Category Archives: Human Side of Leadership

Vision: The Emotional Connection

Much is said today about the role of vision in the workplace. Unfortunately vision is often approached primarily as a tool to be wielded or tactic to be deployed – a mechanistic and relatively superficial understanding unsuited to the task of  capturing employees’ imagination, enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment.

A client once took us on a tour of an 800-person plant manufacturing transmission assemblies for 18-wheel tractor-trailers. The machinery was huge and awe-inspiringly complex. But the manager’s remarks focused on a newly-adopted manufacturing process and the voluminous documentation it required.

Coming across a worker filling out some of theses charts and spreadsheets, the manager asked why so much paperwork necessary. The man spoke of things like ensuring quality and increasing efficiency, and the manager agreed. But there was more than that, he said.

“The reason we track these statistics,” he said, “the real reason we do all this stuff is that someday some trucker is going to be tearing through the panhandle of Texas at 2:30 in the morning, trying his best to make a delivery on time.

“He’s going to be tired and alone, and whether he knows it or not, he will be trusting us to give him a transmission that won’t break down. He’ll be depending on us for his livelihood and his safety, and we can’t let him down. He’s the reason we fill out these forms every day—because it’s our duty to take care of him and everyone like him.”

These words, far from a mere motivational speech or rousing pep talk, sought to invest an otherwise mundane task with purpose and significance. With just a handful of sentences, this manager offered an alternative – and and far more compelling – vision of one employees work, by placing routine duties within a context of profound meaning.

The importance of this should not be underestimated, for we all seek meaning in life. We all want to further something larger than ourselves. And when given the chance to do so, we will work committedly to advance an endeavor that we see as being of personal significance to ourselves.

Unfortunatley meaning is in distressingly short supply in many workplaces. And while employees with no sense of purpose in their work may well still follow directions, will still lift what they are told to lift and file what they are told to file, few will go much beyond that. Few will spontaneously give of themselves in those ways that make the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

Warren Bennis once that wrote that without meaning, labor is time stolen from us. And no one wants to work for someone who is stealing from them. Leaders that hope to create a workforce filled with investment, motivation, and ownership, then, have no choice but to find ways to suffuse their workplace with meaning.

Creating Motivation? Or Creating Conditions Conducive to Motivation?

Countless leaders have wrestled with the issues of motivation. How do I motivate this or that employee? How do I increase collective motivation throughout my office, department, or organization? These questions address important workplace realities. But are the foundations of such inquiry sound? Do leaders actually motivate employees at all? Research has suggested that a… Continue Reading

Motivation, Culture and “Bad Attitude” Employees

Almost nothing is more frequently lamented in management circles than “bad attitude” employees, those people it seems nothing can be done with. It’s true that few workplace dynamics are harder to address than antagonism, apathy and hostility. But rarely mentioned is the role that sincere and well-meaning leaders can play in creating such “bad attitude”… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Leadership is a 100 percent human undertaking. Systems are populated by people. Policies are embraced or rejected by people. Plans are enacted or ignored by people.  And because of this, effective leadership hinges on a leader’s ability to access the talent, enhance the capacity, and develop the potential of people. But what are these human… Continue Reading

The Wake of Leadership

Employee ownership, commitment, loyalty and initiative are key to any outstanding organization.  But astute leaders know that such qualities are too important to be left to chance. They must be woven into the fabric of workplace functioning. They must, in other words, be made a part of organizational culture. Take a moment to think about… Continue Reading

Choice: The Work/Home Connection

Organizations struggle not only because leaders don’t know what choices to make, but also because they simply don’t make the choices that they know are the most productive and constructive. This is an issue that lies at the heart of leadership. But it also affects our relationships with those outside the workplace.  Time and again… Continue Reading

An Act of Mindfulness, An Act of Will

Leaders often feel handcuffed by circumstances beyond their control. And in many ways they are powerless to prevent or alter such externalities. But while leaders may have limited choice over what happens to them, they have almost unlimited control over how they respond. We all, whatever our role or title, live in a world filled… Continue Reading

The Primacy of Choice

We previously explored the human knowledge base and its importance to building effective human systems. Unfortunately, knowing something isn’t the same as acting on that knowledge. Any roomful of leaders can rattle off a long list of characteristics that define outstanding organizations. The systems headed by those leaders, however, will often fail to manifest the… Continue Reading

Knowledge Versus Leadership “Style”

We previously explored the idea that leadership is a knowledge-based profession. We suggested that, to excel, leaders must develop expertise not only in technical areas, but also in the human knowledge base, that body of learning about how human beings act, react and interact. When presenting these ideas in our consulting work, the question of… Continue Reading

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