A crisis is really a terrible thing to waste. – Paul Romer, Stanford economist
The focus of my life’s work and passion is authentic leadership. At the foundation of authenticity lies ownership and personal accountability. In part, this means the ability to distinguish between what you can control and what you can’t and putting energy into that which you can influence. I am aware that COVID-19 is causing concern and fear. I recently read that, despite all that is being done, 50,000 people still die on this continent every year from the flu. As much effort that is going on to try to contain this thing, let’s keep things in perspective. A trickle of fear in the brain can eventually turn into a trough that everything flows into.
The truth is that our health is constantly threatened by external toxins and “invaders” such as viruses and bacteria. We have little control over what is circulating in the air around us, but most of us have the ability to influence our immune system – how the body responds to these toxins.
Personal accountability means taking full responsibility for what we can control and letting go of what we can’t control. In the midst of all the unknowns in the current world narrative about this disease not enough emphasis is being placed on what we can control – our own response to the disease. Let’s not get so stressed about this that we create a self-fulfilling prophesy of a compromised immune system.
While much lies outside the sphere of influence in this impending endemic, here are three things we can all be accountable for:
1) Get as much knowledge about what is happening as we can – from trusted sources.
2) Learn as much about your immune system as you do about the disease. And put your energy into what you can impact – bolstering your well-being.
3) Wash your hands.
Well, the professional hockey season is over and the Washington Capitals have the Stanley Cup. Congratulations to the team. But that is not the main story for many of the rest of us. Our story is composed of part magic, part luck, and what I like to call the “four qualities of heroic leadership.” Let me explain.
First, here are the “four qualities” – Compassion and Commitment, Competency and Courage. We see these four aspects of leadership in the Las Vegas Golden Knights Hockey Team.
Compassion and Commitment: I will let writer, Ben Shpigel, of the New York Times (May 22nd) start us off: “The Golden Knights play in front of fans who appreciate how quickly and deeply the team has taken to their adopted city after the tragedy of October 1st, 5 days before Vegas’s first game. The tragedy strengthened the Golden Knights bond with the fans, who found healing in hockey (emphasis mine), a respite from their grief.”
The number “58” was retired by the Knights organization at the beginning of the season in a tribute to the 58 who were murdered on October 1stat an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.
So intimate is the connection between the team and the people of the Vegas Valley, that at the end of the fifth and final game of the Stanley Cup, the fans gave the team a thundering ovation. Commentator Ed Graney, of the Las Vegas Review Journal (June 8), looking past the final game of the season for the Knights wrote: “The big picture will stand on its own, ingrained into the fabric of this city, a team and a town and the impenetrable bond it will forever share.”
Competency and Courage: Here is Ben Shpigel again, writing of this expansion team that wasn’t expected to win many games in its inaugural year much less reach the playoffs: “No matter how many goals they scored (or did not score) last season, no matter how many saves they made (or did not make), the Golden Knights gathered for training camp before the season as equals – traded and exposed, discarded by their old teams, exiled to an expansion franchise in the middle of the desert. Disrespected and discounted, the Golden Knights coalesced around that snub.” Even their coach, Gerard Gallant, suffered a setback in his career when he was fired by the Florida Panthers in the fall of 2016; he is now a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the Year.
Compassion and Commitment, clearly; Competency and Courage indeed. This merry band of “Golden Misfits,” as the players call themselves, set professional hockey “on its ear” this year and helped the Las Vegas community grow in appreciation of itself. The team and its fans can be justly proud of who they are and what they accomplished this year.
Max Oliva, a Jesuit priest, has been a friend and mentor of mine for more than twenty years. He lived and ministered in Las Vegas from 2011 to 2017. He now resides in Spokane, Washington. However, he still works in the Vegas Valley on a part-time basis and was in Las Vegas on the day of the October 1 shooting as well as for the final game of the Stanley Cup. His main ministry has been serving men and women in the corporate community on the topics of ethics and spirituality, first in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and then in Las Vegas. He is the author of seven books on spirituality and ethics. His web site is: www.ethicsinthemarketplace.com
I’m concerned about the focus these days on employee engagement as if it were some kind of “special thing” to be pursued outside the usual day-to-day operations of a workplace. Engagement isn’t a goal to be sought. Rather, it’s an outcome of good leadership. The goal should be a well-run organization. The best run organizations have engaged employees, not because they are necessarily pursuing “an engaged workforce,” but because they are committed to a well-run organization. If you keep your eyes on the right priorities – on the right prize – engagement will naturally follow.
An adaptation of Gallup’s Q12 Index (https://q12.gallup.com/) provides a suggested checklist for leaders. If you sincerely pursue these endeavors toward a well-run organization, employee engagement will follow. In other words, these behaviors can assist the leader to do a much better job.
Don’t try to accomplish this massive list all at once. Start with getting a read on how your employees might perceive your leadership and begin to take action in any of these areas. Action on any one item on the checklist below will result in a better, well-run, engaged organization.
- Are you doing everything you can to clarify the kind of employee you need on your team? Are you clearly assessing the kind of skills and attitude required of an employee before you hire them, so that in the hiring process you get the right kind of people on the bus? While you may refine behaviors, don’t count on changing people’s fundamental values.
- Are you explaining to your people exactly what you expect from them, both in terms of operational results and the kind of behaviors you need to see demonstrated to support your values?
- Are you doing everything you can to give them the skills, tools, resources, and capabilities to succeed at their job?
- Have you linked your expectations with the purpose of your organization so they feel their contribution is valued?
- Have you assessed their strengths so they are doing what they do best every day?
- Are you getting out of your office at least every week and catching them doing their job well? Are you recognizing and celebrating success?
- Do you genuinely care about them as people? Have you listened to what matters to them, what they value, and how you can best support them to use their job to achieve their personal goals?
- Are you encouraging your employees to grow, learn, and develop themselves? When was the last time you recommended a good book for them to read?
- Do you allow genuine input and collaboration from your team so their opinions actually matter? While you can’t possibly make every decision by consensus, do you explain – and demonstrate – that their input on as many decisions as possible will be taken seriously?
- Do you set high standards and hold people to account to those standards? “Everyone knows who is and who is not performing, and they are looking to you, as the boss, to see what you are going to do about it.” (Collin Powell)
- Are you encouraging the development of good friendships at work?
- Are you openly talking with people about their progress toward the achievement of both personal and organizational goals – so there are no surprises if/when you do an annual review?
- Are you bringing humility to your leadership by being honest, vulnerable, and teachable?
- Are you making it safe for people to risk making mistakes, while ensuring that they learn from these mistakes?
- Are you creating a culture of ownership, so that employees are encouraged, and held accountable to create conditions for success on their own rather than depending solely on you, the boss, to deliver this?
Moving into a position of leadership does not give you more power. What it gives you is more accountability. Leading a well-run organization takes time, patience, and a clear intention. Set a goal for a productive workplace and employee engagement will follow.
I grew up in a day and age well before “employee engagement”. I had five different jobs before I finished my university education: I worked on farms and ranches, survey crews, a cement company, a geriatrics unit in a psychiatric hospital, and as a janitor. I learned a lot in those jobs. I learned the value of education, to value people who were skilled at a trade, and the value of hard work.
I remember when, after pouring concrete for ten straight hours, the foreman over heard me complaining about how much I hated the work. He took me aside and said, “Son, we don’t have complainers on this crew. They call this thing work because you get paid to work. You don’t get paid to sit around. If you want to sit around, stay at home and don’t get paid. We pay you well to work, but we don’t pay you to complain. Do that on your own time.”
If I would have talked my bosses in those days about “employee engagement,” I believe they would have thought I had beans for brains. I can picture the foreman on the concrete crew saying, “My work is to get the job done; not to motivate you.”
I know we have supposedly come a long way and are now purportedly smarter in how we manage people, and allegedly are more skilled in the practice of leadership. While everyone agrees than an engaged workforce is beneficial, all of the insights and leadership efforts haven’t moved the dial much on getting them there. In all our efforts to create an engaging environment in our workplaces, I’ve never seen more entitlement.
Like children, the more people do for us, the more we expect. When I was a family counselor, I noticed an intriguing phenomenon: the children in a family that are the angriest at their parents are often the children who have been given the most.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful to learn to communicate with our staff and create an engaging, inspiring work environment. There is lot of research that says happier, more engaged employees are more productive.
Here are five responsibilities of a boss that will help engage employees:
- Help create a clear vision. People largely change for one two reasons: inspiration or desperation. Great leaders create a powerful why, a clear and compelling shared purpose or cause that inspires.
- Hire the right people. (I know, many of you had no choice over the employees that work on your teams; you are already behind the eight ball).
- Be clear about what is expected. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. You need to provide clarity as to the operational accountabilities as well as the kind of attitude that is needed to do the job, and build a link between each employee’s contribution to the why.
- Support your team with a servant mind-set. Service leadership doesn’t mean pleasing leadership. Service leadership means understanding what supports are required for your employees to get their job done, and that you have their back to do whatever you can to give them the resources and capabilities to do what is expected. What your job isn’t, is to make them happy.
- Hold them accountable by following through on the consequences. “Everyone on your team knows who is and who isn’t performing, and they are looking to you as the boss to do something about it.” said Colin Powell, the Former United States National Security Advisor. There are consequences to actions, both negative and positive. You don’t build a great place to work when you have low standards or when you let people off the hook. People need to see courage in their leaders, not coddling.
There is, no doubt, a need for caring in the workplace. We absolutely have to support and encourage people and create a place where they can feel safe to be honest and who they are. But let’s be careful because too much support and not enough demands can breed a culture of complaint and entitlement.
What I’m saying is that I’m not convinced that it’s the boss’s responsibility to get an employee engaged. If you can, that’s great. And if you can’t, don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s not your responsibility. Either people want to get their heart into the game or they don’t. You can still be a great leader even if you don’t get everyone on board. Relax and enjoy leading. Who knows? Maybe we’d be better off if bosses got back to what their ultimate job is: to make sure the job gets done and gets done well.