Doug Dickerson is an award winning columnist and director of Management Moment Leadership Services. He is the author of the new book, Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.
Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. – Helen Keller
A story is told of Floyd Collins who in February 1925 climbed into Sand Cove in search of fortune. Suddenly, his lantern failed. Crawling through the darkness, Collin’s foot hit a seven ton boulder. It fell on his leg, trapping him in the coffin-like narrows of a dark, subterranean straitjacket. For days Collins was trapped 125 feet below the ground in an ice-cold space 8 inches high and 12 inches long.
In the meantime, his plight became a national sensation. As the rescue attempt wore on, some 50,000 tourists bought hot dogs, balloons, and soft drinks from vendors at the cave in Kentucky. But in the end, Floyd Collins died alone, in the icy darkness, crying out deliriously, “Get me out. Why don’t you take me out? Kiss me goodbye, I’m going.”
The tragic ending for Floyd Collins was the result of being trapped with no means of escape. While the circumstances are not as dire as Collins’, many people find themselves stuck in a rut in their places of employment with seemingly no way of escape.
Writing in Forbes, (http://onforb.es/Jph1YV) Susan Adams recently highlighted results of a Right Management survey that revealed 19% of workers in the U.S. and Canada said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were “somewhat” satisfied. But the rest, nearly two-thirds, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they are “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% said they were “unsatisfied.” A Mercer survey revealed that between 28% and 56% of employees in 17 spots around the globe wanted to leave their jobs.
With survey results such as these there is a good chance that you or someone in your office is among the statistics of those who would bolt if given the chance. For reasons such as economic factors many choose to stay although their heart is just not into it. So what is one to do when they find themselves stuck in a rut? There are many possibilities. Here are a few.
Come clean about your feelings. It’s only with an honest assessment of where you are and how you feel can you begin to turn the tide of where you are and more importantly, where you want to go. Suppressing your feelings of anxiety, frustration with regard to your work only deepens the feelings of being stuck and diminishes your capacity to think of ways to overcome it.
Renew your purpose and passion. Use time this summer to re-charge your emotional batteries and gain some fresh perspective. No one is immune from the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that can disrupt your sense of purpose. Smart leaders understand the necessity to get away from it all and get recharged. Do it.
Become an agent of change. Identifying areas where constructive change could be beneficial could be just what the doctor ordered. When you feel stuck in a rut it can be the result of the mundane and tired old way of doing things. Shake things up. Look for new and more efficient ways of improving your systems. Invite fresh sets of eyes to look at your operation. To make things better you have to take the first steps. Change doesn’t happen by chance. Initiate it.
Work on your attitude. Zig Ziglar was right when he said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Many people are in ruts of their own making because their attitude is in a rut. Your attitude is a choice and it’s something you have to take command of every day. Your attitude is the lens by which you see everything around you. Keep it positive.
Plough through. Sometimes the only way to get out of your rut is to plough through it. Instead of looking at how bad you think things are around you try counting your blessings instead. Instead of thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence why not fertilize your own grass and make it greener? Tough times do not last but tough people do. Sometimes you just have to plough through.
When you are in a rut, be honest about where you are, rekindle your passion and purpose, change what you can – starting with your attitude, and plough though. Don’t allow the ruts of life and work to keep you down.
Always render more and better service than is expected of you, no matter what your task may be.” – Og Mandino
In the book, “It’s Not About the Coffee”, Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks International, relates an observation during a store visit. A customer approached a barista and explained that he didn’t like the drink he had just purchased. The customer wanted a new drink.
To make the customer feel satisfied, the barista opened the till and handed the customer a cash refund and then commenced to make the customer a new drink. Was that the best response? From a purely economic point of view, obviously not.
Behar says the way they teach people to handle a situation like that is to apologize and offer to remake the drink. There’s a good chance the customer would have been satisfied and everyone would have benefited. He didn’t have to give the money back. But this response was better than a lot of others. It was an honest, care-filled exchange, and the barista demonstrated that he understood and appreciated the most important element of his role: human service. In the business of life, what can be wrong with that?
Behar concluded the story with the simple reminder that as long as you know why you’re here, as long as all of you together know why the organization exists; you’ll get to where you need to go.
If you have a desire to be a player in the competitive marketplace that exists today then you must acknowledge the need for and re-engage your team in this leadership skill known as the human touch. With it you can excel and without it you will be at a distinct disadvantage. Here are three characteristics of leaders who have the human touch.
They know what business they are in. No business will succeed or prosper without people. Without people you will fail. As Behar likes to say, ““At Starbucks, I’ve always said, we’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.” The philosophy is profoundly simple yet so hard to embrace. Until you have a day of reckoning whereby you understand this leadership principle you will always struggle.
Leaders who understand the human touch know that people are the driving force of your business. How you treat people, serve them, and respect them makes all the difference in the world to your success. Take care of people and they will take care of you.
They are problem solvers. At the closest point of contact between your team members and your customers should come the highest degree of problem solving skills. When team members are allowed to act and solve problems without having to jump through multiple hoops to get there it is a positive reflection of your leadership. This can only happen in a corporate culture where the skills of the human touch are given priority and when your people are empowered.
The lifeblood of your business is people. The problems people bring you are simply opportunities to showcase your skills and to prove them right by choosing to come to you with their needs. Leaders with the human touch welcome new challenges and are always looking for ways to make things better. In business it’s a simple rule – people love problem solvers.
They are creative thinkers. Excelling at the human touch requires non-conventional thinking. It necessitates making an effort to see things with a creative eye and fresh perspective. Creative thinkers are not bound by the dictates of the rule book but prefer the flexibility of crating new opportunities for success that at times may be unwritten.
The barista in Behar’s experience is but one example of creativity at work in which the human touch was more important than the rule book. It’s when you empower your team with the skills of the human touch that you begin to transcend from success to significance.
Leaders with the human touch do this by knowing what business they are in, excelling at problem solving, and are creative thinkers. Human service is not always easy, but in order to get ahead you must command that leadership skill. The human touch makes the difference.
If you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill
A story is told of a group of friends who went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck.
“Where’s Harry?” he was asked. “Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple miles back up the trail,” In disbelief the others replied, “You left Harry laying there and carried back the deer?” “Well,” said the hunter, “I figured no one was going to steal Harry.”
That humorous story sets up a not so funny real life scenario involving the state of mind of many of corporate leaders in today’s workplace. Writing in Forbes (http://onforb.es/122XxYT), Susan Adams opined about a recent Booz &Co. survey that revealed that “many corporate leaders are not able to keep their priorities straight. They are also pursuing strategies they don’t believe in, and many of their strategies fail to build on the things their companies are especially good at, compared with competitors. It’s like everything that can go wrong already has gone wrong for them.”
More than 3,500 managers from around the world took part on the Booz survey. Here is a sampling of the results:
• A majority, 64%, said their biggest frustration was having too many conflicting priorities.
• 54% said they don’t believe that both employees and customers understand their strategy.
• Only 33% said they thought the company’s “core capabilities” support their company’s strategy.
• Just 21% said all their businesses “leverage their core capabilities.’
• Only 20% said they think their company has a “right to win” in all markets where it competes.
From these findings we get an idea as to why so many corporate leaders feel the way they do and the need for strong leadership to correct it. The issues are complex and the solutions are varied. If you feel like you are in over your head then here are three solutions worth considering.
Organizational values should be shared not sacrificed. At the heart of your business is a set of values that define who you are, the product you deliver, the customers you serve, and how your will conduct your affairs. It’s the creed of your business that transcends ‘what’ you do and answers the question of ‘why’.
Until everyone is on the same page as it relates to your values you will never carry out your priorities. If managers and leaders are feeling the tension of competing priorities then it’s time revisit your values in order to get to the root of the problem. Values are the glue that binds you together and without them you will always have tension.
Organizational priorities should complement not be in conflict. Not even the best corporate leaders will be able to execute their plans successfully if the company’s priorities are not in harmony with its values and embraced by everyone. When competing agenda’s and ego’s interfere with what’s best of the company then there will be problems.
Everyone has priorities as it relates to individual performance. That being said, those priorities should not run contrary to the overall values and priorities of the organization. They should complement it. If you don’t fully embrace your core values then you will never fully execute your priorities. Why? Priorities flow out of values.
Organizational communication should give clarity not lend to confusion. The lifeblood of your organization is clear communication –on all levels. Many of the concerns expressed by the survey respondents can be traced back, and in part attributed to, poor communication. If the lines of communication are not open and clear it makes keeping priorities straight much more difficult.
Tony Robbins said, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” This is a great point to consider going forward. Wise leaders will make every effort possible to communicate core values clearly so that they are known and embraced internally, and as a result known and appreciated by your customers.
The challenges of corporate leadership are as complex as they’ve ever been. But in the search for solutions we must not be our own worst enemy by engaging in approaches that are self-defeating. Values should be clear. Priorities should be mutual. Communication must be clear.
People always move toward someone who increases them and away from anyone who decreases them – John Maxwell
I came across a story about renowned photographer Edward Steichen that has significant leadership application. His fame as a photographer was almost never realized as he nearly gave up on the day he shot his first pictures. At 16, young Steichen bought a camera and took 50 pictures. Only one turned out—a portrait of his sister at the piano.
Edward’s father thought that was a poor showing. But his mother insisted that the photograph of his sister was so beautiful that it more than compensated for the 49 failures. Her encouragement convinced the youngster to stick with his new hobby. He stayed with it for the rest of his life, but it had been a close call. What tipped the scales? The vision to spot excellence in the midst of a lot of failure.
The opportunity you have as a leader to add value and encouragement has never been greater and never more needed. A recent Harvard Business Review blog (http://bit.ly/WQkqgG) reported the findings of a new American Psychological Association survey that reports that fifty-four percent of workers say they are not paid enough for their efforts and 61% say they don’t have sufficient opportunities for advancement. When you couple those findings with long work weeks, the endless answering of emails at all hours of the night, it contributes to one-third of U.S. workers reporting chronic stress.
As a leader who is committed to adding value to those around you it is important that you are aware of what is taking place among your team, the stress they are under, and your investment in their personal development. Here are three ways you can show it.
Recognition. The long hours, work and dedication of your team is the life-blood of your success. Their success is your success. Their achievement is your achievement. How do you adequately recognize the people in your organization who believe in you, who have embraced your vision, and work tirelessly to make it happen? You start with recognition.
It’s as you understand that recognition and loyalty go hand-in-hand that you will add value as a leader. When you give recognition to those around you it sends the message that you not only recognize their work but that you value them as individuals. Recognition adds value to the person and builds the morale of your team.
Respect. Albert Schweitzer said, “Only those who respect the personality of others can be of real use to them.” Adding value to others is a matter of respect. Recognition is nice but if there is no accompanying respect attached to it then it is meaningless. Value is added as respect is shown.
Leaders who add value to others understand that respect is the basic premise by which a relationship is forged. It opens the door to all other possibilities. A leader who wants to add value to those around him begins by respecting the gifts, talents, and contributions of those he leads. To be sure, respect must be earned, but if never given, value will never be added.
Reinforcement. In adding value and moving your team forward it is important to understand the role that reinforcement plays as part of your leadership style. Your corporate culture is developed by implementing the formula of BP (best practices) + DE (daily execution) that = VBO (value based outcomes) for success. It’s as you reinforce your values that you will achieve the results you desire.
Consider the effects of low morale, high stress, and the general feeling of not being appreciated by many in today’s workplace. Certainly a lack of respect and recognition are factors. As you give recognition, show respect, and reinforce values you can be a leader that adds value to those around you.