To Succeed as a Leader, Share the Big Picture

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslMike worked for a medium-sized business and went to work every day happy to have a job. But he wasn’t too enthused about his work environment. Employee morale was so-so because most long-time employees were merely going through the motions.

Greg was a friend of Mike’s from college. They both went to work, but in different industries. They stayed in touch on social media and decided to get together for lunch.

Mike picked Greg up at his work place. He felt inspired when he entered Greg’s building. There was an energy that was hard to describe. It was definitely not the same as at his company. He was warmly greeted by the receptionist and waited in the pristine lobby for Greg.

At lunch, Mike asked Greg about his job and what he liked about working there. Greg mentioned that the company has a management philosophy that every employee is important, like the links in a chain. They believe in sharing information that reinforces that message.

Every employee plays a role in the company’s performance. It is important that they know their role. This gives them a sense of purpose. It answers the question, “Why does it matter?” Some people always take great pride in their work. They know it reflects on them. Some people only push themselves when others are relying on them to do their part. Sharing the big picture helps to get the most out of these people. Getting the small things right leads to bigger success. Every employee plays a role in the company’s performance. Click To Tweet

Here are five different strategies a leader can use to foster a workplace where every employee feels valued and can contribute to the overall vision of the company.

  1. Include all employees in strategy meetings: To the extent possible, involve employees in strategy meetings. When you are contemplating a change in the company’s direction, modifying one or more processes or seeking new methods to improve delivery, involve the people who perform the tasks before decisions are finalized. They are liable to push back. When they do, use your wisdom and judgement to determine if the push back is valid. If it is valid, figure out a better path forward. This will prevent mistakes that save time and reduce waste. If it is the natural reaction to resist change, deal with it now. You will avoid passive-aggressive behavior that will sabotage the path forward. Done right, you will earn the respect and buy-in of your team members. However, things like impending job actions (layoffs, promotions, transfers) must never be shared until it is time. When you are otherwise open, the need for discretion will be respected.
  2. Stress the importance of every position: A good leader knows how every employee contributes to the overall performance of the company. Some employees interface with customers. Others provide a clean and safe work environment. Some create the finished product. All the employees play a part in the success of the company. Good leaders praise the individuals and the teams, both in public and in private, for the significant contribution they make to success of the organization. This is important. Over time, people who don’t deal with the finished product may forget the significance of their role. They need to be reminded.
  3. See the Big Picture: There is a common fallacy in the workplace that one job contributes more than others to the success of the project or company. It is a great thing when employees realize that what they do is important. It is not so good, however, when the needs of the other employees and other affiliated organizations are discounted. Local optimization can result in less than optimal total performance. Explain to your teams the bigger picture. Look at the needs of the other teams and individuals. Understand the other’s position. Explain your organization’s role and the roles of your internal suppliers and internal customers. Keep focused on the end-to-end process, not only your link in the chain.
  4. Your Business Story: The most powerful story for any business is the story of why the company exists. Who founded the company? What problem did the company originally solve? How did the company evolve into its current state? This works for businesses of all sizes. This is effective in external sales presentations. It is also effective in keeping employees motivated. When that story is known and repeated, employees will realize that they are part of growing or preserving a legacy.
  5. Maintain an open-door policy: When you involve employees in strategy, communicate the importance of the roles of each employee and see both the big picture of the company and the reason why the company exists, your employees will see you as someone who not only talks communication, but communicates. You can further enhance that relationship by having an open-door policy. Set boundaries and let people know, but invite people to approach you with their concerns or questions. Maybe they come to you. Maybe you walk around and catch them doing things right.

When you share the big picture, every employee feels valued. They know they play a role in the success of the company. Job satisfaction increases. It costs little to do this and brings back big returns.

Driving back to work, Mike realized that this aspect of work culture was missing from his company. He thought about his role and how it fit into the bigger picture. He felt better about his job. He vowed to look for ways to help his fellow employees understand their roles in the bigger picture, as well.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.WaltGrassl.com.

Treat Your Employees Like Volunteers

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslSarah needs a special project done as soon as possible. She approaches one of her resourceful employees, Ken, to see if he can do the project for her. Instead of directing Ken to get right on it, she explains to him that she has a problem. She describes the project and then asks if he can help her out.

Ken is a bit surprised by her approach and says, “Sure. But, you’re my boss. It’s not like I can decline.”

Sarah said, “Actually, if you have something more important to do, I want to know about it. Then I can make a decision. Do I make a priority call on your time or do I need to find someone else to do this project?”

Ken said, “I have a project I am working on for George. I should be able to complete your project now and still meet George’s deadline.”

In dire situations, a leader must give orders based on their position— with no push back or discussion. In today’s workplace, it is often not very effective. People resent being told what to do—especially when they receive conflicting direction from multiple leaders.

There are benefits to a leader treating their employees like volunteers. You should treat them as if they can say no or walk away at any time. It encourages feedback. It improves morale. Often times, the feedback provided can prevent wasted time, money, and materials.

Here are some ways to lead your “volunteers”:

Share the Big Picture: Give your people a sense of purpose. Whether they are performing a manufacturing task or a clerical task, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t perform their small task well, the product or the company will suffer. Put the importance of their seemingly unimportant task in perspective.

Communicate: Give clear direction. Create alignment. Encourage respectful push back. Be accessible. Not only have an open door policy, but also walk around. If you show up at someone’s work area and engage them; they may ask you a question. That question had not reached the threshold for them to call or come visit you. Create those opportunities.

Develop: One way to make people enjoy working for you is to encourage them to grow. Remind them of the importance of training themselves. Give them suggestions on things to learn. You can help their development by giving them new “stretch” assignments and responsibilities. Then, be patient and nurturing as they ascend the learning curve. Coach them through any reluctance they have to leave their comfort zone. They will feel better about themselves and be more valuable team members.

One way to make people enjoy working for you is to encourage them to grow. Click To TweetPlay to Their Strengths: Know your people. Know what they do well. Know what they don’t do well. While you want them to grow, it is your responsibility to know their weaknesses that may be too hard to develop. You have to realize that people are what they are. Honor them by capitalizing on their strengths and not fighting them over their weaknesses.

Show Respect: People want to be respected. Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t make eye contact or acknowledge people when you walk into a room or when you are walking down the halls. And seemingly only when you need a favor, approach them like your long lost best friend. Smile and acknowledge the people you pass in the hall—whether you know them or not. Develop relationships before you need favors.

Acknowledge Experience: There is a saying that everyone is an expert within three feet of their workspace. People who have been doing a task for years or who have been with the organization for years have experience. Realize that and when you approach them on an issue, take time to honor that experience and listen to them. Nothing irritates a seasoned performer more than when a new leader comes in and wants to share their book learning and tell them what to do. Listen with the intent to understand first, and then discuss the best way to solve the problem. You will come up with better quality solutions and have a team that respects you.

Give Thanks: Be grateful for the big things and the little things. Always remember to say please when asking someone to do something and thank you when someone does something for you. So often, this doesn’t happen and the leaders are unaware of the effect. Also, seek out opportunities to catch people doing something right. People want to be appreciated. Go out of your way to show them.

Ken was able to complete Sarah’s special project on time as well as meet George’s deadline. He felt good about how he was approached and was allowed to be in a position to succeed on both tasks.

He also had a new appreciation for what it takes to be a good leader. He used to think that he could never be a leader because he didn’t like ordering people around. He is re-thinking that position, because he knows you can be leader without acting like a dictator.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.waltgrassl.com.

7 Ways to Navigate Office Politics

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslThe first time Jay met with his mentor, Brian, he asked him what the most important thing to know to be successful at work was. Jay was surprised when Brian said, “Politics.”

Politics in the workplace is often an afterthought. But it is important to understand the landscape, the people, and the rules of the workplace. The key to reaching agreements is an understanding what motivates a person or organization.

Trusted leaders are aware of the politics. They make sure their team is aware of them as well. Trusted leaders seek balanced solutions. They navigate the tension between the competing needs of the bigger organization and the team.

Here are seven ways to navigate the politics of the workplace.

1) Be Visible: If nobody knows who you are, you will have little or no impact in the organization. There are several ways to effectively make your presence felt.

Take on tasks that get you out of your comfort zone, and find opportunities to interact with people and organizations that you haven’t worked with before. Readily volunteer for events, such as open houses or teambuilding outings. When important assignments come up, make sure you go beyond the norm to ensure its success.

The more people you interact with—work related or not—the more you will make your presence felt and provide an impact.

2) Everyone is a Volunteer: Treat the people you work with as if they are volunteers. You increase your respect. When you approach a subordinate and say, “We need to ship this part today. Can you please take care of it?” you give them the opportunity to push back. They may have a more urgent assignment that you aren’t aware of. Ask, never tell. If you ask someone to do their job, good employees will always say yes and respect you for it. When you demand and don’t tolerate push back, you sacrifice short-term success for long-term influence.

3) Be a Person of Influence: When people know and respect you, you will be more influential. As often as possible, you should be positive. You should not complain and you should avoid passive aggressive behavior. Help as many people as possible. Be aware of what is going on around you. Who is struggling? Who contributes beyond their job description? Who is an untitled leader? Be a mentor or coach to junior employees, in and out of your chain of command. Make sure the political nature of the workplace is part of the coaching and mentoring.When you use your political insights to manipulate or create win-lose situations, you lose influence. Click To Tweet

4) Have Many Networks: Develop relationships horizontally and vertically in your organization. Know your peers that work in other organizations. Know the people from top to bottom in your organization. Know the people in your internal suppliers. Know your internal customers. These relationships will improve the likelihood of you learning things informally. This will help you and your organization look good formally. These relationships will allow you to be more successful.

5) Manage Knowledge: Manage Knowledge, Share Knowledge. Share it to the people who need it. It will improve the value of your relationships. When you inform your team of a change in direction sooner, rather than later, you create good will. Why? They can immediately stop following the old course and redirect to the new course. They won’t feel like they’ve wasted their time and effort. However, one must be certain the change will occur. Things like impending job actions (layoffs, promotions, transfers) must never be shared until it is time. Never gossip at work and hold secrets close.

6) See the Big Picture: A common fallacy in the workplace is that my job and my organization contribute more than the rest to the success of the project or company. When employees realize that what they do is important, it’s a good thing. The inverse is true when the needs of the other employees and other organizations are discounted. Some decisions that flow down from above may not make sense to the team. Look at the bigger picture. Look at the needs of the other players. Understand the other’s position. Keep focused on the end-to-end process. Not just your link in the chain. Understand your organization’s role and the roles your internal suppliers and internal customers. This knowledge will help make processes make sense.

7) Managing Conflicts: Inevitably, there will be tension and conflict between individuals and organizations. The best course of action is to be neutral. Facilitate communication and seek to find a third alternative that satisfies both parties. When you are one of the parties, know when to push back. What are the ramifications for bringing up the problem? Not every battle is worth fighting for. When you must address a conflict, understand the other’s point of you before you explain yours. Look for a win-win result. And never make it personal. Always focus on the issues.

Should you play politics or not? Whether you call it politics or a best practice, you must play. Understanding office politics is critical to being successful. How you use your knowledge is even more important. When you use your political insights to manipulate or create win-lose situations, you lose influence. People won’t trust you. When you use political insights to create win-win results, you become a force to be reckoned with.

Jay rose through the rank of leadership. He was liked and knew many people. He understood all the organizations in the company. He was brought in to lead dysfunctional teams and was able to get them aligned and successful. People would go the extra mile for him because they felt he understood them. Nobody ever called Jay a politician. He just got things done.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RadioStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is an in demand leadership speaker. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.waltgrassl.com.

Trust: The Foundation of a Successful Workplace

Six Cornerstones to Building a Culture of Trust

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslAlice and Bob are both supervisors at a medium size company. One day over lunch, they were comparing the pluses and minuses of some of their past bosses. During the discussion, they were reminded of Greg, probably the best leader they ever had. While Greg was personable, focused, and set high standards, they concluded Greg’s greatest quality was that he created a culture of trust.

Greg did not yell, threaten, or lie to get his teams to meet short-term deadlines. He also did not, and would not sacrifice long-term success to meet short-term deadlines.

This was in stark contrast to Mack, who was Greg’s polar opposite. Mack would lie to his customers about the ability to meet accelerated schedules. In turn, he would peddle these same falsehoods to his team about a non-existent urgent customer need to meet the accelerated schedule. The kicker? After the team rallied to accomplish its goals on a sped-up timeline, Mack would proudly—and fraudulently—claim success for their results. He abused his team for his personal gain, and the team members would leave Mack’s team at the earliest opportunity.

Alice and Bob were both students of leadership and decided to compile a list of some of the things that Greg did, to create a checklist for themselves as emerging leaders. Here are six things leaders do to create a culture of trust, and why they are important:

  1. Trusted leaders are dedicated to doing the right thing: Trusted leaders have a keen sense of right and wrong. When circumstances arise that threaten to change their moral compass, these leaders stand their ground and hold firm to their morals. They resist the urge to do the wrong thing to avoid uncomfortable situations. They do the difficult right over the easy wrong.
  2. Trusted leaders keep their word: Trusted leaders keep commitments. They do what they say they will do, and don’t make promises they can’t keep. Leaders dedicated to constructing a culture of trust are painstaking about meeting deadlines. They realize that if they don’t keep their word, there is no way that they can hold others accountable for theirs. “Do as I say, not as I do” does not breed trust.
  3. Trusted leaders explain the politics of the workplace: Politics exist everywhere—including the workplace. Trusted leaders are aware of the politics and make sure their team is are aware of them as well. There is often tension between the needs of the bigger organization and the needs of the team. Trusted leaders seek balanced solutions. When decisions flow down from higher authorities, that may not make sense to the team, they explain the politics and the big picture. When it is important, they push up the concerns of the team.
  4. Trusted leaders do not expect blind obedience: Trusted leaders realize that trust is a two-way street. They empower their team members. They want team members to be comfortable speaking up when they don’t understand something. They insist that they speak up when they see a potential problem. Should someone make an error in judgment, it becomes a teaching moment, not an inquisition. This is the highest form of trust.
  5. Trusted leaders focus the credit on deserving team members: When a team is successful, leaders are immediately recognized for the success of their teams. Trusted leaders shine the spotlight of success on deserving team members. They don’t hog the spotlight. They publicly recognize their team members so that others may know who they are. That improves their opportunities for advancement. They don’t use the peanut butter approach and credit everyone equally—even the undeserving. When they share the spotlight, it does not take away from the leader’s prestige. It greatly improves the relationship with the team.
  6. Trusted leaders accept the blame when the team fails: Trusted leaders do not create scapegoats. They live by the old maxim, “the buck stops here.” When things don’t go well, they step up and accept the blame. Team members that report to these individuals know that they will not be thrown under the bus in the event that a project does not turn out the way it was intended. To the extent a team member’s behavior or judgment contributes to a lack of success, these leaders will privately correct them. They investigate and analyze to find the root cause of the problem, and then publicly address opportunities to improve, provide training if needed, and introduce process improvements.

Alice and Bob became accountability partners in trust. Once a month they would meet for lunch and review the six cornerstones, and shared when they had the opportunity to practice and where they might have missed opportunities. Their leadership skills improved. They had higher levels of trust with their teams. Team morale improved and their teams became more successful.

At the end of the day, we all want to trust our leaders and our teammates. Creating a culture of trust is one of the most important roles of a leader.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.waltgrassl.com.

To Lead Others You Must Serve Others

The Importance of Servant Leadership

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslPaul was 24 years old. He was shy and the youngest member of his workgroup. During lunch with his coworkers, the conversation turned to the recent promotion of his current supervisor, Charles. They speculated about who would replace him.

There was a major concern that a coworker, Terry, was lobbying hard for the position. Terry got along with no one. He was hoping to get the job “So people will do what I want them to do.”

While the group was lamenting about that possibility, Paul asked why no one there was vying for the position. One by one, they all had their reasons why they didn’t want it. Paul shook his head and said, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Two weeks later—much to his surprise—Paul was called into Charles’ office and offered the job. He was shocked. While most of the group was under 30, one member was in his mid-40s. Paul thought, “I can’t tell my dad what to do.”

After sleeping on the offer overnight, Paul accepted, on the condition they train him to be a leader. Charles agreed. Paul aggressively sought training at work. He also read voraciously about leadership—for the rest of his life. Paul learned that the leadership was not about telling people what to do. He learned to be a leader who shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform at the highest level possible. He later heard these principles described with the term Servant Leadership.

Here are seven things servant leaders do, and why they are important:

  1. They sell, they don’t tell. The servant leader persuades others with inspiration, not force. The phrase “Because I’m the boss,” never leaves their lips. That approach may get you what you want in the short term, but it won’t inspire others. A title doesn’t make you a leader. The ability to have an impact, to influence and to inspire does.
  2. They value diverse opinions. The servant leader listens to others. They recognize that everyone has something unique to offer. They want to hear different points of view. They believe in the old expression, “Everyone is an expert within five feet of their workstation.” In meetings, they solicit input from the more reserved team members, who are often silenced by the more outgoing team members.
  3. They are humble. Servant leaders understand the importance of being humble and grateful. They know that without everyone’s effort, they simply won’t succeed. They make sure they consistently thank their team members, individually and collectively. A servant leader makes a conscious effort to walk around and catch people doing things right.
  4. They create a culture of trust. Servant leaders keep their word. They do what they say they will do, and they’re dedicated to doing the right thing. When the team fails, they accept the blame. When the team succeeds, they focus the credit on the team. They feel the tension between the needs of the bigger organization and the needs of the team and they seek balanced solutions. When decisions flow down from higher authorities, that may not make sense to the team, they explain the politics and the big picture. They don’t expect blind obedience.
  5. They see themselves as part of the team. The servant leader knows their team is their most important asset. The team helps them succeed. When the situation dictates, they roll up their sleeves and help get the job done. If some of the team is working on the weekend to save schedule, they show up to support the team.
  6. They develop other leaders. The servant leader doesn’t hoard knowledge in fear that they might be replaced. They know the best way to lead is to create other leaders. They don’t want to be the bottleneck to the team’s success. They allow their team members to present to senior leadership, to give them exposure.
  7. They think long term. Servant leaders focus on both the immediate task at hand and the important but not urgent activities needed for a healthy organization. They spend a great deal of their time sharing what they learn and helping others through things like career counseling, suggesting contacts, and recommending new ways of doing things.

Paul had a long, successful career as a leader. He inspired loyalty from the people he led. He mentored many employees that were his direct reports. Employees from other organizations were referred to him.

One time, Paul’s project team was given the challenge to accelerate a prototype product delivery. Paul did not immediately commit his team to do the impossible. He presented the challenge to the team and the team concluded it could, with a lot of overtime, meet the delivery. But the documentation would take one more week. Paul reported this to his manager, Bob, who agreed with this approach.

While the team was celebrating the successful accelerated delivery, Bob showed up and announced that they needed to complete the documentation in two days. Paul was furious about the bait-and-switch. When Bob left, Paul told his team not to kill themselves to meet the accelerated deadline. They had already gone above and beyond. He said he would take the blame.

The next morning he received an email from the head of his team. “We’re going to meet the new deadline. We are not doing it for Bob—we are doing it for you.”

Paul reluctantly let them push to meet the new deadline. As bad as he felt about Bob’s behavior, he felt good about his relationship with his team.

At the end, we all want to succeed and be recognized. Being a servant leader is a great way to work toward creating a positive and productive workplace.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.WaltGrassl.com.

Save