Monday, December 29, 2008

Colin Powell Agrees With Me

If you run an organization of any size the "troops" look to you for everything and I do mean everything. They look to you for their motivation. They look to you for reassurance that their jobs are safe. They look to you for their own self-worth (don't we all measure much of our own self-worth against the jobs we do?). They look to you for that recognition that they so desperately seek. They look to you for well, should I go on or does the word "everything" sort of cover it?

Most leaders don't get this. In fact most leaders, rarely give it a second thought and then wonder why employee loyalty is at an all-time low. They wonder why productivity is down. They wonder why the level of customer complaints are continuing to rise.

Engaged leaders understand that the path to true success, their company's and otherwise, is through their "troops." Engaged employees take pride and ownership in the companies they work for. Engaged employees who have leaders that really care for them are willing to go the extra mile for those leaders that they follow. Engaged employees who feel like they have a home, rather than just a place to work, are more productive, more satisfied and take better care of the company's customers.

Earlier this month I attended a seminar where former Secretary of State Colin Powell was one of the featured speakers. Secretary Powell spoke about leadership and that in turbulent times like these we are facing now, we are obligated as leaders to take care of our number one asset: our people. He spoke about a lesson a military mentor had shared with him when he was just an up and comer. Powell said that this man taught him that a good leader will have people who will follow him or her "if only out of curiosity." They will follow a leader they know, like and respect into circumstances that may have potentially fatal consequences just because; just because they are curious to see where the leader might take them and what might happen.

Secretary Powell went on to say the only way a real leader gets that kind of loyalty is by demonstrating through actions, words and deeds that his or her people are important to him. I am paraphrasing of course but his story was none-the-lesson highly supportive of what I preach day in and day out to my audiences, clients and through this BLOG. If you are a leader it is your responsibility to engage your employees and only through such engagement will the "troops" develop a trust and loyalty that will help navigate the nastiest of waters or survive the toughest of battles.

Colin Powell says now is the best time to be investing in your number one asset: your employees. So will you? Will your troops follow you if out of nothing more than curiosity in the upcoming year?

If you are a leader and you want help developing your employee engagement plan for 2009 I would love to help. Please drop me a line or give me a ring and let's chat.

Ripple On!!!

1 comment:

Artie Gold said...

What I find interesting about this is the fact that in so many situations -- and at so many levels -- workers are increasingly considered to be a commodity, a "cost center", frankly a group of people whose very existence is a "problem to be solved". Is this a result of the increasingly bloodless M.B.A-ing of our society? In any event, considering the fact that so much of the economic crisis in which we find ourselves can be pegged directly to the fact that more and more of the fruits of the enterprise has found its way into fewer and fewer hands, much of what you are suggesting is a serious reorientation of the view of how business should be conducted (and one I greatly believe in). My concern is that the vast majority of those in the "entrepreneur class" are very happy to pay lip service to such an approach -- but much less likely to truly embrace it.

Years and years ago, I had the great pleasure to produce some tracks for Sis Cunningham, once a member of the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the like. By then, she was in her mid-seventies. Whenever she made a mistake in recording a take (a bad note, a missed word, whatever) she would apologize profusely; my replay was always the same: "Nope. I'm producing here. If there are any mistakes, they're mine. Relax. Just do what you do. We'll get there."

Yes, the stakes were different. All I had invested was a little bit of my time. The potential eventual benefits were limited to a reasonably good sounding track of an old song (done by someone who was either he writer or was at least "nearby" at the creation) and, at a real extreme, the possibility of gaining a little bit of notice. Even so, at least from an emotional standpoint, the act of "putting it on my back" removed some of the pressure and created a condition in which a performer could perform. [We did get a couple of decent tracks out of it; alas, at some point I'll be sufficiently fortunate to find them....]

At least in the "tech" arena, one of the things that's most significant is one very simple recognition by management: This stuff is hard. If it weren't, there wouldn't be any (potential) money in it.

Naturally different enterprises are different. Some lend themselves more to the football analogy ("Just do it harder!!!!"), some are more like baseball ("Keep your head in the game and relax!!!") and some more like basketball ("Get the rock to the guy with the hot hand!"). In a lot of ways, the most dangerous thing you can do is to try to look like football -- where parts are almost always interchangeable -- where a different metaphor would be the right one.

Anyway -- just some notes from a "guy in the trenches".