member or guest came within 10 feet of you, you were to smile at them. If they came within 5 feet you should step back because of social distancing–I’m kidding. You should greet them verbally. It’s kind of fun to watch people’s faces when you do that. Most of the time their entire countenance transforms into a smile simply because you said, “Hello.”

Patience – Slow Down

You can’t connect if you’re in a hurry. When you are hurrying, you are pulling away. Someone has said that for emotional and spiritual health you should ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Here is an African proverb that reminds us of the power inherent in connection.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Henry David Thoreau reminds us that the power of connection requires patience.

“The man who goes alone can start today. But he who travels  with another must wait until the other is ready.”

If you want to go far and not be alone, then slow down. Slowing down requires the energy called intentionality.

Selflessness – Give

Connectors are givers. They readily give of their time, their energy, their knowledge, their skill, their talent, their presence. True givers give expecting nothing in return, they give for the sole benefit of the other person. Can you imagine a scenario where someone who readily gives of them-self doesn’t create connection?

Those definitions I shared at the beginning, bring together, join together, and link, almost imply that the parts that are connected become part of each other. Giving, then, would be a prerequisite.

Stamina – Recharge

Constant outflow of energy will lead to depletion if you have no way to recharge. As a person of faith, I look to Jesus as the greatest example of a connector in all history. Jesus regularly connected. Jesus regularly recharged. He often went to a solitary place to pray or pulled his disciples aside from the work to rest.

I like hanging out with my wife, having dinner with friends, spending time reading, driving alone with no radio. These are a few ways I recharge. How do you do it?

Leadership is Influence. Connecting expands your influence. Connecting doesn’t just happen because you show up. It requires constantly renewed energy. Go first, slow down, give, and recharge. The impact of that energy on you and the people you connect with will be an incredible multiplication of that energy.

A Thrift Store Chair and Another Book

The final eastbound destination on our recent 12-Day journey was Nashville, TN. Here we were to revisit a tradition from the year or two we lived in Indianapolis where every several weeks we would drive to Nashville and our friends John and Julia (then all our children came with us) would drive up from Atlanta and we’d spend the weekend together.  Those were great times and we were excited to see our friends.

John and Julia are another couple we’ve known for over 40 years. John and I were security guards (with Keith) in Chicago in college and we’ve stayed in close contact through the years. Julia and Suzi love so many of the same things and John and I have worked for the same company in the past. I also worked for a company that provided service to John’s company once. Let it suffice to say, we never lack for conversation.

Tradition!

One of the traditions of our time together with John and Julia is a trip (or two) to a thrift store.  Suzi and Julia especially like to see what people donate in different parts of the country. So off we went to a Goodwill store in Franklin, TN outside Nashville.

Suzi and Julia went off on their treasure hunts inside the store as soon as we hit the door.  They have keen eyes and a sense for the kinds of things they’re looking for so they don’t take hours to complete their searches. Suzi usually fills a shopping cart with possible purchases or things she wants to show me that are unique or might be special in some way. But, often she walks out of the store with nothing or one or two small things. Occasionally, however, there is a piece of furniture that catches her eye. This was one of those times.

I noticed the two of them standing at the front register admiring something so I went to see what it was. It was a wooden chair. It sat lower than most chairs, had a rattan bottom, and was unusually wide. One elderly lady in line said it was a “story time chair” where you and a child could sit side-by-side and read a story together. Another lady in the line suggested, “you could but a big cushion on it and make it a dog bed chair.” The look in Suzi’s eye suggested, “I really like this chair.” So we paid the $15 and loaded it into the back of our vehicle to make the 2,200 mile trip home with us.

Another Book

When Suzi and I hit the thrift store together, she heads off on her systematic search and I head to the book section.  Admittedly I rarely find anything. It’s like panning for gold. You sift through a lot of dirt and usually come up empty. When I say “dirt” I just mean things I’m not interested in. But, once in awhile, I find a nugget. This was one of those times.

Several years ago I ran across a video by Daniel H. Pink called “Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” I saved a link to it in my Evernote file and have referred to it, been informed by it, and shared it with others often. The video outlines the research showing that the “carrot and stick” motivational tactics used by so many can actually be counterproductive. He shows that we are much more highly motivated by three intrinsic factors, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Well, there, on the shelf at the Goodwill in Franklin TN was a copy of the book he wrote by the same title. I started to leaf through it, then I started to read a particularly interesting chapter. I was about mid-way through that chapter when I noticed Suzi and Julia at the front of the store. When I went up to see what they were looking at the book was under my arm.

I bought that book even though it had been thoroughly highlighted by the previous owner. I actually think that’s kind of cool. I get to see what they thought was important when they read it. It goes into much more detail about the research and shares great implementation ideas at the end. I enjoyed reading it so much I bought a clean copy to share with my colleagues.

How to Develop Leaders – Be a Thermostat

You know the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. The one in the picture has both. On the left is the thermometer. It tells you what the temperature is in the room. The one on the right is the thermostat setting. It tells you what the temperature will be. People can be like either one. Thermometers tell you it’s too hot or it’s too cold, or this or that is right or wrong. Thermostats behave in such a way as to make the temperature right. When it comes to developing people, the leader has to be a thermostat. The leader creates the climate for growth and development.

Look at nature. Plants require good soil, water, and sunlight depending on the species. Here’s another example from nature. One of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. The reason for this is that sharks adapt to their environment. If you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium in which it lives. Sharks can be six inches long and fully mature. but turn them loose in the ocean and they grow to their normal size.

The same is true of potential leaders. Some are put into an organization when they are still small and the confining environment ensures that they stay small and underdeveloped. Only leaders can control the environment of their organization. They can be the change agents who create a climate conducive to growth. Here are four ways to create that environment

Model the Leadership you want

People don’t usually do what they know. Either they do what they’ve always done, or they do what they see. As a leader, the visibility and consistency of your style has to be strong enough to overcome the 7 last words of the dead organization, “This is how we’ve always done it.” (the other way of saying that is, “We’ve never done it that way before.”) Model the leadership style you want to see.

Look for the leader inside the person

Like a miner, willing to sift through dirt to find gold, keep on the lookout for these 10 nuggets:

  1. Positiveness – they see work and people in a positive way
  2. Servanthood – they are willing to play team ball and follow
  3. Growth Potential – they are hungry for personal/professional growth
  4. Follow-through – they finish the job
  5. Loyalty – they put the good of the team above their own interests
  6. Resiliency – they bounce back quickly from defeat
  7. Integrity – they are consistent in what they say and what they do
  8. Big Picture Mindset – they see the needs of more than just their team
  9. Discipline – they do what’s needed regardless of mood
  10.  Gratitude – they have an overall attitude of gratitude

That last one along with servanthood demonstrate another essential quality – Humility. Humility is not putting yourself down. It’s recognizing the value of others and shining a light on that. When someone steps on others to go up the organization or is always shining the light on themselves, they will never realize their potential as leaders. You can’t lead when people don’t want to work with you.

Provide growth opportunities

Some plants need more water than others. Some need more sunlight. Some plants can’t grow in certain climate zones. For example, we miss lilacs because we live in the central valley of California. We have palm trees which we couldn’t have when we lived in Minnesota, but we can’t have the kind of lilacs we had in Illinois. They won’t thrive here. In a similar way there is no one formula for what growth opportunities your potential leaders need.

I mentioned in my post on “The Law of Addition” that I helped develop a training program for a large Healthcare system in California. We focused the training on three approaches: Education (online, classroom, certifications), Exposure (giving people the opportunity to see leadership in action at the next level), and Experience (giving people a stretch task associated with their next level). The key is tailoring those to the needs of each individual leader you are trying to develop.

Reward production over position

People get caught up in titles and position and in “lanes.” Don’t let them. The truth is a title doesn’t guarantee someone will produce. On the other hand, some of your best producers may not have a corresponding title. When you pay attention to and respond to productivity over title, you may just find that your next VP of Operations is currently an Administrative Assistant in HR. Look for the people who have the qualities mentioned above and who get things done. When people know you value productivity over titles that creates an atmosphere of growth.

The thermostat picture I put with this post shows the ideal situation. The temperature and the thermostat setting are the same. Be a Thermostat.

Celebrating 100!

This is the 100th post for Engager Dynamics! Whoo Whoo … celebrate good times, c’mon!” I love that song! Anyway, it’s the 100th post since I’ve been numbering them like I currently do. I write my posts in Evernote then copy and paste them into my website engagerdynamics.com with wordpress. WordPress automatically posts them to LinkedIn and I paste the link into my facebook profile manually since facebook stopped allowing automatic postings awhile ago. I recently created a facebook business page for Engager Dynamics and am working on improving that. I said “at least since I’ve been numbering them the way I do” because WordPress tells me I’ve actually posted 107 times. That’s because I posted a few extras in the middle of the week that I numbered with an “a” after the main post number.

What’s It All About?

I’ve been providing contracted services to clients in multiple industries for over 20 years. In some of those engagements we provided staff who were supervised by the client’s leadership team. It was particularly clear in those situations how strongly lack of engagement negatively impacted the business. I’ve observed that same negative impact within organizations I’ve worked for as well as within partner organizations. Those who really engage are rare and that bothers me. So, I decided to add value by sharing some important truths I’ve learned along the way and that’s what got me started with this blog.

I normally post every Monday morning before 6 AM on the west coast. In my second post, nearly two years ago, I defined what I mean by Engager Dynamics. In short, this blog is about the things we can do to connect or engage with people at work in ways that improve relationships and organizational outcomes. The posts fall into four main categories;

  1. Engager Dynamics (the core actions that lead to engagement)
  2. Leadership (topics a little more broadly about leadership)
  3. Habit Formation (how to make a habit of doing the good stuff)
  4.  Listening (a skill so critical it deserves its own category)

You can find the last 15 posts in each category listed on my “Posts by Category” page. Some of them overlap and there is another category on that page called “Words.” I call myself a word nerd, and this category captures posts where I share a specific word definition or two regardless of the main topic.

What’s Next?

Over the last few years I’ve developed a training that has been well received by several clients. The training focuses on the specific actions leaders can take to engage with their people. I’ve been refining the training lately and recently did an informal poll of readers to see which title would be more interesting. I had two choices 1. “Best.Boss.Ever. – How to Be the Best Boss Your People Will Ever Have” or 2. “The 12 Transformational Laws of Engagement.” Just over 70% preferred number 2.

The next question is delivery method. In addition to offering the training in person, I’d like to make it available more widely. I wonder how people might prefer to receive it. I could present it in an e-book, or as an audio file series, or as a series of videos. What do you think? If you were interested in a teaching on “The 12 Transformational Laws of Engagement,” how would you prefer to receive it? Thanks in advance for letting me know.

12 Great Leadership Quotes

This month’s posts have focused on Leading others (a series called “How to Become a Person of Influence). I thought it might be fun to end the month with a list of great leadership quotes from past leaders. Enjoy reading through these. When you’re done, please reply back to me and let me know which was your favorite and why.

  1. “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
  2. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan
  3. “Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.” – Margaret Thatcher
  4. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  5. “Too many kings can ruin an army.” – Homer
  6. “Position doesn’t make anybody a leader. Being in charge doesn’t make the wrong person right.” – Tim Berry
  7. “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair
  8. “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
  9. “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together, we can do great things.” – Mother Teresa
  10. “Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.” – Albert Einstein
  11. “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” – Abraham Lincoln
  12. “If It’s Lonely At The Top, You’re Not Doing Something Right.” – John C. Maxwell

So? Which of those quotes resonated with you most? Or, which did you like best? Please let me know which one and I’d love it if you’d take a second to say why. Thanks in advance!