I am reminded this time of year of a basic truth in most of us – we like to put our energy into fixing things. I have a vegetable garden, and 5 weeks ago I put seeds into pots and started to grow them indoors. Each morning I look at the progress represented by 22 little pots and only about 5 showing signs of life. Yes, I am not a very good gardener. I only wish the bare pots would tell me what they need.
How does this relate to leadership? Often I go into organizations with the goal of helping a leader look at their team, have a conversation around team potential vs business strategy, help the team members think about their own development needs to meet the strategy, and then leave them with action items/goals to help them successfully hit the targets in the plan. In every team are people that are not growing. Leaders tend to worry about these people and put some direct energy (talking) and lots of indirect energy(worry, frustration) into fixing them.
The traditional solution? Gallup once made the statement “Put most of your energy into your best people”, which also can sound like the GE mantra of ‘cut your bottom 10%”. These statements sell books but implementing is risky and hard for leaders, people, and cultures.
The reality . . . .
Plants are not like people. Plants cannot tell you what they need more of to grow.
People are not plants, they can tell you what they need to be successful if they trust you AND if you ask.
The solution . . .
What if in your one on one conversations and performance conversations you asked? Recently I helped a leader of a small organization implement a performance evaluation that focused on asking – and I call that a performance conversation. He was amazed at what he heard from his people.
People are not like plants, so lets stop treating them like plants . . . . and to some people, stop acting like a plant and blaming the gardener.
A thought hit me several months ago – If being a CEO is such a difficult job (it is), then what the divorce rate is versus other jobs? As it turns out a study was done, and chief executives had a 40% lower divorce rate than the overall average of all occupations in the study. Their rate was 70% lower than dancers, bartenders, and massage therapists. Here is a link to the study. Based on this measure, it can be said that leaders personally handle a lot of stress.
Conversation done? Not exactly. In working with teams and leaders I have seen it from another perspective. What is the effect of a stressed leader on the rest of the organization. For leadership and team development I use a tool called the Birkman Method. The advantage I have found in this assessment is that Dr. Roger Birkman has found a way to measure not only surface behaviors, but underlying needs and the stress behaviors that result from needs not being met. Here is an example.
Many senior leaders I have worked with have a work pace that is very fast, and have a high need for practical and tangible results. The Birkman uses phrases like a need for practical results, opportunities for physical action, and activities that focus on practical results. When these needs are not met, Birkman describes the stress behaviors as acts without thinking, generates restless tension, and impatient/edgy.
While leaders have to be able to handle lots of stress, do these behaviors sound familiar? What is the impact of these behaviors on a team? Peer relationships? An organization?
It is great leaders can handle the stress. But what about the impact it has on everything else?
I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday talking about helping students recognize their talents and become actively involved in picking the right career for themselves. Then she made a comment with “So many of our students cannot see themselves as good at anything, they are just struggling/focused on finishing.”
How many of our people are just focused on finishing? Finishing the day. Finishing this class. Finishing the work you just gave them. Finishing their next meal. Finishing the meeting. Finishing the phone call. Finishing is about putting your head down and charging forward.
When I talk to groups about their story as an analogy to their career plan or their next job search I often hear finishing language. It sounds like – I have never thought of myself at being talented, I work. I am good at getting things done. I just need to find a job. I want my Birkman Method profile to look like theirs.
Everyone is great at something, or has the potential to be. Help people FIND that, do something with it, and finishing will just happen.
Often during trUYou sessions with leaders, in the middle of reviewing the Birkman assessment something special happens. They remember what they love or re-find something they need that they stopped asking for after their last promotion. In one discussion the leader realized they needed time to review what they did and sort through (in order to take tasks off the list) their list of priorities. I helped them find – then they went and finished.
Be that kind of leader – whether it is leading others or leading yourself (aka: Followership!)
A recent blog posting from Kate Nasser got me thinking. She made the case that the opposite of leader is not follower. Here is her post.
I agree with her, but struggle with a word that captures how people work AND facilitates a discussion that allows a leader and follower to share their perception of performance. I propose the 5 levels, with Kate’s term being level 5. Yes, I did borrow the concept from Jim Collins, but these are my words. So here are the Five levels of Followership.
Minimizer – An individual that consumes oxygen in the workplace. They are present, but getting things done is not a priority. They measure their contribution by getting just enough done to stay employed.
Doer – Do what they are asked consistently and with very little negative emotion. Solid and very dependable. Measure their contribution by getting done what is asked by when it was asked.
Attractor – Do their job with joy, attracting customers both inside and outside of their organization. Measure their contribution by the smiles they receive back and the work they get done.
Improver – Does the work presented and looks for ways to improve the efficiency. Measure their contribution by the dollars/time that they save or the improvements they make in the lives of their customers.
Influencer – Someone who sees opportunities to alter strategies or activities that will have a big impact on the direction of the organization and the work that is being done. Measure their contribution by the big things they get started and the opportunities they have to engage in work they consider to be significant.
It is always a great conversation to ask people how they perceive their contribution, then compare that with what you see. Gaps drive more conversations. Perpetual gaps indicate outcomes of conversations need to be written down. Words and labels do matter, but great conversations matter more.
As we looked out over the Ford complex they affectionately call The Rouge, my daughter said “It is really cool how they are committed to the environment and creating such a nice place to work”. My comment back was “Yeah, but remember how dirty and polluted this place used to be. They ruined air and water for a long time.” Her response, “But it looks good today.”
We toured the Ford complex in Detroit where they make the F-150 truck, and there is a lots there to talk about. Ford does a great job sharing the real history (including beating of union organizers) and painting a vision for why this facility means so much to the company and the people. It is also amazing to watch people build a great product in an extremely clean and nice environment. Worth the time if you are in Detroit. We live in a knowledge economy, but I still get the chills watching people assembling a physical product.
My big take-away from the tour is how both my daughter and I heard the same message, saw the same things, but initially had a different perspective. I wanted to make sure she saw the past and she wanted me to see the present and future. Who is right?
Knowing and acknowledging the past is important. George Santayana once said Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It provides context for decisions today and gives us a strong Why for current direction. People need leaders willing to talk about history.
Living the in past is a problem. Constantly reminding people of past sins as a form of punishment or reason for not believing in a future vision is being a bad follower.
Leaders, acknowledge the past and challenge yourself and others not to live in it. Followers – ditto. Many thanks to my daughter for reminding me of that.
Recently I had the opportunity to see Chris Ilitch speak about the Little Caesars culture and success. He is the son of the founder, Mike Ilitch. Some basics on this organization is that it is a privately held $4.2B company that derives income from 11 different organizations that includes pro sports (Tigers and Red Wings), pizza (Little Caesars), food distribution, entertainment, and gambling.
Here are the key values/beliefs that he titled – Secrets to the Sauce.
Think Big / Set Goals
Creativity and Innovation (remember Pizza Pizza? They started that craze)
Courage and Risk Taking
Perseverance and Commitment (“Not all risks pay off. Mistakes will happen.”)
Humility and Character (“Don’t get to high. Don’t get to low.” “If you do something good people will find out about it.”
People and Giving Back
Every speaker leaves you with something. For me, the thing I took away was how long it took to build this organization and how diverse it has become. The first store opened in 1961, the 100th in 1988, and the 2000th in 1989. Overnight success? Hardly. Now their businesses go way beyond pizza, and yet what has not changed is a commitment to a struggling city (Detroit) and a state where it all started. Chris ended the presentation with that reminder that their key has been to define what is important to them(this list) and then stick with it.
No family or business is perfect, and I am sure the Ilitchs are no different. It is a great story and Chris Illitch does a great job telling it.