Archive for March, 2011

Leading With Generosity

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Good leaders help others shine and grow.
© iStockphoto/Andy445

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

– Nelson Henderson

I am holding in my hand a graceful, inspirational book entitled “Ramban’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It is Necessary to Give” by Julie Salamon. The book is based on the teachings of Ramban, a physician and philosopher who, more than a thousand years ago, developed Ramban’s Ladder, which outlines the various forms of giving from the lowest – handing out money begrudgingly, as one might to a panhandler – to the highest, helping someone become self-reliant. I have long been meditating on the whole issue of generosity as an important quality of leadership: observing leaders who had it, and those who lacked it.

When we think of generosity, our thoughts automatically drift to gifts of money or charity. In the context of leadership, there are other gifts that don’t have a monetary value, but whose value is beyond price. These include giving someone a chance; giving someone the benefit of the doubt; and giving others a reason to want to work for you. It entails giving others latitude, permission to make mistakes, and all the information that they need to do the job. It’s giving them the authority that goes with responsibility – it’s giving them due credit for their ideas. In a nutshell, all of this translates to generosity of spirit, a quality we admire in leaders.

Generosity, a word which once meant ‘of noble birth,’ used to be associated with members of the aristocracy who, by virtue of their privileges, were expected to show generosity towards those in lesser standing. A leader too, by virtue of her position, and the power and privileges that she holds relative to those she leads, has the same expectations and obligations. A prime obligation is to lead with a generous heart, and to be guided by a nobility of mind. A leader’s generosity has a positive spreading effect – conversely, its absence has a series of negative consequences that, if a leader paused to reflect on them, may stop her in her tracks.

I am a firm believer that people need more than just ‘a nice job close to home.’ Most people want to find meaning in their jobs – they want to feel that they are a part of something bigger and something better. They want to know that what they do matters. A leader with a generous spirit understands this need, and connects the dots for people – the dots that help them see how the work they perform, no matter how small it may be in the scheme of things, has a bearing on the ultimate vision of the company.

There is a well-known anecdote that is related by Tom Peters about a hospital in the US that treats cancer. During a series of staff interviews, an interviewer asked the housekeeper what her job entailed. She responded, “I help to cure cancer.” Somewhere in that hospital, a leader connected the dots for this individual, and made her feel that she was an integral part of the hospital’s mission. Do you do that for the people who do the work in your unit or organization?

There is a lot of talk these days about lack of engagement in the workforce. Imagine how engaged people are when their leader makes them feel that they are a fundamental part of the success of the organization; that everyone, from the receptionist or mail clerk to the Vice President of Product Development, constitutes a binding thread, tightly interwoven into the company fabric – each equally doing its part to give the fabric its strength.

A leader with a generous spirit delegates not just routine work, but understands about delegating worthwhile work that becomes a gift of development and growth for someone else. How we love those leaders! These are the leaders that make us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work to give that person the very best that we have to offer. These are the leaders who get our discretionary effort, every day.

And what about gifts of information? In a survey on effective motivation published by 1000 Ventures, one of the top items that individuals want in the workplace is the ability to be ‘in’ on things. This was rated 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Managers ranked this item as 1! This is a large chasm in understanding. The quickest way to satisfy this need in constituents is to share information. We have all come across some leaders who are inclined to hoard crucial information as the currency of power. Leaders with a generous spirit give employees a chance to get under the hood and to be a part of the inner circle. Freely and generously sharing know-how, expertise, and ideas is not only beneficial for employees – it’s a smart way of doing business.

Albert Camus said: “Real generosity toward the future consists in giving all to what is present.” How often, as leaders, we are so focused on future achievements, on realizing the vision of the organization, that in the process, we neglect the people who are there. A leader of a successful software firm confessed to me once that she woke up one day realizing how much she had disconnected emotionally from the people who did the work in her organization, while focusing on the strategic imperatives of the company. Today, we have a tendency to be too self-absorbed. We become self-involved to the point where, without intending it, we exclude others; and we often only consciously notice that we have excluded them when they have become disengaged. Self-absorption inherently prevents generosity. Once in a while, it helps to stop and ask oneself: “Am I giving enough to the people around me?”

There is an African village where the greeting words for ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ are: “I am here if you are here.” Imagine the gift we give others when we are fully present with them – when we truly see them. Perhaps this is what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said: “The only gift is the gift of thyself.” Bill Clinton recently ended a speech to a 6,000-member audience with an exhortation to “see more people.” This preceded his reference to all the people who do the clean-up work behind the scenes after the audience leaves. Do we give a thought to the people who are unnoticed in our organizations, those who quietly work in the background?

While generosity in its pure sense is altruistic, you do still get something back from it: surprise dividends in the form of a recycling of goodwill, a surplus of cooperation, and the sheer satisfaction of seeing another benefit from our giving of ourselves, our time, our attention, our knowledge, and the very best that we have to offer those who cross our paths at work or life. We will never know what opportunities we may have missed in life by showing up tight-fisted. It is hard to receive anything if we don’t open our hands to give.

As a leader, giving people the gift of not just our appreciation for good work, but our genuine admiration for their talents, is generosity of spirit at its pinnacle. This is the difference between saying to someone: “Great job” versus “This was pure genius;” or “I appreciated your help” versus “I couldn’t have done it without you.” When it comes to genuine praise, like the sun at high noon, give resplendently. When you see good work, say it, and say it from the heart, just as you thought it. Free up the thought, and let it breathe – let it fly out there in the form of generous words, and watch what you get back. Giving is ultimately sharing.

Here are some practical tips to enhance our generosity of spirit:

  1. Give people a sense of importance
    In Adele Lynn’s book, In Search of Honor: Lessons from Workers in How to Build Trust, we learn that 55% of workers value “giving people a sense of importance” as the number one item for building trust in the workplace. Consider what small actions you could take intentionally today to make people feel that the work they do is important, and that they themselves, as people, are important to your team.
  2. Give feedback, not criticism
    If giving frequent criticism is your style of management, consider some of these questions: Is your motivation genuine, or is it to gain points? Are you picking the right moment? Are you stopping to reflect how you might deliver the feedback while still honoring the other person?
  3. Give people visibility
    Giving people visibility in your organization is a special gift we bestow to help others shine and grow. I encourage you to think how you might give people more access to senior executives, and more access to your boss. Consider as well that people like to know that their boss’s boss knows the great contributions they made to a project, or about their significant effort in writing a report that does not bear their name. Knowing that our leader is representing us well to upper management is a high-octane motivator, and engenders fierce loyalty.
  4. Give anonymously
    Real generosity of spirit is doing something for someone without their knowledge. Think of one or two deserving people in your organization that you can help by planting a career-enhancing seed on their behalf – perhaps saying something positive about their work to someone in authority?
  5. Know when to forgive
    Martin Luther King said that “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” Consider how harboring vindictive thoughts, even though so compelling at times, is nothing but violence to oneself. A characteristic of a generous person is a total lack of resentment – it’s in effect being too noble, too big for that. Who do you need to forgive? What do you need to let go?
  6. Give encouragement
    Look around you and pick someone who needs encouragement, and resolve to give them that. Consider that some people have never received encouragement in their life – not from teachers, not from bosses, not even from parents.
  7. Give opportunity
    One of the most valuable gifts we can give someone is giving them a chance. Is there someone right now to whom you could give a second chance to prove themselves? If so, what active steps can you take to create the right circumstances for them to succeed? What doors can you open for someone who is well deserving, but not well positioned to be noticed?
  8. Share your knowledge and experience
    Resolve to become a philanthropist of know-how. What knowledge, expertise, or best practices can you share with others as a way to enrich them? For inspiration, read about other leaders who practice teaching in their organization for everyone’s benefit – for example, Jack Welch, whose calendar was filled with hundreds of hours spent teaching thousands of GE managers and executives at the company’s training center at Croton-on-Hudson; or the ex-CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, who devoted considerable amounts of time to teaching newly hired and senior managers his philosophy on how to lead in an industry where innovation goes stale very quickly.
  9. Give moral support
    Public speaking is known to be among the greatest fears experienced by millions of people. The next time you attend a presentation given by an apprehensive team member, practice giving them moral support. The simplest of generous acts are abstaining from checking your Blackberry, giving the odd nod in agreement, and practicing looking with kind eyes. Finally, take some inspiration from Walt Whitman’s beautiful words: “The habit of giving enhances the desire to give.” Giving is like building a muscle. It requires practice and persistence – once it becomes habitual, you will emerge as a stronger leader.

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Learning Why “Thank You” Is So Vital

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Rewards don’t have to be financial.

Imagine this scenario: One of your team members has saved the company a significant amount of money with a process she spent weeks creating. It’s right before the winter holidays, so you decide to reward her with a turkey that she and her family can enjoy for dinner one night.

You make a big deal of presenting the turkey to her. She smiles and shyly accepts the gift, quickly putting it in the office refrigerator. You feel good because you rewarded her efforts, and she seemed to be happy about the recognition.

But is she? Things aren’t always as they appear. You didn’t take the time to find out whether or not she likes turkey, so you didn’t discover that she’s a vegetarian. And you didn’t consider that she commutes to the office one hour by train – so by the time she gets that frozen turkey home to give away to friends, it will be a drippy, soggy mess.

Have you ever wondered why the rewards you offer don’t seem to be received very well? We often hear from business experts about how important it is to reward your team. But it’s equally important to take the time to find out how your team would really like to be recognized. Sometimes people don’t want a bonus or pay raise. Instead, what they’d really like is a sincere “thank you” or a day off to spend with their families.

This article helps you learn the “ins and outs” of recognizing your team.

The Importance of Rewarding Your Team

Although the idea of rewarding workers beyond their pay and benefits package seems obvious, some leaders avoid the practice, perhaps because they feel that showing appreciation undermines their authority, perhaps because they want to avoid stirring up jealousy in other members of the team, perhaps because they feel they don’t have the time to do it, or perhaps because they feel embarrassed praising people openly.

This is a shame, because these attitudes reduce their own performance, and all of these problems can or should be avoided. The most successful leaders are those who recognize and reward their team’s efforts. This not only builds trust, but it strengthens loyalty as well. Turnover is often much lower in teams that have a strong bond with their leader, and this impacts a company’s bottom line.

You should also remember that, for the most part, the world’s talent pool is shrinking – mostly due to declining birth rates, which leads to an aging workforce. This means that it’s becoming harder for organizations to find the people they need. Finding and keeping talented people is a key issue, and the companies that figure out how to do this now will likely be the ones that succeed far into the future. One of the best ways to keep these people is to make sure that their hard work is appreciated. If finding the few minutes needed to recognize people is a problem, just think how much time you’d have to spend replacing them!

Recognizing Their Efforts

Appropriately rewarding team members for something they’ve done takes some effort on your part. If you don’t put much thought into what you’re doing, then you may just upset the very people you’re trying to thank. This is why you should sit down with your team and find out how they’d really like to be rewarded.

For example, if your team is about to start a major project, find out:

  • Which team achievements would people like to be rewarded for?
  • What kind of reward would they like, as individuals and as a team?
  • Would they rather celebrate with several milestones along the way, or have one big celebration when they hit the team’s goal?

Learning how your team would like to be recognized, and how you can show your appreciation, is a vital step toward making sure that your efforts will be appropriate.

When and How to Say “Thank You”

The return on appreciation is huge. Workers who feel appreciated are twice as likely to stay at a company than those who don’t feel appreciated.

If you think you don’t have time or can’t afford to show appreciation to your team, then stop and think about how much you currently invest in hiring and training new people. How much would you save if your staff turnover were lower? Probably a lot, which is why recognizing your team’s efforts is almost always cost-effective.

And don’t think that daily gratitude will “wear out” your team. Has anyone ever thanked you so many times that it lost its meaning? Probably not. It’s not likely that your team will ever get tired of receiving your appreciation.

Just make sure you’re sincere about why you thank people. And don’t rush the “thank you” while you’re on your way somewhere else. This WILL probably make your gestures lose their meaning. Stop, look at the person, and tell him how much you appreciate what he’s doing.

These small gestures cost nothing except a few seconds of your time, but their payoff is enormous.

“Thank You” Tips

Remember these guidelines:

  • Be consistent – Consistency is vital. If you praise often during one month, and then skip the next month entirely, your team will wonder what’s going on. Creating a culture of recognition and reward is important – so once you start, make sure you continue.
  • Be specific – Every time you praise people on your team, be specific about what they did to deserve the recognition. If you say, “Jim did a great job yesterday!” that’s not only vague, but it may cause jealousy from other team members. Being specific not only makes the person you recognize feel better, it also lets the whole team know that you’re paying attention. So, detail exactly what the person did and why it made a difference.
  • Know your people – You must know your team to reward them adequately. For example, if you know that someone loves art and music, then opera tickets or museum passes would probably be an appreciated, thoughtful gift. If someone else is a sports fan, then football tickets might be a great idea. Getting to know your team’s interests is critical to showing your appreciation well. Send out a survey, or question them about their passions. And write it all down so you don’t forget.
  • Make the reward relevant – Your gift or gesture should be relevant to your team member’s effort. For example, if someone comes in early for a week to make sure a project is completed on time, then a gift certificate for a great breakfast would be a good fit. If, however, the person just saved the company from a mistake that would have cost millions, then something more significant is needed!

Ideas for Rewarding Your Team

As we said earlier, chances are high that your team isn’t looking for a bonus check or pay raise to feel appreciated. Sometimes, smaller gestures go further and don’t break the budget in the long run. Here are some creative ideas to consider for showing appreciation to your team:

  • Offer flexible scheduling – not everyone needs, or wants, to be in the office at 8:00 a.m. Or, you could offer telecommuting days.
  • Send handwritten thank-you notes when someone goes above and beyond the requirements of the job.
  • Create “free day” coupons that a worker could use for a free day off – no questions asked – without using vacation or sick time.
  • Take your team out to lunch – and then, as a last-minute surprise, give them the rest of the day off.
  • Give out “lazy Monday” coupons to allow a team member one “free” Monday morning off.
  • If you e-mail a team member to say thank you, consider copying that message to YOUR boss.

There are thousands of creative ways to say “thank you.” The great thing about these gestures is that they’ll probably be remembered far longer than any bonus check. You’ll show your appreciation – and, at the same time, you’ll strengthen the bond between you and your team.

Key Points

Leaders need to say “thank you” regularly. Your team members will likely work much harder if they feel that what they’re doing really makes a difference, and that their efforts are noticed by those with “power.”

Thank-you gifts don’t have to be extravagant or costly. Small gestures are often remembered longer than financial bonuses. These small, entertaining rewards can also help promote a sense of fun in the workplace, which may go a long way toward helping you retain key talent.

Developing Skills to Understand Other People

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Learn how to really “connect” with someone.

Tom is a great accountant, but his ‘people’ skills hold him back. I can’t see how he’ll ever be promoted unless he does something about it.”

Many of us know people who have reached a certain point in their careers because they have excellent technical skills – but they somehow don’t get along with team members, because their people skills lag far behind their other job skills.

This might be due to the insensitive manner in which they ask co-workers for things, the way they never seem to listen to what others say, or their intolerance for other working approaches.

Do you have colleagues like Tom? Or are you, perhaps, like Tom?

Workers with poor people skills can often find themselves in the middle of unnecessary conflict. This can be exhausting and stressful for all concerned, and it can destroy even the best laid work plans.

Many people are confident that they can develop new technical skills and knowledge through training and experience. However, there’s a common belief that “you are how you are” when it comes to people skills – or “soft” skills – and that there’s little or nothing you can do to change these.

Fortunately, this is far from true. And a great place to start improving soft skills is by developing the ability to empathize with others.

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is simply recognizing emotions in others, and being able to “put yourself in another person‘s shoes” – understanding the other person’s perspective and reality.

To be empathic, you have to think beyond yourself and your own concerns. Once you see beyond your own world, you’ll realize that there’s so much to discover and appreciate!

People who are accused of being egotistical and selfish, or lacking perspective, have often missed the big picture: that they are just single individuals in a world with billions of other people (although, yes, this can be overwhelming if you think about it too long!)

If you’ve been called any of these things, then remind yourself that the world is full of other people, and you can’t escape their influence on your life. It’s far better to accept this, and to decide to build relationships and understanding, rather than try to stand alone all of the time.

Using Empathy Effectively

To start using empathy more effectively, consider the following:

  1. Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view.
    When you do this, you’ll realize that other people most likely aren’t being evil, unkind, stubborn, or unreasonable – they’re probably just reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have.
  2. Validate the other person’s perspective.
    Once you “see” why others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Remember: acknowledgement does not always equal agreement. You can accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have good reason to hold those opinions.
  3. Examine your attitude.
    Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right? Or, is your priority to find a solution, build relationships, and accept others? Without an open mind and attitude, you probably won’t have enough room for empathy.
  4. Listen.
    Listen to the entire message that the other person is trying to communicate.

    • Listen with your ears: What is he or she saying, and what tone is being used?
    • Listen with your eyes: What is the person doing with his or her body while speaking?
    • Listen with your instincts: Do you sense that the person is holding something important back?
    • Listen with your heart: What do you think the other person feels?

     

  5. Ask what the other person would do.
    When in doubt, ask the person to explain his or her position. This is probably the simplest, and most direct, way to understand the other person. However, it’s probably the least used way to develop empathy.

    It’s fine if you ask what the other person wants: you don’t earn any “bonus points” for figuring it out on your own.

    For example, the boss who gives her young team members turkey vouchers for the holidays, when most of them don’t even cook, is using her idea of a practical gift – not theirs.

Practice these skills when you interact with people. You’ll likely appear much more caring and approachable – simply because you have increased your interest in what others think, feel, and experience. It’s a great gift to be willing and able to see the world from a variety of perspectives – and it’s a gift that you can use all of the time, in any situation.

Here are some more tips for an empathic conversation:

  • Pay attention, physically and mentally, to what’s happening.
  • Listen carefully, and note the key words and phrases that people use.
  • Respond encouragingly to the central message.
  • Be flexible – prepare to change direction as the other person’s thoughts and feelings also change.
  • Look for cues that you’re on target.

Key Points

Developing an empathic approach is perhaps the most significant effort you can make toward improving your people skills. When you understand others, they’ll probably want to understand you – and this is how you can start to build cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork.