Leaders must provide all possible tools to ensure employees are successful
In recent columns, we examined the subjects of motivation, character, and caring. These are crucial factors in success, and as detailed in “The Ten Truths About Leadership … It’s Not Just About Winning,” they comprise the necessary first steps to understand what it takes to lead others in a business, as coach of a team, as a teacher or even as a parent.
The next step in the process asks the question: If we bring people into the business who have a high probability of success, and we make certain to provide a caring environment, what’s next?
As leaders we need to make certain that employees have all of the tools to be successful. While that seems to be the natural order in any relationship, it is too often not the case.
My experience working with different organizations has allowed me to see first hand how little attention is given to this step. Perhaps we either get too caught up in meeting deadlines and sales goals, or we wrongly assume that the staff is locked, loaded and ready to roll from day one. Pause and consider your own organization. I’m not certain we have the right to measure performance unless we are committed to giving our employees the tools to do their job. This is not just about computers and phones, but also includes training, compensation, clear communication about expectations, accountability and more. After all that has been written about employee engagement, far too many decisions continue to reside in corner offices as the result of an errant management style or the cumbersome strategic planning process.
This truth about leadership resides with your people. Ask them and they’ll tell you what they need to be able to provide for and exceed customer expectations.
I first learned about the paramount importance of this truth as we were attempting to reinvent ourselves in Buffalo. While employee appreciation was part of our heritage at The Berry Co., employee engagement was scarce. It was a leadership style emulated all across Corporate America in the 1970’s. But by recognizing we had a responsibility to give our people the tools to do their job (the second step of The Leadership Pledge) it was obvious that a hierarchy focusing on serving senior management rather than the employees and the customers was misguided.
To illustrate this to everyone in the division, we introduced the Upside-Down Pyramid as our business model. Visually, it reinforced a fundamental priority for our organizational hierarchy. Instead of putting the president and senior leadership at the point of the pyramid, we flipped it so that customers, and next, all of the staff that interacted with the customers were firmly entrenched as our top focus. This showed everyone that, beyond question, starting with the chief executive officer, and then moving up, supporting the sales force and their effort was paramount.
Fast forward 25 years and I can assure you the role of the CEO is not much different today. Despite the many responsibilities of the position, none was more important for me as president/CEO of The Berry Co. than my seven direct reports had the tools and the support to be effective in their roles.
It was their responsibility to do the same for their direct reports. Every level of management, regardless the size of the organization, must embrace this same responsibility to be successful — as a leader, you need to put employees who are touching the customer every day in the best position to win. Back to selection, if we’ve selected the right people they will bring the talent and motivation to succeed — it’s our responsibility to give them the tools to make certain that happens.
Here are the key elements in moving your leadership forward with Truth No. 3. First and foremost, you’ve got to develop good listening skills. Second, as leaders, you must realize that decisions are not made in isolation.
They are the result of each of us being diligent about spending time in the field, plant or wherever the bulk of our employees are, listening to those folks who are answering to our customer’s expectations.
In a line, Truth No. 3 says, “Effective leaders manage support systems, effective employees manage themselves.” What should be obvious to all of us is that leaders lead people and manage things. When we focus our energy on managing employee time and productivity, we often become a victim of their lack of focus. Every minute we spend managing their time and productivity takes away from our ability to support their needs.
It’s such an easy trap to fall into because, as leaders, we are expected to influence outcomes. Often, this misstep goes all the way back to the recruiting and hiring process. Remember that with the right person and the right opportunity, motivation is a natural outcome. When we bring people into the business who have a high probability of being successful, it diminishes the need to over manage relationships.
Although we will discuss this in greater detail in future columns, employee engagement is simply about helping our employees find within themselves the courage to lead. By encouraging their involvement in this whole issue of defining organizational support, they will feel valued and part of something special.
As I place great emphasis on outward communication to employees, I’m often ask by audiences the importance of upward communication to the leader and it’s relevance in the success of the relationship. My answer: communication, especially upward communication, is a critical component in any boss-employee, coach-athlete, and certainly parent-child relationship.
Being assertive in developing relationships with your respective leader is a must in communicating organizational, professional and personal needs. It is a major contributor to overall success, balancing the equation of providing your employees with the tools to do their job, while making sure others likewise know what you need. It’s always about managing your half of the relationship.
Pete Luongo is retired president and CEO of The Berry Co., executive director of the Center for Leadership and Executive Development at the University of Dayton, author of “10 Truths About Leadership … It’s Not Just About Winning” and a public speaker. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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