Those Lead Best Who Serve Most

We don't often hear the phrase "Servant Leader" in the work world, and that's really a shame. Servant Leadership is a major theme in most streams of religious thought, and it's also very common in the armed forces and the world of high-level athletics.

Servant leadership is easy to contrast with self-serving leadership. In self-serving leadership, the leader sees the employees as pawns—only there to do his or her bidding. Existing only to make him look good, feel important, and be a big deal.

By contrast, in servant leadership the leader asks only one question: "What can I do to help this team achieve its goal?" The leader puts the team first, and him or herself last. That's why—in the military—officers eat last. And why—when Alabama won hundreds of football games under Coach Bryant—he would deflect all the praise to the team by saying, "I thought the boys played an excellent game."

Our job as leaders—whether we are techs, team leaders, supervisors, managers, or whatever—is to serve our followers. We can serve in a variety of ways: by providing resources, by removing barriers, by training our teammates to do their tasks correctly.

We also serve by interpreting to our followers the reasons for a particular move by the company (remember: Adults Like to Know "Why") and by advocating for our followers when they need something from management. We also serve by giving immediate feedback—both positive and developmental—pointed toward helping an employee improve his or her performance.

Those lead best who serve most. Be a Servant Leader.

Keep the Focus on Problem Solution

"I'm not here to prosecute the guilty, I'm here to solve the problem!" This is one of those magic phrases that we always wanted to have when we were children. It's a phrase that makes the bad boogieman of guilt and blame disappear, and the good fairy of team-based problem-solution appear to do its healing work.

Think about it in your own life: what happens when someone tries to blame you for a project or a task that didn't go well? I don't know about you, but I try to find twenty-eleven different reasons why the issue in question wasn't my fault.

"You never told me," I say. "And—anyway—nobody else does it that way. Plus it's not my job!"

None of these phrases helps us get where we want to go. Each of them is focused on arguing about the problem, rather than trying to solve the problem quickly and successfully.

Surely we have to figure out why a problem has occurred. We need to look at processes and training—plus motivation and management—to make sure that everyone has the tools they need to get jobs done quickly and correctly. But there is no good to come from trying to prosecute or persecute the person who has made the mistake.

We are tempted to ask, "What moron made this mistake?" But the better questions are:

Be solutions-focused. Don't prosecute the guilty! Solve the problem!!

The Madder You Get, the Dumber You Are!

Have you ever thought about what happens when you get angry? We have lots of expressions in our culture for the effects of anger on our ability to think. "He was out of his mind with rage," we say. Or, "she was so mad she saw red!" Let's think about the effect of emotions like this on our ability to do our work.

If you are "out of your mind with anger," it will be hard for you to think clearly and make rational decisions about a situation. You may act out of impulse, doing something that will only make the situation worse for you and the people around you. Your response to the situation may create more anger than the original situation created.

It's no secret that frustrating things happen in our work. But how we choose to respond can make a big difference in the final outcome.

Whenever you find yourself becoming really angry, stop for a minute. Breathe deeply. Assess all of your options. Count to ten (or ten thousand if that's what it takes!) Then make the best response for yourself, for your co-workers, for your customers, and for your business.

And as you choose, remember that The Madder You Get, the Dumber You Are! We're all part of a team, and a dumb decision by any one of us affects the workplace for all of us.

You've Got to Walk the Talk

I know a man who once worked as a volunteer in North Carolina state government. This man helped determine which roads were built and which roads were paved. One time he got a letter from a woman who cursed him soundly for not paving her road, then closed by saying, "I'm a lady and I don't like walking on these muddy roads!" His response to her was brief but telling, "The way you talk speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you are saying!"

His message was this: anyone who cusses like you cuss can't be a lady! In other words, You Have to Walk the Talk!

This is just as true at work as it is in our churches, in our home life, or anywhere else. We have to live in a way that gives validity and credibility to the things we say we believe-otherwise they are meaningless.

So—if we say we value teamwork—we have to be good team members. We have to help others, share information and resources, and sometimes sacrifice our individual good for the good of the team. It is what we do that really demonstrates our commitment to teamwork, not what we say.

You can make a big difference by Walking the Talk for quality, for teamwork, and for excellence in your work. Walk the Talk—don't just Talk the Talk—and your company can be the best in your industry.

How will you Walk the Talk today? Live it. Make it real. And you can make a difference.

WII-FM  --  The World's Most Powerful Radio Station

WII-FM is the World's Most Powerful Radio Station. It broadcasts around the world, around the clock, 365 days a year. And it can be a powerful tool for any business.

WII-FM stands for What's In It for Me—it's the universal question behind all motivation. Our job as supervisors, managers and employees is to help answer this question—for each other and for our customers—all day, evey day.

What's In It for Me? Our customers ask this question each time they transact business. The answer: we offer them high quality, quick order turnaround, a broad product line, and good service. It is these things that give us a market advantage and help us take business away from the competitors who want to steal our customers and put us all out of a job.

Similarly, there is an answer to What's In It for Me for the companies and employees as well. What's in it for us is to embrace new ways of serving our customers? We can serve them better, faster, and cheaper—ensuring that our customers continue to stay happy and continue to do business with us.

What's in it for us to work together in harmony as a team all trying to do good work for the company, for our customers, and for each other? We all get to work in an environment that is fun, challenging, and contributes to our success!

WII-FM? Ask the question and know the answer. And if you know What's In It for You, you'll be better able to answer the question for your co-workers and your customers!

Tell the Truth

Excerpted from the "Minding Your Own Business" column by Josiah Cantwell in the May 20, 2001 Wilmington, NC Sunday Star-News

A Winston-Salem management consultant, Frank McNair, will be in town June 4 to talk to the Association Executives of North Carolina Conference at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside.

Mr. McNair opted out of the corporate life after rising through First Citizens Bank, R.J. Reynolds, the L'eggs Division of Sara Lee and Winston-Salem's Douglas Battery Co. to found McNair & McNair with his wife.

He talks about how to manage people, and his message will be that it's important to set clear expectations for employees, particularly in hard economic times when workers might already be uneasy about job security.

"Managers are exhorting people rather than managing, telling them they've got to try harder, to do better," he said.

Instead, he said by phone, managers need to watch workers so they'll know their performance is being judged. That will give a clearer idea of just how safe their jobs are at a time when companies are shedding workers like there's no tomorrow.

He said that large corporations are generally pretty good at setting production quotas and the like, but that it's also important for their employees to believe management is always telling them the truth.

Use Benefits for Recruitment, Not Perks

By Frank McNair, Guest Columnist
Published in the 2/9/2001 issue of the
Triad Business News.

Well, it's official now - people are even beginning to use the "R" word in polite conversation. And - though the word "recession" wasn't on George Carlin's famous list of words you can't say on television - it probably offends more people than any of the words on his official list.

Irrespective, recession is now being bandied about in the popular and financial press. Many key economic indicators point to a contraction in the economy, and employers are asking themselves what this downturn means for how they will mange in 2001. Truth be told, news of a downturn can be especially meaningful for managers trying to pull enhanced performance from their employee team.

In fact, a downturn - while painful in many ways - can sometimes be good news!

Many employees will see their personal motivational profiles shift as they read news reports of failures, old economy bankruptcies, and a general reversing of economic fortunes. Where recent years have seen an increase in exotic benefits to lure employees to the party, the coming year will likely see a return of the meat-and-potatoes benefits that mean the most in a contracting economy.

You don't have to be an employment expert to know that it has been a seller's hiring market for the last several years. Employers saw erosion in employee loyalty, and an increase in job switching and turn-over. Low unemployment and high demand for new workers fueled these movements, as did the bewitching appeal of greener pastures. Employers even exacerbated the situation, adding benefits to help meet the desperate need for new employees.

The contracting economy now offers companies a respite from these trends, and will bring a return to core motivational values, supported by more traditional meat-and-potatoes employee benefits. Here are four benefits to stress as you move forward to motivate old employees and to fill open positions in 2001:

  1. Job Security - if your company has a good record of protecting people when times are tough, now is the time to tout this. Highlight average employee tenure, and have candidates meet long-term employees. If you can say it honestly, emphasize to current employees that - with hard work and commitment - their jobs are secure.

  2. Insurance - health and life insurance benefits are especially important in times of contraction. Employees, like managers, are looking for ways to do more with less, and insurance is an important way to do that. Make sure you get all the leverage you can from your benefit dollars.

  3. Continuing Education and Tuition Reimbursement Plans - just as companies take stock during times of recession, so do employees. And they often realize that additional training will enhance their job security, not to mention their promotability. A company that helps loyal employees grow will grow loyal employees.

  4. Retirement Plans - in lean times, employees begin to take a longer view of their career and life. They are more apt to ask, "where will I be in ten years?" rather than, "who will pay me more next week?" Use your retirement plans to link employees to your company for the long-term.

The watchword here is security. In times of expansion, employees seek opportunity. In times of contraction, opportunity recedes in importance and security moves to the forefront. Emphasize to your employees the ways your company provides a secure future for them, and you will move forward into 2001 with less turnover and a more motivated work team. Not a bad recipe for surviving an economic contraction!

Adults Like to Know "Why"

I well remember—and bet you do, too—the frustration I felt when my mother told me to do something as a child and I asked her, "Why, Mommy?" Her answer was always short, always the same: "Because I told you to! That's why!!"

We all remember the frustration of this experience, but we haven't taken the lesson and applied it to our daily lives at work. And that's a shame, because adults like to know "why" at least as much as children do. The "why" we offer out employees has got to be bigger than "I told you to"—it even has to be bigger than "Keith told us to" or "Doug told us to."

The best "whys"—the ones that get the most response from our co-workers and other team members—are those most related to our goals as a company. Think about it each time that you are asked (or ask someone else) to do something: Why are we doing this?

Will this action increase quality and make our product better for the customer? Will it raise productivity so we can be more competitive? Will it lower scrap so we can save money and use that money for new equipment or some other good purpose?

Remember to give the "why" when you ask others to do a task. And remember to ask for the "why" when your supervisor gives you as task. It's just good business, because "Adults Like To Know Why!"

Input Raises Buy-in

Bob Pike is a well-respected person in the world of business who knows a lot about training and teaching people. One of his favorite maxims is "People Never Argue With Their Own Data." And it's true too—people rarely argue with facts they have developed themselves.

For those of us who work with others, an important and similar rule is this: Input Raises Buy-In. Or—said in another way—people are more likely to be committed to a plan, project or process when they have some input into developing that plan, project or process.

The great thing about this is that it is good for the leader and the followers.

The leader gets the benefit from all the people on the team—people who are closer to the problem and who have insight that can lead them to a decision that is better, faster and cheaper. The leader also gets a heightened sense of commitment from people who really feel like valued members of the team since they got to help develop the plan, program or process that the team will use.

The followers benefit, too. They get to help decide how the team will move forward, and they get some input into how their efforts will be directed and what path they will take. They feel valued because they are valued. And—in being valued—they are more willing to buy-in to the task, the target and tactics.

Remember: Input Raises Buy-in. So seek input anytime it is appropriate for the work you are doing.

Everybody Wasn't Raised at Your House!

How many times have you wanted to scream, "But it's just common sense!" A hundred? A thousand? A hundred thousand?

Sure you have. We all have. Because many things—things we once had to struggle to learn ourselves—are now second nature to us and we can't remember ever not knowing them. So we assume everyone knows-or should know-all that we know about our work.

But it doesn't help to scream. It doesn't help the person at who we are screaming, because it demeans and belittles them. And it doesn't help us, because we just get more and more aggravated.

A better choice is to remember this: "Everyone Wasn't Raised at Your House!" Everyone has not had the experiences we have had; everyone has not had the opportunity to learn from the teachers-good and bad-who have taught us.

Rather than assuming that everyone knows what we know, a more healthy choice is to inquire what they know, then teach 'em what they don't. That way we all stay happy, and do a good job for each other, for our companies, and for our customers.

Remember: Everyone Wasn't Raised at Your House!

Tell Folks When They are Doing a Good Job!

Last month we talked about the risk inherent in ignoring bad behavior-ignoring off-target performance encourages it. The more off-target performance you ignore, the more you get. But that's only half the bad news.

The other half of the news is this: Ignoring Good Behavior Will Extinguish it. Think about it in your own life. Have you ever busted your hump to do a really good job on a project, only to have your efforts ignored? What happened? Did your enthusiasm stay at the same high level where it started? Not likely. Your enthusiasm likely diminished, your passion dwindled, and your willingness to work long and hard tapered off.

We all hope to be recognized and acknowledged when we go out of our way to do a good job. We hunger for this recognition in the same way that we hunger for raises and promotions and other tangible ways of being noticed.

One of our jobs as people who work with others is to recognize them when they do a good job. It can be as simple as a pat on the back in a team meeting. Or a sincere "thank you" for a job well done. Whatever it is, we are making sure that out co-workers know that we know that they have done a good job, and have gone above and beyond to be good members of the team.

Tell folks when they do a good job. You'll be surprised how grateful they are.

Don't Ignore Performance Problems

"Maybe if I ignore it, it will stop." How many of you have ever said that, either at work or at home? But does it ever stop? Absolutely not!


Children don't stop slamming doors until they know that this is not acceptable behavior. Spouses don't stop piling dirty dishes in the sink until they know you don't appreciate it. And the same principle applies to the workplace.

People won't stop performing poorly unless they know they are performing poorly. One of our jobs as managers is to identify performance shortfalls/problems. We then raise awareness of the shortfall with the person who is missing the target, so he or she can correct their behavior and get back on track.

There's no shame in missing the target-at least not the first time. We've all done it at one time or another. And we owe a great debt to the person(s) who helped us realize we were off-target, so we could get back on track and be the kind of employee we want to be.

"Ignoring Bad Behavior Encourages It!" Remember this Monthly Maxim as you live and work at your job. Take it to heart when you see people doing their jobs in a way that does not meet our high standards of product quality and service excellence. Don't ignore performance problems. Instead, identify the problem and correct the source so we can continue to grow and provide good jobs for our team and ourselves.

Follow-up Is the Key!

Have you ever asked someone (a co-worker, an employee, one of your children, your spouse) to do something and then forgotten to check back to see if they did it? What happens? Oftentimes, nothing happens! We all have so much to do that we sometimes "forget" to do things, especially if we don't want to do it or we think no one will notice.

This is bad enough at home, when folks "forget" to change the oil in the car, pick up a prescription, or pay the bills. But it can be even worse at work, where customers are counting on us to remember all the details required to make a quality product. And co-workers are depending on us to do our job well so they can do their jobs well.

What's the secret? Actually, there is a secret-and it applies to home life as well as to life in the workplace. The secret is follow-up. People - whether it's co-workers, children, or whomever - will respect what we expect if we inspect. So our job is to inspect the work we get (and the work we do) to make sure it meets our expectations and those of our customers and teammates.

Inspection is our job-and it's also the job of those we work for and of those we work with. So the next time someone inspects your work, don't be offended. We only inspect to make sure we respect our own-and our customers'-high expectations!

Employees Can't Hit a Target They Can't See!

It’s hard to believe, but often we don’t get what we want (from co-workers, employees, or others in our lives) because we do not ask clearly and precisely. And when people don’t understand exactly what we have asked for, they give us their "best guess," which often doesn’t meet our needs. One way we can do a better job for each other at work is to be specific when we ask others to help us, or when we give them assignments.

Think of it this way: when you go to eat at McDonald’s, and they ask you what you want to eat, you don’t say, "food." Instead you say, "Give me a double cheeseburger, no ketchup, hold the onions." Your clear target helps the counter person fill your order correctly. Likewise at work, we need to be specific about what it is we need from others.

The abbreviation S*M*A*R*T can help us do a better job of being precise in our requests. This memory tool reminds us that goals must be Specific about what needs to be done and should also specify what Measurement method will be used to assess progress. Goals must also be Attainable—not too hard and not too easy.

Finally, our goals must be Related to company and individual goals, and they must be Time-based, specifying exactly the day, date, time and place when follow-up will happen.

If we follow these goals and Paint a Clear Picture of the Target for each other, we will be much more likely to deliver good work, on time, to specs, with a minimum of hassle and frustration. So remember: Paint a Clear Picture of the Target!

To learn more Maxims for Management, check out our book, The Golden Rules for Managers which is chock full of tips on effective supervision and people management.