I’ve been asked versions of this question, and this direct question, many times. Other than employee engagement I don’t think another topic dominates leadership conversations. But they’re very related. When employees are disengaged, culture isn’t going to be highly productive. Not for long.

Let’s begin with the fact that culture can be broken and it can also be fixed. And we must acknowledge that no matter what you do as a leader or business owner, a culture exists in your organization. I sort of approach this the way I do those stories our people create. We can give people an accurate, truthful story or they can write their own. Leaders can create a better, more accurate picture so why leave it to chance. Ditto on cultures. Leaders should be busy creating and fostering the most productive, high performing culture possible.

I’d love to give you some standard “I know this will work” kind of an answer, but I can’t. Without knowing the context of HOW a culture is broken or what a person means by “broken” – it’s impossible.

I once knew a CEO who was a lifelong autocrat. An autocrat is defined as a ruler who has absolute power or someone who insists on complete obedience from others. Autocrats are domineering control freaks. It’s all about them. Well, this particular autocratic CEO didn’t like the culture of his company in the least. He felt it was broken because people didn’t always do exactly what he wanted when he wanted or in the way he wanted. Sometimes they actually made decisions without him. How dare they? Talk about a bunch of hellions. Can you imagine employees who actually made decisions on their own? 😉

Yeah, that was about how I reacted to him. Truth was, the culture wasn’t broken. He was.

Let’s look in the mirror as leaders. Why do you think your culture is broken? What’s broken in your opinion?

Describe it. In detail.

You can do that by writing it down, recording it into the voice memo app on your phone, or you can talk with somebody who has an unbiased viewpoint. This is the best starting place.

It’s not a challenge to your notion that the culture is broken, but it’s an attempt to get to the heart of what’s happening. If you’re the top dog, the number 1, then this is a crucial exercise because YOU have a major impact on the culture. It’s rare to see a culture impacted some somebody more than the top dog. It’s possible but rare unless…there’s a personality among the leadership team that is prominent or dominate. And unless the top dog has acquiesced presence and authority to somebody else. So we have to consider those possibilities.

Do those situations apply? That’s for you to determine.

So with that, let’s dive into what constitutes a high performing culture where employees are committed to doing the best work of their lives. Sounds too good to be true, huh? Well, it’s not. It’s fully within reach if you’ll make it a priority and do the work without compromise. So I encourage you to believe.

I’m going to take a simple 3-prong approach to this. You can make your own application.

Belief.

What you believe is the foundation of the culture you’ll create, tolerate and foster. If we refuse to start here, then we’re just dealing with tactics and strategies. They matter, but only if they’re coming from a place of honesty and truth. Namely, what you believe to be true.

Your culture will reflect your beliefs. And the collective beliefs of your organization. So these matter a lot.

If you’re displeased with the current state of things – your present culture – then spend time looking closely at what you believe. And what your leadership team believes. It may be helpful to pull the team together and have some deep discussions about it. Wrestle this down. Do whatever it takes because until you get this ironed out, there’s not going to be any positive movement. My suggestion is that you instill the fact that this work is a priority for you and your leadership.

Craft a statement that collects your beliefs. These are like fuel for the culture engine. All decisions, discussions, and behaviors are going to stem from these beliefs. They’ll all be congruent with the beliefs. You will not make any decision, or have any discussion, or behave in any way that isn’t in agreement with what you believe. You can act, but you’re not that good. If you were, you’d be in Hollywood. At the end of every day, we’ve been who we truly are. We can improve that, but it has to begin with our commitment to what we believe. Change what you believe and your behavior will change.

Last week I talked about this in episode 134. It was an episode on leadership, particularly on our expressions of belief. Go back and give it a listen.

Communication.

“After all is said and done, more is said than done.” Somebody said that and I suppose it’s true, but it incorrectly minimizes what’s said. And what is heard and understood.

Messaging is important. We’re creatures who communicate. We talk. We write. We draw. We watch. We’re computing a zillion little signals to read situations and people. It’s all communication.

What you communicate and how you communicate contribute to the culture. You can communicate the same thing in a variety of ways that will produce different emotions and thoughts. The situation and context matter, too.

Be yourself. Be your BEST self.

Being an authentic jerk and communicating that isn’t going to help things. GROW GREAT isn’t focused on just making money, or achieving financial success. It’s deeper and broader than that. Plenty of jerks achieve financial success, but that doesn’t make them good people.

Let’s assume you’re good people and you’re working to be even better. Good. No, GREAT!

Communicate well. Improve your communication.

a. Communicate the beliefs
b. Communicate how those beliefs will become reality inside the organization.
c. Communicate how everybody will leverage those beliefs and how they’ll benefit from them.
d. Communicate what you’ll do, then do it.
e. Communicate when you fail and promise to fix it and do better. Leaders who can’t apologize when they’re wrong aren’t worthy of the role.

Action.

What you do matters. But first what you believe matters. And what you say or communicate matter. In short, it all matters.

Your culture is a direct reflection of these 3 things. I’ve simply put them in the order in which they naturally occur. First, we think (or believe). Then we communicate (if only to ourselves). Then we act based on those things.

Organizations focus mostly on the output. Too rarely do they give due consideration to beliefs and communication though, the precursors to actions, which directly give us the output.

Are you anxious to change the actions inside your company? Then get busy changing your beliefs and communication because if the actions you want don’t mirror current beliefs and communications, then it’ll never happen. You need alignment of all three in order to correct any culture killers.

It’s the big disconnect. We say we believe something, but we make decisions and take actions that aren’t congruent with that. The workforce is confused, trying to resolve the obvious differences they perceive.

I would NEVER advise it, but tyrannical leaders would be better off owning their tyranny. “Yep, we’re going to take every advantage of you we can. We’ll get every last bit of life from you that we can because we only care about one thing – bottom line profits. We don’t care about your quality of life, or how fulfilled you feel. We care about our expensive homes, our expensive toys, and our luxury lifestyle. So dig in and get this work done so our incomes will soar this year!” The honesty would at least be refreshing.

We all know why this doesn’t happen. Nobody would work for such a person unless they were money whipped with an income that trapped them. It happens. Not commonly, but it does happen.

So the tyrants have to fake being good people. They have to con their workforce. They pretend to be one thing, but they’re really somebody different.

Sometimes these tyrants have an interest in company culture because they know the game. Feign interest in the things best for the company and the people. Workers know when the leader is a fake. My best advice, “Run!” Don’t convince yourself they’ll change and suddenly become a good person. It’s possible but highly unlikely. Don’t risk your life and career. Not a safe bet.

On the flip side, there is no excuse for good people to fail at creating a good culture. 

Sometimes leaders read too much. It’s not the reading that problematic. It’s that leaders start trying to execute what they just read. The problem is the reliance on a tactic or strategy instead of relying on your deep beliefs to drive communication and action. So you’re tempted to hop around from the latest, greatest, coolest, trickest culture building tactic to the next. And it exhausts your people. They never know what’s coming next. They all know you’re reading, or listening to somebody, or attending another seminar. And they’re dreading the result. It doesn’t stick. Nothing sticks until you start getting in touch with what you firmly believe – the things you just won’t waver on.

So, grab the mirror. Look intently at yourself. Take responsibility for the culture you now have and the one you want to build. Be accountable to every person inside your organization. Be accountable to every person served by your organization. Welcome to leadership. I know it’s lonely, but I’ve also got an answer for that if you’re a US-based entrepreneur. Check out ThePeerAdvantage.com.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Today let’s talk about the things that can ruin higher human performance inside your organization. These aren’t in any particular order. And it’s only a few things to get you focused on what may be hindering your organization from reaching new levels of higher performance. As leaders, it’s highly likely we could keep adding to the list all our lives. These are the constraints to high-level employee engagement.

Let’s start with selfishness or people who seek their own attention at the expense of the team or company.

As the leader, YOU should be concerned with the individual and what they most want. It’s important for you to figure out what your individual employees want, then serve them by helping them achieve it. Yes, you’ll want to foster their highest performance, which means you’ll do what you can to help them achieve what they want in the context of the organization. And if you can’t, then you’ll help them find success elsewhere. It’s the only way you can properly lead growth!

When individual people put themselves first, ahead of their teammates or the organizational objectives, then you’ve got selfishness. And that’s unacceptable. A culture like that will result in disengaged employees who seeking only their self-interests. Admittedly, it’s easier for that culture to exist where leadership doesn’t know or care what the individual employees want or need. That’s another reason why your leadership has to be scaled at the individual level. When leadership demonstrates genuine care and concern for people, they have no reason to be selfish. You can’t tolerate it.

Ineffective, unclear or ambiguous communication can ruin success.

Go back and listen to the prior episodes this week if you’ve not done that because I’ve already spent some time talking about how important it is for you to provide congruency. This particular constraint is often at the heart of that problem. Employees and team members have to understand and be in on what’s real. The truth matters.

More than anything this problem, which exists in too many organizations, fosters doubt, fear, anxiety, and wonder. And it’s not the kind of wonder that’s productive. It’s people who wonder what bad thing may be going on that they don’t see, or aren’t being told about.

You think you’re being clear. You think people understand. The problem are your blind spots. Sometimes your blind spots exist because you know more than the team. Those hidden facts or feelings provide context for you that they lack. This is why feedback – honest, truthful feedback – is critical. It’s also why you may not be able to merely ask, “Do you understand?”

When people leave the meeting and are busy talking among themselves trying to figure out what was just said, or what is really going on, then you’ve got a problem. That scenario is played out millions of time every single hour across the planet. Some leader stands in front of a small or large group, says what she feels she must say. Gives whatever directives she wants. Everybody nods knowingly, then the meeting ends and nobody has a real clue what was said, how it impacts them, or what they’re now supposed to do.

Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you’re a clear communicator. You can learn it though. First, I suspect many leaders need to better understand their failings. Next, they need to learn how to improve. We’ll talk more about that later. For now, just make sure you’re shouldering the responsibility to be understood. And make sure what you say matches with what you do. Be congruent.

Minimizing contributions, or ignoring work will wreck high performance.

Years ago a buddy was telling me about being on a road trip and stopping by a Burger King for a quick bite. When we walked in the counter staff informed him they were out of beef. They had no burgers. We laughed at the irony of a place called BURGER King who ran out of burgers.

I don’t know who may have been responsible for making sure that Burger King had enough burgers, but until it was a problem I’m betting nobody thought much about that job. They likely took it for granted. Until it was a problem that essentially shut them down.

What about inside your organization? We take all kinds of work, and the people who perform that work, for granted.

Most often it’s the basic, foundational stuff – like the person responsible for making sure we have enough burger patties if we’re leading a Burger King restaurant. Don’t do it. Or do it at your peril.

Leaders who pay close attention to the individuals and focus intently on how those individuals fit into the bigger picture are more impactful on fostering higher performance than those who don’t. From the custodial staff to the IT person who keeps the Internet connections going, it all matters. That high paid SVP you lean on may earn more money, but when you’re Internet connection goes down, crippling your business, he’s a worm compared to the person who can get you back online quickly. 😉 Keep it in perspective and show everybody respect. Make it a daily habit to show them the proper love by reinforcing how invaluable their contribution is to what’s going on around there.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but distance will.

It can be humorous as I walk about an organization and get a sense of how the rank and file view the leadership team. It’s very common to hear things like, “Yeah, the folks on the 7th floor…(fill in the blank).” The executive team which occupies the 7th floor become known by the floor where they office and not much else.

Then, when I go to the 7th floor I’ll sometimes hear similar language about the rest of the organization, making me aware there is a 7th-floor bias that works up and down the food chain inside the organization.

That disrupts employee engagement. It’s a culture killer.

Most often I find the 7th floor doesn’t get out much. Oh, they wander around a bit when they have to, but mostly they stay to themselves. From their high perch, they can more easily assess the problems. Sort of like that camera on that high-wire during NFL games. It’s an overhead perspective they think serves them well. You know why the networks don’t show you an entire game from that perspective? Because it would annoy the snot out of you and because it doesn’t show you a clear enough perspective of everything going on. It’s just one camera. NFL games have about 20 cameras (the SuperBowl has many more). They’re constantly switching to give the audience the most engaging view. Does the NFL know something you don’t? Likely.

They know one view isn’t enough to keep the audience engaged, but sometimes leadership and executive teams think that view from the 7th floor is all they need. The result? They grow increasingly less familiar with the work and the people who do it. Over time they develop – mostly unintentional – contempt for the people doing the work, especially the ones they don’t feel who do the work very well. And the people on the floors below also develop contempt – again, not always intentional – for the 7th floor because they feel their leaders don’t understand or appreciate their efforts.

This monumental disconnect destroys what might have been, a major uptick in performance!

The more familiar leaders are with the individual people, the better. The more familiar people are with their leaders, the better.

This means you have to be willing to be familiar, which means you’re going to have to commit to being more vulnerable with your people. The best way to get to know them better is to allow them to know you better. I know you want them to think you’re invincible, but they already know you’re not. You will NOT lose by letting them see how human you are. And if you’re a good human, then you will really win by letting them see how human, and how good, you really are. Or at least how good you are trying to be.

Be a good human.

I think I’ll end the week there because I honestly can’t think of a better place to end any week where we’ve been talking about leadership. Be nice. Be kind. Make your mama proud. Make your grandmother proud. Behave yourself. Treat other people well. No matter what.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Yesterday we left off talking about congruency. It’s a very important topic because it’s a major disruptor of employee engagement. The story we tell ourselves – and the stories your employee are telling themselves – focus on trying to find agreement or congruency between what is said and what is done. It has a direct and monumental impact on people trying to figure out where they fit. Or how they fit.

You hear me constantly say, “You’ll figure it out.” I’m here to help you do that. My work – all my work – is focused on helping business owners, CEOs and leaders figure it out. I’m not here to tell you what to do or how to do it, I’m here to help YOU figure those things out for yourself. And to help you do it more quickly so you can accelerate your learning, understanding and growth.

So it goes with your employees. They’re working to figure things out, too. Mostly, they’re working to figure out how they fit, how they make a difference and some way to find positive meaning in being there. It’s congruency.

In a word, congruency is all about agreement. When you say one thing and do something different, something contrary to what you say, then congruency or agreement doesn’t exist. That creates tension and turmoil. Negative chaos.

People try to resolve it. They’re trying to make sense of it, to figure it out.

Today let’s focus on two things: communication and action.

That about covers it all, right? 😉 I mean, what else is there?

What you say matters!

It doesn’t matter if it’s written, verbal, casual, formal, private, public, body language, demeanor — it’s all communication. And it can be intentional or unintentional. It can be among the biggest burdens leaders face. It’s also why being authentic is the way to go. That doesn’t mean you simply accept that you are who you are, but it means you need to really work to on your improvement and growth to be the best YOU possible. Leaders who attempt to act will invariably slip up and show their true colors.

I could preach don’t be a jerk, but your character is what it is. If it’s lacking, then you’ve got work to do to make up your mind to live differently. You’re not yet ready for leadership or any discussion about leadership. Being a genuine, authentic tyrant isn’t great leadership.

This is similar to telling the truth. You don’t have to work at it. The truth is always the truth. If you’re a liar, then you must keep track of the lies. One slip and you’re done. Toward that end, you need to first be a decent (I’d argue, be a good) human being. Lean into how you roll. Don’t try to be somebody or something that’s unnatural to you. People will notice.

Don’t be consumed with being perfect. You’re not. News flash: people already know that. Get over yourself.

But when it comes to how you communicate, be yourself. Just put in the work to be better! Few things tire me more than leaders who want to remain as they’ve always been, but they get frustrated because their people don’t grow. Duh! You’re the leader. How about you show them the way by improving yourself? And that includes your ability to be more communicative. Be more clear. Make sure the message is accurately received and understood. That’s your job.

If employees wonder what you mean, you failed.

If employees hear one thing but see something different…you failed.

When things don’t make sense to the employees, you failed.

That’s congruency or agreement. Your job is to manage that for the benefit and welfare of every individual employee, and for the collective organization. It’s how vision and mission are accomplished. And it may be the single biggest challenge you’ve shared with me in the last week or so.

“How can I get people more engaged with what we most need to accomplish?”

“How can we get employees to have the same priority we (top leadership) have?”

“How can we get employees to take ownership in their work?”

Let’s dive into it by starting with the words we use. I’m a bit fanatical about word usage. I looked back at the emails I got and almost all of them contained the phrase some semblance of “how can I get employees to” fill-in-the-blank. The word GET jumps out at me. It smacks of control and coercion. That’s not leadership. That’s what I call tyranny.

But I’m empathetic that leaders don’t always mean what they say and that’s a problem, too. Congruency and agreement. See what I mean? Let’s reframe the questions.

How can we serve our employees to be more engaged with what our organization most needs to accomplish?

How can we serve employees to share the priority of leadership?

How can we serve employees to take ownership of their work?

Argue that it’s subtle change and I’ll argue it’s a monumental difference. It’s the difference in a CEO who addresses the troops and constantly uses the pronoun “my.” Versus the CEO who uses the pronoun “our.” One 2-letter word versus one 3-letter word. BIG difference!

Give people a story that serves them and the organization.

Communication and actions have to match. Otherwise, the story breaks down. And by the story, you realize I don’t mean fiction. I simply mean what we all do to make sense of the world and our place in it. In this context, it’s the world of your organization and every person’s role in it.

Notice the order of importance. The story must first serve THEM, then the organization. Don’t reverse it because it won’t work. Whenever I see big leadership challenges, that’s often the reason. Leaders are trying to force what serves the person into the context of the organization instead of working to serve the person’s ambitions by finding the best opportunity within the organization.

You’re failing when you’re putting the emphasis first on the company, or the organization. The people are the organization!

“Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floors……Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.” – Andrew Carnegie

Here’s what that means at the practical level. Foster growth and improvement. That means the job or role being done by an employee today may or may not be the ideal spot for them in the future. And it may also mean some people will outgrow your organization entirely. Some will need to leave the nest of your organization so they can fly higher. Help them do that.

Consider the downside of NOT doing that. You’re stuck with people who hate where they are. People who are doing work they’d rather not be doing, but for some reason, they won’t decide on their own to do what’s best for them. Fear and other things stop them, just like they stop you from growing. That’s why top-level leaders need (and should crave) being positively challenged.

You can focus on getting the people in the right seats on the bus, but I hate that picture. A better picture is to make sure the people in the seats on the bus are ideally suited for that seat, on that bus. One emphasizes the roles needed by the company. The other puts the focus on the needs of the people in context with how they can ideally serve the company. And THAT provides the congruency people must have to be engaged.

Communicate what you’re doing and what you plan to do. Then do or be doing what you say. It’s very complicated. 😉 Just do what you say. Say what you’ll do. That’s the best communication and action advice I’ve got. That’s being congruent.

Then provide congruency or agreement for individual employees by helping them see where they fit in that plan. That’s the key thing many leaders miss. If they get the communication and action congruency part right, then they miss getting the people congruency part correct.

Your leadership mandate is to help every individual employee see where and how they fit. And that has to be in agreement with what they most desire. Which is why you must know your individual employees and better understand the context of their life.

Look at your own life. Do you want something different today than you did five years ago? Has your life changed at all in the last 5 years? Then stop looking at your employees the same way today as you did last year, or 5 years ago. They’ve changed. Hopefully, they’ve grown and improved. You have to provide the right environment to reward that and foster future growth and improvement.

Let me end with some specificity. I got a few emails where top leaders lamenting that their direct reports weren’t always putting the emphasis on things they most wanted. Keep in mind I don’t always have the context necessary to know exactly what’s going on, but I do have some ideas that I hope will help.

Look at the congruency of your communication and your action. If your direct reports aren’t focused as intently on doing what you most want to be done, then there’s a disconnect. Or they’re simply rebelling. I’m going with the former, not the latter. I don’t believe most people are rebellious. I think most people want to do good work.

I have questions if this applies to you. Are you sure your direct reports know and understand what’s important to you? Do they understand how important it is to you? Do they agree with you?

Don’t dismiss that last question. Find out. You’re going to have to provide safety in order to find out. If you can’t find out, then we’ve unearthed another big leadership challenge – providing a safe environment where people are free to express themselves. Remember that hierarchy of needs? Safety is high on the list. It’s a foundational fixture we each crave and need. You’re the leader. It’s your job to provide safety. It’s not the burden of the employees to feel safe. You bear the burden to help them feel safe. Safe enough to disagree with you. Safe enough to tell you why they’re not following through on the things that matter to you.

Here’s what you’re likely going to discover. They haven’t seen the congruency in your communication and actions. They hear you say it’s important, but they don’t see it. They see something else matters more. So they minimize what you say and focus on where they see you act. And you’re frustrated. But so are they. Remember, they’re trying to figure this out and make sense of it. Particularly, they’re trying to figure out where they and their work fit. It’s a daily struggle for them if you’re not making it clear and easily understood. It’s beyond a struggle if you’re doing that and displaying how little you care about them individually. You want them to do what you’re unwilling to do – care more!

More often than not I’ve seen employees who would happily do what leadership wants, but they’re just not sure what that is. We shoot ourselves in the foot with our rewards, with our words, with our actions and all the areas where we just don’t commit ourselves to congruency. The result? Chaos. And the worst kind. Confusion. Anxiety. Panic. Apprehension. Hesitation. Lack of confidence. And now maybe you’re thinking you may know why your organizational performance isn’t higher. Those are not attributes of high performing individuals or teams.

So get busy.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

I know of no leadership topic more popular than “employee engagement.” Across every sector leaders give some focus or lip service to it.

Organizations spend extraordinary amounts of money attempting to accurately measure employee engagement. Mostly, I see folks spend stupid money on finding out how engaged (or disengaged) employees are, then play darts trying to figure out if they can improve it. As I’ve watched this, especially for the last 10 years, I’ve been fascinated to see companies neglect doing things, but get very focused on measuring it. Employee engagement isn’t a number. It’s a real thing. A true emotion. A feeling. A way of thinking.

Let’s talk about PEOPLE because that’s the topic. Engaged people. High performing people.

Little Johnny is engaged, but he’s engaged while sitting in the basement eating Doritos and playing Fortnite. Maybe he’s a high performing Fortnite player. It’s not what we’re pursuing as leaders.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. He subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of innate curiosity. There are numerous problems with Maslow’s work and you can research those on your own if you care enough, but I’m using this as a starting place because it’s such a widely used model and many people are somewhat familiar with it. Plus, it does provide one big value – it focuses leaders on what people need. Your leadership may need to be refocused where it most belongs – on the people you’re attempting to lead. Great leaders don’t focus on themselves, except in the context of how they can serve the people they lead.

Changes to the original five-stage model included a modified seven-stage and an eight-stage model developed during the 1960’s and 1970s.

1. Biological and physiological needs- air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. Safety needs- protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.

3. Love and belongingness needs- friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs- which Maslow classified into two categories: (a) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (b) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).

5. Cognitive needs- knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability.

6. Aesthetic needs- appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

7. Self-actualization needs- realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

8. Transcendence needs- A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self (e.g., mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, religious faith, etc.).

I tend to boil all this down into a more simple, straightforward approach.

What story are people telling themselves?

This question (and the answers) reveals the important things that directly impact employee engagement. It addresses the issue we all wrestle with. Where do I fit? How free am I? How flexible is my time? What’s my purpose? What’s my mission?  What do I most want to accomplish? Why?

It’s not just a self-centered engagement question. It includes others and the organization as a whole because the story we tell ourselves isn’t told in a vacuum.

How do you help the people you lead tell themselves an accurate story? A story that best serves them as people and as workers? How can you help them construct a story that will make a positive difference in their life and provide the best outcome for the organization?

For starters, you must embrace the notion that what’s best for the individual is best for the organization. Only great leaders believe that’s true. Most don’t.

Here’s the practical reality. Suppose you’ve got an employee who behaves as though he doesn’t want to be where he is. Maybe there’s no place in your organization where he wants to be. For whatever reason, he’s afraid to face reality. He shows up daily, going through the motions, but he’s taking a toll on your organization and on his own life. What’s best for him? Well, I’d argue he’s best served by having to face the realities that he’s miserable and it’s impacting his life and our organization. Everybody is losing. It’s time for everybody to start winning. Sit down with him, help him face the reality, invite him to leave and change his story so he can find what he’s looking for.

Your organization is filled with individuals. One major challenge I see is leaders attempting to lead using poor leadership strategies born from the last century where leaders or bosses told people what to do, and the people dutifully did it. Today, that’s not working. The Age of the Lemmings is over! You don’t honestly want to lead lemmings anyway, so stop acting like it.

Leaders often lament that workers don’t do what they want them to do. That’s not the problem. The problem is leadership is failing to scale the single biggest resource needed by a leader – compassion. Call it caring, love or anything you want, but the truth is, people must know (truly know) that you care about them as individuals. The days of being able to paint with a broad brush and lumping every employee into the same bucket are over. When you’re managing robots you may be able to deploy those strategies, but not with people.

A leader has eleven direct reports. They vary in age from 27 to 63. Some are men, some women. Some are married without kids. Others are married with kids. Some are single. Some have small children at home. Others have grown kids. Still others have high schoolers at home. Some commute almost an hour one way daily. Others live 15 minutes away. Some live downtown in a rented loft. Others are out in the suburbs paying a mortgage. Some drive 10-year-old cars, others are driving the latest BMW.

Are you really shocked that you can’t lead using some one-size-fits-all approach? 

As time goes on all these facts will change. The 27-year-old will become 30 and things will change for her. So it will go with everybody else on the CEO’s team. Their lives aren’t static. They don’t live in vacuums and he’s going to have to adapt to the ever-changing lives they live. Their needs and wants are going to change. It’s going to be the job of the CEO to know those changes and properly address them individually with each employee.

Just here folks like to yell about how this doesn’t scale. If you’re hollering that then you’re telling me you don’t think leadership scales because leadership is about leading PEOPLE. And people are individuals, collected into an organization to accomplish work. It’s collective and individual. All at the same time.

We’ll call the 27-year-old employee Karen. Karen is single. She still has college loan debts, especially for graduate school. Today, Karen has a story and those facts are part of her story. They have an impact in what Karen wants from her career. But by the time Karen is 35 she’s married, student loans are paid off and she’s expecting her first child. Now, she and her husband have a mortgage and their first child on the way. Do you think this Karen has a different story? Do you think what’s best for this Karen differs from what was best for the earlier Karen? And we’re talking about what’s best for Karen as Karen sees it PLUS what we (as the leader) feel is best for the organization.

It’s congruency.

There must be congruency between what Karen is telling herself – and what she most wants in life – and what you require from Karen in the workplace. We’ll continue this tomorrow, but for today I want to leave you with one final fact. You can scale this. You must.

Leadership is without excuse to know every employee on an individual level. Does this mean as the CEO you must scale it? I think you should if you’re able. For the small business owner or the leader of a small team, you’re without excuse. If you’re operating a 10,000 person global enterprise, it’s impossible for YOU to do it, but it’s not impossible for your leadership team to have intimate knowledge of every single person under their leadership. I’d argue that’s job 1 for each of them. If not, why not? What’s more important for leaders than leading? Nothing!

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Thanks to all the listeners who emailed me their biggest leadership challenge. Quite a few sent me stories of dealing with change and helping their team members deal with it. So today, let’s mull this over.

The big component with dealing with change is TIME. It gives us binary options – we can deal with it gradually or suddenly. That’s also the nature of change. It happens suddenly, or gradually. The change may or may not dictate how we deal with it though.

Some changes may be best handled gradually. It can often be valuable to make the changes so subtle – so gradual – that people don’t even notice. Or they barely notice.

Some of the listener feedback I got was from leaders who wanted to make the changes happen more quickly. They expressed frustration in not being able to “get” their people to follow their lead more quickly.

Growth and transformation can take time. First, I’d suggest you consider the growth and transformation you’ve experienced in your life. Think soberly about it. Was it mostly sudden, or did it take some time? It likely took some time. You had to process things and make up your mind, then take meaningful action long enough for those actions to become a habit. Such things rarely happen suddenly.

Organizations can more easily accept some change when it’s introduced in smaller steps. It’s less disruptive to their current state. It doesn’t turn their world upside down, but inside makes subtle shifts along the way. Even when people perceive the shifts, they may be more open to accepting it when it has a minimal impact on their daily lives.

Not all changes work this way though. When the changes may be necessary, but unpopular or not fully understood this method may be ideal. Or when the changes may not be as critical to time.

Things like culture shifts take time. Employee engagement does, too. These are typically changes that demand a gradual approach. It’s like weight loss. You didn’t get fat overnight. You’re not going to get slim overnight either. It may be wise to temper your speed approach.

You’re driving down a road at 45 miles an hour. You’ve never been on this road before, but you notice a sign that shows a sharp almost 90-degree curve ahead. It comes up on you quickly and your speed is too high. You frantically hit the brakes to get your speed down. If you don’t slow down you’re liable to end up in the ditch.

Some challenges are like that, but most big changes – big improvements and growth initiatives – are not. They’re more akin to a slow, sweeping curve where the steering wheel doesn’t even appear to be moving, but you’re making a dramatic turn. It’s just that the curve is so long it’s almost imperceptible.

Your job as a leader is to determine if this change that you’re desiring is best handled slowly, gradually, or if it demands speed.

Sometimes you don’t have time to slow down. Speed is required.

It’s possible for things to demand speed, and that speed may create chaos that is unavoidable. Many companies operate comfortably one day but are turned upside down overnight.

Here in Dallas, last year the Dallas Mavericks NBA team experienced such upheaval. Turns out their top sales guy was behaving poorly toward the females in the organization. The press was blowing up. Suddenly, Mark Cuban, the owner had his hands full. Change was required immediately. It involved firing some top level people and Cuban hiring a new CEO of the business end of things. The behavior was so bad Cuban had no choice. This wasn’t an issue that afforded him to take things slowly and more deliberately. It was a full on battle drill for a few months.  I’m sure Cuban would have preferred to have had more time, but the situation dictated the speed.

Sometimes the market will do things that to our business. For example, years ago in the luxury retailing business, I was operating there was a major supply problem with the particular glass used in high-end imported electric cooktops. There was no time to stock pile inventory. It happened very quickly with some technical problem in the production of the glass. We had installations pending projected dates of product arrival. Suddenly, we had to manage customers who expected their product by a specific date. The result was a fire drill to honestly and openly communicate quickly the problem and work to solve the problems for customers one at a time.

Ongoing improvement and growth can involve both gradual and sudden change. Leadership must manage both, simultaneously.

Just here I should give you my bias if you don’t already know it. I’m a speed freak. As small business operators (this also applies to leaders of small teams), it’s an enormous competitive edge. Being nimble and highly maneuverable is a big advantage that I’d prefer to never lose. It’s why I’ve never been attracted to big business. I understand their benefits of scale, but I also understand how lumbering they can be. Lumbering doesn’t appeal to me personally. To each his own.

Given my belief in the value of speed, I tend to operate deploying as much speed as is safe. Yes, safety is a subjective thing. You have to know what you’ve got under you. I drive a little 4-cylinder Mazdaspeed 3. It’s small, lightweight and has about 250 horsepower with about that much torque, 250 ft pounds. That just means I can get into and out of trouble in a hurry. 😉

I know the car’s capabilities. I drive accordingly.

My son’s wife has a big truck. A monster kind of a thing that I admit I hate to drive. It’s not slow, but it’s big. Lumbering. Sits up high and is anything, but highly maneuverable. It also takes a long time to stop it. On the rare occasions when I drive it, I can’t drive it like I drive my car. It’s apples and oranges.

You must know your organization and your skills within it.

Dirty Harry’s (Harry Callahan in Magnum Force) quote leaps to mind. “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Man or woman, you must know yours, too. And your organization’s.

Constant, ongoing change hasn’t proven terribly successful in the business landscape. Companies that are constantly tinkering, shifting and changing don’t tend to outperform companies that are adaptable. Adaptability is the key to successful change. That’s true in your life and in the life of your organization. The question is, “How can you best embrace and succeed at becoming more adaptable?”

How can you help your team or organization become more adaptable?

Control is the enemy, but you may not think so. Not valuable control, necessary control, but the kind of control many leaders feel is necessary. Micromanaging. Dictatorial tyranny.

You are in greater control than you think. It’s why yesterday we began this week emphasizing that your organization’s success or failure is on your shoulders as the leader. Leadership determines it. So control is important. Your control. But let’s get this right.

As the leader, you are in control of your beliefs and you directly influence the beliefs of your organization.

As the leader, you are also in control of data input. That is, you control or influence the info gathering of your team. Your job is to assess this data, which includes trends, market conditions, opportunities and challenges. Somebody must be in charge of all this. That someone is YOU. You must control it.

As the leader, you are in control of the choices. You make the biggest decisions, the ones with the most impact. You must control that. You can’t let the organization flounder in indecision. And you can’t allow every decision to be made democratically. The organization is waiting on you to make a decision.

As the leader, you control your actions. People are watching you. They’re taking cues from you. If you’re an effective leader (you may even be an ineffective leader and it’s still going to happen), people will follow you. Choose your actions wisely.

Adaptability demands avoiding as much chaos as possible. I’m a stress junkie and I thrive on chaos, but not just any kind of chaos. Nobody, and no organization can thrive on chaos where things are out of control and panic is ruling the day.

Many college football pundits claimed that last week the University of Alabama panicked as they were being whipped by Clemson. Nick Saban, it was argued, panicked and people hadn’t seen that before. It wasn’t pretty if you were a Bama fan. They suffered their biggest defeat in the Saban era. Maybe the negative chaos and panic did them in.

To properly manage change and make your organization more adaptable you must control the chaos. There are some conditions that impact chaos. Consider each of these and see if they’re problems you need to handle:

  1. A feeling that leadership doesn’t care about the people
  2. No trust in information or methods that distribute the information
  3. Lack of focus
  4. Not enough resources
  5. Lack of preparation to get the work done well
  6. Burnout

Adaptability, managing change, requires one major thing – that leaders prethink. 

Leaders predetermine what they’ll do before they need to. This greatly reduces or eliminate chaos that would disturb the growth of the company. It enhances your ability to manage change. It’s how you more fully embrace LUG throughout your organization. Learn. Understand. Grow.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!