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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Courage in the workplace

A leader must have courage; a leader must act in a courageous manner and so on.

While this is true, it is only part of the story about courage and the workplace. As we shall see, the virtue of courage must run throughout an organization or company – from bottom to top – in order for it to function at the highest level. 

Courage defined

Courage comes from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” In other words, courage is an innate, internal quality that resides within the core of your being.Courage is further defined as: “The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Again, we see the word spirit. 

Courage is foundational

Courage is associated with such words as fearlessness, grit and power. It is experiencing fear, yet pushing through it to achieve your desired result.  Some say courage is the thing that underlies every other human quality. Without it, we cannot rightly be honest, dependable, generous or trustworthy. Courage is the foundation upon which all other virtues are built.

Courage and fear of reprisal

Why is so little courage seen in so many companies these days? In my estimation, it is because the leaders of those companies have fostered a culture where dissenting voices are discouraged and opinions that threaten the status quo are thoroughly silenced. With this climate of possible retaliation before them, team members are fearful of speaking up, sharing their thoughts and voicing their values. Fear of being the first one out the door at the next downsizing has stopped many ideas dead in their tracks in the workplace.

Courage, vision and openness

The first step in harnessing your courage is to develop a vision that represents your authentic self and goals, and aligning that vision with the business and its goals. This is true for the executive, manager and employee in the workplace.  Development of a vision that all members of the team can buy into depends on the openness of a company or organization. An open-minded company allows for discussion, sharing, brainstorming and even dissenting views. An open leader sees the value of the knowledge and experience of everyone in the room, including managers and employees. The leaders’ openness allows for others to work from a place of courage. They can step up without fear and lend their thoughts to the discussion. The ability to have that courage becomes transformational, both for the person sharing and the company or organization.

Openness leads to the ability to shape and form a vision. It is a vision wrought in courage which gives it power. That vision, brought about by the courage of the people involved in its development, will be the driving force carrying the company forward into new and exciting areas.

Benefits of courage in the workplace

Some of the benefits derived from demonstrating courage in the workplace include: high morale; commitment to the group mission; ownership; responsibility; momentum; effective; and stronger sense of purpose.

Here’s few questions that all members of your team can ask themselves regarding courage. Use these questions to help you determine what you can do to step up, step out and find your courageous voice.

–          What is your vision for the business/group/department?
–          How, specifically, can you be more courageous in your role at work?
–          What communication skill would help you become more courageous?
–          What tangible benefits will arise from your courageous action?

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The Concept of Effective Leadership

The concept of effective leadership has changed over the years. The old-style concept of a leader being the directing chief at the top of a hierarchy is incomplete at best, harmful to the organization or company at worst. In today’s world, this view simply does not truly appreciate the very nature of true leadership.

Leadership is also misunderstood to mean directing and instructing people and making important decisions on behalf of an organization. Yes, leaders make decisions. Yes, leaders instruct and teach. However, effective leadership involves much more than these.

The very nature of effective leadership is seen in an understanding of the difference between “management” and “leadership.” They are often mistaken as one and the same, which they are not.

There are distinguishing differences:

  • Management is concerned with processes / Leadership is      concerned with behavior.
  • Management relies on measurable capabilities like systems, goals, planning and evaluation.
  • Leadership, while involving many management skills, relies on less tangible and measurable things like trust, inspiration, motivation and personal character.

While a bit simplified, we can boil down the main difference between management and leadership to be: Leadership is about leading people and influencing behavior. Management is about managing processes and securing results.

With this difference in mind, let’s look at five tips for effective leadership:

1. Become a servant. Effective leadership involves serving. Too many leaders go about this backwards. They see the role of their people as servants to them as the leader. Good leaders see themselves as a servant of the organization and the people within it.  Ineffective leadership takes. It sets itself up to garner favor or personal gain. Servant leadership is an opportunity to give and to give in such a way that fosters growth in people.

2. Understand that leadership is about people. While leadership does involve making decisions and taking action, it is centrally concerned with people and behavior.

Strong leaders are able to see and understand vital relationships even within large and complex networks of people. These leaders then focus on building those vital relationships in such a way that adds to the trust level between them and these networks. People follow leaders they trust. They also are drawn to leaders who possess positive qualities like:

Integrity, honesty, humility, courage, commitment, sincerity, confidence, positivity, compassion; just to name a few.

When it all comes down to it, effective leaders can express their humanity in such a way that fosters trust and builds commitment from those they seek to lead.

3. Be an engaging conversationalist. Smart leaders spend their time starting and advancing conversations within their organization, not running away and hiding from them.

It is nearly impossible to engender the necessary confidence, trust and loyalty a leader must possess without being fully engaged.  A leader spends as much time out of the confines of the office engaging in real conversation with people as they do in their office planning, decision-making and organizing. Whether in person, over the phone, via email, through the social web, or even by sending a good old fashion “thank you” note – be an engaging conversationalist.

4. Listen. This tip piggy backs off of the former one. As you are an engaging conversationalist, listen.  Great leaders realize that there is far more to be gained by surrendering control of the conversation than by dominating it. Being a leader doesn’t give license for you to talk just to hear your head rattle. Powerfully effective leaders realize the value of what can be gleaned from the minds of others. Know when it is time to stop talking and start listening. People want to be heard. They need their voice to be affirmed.

5. Lead yourself. It’s important that leaders have the ability to focus and motivate themselves as they motivate others. In fact, without this ability securely fastened in your own life, you cannot be a truly effective leader of others. I believe we really do lead by example.  It is vitally important that we have a handle on the leadership of ourselves so that we have a positive, strong and trustworthy example for those we lead. Leaders know that while some people can be considered “natural born leaders,” most have to learn the art. Therefore, effective leaders seek opportunities for personal growth. They seek out books to read, seminars they can attend or personal coaches to foster their growth.  Leaders never stop learning for their benefit and the benefit of those they serve. Leadership is an exciting thing. It can be the most joyous and personally fulfilling work you do. It is my hope that you find these tips helpful along your journey.

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Identify a Listeners Preference to Gain Support

Listen, Understand, Act

Listen, Understand, Act (Photo credit: highersights)

Managerial attentiveness is high on the list of stated employee wants and needs.
But how about when it’s time to gain support for your idea or program? Employees at all levels will give you their attention if you understand how to legitimately capture it.

Here are four ways to identify a listener’s preferences and plan and deliver your message so it can be heard.

1. The “Trend-Chaser”: Help Them Follow the Trend

These folks pay attention to what others are doing. Perhaps they need to feel like they “belong”; maybe it’s just a matter of not thinking too much. Who knows? It doesn’t make any difference. You need to provide social proof-testimonials-of what other people think about your ideas.
Use these phrases:

  • “The benchmarking companies have implemented . . .”
  • “The top experts in (name the appropriate field) have just written that. . .”
  • “Statistical trends now show that. . .”

2. The Analytical: Facts and Stats

Even though we know for a fact that people decide based on emotion, these people need to hear supporting evidence. And you’ll be questioned on it, so be prepared. They won’t go to a fast food outlet without seeing which one has the “best” value meal: $1.00, $.99, or $1.03. Why? One reason is that they want to be confident that they can give a “logical” answer should someone ask them. So, give them the confidence with facts and figures. Quantify everything.

3. I Love A Challenge!: Overcome Obstacles
Routine bores this group. When the sun rises, they’re ready to assault a mountaintop. When they hear that something can’t be done, it energizes them to prove otherwise. So, tell them:

  • The system doesn’t work
  • It’s too late to change (or too early)
  • They can’t afford to do what will really make a difference

Watch them leap into action when you present your ideas as barriers to be overpowered.

4. What’s the Payoff? Incentives & Rewards

Here’s the group that examines the benefits of your idea, both organizational and personal. They want to improve their situation every day. Show them “how to”.

  • How to increase profitability
  • How to reduce conflicts
  • How to be more effective at managing
  • How to leapfrog their career

These are the Four I see regularly. But there are many more.


Can Corporate Culture be Changed?

Organizations seek out my assistance in helping them make their organizations better. “Better” might mean more effective leadership, higher performance, improved employee retention, effective compensation plans, improving team performance or simply creating a more cooperative, positive work environment.

After a thorough assessment of a client’s current operation and needs assessment, I am in a better position to present solutions that will address their gaps. Some of those solutions involve  policy changes, process changes, some involve personal coaching, and some involve proactive culture refinement — culture change.

When considering culture change, many senior leaders believe that corporate culture cannot be changed. I’m not surprised at this belief.  In my experience most senior leaders, throughout their entire careers have not lived through successful culture change. Even fewer have led successful culture change.

But here’s the question: Can you change how an organization performs?  Absolutely! By changing how individuals perform, leaders can change how the organization performs.

Leaders can change the way individuals perform by:

  • Setting clear performance goals.
  • Directing, supporting, coaching and delegating where needed.
  • Measuring progress and accomplishment.
  • Celebrating progress and accomplishment.

These activities, done consistently with a service approach often lead to increased employee performance which almost always affects service quality and commitment which leads to happier customers and growing profits. This is the service profit chain at work.

Changing your organization’s culture is no different from changing how your organization performs. It requires intentional definition of, communication of and accountability for your company’s:

  • Purpose: The reason you are in business.
  • Deliverables: Your committment to high-quality products and services.
  • Culture: Values you stand for and live by daily with stakeholders, peers and customers.

Corporate culture is the most important driver of what happens in organizations, and senior leaders are the most important driver of their organization’s corporate culture.

To change an organization’s culture, leaders must change how they spend their time and what they communicate and reinforce on a daily basis. They have to change what they pay attention to.  Their focus shifts from great performance to great performance WITH great citizenship.