The Power of Gratitude

This week the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that’s set aside to count our blessings. There’s usually a big meal, visits from family, and special shows on television. But with COVID still floating around, inflation, financial stress, and political discord, it might be hard for some people to feel grateful this year.

I encourage you to feel grateful anyway. Why? Because oddly enough, the less grateful we feel, the more we’ll benefit from practicing gratitude.

A study conducted by the University of Southern California found a connection between gratitude and areas of the brain associated with stress reduction. Other studies have found a direct link between the practice of gratitude and increased optimism and better mental health.

If you’re new to practicing gratitude, start by giving thanks for the things you’ve been taking for granted, like air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Next, take a moment to express gratitude for the strengths you’ve been given.

Finally, think about the people who make a difference in your life. Express your gratitude for them—maybe even by picking up the phone and giving them a call.

My old friend, Zig Ziglar, used to say that “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for!”

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all my readers for your interest in my work. I’m grateful for you! I wish every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving. No matter how you decide to spend the holiday this year, remember to take a few moments to practice gratitude. You’ll be grateful you did!

Investing in Your People Is Never Risky

People sometimes wonder why Spencer Johnson and I titled our book The One Minute Manager. They can’t imagine how someone can manage in a minute. The reality is that many managers don’t take the time—even a minute—to follow the three secrets from the book: set goals with your people, catch them doing things right and praise their progress, and redirect them when they get off track.

I’ve often said “The best minute of the day is the one you invest in your people.” Why do I believe that? Because leaders who invest time in their people are building important, meaningful connections. Those connections create inspired people and inspired leaders who work together to achieve great results and who benefit from great relationships. It’s an investment that’s no risk, all reward!

Part of The One Minute Manager’s significance is how the book helps leaders understand that the best ways to serve your people don’t have to involve rehearsed conversations, lengthy meetings, or stressful performance reviews. Sometimes an act as simple as listening to a person’s idea, talking about their weekend, or sharing a laugh with them can be the most memorable moment of their day.

Investing in your people is about time spent focusing on them, not on yourself. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you are trying to influence. The more you know about each of your direct reports, the better you’ll be able to help them achieve their goals. For example, taking time to work side by side with a direct report to determine their development level on a task lets them know you are interested in meeting them where they are. And it allows you to use the right leadership style, with the right amount of direction and support, to help that person get to the next level.

Here’s another way you can spend a minimum amount of time and build a major connection: schedule one-on-one meetings with each of your people where they set the agenda. These meetings don’t use up a lot of work time—just 20 to 30 minutes every other week. There’s no better way to show someone you care about them as a person than to set aside time to chat about anything they wish. It’s a great opportunity for both of you to speak openly without interference or judgment. These short meetings lead to trusting relationships with feelings of respect, loyalty, and accountability on both sides.

Also, don’t forget to take time to celebrate people’s talents, skills, and successes. Celebrating doesn’t require a big, expensive party. It can be as simple as taking a person aside (or sending them a private chat message) to praise them for their input at a meeting. It can be as quiet as sending someone a gift card to acknowledge their going above and beyond on a project. Or it can be as grand as announcing to everyone they can stop working two hours early on a Friday afternoon. Celebration in any form lets people know they are doing things right, which builds morale and camaraderie. And it’s fun!

Making your team members feel special doesn’t need to be time consuming. Invest a few moments now and then to let people know you’re glad they’re on your team, you appreciate their contributions, and you enjoy helping them win. Take time to build those meaningful connections. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.  

This blog was based on Simple Truth #8 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, available now at your favorite bookstore. To download an eBook summary of the book, please go here.

Autonomy Through Boundaries

When I talk to leaders about helping their people become autonomous, a lot of them think I mean they should give people the freedom to do anything they want. That is not the case. To inspire an empowered, autonomous workforce, leaders must create boundaries.

Boundaries have the capacity to channel energy in a specific direction. Just as the banks of a river channel the power and energy of water, so do effective boundaries channel the power and energy of people.

One of my favorite sayings is “A river without banks is a very large puddle,” taken from my book with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute. Without boundaries, the work people do has no momentum and direction.

            Establishing boundaries sets people up to win. Imagine playing tennis with just a net and no markings for boundary lines. You wouldn’t know how to keep score, evaluate your performance, or improve your game.

            Here are the steps to take to create empowering boundaries:

  1. Establish clear goals, expectations, and standards of performance.

Goals ensure people know the areas in which you expect them to be autonomous and responsible. The worst thing a manager can do is to send people off on their own with no clear goals and then punish them when they don’t meet unspoken expectations. Don’t be one of those managers. Communicate in plain language what people need to accomplish.

  • Ensure people are aware of all procedures, rules, and laws.

Policies and procedures are important to guide day-to-day operations and decision making. Just be sure to review the rules periodically to make sure they are still relevant. If your people alert you to a procedure that no longer makes sense, listen to them. They’re often closer to the action than you are and better able to see when it’s time to rethink outdated procedures.

  • Confirm everyone knows your organization’s compelling vision:
    • Your purpose (what business you are in)
    • Your picture of the future (where you are going)
    • Your values (what will guide your journey)

By communicating your organization’s vision, you help people understand how their work fits into the big picture. Seeing their contribution to the mission and vision of the organization can motivate people to high performance.

            While it may sound counter-intuitive, boundaries and the fastest way to empower people to become autonomous. Clear boundaries allow people to make decisions, take initiative, act like owners, and stay on track to reach both personal and organizational goals.

This blog was based on Simple Truth #12 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, available now at your favorite bookstore. To download an eBook summary of the book, please go here.

An Empowered Workforce Focuses on the Greater Good

In an earlier blog post on the topic of quiet quitting, I made a case for servant leadership—leaders who serve their people by helping them realize that quiet quitting (disengagement at work) is not the answer. Servant leaders establish a safe, caring environment, let people know how valuable they are as individuals, ask them what they need, listen to their answers, and work side by side with them on a solution.

I want to go one step further today with another goal for organizations run by servant leaders: creating a culture of empowerment.

Empowerment is an organizational climate that unleashes the knowledge, experience, and motivation that reside in people. Creating a culture of empowerment doesn’t happen overnight—but leaders of the best run companies know that empowerment creates satisfied people, positive relationships, and never before seen results. People are excited about the organizational vision, motivated to serve customers at a higher level, and focused on working toward the greater good.

It’s true—empowered employees have more expected of them. But along with those high expectations comes growth, career development, the satisfaction of belonging to a self-directed team and being involved in decisions, and a sense of ownership.

In Empowerment Takes More than a Minute, the book I coauthored with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, we offer three keys leaders must use to guide the transition to a culture of empowerment.

The First Key: Share Information with Everyone

Team members who get the information they need from their leader can make good business decisions. But when leaders keep important information to themselves, people often come up with their own version of the truth—which may be worse than reality. And when people don’t have accurate information, they can’t act responsibly.

Servant leaders trust their people and realize that openly sharing information about themselves and the organization—good or bad—is the right thing to do. It builds trust between managers and their people. And when people have accurate information, they can make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization.

The Second Key: Create Autonomy through Boundaries

Counter to what some people believe, there is structure in an empowered organization. It is there to inform team members of the boundaries that exist within their autonomy. These boundaries take the form of vision statements, goals, decision-making rules, performance management partnerships, etc. Within those ranges, team members can determine what to do and how to do it. As the empowered person grows, the range of structures also grows to allow them a greater degree of control and responsibility.

The Third Key: Replace the Hierarchy with Self-Directed Individuals and Teams

Empowered, self-directed individuals and teams—highly skilled, interactive groups with strong self-managing skills—are more effective in complex situations. They don’t just recommend ideas—they make and implement decisions and are held accountable for results. Today, success depends on empowered, self-directed individuals and teams.

Empowerment means that people have the freedom to act. It also means that they are accountable for results. The journey to empowerment requires everyone to challenge their most basic assumptions about how business should operate. People at all levels of the organization must master new skills and learn to trust self-directed individuals and teams as decision-making entities. An empowered culture is not easily built—but the rewards for the organization, its leaders, and its workers are enduring and plentiful.

Playing Well with Others

Remember the days when we used to get report cards from our teachers? They gave us feedback not only about our class work but also about us as human beings. Perhaps you were one of the kids whose teacher praised you by saying that you “played well with others.” If so, good on you! Playing well with others is an essential life skill, no matter how old we get.

 Who Are Your Truth Tellers and Challengers?

It’s not always easy to work well with others, especially when the other person is very different from us. Often, the people we work with don’t share our opinions or our approach to problem solving. They might even challenge our thinking and insist on doing things their way—or at least insist that we compromise. This is a good thing! Why? Because we need truth tellers and challengers to help us grow and develop.

In her wonderful book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin shows how Lincoln became the greatest American president, in part by surrounding himself with those who had initially opposed him and who continued to challenge him throughout his presidency.

How Working with People Least Like Me Brought Out the Best in Me

Early in my career, I worked with a man who wasn’t like me in many ways. Where I was easygoing, he was a stickler. Where I saw the big picture, he was better at details. Where I had a live-and-let-live philosophy, he had a take-no-prisoners approach. A lot of people found it tough to be around this man, but he was brilliant and working with him led to a wonderful career for me.

I don’t regret a single day I spent working with this man. He got me excited about leadership and pushed me hard to be clear and theoretically sound in my work. I would not have become as good a teacher or presenter if not for him.

I also had a writing partner whose personality could be tough at times. He insisted on getting his way and didn’t always use tact when he communicated his opinions. Yet he had such a brilliant, creative mind that I knew I had to write a book with him. Despite the many confrontations we had, the book we worked on together never would have reached its full potential without him.

Working with these two men showed me how partnering with people who were different than I was could improve my skills and ignite my career.

The Benefits of Working with Others

I believe that playing well with others is my superpower. Over the past 53 years I’ve written more than 65 books, most of them with coauthors. Here are just a few of the upsides to working with others.

Learning. My mother used to ask me why I didn’t write my own books. “I already know what I know,” I would tell her. “When I write with somebody else, I learn a lot.” Writing with others increases my knowledge on multiple topics.

Skill Building. By working with coauthors, I sharpen my writing skills—vocabulary, grammar, organization, and structure. I also get to practice patience and listening skills.

Productivity. Without question, working with others increases my productivity. It is highly doubtful that I could have published more than 65 books on my own.

Networking. On my seventieth birthday, we threw a party and invited all my coauthors to attend. What a joy it was to be with all the wonderful writing partners I’d had over the years! There were around 30 of them at that time, and the number is even larger today. Developing a network of special friends is one of the greatest benefits of working with others.

Ability to Serve Others. I believe that the purpose of work is to make a positive contribution to humanity. Working with others allows me to expand my influence and make a bigger difference in people’s lives.

So, don’t go it alone! Learn to play well with others—especially those who might be different than you. Collaborating with others will bring out the best in you—and it will benefit your organization, as well.