More than a Microwave

If you are a leader, you probably have had to consider employee engagement and motivation. I was involved in a conversation this week about this, and some of the points made brought me back to some basic business education material: Herzberg’s Motivation Theory. Why? The talk was all about how an extra microwave in the break room would make a big difference in the employee experience. Sorry, it doesn’t really work that way.

Herzberg published his theory in 1959, and it has been a foundational topic in business education since then. Why, then, do some believe that environmental improvements will make a big difference? Maybe because simple changes are quick, easy and cheap, allowing the manager to check the box – “Yes, we did that” – and move on. These leaders should not be surprised, though, when employees don’t bow and say, “Thank you, sir, for the new tables in the employee lounge. I will never leave this company.” Having the right flavors of Doritos in the vending machine may eliminate a demotivator, but it will never drive engagement.

Herzberg’s theory went on to say that there are important motivators that influence people to work hard, including recognition, responsibility, advancement and the work itself. Other leading organizations also use the organization’s mission as a touch point for employees, hoping that the reason behind the work will improve engagement (think pharma: saving and
improving lives). I have personally seen and experienced this in organizations in different industries, and knowing the bigger picture and the “why” behind the work can sometimes be the fuel to help employees make it over the next steep hill.

Pay attention to the basics and eliminate elements that frustrate employees, but understand the limited upside of the efforts. To realize significant results, there will have to be significant effort. Recognition, strong cultures of trust and teamwork and genuinely engaged leaders focused on the needs of the employees will create great results, but these all take hard work. Rest up, re-energize and start the real job of a leader: empowering and engaging employees to deliver on the goals of the organization.


Leadership: Royals & The Rest of Us

Friday, April 29, 2011 was an important day in the United Kingdom and provided some escapism for over two billion people around the world who watched some or all of the coverage of the royal wedding. William and Kate fulfilled their roles perfectly, giving the world an opportunity to share fleetingly in their lives, courtesy of high definition television and world wide media coverage. It was fun.

William and Kate and the rest of “The Firm,” as the royal family is sometimes called, clearly live a life much different than us commoners. For one, we don’t have an army of aides ready to fluff our dress or hold our gloves. Though they have a leadership role in their country, and have a vested interest in keeping the monarchy alive and well, that lifestyle is not one that we should expect in any leadership position to which any of us might aspire. Quite the contrary.

Leadership in our world, as we carry out our activities at work, in our homes, in civic and religious life, or in any other pursuit you might mention is better defined by our service to those we lead, rather than the servitude we might mistakenly expect from our followers. If you are a leader who expects curtseys and bows as you walk down the hall, I’ll bet that your list of followers is small.

The most successful leaders, leaders that we want to follow, are those whom help us reach our potentials by challenging us, encouraging us and helping us secure the resources we need to be successful. The body of work on servant leadership is enormous, and it doesn’t describe anything that we see as “Royal Watchers.” Enjoy the fairy tale, but leave it as that: a fun story that someone else gets to live. Now get back to leading your followers by helping them succeed.

Encouragement: 100% Sustainable

Over the last several days, I have been running across the theme of encouragement. John Maxwell’s slim volume on mentoring and a message from the pulpit by Rev. Kregg Gabor are two examples that come to mind. A quick Google search for quotes about encouragement delivers hundreds of good ones in a second. Here is one that I want to share, and I promise to keep my comments it brief.

Correction does much, but encouragement does more.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you have ever hit a tough time in your life, whether in your career, your personal life or in some other pursuit, you know that adversity can sometimes shut you down. We all know that high achievers learn from these challenges, adapt and move on to greatness. Some of us could use some help in getting past the challenge, and that is where encouragement comes in.

If you work with others in any capacity – and this includes most everyone – you are in constant relationship with others. How do you choose to engage in that relationship? Are you a negative force, providing a constant stream of criticism and doubt? Or are you one who affirms and encourages, giving others the fuel that they need to drive through challenges? To leverage Goethe’s quote, are you a corrector or an encourager?

The great thing about encouragement is that it is free to give, gives energy to both the giver and the receiver, and creates a virtuous cycle in which everyone helps others achieve amazing things. If you are in a formal leadership position, your free giving of encouragement is even more valuable and powerful. I have seen people nearly vibrate with excitement from a few positive words from a senior leader. Can you do this? Yes!

Here is my question for you: When have you received encouragement that got you through the tough times? What did the other person say? How big a difference did it make to you? We would all enjoy hearing your story.


Humble to a Fault

The highlight of my morning today was having phone conversations with two former colleagues with whom I had not spoken with in several years. Barb Kelly is doing amazing things in her own business (Technology Business Group), bringing her values, experiences and entrepreneurship to her work and her employees. The other is someone we will call Paul who is recovering from some serious medical issues and is preparing to reenter the workforce. Our conversation left me wanting to share this point: You have to sell yourself.

Paul is a talented leader who has the ability to create and build teams that are very effective. One of his teams that I had the opportunity to support delivered top results in his sales region through great team member development that led to superior engagement and a competitive (though not too competitive) culture and a strong will to win. Paul should be proud of his accomplishments, though a very strong sense of humility is getting in his way.

Our conversation was about job hunting strategies, including his resume, and how he needs to do a better job of selling his accomplishments. Step one is to get the interview. That will happen with a great resume that is full of accomplishments and results, solid networking and consistent hard work in the job search. Step two – the interview – will be the time to display that humility and stories about team development.

For all of us, the lesson is simple. Many of us have a hard time bragging about our accomplishments. Humility and the desire to not appear arrogant or over-confident act against us. As you search for the next great step in your career, though, this can be a fatal flaw. You have to sell yourself and the value you bring. Let your humility and servant leadership qualities shine in the interview and on the job. Don’t let those same qualities cripple your search.

Climbing Everest Blind

Erik Weihenmayer is an amazing person. He lost his sight as a teenager and in spite of this disability, went on to reach the summit of Mount Everest and, ultimately, the Seven Peaks – the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. I had the opportunity to hear him speak in Orlando this week and I wanted to share my strongest recommendation to learn more about him if you have the chance. You will be inspired and amazed.

Erik’s message is that adversity is really opportunity. Adversity can help you grow and do things that you never thought you could do. It would be easy to simplify the message down to a simple sentence – “You can do it” – or a Nike ad slogan, but that would be doing a disservice to him, his accomplishments and his service to others.

How can we take this example and inspiring story and apply it in our own journeys that will never take us to the highest spot on the planet? Maybe it comes down to striving to do the best that you can every day, and when it gets difficult, relying on your team – family, friends, coworkers – to help you get through. Maybe it’s relying on your faith, knowing that there is a reason you are facing the steep hill in front of you, and it’s all for a greater purpose.

More important than this, though, is the question of what you can do for others. Erik spends time discussing his accomplishments, but he also gives lots of credit to those who helped him, those tied to the same rope line, those scaling the same mountain face who helped him reach his goals. What are you and I doing to grow and develop others? What are you doing to serve others? What are you doing today that will allow you to reflect and say that you did your very best to help others do their best? What are you doing to make it count? I may not have a summit day today, but I can take steps to get there.