25 May 2018
My husband and I were recently checking out a new Mexican restaurant in our hometown. Although the establishment had only been open for a few days, upon our arrival we found a “full house” with a waiting list which, from our perspective, is typically a sign of great food and wonderful service.
We were not disappointed.
The environment was festive and fun, and the food was very good. This pleasant experience made us immediately plan our next visit. In short, it was a great evening.
When we asked for our bill, the server smiled and said that our check had already been settled as a couple who had been sitting nearby had paid for our meal before their departure. What a nice surprise that brought immediate smiles to our faces! We asked the server who they were, and we wondered if perhaps we had worked with them at our prior places of employment. The server did not know them. He simply described them as a nice, young couple who, for whatever reason, wanted to pay for our dinner.
As I thought about this random act of kindness, I was reminded of all the good that resides within the overwhelming majority of humankind. Every day we primarily hear what is wrong with our world. Just imagine how amazing it would be if we would focus more on all the good that is being done to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
This unexpected act of kindness also took me back to 1982 when, in the midst of a personal healthcare crisis, hospital employees I did not know showered me with their seemingly small acts of kindness. They not only met my clinical needs; they also cared for me as a whole person. In so doing, they changed my life forever as I soon would enter the healthcare space as my professional calling.
Like the young couple at the restaurant, such employees are role models for what is right in our world. I had the pleasure of working for many years with ordinary people who were sharing extraordinary acts of kindness with people they did not know. From two housekeepers who bought clothes for a homeless patient to a nurse who came in on his day off to FaceTime with a patient whose husband had died and who was too ill to attend his funeral…. Everyday employees were making a positive difference with long lasting impact.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to reinforce all that is right in the workplace. Research has shown that organizations whose leaders spend more time reinforcing great work will function at a higher level than corporations whose leaders spend a disproportionate amount of their time on poor performers. Let me be crystal clear. Effective leaders must deal with poor performers. However, they find a way to devote most of their time reinforcing and building upon the results achieved by their best employees. Within Gracious Leadership, I share more on this topic and include tips that leaders can easily put into place to create and sustain an environment of accountability, gratitude and peak performance.
Yes, someone bought our dinner last week… someone we did not know and whose path we will not likely cross again. At the end of the day, the kindness of this young couple is not to be measured by the value of the meal they generously and unexpectedly provided to us. Their random act of kindness is symbolic of all that’s right with our world. It’s also a small example of the goodness they no doubt hold within their hearts as they seek to make a positive difference.
What will you do to reinforce all that is right in your workplace? How will you help your employees understand the power they hold through seemingly small acts of kindness that can mean the world to your customers? What will you do to address any poor performers so you will have more time to reinforce and support your very best team members? Please join me in finding what’s right in the workplace… starting today!
30 April 2018
Forty years ago this month, I completed my academic studies in finance at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was an important part of my family’s traditions, and I treasure fond memories from my time in Oxford. From playing Division 1 basketball to serving in leadership positions within various campus organizations, I am grateful for the opportunity to have received a “well-rounded” education as I experienced formal academic training and also learned a lot about life in general.
Earlier this year I was invited back to my alma mater to lecture in several classes regarding the importance of gracious leadership.
As I contemplated the guidance I might offer the bright-eyed students of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute for Public Policy, several important messages from the school of life took center stage.
Passion, respect and authenticity
First, because these students are deciding what to do with the rest of their lives, I encouraged them to do what they love and love what they do. In every aspect of life, matching the passion of the person with the purpose of the work can yield great joy as opposed to viewing work as “just a job.”
I encouraged these future leaders to get involved in causes they care about and to speak up with confidence about issues they believe are important. I urged them to ask for stretch assignments, so they can broaden their skills while enriching their learning opportunities. And I cautioned them not to fear failure as learning from mistakes is an important part of life and work.
Because these students aspire to serve as future leaders within organizations of all types, I encouraged them to appreciate the value brought forth by “all” members of their teams, regardless of titles or positions. This basic respect is mission-critical as leaders seek to maximize the ROI of their most precious asset — their people.
I coached them to listen more than they talk. Great leaders know that while those who talk the most in conversations may feel better about the discussions when concluded, the individuals who listen the most will likely be more enlightened.
Lastly, I encouraged these students to remain true to who they are versus what they think someone else expects them to be. I shared with them that henceforth, their full-time homework assignment will be: to become all they were created to be.
Mentor with care
When I reflected upon my time with these students, I was reminded that as leaders in the workplace, we also serve as faculty in the school of life.
It is our responsibility to be purposeful in teaching our followers important lessons about both work and life at large. As leaders, we are accountable for helping our employees understand not only “what” they are to lead, but also that “how” they lead is of equivalent importance.
Please remember that the school of life is in session every day, and the lessons your employees learn in the workplace will transcend all aspects of life.
22 February 2018
Rarely does a day go by that we aren’t bombarded with media accounts of high profile, toxic leaders. From bully behaviors including sexual harassment offenses that have harmed countless individuals all the way to the demise of once “high flying” corporations, the ripple effect of bad bosses seems to be at an all-time high.
Because you are the CEO of your company, as you read this article, I invite you to consider two primary opportunities that are more important now than ever before. First, I encourage you to get real with yourself and ponder if your leadership style includes some of the bad boss behaviors described within this article. Secondly, after you’ve been honest with yourself regarding how you are showing up every day, take a candid look at other leaders within your organization and assess if they display the characteristics of toxic bosses or if they emulate the attributes of positive, high performance leaders. If opportunities for improvement reside within either consideration set, then the simple question for you will be, “So what are you going to do about it?”
During the past year I was immersed in writing a book that teaches leaders how they can be fully respectful and lead their teams to achieve consistent excellence. As an important part of this journey, I sought feedback from highly respected leaders who shared their personal experiences with “bad bosses.”
One colleague said, “My boss, a high-ranking leader in our organization, was well known for throwing people under the bus, passing the buck and ‘putting people in their place.’ When it was time for public recognition, my boss was always the first in line for praise.”
A second colleague shared, “My boss wouldn’t listen when I brought forth legitimate concerns. Because this ongoing dysfunction ultimately made me feel I was being taken for granted, I eventually developed a bad attitude as opposed to being a corporate cheerleader. This drove me to the point where I actually submitted my resignation to work for a competitor.”
And yet another leader stated, “My boss never gave us any feedback unless it was negative. Our work was never good enough for her.”
A wide range of other bad boss behaviors was conveyed such as … My boss took credit for the work of the team… The boss threatened me and yelled at me… My boss was out of control with his temper…. I never knew when my boss was going to “go off on me.”
Why are the toxic behaviors of bad bosses so pervasive in today’s society? What is it that makes so many leaders miss the mark?
Perhaps these well-meaning individuals learned bad leadership behaviors from their own superiors or from within dysfunctional homes. Perhaps it’s because these leaders have delivered a solid bottom line in the short term. Perhaps these toxic bosses think their followers actually desire such negative antics. Or, perhaps these leaders are simply not happy.
While the list of reasons could go on and on, one thing is certain. Bad bosses are not going to change if we remain silent in our acceptance of their untenable behaviors. As a sage person once said, “If you permit it, you promote it.”
Numerous accounts exist of organizations that have fallen from excellence because of toxic leadership. Corporations such as American Apparel and Uber have suffered costly reputational damage and value deterioration because the bad behaviors of their CEOs were permitted. The ripple effect of a toxic boss is far reaching as such individuals will ultimately shape the work environment of affected organizations. And, no quick fixes can readily repair broken cultures.
In a June 20, 2017 issue of the academic journal The Conversation, authors Katina Sawyer and Christian Thoroughgood wrote an article entitled “Fixing a toxic culture like Uber’s requires more than just a new CEO.” The authors state, “Our work on toxic leadership demonstrates how toxic, unethical, flawed, or otherwise ineffective leaders can do a lot of damage in organizations. But the damage can also run both ways. Susceptible followers, a lack of checks and balances, and other cultural elements can help create or reinforce bad leadership.”
The authors identify two types of followers who are “likely to remain obedient to toxic leaders, turn a blind eye to their behavior, and even participate in the leader’s destructive activities: conformers (individuals who are prone to obedience) and colluders (those who actively align themselves with toxic leaders).” Colluders should be rooted out of the organization and conformers need to be trained to understand what the organization is doing to require positive leadership and a healthy corporate culture.
In 2006 I was asked to lead the turnaround of a struggling hospital. Opportunities for improvement existed across the balanced scorecard. As we taught our leaders about the importance of assuring accountability among all employees for both technical and behavioral competencies, we would initially hear the comments, “But she’s a good nurse” or “He’s a good housekeeper.” We became disciplined in requiring managers to hold individual conversations with all employees, telling them what they did well and what improvements would be required for them to be more effective. Thankfully, most of the employees who had behavioral deficiencies sought to change, and many of them did improve. For those who unfortunately didn’t “get it” … well, let’s just say they were liberated to find new opportunities elsewhere.
Now, back to the two questions that I encouraged you to ponder. If opportunities for improvement exist within the leadership ranks of your organization, what steps will you take to be a fully respectful CEO who also expects consistent excellence throughout your organization? What will you do differently starting today? And what will you require of those who follow you? Just remember that the ripple effect of your leadership… be it positive or negative… will last for many years to come.