Tale of Two Workcenters

Workcenters A and B are in the exact same industry, under the same corporate ownership, but in two geographically different locations.  Both provide a service to customers and are nationally recognized because of their corporate affiliation.

Their products, processes, policies and talent pools are the same.  They provide their employees with identical compensation, benefits, and training.  Their building décor is identical, as is their parking lots.  Even the bathrooms are in the same locations inside both buildings. 

Each of these workcenters have operated for a long time and have experienced the ebb and flow of doing business throughout the years.  Recently, however, workcenter A has far exceeded the output of B in terms of production…but why?

Why does one workcenter outshine the other when the playing field is so even?  It really comes down to the one thing that is distinguishable between both places of employment: Leadership!

Every industry can trace its success and failure back to leadership.  You can see it in the military, business, government and the sports world, just to name a few.

In professional sports, for example, certain teams seem to always make the playoffs and the best ones pile up championship after championship.  Despite having the exact same levels of player talent, rules, and equal amounts of games to play, the coaching is often what makes some teams excel and others get pounded every season!

Workcenter A has better coaching and this has produced a better team.  The leaders know the value of their people and act accordingly.  They care for their employees and seek to serve them.  They create a safe culture that inspires its workers to give their absolute best every day.  Thus, the employees come to work excited and are inspired to perform above and beyond.   

Workcenter B has employees (including mid-level managers) who dread coming to work because they are demoralized and dejected.  The leaders sit in their offices and only come out to spew their negativity.  The employees, therefore, perform their jobs in a self-preservation mode in fear of upsetting leadership.  They have given up on going above and beyond and are just wanting to survive another day.

With over 30 years as a working adult, from military units to the business world, I have personally experienced both workcenters.  The difference between fantastic places to work and the horrible ones was always leadership. 

Author and leadership expert, John C. Maxwell, points out that, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  The truth of this statement can be seen in business, the military, the government, the sports world, and so on.  When you think about it, successes and failures in all endeavors can be traced to a leader who was responsible.

The good news for workcenter B is that they don’t have to stay there!  Improving the culture will only occur when the leadership team commits to changing how they lead.  They should take an honest inventory of their effectiveness and implement self-development measures.

Paramount to those measures should be regular and ongoing leadership development and training.  I have witnessed leadership teams turn work cultures completely around in a relatively short period of time because they first focused on improving their own leadership skills. 

If you are in a workcenter B environment, start by developing yourself first.  No matter your position, true leadership is influencing others.  We can influence our peers, subordinates, and bosses by our actions and attitudes (which are often the most effective way to do so)!

Get a book on leadership and commit yourself to reading a chapter a day. Also, watch some leadership talks, develop habits of leadership improvement and encourage those you work with to do the same. 

When you do, you will see your workcenter start to resemble A more than B!



Self-discipline is the fuel that powers our internal drive!

When I was in the military, we used to tell our newest troops, “Either you discipline yourself, or someone else will”.

Personally, I found it easier and far more desirable to make myself do what needed to be done, rather than have the consequences of slacking off, or taking the easy way out.

Disciplining myself to run and exercise on my days off, for example, allowed me to pass fitness tests with flying colors. Staying up late and studying when I would have rather been having fun produced more promotions for me.

Create the habits of self-discipline in your life. No one I know has ever regretted doing so. It will bridge the gap between your goals and accomplishments!

Diversity Dynamics

At the midpoint of my military career, I had the privilege of teaching jet engine maintenance to brand new airmen at Sheppard AFB, Texas.

After eight years of service in the field, I volunteered and was selected to become a training instructor.  This was such a rewarding and enriching time because it not only gave me the opportunity to positively impact over 500 new Air Force members, it also taught me the importance of diversity.

Thousands of airmen go through basic training every year and when they get to their technical schools, they are placed in classes with other new airmen, that often don’t know each other.

The classes I taught varied is size, usually from 5 to 15 airmen.  It was so cool to teach these teams, as they spent the first few days learning the differences between a wrench and a screwdriver, to overhauling fighter jet engines just 3 months later!

The trainees were from all over the country.  Different backgrounds, races, religions, genders, even accents (it was fun watching a young person from Dallas working alongside a young person from New York City)!

In the military, you learn quickly to get along with people different from you.  In extreme cases, your life may depend on it!  Diversity immersion for these young people starts day one at basic training, continues into technical school and throughout their careers.

Having gone through basic, technical school training, and eight years of service, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to teach that I realized how important diversity truly is.

Whether the military or the corporate world, whenever we get to work alongside someone different from us, it stretches us and causes personal growth.  Recognizing our differences and setting them aside to focus on accomplishing a task or goal makes us realize our own unique strengths and weaknesses.  

The beauty in our diversity happens when teammates recognize how each person’s strength fills in the gaps for each person’s weakness on the team.

Take a football team, for example.  The six-foot tall, lean and speedy wide receiver should not be placed at center to hike the ball and block for the quarterback.  That would be disastrous!  Likewise, the center should not line up and run a post route to catch a 20-yard pass.

The physical diversity between a wide receiver and a center make them wildly successful in their respective positions on the team.  They complement one another by each playing within their strength zones and the team has a better chance of success.

Getting young airmen to realize what their teammates can contribute was much the same.  Working together to accomplish installing turbines (a multi-person task) caused them to appreciate each other and what they brought to the team.

Some were physically stronger than others, some were better at reading and interpreting the technical manuals, and some were more mechanically inclined.  The point is, they discovered their teammates’ strengths and used them to become successful together.

As each class neared the end of training, they developed deep and meaningful relationships with each other.  They would often exchange contact information so they could stay in touch after graduating as they prepared to go to their first duty assignments. 

It was so rewarding to help these young adults realize that it is wonderful to work with people different from themselves.  Little did they know how much they taught me about the importance of diverse team dynamics!

Accentuate the Positive, Tweak the Negative

Have you ever worked for a person that seemed to find negativity in everything?  You know the one: you and your team fight tirelessly to reach a goal or solve an issue and just as you start celebrating your success, in walks the boss with a “Great job, but…” And then seems bent on explaining how you could have done it better, or why it should have been done another way. 

Nothing will sap the energy of a team quicker than its leader not recognizing the positive things they have accomplished!

Don’t get me wrong…there are times when negative messages must be presented.  They should, however, be the exception and not the norm if you expect your team to move in a positive direction.

Leaders who are prone to finding fault or who constantly point out a “better way” of doing things think they are helping their team members improve.  What they fail to realize is they shape a negative culture by projecting constant negative expectations.

If the leader sees success and fails to show gratitude and praise or laces it with negativity, the workers become disingenuous and disengaged.  After all, why excel if only faults are pointed out to you after you have given it your all?!

The best leaders build momentum by presenting positive messages more than negative ones.  They understand that praising people for seemingly insignificant tasks done well will lead to confidence to accomplish bigger things.

So, how do you accentuate the positive and only tweak the negative?

Let’s say you have an employee who has restocked the glass cleaner in your store.  You walk up as they are just about to finish and you notice they took down the overflow stock, packed the shelves, and ensured the price is correct. 

The surest way to reinforce that behavior is to immediately acknowledge what they have done by thanking them and praising their efforts.  Point out how great the packed shelves of glass cleaner look and how this will appeal to the customers.

Even if you notice some minor errors, such as one of the bottles facing a different direction than all the others, refrain from pointing this out.  Remember, you just walked around the corner and into the cleaning aisle as the employee was finishing.  You don’t know if they are aware of the bottle and plan to turn it to align with the others as soon as you leave. 

Granted, you could make their 95% great job 100% by pointing it out and turning the bottle around right then.  But, in so doing, it may deflate the employee enough that next time they will simply ignore the empty shelves.  That 95% great job just turned into 0% effort!

The point is, if you are the type of leader that drains your team by constantly overlooking what they have done right, they will soon give up trying at all.

Try a little experiment – see if you can give out at least ten positive messages for every one negative.  With a little self-awareness in how you communicate to your team, you should start forming a great habit within a week.  In less than a month, your team will respond with positive work as they have noticed the change in you!

If your employee continues to display one of the glass cleaners backwards, address it after you have given them at least ten positive messages about their performance.  They will be open to accepting the criticism and more likely to change their behavior.

By accentuating the positive and tweaking the negative, you will build a culture of employees who are excited to be there and more willing to go above and beyond to please their leader – you! 

Fortune Favors the Bold

During my military career, I had the honor of being assigned to the 366 Fighter Wing, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho from the fall of 2007 until my retirement in 2012. 

The Wing’s motto is, “Fortune favors the bold”.  The Latin, “Audaces fortuna juvat” was at the bottom of the Wing patch that we proudly displayed on our uniforms.

During the Vietnam conflict, the motto was evident when pilots reported missed opportunities to shoot down enemy MiGs because their F-4s didn’t have a cannon and their missiles were only capable of long-range shots.  The maintainers responded by mounting Gatling gun pods on the F-4s and in under one month, the 366th pilots had shot down four MiGs.

The bold actions of the pilots and maintainers resulted in the fortune of successful response to enemy aggression.  It also earned the 366th the nickname still used today: “The Gunfighters”.

Fortune favors the bold is so profoundly true.  And, it is not solely for a military unit.  It is also true where you work.

Leaders display boldness every day.  Decisions are made that affect many different factors, from your people, to your customers, to the direction of the departments you lead.  Obviously, the higher up the ladder you are, the more impactful the decisions.

But what if you are not in a management position at work?  Can you still display the boldness of leadership?  Absolutely!

Like the maintainers who understood the need of their pilots, they boldly presented the solution of attaching the Gatling gun pods to their F-4s.  The pilots (in the leadership positions) agreed and the rest is history!

Leaders often rise in an organization because of their ability to find solutions.  The best ideas of how to find solutions, or make the working environment better, usually come from within the ranks and not from the top.

If you have an idea to make your team more successful, line up the details and explain how it will make things better.  Be bold in your convictions and share the idea with your supervisor. 

Leaders at all levels should encourage team members to share ideas and be bold in their implementation.  True engagement occurs when employees feel they are positively contributing to the betterment of their workplace and not just droning through the day.

A winning work culture is one where boldness of ideas can flourish.  Encouraging solutions and better ways of doing things creates a strong workplace.

Remember, a leadership title does not make a leader…action does.  Leaders, learn to listen and encourage ideas from within your teams. 

Fortune favors the bold!

Daily Habits

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Chinese proverb. 

Our hopes, dreams and aspirations are extremely important to our success.  Whether we are discussing work, student, or home life, we all have a picture in our minds of what success looks like. 

With that picture in mind, you have probably set some goals to achieve your definition of success.  If you just started crafting your goals, please see the post from a couple of weeks ago entitled, 2020 Vision.  You can access it here

Many people set achievable goals and flame out before reaching them.  Why?  What is the difference between those who succeed and those who give up? 

A goal is only as good as the person who is going to see it through to completion.  And this is only accomplished through developing the daily habits, or steps, it takes to cumulatively reach your destination.

No matter how big the goal, you have what it takes to reach it!  Too often, however, people set grandiose goals and never take the daily actions required to meet them.  I am convinced that by taking your goal from the finish line back to the starting line will greatly increase your chances of victoriously completing it!

Let me explain.  For example, a freshman in college has entered the higher education domain with a goal of one day achieving a bachelor’s degree.  When first starting, it seems massive and overwhelming to imagine four years of study, work, and finals in order to graduate. 

So, the freshman learns quickly to focus their energy on passing each semester.  To get through the semester, they must succeed in each of their classes.  Breaking it down even further, the freshman must focus on the assignments and expectations in each of those classes.  Finally, the successful student figures out the daily habits required to complete the assignments for the classes of each semester that ultimately results in obtaining their desired degree.   

We can take the same approach with any goal.  Want to lose 50 pounds this year?  Want to out produce what you did last year at work?  Want to have a closer relationship with your significant other?  Think about the finish line, while focusing on each step that will get you there.  What are the daily actions you must take to help you reach your goal? 

Our sales team is busy laying out their goals for this year and we are taking the same approach.  They determine their annual goals and then we spend time breaking them down into what daily actions must occur to reach them.

For example, one team plans to produce 208 quality sales leads for FY2020.  We are now working to focus not on 208, but simply what it will take for each of the team members to produce just two leads per week.  Two people getting two leads for 52 weeks equals 208 leads for the year!

Taking it one step further, we talk about the daily habits required to produce a minimum of two sales leads per week.  Doing so has caused our team members to analyze their day and help them determine how much time and effort they will require to capture those leads.

This simple, yet effective, way of focusing big picture success into manageable daily habits is the key to obtaining any goal.

Remember, your goals must be positive, purposeful, measurable and attainable.  No matter the goal, work backward and break it down into monthly, weekly, daily and/or even hourly action steps that you can focus on completing.

Those steps will compile over time and will produce your desired goal.  Now get to work, one step at a time!

Course Correction

Corrective action is something we as leaders must face at one time or another.  Whether you are giving or receiving corrective action, it can be uncomfortable or even down right demoralizing.

Think about it – if you have ever been called to the office to meet with your immediate supervisor because your actions deserve a course correction, it can elicit some negative emotions. 

Likewise, if you have ever had to discuss behavioral issues with a subordinate, it too can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth – especially if you are the type of leader that thrives on seeing your people succeed.

However, it does not have to be a negative experience when it is presented in a positive light.  As leaders we do have control over how we handle presenting corrective action.

For example, if we come into the meeting angry or upset and allow our emotions to control our presentation, the recipient’s defense mechanisms usually flare up and our desired outcome (a behavior correction) will be lost.  Therefore, it is a best practice to wait and rationally evaluate the reasons for meeting with the employee instead of doing so immediately. 

During the meeting (which should always be done in private and away from the employee’s peers) focus primarily on the negative behavior and not the person.  Keep the discussion on what specific action or inaction is causing you to meet. 

Throughout the meeting, encourage the employee to come up with solutions to correct their behavior.  This will produce better buy-in from the employee and, thus, a greater likelihood they will change.

If needed, schedule a follow-up appointment if the initial shock of being held accountable is too overwhelming for the employee.  Remember to keep calm and stay in control of your emotions, no matter the reaction of the employee.

I recently had an employee that needed corrective action because he was not completing daily tasks.  After several coaching sessions from his immediate supervisor, he was still not performing at the expected level.  The next step was to hold him accountable through the company’s corrective action process.

During our meeting, I sensed he was upset and emotional.  I told him that we would follow-up in a couple of days to discuss solutions.  A couple of days later we met in an informal setting in his department, away from his peers.  He came up with several great solutions and since then his work behaviors have dramatically improved. 

Had I approached the meeting as a “one-way conversation” and berated him for his poor performance, it would not have produced what was needed:  an employee willingly contributing to the success of the team.

Remember, you are the leader and therefore have control over the tone of the meeting.  Ensure the employee that you believe in them and only want to see them succeed.  Corrective action can produce positive results if it is done with the spirit of helping the employee become better.

2020 Vision

It is hard to believe, but 2019 is almost finished!  This past year was filled with its share of challenges, opportunities and hope.  As I reflect on it and our team’s successes, it fills me with a sense of accomplishment and that familiar feeling, that all leaders share, of needing to achieve more.

Yes, believe it or not, 2020 is upon us and will be here in less than a week.  Leaders across the world are thinking about the new year and making plans to lead their teams to greater heights and achievements.

What about you?  Are you planning your team’s success for the new year?

Before deciding what we want our teams to accomplish next year, we should set our own personal goals first.  Setting your personal goals first will get you in the correct mindset for leading your team to set theirs.

Personal Goals

Start by focusing your personal goals on three categories:  Personal Growth, Relationships and Professional.

Personal Growth goals fall into three specific categories: Spiritual, Mental and Physical.

Spiritual goals should focus on your core self, your values and purpose in life.  What do you deeply believe in?  How does what you believe in give you purpose?  Where is your spiritual journey taking you?  These are some questions to start with as you formulate your spiritual goals for 2020.

Mental goals may include certain books you plan to read or classes/seminars you plan to attend.  Set a goal for learning and stretching or reinforcing what you already know.  Commit to read a certain amount of leadership or self-help books.  Look for seminars in your local area or sign up for classes designed to help you become better.

Physical goals may involve starting or changing your exercise routine, a change in your diet, a certain weight target, etc.  Staying fit and active will only enhance the other areas of your life, so make it a priority in the upcoming year.

Relationship goals should focus on your immediate family.  They can also include extended family, dear friends and coworkers.  Relationships are vitally important to our overall wellbeing and health.  Focus on tangible ways to strengthen those relationships, such as taking up a hobby or learning a new skill together.  When setting your relationship goals, ask yourself, “What do I plan to contribute to these relationships to help enrich them in 2020?”

Professional goals are what you are planning for yourself and your team at work.  Think of goals that will stretch you and enhance your specific job, such as learning a new skill or receiving a certification.  As for your team, you should guide and coach them as they set their own goals.

Team Goals

For your team to be successful in reaching goals next year, you must include them in the planning process.  Have a meeting with your team to set goals as a group for the new year.  Doing so will create solid buy-in and make achieving those goals more likely. 

Where I work, we have already started planting the seeds about this meeting within our individual department sales teams.  With a minimum baseline, our team will decide their goals for the upcoming year.  The team will collectively set their department goals while the department supervisors and I are available for coaching and advice.  When we conduct our goals meeting in January, they will have some well thought out, specific goals ready to bring before the entire team.

As you work through your personal and team goals, make sure they are positive, purposeful, measurable and attainable.

Positive goals bring joy and excitement to you, especially when you think about accomplishing them.  Each of your goals need to have an element of positivity.  If they do not, they are not worth trying to reach.

A purposeful goal describes what you are trying to accomplish.  In other words, when you write your goal you should see the purpose behind it.  For example, you may have a physical goal of losing 20 lbs. in the first three months of the year.  The purpose is to become healthier, feel better, and look amazing.

Goals must be measurable in order to stay on track and provide motivation for accomplishment.  As you work toward your goal, have checkpoints along the way to measure how far you have come.  The 20 lbs. you are working to lose can be measured weekly as you weigh-in.  When you see positive movement, you are likely to keep the course in reaching your goal.

Above all, make your goals attainable.  You want to make sure the goals stretch you and your team, but they also must be realistic.  For instance, I have a goal to maintain my physical fitness level in 2020.  This is attainable.  It would be unrealistic for me to set a goal to become so physically fit that I could play professional football, however!  Your goals, and your team’s goals, must be something that can be attained.

Yes, we are less than a week from the new year and it promises to be an amazing one.  I wish all of you nothing but success and prosperity in achieving your personal and team goals in 2020.  Remember, set your goals first and then lead your team well in setting theirs!

Rigid Flexibility

When I was in the military, our leaders would often use the term “rigid flexibility” to describe how we should handle change.  Admittedly, I had no idea what they were talking about every time I heard this oxymoronic phrase.  It wasn’t until I obtained leadership positions that rigid flexibility became clearer and more than just military jargon used to inspire troops dealing with change.

Rigid flexibility means being flexible enough to make changes as circumstances dictate while remaining true to our beliefs.  In other words, there are times we must bend when circumstances require but we should never let those circumstances break our core values.

When our military leaders informed us of a change, they expected us to remain flexible enough to make the necessary adjustments but stay determined to go about it without changes to how we prepared and executed the mission itself.

I discovered that our leaders did not want our core values to ever flex, but to remain immovable, or rigid.  This meant that as circumstances changed, we were to execute those changes within the guidelines of our core values.  In the business world, we should never compromise our core values, beliefs, and ethics.  If a change is needed, we must be flexible enough to implement the change without flexing ethical, moral or legal lines.

Rigid flexibility is a great tool for leaders to model while an organization is going through a period of change.  The leaders I looked up to in the military did a fantastic job of showing their resolve in handling change the right way.  They remained true to their core values and their example helped us change course when the mission dictated, but to do so with our core values, beliefs and ethics intact. 

The next time you are facing change in your workplace, remember your own core values, beliefs and ethics.  Become a change agent with rigid flexibility in mind as you help your teams navigate the change.  Lead by example as you personally show your team members what it means to bend, but not break.  Remember, change may be inevitable, but our attitude toward change is completely within our control.

Attitude of Gratitude

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”                   – William Arthur Ward

In 1863, during the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November should be designated as a day of Thanksgiving.  He knew the importance of remaining thankful, even during arguably the worst crisis in American history.

Ever since, Americans have celebrated this cherished holiday with family and friends across the country.  People gather in houses and restaurants for feasting, fellowship and football for this beloved American holiday.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it highlights the importance of gratitude.  Life is short and we can easily get so wrapped up in our day-to-day activities that we forget to pause and reflect upon all the good things in life. 

Study after study has shown that those who practice gratitude on a continual basis are some of the happiest people around.  This does not mean that thankfulness always brings happiness, but ungratefulness surely won’t either!  Adopting an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to get your mind in a positive state and that is always a wonderful habit to maintain.

Leaders should adopt an attitude of gratitude not just at Thanksgiving but throughout the entire year.  When we continuously express thankfulness to our followers, they get a real sense of appreciation and most respond by striving to do more for you.  Leaders should thank their people often and with sincerity.

True thankfulness must come from the heart and not out of insincere obligation.  In other words, don’t treat thanking your employees like something else to cross off your daily schedule.  Whenever an employee does something that positively impacts the team and/or the bottom line, let them know that you noticed it and are thankful for their efforts.

Don’t just limit your attitude of gratitude to the office.  When your spouse or children do something that positively impacts your family, let them know how much you appreciate them.  By practicing thankfulness at home with your loved ones, you will reinforce the habit and it will bring positive benefits in all aspects of your life.

As you gather with family and/or friends for Thanksgiving this year, tell each of them how much you appreciate them and what they mean to you.  As John C. Maxwell points out, “Remember, man does not live on bread alone: sometimes he needs a little buttering up”.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


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