“No matter what great things you accomplish, somebody helps you.”
Wilma Rudolph, Olympic gold medalist
It was 1914 and polar explorer Ernest Shackleton was about to meet the most harrowing experience of his entire leadership career. His expedition of 28 men was to cross Antarctica, but his ship became trapped in ice not long into its journey. And for the next year and a half, the crew struggled to stay alive in this deadly wilderness.
After nearly 500 days of this torture, and facing the prospect of a second Antarctic winter, Shackleton and five of his most trusted men devised a daring plan. They would travel, by modified lifeboat, some 800 miles to South Georgia Island in search of help. The trip lasted two weeks and pitted Shackleton and his men against some of the world’s roughest ocean waters.
I was at the tiller (one night), Shackleton later recalled, and suddenly noticed a line of clear sky between the south and southwest. I called to the other men that the sky was clearing. A moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave. During 26 years’ experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic.
Amazingly so, Shackleton and his men survived that encounter. Even more remarkably, when the rescue team reached the remaining crew members stranded in the Antarctic, all of them were still alive.
The reason they made it is simple. Strong leadership overcomes even the toughest obstacles. And that’s just as true for business leaders as it is for polar explorers. Leadership, whether it comes from the top or from the trenches, makes a world of difference on every project.
That’s why I write the “Tuesday Tip” every week, and that’s why I devote my life to speaking and training in organizations. I want to provide strong leadership for the obstacles you’re facing, and the feedback from my audiences over the last 24 years says I’m making a world of difference.
But just in case you’re not hiring me to speak in your organization right now, what can YOU do to provide stronger leadership in these tough times? Here are three things I recommend.
=> 1. Commit yourself to your enterprise and its objectives.
One of America’s greatest businessmen and greatest philanthropists, John D. Rockefeller, knew that. He would often tell prospective leaders, “The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it put your whole soul into it – every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have.” In other words, commit yourself to an enterprise.
So you should ask yourself, “How committed are you to your organization … your coworkers … and your customers? Are you 100% committed? Or do you find yourself thinking, ‘Another day, another dollar?’ Or ‘I’ve just got 5 more years, 3 months, and 2 days and I’m out of this place?'”
In plain English, if you’re going to be an effective leader in any times, but especially tough times, you’ve got to have … and you’ve got to show … PASSION and ENTHUSIASM.
When I asked Don Gorning, the Chairman of the Cleveland Institute for Management Studies, about this, he told me, “I have been involved in many ventures over my life’s journey. Those that I was most successful at were those that I felt PASSIONATE about. It is a great feeling when one is eager to get up in the morning to go after a PASSIONATE endeavor.”
Put another way, if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing in your organization, it’s a sure bet your employees and customers aren’t excited either.
The same goes for ENTHUSIASM. After all, enthusiasm spreads from the top down more often than the other way around. That’s why I ask my audience members, “If attitudes are contagious, are yours worth catching?”
So on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your enthusiasm? And how alive, energetic, and effective would your organization be if everyone in the organization had the same enthusiasm score as you gave yourself?
A leader’s enthusiasm is critical. As philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson so clearly noted, Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your objective. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
I believe that. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” That’s why I give the participants in my “Journey To The Extraordinary” experience eight different ways to pump up and keep up their enthusiasm.
=> 2. Let your staff know THEY are the most important assets in your company.
Let them know their importance through your words and deeds.
And let them know that by holding all-employee meetings. Surveys have shown that one of the best ways you can affirm your coworkers is to give them the feeling of “being in on things.”
After all, if your organization is any good at all, you need to remember that you probably didn’t get that way all by yourself. You got that way through the efforts of lots of people.
Jill Blashack-Strahan, the President of Tastefully Simple, understands that better than most. In June 2000 she received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And in her acceptance speech, she made it clear, “We don’t do it alone.”
She constantly lets her staff know that they are the most important asset in the company. In her book “Simply Shine” and in her acceptance speech she said, “I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple at every home taste-testing party held by our consultants across the nation. I’m not the smiling face representing Tastefully Simple as our Ambassador of First Impressions in our headquarters lobby. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through the excellent picking, packing and shipping of our products.”
Good point. But Jill continued, “I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our contract negotiations or in the quality of our facility or mailings. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in the prompt attention to our accounts payable or in the high-pressure inventory management function. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our Sales Team by addressing our consultants’ day-to-day issues and challenges. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in Team Relations when they’re hiring or dealing with sensitive issues. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple during intense special projects or impromptu, immediate marketing and public relations needs. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through superb training, graphic design and communication pieces and product development.”
So true. And yet I wonder how many leaders actually remember this point.
As Jill went on to say, “Bottom line: The Ernst & Young award, and any recognition we’ve received, truly does not belong to me. It belongs to all of the people who are ambassadors for Tastefully Simple every day. Teamwork is the bedrock of great things. It was in the beginning, and it still is today. I didn’t build this company. An amazing team of dedicated, passionate and loyal people did. As Founder & CEO, I’m deeply honored to be the spokesperson for all of the people who have made Tastefully Simple the success it is.”
Yes, it’s all about teamwork, and to get teamwork you’ve got to let your coworkers know they are the most important assets in your company. That’s why I like author John Maxwell’s statement: If I want to do something good, I can do it on my own. If I want to do something GREAT, I’m going to have to develop a team.
=> 3. Let your people know … that what they DO … matters.
In other words, you can’t expect people to give their best and be their best if they don’t see any value in what they do. They’ve got to know that their job serves some purpose. It does MATTER.
And sometimes people forget how much their job matters. That’s why leaders need to remind their coworkers of that … just like they do in the Barron, Wisconsin School District. As Dr. Lu Karl, the Director of Instruction wrote me, “Our mission is to ensure that all students reach their dreams while making a positive impact on the world.” And every person in the school district, from administrator to teacher, from food server to bus driver, impacts that mission. Every job matters.
When people forget that their jobs matter, when leaders forget to tell their people that their jobs matter, then people get some very negative feelings about their jobs. As Drew Carey so wryly observed, “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”
Yes, people get negative feelings about their jobs when they forget the importance of their jobs. And they also get negative feelings about their customers. As Kim Garbers told me, “We are an insurance agency, and when you do the same things day in and day out you become so accustomed to your work that you begin to think everyone should know what you know. And that can be disastrous.”
As she explained to me, “We had a truck driver in one day asking to have his bill explained to him, and one of the staff helped him with his bill. She then came back to my office and said, ‘What an idiot! He can’t even read a bill.'”
“I couldn’t believe what she had just said. So I asked if she could do me a favor and run outside, jump in his semi, back it up, and unload the gravel. Make sure it is evenly distributed.”
“She just looked at me and said, ‘what?’ I then repeated my request. She again said, ‘what?’
“I asked her if she could follow my request. She replied, ‘I don’t know how to drive a semi or unload gravel.’ I just looked at her and said, ‘Exactly! And our client can’t read his bill either. That is exactly why you have a job and why your job is so important.'”