Make it a Summer of Learning

If you want to be a great leader, you must make personal growth a conscious choice and a continuous journey. In the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders Grow, we say that growing to a leader is like oxygen to a deep sea diver: without it, you die. Not a physical death, of course—but if you stop growing, your influence will erode and, ultimately, you may lose the opportunity to lead at all.

Simply knowing how to do your job today doesn’t secure your success tomorrow. It’s important to keep up with today’s rapidly changing work environment so that you can offer new ideas to keep your organization successful in the future.  Make time to read books and articles, watch videos, and listen to podcasts or audio books. Talk with peers or work with a mentor outside your normal work circle. Sign up for an online course or a workshop at your company. Join an association or a special interest group. The learning opportunities are endless—however, the time to invest in these activities is not.

Many organizations enjoy a slower pace during the summer. Or maybe you take your vacation during the summer. Either way, why not utilize some of that time and make this your summer of learning!

My wife, Margie, loves listening to audio books. She listens to business books, books that support her photography hobby, mystery novels, and a lot more. The great thing about this is she can do it sitting on a plane, riding in a car, or taking a walk—just about any time. I encourage you to do the same. Use some of your downtime to invest in your own knowledge. Take a book or article you’ve been meaning to read on that long flight or even to the beach. Listen to a podcast while you are exercising or sitting somewhere quietly enjoying the view. Get up a little earlier than usual and watch a TED talk online.

Keep in mind that your learning doesn’t have to be focused on your work. Trying new hobbies is a learning experience and exploring new interests stimulates your thinking in general. You might think of a great idea for a home improvement project while you are practicing your golf swing. And that yoga class you’ve been promising to try for the past few months might provide the relaxation and focus you need to come up with an original recipe for dinner that uses healthy ingredients your family enjoys.

Be creative and open to life’s opportunities—because when you stop learning, you stop leading!

Understanding Servant Leadership

I’m spending a lot of time lately thinking and writing about servant leadership. Although much has been said and written about the topic, I still run into people who don’t quite understand the concept. They tend to think it is about the inmates running the prison, or a leader who tries to please everyone, or some religious movement. But I’ve found servant leadership to be the most effective way to inspire great performance and to create great human satisfaction.

If you take a look at the companies that embrace servant leadership, you’ll notice one thing they have in common—they are all leaders in their field. I’m talking about companies like Southwest Airlines, Chick-fil-A, Disney, Nordstrom, Wegmans, and Synovus, to name a few.  Leaders in these companies understand the two parts of servant leadership:

  • The visionary/direction, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership; and
  • The implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership.

All good leadership starts with a visionary role that establishes a compelling vision that tells you who you are (your purpose), where you’re going (your picture of the future), and what will guide your journey (your values). In other words, leadership starts with a sense of direction.

Once leaders have shared the vision and people are clear on where they are going, their role shifts to a service mindset for the task of implementation—the second aspect of servant leadership. In this role, the leader does all they can to help their team members accomplish goals, solve problems, and live according to the vision.

I have a great example of this.  My daughter, Debbie, who is now our company’s VP of Marketing, worked at Nordstrom when she was in college. After she was there a week or so, she came to me and said, “Dad, I have a strange boss.”  When I asked what was strange about him, she said, “At least two or three times a day he comes to me and asks if there is anything he can do to help me.  He acts like he works for me.”  And I said, “That’s exactly what he does. He sounds like a servant leader.”

Nordstrom understands that their number one customer is their people—that’s why Debbie’s boss was acting as if he worked for Debbie. He was giving her the responsibility to serve their number two customer—people who shop in the store. Servant leaders know if they take care of their people and empower them, their people will go out of their way to take care of the customers.

At Nordstrom, the vision is clear—they want to create a memorable experience for their customers so they will keep coming back. Leaders and employees alike understand their role in implementing this vision. That is why they are comfortable with going to great lengths to keep customers happy.

One of my favorite stories about Nordstrom came from a friend of mine who wanted to buy some perfume for his wife. He approached the counter and asked for the perfume.  The woman behind the counter said, “I’m sorry, we don’t sell that particular brand—but I know another store here in the mall that does. How long will you be in the store?”  My friend said he would be there about 45 minutes, so she told him she would take care of it and to come back. She left the store, purchased the product, gift-wrapped it, and had it ready for him when he returned. She charged the same amount of money she spent at the other store. So even though Nordstrom didn’t make any money on that sale, they created a loyal customer who—along with his friends—would tell that story for years. And how do you think the salesperson felt about herself that day?  I’ll bet she was proud to be able to serve her customer so well.

I hope these stories help you understand how servant leaders create an environment that gives their companies a competitive edge. Remember, the key to being a servant leader is to start with a clear vision, then shift into the service mindset with your team to help them perform at their highest levels. You’ll improve engagement and morale, build a loyal customer base, and create a secure future for your company.

The Wrapping Up Conversation: A Great Idea for New Managers

I’ve written many times about the importance of managers working with each direct report to set smart goals, to praise progress and goal achievement, and to redirect when performance is falling short. In our new First-time Manager program, we train managers how to have conversations around these three secrets—goal setting, praising, and redirecting—from my book with Spencer Johnson, The New One Minute Manager®. We also introduce the importance of a fourth conversation—the wrapping up conversation.

The wrapping up conversation happens at the completion of a task or project. It offers the opportunity for a manager to celebrate a direct report’s accomplishment as well as new knowledge or skills gained during the process. It is also a good time to discuss what could be improved in the future. This kind of conversation allows both manager and direct report to review and honor the work that has been accomplished before moving on to the next project or goal. When I have a wrapping-up conversation with members of my team, I see them become more energized and engaged.

The manager begins this conversation by endorsing the other person and celebrating their achievement. Then the two openly talk about anything that could have been handled differently, discussing how the direct report feels about the goal or project, results that were accomplished, and the impact of the project on the department or company. The manager documents any key learnings or areas for improvement, and always ends the conversation with another endorsement for a job well done.

At the quick pace of business today, when people are jumping from one project to another or juggling several at once, it’s easy for the wrapping up conversation to be put off—sometimes indefinitely. However, taking time to reflect on a project provides another occasion for a manager to improve their relationship with a team member. Every conversation is crucial when developing a nurturing, trusting work environment.

I’d like to know what kind of conversations you are having with your direct reports. Are you consistently having conversations to set goals? Do you praise people for a job well done and redirect them when necessary? Do you have a conversation at the end of a project to honor the work? Share your comments below to let me know what kind of conversations are the most useful to you and your staff.

Leaders: Are You as Good a Listener as You Think You Are?

girl holds the hand of a child listening to ear on gray backWhen I ask people to talk about the best boss they ever had, they always mention one quality—listening. The best leaders are good listeners. Our research shows that listening is a critical skill for developing people, building trust, and creating a meaningful connection. But be careful—we’ve also found that it’s common for direct reports to score their managers lower in listening skills than the managers score themselves. I’ve said many times that God gave us two ears and one mouth because he wanted us to listen more than we talk. Let me explain some of the fundamentals of effective listening in case you may want to sharpen your skills.

Pay Attention to Nonverbal Behaviors. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears—watch a person’s facial, eye, and body movements in addition to the tone of their voice. Be aware of clues that their silent behaviors provide while at the same time being sensitive to your own nonverbal signals. For example: are you encouraging someone to continue with a conversation, or silently telling them to stop?

Ask Questions. This is not about interrogation or control. Use well thought out questions to seek information, opinions, or ideas that will help you understand the person while helping them feel heard. The best leaders ask open-ended questions to encourage communication, clarifying questions to check for understanding, and prompting questions to encourage deeper thinking.

Reflect Feelings. Acknowledge any emotions being expressed by the person and share your understanding by restating the person’s feelings back to them in a nonjudgmental way. This will help demonstrate that you not only understand their message but also empathize with their feelings.

Paraphrase. Restate in your own words what was said to demonstrate that you heard what the speaker was saying. Paraphrasing is useful to confirm that you understand what your team member was saying.

Summarize. State in a nutshell what was said over the entire conversation. The exact words are not as important as clearly capturing the main points and sequence of what was said. This is where you want to reflect the speaker’s conclusion back to them to indicate that you understand.

As you can see, effective listening is about focusing on what the other person is saying and then demonstrating that you understand and value their thoughts. Developing listening skills takes an investment of time but is the best way to build trusting relationships with the people you lead. Using these skills should get you off to a good start.

Refiring Physically: Keep Moving!

an athletic pair of legs on pavement during sunrise or sunset -Are you ready to learn about the next key from my new book, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, coauthored with Morton Shaevitz? As a reminder, the first key, Refiring Emotionally, is about creating a work environment where people can be engaged. The second key, Refiring Intellectually, suggests the need for lifelong learning. Now let’s consider the third key—Refiring Physically.

Numerous articles have been published about the positive link between physical exercise and improved mental outlook and job performance. Smart companies realize that employees who exercise are more productive and engaged. Many HR departments offer wellness programs such as exercise facilities in the building, discounts to a gym, or a hosted yoga class or walking club. And it never hurts to get creative—encourage people who sit at a desk all day to get up every thirty minutes to walk or stretch to get their blood pumping. Hold meetings where everyone stands up. Walk down the hall or to the next building to talk to someone instead of e-mailing them. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise doesn’t have to be a carefully planned, timed activity—it can be anything that gets you up and moving, even for a few minutes.

Through the years as our company has grown, our headquarters has spread out little by little until we now occupy several small office buildings on our street. A few years ago we created a natural walking path that goes around the buildings. I’ve noticed that our “Blanchard Trail” gets quite a bit of use. Some people walk in exercise clothes so I know they are working out, but others wear work clothes and are just taking advantage of a nice way to get reenergized. Some have told me they even hold one-on-one meetings while walking on the path. A short walk in the fresh air can give anyone a new perspective and help them be more effective on the job. The health benefits are an added value.

It’s easy to help employees understand the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind. Share this code of conduct that Morton and I created as a handy reminder:

  • Be healthy—Honor and strengthen your body
  • Be an exerciser—Move your body
  • Be a smart eater—Eat less and enjoy more
  • Be energetic—Play hard and rest well
  • Stay flexible—Stretch every day
  • Learn balance—Practice standing on one foot, then the other

So get up and move! And spend time to keep your employees healthy. It’s an investment in the vitality of your entire organization.

 

Refire

To learn more about Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, visit the book homepage where you can download a free chapter.