Monday, May 19, 2014

Meet the New Boss; Same As the Old Boss?

Over the weekend I read a news article on employee engagement.  It claimed that based on surveys conducted in Q1/2014, roughly three quarters of all workers in the United States were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged"  Three Quarters, as in 75%

Frustratingly, I could not find that same article, but it turned out not to be important.  Just about three years ago there was a similar article that claimed about 74% of American workers were "passive job seekers".  So, in three years, not much has apparently changed.  Being ever skeptical, I went in search of other data that could either debunk or corroborate these numbers.  One of the things I found was a very detailed study published in 2013 by Gallup, entitled "State of the American Workplace".  On page 12 of the downloadable .pdf, embedded in a number of interesting charts and graphs, was a similar number.  Gallup stated that about 70% of American workers are disengaged and that this fact is causing a massive drag on the economy.

As many of you read what I've just said, these numbers will probably resonate with you on some level.  Statistically, three out of four of all of you are dealing with some level of disharmony with your employer.  But why?

I normally do not like to pull block quotes from other sources as material for this blog.  However, I read something in Forbes online that did a great job of summarizing the point that I'd like to make.  Here it is:

Creating a high performance work environment is a complex problem. We have to communicate a mission and values, train managers and leaders to live these values, and then carefully select the right people who fit. And once people join, we have to continuously improve, redesign, and tweak the work environment to make it modern, humane, and enjoyable.

As I have stated in past blogs, in order for a team to really "click", or work together, it must share the same values.  Don't believe it?  Think, then, what happens when six people are given an assignment and just one of the individuals does not pull his or her own weight.  Pretty soon, the whole group gets tired of carrying the slack and most everyone becomes apathetic.
Let's take a look at what it means to be "modern".  The Baby Boomer and X generations were taught values like "Respect you elders" and "Know your place".  The Y and Millennial generations don't work that way.  I overheard a Gen Y'er say this quote the other day about a non-performing boss: "I don't care what title he <the Boss> holds.  If he acts like a tool then I'll treat him like a tool."  The takeaway from this statement is that, unlike with past generations in bygone decades, today the world is moving from valuing titles to valuing results.  That's just the modern way of doing things.

On the subject of being humane, things have changed as well.  As we see reflected in the political climate and even popular culture of today, the United States (and 1st world) has become a "kinder and gentler" place.  To that end, what do you do as a leader when someone makes a mistake?  Do you drop the hammer or do you make it a teachable moment?  When dealing with correcting behavior,  people are less and less tolerant of naked force in favor of a more collaborative approach.

As leaders, we must realize that employee engagement starts with us.  That doesn't mean that we can reprogram people to be more happy or more "plugged in" all by ourselves.  But at the same time, we have to modify our styles so that we can be:
  • More approachable
  • More tolerant of different approaches to accomplishing work
  • More appreciative of risk taking
  • More understanding that, unlike the days of our parents, people can and will walk away from us if we are tyrants
I am most definitely not advocating a weak approach to leadership or an acceptance of sub-par work.  What I am saying is that our people are often only as engaged as we let them be.  If you want to be better and hence more effective at leading them, you have to be more a part of them.  And they must be more a part of you as well.

As organizations shrink in the name of efficiency and necessity,  the distance between leaders and the people who work under them must also shrink.  It is no coincidence that the more engaged your people are the more you will be as well. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Original Ultimate Warrior

These days there are a lot of titles, stereotypes and labels that we have created to define people of all walks of life.  For instance, by the title of this post you may think I'm going to write about the recently deceased, world famous wrestler (I'm not).  No, what I want to talk about is a person whose name we all know.  But before I get to the actual name, let me set the stage.

Imagine many of the great minds of the past 300 years.  (I will talk mostly of people from the Western world since I am much more familiar in that area.)  Let's start with Sir Isaac Newton.  Much of modern physics, optics, mechanics, and gravity are based on his work.  We have Marie Curie, who pioneered work into the fields of radiation and nuclear science.  She was also instrumental in developing the X-ray machine, which I can personally appreciate after all of my sports injuries.  There is, of course, Albert Einstein whose contributions need no attribution nor do those of Stephen Hawking.  From the perspective of the human mind, we can look to Sigmund Freud as the progenitor of quite a bit of modern psychology.

Today in the United States we have many bright minds from all over the world who congregate at places like Stanford, MIT, and Johns Hopkins.  Typically, if you are a genius, either in hard science or philosophy, there is an institution dedicated to your particular talents.  It is the modern way within the world to concentrate great thinkers together in order to advance science in whatever form it takes.

Yet, when we incorporate thinking from all parts of the world, dating from 3000 years in the past until today, we come away with a composite of what makes a person truly complete.  Simply stated, in order to achieve full potential, a person must be completely whole - at least according to shared philosophy.  The composite looks thus:

For every human being, there are three components.  As the composite graphic shows, those components are Body, Mind, and Spirit.  Let me briefly describe each of them.

Body - The world is a physical place.  In order to fully engage within it a person must have the ability to tangibly interact with the environment.  This means you must be physically sound because there are daily "Body" challenges that must be overcome.  If you're hungry right now, you know what I mean.

Mind - Every day the world presents us with problems that can be solved.  You must use your powers of intellect and reasoning in order to meet these challenges.  Imagine that you're hungry but the refrigerator door is stuck.  There IS a solution to open it - you just need to figure out how.

Spirit - Many people mistake this component as being religious.  The meaning of the Spirit component is found in problems that have no clear solution.  Imagine that your friend or colleague is upset with you for a reason unknown.  Spirit addresses the problems which have no clear definition and possibly no solution, that we must nevertheless overcome.

Now let's take a look at the great minds I listed previously.  All of them, despite their importance to humankind, exist(ed) almost exclusively in one domain.  Quite obviously, Newton and Einstein were thinkers, which would put their achievements in the "Mind" component.  Freud with his study of human behavior was probably working mostly in "Spirit" with some time spent in "Mind".  Curie, with her work on radiation was operating in the "Mind" realm but I could argue that the X-Ray machine was a "Body" component.

Given the greats we've covered, has there ever been someone who operated in all three components?  The answer is yes - but who?  Surprisingly, even though most people know little about him, the person I have in mind is SOCRATES.  Over the course of his 71 years he did things in all three areas that few people, excepting for maybe Leonardo Da Vinci and Aristotle, have come close to duplicating.  Let me prove it to you.

Body - Socrates was born the son of a stone mason and practiced that trade with his own hands.  If that wasn't enough, Socrates was a true warrior.  He fought as a 'hoplite', or a soldier in the Athenian heavy spear infantry.  Socrates didn't just carry a weapon, he actually fought in the front battle lines and earned distinctions for valor in three separate conflicts (Potidaea, Amphipolis (against the mighty Spartan general Brasidas), and Delium).  In fact, the legendary Athenian general Alcibiades credited Socrates with actually saving his life at Potidaea.  Could you imagine a modern-day intellectual fighting shield-to-shield, spear-to-spear in a phalanx battle line with blood, gore, smoke, and the sounds of men and beasts dying all around?  I can't either.

Mind - Socrates pioneered a problem solving process that we have come to know in modern times as "The Scientific Method".  This approach is the basis for almost every approach to solving a discreet problem by allowing a person to methodically tackle the elements of an issue and solve them in logical order.

Spirit - Socrates is unarguably one of the greatest philosophers of all time.  He is the driving force behind the definition and study of ethics in the modern day.  He is also responsible for the concept of the "Social Contract".  This is a huge topic, but a social contract is essentially the basis for the legitimacy granted by governed people to their government so that it may create and enforce laws that regulate society.  Finally, Socrates developed the "Socratic Method", which is a method to teach critical thinking and a way to attack problems that have no clear structure or solution.

When you think of what it actually means to be an "Ultimate Warrior", wouldn't you agree that Socrates could serve as the definition of the term?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Most parents and guardians of children dread the day when they will need to have "that" talk.  Of course, I am referring to the one where a child must be told how babies are made and/or from whence they come.  This problem has been around in Western society since at least the Victorian era where people just didn't talk about such things.  Because the truth is so uncomfortable to relate to a child or just plain embarrassing, all kinds of different explanations have emerged.  Here are just a couple of them:

  1. When the time is right, often during a full moon, babies are placed under cabbage leaves by unknown individuals.  Parents then go out in the morning to find their new bundle of joy all wrapped up and ready to go.
  2. Perhaps the most popular "explanation" is this one.  At a proscribed time, babies are brought through the air by storks (!) to parents, all wrapped in swaddling clothes.  (I think this version is where we get the term "Bundle of Joy".
The point is that until they are told, children don't really have any concept of the origin of babies.

When it comes to the creation of managers, adults are often as clueless as children.  I have occasionally overheard conversations where one person asks another something like, "How did THAT person become a manager?" or "What did s/he do to get that management position?"

These questions are good ones because the truth is that most people do not know how their managers got into positions of power in the first place.  (This assumes we are relating to Western corporate culture and not the family or patronage-friendly businesses in other areas of the world.)  Generally when a person enters into a work environment, the management hierarchy is filled with individuals and that's just the way it is.  Yet, in every case where a person is holding down a leadership spot something significant has happened to put them there.  I have a one-word term for that event.


Through my empirical observations, leaders are born when they "awaken" to the need to lead, take charge, and be responsible.  In other words, people become leaders when they emerge from the rote of day-to-day activities and ask for something more. I call this "Emergence" because the person, by demonstrating the desire and will to lead, starts down a path that will make them responsible for others.

Just because someone emerges does not always mean that the individual will be a good, kind, or inspirational leader.  No, there are probably more poor managers than good ones if I believe all the books and magazines that I read.  But the fact that they do emerge essentially answers the question as to where managers originate.  They originate on the day that they are "born" - the day that they ask for something more beyond just themselves and their own needs.

If you are a leader in charge of others, you *must* be aware that it is your duty to always watch out for emergence from within your team(s).  Emergence doesn't always happen with great fanfare or trumpets blowing.  Sometimes it happens with a whisper.  But no matter how it happens, it is extremely important that you catch it and begin a mentoring dialog and relationship with that person.  That is, if you want to be successful as a leader and have a great talent pipeline.  If you don't, odds are that you will have dysfunction within your ranks.  Just because someone emerges does not mean that they know what they've become.  It is your job to help them grow. 

They need you and your support just like a seed needs fertile soil, rain, and the sun to reach its potential.  Do yourself and the world a service and be a good steward of your garden.