Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Leadership Requires Effective Communication

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Communication is the chief responsibility of a leader according to many management experts, and that makes complete sense. If a leader isn’t able to communicate his/her vision for the organization, anything else s/he does is wasted effort because people will be confused about the overall direction of the company and heading toward different goals.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president of TalentSmart, agreed in his article, “12 Habits of Exceptional Leaders.”  While he ranks effective communication at the #2 spot, behind courage, he calls communication “the real work of leadership.”

His point about courage is that “people need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show courage themselves when their leaders do the same.”

In discussing the need for effective communication, Dr. Bradberry points ot that people need to be inspired. They also need to feel a connection with their leaders that is “real, emotional, and personal, regardless of any physical distance between them. Great communicators forge this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs.”

All those desired results of effective communication are exactly what stories do. They reach people’s hearts as well as their minds and create lasting connections between individuals. That’s why corporate storytelling is a crucial skill for highly effective leaders.

How would you rank your own leadership communication skills? Are your people inspired? Do they feel a real connection with you and a desire to follow you wherever you want to take the organization?

Culture of Communication Maximizes Employee Engagement

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

According to a recent Gallup poll, over 50 percent of the current workforce is not fully engaged with the company; they simply show up and do what they need to do to keep their jobs–a steady income, in other words–but they do no more than absolutely necessary. What’s worse, nearly 20 percent of employees are “actively disengaged,” which presumably means they “push the envelope” on how little is enough to get by.

Margie Warrell, a leadership coach and author, discusses this woeful situation in an article on Forbes.com. Pointing out the urgent need for effective leadership communication, Warrell says that a leader’s level of interaction with employees makes a huge difference in how the workforce feel about their organization. As she rightly asserts, it’s crucial for a leader to regularly walk through the workplace and talk with employees. Transparent communication that divulges failures as well as successes is at the heart of creating a truly connected workplace, a culture of interdependence and mutual trust. And reminding people that their contributions are valuable inspires lasting commitment.

When people feel connected, they support one another fully and provide top-notch customer service. As Warrell says, “Relationships are the currency of the workplace, and so the stronger a leader’s connections, the better placed they will be to engage their employees…. Only when leaders demonstrate the courage they wish to see in those around them will they be able to unleash the human potential within their teams and organization, tap ingenuity,  raise the bar on innovation and optimize the value their organization contributes to all of it’s stakeholders.”

Stories are the best way for a leader to make those essential connections: stories that envision the future and make it palpable; stories that remind people of successes, both past and current;  stories about “lessons learned,” including those that describe mistakes the leader has made–and that have shaped the leader.

Over the past 21+ years, during which I’ve led hundreds of Corporate Storytelling workshops and delivered tens of keynotes, I’ve seen thousands of people light up when they experience the power of story. It’s the way humans derive meaning about life, from daily routines to remarkable accomplishments. Stories are the way we learn about one another, discover shared values and appreciate how much we can accomplish together.

Leaders who leverage the power of story with clear, consistent communication are sure to beat the competition. Their workforce will be fully engaged and committed to doing whatever it takes to realize the vision.

Managers Need Training to Meet Expanding Expectations

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

A survey reported in “The Wall Street Journal” yesterday discovered that, while companies are adding responsibilities to managers’ already heavy workloads, they aren’t providing training that helps those managers handle their expanding responsibilities. Standard approaches, such as relying on “loaned executive” programs to nonprofits, company-developed formal training, or support from HR, were rated as the least helpful forms of training.

The most helpful training, according to managers surveyed, were provided by external leadership programs, encouragement from family and friends and support from peer networks. Leadership training for people who are promoted is the main exception.

However, the author and conductor of the survey, Herminia Ibarra, quickly adds that fewer people are being promoted, so the overall benefits of such training are not as far-reaching as previously. One of her conclusions is that continual training should be the standard, especially for “promising” managers, who will have the opportunity to learn from their peers over a long period of time as they all develop their skills. Ibarra also recommends that organizations facilitate more cross-departmental collaboration so that individuals get to know co-workers in other areas and gain better understanding of the roles and operations across the company.

Another recent survey found that soft skills training is the greatest needed in the corporate world. Individuals who lack so-called “people skills,” including the core component of communication, are unable to collaborate and that inability results in diminishes productivity and overall organizational effectiveness. Corporate Storytelling training provides the tools not only for clearly informing, directing, and supporting others, but also teaches the importance of listening–an often overlooked necessity in today’s constantly “plugged-in” world.

How are your storytelling and listening skills?

A Values-Based Story about Canlis Restaurant in Seattle

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

A reknowned Seattle restaurant often rated among the best in the country as well as the world, Canlis is a third-generation family-owned business with an impressive values-based story. The family’s values guide the owners’ long-term plans as well as day-to-day operations. Those values, as explained by Chris Canlis, the second generation to run the elegant dining room, are simplified as TGD: trustworthy, generous, and other-centered.

Speaking recently with his son, Mark, at a meeting of the Seattle Philanthropic Advisors Network (SPAN), Chris was quick to explain, “I’m not an owner; I’m a steward, and it’s my job to care for it and pass it on.” According to the restaurant website, the family believes “everything we are, we were given.” Chris says their perspective is based on a Bible passage in the book of Proverbs: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” He added, “Generosity is not a decision; it’s a function of character. It isn’t conditional on how well you’re doing. The poorest of the poor can be generous.”

As an example, Chris said, his wife, Alice, grew up in a family that “had nothing material and all things familial.” He described her parents’ home as a place where “the door was always open and an unusually long dining table (which seated 18) always had room for one more.” He said most of what he knows about philanthropy he’s learned from his wife.

For more than six decades, Canlis’ generous philanthropy has helped many organizations, even when the economy slows and business suffers. Mark described a time when he was prepared to turn down a request for a donation to a community event during the recent recession–and then realized that even though times were challenging, the restaurant should still be generous. Among the beneficiaries of Canlis’ support is FareStart, a well-known Seattle restaurant that serves as a training facility to teach marketable skills to homeless adults and at-risk youth. Guest chefs from a range of Seattle restaurants are a regular feature at FareStart, giving trainees a close-up look at how to succeed in a service industry.

When Chris and Mark were asked how the parents have passed their values to the next generation, Mark, the father of three, jumped in. with an answer that befits his generation: “Living with three kids is like living on reality TV with three cameras in the house. They watch everything you do!”

Chris and Alice are still involved with the business, but turned over the reins to Mark and his brother, Brian, in 2005. The brothers have been careful to make incremental changes with an eye on retaining familiar features of the iconic restaurant overlooking Lake Union. Beloved by generations of Seattleites and sophisticated travelers, Canlis is consistently a top choice for celebrating special occasions. Exemplifying the family’s guiding values, the new generation of management is committed to continuing the tradition: delivering a fine-dining experience in every detail by focusing on the guests.

Starbucks Story Is about Passion and Authenticity

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Starbucks is proof positive that passion and authenticity can drive a company to huge success. Founded in Seattle in 1971 by two guys who sold whole bean and ground coffee as well as tea and spices in a retail store in Pike Place Market, Starbucks originally set out to educate consumers about dark-roasted coffee and the wide variety of beans and teas in the world. The founders were comfortable being small and selling only bagged products for customers to brew at home. The company grew by leaps and bounds only after Howard Schultz, now chairman, president and CEO, got involved.

Hired in 1982 to head up marketing, Schultz became CEO in 1987 after leaving the company for a while to start his own business. When he returned to take the top post, Schultz convinced private investors that his vision was achievable. Aiming for a national chain of European-style warm, inviting neighborhood cafes, he and his management team grew the business from a company with 6 stores to a national chain of 1,300 stores and 25,000 employees–within 10 years! Now a global company of more than 20,000 stores and 151,000 partners in 62 countries, Starbucks is still an organization run on passion.

Schultz had been bitten by “the bug” of high quality coffee and the classic Italian cafe culture in 1981 when he first sipped a cappuccino at a neighborhood coffee bar in Italy. He’ll never forget that pivotal moment–and he still loves sharing that experience with the world. He was certain Americans would enjoy the experience just as much as he did, and in some communities Starbucks is, in fact, the “Third Place” gathering spot that Schultz envisioned. And his concept caught on to a far greater degree than he originally imagined.

As he says in his first book, Pour Your Heart into It, How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, “People connect with Starbucks because they relate to what we stand for. It’s more than great coffee. It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community…. Starbucks strikes an emotional chord with people. Some drive out of their way to get their morning coffee from our stores.”

Based on an authenticity that permeates the culture, Schultz’s leadership emanates from his contagious passion for coffee. The mission “to inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time” inspires store managers, executives and partners at all levels. Management decisions, as well as the one-on-one interactions between baristas and customers, are evidence of their commitment.

Starbucks has proven, as Schultz says, that “a company can grow big without losing the passion and personality that built it, but only if it’s driven not by profits but by values and by people. If you pour your heart into your work, or into any worthy enterprise, you can achieve dreams others may think impossible.”

How about your organization? Is the leader’s passion evident? Is the vision clear? And what about you? What dreams do you have for your own future that passion and authenticity will help you achieve?

Burning Man Inspiring Recruitment Tool for Creative Culture

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Executives at Burning Man? At first glance that sounds like a headline from “The Onion.” But as “Fast Company” reports, a high-end business service provides direct flights to the week-long Black Rock, Nevada, event, where plush accommodations and fine dining await groups of executives seeking creative inspiration–and even the possibility of finding great recruits who will fit into their business cultures. If they’re as unconventional as the founders of Google and many other 21st Century organizations, that isn’t as far-fetched an idea as it may sound.

“Fast Company” reports that Google Co-founder Sergy Brin has explained, “Larry and I searched (for a leadership candidate) for over a year” before he and his co-founder, Larry Page, attended Burning Man, where they met Eric Schmidt, now the chairman of Google. Commenting that Schmidt is a great fit with their approach to business, Brin added, “More companies should look at cultural fit.”

He’s absolutely right. Too many companies have traditionally sold candidates on the benefits of their organization by telling stories that paint an unrealistic picture of the type of person they want. The importance of identifying the personality traits and behavior styles that truly will fit into the organization is often overlooked. It’s an oversight that can be very costly, particularly in terms of low productivity and high employee turnover.

What does your company–or any you know–include unorthodox practices as part of its recruiting efforts? We’d like to hear how creative thinkers like the founders of Google find the people who fit well into their cultures. Share your stories with us!

Top Leadership Traits Tell the Story

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Trust, empathy, and “mentorship” are the top three traits of successful leaders, according to Vineet Nayar, vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies, Ltd., in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Citing his own childhood experience of a natural-born leader in the neighborhood whom all the kids followed without question, Nayar says, “None of the leadership lessons that I have learned, unlearned, or relearned ever since have left as indelible an impact as the ones I learnt as a child.”

Trust, for example, is essential in order for your employees to feel empowered, to take risks, and to “push themselves beyond their comfort zones to find success.” (Credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation are measures of a person’s trust quotient, according to The Trust Advisor, a book by David Maister, Charles Green and  Robert Galford.)

Empathy is exhibited by treating your employers as individual human beings rather than a generic group of “workers”.  Do your employees feel free to let you know what’s going on in their lives, both the joys and the sorrows? Do you allow them to see you as a human with a full range of emotion?

Mentorship is needed by everyone, Nayar says, no matter how successful they are. He references famed basketball coach Pat Riley, who once said that there was no great player who didn’t want to be coached. High achievers know that they need to continue learning, and they look to their leaders to teach them.

How are you doing in these three areas? How about your leaders?