Why leadership matters, why culture matters
Do any of these workplace leadership challenges sound familiar?
- A difficult economy – reduced sales, stiffer competition, less market share
- Stressed out employees dealing with heavier workloads, massive amounts of change
- Implementing a major change initiative – new technology, a new system, or a new strategic plan
- Silo mentality – too many turf wars
- Complacency – too many employees on cruise control, we need to anticipate the future better, be more adaptable and create a greater sense of urgency to move to the next level or stay on top
- Attracting and retaining great employees – despite the recent economic woes, demographics point to a labor shortage within a few years, and we need to make sure we are winning the race for top talent and passionate employees
- Short bench strength – younger employees are being put into leadership roles with little experience or training
- Work isn’t fun anymore! It used to be a fun place to work, but there just doesn’t seem to be as much fun anymore.
Chances are at least one of these challenges sound familiar to you, because they are cited almost word for word from many of my clients.
The great news is that the solutions to all of these challenges can be found in your own people and your own customers.
Real leadership is about drawing those innovative ideas and solutions out of everyone you lead.
Leadership is everything, and everything is leadership…
Because culture is everything and everything is culture!
It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you are in the government or private business: Culture drives success.
When I use the word culture, I’m referring to your workplace’s personality. Your DNA. How you do the things you do. I’m talking about an ecosystem, holistic, long-term perspective of your workplace and recognizing that everything in work is interconnected to everything else.
Culture matters because you cannot win just by focusing on money, for two simple reasons:
- Someone down the block is always going to be able to pay your best employees at least a bit more than you are—so you can’t attract and keep your best and brightest employees if you just focus on the money.
- Someone down the block is also going to be able to offer their services or products cheaper than you can offer them—so you’re not going to win your customer’s lifelong loyalty if you just focus on money.
If you just focus on money then in the eyes of both your customers and your employees, you become nothing more than an interchangeable commodity.
Remember, customer or employee loyalty isn’t dead, as so many people proclaim these days. Loyalty is only dead if you choose to smother the life out if!
The fact, tough, that people say loyalty is dead is a wake up call: organizations can’t get away with running their business the way they may have 50, 30 or even 5 years ago.
Creating a high-performing culture begins by valuing your workplace values
Actions speak louder than words.
Talk is cheap.
Your real values have nothing to do with cutesy feel good slogans plastered on your coffee mugs or hanging on a pretty poster in the lunchroom. Your workplace values are reflected in what everyone actually does, day in and day out. Your values are what your employees and customers see, feel and experience every day in their interactions in your workplace. You are what you do, not what you say.
If you are serious about your values (and not being serious about values tends to be positively correlated to an increase in the readership of Dilbert cartoons) then you need to have deeper workplace conversations as to what those values such as, “leadership,” “teamwork,” “trust,” and “great service” really mean in terms of everyone’s behaviors and attitudes.
And your leaders need to lead out loud with their values so that they become completely evident to the people they are leading. Your front line employees need to live your values out loud so they become self-evident to your customers.
Your values ultimately shape, reflect and define your culture.
Could it be that culture is everything and everything is culture?
Service is everything and everything is service. Good customer costs you millions!
Being good isn’t good enough anymore. Your organization needs to not just match expectations, you need to exceed customer service expectations. Which is why offering “good customer service” could be costing you millions of dollars in unrealized revenue. Because “good” only keeps you out of the doghouse. Good keeps you out of jail. Being merely “good” does nothing to turn customers into lifelong enthusiastic fans of your organization!
And it’s not even always good enough to even exceed expectations – you also need to be different.
You need to stand out from the herd in order to be heard! If you aren’t different in a compelling way from your competitors, then why is anyone going to be loyal to your business?
It’s difficult to imagine any organization that is NOT in the service business. Ultimately, everyone is in the service business and everyone’s job is to provide service to someone. Maybe not service to your external clients or customers, and maybe it’s only service to one or two other people internally, but the reality is, everyone is a service provider.
Teamwork is all about providing excellent service to the other members of your team.
Creating a service value mindset starts at the top, and it starts with your culture.
If you treat your employees well, and provide them with great service, guess what they will in turn do with your customers?
Happy customers begin with happy employees.
Engaged, loyal customers begin with engaged, loyal employees.
And passionate, word-of-mouth marketing begins with great employees, because marketing is everything you do, and everything you do is marketing.
So here we are again: culture is everything, and everything is culture.
Communication is everything, and everything is communication
If actions speak louder than words, then everything really is communication. And truly open and honest and effective communication in the workplace is the key to, well, pretty much everything.
I’ve never, ever heard a person say to me: “I’m just TOO informed about what goes on in my workplace!”
But of course, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say things that ultimately matters even more. How people communicate in your workplace is a reflection of your culture and it shapes your culture.
So I’m going to say it again. Culture is everything, and everything is culture.
Ideas are the currency of success, so you really need to be in the business of ideas
To be successful you need ideas from everyone and everywhere. Small ideas for continual improvement and grand breakthrough ideas (because someone on your team might be working on a better eight-track tape).
Ideas don’t just help you thrive, stand out from the herd, make you more money and make you more competitive – there’s a chicken and egg relationship here as well. Asking for and getting ideas from your employees is also one of the most powerful workplace motivators there is.
Ideas inspire and energize people. And conversely, you need energized and inspired people to come up with those ideas.
How you communicate, the values you live by, and the amount of freedom and fun you instill in your workplace all impact your ability to inspire new ideas.
So (are you sensing a recurring them here?) . . . culture is everything and everything is culture.
Change management is so 1990’s, but it’s still critically important!
If the change going on outside your organization is greater than the level of change going on inside your organization, you are going to be in serious trouble. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but someday soon.
I’ve always disliked the term “change management” because it seems to me that, as cliché as this sounds, change is a constant, it’s happening faster than ever before, and since to be successful you need to be constantly growing and evolving and adapting, then change management is really all about an on-going mindset and approach for how you run your organization on an on-going basis. It’s not about change events, but about a way you approach everything.
So how do you instill this attitude into your employees?
It starts and ends with your culture.
Did I mention that culture is everything and everything is culture?
Motivating employees has nothing to do with team building events and everything to do with your culture
You do not inspire and motivate employees through a 1, 5, or even 10 times-a-year event.
And you don’t motivate employees effectively with money, at least not in the long haul, because someone can always pay your employees more and because in two months that raise becomes nothing more than the new, expected salary. And because external motivators aren’t nearly as powerful a motivational force as intrinsic motivators. Carrots and sticks may work in the short term, but for long term, real success, they simply do not work.
Now I’m not suggesting money isn’t important, and that you aren’t going to lose good people because they can get more money elsewhere. Of course you will lose employees to a bigger paycheck. Of course no one would show up at work tomorrow if the checks stopped coming. Of course everyone would love to be paid more.
What I am suggesting is that the true key to long term success is taking the focus off the money, and focusing on creating an inspiring, “want to” kind of workplace instead of a “have to” kind of workplace.
You really can’t motivate another human being. But what you can do is create the kind of environment where people feel motivated.
You create a motivating environment by creating the kind of culture where people want to be at your workplace on a Monday morning, where they want to contribute their ideas, where they want to remain loyal, and where they enthusiastically rave about your workplace to anyone who will listen.
You create a motivating environment by connecting people to an exciting sense of purpose, by providing the tools and resources to do the job well, and then by getting out of the way so they can do it!
You create a motivating environment by modeling core values, creating the kind of workplace where there really is open and honest communication, where ideas really are valued, and where employees feel respected, cared for and cared about as human beings first and foremost.
Employees feel motivated when they feel valued. When they know their work matters and they can measure their progress. When employees truly believe there is a climate of trust and mutual respect in your workplace.
So, when it comes to motivation, yes, you guessed it:
Culture is everything and everything is culture.
Which is why leadership is everything, and everything is leadership.
Leading with Humor to Create Inspiring Workplaces
Leading with Humor is About Two Key Ideas
- If you want to keep people wide awake, energize them, and most importantly, have them remember your core messages and ideas with a long-term impact, then it’s absolutely necessary to deliver all the “serious leadership stuff” in a memorable, sometimes even outrageous way. Yes, it truly is possible to have a serious discussion about leadership in a fun way.
- Although Michael Kerr talks about all the “serious leadership stuff” such as co-creating a compelling vision, valuing workplace values, inspiring effective workplace communications, leading teams for creativity and innovation, managing employee stress, managing change, and motivating employees in challenging times, Michael ALSO brings an undervalued piece of the leadership puzzle to the discussion: How the use and appreciation of “safe humor” at work contributes to a successful workplace culture and how humor connects with all the standard leadership topics your team needs to have a conversation about.
Leading With Humor: Getting Serious About Being an Effective and Inspiring Leader
“Leading with humor” is not about telling jokes or becoming the office clown.
And it’s not suggesting that inspiring leadership is all about “Hollywood-style” charismatic leadership.
It’s about recognizing the fundamental importance of values-based leadership in today’s workplace and about how culture drives success. Everything is culture and culture is everything. Your leadership team plays a key role in shaping and modeling what your workplace culture becomes at its very best. Click here to read more about why Michael believes that culture is everything, and everything is culture.
Leading with humor recognizes these fundamental truths about leadership:
- Values are everything, and humor is one of the most underrated and underutilized resources your leaders have at their disposal to help set the tone for your workplace culture, to build trust and respect in your workplace, to create an environment more conducive to open and honest communication, to help them stand out from the herd and be heard, to help them motivate employees during difficult times, manage workplace stress, create a service-centric culture, and foster a culture of innovation and creativity.
- Inspiring leadership is authentic leadership. Several studies have shown that leaders who display a healthy sense of self-effacing humor are more respected and trusted than more “somber leaders.” There is an exceptionally strong link between trust and humor, and between authenticity and humor.
- Leading with humor recognizes the importance of relationship-building when it comes to being an effective leader. Humor has the power to unite people, build bridges and create a sense of shared history.
- It’s about taking yourself lightly, but your role as a leader seriously. (Ironically, leaders who display a sense of humor tend to be taken more seriously by their subordinates –there’s a reason Jon Stewart is often voted the most “trusted journalist!”)
- It’s about developing a sense of greater humanity, balance and perspective in everything you do as a leader.
- Humor helps leaders recover from the bad times; stay humble in the good times.
- Humor helps leaders communicate critical messages with a greater sense of authenticity and in a more effective and compelling manner.
- It’s about recognizing that leading employees can and should be fun, at least, if you want to be effective.
Leading with humor is about adopting a mindset, an attitude, and a perspective that allows your leaders to lead and influence with a sense of true authenticity, that helps them manage their stress, stay grounded, remain humble, overcome setbacks, build relationships, make stronger personal connections, spark creative thinking, communicate more effectively and lead with a greater sense of energy, passion and purpose.
And no, it’s not a silver bullet!
There are no shortcuts to real leadership, and this is just one of several characteristics that can help your leaders grow into their jobs and become truly effective.
But a sense of humor is both a tool that any leader can nurture AND its presence is a reasonable indicator of workplace success. When leaders inspire and create the kind of positive, “want to” kind of workplace where everyone wants to work in a high-performing, successful work environment, then it’s easy for people to be positive and to maintain a healthy sense of humor and a balanced perspective.