Category Archives: Leadership

Michael Boyes

November 27, 2019

Without meaningful work, we sense significant loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical, or other reasons, quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
~ Timothy Keller

I’ve met a lot of people who insist that they only work because they HAVE to earn a living, but that’s not true. People work because they need to work. We are meant to work. It gives us purpose. It gives us meaning in life. 

In the final years of his life, my father lamented that he was “useless.” He wanted to be productive— to be of help to other people— and it depressed him that he wasn’t. My father was not alone. A lot of people suffer through jobs that seem meaningless. Likewise, their managers suffer through dejected employees. People without purpose make miserable employees: they are directionless, unmotivated, unsatisfied, and distracted by anything that is not job-related. Responsibility for this tragedy falls at the feet of managers.

Managers organize and assign work, while leaders give people purpose and unleash human potential. With purpose, people:

  • work intelligently to solve tough problems rather than return them to their manager.
  • believe they are doing what they are meant to do, are satisfied, and experience a sense of integrity.
  • understand the importance of their work, dedicate themselves to it, become absorbed in it, and energetically attack it.

In other words, people who experience meaning in their work are more engaged in it. Consequently, the company enjoys higher productivity, quality, customer service, customer loyalty, and profitability. While those coveted outcomes go up, the unwanted outcomes go down. Absenteeism, lateness, turnover, and employee grievances all dwindle when employees experience purposefulness.

As “purposeful work” promotes everything employers and employees want, it’s leaders’ duty to ensure that jobs are meaningful and that employees grasp the meaningfulness of their work.

Here are seven ways for leaders to do that:

  1. Communicate the purpose of every role in the job description, and hire people who want to fulfill that mission. Focusing job descriptions on responsibilities and tasks only makes jobs and people small. It promotes myopia and invites people to behave like automatons. Instead, focus on the “why” and hire people who are inspired by the “why” rather than people who can do the “what” and “how.”
  • Gladly explain “why.”  People need to understand the purpose of work in order to be motivated to do it and to make good judgments about how to do it. Especially when delegating non-routine work, explain the “why.” When communicating decisions, communicate the rationale you used.
  • Show people how their work supports the mission of the team and of the company.  But don’t just do it once; do it continuously. GE turned this practice into a commercial and scored bonus points with employees and customers when they gave manufacturing employees tours of the completed planes they helped to build.
  • Show them how their work helps people. Some people are more motivated to be helpful than others, but virtually everyone finds work more meaningful and motivating when they know it is helping others.
  • Personally, connect “back-office” employees with internal and external customers to help them understand how their work is used and the importance of specification and standards.
  • Refer to your mission, vision, and values for guidance when solving problems and making decisions (in teams and individually).
  • Ensure that people are in jobs that match their values and where they get to “do what they do best.”

Purposeful Work is one just of five presents that leaders give to their followers, but in my estimation, it is the most important.  Managers are wise to remember that every person was created to live an abundant, purposeful life full of love, wonder, curiosity, and work.  Managers who connect and weave together purpose, love, and learning with work earn tremendous influence with people. They earn the title of “leader.”

Who is Accountable?

There has been a lot of talk about “Accountability” in society and in organizations for the past twenty years. In my clients’ companies, leaders and staff often lament over the lack of accountability in their organizations.

So, it seems that something is amiss. But what is it?

I’ve never encountered a vexing problem that was rooted in a single cause, so I won’t pretend to have a simple explanation. I am confidant however that I have eyes to see that many people are operating under a gross misunderstanding of “accountability.”  People talk of “holding others accountable,” but no one, except for God, can hold a person accountable. Rather, people voluntarily submit to accountability. That begs the question:

Who would voluntarily submit to you and under what circumstances?

Hidden within most conversations about accountability is the question of “who has the power to “hold a person accountable?” Most people look to the formal authorities as the keeper of accountability, but relying on the “authorities” is a sign of failure in the community and especially so in the workplace.

High performing teams are flooded with communication about their team and individual performance. Great teams seek feedback from their customers and stakeholders. But that is not all; they are busy giving each other feedback.  Team members hold each other accountable to standards they have all committed to.  People on these teams submit to accountability based on a trusty foundation built from:

  • Credibility: The person giving feedback is a position to speak knowledgeably.
  • Commitment to a common goal:  A strong desire to accomplish the very same thing.
  • Interdependence: The clear belief that they need each other to reach their goal.
  • Love: People submit to accountability when they see that the other person both knows them and cares for them.

Lack in any of these areas makes submitting to others risky.

Perhaps this explains the dearth of accountability that we experience. We don’t need formal authority to “enforce authority.” Instead, we need to clarify our common goals and pursue loving relationship with our neighbors and teammates. Under those conditions, the people around us will certainly be credible witnesses to our triumphs, our failures, and everything between.

Rather than lamenting about the absence of accountability, would should instead build relationships that invite it.

Five Presents From a Leader

It’s often said that leaders are givers – not takers.  Though most of us would reflexively endorse the sentiment, we should ask, “Just what do leaders give?”  The short answer is that they give a lot, and that is pretty much what makes them leaders.  To effectively lead in organizational contexts though, leaders must give five specific presents: Purpose, Position, Pictures, Place, and Pathways.

In this post, I introduce the Five Presents from a Leader, and in the next five I will explain each one and provide practical tips and tools for how you can give them.

Purpose

A sense of meaning, value, and direction in life are as important as air, food, and water. Work is drudgery when a person thinks their job is to complete a form versus securing another person’s ability to get a great education or ensuring that a family has a worry-free adventure.

Inspiring leaders engage people in meaningful causes, continually communicate the purpose of work, and focus people on why they labor rather than how they labor. That keeps them motivated, hopeful, and engaged.  

Why does your company or team exist?

Position

People follow leaders and their cause.  Leaders who clearly proclaim who they are and what they stand for inspire, create bonds, teach, earn trust and plant the seeds for team culture.  Leaders who lack conviction, hide their beliefs, or remain vague and non-committal don’t gather followers. They may, however, gather a few “compliers,” who do what they are told, but are not motivated and don’t take initiative to either solve problems or make improvements.

When was the last time you declared what you stand for?

Pictures

People simply can’t create what they can’t see, so leaders must paint pictures. Like artists in the park who gather an audience, leaders who captivate followers paint vivid pictures of: their ideal future for the company (vision), what constitutes success (performance), how to be successful (strategies), and their followers’ future (potential).  Concrete, detailed pictures draw people in, stirs-up their imagination, and propels them forward.

Can you give a high-definition description of what success looks like?

Place

Every person on a team needs an important job and a unique, valuable contribution to make. Their job is what they do, and their contribution is the valuable gift they give the team by virtue of who they are. Shrewd leaders of teams articulate each person’s place to the individual and to the team so everyone understands each other’s roles and value.

Can every person on your team articulate their special place— their particular role and value?

Pathways

The shortest distance between two points isn’t always a straight line; sometimes it’s the easiest way, and sometimes it’s the way you know.  People are prone to taking the easiest route.  Often that route is the way they already know because it requires the least mental, physical, and emotional energy.  Wise leaders make it obvious and easy for their followers to do what is needed.  They expend effort upfront to ensure that the pathway is well marked and easy to use so their followers are capable and motivated to perform with excellence.

How have you made pathways to success easy to see and follow?

If you are a leader of any sort, there is no doubt that you are already giving.  You are to be commended.  Now, take stock of how consistently you give these Five Leader Presents to the people in your circle of influence.  In the coming posts, I will offer some advice and tools that you can use to elevate your giving.

How Adam Got Engaged

Few companies have found the holy grail of management: High Employee Engagement. In the average company, about 32 percent of employees are actively engaged in their work, and about 20 percent actively disrupt operations. But for those who figure it out, the rewards are unmistakable. Companies who score Continue reading

Running Into Angry Arms

Have you noticed that the presidential race is fueled by anger?Screaming people

Tuesday was primary election day in Maryland, and I voted for a losing candidate. He isn’t angry about the right things for enough people. People of all stripes feel that their rights are being violated and declare, “it’s ‘s not fair!”

It’s difficult to be angry about the same things as everyone else because people are mostly angry with others who are angry with them.

Frustration, anger, and bitterness know no bounds.  We all carry and nourish them everywhere we go—home, work, and to the ballpark, and it is easy to see the havoc they wreak.

Somehow we have deluded ourselves into believing that politicians are responsible for and capable of making life fair and for ensuring that our “rights” are never violated.  So, we “run” to politicians who share our brand of anger, huddle with like-minded malcontents for affirmation, and harden ourselves against “them,” whoever “them” are.  We run into angry arms for justice.  To me, that is inane.

The unyielding insistence on being treated “fairly” is foolish.  We ourselves don’t always treat others fairly and cry out for understanding when we don’t.  So, really, we don’t always want fairness. We don’t want our just desserts once we realize what they are.

The “fairness economy” is a losing system; it feeds self-centeredness, bitterness, and resentment. Humans have a penchant for distorting reality and esteeming themselves more highly than we ought to. Psychologists even have names for our distortions, e.g., self-serving bias, self-enhancement bias, self-confirming bias, and the ultimate attribution error.  When others don’t treat us in accordance with our rosy self-portraits, it feels demeaning, and our anger is aroused. Then a battle ensues.

What if we didn’t make “getting our due” the supreme rule in life? What if we pursued a more noble cause in our businesses?

The apostle Paul commended people to live in the “servant economy” when he wrote:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Can patriotic American capitalists make this a guiding principle instead of “getting my due”?  Would that be contradictory? I think not.

  • When salesmen count their customers more significant than themselves, the customer is helped, sales are made, and loyalty is won.
  • When leaders consider their staff’s needs above theirs, people are treated with dignity and appreciation; they grow; they take risks and support their leader and his/her goals.
  • When team members look out for their boss, the team tackles problems, overcomes challenges, and meets their goals.
  • When colleagues look out for each other, trust is built, people learn, and the work climate is positive and productive.

If we would esteem others more highly than ourselves at work, we would take a giant step away from anger and towards reconciliation.  “If” is a big word though. There is a reason why people turn to politicians for justice.  It’s easier to toss the burden on someone else rather than to carry it personally.

I want to live in the servant economy.  How about you?  Which economy do you want to live in – fairness, servant, or another?

 

On Appreciation and Engagement

I have an enviable job; I get to help leaders figure out how to create productive, prosperous workplaces. Yesterday, Amanda Gianotti of Allogram Inc., and I spoke with the Women in Business at the Hunt Valley Business Forum. Our topic was Cultivating the Heart of Appreciation.

It is such a rich topic that we didn’t have time to answer all of our audience’s questions, so I’d like to provide forum for questions and commentary on the topic.

Here are a few of the questions that came-up during and after our presentation. Please let us know what is on your mind.

Q.  If I work with someone who isn’t a great performer, should I still show them appreciation?

A. Yes. Appreciating and rewarding people are not necessarily the same thing, though they can be. Appreciation is about valuing people for who they are and how they were made. Rewards are for motivating.

Everyone is “deficient” in some way(s). It is easy for us to allow our frustration with others to blind us to their value. People who show sincere appreciation for others are able to exercise influence and leadership. Those who don’t have a much harder go of it.

Q. You said that everyone has a language of appreciation; how do I know someone’s language?

A. That’s the million dollar question!  We generally find that people have a primary language and often a secondary language that speaks to them most clearly. A person tends to give what they want. A person who frequently encourages others is likely to have “Words of Affirmation” as their language. If you notice that a person frequently asks how they can help or readily jumps in to serve, he or she likely to understand “Acts of Service,” and that is the language you should speak to them.

What are your questions?