The Applause of a Single Human Being

This post is an excerpt from my new book Ignite Your 
Leadership Expertise, which is available on Amazon.com.

Recently I had an idea for one of my corporate leadership programs that has over 6,000 leaders enrolled. In an attempt to make the program communications more personal, I included an insightful reflection one of the participants “Mark” had shared at the bottom of the email message. I didn’t have to wait long for a response, but I was surprised who it came from. Within minutes an email reply appeared from our company president. He had cc’d me in a reply directly to Mark and included Mark’s entire executive chain of command. Our president began by thanking him for his engagement in the program and leadership in his function and ended with a “proud to have you on the team!”

I don’t know anyone busier than our company president, but he still found time to give a personal kudos. I don’t know Mark personally, but I bet he went home walking on air with a story to share with his family over dinner. “That was really fun to be a part of,” I thought. “I want to do this again.”

One of my favorite quotes of all-time comes from the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson, who observed, “The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.”

Each of us are “single human beings.” We qualify. Your applause is of great consequence, and so is mine.

Celebrating the success of others is definitely a “nice” thing to do, but if we think a little deeper, it has some real benefits for us as well.

Creating a Leadership Culture

This post comes courtesy of Mark Miller, a best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and an executive at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

More than 10 years ago, I had the privilege to co-author The Secret with Ken Blanchard, a book about Chick-fil-A’s point of view on leadership. It was a lot of fun doing the book with Ken and even more fun talking to groups all over the world about leadership. What I didn’t expect was the question that I received over and over again… “We’ve read The Secret, what’s next?”

Is “Culture” Just a Buzzword?

“What we really need around here is a _________ culture.”

I’ve heard this dozens of times. You probably have too. In most cases, the blank is filled with “leadership” or “accountability,” but it can be all sorts of other things too: communication, collaborative, engaging, development-oriented, execution, work-life balance-friendly – you name it.

Not many things can top being part of a great team with a great culture. I’ve written about culture several times (here are my two favorites on building a leadership culture and assessing the team culture of the champion Kansas City Royals baseball team). Unfortunately, many times I hear leaders lamenting the problems they experience and simply uttering the sentence above – as if the simple prescription will foresee the remedy.

Do You Have a Royal Culture?

After repeat appearances, the Kansas City Royals have accomplished something they haven’t done in 30 years: win the World Series. Baseball experts point to a wide variety of factors for the team’s success: an emphasis on putting the ball in play vs. hitting home runs, aggressive base running, a dominant bullpen and a flair for dramatic victories. But people close to the team highlight an additional factor: the organizational culture carefully crafted by General Manager Dayton Moore upon joining the team back in 2006. When Moore came on board the team had lost 100+ games in three of the previous four seasons. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride – it took eight whole years before the team achieved a winning record. Now, the results speak for themselves. But what about the behind-the-scenes elements?

You may not work in the front office of a professional sports team. (Neither do I). But shaping your organization’s culture is always a top leadership responsibility. Here are just a few things the Royals did to build a championship culture.

Getting the Most from the Human Element

If you’ve been responsible for delivering business results for any length of time, you’ve probably hit a wall once or twice with people. Someone’s feelings got hurt, another manager is difficult to work with, company politics create unseen landmines, some colleagues disagrees with you and a couple may be out to get you. As often as not, we may be the problem. Additionally, we humans are the ones causing the accidents, forgetting key dates or deliverables, creating ambiguity, making mistakes and communicating poorly. Getting results are tough enough as it is, before we introduce people into the mix!

Automation has added enormous business efficiency over the years and will continue. But it’s important to keep in mind that whatever business we’re in, we’re ultimately in the people business. Since we can’t eliminate the human element (besides, would we really want to?), we’ll have to figure out how to capitalize on it.

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

Why Do We Even Have Core Values?

Most organizations have core values. Somewhere anyway. They’re usually posted on the website and probably printed on a brochure somewhere. But do people talk about them individually? Does anyone know them? Are they specific and meaningful enough to make a difference?

At the end of the day, the organization is going to do what it’s going to do, right? So maybe a better question is: why do we even have core values?

We’ve probably all come across sets of core values that were easy to make fun of or were too vague to impact anyone. But well constructed, specific core values can add tremendous benefit both to organizations and individuals. In fact, here are three ways I’ve seen this happen.

Core Values Word Cloud

Catch People Doing Something Right

Several years ago I needed to perform a complicated banking transaction on a certain day but wasn’t going to be able to arrive during lobby hours. Having worked as a bank teller back in the day, I knew it would probably prove an impossible request. But to my surprise the bank informed me it would be no problem and they would have an envelope waiting for me in the drive-through.

Another time I was responsible for opening up a restaurant in the morning. When I turned on the lights, I couldn’t believe how shiny everything looked. The place was cleaner than I had ever seen it before. I had to ask around to see who had gone above and beyond.

Yet another time, I needed some repairs done to my car but was on a tight schedule. The mechanic drove me home after I dropped off my car, then called to update me, took my payment over the phone and left my car where I could pick it up at my leisure when my schedule allowed.

Most people are used to getting caught – but it’s usually for doing something wrong. In fact, we’ve become so used to low standards and poor customer experiences that we often expect it. But in each of these cases I shared, the culprit hadn’t done anything wrong, they had done something above and beyond.

What do you do when that happens?

Fishing

Let me answer that question for you. You catch people doing something right. Here’s why it’s so important.

How Do You Diagnose an Organization?

You’ve just been assigned to fix a problem or design a solution for an organization, department or team. Maybe you’ve been brought in as a consultant or joined a cross-functional task force. Regardless, management wants results. Where do you start?

Just like in medicine, the last thing a change practitioner should do is prescribe before diagnosing. You don’t want to “fix” the wrong problem. That usually just makes things worse and hurts your credibility.

So how do you diagnose an organization?

Stethoscope Doctor1

Leadership Profile: Jack Welch

I first heard Jack Welch speak at the Leadercast Seminar in 2013. Even though he was over a decade into retirement and in his upper 70s, Welch’s rich enthusiasm for business and leadership took the audience (and the moderator) by storm. In raising General Electric’s value by over 4000% in his twenty years as CEO, Welch has to be considered one of the iconic American business men of the second half of the 20th century. What surprised me was how much fun he seemed to have in the process.

The greatest part of Welch’s contribution may be in the form of giving back – by sharing his knowledge of business and management with all sorts of audience and through various speaking engagements and books he’s written in his retirement. Here’s a snip-it of what I picked up.

Image by Joshua Zumbrun

Image by Joshua Zumbrun

6 Ways to Change Your Learning Culture

When you were growing up, you probably spent hours sitting in a classroom listening to teachers deliver lecture after lecture in school. Now, as an adult employee, the thought of sitting through company training seems boring, unproductive, pointless and wasteful compared to actual work you could be doing. And if that’s what you think, your colleagues are likely thinking the same thing. The great news is that learning organizations are shifting their methods. But tactics aren’t the best place to start. They never are. First, your organization needs a new learning mindset. Here’s how you can get one.

Adult Learning ClassFollowing are six specific ways many organizations have traditionally thought about training – with a culture “shift” for each one.

8 Critical Stages for Anyone Creating Change

It’s been said that the term “change management” is a misnomer because if you are trying to “manage” change, you’re already too far behind! Change must be led from the front. Because of that, when I first discovered John Kotter’s eight stage process for creating major change in a university textbook (and published in his international bestseller Leading Change), I knew I had stumbled onto something incredibly valuable.

Change

So how do you go about creating change in your organization? Change seems like it should be simple enough – until we experience resistence from people who want things to stay the same. What’s the solution?

Three Keys to Sustaining Culture Change

I read an excellent post by author Mark Miller recently about what it takes to create a leadership culture. It couldn’t have been more spot on. To create a winning leadership culture, according to Miller, you must define it, train it, practice it, measure it, and model it. Want I want to add is another dimension on how to position your organization to sustain the culture changes you wish to implement. Here are the three considerations:

Corporate Culture