The Difference is Why

May 3rd, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

“Average companies give their people something to work on. The most innovative organizations give their people something to work toward.”

—Simon Sinek

Why does your organization exist?

Clarity about your organization’s purpose is critical to success. If you want your employees to care, you need to have a compelling reason for them to do so. Simply making money isn’t sufficient.

Most of us long to make a difference. We want to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves and allows us to make a meaningful contribution. As an organization and a team, you must differentiate yourself so your staff is clear about the difference they make.

Discuss why your product or service is important to your customer. How does it make their life simpler? What would happen if you weren’t hear to provide your product or service? How does what you have to offer standout from your competitors?

Once you’ve helped your team understand what sets your organization apart, link each of your employees to this purpose. Help them see how their role plays a part in the overall organization fulfilling its purpose. Ask them to what would happen if they weren’t there to complete their role.

Additionally, when assigning a task, take time to discuss how the task impacts the larger purpose. Don’t assume they understand the connection. The more you reinforce the importance of your purpose, the more meaningful it will become.

Success in today’s business world is contingent upon a workforce that is excited to come to work each day. In order to get your team excited to bring their best to work everyday devote time to helping them connect what they are doing to a purpose that is meaningful and important. When you do, sales and profits will be a natural by-product.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Clearly define the purpose your organization and team serves.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC

Inspire with Mission

March 29th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

—Jack Welch

 How inspiring is your mission?

Most people prefer to have meaningful work. It’s natural to want to make a positive impact in some way. In order for your team or organization to be successful, you must help your staff focus on something bigger. Otherwise they will view it as simply a job and only due the minimum necessary.

Your organization’s success is dependent upon the engagement and commitment of your employees. You need them to bring their hearts and minds through the door each morning, not just their bodies. When your employees are fully engaged their critical thinking will improve as well as their ability to identify innovative solutions to the challenges they encounter.

On the flip side, when you have a team that is simply going through the motions, they won’t step out to take chances or solve problems. Instead they’ll simply drop their challenges in your lap and wait for you to solve them. If you create a team that blindly follows your direction and seeks your permission every step of the way, you’ll find your organization is incapable of keeping pace and your competitors will begin to pass you by.

An engaged workforce begins with a clear and compelling mission. You need to articulate the main purpose of your organization. Clearly identify how your services or products make life better or simpler for your customers. Don’t focus first and foremost on improving the bottom line. While critical to your organization’s sustainability, it isn’t your reason for being nor will it motivate your team.

Once you have clearly articulated an inspiring vision, help each member of your organization connect it to his or her role. Don’t assume they understand the connection. Help them understand how the mission would be impacted if they weren’t their to play their part.

Finally, make it a habit to discuss your mission on a regular basis. Don’t just frame it on the Board room wall never to be thought about again. Share stories about how employees have made decisions and took actions that exemplify the mission, reward those who take risks in service of the mission, and any time a decision has to be made ask how the potential solutions support the mission.

Your organization’s mission or purpose is critical to your overall success. Don’t blow off this important piece of your foundation. The more time and attention you devote to defining and discussing your mission the stronger your foundation will become. On top of this strong foundation you can build a successful organization full of energized and engaged individuals excited to do whatever they can to fulfill your mission each and every day.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Define the positive impact your service or product makes.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC

A Leader’s Top Responsibility

January 11th, 2015 § 6 comments § permalink


“The responsibility of leadership is not to come up with all the ideas but to create an environment in which great ideas can thrive.” – Simon Sinek

What type of environment have you created within your team?

Effective leadership isn’t about giving orders or having all the answers. Although this might have been acceptable 30 years ago, it’s a recipe for failure today. Success as a leader depends on your ability to maximize the talent of your team in order to achieve results.

The key to getting the most out of your team begins with the environment you create. An increasingly complex business world leads to increased specialization. It’s no longer realistic to expect to be able to stay current on the latest knowledge and skills all by yourself. You must develop a team of empowered individuals you can rely on to be the experts in their respective areas.

However, you can’t just tell your staff that they’re empowered. Effective delegation requires you to clearly outline the objectives and parameters (keeping them as wide as possible) while allowing your team to determine the best route to take. It’s also ineffective to take a “hands off” approach. I’ve seen many leaders attempt to avoid micro-management by moving to the other extreme, failing to provide their team the support they need. Make it a point to check-in with your staff along the way to see how they’re doing and help address any obstacles in their way.

In addition to delegating to your team, it’s critical to spend time coaching them. When they run into obstacles don’t simply tell them what to do, rather ask questions to help them identify their options. This will challenge them to slow down and improve their critical thinking. It’s also important to coach when a task you delegated doesn’t go well, which is inevitable. Use open-ended questions to help your team consider what didn’t work and what can be learned from the situation.

Finally, seek and offer feedback to your team to help them grow. When you’re facing a challenge, ask for their ideas. They’re the ones doing the work every day and likely have several ideas about how to make improvements or new innovations. Also be sure to provide them feedback about their performance. Recognize their accomplishments and how their strengths make a positive impact on the team. And when they are struggling, coach them to figure out how to improve.

Your most important role as a leader is to create the environment in which your team can fulfill it’s potential. In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk: Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, Sinek comments that when leaders fail to create the right conditions we’re forced to spend time and energy protecting ourselves which weakens the organization. When you create an environment in which your team is acknowledged for their strengths and empowered to make a difference, trust and collaboration are a natural by-product.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Identify one action you can take to create an environment that fosters trust and collaboration.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC

Praise Generously

April 6th, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

“When you lavish praise on people, they flourish. Criticize, and they shrivel up.” —Richard Branson


How often do you praise your staff?

Providing your staff positive feedback on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of hiring people with passion. Several readers commented that they agreed while also mentioning the importance of creating the right environment for people to be engaged.  Acknowledging the strengths each of your staff bring to the team is a key element for creating an engaged workforce.

Everyone needs praise. It doesn’t matter how accomplished or confident you are, we all feel good when someone acknowledges and appreciates the impact we are making. We also need to receive feedback about how we can improve. However, we often hear significantly more criticism than praise. Research has shown that we need a ratio of 4 pieces of praise for every piece of negative feedback.

Unfortunately most leaders fall woefully short of this ratio. All to often we take for granted and don’t even notice when one of our team members has done something very well. Unless they do something “above and beyond” we will chalk it up to them simply doing what they are paid to do.  Typically we only offer praise when we believe an individual has gone “above and beyond”. However, this inadvertently sends the message that these routine tasks aren’t very important.

Additionally, most of us naturally focus on and look for what is wrong in a situation. We’re quick to notice when someone has made a mistake and are apt to address it quickly. Our 4-1 ratio becomes flipped in the wrong direction. Before long, anytime your employee sees you coming they immediately begin assuming the worse. This will put them in a defensive posture and eliminate any chance of them learning from genuine constructive feedback that will help them grow.

In order to develop a team of engaged individuals who are continually growing you have to make an intentional effort to provide more praise than criticism. Ken Blanchard refers to this as “catching people doing things right”. Keeping this phrase at the top of your mind will help you change your focus and you’ll begin to notice the little, and not so little, actions your team is taking that make a difference.

You need to discipline yourself to recognize at least one person each day. Focus on reinforcing how they’re using their strengths and skills to make an impact. Ensure your feedback is genuine and don’t withhold praise in one area just because they’re struggling in another area. If you aren’t acknowledging what they do well, then you’ll have no credibility with them when you give them feedback on how they need to improve.  To build a successful team and organization you must carve out time in your busy day to recognize your staff.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Create a recognition journal so you can begin tracking how often you praise each of your team members.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker M.Ed., PCC

Hire for Passion

March 16th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

“If you hire people because they can do a job, they will work for your money. If you hire people because they believe what you believe, they will work with blood, sweat, and tears.” —Simon Sinek

What do your employees work for?

Employees who are only concerned about money are draining. They aren’t engaged and typically not overly concerned about how well they serve your customers. No matter what you do for them, it seems they’re never happy and always want more. The best way to avoid getting caught in this trap is to hire individuals that demonstrate passion for the work of your organization or team and is energized by the opportunity to make a contribution through their talents.

I personally believe most people don’t work purely for money. Although we all have to pay our bills and/or provide for our families, for most of us work is about so much more. We spend a significant amount of time at work and many people want a career not just a job. They want an opportunity to utilize their knowledge, skills, and talents to make a difference. As a leader it’s up to you to spot the individuals who posses the type of passion you need to make your organization successful.

When interviewing a prospective candidate, don’t settle with reviewing their resume and asking about their experience. While this is important information to cover, also ask what interests them about the position. Answers like “I think it’s a good fit for my skills”, “I’m looking for more flexibility”, or “I want to get my foot in the door” don’t speak to the person’s passion for the role. While these may be legitimate criteria for a candidate considering a job, if I heard this as a hiring manager I would run the other way.

You want to hear the candidate talk about why they enjoy the type of work you are hiring for and what excites them about making an impact in your organization. Additionally, ask them what they liked most about their past roles. Pay close attention to how they talk about their past positions and the opportunities with your position. You’ll be able to tell if they are genuinely excited or simply reciting a rehearsed answer.

As the business world becomes more complex the need for engaged and passionate employees becomes ever greater. Success is dependent upon your ability to build a team of empowered, accountable, and passionate professionals. Hiring the right people is one of your most important decisions as a leader. The biggest mistake you can make is to rush the process and succumb to the “warm body” syndrome.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Identify three questions to assess the passion of potential candidates.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC


It Doesn’t Matter How Smart You Are

January 12th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

“Relational Skills are the most important abilities in leadership.”

 —John Maxwell


What is your greatest asset as a leader?

Many managers believe the key to success is to demonstrate how much they know. They believe if the are the smartest person in the room, or at least perceived that way, is a source of power because everyone has to come through them. Truly effective leaders realize that although knowledge is important, the key to success hinges upon their ability to build a team of people inspired to push beyond their limitations.

Unfortunately the world is full of mediocre managers. You’ve probably either worked for one or know someone that has. These managers often get promoted to a leadership position because they were a high producer in the technical aspects of their role. The fact that they’re incapable of building effective team relationships and nobody wants to work with them is overlooked.

Once promoted, these managers fail to grasp the importance of building relationships with their staff. They rarely take the time to understand what is important to their team leaving them with a collection of individuals that might begrudgingly comply with the manager’s requests but will only do the bare minimum to get by.

Leadership is about people. If your staff isn’t willingly following you, you aren’t a leader. Rather than purely monitoring their staff’s compliance with processes and procedures, leaders look for ways to move the organization forward. They recognize success requires risk and innovation and that any organization content with the status quo is doomed to failure.

Additionally, they understand innovation isn’t possible without people who are inspired to push beyond their comfort zone. Leaders know they must devote time and energy to building trusting relationships with the team so they feel safe to take risks. Only then will innovation become a reality.

In order to be an effective leader, you must focus on developing and refining your relational skills. If you’ve recently been promoted into your first leadership role, or to a new team, begin to build relationships with your team immediately. Seek to understand what excites, energizes, and motivates them so you’ll know how to lead them effectively.

For the experienced leaders out there, it’s never too late to begin developing your relational skills. All that is required is a sincere desire and patience. It’ll take a while for your staff to trust what you are doing and you are bound to make mistakes, but don’t let that deter you.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, if you are in a position to promote new leaders please place more emphasis on whether the candidates possess the necessary relational skills. Our organizations have experienced enough mediocre managers and we all deserve better. Until we quit promoting individuals that exhibit no ability or desire to work well with others, we’ll continue to see people who believe it’s okay to step all over others to get ahead.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Learn something new about what’s important to each of your team members.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC

Lead with Compassion

December 1st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” —John Maxwell


How do you demonstrate that you care about your staff?

Leadership is about people and relationships. Your staff is the key to your success and not merely a means to an end. In order to be successful as a leader, you need to realize it isn’t about proving how smart you are but about facilitating your staff to fulfill the potential within them.

You must start with a positive belief in people. It’s part of our human nature to want to contribute to the world in a way that makes a meaningful difference. You possess this basic desire and so does your staff. Life circumstances may stifle this desire, but it exists all the same. Under the right conditions, you can tap into this natural drive within your employees and inspire them to seek and embrace greater responsibilities.

However, in order to unearth this desire, you must appreciate each of your staff members as unique individuals. Start by seeking to understand their natural strengths. Help them identify the activities that come naturally to them and provide opportunities for them to use their strengths on a daily basis. Likewise, don’t expect your staff to be perfect or force them to spend too much time trying to be someone they aren’t.

If you find it challenging to believe the majority of your staff wants to do their best to make a contribution, I encourage you to consider whether being a leader is the right fit for you. Your team members won’t always demonstrate an eagerness to take on responsibility but if you see your employees as inherently lazy then all you’ll observe are examples to confirm your bias. You’ll feel like a babysitter and will be miserable in your role.

You need to accept that you have a responsibility to help your staff bring the best they have to offer to work every day. It doesn’t mean you’re soft or ignore areas in which they need to improve. Yet you treat them as adults and challenge them in a dignified way to live up to their potential. Don’t simply dictate what they need to do differently but coach them to take ownership for their own growth and development.

Once you demonstrate to your team that you aren’t just around to point out faults or criticize they will begin to recognize that you care about them as an individual. Only then will you have developed the level of trust that will encourage them to commit to your vision and do whatever they can to ensure the success of your team and the organization.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Identify three strengths in each of your team members and discuss with them how to use their strengths more frequently.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC 

Leaders Grow Leaders

September 22nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.” – Jack Welch

What are you doing to develop others?

Success as a leader is about working through others, not getting things done by on your own. This is one of the most challenging and critical transitions for a new leader. If you fail to develop your team, they’ll be unable to meet the challenges of today’s evolving business environment and you’ll find that your career will stall out.

Business today becomes more complex every day. You need to challenge your staff to continually refine their current skills while simultaneously developing new ones in order to prepare them for rapid change. It’s important to challenge your team’s perspectives as well. Don’t allow them, or yourself, to become complacent with the status quo. You’re either moving forward or backward, standing still is not an option.

You also need to build a leadership pipeline within your team. Don’t limit yourself by focusing only on your replacement. Consider other leadership positions within the organization your staff that might be a good fit for your staff.

Additionally, don’t fall into the trap of withholding development in an effort to protect your position. If you don’t develop your staff and delegate effectively, you’ll never find time to develop strategy and participate in key projects.

The bottom line is: if you want to grow yourself, you have to start by helping your team grow. Only then will you have the time to develop higher-level skills yourself. Without these skills and an opportunity to demonstrate to senior management what you’re capable of, you’ll find yourself passed over for one promotion after another.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Identify one person who could potentially step into your role and delegate a key task to help them grow.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker, M.Ed., PCC


Leaders Inspire

August 25th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss…The leader works in the open, and the boss is covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”

—Theodore Roosevelt


Is your leadership inspiring?

Simply holding a leadership position doesn’t make you a leader. As the popular adage states, if you don’t have anyone following you then you aren’t a leader. And manipulating your staff to comply with your orders doesn’t count. If you want people to follow you, you must provide them with a compelling reason to do so.

The bottom line is that each of us chooses whether or not we are going to follow a particular leader. This reality will become even more significant once the looming labor crisis hits. As the competition for talent heats up any organization that doesn’t shift their leadership approach will find themselves out in the cold.

Your future success as a leader will be predicated on a couple of key factors. First, you need to provide a sense of inspiration for your employees. While being able to make a fair wage will always be important to people, it’s no longer sufficient to sustain the engagement and fulfillment of your staff. As Dan Pink notes in his book Drive, individuals want a sense of purpose in their work. It’s your responsibility to help them recognize how they can make an impact in a cause greater than them.

You also need to demonstrate that you trust your staff. Show them you trust their judgment and believe in their abilities to help your organization by being open about the opportunities and challenges facing the organization. If you believe you have employed competent and trustworthy individuals, you shouldn’t worry about whether they can handle the difficult as well as the good news.

Finally, genuinely ask for your staff’s input. I’m not talking about making a token gesture where you ask for ideas but implement none of their suggestions. Develop cross-functional task forces charged with addressing some of your most pressing issues. Treat the recommendations seriously and if you aren’t sure one of the ideas will work, develop a pilot to test it out. If something they suggest simply won’t work, level with them and tell them why. When you approach them as mature adults they’ll respond as mature adults, even if they disagree with you.

Leadership in the 21st Century requires a rejection of the command and control style. We need leaders who know how to inspire and develop staff through a collaborative and coaching style. Leaders who rely solely on technical proficiency will find themselves woefully unprepared. Are you prepared to be the type of leader we need?

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Identify what you need to adjust in your style to prepare for success in the future.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker M.Ed., PCC

Let Go of Command and Control Leadership

July 7th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” –George S. Patton

How tightly do you control your ship?

Which leader are you? The type that dictates every action your staff needs to take or the type that provides a sense of direction then steps aside to allow people’s creativity to shine? The former is a vestige of the past, which no longer works in today’s business world.

When you think of George Patton, what comes to mind? I don’t know about you but I think of a hard charging general, the epitome of command and control leadership. In the heat of battle you need to ensure that everyone does what he or she is told or someone will get killed, right?

Patton had plenty of moments that might not be considered good leadership (such as slapping a couple of his soldiers), but the quote above demonstrates he also recognized the importance of empowering his direct reports in achieving the mission. And if this was true on the battlefields of World War II it’s even more critical in today’s business environment.

Power is more evenly distributed in today’s business environment. It’s no longer concentrated at the top of an organization with a few people that possess all the knowledge. Due to increased complexity and the sheer volume of data available it’s impossible for one person to know everything or possess all the answers. Just as Patton could not have successfully defeated the Nazi army without his troops, you cannot achieve your organization’s vision without your team.

The improving economy will bring a return of the labor shortage brought on by retiring baby boomers. Now more than ever it’s critical to retain your top employees. One sure-fire way to create resentment and disengagement is to micro-manage your staff. Success is predicated on your willingness to let go of the command & control leadership style.

Today’s leaders need to exemplify and coaching and collaborative style. With fewer people to fill critical roles you need to help your team develop the skills necessary to take on greater responsibility quickly. Telling them what to do and giving them the answers won’t cut it. Instead, focus on coaching your staff to think critically about the challenges they face in order to identify solutions for themselves.

This approach helps them learn, builds their confidence, and demonstrates that you trust them. While they won’t always do everything perfectly, you’ll develop a team of leaders that are prepared to handle the challenges awaiting them over the next several decades.

Here is this week’s Authentic Excellence Action Step:

Develop your coaching skills by asking open-ended questions rather than giving direction. I’d be happy to assist you in transitioning to a coaching style of leadership.

Make it an excellent week!

J. Matthew Becker M.Ed., PCC