The Leadership Void

Undecided businessmanWhen I’m invited in to help executives refine their organization’s culture, I start with learning as much as I can about the executive team before I start learning about their company.

Why? Because leaders of organizations maintain the current culture, whether it’s beneficial or not, productive or not, engaging or not – and whether they know it or not! Senior leaders of teams, departments, regions, business units, etc. have the authority and responsibility to change policies, procedures, and norms – which can change the culture for the better.

My discovery process allows me to learn who this executive team is, how they lead their organization, how they communicate, what they validate (through recognition and praise), what they value, and what their desired culture is.

I immerse myself in relevant data – documents like employee satisfaction or engagement survey results, mission statements, strategic plans, internal newsletters, and more. I spend hours reviewing these cultural “artifacts” before I begin executive interviews, which offers much more detailed information on the executive team and how it operates.

One client shared their new vision statement and strategic plan. The CEO was quite proud of these documents. He told me, “We worked for two weeks on the vision statement. The strategic plan didn’t take that long – we already had pieces of it formalized.”

The problem? The vision statement was full of buzzwords and didn’t specify what this company did for their customers or why customers should care. It simply stated that the company “creates value for shareholders, employees, and customers.”

The strategic plan didn’t include any clear strategies at all. There was no outline of new customer needs to be addressed or new market opportunities that will be explored. The plan simply presented percentage growth targets for existing products and services.

I asked the CEO what employees’ responses were to the vision and strategic plan. He said reaction was rather subdued – and that the executive team had gotten feedback that employees didn’t know what the company’s strategy was, even after reading the documents.

These documents were not helpful. They didn’t provide the clarity that was desperately needed. The vision wasn’t clear. The strategy wasn’t clear.

This organization was operating in a leadership void. In the absence of leadership, strong personalities fill the void. We’ve all seen it.

In some cases, those strong personalities provide clarity of purpose and strategy. Those strong personalities create a cooperative work environment. They propose clarity and direction, and proactively align plans, decisions, and actions to move their team forward.

However, in most cases, these strong personalities provide clarity for the player’s own benefit – not the team’s or organization’s benefit. An “I win, you lose” mentality gets embedded. What gains traction are norms that pit people against each other rather than aligning each other to common goals and shared values.

Left to our own devices, us humans typically serve ourselves rather than engaging together to serve others. Politics and power become the coin of the realm, not cooperation and service.

The executive team I worked with didn’t realize they were causing difficulties with their bland vision and strategic plan. They didn’t intend to abdicate leadership – and they were frustrated to learn that’s exactly what they’d done.

I worked with the executive team to create a more actionable, present day purpose statement and a clarified strategic plan that set context for business branding, marketing, and operations for the next three years.

Their executive team is embracing their purpose, values, strategies, and goals. They’re working cooperatively so that every function and unit aligns to their company’s organizational constitution.

They’re not done yet, but the politics, power plays, and self-centered behaviors are diminishing.

The executive team is optimistic about their culture transition, which is terrific.

How clear is your team or company’s present day purpose? Do team members understand your strategies and goals well enough to articulate them to others? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © alpha spirit – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Your Character is Showing

business woman lyingThe 2016 US presidential race is heating up, which means the time is ripe for truth-stretching, name calling, and worse.

This week’s “I’m running for president” announcement by one candidate was so filled with distortions and untruths that fact checkers immediately pounced.

In another case, a news anchor was suspended for six months for “misrepresenting” his reporting experiences. In an interview this week, the anchor said his ego drove him to embellish stories.

What causes humans to embellish, to lie, to discount others, to take credit, or worse? Financial gain or showing they are smarter than others or winning while someone loses are outcomes that may drive us to lie.

For me, it all boils down to character – moral character. And, moral character matters.

Moral character is at the heart of many philosophers’ ideologies. We can learn about virtue and character through the writings of Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus and others.

In fact, one of Heraclitus’ most popular quotes is “ethos anthropos daimon“, which roughly translates as “character is fate” or “character is destiny.”

Being of strong moral character means we are trustworthy. We are reliable. We do what we say we will do. We treat others with dignity and respect. Not once in a while, not most of the time, but all of the time, in every interaction.

Every plan, decision, and action reveals our character. We may think that our selfish drive is invisible to others, but it is not. It is amazingly transparent and consistent. If we are self-serving, it is obvious. If we are of service to others, it is obvious.

I have utmost control over the quality of my moral character. Should I be of grace and of service today, or should I screw everyone over so “I win” and they lose? It’s my choice.

Maintaining strong moral character takes effort, energy, reflection, and intention. It doesn’t happen naturally. We live in a society that reinforces “I, ME, MINE,” daily. If we want something different, something that serves others more than ourselves, we have to invest in those behaviors and those decisions.

Even when you are successful in aligning to strong moral character, others around you might behave in less giving ways.

For example, my worst boss asked me to lie. Years ago, in my non-profit executive life, my branch team of volunteers and staff worked our butts off to raise $25,000, which was double what they had ever raised before. But at the campaign’s closing dinner, with 300 people in attendance, my boss told me to get up in front of everyone and tell them we had raised, not $25,000, but $30,000. I refused, and announced the real total.

My boss wasn’t happy. Neither was I. He felt that I let him down. I felt that he had revealed his true moral character, and I had discovered his values were much different than mine. I didn’t want to interact with him anymore. I left that job as quickly as I could.

Make the choice today to be trustworthy, to do what you say you will do, to be kind, to be gracious, to express gratitude for effort as well as for accomplishment, to be reliable, to be respectful with everyone.

You’ll be able to hold your head high – and you might even influence others to be more respectful and of service, over time.

How do you maintain your strong moral character? How do others whom you respect demonstrate their strong moral character? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Steven Coburn – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Everybody Knows Your Name

Group Of Friends Having Outdoor Barbeque At HomeHow well do your employees – team members in your organization – know each other? If you want a work environment that values positive relationships as well as top performance, this is an important question to consider.

Years ago I studied the W.L. Gore company. Their unique culture, based on a holacracy (no bosses), has served that company well since it’s founding over 50 years ago.

In discussions with key Gore leaders, I learned about another practice they embrace to this day. Their functional teams and plants are no larger than 300 people. Why? “When those units get too large, nobody knows your name,” one VP explained. “In smaller units, people feel more involved and connected.”

In a 2010 interview with Gary Hamel, Gore CEO Terri Kelly says that in big business units or plants, “the sense of ownership, the involvement in decision-making, the feeling that I can make an impact starts to get diluted.”

Tom Peters tells the story of a company that was facing a complicated project with aggressive deadlines. The company had brought in experts from other organizations from around the globe. The project team was really struggling to get clear on how they’d work together, on how they’d blend their various skills to deliver this project on time, under budget, and with a minimum of drama. Tom says, “They discovered a remarkable tool to get people to cooperate. The tool? A BBQ!”

Peters describes how this classic casual meal together helped team members learn about their project team peers away from the demands and pressures of the project. They learned about each others’ passions, hobbies, and stories. The BBQ’s worked so well, they held them each week. These BBQ’s became this team’s “community foundation.” Relationships improved. Cooperation improved. Solutions were arrived at and implemented.

Later, after the project was delivered to rave reviews, the company credited the team’s success to those BBQ’s.

My son Andy experienced the power of casual social gatherings recently. He’s a huge board game fan. He found peers at his job (in a big box home improvement store) who were also board game fans – so, he invited six people over for an evening of board games.

They had a ball. He said everyone “knew” each other from work but they hadn’t spent any time connecting or visiting beyond work responsibilities. They loved the games and truly enjoyed their new friends. Some had worked at the store for years and had never made these connections.

How can leaders of teams create a common bond among team members? I don’t think its mandatory that all team members are best buddies, but there is no question that common goals and shared values boost productivity, engagement, and service. Here’s proof.

No matter how large their organization, leaders can boost connection and cooperation by intentionally building community. Whether its BBQ’s or other activities together, such events help people know each other beyond their work roles. Those bonds can help accelerate cooperative interaction, innovative solutions, and meaningful contributions together.

What do you have to lose?

How did your best bosses create common goals and shared values? In what ways does your current team connect beyond work roles – and how does it help work get done? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Monkey Business – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

An Aligned Culture Creates Amazing Memories

1980 - Edmonds Family at Lost Valley Ranch

1980 – Edmonds Family at Lost Valley Ranch

What is your dream vacation? Is it world travel, exploring countries, people, and places you’ve only read about? Is it visiting our vibrant metropolitan cities, seeing great performances in great venues?

My “vacation” mindset comes from my non-profit executive career. I spent fifteen years taking kids to residence camps and travel camps. We traveled in school buses, vans, and – in the old days – cattle trucks.

Some of those kids had never been out of their own cities. We created teams to set up campsites, cook, serve, and clean up after each other. Many had never worked on an effective team before.

We challenged every camper to serve their families, friends, and neighbors in the years to come.

We awoke in some of the most beautiful places in the country – national parks, pristine beaches, rustic plains. We were coaching character while learning about our nation. It was gratifying work. For these kids and even for our adult volunteers, our trips were fabulous vacations.

I thought I knew a lot about creating inspiring experiences, but nothing prepared me for our family vacation in 1980 at the Lost Valley Ranch in Deckers, CO.

My dad called my brother and me to propose a family reunion at this dude ranch. Some of his business colleagues had raved about Lost Valley, so dad thought it’d be a great experience for everyone. The trip was mom and dad’s gift to us – and it’s a gift that continues today.

From the moment we arrived on the ranch property, everything the staff team did was focused on creating a relaxing and fulfilling experience for every guest. There were organized activities as well as a multitude of selections to suit one’s unique needs.

First, you went to the corral. The wranglers interviewed you about your horse sense and riding experience, and paired you with a suitable equine companion. Adults could choose from a variety of rides each day, some less strenuous, some more adventurous, guided by gracious and skilled wranglers.

Teens loved their full program of riding and even some “working ranch” activities, like moving the cattle from one grazing range to another. Younger children enjoyed activities that kept them engaged and entertained through the day.

Meals were delicious and served family style. Families typically ate breakfast and dinner together while lunches were served on the trail with your ride groups.

Evening programs featured the staff presenting a classic melodrama show or sing-alongs by the campfire. Staff members juggled multiple responsibilities – wranglers served time as cooks, wait staff sang and played each night as well as helped with trail rides during the day. Maintenance crew served as pool lifeguards.

There was nothing out of place, from the western cabins to the organized corral to the schedule of activities one could pick from. Every staff member was pleasant and focused on your needs. No question went unanswered. Every interaction validated your unique needs and opportunities.

It was an amazing time. The Lost Valley culture created a seamless vacation experience for us and our fellow guests. Mom and Dad brought us back two more times, in ’82 and ’84. It caused my family to fall in love with Colorado. Daughter Karin (on the right at sixteen years of age in the photo above) chose to go to college in Colorado. She married a local. Son Andy moved to Colorado a few years later and married a local.

We still talk about the great times we had at Lost Valley. Today, our home in Conifer, CO, is only 24 miles from the ranch.

Your team’s interactions with customers leave lasting impressions, as well. Are they as powerfully positive as those we experienced at Lost Valley – or not so much? How might you build an aligned team that consistently WOW’s your customers?

Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © S. Chris Edmonds Photography. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Demand Ethical Behavior

crowded football stadiumThis week the world of football (soccer in the US) was shocked by the US Department of Justice indictment of 14 defendants for alleged FIFA kickbacks of more than $150 million over the past twenty years.

What was more shocking to me was the response of the FIFA president, up for re-election within hours, who said, “We cannot constantly supervise everyone in football . . . you cannot ask everyone to behave ethically.”

What an amazing admission by Sepp Blatter (who won re-election, despite the “distraction” of the arrests). Blatter believes he is not responsible – nor is any leader – if someone in their employ breaks the law (or bribes officials or launders money, etc.).

This is not just a FIFA leadership problem. Many company, region, department, and team leaders around the globe believe the same thing: “Leaders cannot ask their people to behave ethically. I am not responsible for whether my leaders or team members behave in an ethical manner.”

These issues are prevalent across the globe. For example, the CFO of the Phoenix VA hospital testified last June that the hospital environment was toxic, the “most dysfunctional place I’ve ever worked in my life.” She reported she was subject to sexual harassment, racial slurs, and bogus investigations during her two years there.

Phoenix VA administrators didn’t just focus on harassment of the CFO. They were apparently preoccupied with accusing and investigating one another for years – all while veterans awaited care in a system of backlogged appointments and fabricated wait-time reporting.

Here’s another example. In Denver, a former sheriff’s department investigator reported that he was told by his captain to avoid logging into evidence a videotape of inmate mistreatment that occurred last month. If the tape wasn’t logged into the evidence system, the incident would not be investigated further. The department has suffered systemic problems including poor training of officers and mistreatment of inmates for years.

The reality is that leaders are, indeed, responsible for the creation of productive workplaces that treat everyone with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction.

Where leaders create clear performance expectations and hold people accountable for those, results and profits steadily grow. Where leaders create clear values expectations – like integrity, honesty, cooperative interaction, etc. – and hold people accountable for those, employee engagement and customer service steadily grow.

Where leaders do not create clear expectations of performance and of citizenship, a void is created. In the absence of leadership, we humans will fail. We are flawed beings. We make mistakes. We are tempted to take advantage of systems and circumstances. Most of us resist those temptations; some don’t.

Leaders can absolutely ask – yes, even demand – that everyone behave ethically. By formalizing performance standards and values expectations, the ground rules are clearly set. The hard work comes after these expectations are formalized. Leaders must then model the performance and values in every interaction, showing they are champions of their desired culture. And, they must hold others accountable for both performance and values.

They do that by gathering performance data, feeding it back, and coaching players to success. They do that by gathering values data – inviting feedback from peers, employees, and customers to assess the degree to which players are modeling desired values and behaviors – and feeding it back, and coaching players to desired citizenship.

It’s not easy, but it is the right thing to do.

What do you think? Is ethical behavior demanded in your organization? How did your great bosses demand integrity and honesty? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Csaba Peterdi – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.


Don’t miss any of Chris’ posts, podcasts, or updates – Subscribe Now!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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