I’ve talked about Myths, Mistakes, and FAQs regarding Employee Engagement. Here are 3 Keys to Engaging your people.
I’ve talked about Myths, Mistakes, and FAQs regarding Employee Engagement. Here are 3 Keys to Engaging your people.
I was at the thrift store with Suzi the other day and I picked up a little hardback book that I just finished reading this morning. It was called The Deepest and Noblest Aspirations, The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan. I was partly nostalgic in picking it up because 1980, when he was first elected, was the first Presidential election when I was able to vote. Whether you agreed with him or not, it’s hard to argue his significance, especially when he won 49 states in the next election!
Also, here’s a quote from Barak Obama:
“Pride in our country, respect for our armed services, a healthy appreciation for the dangers beyond our borders, an insistence that there was no easy equivalence between East and West–in all this I had no quarrel with Reagan. And when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”
The book is full of quotes under chapter titles like “On Sports, On Freedom, On Communism (the first three).” There is also one “On Leadership,” and, of course, one “On Humor.” Three specific quotes stood out to me in light of our times. Here they are:
On August 23, 1984, at the Republican National Convention, Reagan said,
“Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”
On January 16, 1984, during an address to the Nation from the White House, Reagan said,
“History teaches us that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.”
During his announcement of candidacy for U.S. President on November 13, 1979, Reagan said,
“A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and above all, responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill. They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where–because of our past excesses–it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true. I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do, either. That is why I’m seeking the presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself. Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable, experts who re-write modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living–the result of thrift and hard work–is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity. I don’t agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding it’s proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world.”
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.
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.
The late CEO of PRIDE Industries, Mike Zigler, loved to tell stories about employees who would come up to him in the hall at the office with a big grin on their face, pull out a utility bill, hold it up to his face and say, “Mike, I paid this!” You see, Mike personified the mission of PRIDE Industries which is to create employment for people with disabilities. Those stories were about people who, because of their disability, had never had a job before. They were proud to have accomplished paying their first utility bill on their own, so they just had to tell Mike! And he loved it!
I had a conversation just the other day with another leader. She has quite a story of her own. She is a recovering addict who spent at least a year living homeless on the streets. She has clearly turned her life around. She not only got a job and kept it, but she has advanced past the level of lead to assistant manager and is doing a great job. Part of our conversation was about what motivates her to work hard even when it doesn’t always feel like her peers are pulling the same load. She said that she loves the feeling of accomplishment so much that she will get up and do what she may not feel like doing but needs to be done even if nobody else is doing it. That’s the “Do side of Self-Control.”
To “accomplish” means to achieve or complete successfully. I think we all love to complete things successfully. That’s why so many people go into lines of work that produce a product that you can step back at the end of the day, look at, and say, “I did that.” Whether you’re baking bread, building houses or bridges or skyscrapers, or writing a book, there is a feeling of pleasure in finishing it. I even feel that when I close the cover on a book I’ve just finished reading. Accomplishment feels good.
Why does it feel so good to accomplish something? There is a physiological explanation. The brain releases dopamine, a hormone associated with both motivation and happiness, in anticipation of reward. So when you plan and know you’re going to work for something, you’re in a biological position to feel good. Each milestone gives you another dopamine hit, which makes you want to keep going with the job. Another reason is that accomplishment taps into one of our intrinsic motivators – Autonomy. Completion of each task can make us feel better about ourselves because it proves to us that we’re in control of our own destiny and competent enough to achieve our goals. We did something.
Thomas Edison once said, “There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish some[thing]!” John Maxwell included that quote in his book Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. It’s in his chapter on the shift from “Maintaining to Creating” where he’s talking about mental blocks to making that shift. The specific mental block in view where he quotes Edison is the one that says, “Follow the Rules.” After quoting Edison, Maxwell adds the following note, “Most revolutionary ideas have been disruptive violations of set rules.”
I can hear people of a certain personality type cheering and saying, “Yes! Let’s break some rules and get something new done!” But I can also hear others saying, “No, no, no, no, the rules are our friends. They’re there for a reason.” Accomplishment for each of those people will look different from the other. But it is still accomplishment and it still feels good. Do you check a box or do you cross the item off your list? Have you ever written something down that you already finished just so you could feel the pleasure of checking the box or crossing it off? It feels good to finish something.
Since it feels so good to accomplish something (and who doesn’t like to feel good?), let me leave you with two questions. First, why wouldn’t you organize your day around accomplishing things? Second, why wouldn’t you celebrate those accomplishments in some way? Here’s a bonus question for you leaders (BTW leadership is influence, if you have influence in anyone’s life, you’re a leader). Why wouldn’t you celebrate the accomplishments of those you lead?
What is your biggest fear? I don’t mean a phobia like fear of heights, fear of spiders, or fear of public speaking. I’m asking about more common fears like the fear of loneliness, or the fear of rejection, failure, inadequacy, or the fear of being physically hurt or even the fear of uncertainty or meaninglessness. Fear unconsciously (or consciously!) blocks us from so much in life. Did one of those fears stand out to you when you read it? That, then, may be your biggest fear. But, this post isn’t about fear. It’s about courage.
I had to start with a brief mention of fear because fear plays prominently in the definition of courage. Courage, in the online dictionary, is “The ability to do something that frightens one.” Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” That’s a powerful statement. Some people have said that courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. No disagreement here, but Roosevelt’s quote seems powerful to me because it talks about why someone might overcome fear to take action.
That raises another question. What’s important to you? Another way of asking that question might be, what do you consider valuable? Setting aside for a minute valuable stuff, is your family valuable to you? Is safety and security? Your job? What about other valuable things also known as values, like integrity, love, honor, humility? These are questions we must answer if, by Roosevelt’s definition, we ever hope to be courageous. Which of us, after all, has never fantasized about being a “hero?”
Since the very definition of courage contains a clear reference to fear, it seems reasonable that categories of courage would align with a list of various fears. But, I think it’s helpful to consider them this way. Here are a few categories of courage:
Did one of those descriptions draw you in? Can you see yourself being a physical hero? Maybe. Or what about a social hero, or a moral hero, or an intellectual hero? And that’s not an exhaustive list. The point is that courageous people are clear on what’s most important to them.
It was after dark one evening 25 years ago. I was the brand new pastor of a small church in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. Suzi, the kids, and I had just arrived home from a visit to central Illinois where we had lived and pastored previously. The drive was seven and a half hours so we were ready to settle in for the evening. Right after we arrived home we got a call telling us a dear friend who was a member of our previous church had passed away while we were driving home. We had just visited with him on our trip. He was ill but we didn’t expect him to go that quickly.
In the midst of our road weariness and grief, the phone rang again. This time it was a member of our new church. There had been a terrible car accident involving teenage boys from our small community. She was calling from the hospital, “almost the whole town is here,” she said.
“Are either of the other pastors there?” I asked. There were two other churches in town and I wondered if pastoral care was available.
“Yes,” she answered. But it was clear she wanted her church to be officially represented, too. I understood that, of course.
It would be a 25 to 30 minute drive to the hospital in Lincoln. That’s no big deal in and of itself. Being called upon to serve in these situations despite personal tiredness and grief was what I signed up for so that wasn’t part of my struggle. But I did struggle. None of the families involved were from our church and I was afraid that my showing up, the new pastor of the “other” church, might appear morbid. It might appear like I was trying to horn in on the community’s grief to benefit myself or our church in some way.
I made a decision. Serving those people with injured children and answering the call of the person from my church was more important than my fears. I put those in God’s hands and headed to the hospital. By the time I arrived, providentially, everyone else had gone home. Only the parents of the injured boys were still there. I had uninterrupted access to the single dad of one boy and the mother and father of the other. I did my best to offer grace, compassion, prayer, and any other support they would need in the coming days.
It was a genuine tragedy. The single dad lost his son. The parents of the other boy eventually brought him home but he would never be the same due to traumatic brain injury. In the days before those outcomes were known, the people of our church stepped up to serve those families and the community in amazing ways. The result of their actions opened doors to ministry in that community that had previously not been opened. I was a small part of a big thing God did in those days. Had I not done my part, He would have found another way, but I’m grateful to have participated.
Every day may present an opportunity to overcome some fear. If we focus on what’s most important to us, get clear on that, I believe we’ll become more courageous.
Suzi and I are doubly blessed to have five children. We are blessed once to have them and the double blessing is that we had them through adoption. Two of our children came through inter-country adoption from Guatemala. A third was born in the States but of half-Guatemalan descent. So, our older three (who self-identify as “Group A”) are Guatemalan. Group B, as they call themselves, came along ten years after the last of Group A. They came together as twins and are of African-American descent. Suzi and I, then, are the minority in our family. The kids are all grown now, but whenever we would go anywhere as a family we got interesting looks. Two white people with three Hispanic kids and two Black kids brought a mixed bag of reactions.
The two younger ones got jobs and so they needed transportation. They borrowed some money from their big brother and bought a modest sedan from a small dealer. That was just as the pandemic was shutting everything down back in March of 2020. The DMV was one of those entities that shut down. The dealer turned in the paperwork for the sale of the car by mail and paid the fees. For months no tags or registration came so the kids drove on the temporary dealer plate.
As I write this in August of 2021, they still have not received the registration and plates for that car. The DMV is conducting an investigation into what happened. The dealer paid the fees as his receipts show but somehow the system shows them still outstanding on the car so it won’t issue tags. It’s quite a mystery and it puts the kids in a quandary. The car is not technically legal but they still need to get to work. So, they’ve been driving it.
Our Youngest son, Jordan, is a winsome and gregarious young man who seems like a natural at whatever he decides to try. He is an athlete musician. In High School, he ran track, swam, played water polo, and was in the band. In band he easily picked up and switched back and forth between multiple instruments, woodwinds and brass. He also loves helping children and was involved in a high school program that mentored children with disabilities.
When our family moved to China for two years, Jordan and his sister were nine years old. I guess that was just the right age for him to catch a bug for living overseas. He’s dreamed of moving overseas since then. A Multi-Country European excursion with two friends right after High School graduation only added fuel to that fire. He also has a knack for languages. I remember how funny it was to see this young black boy successfully hail a cab and tell the driver where we wanted to go … in Mandarin! In High School he studied German.
He recently completed a course in teaching English as a second language and has accepted a job offer to teach next year at a small school in Spain. Seems like a fitting combination for him. He’s very excited and is working and saving money to make the move. He even opened a Go-Fund-Me page to help raise moving money.
As a result of the car tag fiasco, Jordan has been pulled over no less than five times for the expired dealer tag. Each time has resulted in a warning to get the situation corrected. He has a court date later next month but still needs to get to work so he continues to drive, often late at night when he closes at the fast-food restaurant where he works.
On a recent stop, after the usual explaining why he’s driving the car like that, the running of the driver’s license, and the officer telling him to get it taken care of, the cop didn’t ask him to step out of the car or begin to search him or draw his weapon, instead, he started making conversation. During the conversation, he heard about Jordan’s plans to teach English in Spain. Then he asked an unexpected question, “Do you have a Go-Fund-Me?” Jordan was a bit startled by the question but told him he did and the conversation ended shortly after that when the officer had to get on with his work.
Later that day, Jordan got a notification that someone had contributed to his Go-Fund-Me account. He looked to see who it was, and was surprised to find that the officer who pulled him over had donated to his fund.
That’s not what you might expect to read these days when you see a title like “A White Cop and a Black Kid” so thought this might be a good story to share in the current climate. Thank you for reading.
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.
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!”
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.