Great Leaders Create a Culture of Quitters

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You are likely familiar with the concept that employees don’t quit companies, they quit leaders.

It is with this in mind that many organizations invest time, energy, and resources developing leaders who foster employee engagement.

Yes, employees might quit an organization because of a bad leader; however, these same employees may quit their own bad behaviors because of a good leader.

In other words, great leaders create a culture of quitters!

Some of you may be thinking…

Wait a second; great leaders create cultures that encourage people to try new approaches, take on different roles, and apply new solutions. They don’t create a culture of quitters.

Oh, yes they do!

Great leaders encourage people to quit trying in four key areas.

I invite you to invest a few minutes reading about each area and reflecting on your mindset, behaviors, and results.

1. Quit Trying to Please Everyone

Blame it on your upbringing, your DNA, or some other force, but many of us are compelled to please others. We don’t like the idea of someone being disappointed with, frustrated about, or indifferent toward us.

So, we try to please everyone. Not only does this waste time and energy, but it is a fruitless endeavor, because you can’t please everyone.

What do great leaders do? Great leaders give employees permission to disappoint some people. These leaders work with their employees to uncover who truly matters most to the success of the team and organization. This gives employees the freedom to say ‘no’ to certain requests and give a big ‘yes’ to others.

2. Quit Trying to Do Everything

You have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources. When you attempt to do everything, you usually accomplish nothing with excellence. Yes, you might understand the law of diminishing returns at an intellectual level, but when faced with the choice of doing one task over another, you may let our feelings or egos push you to try to do everything.

What do great leaders do? Great leaders work with team members to determine the team or organization’s most important goals, and to ensure clarity about the role everyone plays. Getting clear on which goals matter most and who does what, allows team members to prioritize their efforts, and, like not trying to please everyone, they learn what tasks to accomplish and which ones to let go.

3. Quit Trying to Fix Everything

Most organizations measure things – arguably too many things.

Take a look around your organization. Odds are that if you can measure it, you do. The natural tendency when you measure everything is to try to optimize everything. When you try optimize everything, you typically create no sustainable advantages.

What do great leaders do? Great leaders give employees permission to be just ok at some things. They do this by allowing some measures to be sub-optimal, or cut the measure altogether in order to provide a very clear set of measurable goals that will allow employees to play a winning game.

4. Quit Trying to Control Everything

Since birth, many of us have tried to control everything. Some even incessantly watch the weather, the stock market, or the daily traffic report in an effort to control the outcome. Highly effective people know that the best energy is placed on things you can control or influence.

What do great leaders do? Great leaders allow employees to let go of things they can’t control and focus on things that employees can truly influence. These leaders also assist employees to accomplish certain tasks by lending the leader’s influence, access, or skill-set.

So, how are you doing?

Take a few minutes to assess yourself as a quitter. Ask yourself how well you are doing and whether or not you are creating a culture of successful quitters.

  • Are you clear on who truly matters most to the success of your team or organization? Do you put the majority of your energy to serving these most important customers?
  • Are you clear on your team or organization’s top goals? Can you name them and explain how well you are performing? Are you clear on the role you play in driving desire results?
  • Are you measuring the fewest number of items in order to ensure clarity? Or, do you measure everything and attempt to optimize everything?
  • Do you obsess about things that are out of your control in hopes that you can somehow gain the outcome you desire? Or, do you focus on what you can do and put your energy in those areas?

Watch Out for a Culture of Yes People

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Many organizations are filled with ‘yes’ people. No matter what the leader says, the people around the table nod their heads in agreement.

These same head nodders will walk out of the meeting room and share with each other why something won’t work or how the boss made a bad decision.

These ‘meetings after the meeting’ are extremely damaging and all too common.

If an opposing opinion exists, and they often do, the leader needs to create a culture where the challenge is communicated in (not after) the meeting.

The key to making this happen is the tone the leader sets.

If you’re the leader, be authentic. If you don’t have the answer, say you don’t have it. Be willing to ask for input, take ideas under consideration, weigh alternatives, and then make an informed decision. Solicit and encourage opposing viewpoints.

The reality is that if everyone agrees with everything you say, they are either lying to you, or you have the wrong people in the room.

Let’s Get Real About Culture, What Does Your Organization Truly Value?

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Think about your organization’s culture. What does your organization truly value?

I’m not asking what your strategic plan lists as your top goals. I’m also not referring to what senior leaders say are important initiatives. True, these may all be the same things; however, there is often a gap (sometimes a big one) between what the organization ‘says’ it truly values and what the organization ‘truly’ values.

Let me share a couple of examples…

Imagine that it is 1998 and you are sitting in a conference room holding a meeting with your colleagues. The session has been in full swing for two solid hours and everyone is in need of a much-deserved break. A suggestion is made to adjourn for 15 minutes and all eagerly agree. Some scurry to the restroom and others opt to run back to their workspace to check email.

Why did they go back to their workspace?

That’s where they would find their computers and the much-treasured email. You return to your desk and discover that during the two hours of conference room time, six emails have arrived in your inbox. You quickly read and respond to each and hustle back to the conference room.

As you settle into your seat, you mention to your colleagues that you received six emails that morning. Not surprisingly, your co-workers are impressed that you had received so much electronic correspondence in just two hours. That is until a co-worker mentions that she had received 10 emails during the same timeframe. The attention and adulation quickly turn to her.

What’s the point?

In the early days, emails brought bragging rights. In turn, merely counting the number of emails received drove the behavior of some. Never mind if there was anything of value in the messages. Forget the important stuff we were discussing in the meeting – the emails were driving behavior!

Today, most of us get hundreds of emails a day and thousands per week. They follow us everywhere we go – no longer restricted to the boxy computer at the office. The supply is high – demand is low – value is in the tank.

The emails in the past represent a form of organizational currency. People in the organization saw them as valuable. Acquiring them drove behavior that was rewarded and reinforced.

Often times, what is rewarded lines up with what truly matters. Other times, that’s not the case.

Here’s another example…

I once worked at a place where a few items went missing from desks in the headquarters building. The leadership decided to address the situation by adding a sign-in roster at the front desk for all employees to enter their names into during after duty hours.

Every week, an executive (yes, an executive) would go through the book to see who came in and out of the office in the evenings and weekends. People figured this out and started to show up during their time off just to put their names in the book and let the boss know they were there. Signing the book became a organizational currency. Ridiculous? Of course – nonetheless, the smart folks that worked there did it anyway.

Consider your organization:

  • What’s your organization’s currency?
  • What do people in your organization TRULY value?
  • What is being rewarded and reinforced?
  • Think about the things that people count and brag about. Are they important items that drive goals that matter or are they trivial things with little true value?

Explain this story to a few people in your workplace and ask them to tell you what the current organizational currency is in your organization. You might be surprised!

How to Discover Your “True” Corporate Culture

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I invite you to suspend reality for a moment and go on an odd, but arguably informative, journey with me. A journey to discover your “true” corporate culture.

Imagine that Charles Darwin, the 19th century English naturalist and geologist, sets sail from England aboard the HMS Beagle.

His destination – the Galapagos Islands.

A space-time continuum fluke transports Darwin to your 21st century workplace.

He is intrigued, confused, and a bit scared. Nonetheless, Darwin begins to observe you and your colleagues.

He asks about your organization and is directed to a beautiful plaque on the wall labeled “Our Values”. You tell him that the plaque explains your organization’s corporate culture.

He reads them and seems impressed.

Like a good explorer, Darwin tours the facility, talks to your employees, reviews organizational processes, and works to gather an understanding of how your people interact, communicate, collaborate, and accomplish work.

In the end, he explains that although the plaque on the wall is interesting, he believes he has a theory that describes your organization’s true corporate culture.

What would he call his theory for your corporate culture?

Well, I’ve managed to “uncover” Darwin’s lost journal. It contains 9 theories about various groups he observed on this odd and unknown journey. Here are the entries from his journal.

Can you guess which one describe you and your teammates?

1. The Theory of Evolution

These are clearly people who are working to become better versions of themselves. They listen to one another, ask for help, produce amazing results. The best ideas survive. Over time, they evolve into a better team and organization.

2. The Theory of Illusion

These people are not facing reality. Their performance is low, yet they act as if everything is okay. There are elephants in the room, but no one mentions them. They may be headed toward extinction.

3. The Theory of Confusion

Everyone seems to be going in a different direction. There appears to be no unifying purpose or mission. Motivation doesn’t seem to be the problem, but clarity and commitment to top goals is lacking. It’s like every day they decide to go in a different direction. I’m concerned that a more focused competitor will eliminate them.

4. The Theory of Fusion

I am amazed as I watch this group of diverse people come together. They appear to have different backgrounds, skills, and capabilities, yet they manage to fuse into a cohesive and productive team. I wish I had longer to observe them as something amazing is no doubt about to happen here.

5. The Theory of Intrusion

How does one get anything accomplished among these people? They are constantly talking over one another, interrupting each other, and posing the question – “May I have a minute?” Clearly, they have no concept of time, because these “minute” requests take much longer than a minute and take the other person off task. Not only do they seem to have no concept of time, but they certainly do not respect what little time they do have.

6. The Theory of Contusion

Watching these people interact made my own head hurt. It’s like they are banging their heads against the wall everyday. I believe that the individuals are trying hard, but just can’t seem to gain traction. No one can find the right path and they need leaders to emerge or they will lose their best employees.

7. The Theory of Seclusion

I watched this group for several days and I’m not convinced they are actually a team. They were very quite, interacted little, and seemed to be uncaring about the struggles or victories of their co-workers. I witnessed no willingness to help each other. I think they are a team by name only.

8. The Theory of Profusion

Wow! These people are truly unique. They are amazingly abundant. They willing share with each other and are overtly wanting to help. If a person knows something or possesses a skill, he or she will offer it to the others to help them succeed. Recognition for individual contributions is trumped by collective performance.

9. The Theory of Revolution

As I watched their meeting rituals, it was apparent that everyone agreed with the leader in the leader’s presence. There was never an objection, push back, or a suggestion of a better way. However, as soon as they were out of the leader’s presence they would object, undermine, and revolt. This team and leader are in a very bad situation – a revolt as at hand.

Next steps to consider…

  1. Share this post with your colleagues.
  2. Ask them to individually identify what theory they think Darwin would use to describe your culture.
  3. Get together. Compare notes, ask questions, and share ideas.
  4. Come to consensus and decide if the theory identified is truly what you want for your team or organization.
  5. If it is, great just remember you have to work to maintain it. If it isn’t, what would you like it to be and what’s one step the team can take today to improve its culture?

(Before anyone asks, yes, I made this up. Darwin didn’t visit your office 🙂 )

How Great Leaders ‘Set’ Themselves & Their Culture Up for Success

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Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many great leaders. I’ve watched them interact with their people and observed the results they’ve achieved.

I’ve also noticed a pattern in how these leaders think and act.

This pattern seems to emerge regardless of leadership role, industry, or location: Here are a few quick examples:

  • I taught a leadership program to a group of government officials in Iceland. I saw the pattern.
  • I consulted with a manager who works for a regional business in Malaysia. I saw the pattern.
  • I coached a senior leadership team at a Fortune 100 in the States. I saw the pattern.

I have come to realize that truly great leaders SET themselves (& others) up for success in three areas:

  1. Mind-SET
  2. Skill-SET
  3. Tool-SET

(Before you write a comment about spelling and grammar, I do realize that I’m taking liberty with these words.)

Here’s a brief explanation of each area and questions for you to answer as you assess your own performance.

1. Choose the Right Mind-SET

Success begins with the right mindset. Consider these ideas…

  • Creation happens first in the mind and then in the physical world.
  • Poor performance often follows a bad attitude; the right attitude typical proceeds exceptional results.
  • Failing to think through a situation in advance often prohibits a leader from taking the right action in the moment.

Great leaders invest the required time and energy to achieve the right mindset.

  • They think through their day and prepare themselves mentally for success.
  • They pause before a meeting and focus on desired outcomes.
  • They chose their actions from the right perspective.

Do they mess-up at times? Of course – they are human.

However, they approach the occasional blunder with the right mindset. They ask what they can learn from the mistake. They commit to not making the same mistake twice. They move on.

Consider these questions about your mindset:

  • How open are you to changing your paradigm in the face of new information?
  • Are you hanging on to old perspectives that aren’t serving you well?
  • Do you frequently check yourself to ensure you have the right mindset when you enter a meeting, start a new project, go on a client call, etc.?
  • What should you do today to improve how you approach choosing the right mindset?

2. Develop the Right Skill-SET

Great leaders invest time and energy to build on their existing skills. They also work to add new skills when new situations change.

If the company is looking to enter a new market, these leaders spend time learning about potential customers and competitors. If a new technology emerges, they work to understand its advantages and threats.

These leaders also know that they don’t need to personally possess all the skills. So, they surround themselves with people who bring different skills, knowledge, and capabilities to the team.

Consider these questions about your skill set:

  • Are you actively learning new things and enhancing your skills? Or, have you grown complacent?
  • Have you created a team that complements one another? Or, are you failing to create enough diversity?
  • What skills are currently missing on your team that you should proactively work to develop?

3. Access and Properly Use the Right Tool-SET

A colleague once told me that a tool can be used for one of three purposes.

  1. As intended: A sales report can be used to assess current results, learn what is working, and chart a course for the future.
  2. As a weapon: The same sales report can be used to verbally hit someone over the head, creating fear and isolation.
  3. As a crutch: The same sales report can also be used to lean on as an excuse for poor performance. Sales people argue about the report’s timing, accuracy, etc.

Great leaders ensure the right tools are available and properly used.

They become loyal to the results the tool produces, not the tool itself. If the tool is not serving the organization well, great leaders tweak, toss, or replace it.

Consider these questions about your toolset:

  • Do you and your people have the tools needed to effectively deliver results?
  • Are you strangely loyal to tools that are no longer meeting your needs?
  • What could you do today to put better tools in place?

I wish you the best as you develop yourself, your people, and your culture!