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Engagement. It’s the new business buzzword. It just sounds good coming off the tip of your tongue. What is it? Well, there are a lot of different interpretations of the definition of engagement, but there is one thing that most everyone agrees with: it’s a problem. While people may be struggling to figure out what the best definition of ‘engaged’ is, more people agree on what an actively disengaged employee is. According to Gallup Poll, an actively disengaged employee is, “unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers.” (Gallup) According to Gallup Poll results released for 2012, 24% of workers worldwide are actively disengaged. With statistics like that, it’s no wonder executives are scrambling to try and fix the engagement problem.
One common method to identify why employees are disengaged is to take a survey. Gallup Poll and other companies will happily take a company’s money to perform this service. However, I would propose to you that there are several potential flaws with this approach. First, by the time most executives get to the point of paying another company to perform a survey, they already know they have a problem. Second, performing a survey once may identify areas within the company that could be strengthened, but to see if a company is making any progress, the survey must be run over multiple years. Third, are the engagement plans. Once weak areas have been identified, management has to try and fix the problem. So they work with their employees to create engagement plans. This is where I have to take a pause. According to the National Business Research Institute, one of the most common employee complaints is being overworked (NBRII). If one of the causes of employee disengagement is overwork, then how is giving them more work in the form of engagement plans supposed to help fix things? This sure sounds like the catchphrase, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Next, there is a very tempting trap for managers to fall into, and that is improving scores instead of digging down into the true heart of the difficult issues that are the cause of poor engagement. Let’s face it, educating an employee on how to take the poll to increase their score is a whole lot easier of a way to show that you are making progress on engagement on paper.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that engagement polls are necessarily a bad thing. I will say that I think the expectations of many senior executive leadership are too high when it comes to these surveys. The Gallup Poll has been conducting engagement surveys for over 30 years. Many of the companies that are just now taking their survey for the first time have also been in business for that long or longer. How is the culture of a business, which is shaped and fostered by the executive leadership style over decades, supposed to change in just a couple years? Sure, executives are part of Gallup’s survey, but if they weren’t 100% engaged with their company’s business strategies, then they would have never made it to the positions they are in. The more senior the executive, the higher they tend to score. Scores begin to deteriorate the farther down the management chain you go, until finally you reach the employees, where it appears all of the engagement issues are occurring. The reality is the motivation of the executives giving the survey is not focused on the well-being of the employees. So if executives are engaged, and year after year we continue to see employees disengaged, maybe it’s time to change our focus.
Let’s start by looking at the executives who run the companies with the highest engagement scores. Stephen Cannon is the CEO for Mercedes Benz, who was ranked 94th in Forbes best 100 companies to work for this year. Stephen states, “We’ve been investing in programs to allow our leaders to create great places for our employees to work. Great organizations are all about people.” (Linkedin) In an interview with Paul Amos, CEO of Aflac, he discussed his basic employee principles in the Aflac Way handbook. “Everyone is important. No matter who walks through the door, whether it’s the man in overalls or a straw hat or the man in a $500 suit, everyone is treated equally.” (Faith&Leadership) Aflac is number 58 on Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for this year, and they have been on the list for the last 16 consecutive years. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and number 38 in this year’s Fortune list states the following: “It actually doesn’t matter what your core values are.” “What matters is that you have them and commit to them. And by committing to them, you’re willing to hire or fire based on them independent of actual job performance.” (Greatplacetowork) Last, Larry Page, CEO of Google and Fortune’s number one business to work for states the following; “My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.” (Fortune)
What’s the common theme from these executives of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for, over and over again? People and core values. It’s no secret that business are in business to make money and increase shareholder value, but it’s how a business makes its money that effects employee engagement. If the employees of a company are treated as just a tool to increase stockholder value and like they are easily replaceable, then of course they will be disengaged. The bottom line is that it’s about trust; it’s about a culture that puts the employee and customer needs as the top business priority and it all starts from the top of a business, down. Employees need to have trust in their organizations to perform at their best, and CEO’s have to work on that trust from the top. If companies truly want to become great places to work, then they have to focus on their employees and their employee’s needs. Trust comes into play because a lot of what the employees need may seem counterproductive to increasing shareholder’s wealth. Better pay, more recognition, a balanced family-work life, flexible hours, are all things that can contribute to better engagement, but might hurt the bottom line of a company on paper.
By the time a company gets to the point of taking a survey, chances are they recognize that there is already a problem and that the current way of doing business just isn’t cutting it. This is when executive leadership engagement comes into play. I propose that the mission statement of a business is the place to start. This is nothing new or earth shattering, but it’s where I feel executives can get huge results from their company while maintaining a loyal workforce. Does the mission of the company have more of an employee and customer focus than money? If not, then maybe it’s time for a change. If it does, then maybe the business has strayed away from its core mission over the years and forgotten how important the employees are to that mission. How do CEO’s and executives learn what matters most to their employees? A survey might give them some clues, but are often expensive and time consuming. I propose that good old fashioned face-time is the best method. Take an interest in their well-being, and find out what would motivate them. It’s already been shown by many businesses who repeatedly made the top 100 places to work list that it can be done, and the results can be amazing. Take the leap of faith, together as executives and employees as one company and see what the results of true engagement can do.
*image courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net
Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work. Retrieved from
10 Things employees dislike most about their employers. Retrieved from
Mercedes-Benz CEO: Customer Experience is the Brand!! Retrieved from
Paul S. Amos: This is not who we are. Retrieved from
How Zappos Creates Happy Customers and Employees. Retrieved from
Larry Page: Google should be like a family. Retrieved from
Congratulations! You have just been promoted to a top leadership position in your organization. You have over 3,000 people working for you in four different states. Your budget is in excess of $25 million. Good luck, and remember, don’t screw this up.
You didn’t get to this position because you’ve been a slacker – you’re a proven leader and experienced manager. It feels good at the top, as they say, and you’re excited to start making things happen! The amazing acceleration of technology and globalization sets a scene ripe for new opportunities and growth. You know in order to flourish and grow an organization needs creativity and innovation. How many organizations have you seen be marginalized or even fail as a result of stifling change or new ideas?
A large part of your past success has been your natural encouragement of new concepts and your ability to drive fear out of your organization. Like preparing a garden for the seeds, you set conditions for creativity to thrive. Things are a little different now, though. You have people who work for you that you have never met, some are even located hundreds of miles away. There are several layers of management between you and those employees who are in contact with the customer on a day-to-day basis. You know most of your middle managers are solid leaders but you are wise enough to know some may, knowingly or unknowingly, be placing barriers up which block creativity and innovation. Can your passion for encouraging creativity and innovation successfully permeate down through the layers of management? Will ideas and recommendations be able to percolate up to your level?
This article will examine some methods top leaders can use to help free an organization of destructive barriers to creativity and innovation. Organizational design expert Jay Galbraith’s Star Model will be used to provide a practical framework helping to ensure no major areas are left out. The Star Model is designed with five points; strategy, people, structure, processes, and rewards. The key point of the model is strategy as it drives the overall organization. If the other four points of the star don’t align or support the strategy, chances for organizational success are greatly reduced. Galbraith puts it this way, “if a company chooses a structure and a set of management processes that require integration across countries, it must also select and develop people who have cross-cultural skills, as well as a reward system that motivates them.”
“Creativity without strategy is called art” - Jeff I. Richards
Some may argue that strategies may restrict innovation and creativity rather than encourage it. However, if innovation and creativity are an inherent part of the strategy employees will be encouraged to contribute their ideas and middle managers will be less likely to block them. McCrae (2014) suggests successful business strategies should include research, creativity, and strategic planning during their development. Once developed, it should influence the behavior of everyone in the organization to positively contribute to that strategy. In order for this to happen, the other four points of the star model must support the strategy. It cannot succeed if there are hidden barriers which prevent employees with ideas to bring them to the attention of leaders. Let’s say, for example, your strategy is to expand your business into additional states or countries. Do your personnel policies encourage those employees who are face-to-face with the customer to provide suggestions and feedback? How can you be sure there is not a middle manager whose tyrannical ways discourage lower level employees from contributing ideas? Top leaders must actively look for barriers which block creativity, dismantle them, and make innovation part of a holistic management system. By carefully considering the overall strategy and how the other four points of the Star Model support that strategy, barriers to creativity and innovation can be identified and appropriately addressed.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader." – John Quincy Adams
Everyone is on their toes when a new top leader comes into an organization. “What will he or she be like,” “what changes will occur,” and “are jobs secure” are just a few among many of the questions employees will have. When a new leader takes over a military command, there is a formal change of command ceremony which all personnel attend. Here, leaders can put out their vision and what is important to them. New civilian leaders should arrange for a similar opportunity to address all employees in person. A clear, well-articulated vision which includes a strong belief in people, participation, innovation, fairness, security, and learning will go far in warding off fear and organizational politics (Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002, p. 49). Letting everyone know what you stand for, what will not be tolerated, your vision for the future of the organization, and the important role of all employees to get there will set the stage for the growth of creativity and innovation at all organizational levels. Reiterating that vision at every opportunity will promote a more consistent relationship between the leader and all employees (p. 49). By letting all employees hear it from the horse’s mouth, as they say, middle managers are less likely to put their own spin on your vision.
Leaders must create a culture of trust which encourages people to try new ideas without a fear of what may happen if the idea bombs. An organization’s capacity for innovation increases if it can tolerate failure and accept change. Once again, this must come from the top. Even if middle managers encourage employees to innovate and try new ideas, they will be hesitant to do so if don’t feel the top leadership supports it.
There will be times when a new leader will find there are people in management or other positions whose actions do not support the organizational vision or strategies. Dr. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, notes good leaders may have to remove some people and “in most cases, it is kinder to terminate people who are not performing adequately than to let them continue as deadweight, dragging down the organization as well as themselves.”
“The pyramids are solidly built, have a nice view from the top,
and serve as a resting place for the dead.”
– Gerald Michaelson
Existing organizational structures should be examined to determine how they support the strategy. If creativity and innovation are important to the strategy, organizational structure expert Sabina Jeschke recommends an organic structure. This type of structure veers away from an ivory tower makeup instead leaning towards minimal hierarchical and bureaucratic tendencies and a strong focus on quality. Cooperation between departments or divisions is frequent and friendly and there is “an interactive, communication-friendly corporate culture.”
Google, Inc. is an example of a successful company with an organic organizational structure with minimal hierarchy. Communications are strong throughout the organization and the work is organized by projects, allowing different employees to take the lead on different projects. Each team is responsible for self-organizing, deciding how to accomplish the goals, and identifying and fixing problems. Perhaps the most unusual feature of Google’s organizational structure is it not only permits flexibility in hours and workplace, it encourages new ideas and experimentation by allowing employees to use 20% of their work time on self-directed projects. The organic organizational structure Google, Inc. uses directly supports their corporate strategy of using innovation and new acquisitions in order to support their position as the market leader.
On the other hand, an organization which has many levels of management and is highly bureaucratic will have difficulty promoting innovation and creativity from below. This type of organization provides fertile ground for all kinds of barriers to grow in and is usually resistant to risk-taking. Lower- and middle-level managers may retain strict control over their areas, blocking employees from expressing or trying new ideas. Top leaders need to understand how different organizational structures can create barriers and, using this understanding, examine if the current structure will support their organizational strategy.
“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder,
friction, and malperforformance" – Peter Drucker
Processes within an organization consist of a set of activities performed by employees which result in a desired outcome. These processes are guided by organizational norms, regulations, policies, and procedures. There are two types of processes that are important when considering barriers to creativity and innovation; business processes and administrative processes.
Employees normally follow the steps outlined in the process workflow in order to accomplish the desired outcome. Many leaders are familiar with Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s famous advice to reduce variation in business processes in order to increase quality. However, if these processes are not properly developed, they can easily crush employee’s creativity. An impressive example of encouraging ingenuity is the U.S. Navy’s Beneficial Suggestion Program. The Navy is by nature hierarchical and bureaucratic and most processes are tightly controlled leaving little room for innovation. The BeneSug Program, as is it called, provides a forum and encourages military and civil service members to submit suggestions to reduce costs. Those personnel whose ideas, inventions, or scientific achievements are accepted receive a hefty cash award. Millions are saved annually through this popular program. If not already in place, implementing a similar program in a large organization can facilitate bringing innovative ideas to the attention of top leaders.
Another way to increase creativity within business processes is to periodically examine them in an effort to see how they can be improved and to ensure they are properly aligned with other processes and the overall strategy. This kind of review should involve all stakeholders including lower level employees working in the process and suppliers. A few years ago, Hallmark Cards reviewed their process of card production. After their artists, writers, and editors examined the process they recommended complete restructuring. Instead of these three groups working separately, they suggested reorganizing as cross-functional teams which would focus on a certain kind of card (i.e. Mother’s Day, birthday, etc.). By encouraging creativity in examining the process, Hallmark increased performance and to reduced production time of a new card from years to months.
Most people don’t like paperwork but it is important to have organizational policies in writing. If not already in place, clear directives on equal opportunity, sexual harassment, and bullying should be developed along with a credible process to be followed if an issue occurs. This type of destructive behavior can be easily hid if top leadership does not take a strong stand. Discrimination, harassment, and bullying not only crush creativity and hurt the victim, they take an enormous toll on the bottom line as well. The estimated costs to companies range from $64 billion reported by CBS Moneywatch to $200 billion reported by Psychology Today. These estimates include the costs of excessive absenteeism, reduced productivity, reduced loyalty, workers compensation, high turnover, and associated hiring and training costs. What is harder to estimate is the cost of the barriers which these behaviors have on creativity and innovation. Top leaders must verbally express their commitment to a working environment free of any type of discrimination or harassment and ensure all personnel are educated on their rights. You cannot assume everyone has the same understanding of what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable, or what fairness means unless it is made perfectly clear. The processes to address incidents must be unambiguous, trustworthy, and have the clear backing of top leadership. Processes for redress which are not fairly enforced and credible can be hijacked by unscrupulous managers and result in continued organizational losses.
“The most neglected form of compensation is the six-letter word thanks."
– Robert Townsend
It is no surprise what gets rewarded or recognized gets repeated. If you want creativity and innovation to thrive in your organization, your rewards system must align with that strategy. A reward system should have both monetary and non-monetary components. There has been much discussion over the years about how much money really motivates people after their basic needs are met. However, most agree that receiving less compensation than others doing the same job is a definite de-motivator. An unfair and unaligned compensation system can be a barrier to creativity and innovation as people feel they are not valued. Discouraged employees are not as likely to come up with new ideas or to voice them. A consistent monetary rewards system helps to prevent one manager from playing favorites or usurping the system.
Thomas Jefferson one said, “The glow of one warm thought is worth more to me than money.” Recognition is an inexpensive and simple way to motivate people. One-on-one “thanks,” newsletter highlights, t-shirts, mugs, etc. can go far to encourage and motivate. Once again, the key is ensuring the recognition is properly aligned with the strategy. If the strategy is encouraging innovation and creativity, then all sincere attempts should be recognized whether they are successful or not. Grey Advertising does this with their “heroic failure” awards while Yum Brands awards a “rubber chicken” to those willing to step out and innovate even if their efforts are not successful. As with other components of the Star Model, top leaders have to set the stage for the whole organization. It is critical that middle managers understand the importance of providing recognition and that any perceived “punishment” of failures can put a chill on creativity and innovation.
“Trust, but verify” -Ronald Reagan
You feel good celebrating your one year anniversary with your new organization. Using the Star Model, you compared your strategy with the other points of the star and made adjustments as appropriate. Processes and policies have been put into place which you believe have banished those barriers which blocked your employee’s creativity and innovation. You have shaped and created a healthy work environment where people are free to contribute to their full potential unimpeded by discrimination, harassment, or bullying. New ideas and risk-taking are encouraged at all levels. At least you think so…but every now and then you hear a little nagging voice asking if the points of the star are really aligned? How do you know what you don’t know?
You may want to take a tip from the U.S. Navy. Over forty Navy officers or senior enlisted personnel were fired from their leadership positions in 2012 for not upholding the Navy’s core values. Almost all of these cases came to light through an annual anonymous command climate survey or hotline complaint. A work climate survey provides feedback on the organization’s work environment which influences employee’s behavior and their ability to do a job. How much effort and money could the Navy have lost if they did not have these safeguards in place? Many civilian businesses are implementing similar surveys to identify negative attitudes and behaviors which create barriers and negatively impact work performance. Other methods of determining employees concerns include hotlines, 360 degree evaluations, town halls, focus groups, and leader “walk-arounds.” Having some of these safeguards in place can help quiet that little voice!
Barriers to creativity and innovation in large organizations can fester in many areas not obvious to top leadership. The Star Model provides an organizational framework from which to examine various areas where barriers may be lurking. If your strategy is to encourage creativity and innovation, the other points of the star must be aligned properly to support that strategy. First, the right people need to be in place to convey the vision and strategy and set the conditions which encourages new ideas and risk-taking. Bureaucratic and hierarchal organizational structures support the creation and maintenance of barriers and should be avoided. Processes should be in place which encourage sharing of information and provide for a healthy working environment. Lastly, your reward system must be designed to encourage the behavior you want and have both a monetary and non-monetary component. How many barriers to creativity and innovation will you be able to knock down by following this shooting star?
*image courtesy of PinkBlue/freedigitalphots.net
Badal, S. (2012, September 25). Building corporate entrepreneurship is hard work. Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
Carone, C. (2013, September 12). Want to Inspire Innovation? Reward Risk Takers. Forbes. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christacarone/2013/09/12/rewardrisktakers/
Cash Awards for suggestions, inventions, scientific achievements, and disclosures. (2007, April 26). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000 Military Personnel Support/01-600 Performance and Discipline Programs/1650.8D.pdf
Clemmer, J. (1992). Firing on all cylinders. New York, NY: Irwin Professional Publishing.
Commanding officer, XO and senior enlisted firings. (2013, February 13). Navy Times. Retrieved from http://www.navytimes.com/article/99999999/CAREERS/302050309/Commanding-officer-XO-senior-enlisted-firings
Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hill, C., & Jones, G. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed., p. 452). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
Holland, C. (2008, October 27). The costs of the workplace bully. CBS Moneywatch. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30940457/the-costs-of-the-workplace-bully/
Jeschke, S. (2011). Enabling innovation: Innovative capability - German and international views. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
Johnston, J., Bradley, P., Charbonneau, D., & Campbell, S. (2003). The Army culture - climate survey. Informally published manuscript, Royal Military College of Canada, Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.iamps.org/10_Johnston_paper_IAMPS_2003.pdf
Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I., (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
McDonnell, J. (2013). A strategic conversation with Dr. Pat Robertson. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), Spring 2013, 26-34.
Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behavior: Google corporate culture in perspective. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
Weske, M. (2007). Business process management: Concepts, languages, architectures. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Williams, R. (2011, May 11). The silent epidemic: Workplace bullying. Psychology Today, Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201105/the-silent-epidemic-workplace-bullying
 Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. (pp. 9-10) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I., (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. (p. 248). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
 Badal, S. (2012, September 25). Building corporate entrepreneurship is hard work. Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
 McDonnell, J. (2013). A strategic conversation with Dr. Pat Robertson. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), Spring 2013, 26-34.
 Jeschke, S. (2011). Enabling innovation innovative capability - German and international views. (p. 39). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
 Ibid. (p. 39).
 Ibid. (p. 39).
 Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behavior: Google corporate culture in perspective (p. 5). München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
 Ibid. (p. 5).
 Ibid. (p. 5).
 Ibid. (p. 3).
 Ibid. (p. 3).
 Weske, M. (2007). Business process management concepts, languages, architectures (p. 5). Berlin, Germany: Springer.
 Ibid. (p. 6).
 Cash Awards for suggestions, inventions, scientific achievements, and disclosures. (2007, April 26). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000 Military Personnel Support/01-600 Performance and Discipline Programs/1650.8D.pdf
 Hill, C., & Jones, G. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed., p. 452). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
 Holland, C. (2008, October 27). The costs of the workplace bully. CBS Moneywatch. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30940457/the-costs-of-the-workplace-bully/
 Williams, R. (2011, May 11). The silent epidemic: Workplace bullying. Psychology Today, Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201105/the-silent-epidemic-workplace-bullying
 Clemmer, J. (1992). Firing on all cylinders. (p. 226). New York, NY: Irwin Professional Publishing.
 Ibid. (p. 229).
 Ibid. (p. 231).
 Carone, C. (2013, September 12). Want to Inspire Innovation? Reward Risk Takers. Forbes. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christacarone/2013/09/12/rewardrisktakers/
 Commanding officer, XO and senior enlisted firings. (2013, February 13). Navy Times. Retrieved from http://www.navytimes.com/article/99999999/CAREERS/302050309/Commanding-officer-XO-senior-enlisted-firings
 Johnston, J., Bradley, P., Charbonneau, D., & Campbell, S. (2003). The Army culture - climate survey. Informally published manuscript, Royal Military College of Canada, Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.iamps.org/10_Johnston_paper_IAMPS_2003.pdf
 Ibid. (p. 2).
Author Bio: Captain Jeanne McDonnell (ret.) served on active duty for over 25 years. Assignments included command of Naval Support Activity Norfolk and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk, and service on the Joint Staff, the Navy Staff, Commander Surface Warfare Atlantic Staff, and Joint Forces Staff College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
This morning I woke up about 5:45 AM. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I eventually got up and sat down in my favorite upholstered rocking chair. From the strategic position of this beloved chair I can look out our bedroom windows and see directly east.
During much of the year the sunrise is obscured by the growth of deciduous trees that cover much of our property. However, during the late fall and winter this thicket of bare trees stand tall as a lonely testimony of the coming winter. As I peered out the window this morning deep in meditation I was struck by the beautiful glowing hues of orange and pink light as the morning rays of sun peeked over the horizon. Once again I was reminded that each day is a gift.
For thousands of years poets and bards have written about the power and opportunity that exist within each day. Some sage scribes have wisely observed how a single lifetime is aptly portrayed in a single day. The sunrise begins a new day of life as the world comes to celebrate its fresh start through the sounds of birds, stirring insects and waking of mammals. The day continues on as it peaks in mid-day at full strength and full of brilliance. As the day continues to grow old it slowly wanes into a mellow evening. Finally each day ends quietly at sunset with a certain stillness. There are some lessons we can learn about the power of each new day.
We just simply assume that there will be many tomorrows. We sometimes act as if we are entitled to a long life...as if it is owed to us. This is a false assumption because no one has been given the promise of another tomorrow in this world. In western society we don't even like to discuss death. We want to mask its reality with words like "passed away" or "departed" or "no longer with us". We sanitize the prospect of death by sending many of the dying to hospitals and we use modern embalming methods to make the dead seem like they are still alive...only sleeping. But the reality is that life is short and if we receive the gift of another day...only then will we be here tomorrow. Everyday is a precious endowment and each morning, as the first waking consciousness of thought floods into our minds, we should be thankful for the gift of another day of life. Being a religious person, I personally thank my God for this special gift.
The distinctive impact of every day is that it holds the promise of a fresh new start. It provides the opportunity to do something different, start something new, break a bad habit, or establish a good habit. In other words, it gives us the power to choose a new course or direction. So why don’t we typically appreciate this fact and fresh prospect? Why do we continue to do and “choose” the same old things every day, including some that are detrimental to us? The answer lies in our life style. We are culturally programmed to desire comfort and resist change. We often know we should change things and we promise ourselves we will do it someday. The problem is that “someday” seldom comes and eventually we all run out of someday’s. This self-imposed “comfort zone” convinces us that change is always something we can do tomorrow. But, here is an absolute truth…today is a gift, and tomorrow is promised to none of us! Dr. Roger Birkman encourages self-discovery and reminds us that:
“Some people who have become successful at “hiding behind” socialized behavior are reluctant to consider the truth about who they really are. Most people don’t mind dealing with their strengths, but prefer to close their eyes to any possible weaknesses.”
Leaders are “agents of change”, and if change is to occur at all it must begin somewhere and within someone. The role of leadership is to envision a better future and become the change agent that makes this future possible. This is true of business, community or personal life. But it all starts with an individual choice to begin a process of change. It has been said that we must become the change we wish to see. Many businesses have “closed their doors” because its management waited too long to begin meaningful change. Many others have failed because they were so unaccustomed to change they were unable to motivate others to participate in their final attempt toward survival. In a similar vain, many individuals have self-destructed because they waited too long to change their dysfunctional lifestyles or to ask for needed help. What I am getting at here is one simple point! Whatever you need to change in your life, or in your business, the time to do it is now! Tomorrow may be too late and odds are if another tomorrow does come, you will also be unwilling to do it then.
I have the good fortune to teach management classes at Bellevue University. These are college Online courses particularly oriented for working adults. Most of these students have full-time family and career responsibilities. These classes are not easy. The outcome and expectation of these classes is the same as in a traditional classroom environment. To be successful requires a real personal sacrifice and dedication. Why do these individuals with other full-time responsibilities tackle a demanding and difficult one-year accelerated management program? Because a day came in their lives where they realized they needed to make a change. They also realized they needed to do it now! Like most individuals, each one of them could have come up with a dozen legitimate reasons why they couldn’t go back to school and get their college degree. Instead, they choose to make an important investment in themselves and their futures…and to do it now. You really have to commend and admire these change agents.
How about ourselves, and the changes we need to make? There is no time like the present. To fulfill our role as leaders requires us to “seize the moment” and begin the difficult process of change...right now. Problems and difficulties don’t go away or solve themselves by negligence; they tend to only get worst. Now please don’t get the wrong impression from this article. My intent is not to encourage anyone to plunge forward with a decision that has not been well conceived, thought out or planned. We need to get the facts and analyze the need for change before lurching into the unknown. However, when we are convinced and know that change is necessary, it is time to act and begin the process.
Do you see changes that need to occur in your personal life? Remember that tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. Do you see changes that need to occur in your community? Become that advocate of change because tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. Do you see changes that need to occur on the job, in your career or in your business? Become a change agent because tomorrow is promised to no one. Each day is a gift. As authors James Waldroop and Timothy Butler remind us:
“If you are alert to the signs and symptoms of the patterns that cause you trouble, if you are willing to recognize them for what they are, and if you are willing to work hard to keep yourself from falling into the old familiar behaviors---then over time your struggle with self-defeating behaviors will become less difficult and you will be increasingly successful in your efforts.”
I would like to conclude with a couple of thoughts...
Begin to look upon the start of each new day as something special. Don't take a single day for granted. Take at least a few moments during each day to walk around and observe the world. Savor the natural beauty and majesty of an occasional sunrise or sunset. Ask yourself, what did I learn today? Did I make a difference in someone else’s life? Did I encourage someone, thank someone, help someone or bring a smile to another person’s face? These are the soft-skills that effective leaders must master!
Learn to separate your work responsibilities from your family life. Don't carry your work and its frustrations home with you at the end of a day. There are many distractions in life and they can consume our minds and limit our happiness. Work is important...but there is more to life than work. Remember that no ones headstone has the following engraving. "I wish I had spent more time...in the office." Some people foolishly think they can achieve immortality through their work. I prefer the comment I heard in a Woody Allen movie. A character states, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying!”
Each day let your loved ones know just how special they are. You may not get another chance in this lifetime. Too many people delay spending time with their loved ones thinking they can do it on vacation...or when we retire...or during the holidays. Like the need for change, it is often put off until it is too late. Especially if you have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or elderly friends and relatives. Talk to them today…because each day is a gift. If you have a poor relationship with a former friend, coworker or neighbor, talk to them today. Make a serious effort to heal the breach and build a new relationship. Remember people are more important than possessions.
Tomorrow morning another sunrise will occur and a new day will dawn. Billions of individuals will see just another day much like the millions of days that preceded it, and the million more days they expect to follow it. But within this mass of humanity a few individuals will see something more meaningful. Some will be inspired by this unique opportunity to accept leadership roles and become advocates of change. They will realize that this single day is unique and there will never, ever be another one exactly like it. They will understand that they have the power to choose a different outcome in their lives or surroundings. They will make a bold choice to be, or do something different.
I hope that one of these unique individuals is YOU!
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Greg has an extensive thirty-five years experience in public speaking and has spoken to hundreds of audiences worldwide. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University, where he also has served as an adjunct professor teaching courses in business management and leadership since 2002. His first book, 52 Leadership Tips (That Will Change How You Lead Others) was published in 2006 by WingSpan Press. His second book, Making Life's Puzzle Pieces Fit was published in March 2009. Both are available at amazon.com. Greg is also the president of Leadership Excellence, Ltd and a Managing Partner of the Leadership Management Institute. Leadership Excellence, Ltd. effectively builds individuals and organizations to reach their highest potential through enhanced productivity and personal development using a number of proven programs. He is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
Birkman, Roger. True Colors. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995
Waldroop, James., Butler, Timothy. Maximum Success. New York: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., 2000
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72 Practical Leadership Tips
“I know that many times I have to remind employees to put principles above personalities. That we are here to work on a project and the fact that you may dislike a co worker should not come into play.
But sometimes that is easier said than done. How do you deal with employees who want to have a confrontation instead of a conversation. Unfortunately, dismissing one or removing one from the team is not an option.”
Answer: Primarily, never forget that we lead people! We don’t lead organizations… but people. The
word “organization” is a created term to refer to a group of individual people who have a shared
interest or purpose. We may work for an organization, or serve an organization, but ultimately it is people we are leading. The reason I mention this is that many authors and consultants speak of rebuilding or changing organizations as if they are dealing with a single individual. In truth, if we are interested in growing or changing an organization, we must change the people, one-by-one, who collectively are the organization.
I am a firm believer in the principle of “cause and effect.” This problem you describe exists because our historical business culture rewarded competition within the workplace environment. People were rewarded and promoted for making their co-workers look inept and inferior to them. The people who traditionally got ahead were the “politicians” who worked hard to diminish the value of everyone else in order to make themselves look loyal and valuable to the organization. Confrontation was viewed as an admirable trait that showed everyone who was “in-charge” and was potential managerial or executive material.
When this kind of a culture exists, a large part of everyone’s positive mental and emotional resources are wasted playing “got-ya” in an effort to allow the egos of some to make themselves appear superior to others. This problem has been modeled in government, business, and many religious organizations for hundreds of years.
Culture is never an easy thing to change. It takes time, energy and persistence. But, here are some things you can do.
1. Lead by example. Don’t participate or play the game of “got-ya.” When this is done in your presence, let it be known by your look and gestures that you are not impressed by this kind of self-absorbed behavior. Whatever you do… don’t laugh at putdowns, or do anything that openly or even subtly encourages this kind of behavior. If it continues…
2. When an individual does this in a group, or to you personally, say with a smile on your face, “Greg, this kind of an attitude is not important or relevant. The question we should be addressing is what is wrong, not focusing on who is wrong.”
If the behavior continues make statements like, “This approach of making everything personal is not helpful to our team. I would appreciate it if we could focus on genuine problems and not the people you differ with. If it continues…
3. You need to address this issue “one-on-one.” No one ever said that leadership is easy. Sometimes you must address issues head-on, and for the sake of the organization you need to be frank and pointed. Let the person know that their behavior is not professional, mature or productive in the workplace. To see how to correct a co-worker effectively read this leadership tip.
4. If it continues… there are a number of options you need to consider. Is there another supervisor or executive who can also approach this individual with a similar message to reinforce what you said? Are the individual’s contributions so important that everyone else can endure his or her behavior? Is the behavior so divisive and harmful to productivity that the person needs to be employed elsewhere? If you get to this point, these are serious questions that must be answered.
If you are a manager or supervisor never… ever… promote a person who demonstrates this kind of behavior. If you do, it sends a loud message throughout the organization that being a jerk who criticizes and confronts everyone else is what it takes to get ahead in this company. Be assured of this fact. You will inadvertently reinforce a culture of negativity and politics in the organization and this is destructive. If the person is extremely talented and otherwise promotable, let them know that it is this trait that is holding them back. Document it on their annual review.
If you address this problem with skill, patience and dignity you may help that person to see how harmful their behavior really is. The truth is they are very insecure and lack a real sense of self-worth! They mask this to the world by confrontational behavior. You may help this individual grow to another level and at least modify their attitude and behavior. But remember that you can’t change their behavior… you can only point out to them how they come across and hurt others. Only they can change themselves.
If you have a challenging question you would like our consultant to discuss, please email your question here. We will be happy to keep your question anonymously.
* The advice and counsel offered by the consultant is based on the limited information provided by the questioner. No two situations are exactly the same, and the consultant makes every effort to provide helpful and educational counsel based on the information supplied.
About the author:
Greg has an extensive thirty-five years experience in public speaking and has spoken to hundreds of audiences worldwide. Greg has a Master of Arts degree in Leadership from Bellevue University, where he also has served as an adjunct professor teaching courses in business management and leadership since 2002. His first book, 52 Leadership Tips (That Will Change How You Lead Others) was published in 2006 by WingSpan Press. His second book, Making Life’s Puzzle Pieces Fit was published in March 2009. Both are available at amazon.com. Greg is also the president of Leadership Excellence, Ltd and a Managing Partner of the Leadership Management Institute. Leadership Excellence, Ltd. effectively builds individuals and organizations to reach their highest potential through enhanced productivity and personal development using a number of proven programs. He is also the president and founder of weLEAD Incorporated.
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