Doug Dickerson is an award winning columnist and director of Management Moment Leadership Services. He is the author of the new book, Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.
Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle – Napoleon Hill
If you are like me you have heard this statement a thousand times over. And like me, you may have had your struggle with it. The statement has always been presented with good motives usually coupled with a strong dose of motivation. The message is a tried and true standby cliché that managers and leaders readily deploy to fire up the troops. You might even be one of the well-meaning persons who have used it. The statement is simply this, “think outside the box.”
The idea has always made sense to me from a theoretical standpoint. After all, what’s wrong with thinking differently and approaching a problem in a new way? What could possibly be wrong with a fresh approach especially if you happen to be stagnant in your thinking? Change is good. My concern centered around the disconnect that exists at times between good theory and good practice. I didn’t need the theory so much as I needed the “how-to”.
Fortunately, my “thinking outside the box” frustrations ended with a simple but profound discovery. In the book, You, Inc., Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith share a chapter entitled “Thinking Outside Your Box.” I found it to be quite liberating.
The thesis of the chapter is that indeed you do not need to think outside your box. They write, “Your box- your way of thinking, working and living- has worked for you. It’s the box in which you were born, a product of your DNA with which you were coded. You can change your box about as easily as you can alter the shape of your head.” Their solution? “To become more creative—always a good idea- don’t try to think outside your box. Instead, grow it. Bring new things in.”
While well-intentioned people may suggest thinking outside the box as a technique to improve performance and production, I think the Beckwith’s approach might actually be more beneficial. Until you are willing to grow as a leader and thus “grow your box”, no amount of thinking outside of it will help. In order to think inside your box you need to grow it. If you grow your box you will be more productive as a leader. So how do you do it? Here are four tips to get you started.
Grow your reading list. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You are the same today as you will be five years from now except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” That is powerful and practical advice. It’s as you commit to a personal and systematic reading plan that you will begin to grow as a leader. There are no shortcuts. Simply put; leaders are readers. If you want to learn how to think inside your box it’s simple -read!
Grow your interests. The older I get the more I get this truth; life’s short. Often our box is too small simply because we’ve lost our sense of adventure. Have you grown too comfortable in your box? The Beckwith’s suggest that if you read Vanity Fair, read In-Fisherman. If you read People, scan The New Yorker. If you attend the theater, catch a NASCAR race. It’s when you welcome new things into your box that it begins to grow and it releases new passion to think creatively. In other words, tinker with your box!
Grow your relationships. It’s when you grow your friendships that your box begins to grow. The perspective that you may lack can often be found with a friend. Friendships expand your box and broaden your perspective so bring in more people. Build it on purpose and with diversity. You do not need more people in your box who look like you and think like you. It’s when you grow your friendships that the words of Solomon ring true, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
Grow your giving list. At first glance it might sound like a contradiction in terms. But I believe the secret to growing inside your box is when you discover the joy of helping others grow theirs. Growing inside your box begins when you get the focus off yourself and discover the joy of giving. When a leader is generous with his time, talents, and resources, he will soon discover what true leadership is all about.
The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy. - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Two recent studies have put the spotlight back on employee-employer relations and more specifically the issue of performance and morale. The two separate reports combine to give us a snapshot of some very revealing issues all leaders need to be mindful in the run up to 2013.
First is the release of the 10th Anniversary edition of MetLife’s annual study of Employee Benefits Trends. A key finding this year is that 60 percent of surveyed employers recognize the precarious economic climate, rather than reducing business focus on employee benefits, actually creates opportunity for benefits to drive human capital. In addition, the Study found employees are less committed to employers, but at the same time, highly dependent on their workplace benefits.
The second was a survey released by Manpower Group’s own Right Management, which revealed that an unprecedented 86 percent of U.S. employees say they intend to look for a new job in 2013. Only 5 percent say they intend to stay in the current position. Driving this sentiment is booming stress, flight cognition, and the continuous job hunt. This could also be attributed in part to another survey they conducted which revealed that only 12 percent of companies have a fully implemented talent management strategy in place.
Awareness of these new studies should cause you to take pause and reflect on how you are closing this year and what changes you might want to consider in the next. Because you care about your people, here are three simple considerations to help you build morale in your organization. It is not a complete list but it is a start.
Listen to your people. A troubling trend is that most employers are not even aware they have morale problems. This disconnect is disturbing and if not dealt with it can far- reaching consequences. If the disconnect lingers within your organization it will lead to two drastically different interpretations of your corporate identity and direction. Neither outcome will have a happy ending.
As a leader, when you are proactive in listening to your frontline people who are the face of your brand then morale issues can be dealt with swiftly. Smart leaders have their finger on the pulse of the organization and can make better decisions. This happens when you get out from behind your desk and listen to your people.
Encourage your people. The studies reveal that businesses that took their eye off the ball as it relates to human capital issues had employee satisfaction and loyalty problems. When your people know that you believe in them and know they are empowered to do their job, the level of success they can achieve is limitless. And this is where the heart of the leader becomes the tipping point that moves your organization to a more relational and engaged one.
Encouragement is the fuel that energies your business. It is an awareness of the sacrifices your employees make because they have bought-in to the vision and purpose of your company. Encouragement is the expression of your human capital IQ; it is the sharing of common values with like- minded people who also took a risk by following you. Encourage your team!
Respect your people. Herbert Casson said, “In handling men, there are three feelings a man must not possess –fear, dislike, and contempt. If he is afraid of men he cannot handle them. Neither can he influence them in his favor if he dislikes or scorns them. He must neither cringe nor sneer. He must have both self-respect and respect for others.” When team members feel valued, respected, and included it goes a long way in creating a positive work environment.
Many variables come into play as it relates to morale within your organization. When you listen to and encourage your people you will inevitably develop strong morale. Building morale begins with respect for the gifts, talents, and contributions of all the members of your team. Your commitment should be to make it a priority.
Every person you meet is better at something than you are – Robert A. Cook
Last year on a whim I had the opportunity to be an “extra” on the Lifetime TV series Army Wives which is filmed where I live in Charleston, SC. I was excited about this opportunity to make an appearance on a hit TV show and showcase my “acting” skills.
When asked by my wife about being on the show and what my expectations were I jokingly told her that with any luck I would land a romantic scene with one of the show’s big stars – Kim Delaney. My wife rolled her eyes, smiled, and wished me luck. With several sets of clothes in hand, I was on my way to my television acting debut.
After checking in with the appropriate personnel the other ‘extras’ and I waited for our assignment. We were loaded into vans and sent to a local neighborhood for a quick shoot of which I had no part. Upon our return to the main studio everyone was thanked for their time and sent home except for me and another lady. We were told to wait.
A few hours later one of the staff suggested we go out back to the trailer for lunch. Most of the staff and crew had already eaten and the buffet line was slim. We prepared our plates and found an empty table and sat down to eat. A few unassuming minutes pass until Harry Hamlin walks in. Harry was being prominently featured in several of the shows at the time and like the rest of us he needed to eat.
Harry approached me and said, “Hi, I’m Harry, mind if I join you?” Without objection he sits down next to me and we begin a friendly conversation. He is down to earth, personable and was a pleasure to visit with. After about an hour it was time to get back to work.
Back at the studio I was escorted to a set in the rear of the building and was told they needed me to be in a scene with – you guessed it- Kim Delaney! My heart skipped a beat and I resisted the urge to text my wife and gloat. And then it happened; Delaney walks up to me and smiles, extends her hand and says, “Hi, I’m Kim.” I am sure I managed to mumble something stupid.
My role was that of an employee in a law firm and I am instructed to walk down the short hallway and casually glance at Kim as we pass. She is coming off of an elevator and I am getting on it. We shoot the scene for more than an hour. I am thrilled.
The scene plays out when Kim walks into the law office and is going to work with who People magazine in 1987 named as one of the sexiest men alive – Harry Hamlin. My hopes were dashed as eventually, Harry, not me, is the one who gets the kiss.
From my acting debut on Army Wives I am reminded of three leadership principles.
• From Harry Hamlin I was reminded of the value of being real. In the conversation we had over lunch he asked more questions about me and the charming city I live in than I got to ask him about his career. He was real and it was refreshing. Good leaders have a way of making you feel like the most important person in the room.
• From Kim Delaney I was reminded that disappointments happen. The romantic scene was not in the script. As leaders we have many unscripted moments that define us. Not everything in life can be predicted and not everything will go our way. Strong leaders learn how to bounce back and move on.
• From my acting debut I learned humility. My moment in the spotlight was short lived. Most of what was later seen of me on TV was the back of my head as I walked down the hall. Talk about your “big star” moment! But that is the point of good leadership. Not everyone can be the star and you are never as good as you think you are. Humility is an endearing quality of leadership. It is one of the greatest strengths you can have as a leader. And thanks to one of People’s sexiest men alive I was served a big slice of humble pie!