Bob MacDonald on Business

Sage Advice for Superior Business Management

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Searching for Success as a Leader? There is a way to get help finding it.

November 30th, 2014 · Building Better Business Managers, Business Management, Effective Leadership, Improving Your Business Leadership

People who are important to the success of a leader will work for the success of the leader, so long as they are treated as if they are important to the success of the leader.

Remember the vastly popular sitcom Cheers? The show took place in a fictional BostonHand and word Leadership pub and revolved around an eclectic group of Bostonians (all Bostonians like to think they are eclectic) who always ended up coming back to this same bar. Why? Because they felt like they belonged: Everybody knows your name; everybody’s glad you came. Having a sense of belonging made them feel welcome and appreciated.

Has anyone ever come to you and asked for your advice or help with a problem or opportunty they faced? How did that make you feel? Were you complimented that someone would think enough of you to ask your opinion or assistance on something that was important to them? I bet that made you feel good and, in return, you wanted to help them as much as you could.

Creating that same feeling among those who have the ability to contribute to your success will encourage them to do what they can to help you find success. When a leader strives to make people feel welcome as part of the group — appreciated for the value they bring, and respected for what they can contribute — then the members of the group do feel wanted, needed and important; in return, they will do all they can to support the leader and the organization.

A lot of leaders and companies like to spout off about how important the employees are to the success of the company, even referring to them as “associates” or “partners.” Unfortunately, all too often, their actions do not back up their words. Often corporate leaders do not really believe the employees are the most important factor in the success of the company – they think they are. Many leaders get so wrapped up in themselves, they forget that others can play a very valuable role in their quest for success. On the other hand, successful leaders have a deep, abiding belief that others are important to their success and show it. When this happens, employees become committed to the success of the leader, because they have a sense of connection with the leader.

The question, then, is fundamental: how do you create the type of culture and environment that signals you welcome, respect and value the involvement of followers in your quest for success? There are really a number of ways to foster that precious reciprocating support that can be an important part of your success.

Here are a few suggestions …

  • Always offer transparent two-way communication with employees – Others will feel respected and connected to your objectives and success when they are in the communications loop. Sharing information generates both interest and motivation and is an important part of showing respect. Listening is equally as important. When a leader is willing to listen to others, it is a signal that their views are valued and that in turn encourages them to try even harder to come up with ideas and make a real contribution.
  • Invite employee participation in the decision-making process – When a decision is being considered or a project initiated – especially something that could impact all employees – the best way for a leader to gain perspective, support and effort from employees is to always engage them in the process. It’s not that employees will make the decision – they don’t expect to – but including them in the process and accepting their input sends a message that their contribution is valued. And once the decision is made or the project launched, it is much more likely that the employees will support it and take ownership of the effort to make it successful.
  • Care as much about the success of your employees as you do about your own – When employees recognize that you have their best interests in mind – be it compensation, development or opportunity for growth and advancement – they will reciprocate by working for your best interests. If the leader shows he or she does not care about the interests and needs of the employees, how can they expect them to care about their success?
  • Keep your commitment and promises – If you are going to rely on the efforts of others to help find success, it will be important for them to learn that they can rely on your words, promises and actions. They need assurance that you will be the same type of leader tomorrow as you are today and were yesterday. You build credibility and earn the support of others when you never promise more than you can deliver and always provide more support than expected.
  • Be open and accessible – If you really believe that someone is important to your success, how would you act? Of course, you would constantly want to interact with them, seek them out, ask questions and solicit suggestions. In short, you would constantly convey the respect and value that you place in these individuals. That is the way successful leaders operate because they know that when followers are made to feel respected and valued, it will motivate them to prove they deserve the trust placed in them.
  • Share the Success – If success is your reward for hard work, share that success with those who worked hard for your success. Employees will do more of whatever they are called upon to do if their contributions are recognized, reinforced and rewarded. There are many ways to do this and certainly financial rewards are one way, but they are not the only way. Often the sincere respect and recognition of their effort is enough to foster their best efforts. Listening to what employees have to say, complimenting their efforts when deserved, publicly and privately acknowledging their contributions goes a long way to demonstrating your understanding and indebtedness for the important part they played in your success.

And the Moral of the Story …

When it comes to finding success, the more people you can enlist to help you search for it, the more likely you are to find it. When others are important to your success, the best way to motivate them to work for you success is to treat them as if they are important to your success.

Just like the customers of the bar in Cheers, all you have to do to keep those important to your success coming back to support your efforts is to make them feel welcome in the group, appreciated, and respected. Most essential of all is to let them know that you know they are important to finding the success you are searching for.

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So This is How the Greatest Government in the World Functions?

November 23rd, 2014 · Business Management, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

It seems more like a government based on a mountain of promises, supported by a mole hill of performance.

Using the terms stalemate, quagmire, gridlock and futility don’t even come close to describing the sorry state of the American government today. Think about this: In the past four years Congress has not passed one single piece of meaningful legislation. And it’s not like there were no problems or issues that cried out for resolution.

The president and all these so-called national leaders in Congress seem only capable of posturing and pontificating, rather than performing their duties and responsibilities. It conjures up the image of spoiled day-school kids throwing a tantrum and fighting over toys in a sandbox. It truth, this situation is partisanship_(or should be) more shameful than it is frustrating. It is mind-boggling that a country as rich in successful political history and as great as the United States has a government that can no longer organize anything weightier than a bathroom break.

Of course, it has not always been this way. For the past 200 plus years America and our government has been the bright shining light envied by the world and a magnet attracting the best and the brightest to its shores. This feeling was cataloged as “American exceptionalism.” Or in a more colloquial way it was simply referred to as, “the American way.” The truth is that there was as much myth as reality to the exceptionalism of the American form of government, but at least problems were confronted and resolved. It was never smooth, easy or fast, but the leaders were ultimately able to work together and reach a compromise that allowed them to come to a decision on an issue. Clearly that is not the case today, with the very concept of “compromise” equated with surrender.

There are some who suggest that a government conceived in the 18th century has become outmoded and is unable to function effectively in the 21st century. It would be a mistake to draw that conclusion, because it’s not the weakness of our government structure that is at fault, it is the current gaggle of weak, self-serving leaders in that government who are the problem. John F. Kennedy in 1957 “wrote” a book entitled Profiles in Courage. In that work (said to have been actually penned by Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen) Kennedy profiled the actions of eight U.S. Senators who had the courage to risk their careers to do what was right for the country. Not much chance that such a book could be written about today’s crop of supercilious senators. California may be experiencing the most severe drought in its history, but America is experiencing the most severe leadership drought in its history. The government is fine; it’s the dearth of true leaders that has been the cause of the current malaise.

There is an excellent message here for anyone empowered with the responsibility of leadership in any position. It boils down to the simple concept of trust. One of the primary reasons the American government functioned as well as it did for 200 years was that the people trusted the government. That trust may have been misplaced at times, but brought up on the concept of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” Americans were conditioned to at least give their leaders the benefit of the doubt, when it came to their policies and actions. This element of trust that the leaders would do the right thing gave the leaders the freedom to work together and compromise without fear of retribution. It was never perfect and often messy, but it was this general willingness of the people to trust the government that enabled it to function.

This all began to unravel with the onset of the war in Vietnam. There were a lot of victims of the war in Vietnam, but no injury was more long-lasting or impactful than the wound inflicted on the concept of trust in the American government. It was not the first time the government had lied to the people, but it was the first time the people knew they were being lied to; and they didn’t like it. The blatant deceit about the conduct of, progress and validation of the war not only destroyed what was an otherwise vibrant presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it set the stage for even more duplicitous deceit and the destruction of trust in government.

Nixon followed Johnson and took deceit to a whole new level that virtually obliterated trust in government. Every president since then has contributed to some degree in the destruction of the trust American people have in their government. These actions created a gulf between the way things had seemed to be in the past when the government acted and the way people saw things now. This loss of trust has caused the view of government to shift from one of being viewed as a protector against threats, to being the threat.

Trust is engendered through openness, integrity, clarity of expression and constancy; attributes severely lacking in our government leaders today. Is it no wonder that the government is now paralyzed and the leaders have adopted a self-preservation or self-aggrandizement mentality?

The lesson for those in leadership positions is simple: Trust is the most underrated aspect of leadership. The presence of trust makes every effort possible. The absence of trust corrodes from within until nothing is possible. A leader or institution lacking trust is like a car without gas; it’s not going to go very far. And it is important to understand that power or authority does not convey trust. Trust is something a leader must earn and it is not earned overnight, but over time. Trust is fragile and once it is lost, it is difficult to regain.

For a leader trust is a sort a get-out-of-jail card that gives them the freedom to make difficult decisions. When a leader who has built a high level of trust asks followers to do something, they comply, even if they don’t fully understand the reason, because past experience tells them it is okay to trust the leader. And so long as that trust is validated, the leader will continue to have the power to lead.

And the Moral of the Story …

Successful leaders never discount the value of trust. Trust or the lack thereof is a powerful force. When trust is present it can free the leader to make difficult decisions that ultimately will allow the followers and the institution to accomplish great things. One needs only to look at the history of great accomplishments for America when the relationship between the people, their leaders and government was based on trust. When trust is missing it can eat away at the power of a leader and paralyze efforts. One need only look at the current futility of our leaders and the stalemate in government to see the damage caused by lack of trust.

Leadership is about many things, but without trust it is about nothing.

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Is the Power in You to Empower Others?

November 16th, 2014 · Business Management, Effective Leadership, Employee compensation, Improving Your Business Leadership

The promise of most business leaders to empower employees has about as much credibility as a politician’s promise to bring about change

No management technique is more talked about, praised and promised than the concept of employee empowerment. The idea of empowering employees is held up by business gurus as some form of management nirvana. Rare is the business executive who does not avow devotion to empowering employees and the benefits derived from employing it. And yet, for something so universally touted as an invaluable management tool, it’s amazing how rarely it is taken out of the toolbox. The truth is, if there is a popular management concept more honeycombed with hypocrisy, myth and duplicity than the idea of “empowering employees,” one would be hard pressed to find it.

There is a simple reason for this disconnect between the lip-service praise for employee empowerment and the strong reluctance on the part of many managers to implement the concept. Most corporate managers simply do not understand what it means to empower employees. Too often, they mistakenly equate giving power to employees with a reduction in their own power. The reality is that empowering others actually enhances the power of the leader. But for those managers who have invested their whole career in an effort to achieve a position of power and are married to this misconception that empowering employees is losing power, it’s understandable why the idea of giving away any of their hard-earned power would be an anathema to them.

These leaders fail to understand the unique – seemingly conflicting – characteristics of corporate power and that is that power hoarded ultimately weakens and is lost, while power that is willingly apportioned will, in the long run, magnify the power of the one who shares power.

The real meaning of empowering employees – something rarely mentioned or understood – is not the actual transfer of power – with all its rights and responsibilities – from the manager to the employee; the manager retains all the functional power of their position. Rather, it is the sharing of the essence of power that empowers employees.

Ask yourself: What is the real value of power? Isn’t the essence of power having the ability to have some influence and control over events that will impact you and your future? Do you feel better about yourself and more involved when you believe that you have a say in what happens in your life? Do you feel a sense of appreciation and loyalty toward those who put you in a position of power?

How you answered these questions can help you understand the real reason why empowering employees is such a potentially powerful management tool. You see, the empowering of employees does not mean giving your power away; it means retaining your power, but sharing it. The manager retains all the functional power of their position, but they share the value of having power with employees, so that they can, in fact, influence the actions of the organization and feel they can make a difference. It does not mean the leader has abdicated the power to make the decision, but it does mean that others feel empowered in the process of making the decision.

Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labors

If you worked hard to attain your power and enjoy the feeling of having it, don’t you think those who work for you would enjoy the same feeling? If you are the one who makes others feel empowered, isn’t it natural for them to feel beholden to you for the power they are allowed to share?

The truth is that most employees really don’t want the risk and responsibility that comes with actual power, but they do want the feeling that they can make a difference in the organization and that their talents and experience are valued in a way that can influence decisions that are made by those in power. The power of the leaders who follow this philosophy is boosted because the employees so empowered – with the ability to influence and make a difference – have a strong incentive to follow and support the leader who is the source of their empowerment.

Using Your Power to Empower Others

Once you truly understand the concept of empowering employees, you can then take the steps to make it happen: building trust, showing respect and offering consistent, open communication.

A leader empowers others by trusting others. Trust is built when an employee is assigned a task and then given the support, tools and authority engaging-and-empowering-184x184to complete it. If a leader exhibits trust in the employees to do their job – by avoiding hovering over them and micromanaging – then the employee feels empowered to make a difference and has incentive to do the best job possible.

A leader empowers others by inviting input. When a leader discusses issues with employees, asks questions, seeks input and asks for recommended solutions, it is a clear sign that the leader respects the knowledge and experience of the employee. Such action empowers the employee to participate and be involved. This approach does not transfer the power to make the final decision to the employee, but it does empower them to influence the final decision.

A leader empowers others by sharing Information. Information is power, and being “in the know” is always equated with power. So much so that many leaders seek to hoard and hide information lest its dissemination dilutes their power. When information regarding vision, plans and results of an organization are consistently, openly and honestly shared with employees this “being in the know” gives them the feeling of importance and empowerment that encourages participation and ownership.

A leader empowers others by recognizing and rewarding the accomplishments of employees, being accessible and building open relationships with employees, showing concern for the future of the employee by investing in the development of their knowledge and skills and by creating a transparent culture that liberates the potential of the employee in a way that allows them to feel that they do have the power to make a difference.

Any one of these actions regarding, trust, respect, communication and the other elements of empowering employees can be used by a leader without giving up one iota of real power; and yet by sharing the benefits of having power the leader empowers others.

And the Moral of the Story …

If a leader is going to seek to empower employees it is first important to understand exactly what that means. Many leaders are under the misconception that empowering others equates to a loss of their own power. Just the opposite is the reality. The more a leader empowers others, the more power they will acquire. The true essence of empowering employees is not abdicating power, but in sharing the benefits of power which boil down to having influence within the organization and being in a position to make a difference. And, that’s the difference between talking about empowering employees and actually benefiting from the effort to do so.


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