19 March 2019
As a leader, you need to make the most out of every precious minute. Oh, if only all of our days would go according to plan. But, let’s face it: they don’t. On many days, we are presented with unanticipated challenges, or as I prefer to call them, unexpected “opportunities to serve.”
Just when you set aside time to think strategically or to complete a project with a pressing deadline, your inbox flashes an invitation to a new, “must attend” meeting that starts in thirty minutes. Or you receive an urgent call regarding a Human Resources issue that requires your direct involvement, right now!
Even when all appears to be running well internally, external factors can change in the blink of an eye. To capitalize upon unexpected opportunities or to minimize disruption from adverse environmental or competitive activities, you act with immediacy, once again sacrificing your much-needed quality time.
And what about the many little distractions that can also impede your best efforts to be maximally productive?
How many times have you found that, in the midst of quality time, an employee appears at your office door and inquires, “Do you have a minute?” The employee proceeds to share what he or she perceives to be a hot topic problem. And then the individual asks, “What do you think we should do?”
It is at this point that you have a choice. You can either allow your time to be robbed by being a problem solver, or you can begin to reclaim the lost time that is consumed when employees bring you their issues to resolve. If you answer the employees’ questions in the moment, you have fostered upward delegation as you have taught your employees that problems are yours to fix and that they should not seek to resolve their own concerns.
When employees ask you, “What do you think we should do?”, except in urgent or emergent situations, the better approach is to answer the question with a question. Instead of telling employees what you think they should do, ask them, “What do you think you should do?” In reversing the question, you are signaling to your employees that you believe in them, that you have confidence in them and that you respect them. In essence, you are telling them, “YOU GOT THIS!”
I have found that through using this approach, employees become more empowered. They take pride in the fact that their leader trusts them to solve their own problems. And they will learn that if they do bring an issue to you, they need to be well-prepared to offer a recommended solution!
Over time, employees will likely bring fewer problems for you to solve. It is at this juncture that your performance can be vastly enhanced. Yes, through empowering your employees to resolve their concerns, you can have more time to focus on the priority issues and opportunities that truly do merit your attention.
No doubt, unanticipated challenges and interruptions are simply a fact of life at work. However, when employees ask you, “What do you think we should do?”, I hope you will teach them “YOU GOT THIS!”
12 December 2018
Last week America lost one of her most memorable leaders with the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush. This War Hero selflessly served his country for decades and left us with a legacy of “how” great leaders are supposed to lead.
In the celebration of his life, those who knew him well repeatedly described him as gracious, decent and humble. We were told that he knew each of his Secret Service agents as unique individuals. A man with a most demanding schedule, we learned that when he passed an employee who was known to have had an ill child, he took the time to inquire as to the little one’s well-being. And, among many other lessons of leadership he taught us, we learned about President Bush’s gift of building relationships with individuals ranging from front-line employees to world leaders. He knew that through trust-based relationships, more could be accomplished more quickly for the benefit of the greater good.
George H. W. Bush taught us that leaders must role model simple, yet powerful acts of good manners and kindness.
The leader of the free world, President Bush was known to be humble as he deflected praise and made it his practice to place the spotlight on others.
Great leaders are not without controversy, and George H. W. Bush was certainly no exception. He made decisions that, although not popular, reflected his conviction to act in the best interest of our country. Yet, as our nation began to mourn his passing, the controversy and negativity of the past took a back seat to the resounding, harmonic message of “how” great leaders are supposed to lead.
I believe that the recent focus on the leadership legacy of George H. W. Bush has provided a breath of fresh air in a country that seems to be drowning in a sea of leadership toxicity. In fact, I believe that most Americans are gasping for the life-saving oxygen that gracious, decent and humble leadership can provide.
I rather suspect that George H. W. Bush left this earth without a full appreciation of the long-lasting, positive impact his leadership example will provide… especially at this point in our history.
What lessons can we learn from his legacy of leadership? More importantly, what will each of us do differently in our respective organizations to lead in a more gracious, decent and humble manner?
From non-profit to proprietary organizations and from universities to governmental entities led by elected officials… regrettably, there is currently no shortage of examples in America for how “not” to lead.
I challenge you to join in the movement to become a fully respectful leader. The time is now, and those who follow you at work, at home and in the community at large are counting on you.
Let’s carry forth the legacy of President 41 who taught us “how” to lead by becoming gracious, decent and humble leaders… starting today!
29 October 2018
Last summer my husband and I spent a week at a Dude Ranch in Colorado. As we prepared for this vacation, I expected to participate in new and different outdoor activities. Little did I know that during this week of adventure, I would learn important lessons about leadership.
We decided to experience white water rafting in a nearby river. What we didn’t realize was that the river was running wildly as the snow was quickly melting from the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Prior to our departure, we were given a tutorial in safety measures, and we were told to follow our guide’s instructions. We then climbed into the raft and started our journey.
While the water was indeed running fast, the early experience was quite enjoyable as the water was easy to navigate. I thought to myself, “Not bad… I can handle this.”
The guide then pulled our raft over to shore and became very serious. She shared we were about to hit some very rough rapids. She gave specific instructions on how to traverse the rocky waters. She was emphatic that to ensure our well-being, we were to follow her instructions precisely and to function well as a team.
We didn’t realize we were heading for a level four rapid.
As we approached the rocky waters, my anxiety grew. We started down the rapid and while our raft felt incredibly unsafe, we did not capsize as did other rafts within site. However, an elderly man from our raft had gone overboard. The man’s son was rightfully frantic as he feared for his father’s safety.
Yet in the midst of this “storm,” the guide stayed focused on her game plan. She provided clear instructions to the team. She shared that her first priority was to get eight people safely to dry land and that she would ensure the elderly man would be rescued.
Preparation, focus and adaptation
This experience reinforced to me the leader’s role in navigating an organization through white water down cycles that are inevitable within any business.
Like the guide, a great leader coaches the team comfortably through the good times and anticipates rocky waters before they are encountered. A great leader prepares followers by teaching them to adhere to guidance and to execute flawless teamwork. A great leader remains focused on the game plan but makes “in the moment” adaptations when circumstances change. And, a great leader looks out for the interest of the greater good while also showing extraordinary respect for every stakeholder.
I learned about leadership from that rafting experience last summer. From the white waters of a Colorado river to the C-suite or boardroom, the leader’s anticipation, team preparation, focus and adaptation are all required to ensure sustainable organizational success in the midst of difficult times.
And yes, the elderly gentleman was safely reunited with his son and quickly traded his seat in the raft for a welcomed glass of wine.
20 August 2018
The podcast entitled “Making the Rounds and Gracious Leadership” is available via:
Part of our conversation in the podcast relates to the topic of rounding and how effective leadership listening can contribute to highly engaged teams.
While the word “rounding” has traditionally been utilized within the hospital and health system space, I have found that the use of “strategic rounding” processes can yield a high return within industries and organizations of all types.
Throughout my career I have employed a broad perspective about “rounding” and the positive impact it can have upon corporate culture. In my opinion, rounding represents any opportunity to build trusting relationships through providing a transparent means for open and honest, two-way communications.
In short, rounding is one of the best ways that leaders can seek feedback from their most important organizational asset: their people. When leaders make listening to key stakeholders a top priority, the likelihood of realizing peak performance can be optimized because employees who follow these “listening leaders” are more likely to feel valued, appreciated and respected. Leadership listening can be the catalyst that results in real-time relationships of trust between management and the front line.
To get a firsthand view of your organization’s corporate culture, unannounced rounding provides a great opportunity to meet employees where they are and to ask them important, open-ended questions. Of course, the goal should be to obtain employees’ unfiltered feedback regarding their work environment, customer satisfaction or any other hot topic that might be on their minds.
I believe the most effective leaders who drive sustainable success understand that one of their most important leadership responsibilities is to listen with purpose and to respond with care. Purposeful leadership listening is so important that I dedicated several chapters to this important topic within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.
Within the chapters entitled “Gracious Leaders Listen with Purpose and Respond with Care” and “Gracious Leaders Seek Feedback”, I introduced the concept of Three Powerful Questions that can be used whether you are involved in unannounced rounding or if you’re hosting employee town hall meetings or other systematic listening venues. I encourage you to take note of these three simple, yet profound questions and begin to incorporate them into your ongoing rounding and other listening processes.
- What one thing should we change to make our customers’ experiences better?
- What one thing should we change to make your work life better?
- Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
Time and time again, throughout my career I have been amazed at the unvarnished truth that employees are eager to share. Frontline employees are the people who have the best view of how an organization is living its values (or not!). They’re just waiting for someone to ask them with sincerity and with a commitment to honor thoughtful feedback that is shared.
Whether your rounding is occurring through what has traditionally been called MBWA (Management by Walking Around) or if you’re hosting a series of stakeholder input sessions in Town Hall Meetings, just remember that the individuals who will feel the best about conversations once they are over are likely to be those individuals who did the most talking!
To build real-time relationships of trust with your employees, start today by asking the Three Powerful Questions and then open your ears and your hearts to hear with purpose the feedback that your team just can’t wait to share.
26 July 2018
Several months ago, I attended an event to celebrate the professional excellence of Central Ohio executives. When I entered the sparsely lit, underground garage, I decided to be strategic about where I would park to avoid congested traffic following the event. I spotted the perfect space… one that might save a few minutes at the end of a very long day.
Before I backed my car into the coveted spot, I assessed my surroundings, mentally gave myself the “all clear” sign and proceeded to park. Suddenly I was startled by a loud bang.
My heart raced, I put the car into park and I exited the vehicle to evaluate the situation. I thought I had been cautious in looking out for potential hazards. However, I had backed into a massive, concrete post that blended with adjacent surroundings and wasn’t visible within my vehicle’s blind spot. Because I had failed to expect the unexpected, the unscathed post won as evidenced by the significant cost incurred to repair my SUV.
This experience provided an excellent opportunity to ponder different types of blind spots within business and how they can cause a collision course within our careers.
It is estimated that 30 percent of executives are toxic leaders. They have blind spots. They don’t see that their negative leadership styles prevent their teams from optimizing organizational performance. Other leaders have communication blind spots that directly correlate with a poor ROI on their human capital. Regrettably, the list of leadership blind spots is vast.
Clear eyes for making deals
High-cost blind spots can exist when executives are engaged within M&A activities. I recall a time when our corporation was involved in an opportunity for market share gain. The development officers were “over the top” excited about the high-value possibilities expected from this deal. As is often the case with M&A, time was tight with pressing deadlines, the multiple contracts were complex, and in this instance, the work of the proposed entity represented uncharted waters for our company.
When the deal was done, celebrations ensued, and, within a matter of months, the new business enterprise began to falter. Our multi-disciplinary team had reviewed the proposed contractual language for proper business terms. Amid our haste and naïveté, however, we didn’t slow down long enough to ask ourselves a vital M&A question: “What language needs to be in the contract that is currently missing?”
Our blind spot of failing to expect the unexpected contributed to a bad business outcome.
Be purposeful; learn from the past
As you find yourself in the adrenaline rush of M&A activities, I encourage you to be on the alert for blind spots. Be purposeful in expecting the unexpected. Document your experiences from each successive deal and learn from any mistakes. Don’t take for granted any aspect of the transaction and work closely with all team members, not only to review the “ink on paper” of the proposed contracts, but also to include the “must have” business terms and associated language that can position the new business enterprise for success.
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.