What should leaders be doing to motivate their people in times of downsizing, salary cuts, or an uncertain economy?

With the challenging economy these days, where companies are losing money and people are being downsized, a very important question I get asked is, “How can I, as a leader, motivate my people in these tough times?”  I think there are three things you can do.

The first thing you need to do is to be a bearer of hope. That doesn’t mean you don’t talk about the truth of the present reality, but hope is so important. When our company was facing its toughest year, our CEO, Tom McKee, got out in front of all of the employees and told them the reality of the situation and how much we were down from the year before. But then he said, “I think we can come out of this. We’re going to do it.”  He was a bearer of hope.

The second thing you need to do is to involve your people as your business partners. After Tom spoke, the next day we had a massive brainstorming session that involved all 300 of our employees in small groups, coming up with ideas of how to cut costs and increase revenues. Your people have knowledge—make them your business partners and tap into that resource.

The final thing you need to do is to always remember to be a servant leader. I so believe in that. This is not the time as a leader to be self-centered and worried about yourself or your own job. It’s a time to reach out to your people and encourage them, serve them, and be with them. So be bearers of hope, involve your people as your business partners, and be ready to serve—not to be served—as a leader.

Lead with LUV

I’m really excited about my brand-new book, Lead with LUV, that I wrote with Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. The reason I’m excited about it is that if I were asked to leave a legacy of my thinking today, this would be it. The world is in desperate need of this message of love and people first.

If you know anything about Southwest Airlines, you know they’re all about love. (They sometimes spell it L-U-V because LUV is their symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.) They love their people and they love their customers. They love their work and take it seriously—but they don’t take themselves seriously.

For example, a colleague of mine was flying on Southwest recently when the attendant got on the public address system and said:

“You know, this is the last flight of the day and we’re really tired. To be honest with you, we don’t have the energy to pass out the peanuts, so we’re going to put them on the floor in the front the plane and when we take off and gain altitude, they’ll slide down the aisle.  If you want some nuts, just grab them.”

And that’s what happened! The whole airplane was in hysterics—laughing, having fun, grabbing peanuts, passing them to their neighbors—just having a blast!

That’s leading with LUV. How different is that than your typical experience on most airlines, where everyone seems so uptight?

Leading with LUV is about treating your customers right. Southwest really gets this. For example, when you call most airlines to change a reservation, you usually get a recording that says they really value your business, but all of their operators are busy right now; they’ll get to you as soon as possible. Then the music starts.  You could be waiting on hold for fifteen or twenty minutes or more.

But when you call Southwest Airlines, you usually get an operator, and if you don’t, you get a recording that says, “Your business is really important to us.  We’re sorry all of our operators are busy right now, but at the beep, please leave your name and phone number and we’ll get back to you in ten minutes.”

I did this recently, and you know what happened in ten minutes?  My phone rang and somebody said, “Is this Ken Blanchard?”

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“This is Bob from Southwest Airlines,” he said. “How can I help you?”

Now that’s what I call raving fan service! And that’s how you lead with LUV. No wonder Southwest is the only airline that has consistently turned a profit while the others have struggled.

These heart-warming stories don’t happen by accident. When an organization has happy people, happy customers, and happy shareholders, it’s because the leadership has created a culture that supports leading with LUV.  So, how do you do that?

First, you have to create a vision—something to love, something with a higher purpose than just making money. Southwest’s vision was that all people—not just the elite—would be able to afford to fly.

Second, you have to create the rules of the road—the values that will guide people as they work toward that higher purpose. For example, Southwest has three values:

  • A Warrior Spirit
  • A Servant’s Heart
  • A Fun-LUVing Attitude

Third, once you have the vision in place and the values established, the leaders have to get out of the way so they can cheer people on to achieve the vision. This means turning the traditional pyramidal hierarchy upside-down, so that the leaders support their people, rather than vice versa.

What does this look like in the real world? How do you, as a leader, lead with LUV?

First, by acknowledging people. When she was president of Southwest, Colleen Barrett sent out thousands of hand-written notes to her people every year, celebrating their successes, sympathizing with their losses, and thanking them for being extraordinary.

Second, by backing people up. Southwest founder Herb Kelleher once got a letter from a grumpy customer complaining about how much it bothered him that the flight attendants goofed off during the safety announcement. Because a Fun-LUVing Attitude is a Southwest value and this was a customer who tended to complain a lot, Herb didn’t apologize or offer him a coupon. Instead he wrote back, “We’ll miss you.” He stood by the values and the people of Southwest.

The third way to lead with LUV is to make your people your business partners. For example, pilots at Southwest have personally paid for hotel rooms for customers who, because of bad weather, had to spend the night in an unfamiliar city. The pilots could see that the people needed help. Because the pilots knew they were Southwest’s business partners, they didn’t call and ask, “Is it okay? Will I get reimbursed?” They led with LUV and created grateful, satisfied customers.

Leading with LUV is not soft management—it’s smart management. When you put positive relationships ahead of profits, you end up with an abundance of both.

Someone once said to my wife, “Margie, you’ve lived with Ken for almost fifty years. What do you think leadership is?”

Margie nailed it when she said, “Leadership IS love, it’s not about love.  It’s loving your mission, it’s loving your people, it’s loving your customers, and it’s loving yourself enough to let other people be magnificent.”

I couldn’t say it any better. So if you’re looking for satisfying, long-term success, remember: Leading with LUV is not about somebody else in some other organization. Leading with love is about you. So treat your colleagues and your customers like family, and Lead with LUV.

Here are a few other great things we’re doing around the book:

  • We opened a new webpage for people to learn more about how our company uses the Lead with LUV principles at www.leadwithluv.com. You can even watch Southwest’s fantastic corporate video!
  • Do you know someone who leads with LUV? There are two ways you can let the world know about it:
    • Go to our Lead with LUV page on HowWeLead and post your story in the comments section. Do you know of a great video like Southwest’s? You can even embed a YouTube video if you like!
    • Catch someone doing things right via Twitter. Use the hashtag #leadwithluv and post a quick Tweet about a friend or coworker who exhibits these great qualities.
  • Watch a video introduction by Colleen and myself, read the first chapter of the book, and learn more about leading with LUV at our book page.

Have a great day!

Saying “No”

One of the most difficult things I have had to do over the years is to learn to say no.  As a people-oriented person, it is very difficult for me to say no to anyone—I don’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel unimportant.  As a result, ever since I was a teenager I have been overloaded with things I have agreed to do. I have always made too many commitments.

Saying no is simple, but not simply done by most people.  I have tried all kinds of ways to say no in my life.  When I was a professor at the University of Massachusetts, for example, I became so overwhelmed with things I had agreed to do that I sent out a letter to a number of people saying, “I am dying—dying from good opportunities.  If I don’t do something about it, I will not be long for this world.”  Then my letter went on to say that I had to drop a number of things I had agreed to do, just for survival.  I apologized to each reader because I had to drop something I had planned to do with that person.  The letter helped me out of the crisis in the short run, but was not something that made me proud.

To be effective in the long run in relieving overload, I’ve determined that you have to have a systematic approach and philosophy on saying no.  I recommend three steps:

1)  Be clear about what you are doing, and what your priorities are. If you are purposeful about how you are currently managing your work and time, it is easier to say no to new activities that are seemingly less important. We have a saying in one of our programs that goes, “A person who does not have goals is used by someone who does.”

To be proactive about saying no, you need to be very clear about your own goals. What are you trying to accomplish during a given period of time?  How can you focus your energy on things that will move you toward those goals?  This doesn’t mean you have to be rigid and inflexible if a new assignment or opportunity comes along, it just means your goals become your reality check. Within those goals, set priorities and stick to them. Then you will be better able to discern whether something is consistent with your job or area of expertise, which will make it easier to determine if you should take it on.

All good performance starts with clear goals.  Without them you will quickly be a victim, because you will have no framework to make decisions about where you should or shouldn’t focus your energy.  I become much better at saying no when I am more clear about my focus and what my goals are.

2)  Be clear and realistic about the consequences of doing one more thing. This is for yourself as well as the person who wants you to do something new.  I’ve found the best approach is to be honest and direct.  For example, say, “If I do this, I won’t be able to do the other things I’ve committed to.”  Or, if for no other reason than past history, you can say, “With what I’ve got going on right now, if I take on this additional task I feel certain that I won’t do as good a job as I’d like, and we will both be disappointed.”

In recent years when a new opportunity has come my way that I know I’m not able to do, I often compliment the idea (if I feel it has merit) and then simply say:  “I don’t choose to get involved.”  I’m amazed how, when I use this powerful approach, people very seldom say, “Well, why can’t you do it?”  They just accept it and say, “Thank you.”

3)  Offer alternatives and solutions. Suggest someone else who you feel could do the job or who may be available sooner to work on the task.  If the request is from your manager, suggest a project or priority you are working on that could be dropped, delayed, or given to someone else, or ask your manager to do the same.

The degree of flexibility between these three approaches is, of course, a function of exactly what the task is, who is asking you to take it on, and the time frame involved.  A request from your manager is going to involve more consideration and discussion than a request from an associate or someone you don’t know. Still, these basic approaches work.

Research done by Charles Garfield, author of the Peak Performance trilogy, clearly shows that peak performers only focus on a few key things.  And the late, great leadership expert Peter Drucker asserted that the people who truly get things done are “monomaniacs on a mission”—people who focus intensely on one thing at a time.  The more you take on, the greater the chance that you will lose effectiveness in not only getting that particular task done, but in all aspects of your life.  Keep in mind that when you say no to someone, you are not saying no to them, only to their proposition. And never forget the old expression: “Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.”

How Do You Replace A Key Manager?

The first thing you need to decide when you lose a key manager is whether you need to hire a “winner” or a “potential winner” to replace this person.  Winners are individuals who have demonstrated that they can do the exact job you need done.  They are hard to find and they cost money, but they are relatively easy to supervise.  All they need to know is what the goals are.

If the last manager was a winner and you worked well with that person, you might need to search extensively to get the same type of individual.  If you can’t afford or don’t think you can find—or take the time to find—a winner, your next alternative is to hire a potential winner.  Potential winners are individuals who have promise, but have not demonstrated the ability do the specific job you need done.  They are less expensive to hire but they require time and training to develop the skills for the job at hand.  Do you have that kind of time?  Can you afford to train someone to take the last person’s place?

As you interview an individual, how do you tell whether you have a winner?  Let me suggest a process you might use.  When you interview job applicants, attempt to find out as much about them and their background as you can.  As they explain their past, probe with appropriate questions along the way to learn how they have arrived at their current position in life. After you get a sense of the person’s personal and professional background, share with him or her the key responsibility areas in the position you have open.  Be as detailed as you can regarding your concerns and expectations. This process will give you an initial sense of the quality of person you are dealing with.

After this phase of interviewing, you will be able to narrow down the field to the best potential candidates for the job.

During the second interview, give the person a pad and pencil and have him or her prepare a strategy to follow if he or she were to get the job—that is, what would be done first, followed by what would be done within the next three, six and nine months.  Give the applicant an hour to complete this task. Tell him or her that you will want to read the prepared statement as well as listen to an oral presentation.  This will give you not only a sense of the person’s ability to think and plan, but it will also indicate his or her level of initiative, organization, and creativity as well as ability to communicate and present ideas verbally and in writing.

After you have heard the presentation, talk about it. Ask what kind of supervision he or she would need from you in each of the key responsibility areas of the position: Close supervision (known in Situational Leadership® II as a Directing leadership style); both direction and support along with participation in decision making (a Coaching leadership style); support, encouragement and listening (a Supporting leadership style); or could you leave the person alone with minimal supervision (a Delegating leadership style)?

Suggest that the amount of direction the person will need will depend on his or her level of competence in the areas of responsibility, and that the amount of support and involvement you will provide will depend on his or her level of confidence in performing each task or goal.  For example, for you to effectively use a Delegating leadership style, the person would need to be highly competent and confident at the task at hand.  Whereas, if the person is an “enthusiastic beginner” (SLII® language), more direction will be needed.  Suggest that the person look at each of the responsibilities separately and be ready to talk with you in terms of what kind of supervision might be necessary.

While your new candidate is working on analyzing his or her own development level and the appropriate leadership style needed to be effectively supervised in each responsibility area, you would do the same in relation to what you have learned about the person. After you each have analyzed appropriate supervisory approaches on various tasks or goals, you would come together and talk about the kind of supervision that person would probably need.

What is fascinating about this exercise is that you are essentially contracting for a leadership style with the person before he or she has been hired.  This way, you can find out whether this person is a winner who can be generally supervised or a potential winner who will require a greater degree of direct supervision and control.

Hiring a replacement for a key position is not a simple task—it’s something that must be done with great care.  The ideas I’ve presented here have helped me many times to make the best hiring decision—I hope they help you, too!