Coaching Session 19

Today’s audio is 10:44 minutes long.

Leadership isn’t just for leaders.

We’ve got to get over ourselves. Our title doesn’t miraculous imbue us with skills. It merely gives us a degree of authority that others in our organization may lack. It puts up higher up the org chart.

What is leadership?

In a world filled with experts and gurus, that’s a tough question. It’s one I’d suggest you spend some time with so you can distill it down to words that are meaningful for you and your team.

For me, it begins with the first statement of today’s session. Anybody can perform an act of leadership. It’s not just for leaders.

So is a person a leader who performs an act of leadership. Not necessarily.

Anybody can perform an act of leadership. These acts can be random, or they can be consistent.

Sometimes the person with the leadership title rarely performs an act of leadership. How can you explain that, if you’re tethering acts of leadership with leaders?

The guys on the shop floor who is earning minimum wage sees a problem. In an instant, he takes ownership and steps outside of his “job” to do something about it. All because he saw a problem, felt he had the ability to do something about it and he felts safe enough – based on the culture or environment – to take action. He’s still a minimum wage worker, but he just completed an act of leadership.

You want your people to commit these acts of leadership. You want them to happen randomly and you want them to happen consistently, too. Truth is, you’ll take them as often as you can get them.

I’m telling you, you can get them more often. It’s something you can influence. Shame on you if you don’t.

Leadership encompasses many facets that go far beyond a short virtual coaching session, but once more – I hope to provoke more thought and ideas.

We’ve all heard those mythical stories of outstanding service and remarkable incidents. That’s that famous story of the Nordstrom retail clerk who issued a refund to a person who returned an item that Nordstrom’s doesn’t even sell. Or the Fed Ex guy up in Alaska who wasn’t able to get a delivery made to a rural location due to snow fall…so he hired a helicopter to help him. Are such stories true? I don’t know, but we love to hear them, and retell them. They’re extraordinary. Some would call them heroic.

There’s a problem with them.

You can’t run a business that way. Fed Ex can’t sustain their business if their drivers go around hiring helicopters every time they encounter an impossible delivery. Nordstrom’s won’t survive if they honor refunds to every customer who comes into their stores to return merchandise that wasn’t even purchased at Nordstrom’s.

Can these things happen once in awhile? Absolutely. Should they? Sure.

You’ve likely experienced it. Have you ever been in a fast food place, or in the drive through, or in a sit-down restaurant and had a problem that resulted in a freebie? Maybe they even comped you the entire order. It happens, every now and then. It doesn’t happen all the time though.

An act of leadership is doing what must be done. In real time. 

Anybody can do this. Some businesses build it in.

Years ago I worked for Mitsubishi Electronics. I was on the road. A lot. Kansas City was part of my territory and I had a favorite restaurant there called Houston’s. I was in Kansas City at least 3 times a month. I’d eat at Houston’s every single time because the food was great and the service was even better.

All the servers wore white starched shirts and black ties. Men and women. They were polite and prompt. Not unlike other successful restaurants.

Houston’s had a different culture though. A different expectation. A different training regime.

Servers were trained to take care of drink orders at all tables. If a server took a pitcher of iced tea to her table and noticed another table with guests needing iced tea, she’d approach and ask if she could refill the glasses.

Have you ever wondered why that server with the pitcher of your drink choice (water or tea) walked past your empty glass just because you weren’t their table? I’m guessing the Houston’s executives wondered the same thing.

Seeing a need. Filling that need. Just because you can!

It could be argued that Houston’s creates an atmosphere conducive for acts of leadership. My past experience there confirms that. Others would say, that’s not leadership, that’s a process.

Well, it’s absolutely an act of leadership when a Chili’s server does it. It’s not part of their process. It’s not ordinary there (not in my experience).

An act of leadership is the opposite of “it’s not my job.” Servers at Houston’s aren’t leaders. But they often commit acts of leadership.

You can go one of two ways:

1. Create an environment that fuels acts of leadership

2. Hire people who will perform acts of leadership

I encourage you to do both, but rely on the first.

Too many organizations say they need to find better people when better people isn’t necessarily what they need. They need better processes and systems. They need a better atmosphere that won’t stifle somebody’s desire to commit an act of leadership.

The boss who wishes he had better people can sometimes be found upbraiding an employee for doing something they had no “right” to do. Then they wonder why their people won’t take care of an apparent problem.

When you berate an employee for stepping outside the bounds of their job, then don’t get angry at them when they refuse to do so.

Every executive wants their people to just do what needs to be done. Or they say that’s what they want.

Some micro-managing executives don’t want that because they want to be the conduit for all activities and decisions. They want to serve as the switching station for everything.

Don’t be that guy!!

I’ll be providing you some things you can do to help your people do what needs to be done, even if they’re not supervisors or so-called leaders. Your organization or department will be improved when you can foster as many acts of leadership as possible. Where people are unafraid to take initiative.

That’s where YOU come in. YOU can make that happen. I don’t care if you’re running a small department or division within the context of a much bigger enterprise, or if you own the joint. I don’t care if your team consists of just one other person, or hundred of people. YOU can make the work more productive – and make it more rewarding for your people, too – by providing an atmosphere that fosters more (and better) acts of leadership up and down the chain.

I won’t dive into too much more today, but after the next intermission we’ll dive more deeply into some things you can do.


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