Employee Engagement: How to Help Employees Be Accountable

Training-peopleOne of the biggest complaints I hear from managers and leaders is that employees will not take initiative or be accountable for the things that are theirs to do. One of the biggest complaints I hear during employee focus groups is the concern that managers and leaders will not allow the employees to take more initiative or be accountable.

Can you see the incredible opportunity here? Everyone wants the same thing, but no one knows how to achieve it! One reason is this: most managers and leaders believe it is all or nothing — I either give total empowerment to my employees or I give them zero empowerment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In a nutshell, when Employee Empowerment is done properly and consistently, it will improve employee engagement dramatically! This model recognizes that empowerment is a process, and something a person needs to learn how to use. Consider the amount of authority and responsibility an employee is given, versus the amount of authority and responsibility you as a leader take on. As you gradually decrease your involvement, and coach your employees on how to wisely take on more, you create an environment conducive to employee engagement, initiative, and creativity — and as a bonus, you free yourself to take on true leadership roles.

Here’s the Employee Empowerment Model:

Empowerment Model

Here’s how you, as a leader/manager, would use each level of the model as you coach your employee(s):

Level 1: Investigate the problem and give me the facts. I’ll make the decision.

Level 2: Let me know the alternatives, with pros and cons for each. I’ll make the

Level 3: Recommend a course of action for my approval, including your justification.

Level 4: Let me know what you intent to do. Implement if you don’t hear from me
within 24 hours. (or other agreed upon time).

Level 5: Take action. Let me know what you did and how it turned out.

Level 6: Take action. Communicate with me only if there are concerns.

Level 7: It’s your responsibility now, and you are accountable. No need to
communicate with me, other than periodic reviews as scheduled.

What are the benefits of empowering to build employee engagement?

Using this type of progressive empowerment model allows employees to learn how to take responsibility in a safe environment. It will also:

  • mountaintop-victory-ca37900401Build confidence of the employee (and your confidence in their ability to make wise decisions);
  • Enhance the competence level of the employee; and
  • Dramatically increase the comfort level of the employee as he/she takes on more responsibility.

Some additional tips to empower employees and increase employee engagement:

  • Increase signature authority
  • Remove or reduce the levels of approval needed for actions/decisions
  • Eliminate handcuffing rules and regulations
  • Allow more freedom of movement
  • Include in decision-making meetings and discussions

One final tip: Match the resources available with the level of authority. A great quote from The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes and Posner) says, “There is nothing more disempowering than having lots of authority to do something — and nothing to do it with!”

And remember, as you empower, people will make mistakes. Let’s agree to make failure our teacher, not our undertaker, by turning mistakes into great learning opportunities for next time.

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Developing Wisdom as a Leader: A Self-Directed Activity to be Extraordinary!

Catch Yourself …

Team-High5There’s an old management leadership book called the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard. The key principle in the book encourages leaders to catch a person doing something right every day, and say something positive to reinforce it. While the concept may seem a bit simplistic, the book has been a best seller since it came out in 1982! By the way, there is another book published in 2000, written by Rae Andre and Peter D. Ward, that may reinforce the importance of adding sincerity to that “one minute of praise.” That book is entitled The 59-Second Employee: How to Stay One Second Ahead of Your One Minute Manager!

This Extraordinary You Connection is called: Catch Yourself … It is a strategy to help you be more mindful and aware of what it feels like when you are connected to the Innate Wisdom springing from The Extraordinary You. Here’s how it works:

Part 1: Catch Yourself Unconnected.

frustrated man-head in handsCatch yourself the next time you say “I knew I should have …” It may be a phone call you wish you’d made, or a regret that you did not give a word of praise to one of your employees, or perhaps a wish that you’d taken the extra time to review your report before you hit send, or maybe a realization you should have taken a different route to work as you sit in a traffic jam. As soon as you hear yourself say, “I knew I should have…”—take a moment and pay attention to how you are feeling. Ask yourself these two questions:

    • What was I feeling when I originally had the other thought? (i.e., what was I feeling when I thought about making the call; offering the praise; giving a second review; taking a different route?)
    • What was I feeling when I chose to ignore that thought?

Now take a moment to realize the original feeling was your Innate Wisdom, giving you guidance about the situation. Remember again how you felt, and thank your Innate Wisdom for the guidance. Reinforce the idea that the next time, you will be more open to following your intuitive guidance, even if you do not understand it at the time.

Part 2: Catch Yourself Connected!

business man winning raceEver had one of those moments when you listened to your intuition? Or how about a time when you went through a difficult or emotional experience, and handled it with grace? We assert that this is not just a coincidence or fluke. It happened because, in that moment, you were connected with The Extraordinary You, and you paid attention to the guidance from your Core Ability of Innate Wisdom. Part 2 of this activity invites you to stop the minute you catch yourself connected! In that moment, do two things:

    • Notice how it felt. Awareness is the first step toward transforming a one-shot occurrence into a habit you can replicate over and over again! So pay attention to how the inner guidance felt, and how you responded to it.
    • Honor yourself for being connected. People tend to repeat behavior they are rewarded for, so give yourself emotional kudos for following your intuition and getting great results!

Why not make your phenomenalness your permanent address? Extraordinary leaders know how to listen to their Innate Wisdom and take action based on it. Be Extraordinary! Your people will thank you.

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7 Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

fear-3-mimeWe all experience different kinds of fears: fear of failure; fear of rejection; fear of looking dumb; fear of change; fear of the unknown. I googled fear, and found a legitimate list of actual researched phobias: there were 530 listed, including:

  • Automatonophobia—fear of a ventriloquest’s dummy;
  • Triskadekaphobia—fear of the number 13;
  • Porphyrophobia—fear of purple (imagine!); and the one that really amazed me:
  • arachibutyrophobia—fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth!

On a recent ABC Newscast, Diane Sawyer reported that the number one thing Americans fear the most, even more than dying, is public speaking. (That would officially be called Glossophobia). She goes on to share how even well-known celebrities fear the live performance with no script in hand. (I remember a Jerry Seinfeld episode where Jerry joked: “At a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give the eulogy!”)

ThinkOnFeetIf you are one of the folks who trembles at the thought of standing in front of a group and speaking, you are not alone! But here’s the deal: If you are a leader, or want to be in any kind of leadership role, you must learn to manage any fears you have of public speaking. Until you do, you will be sacrificing many wonderful opportunities in your future.

Here are Seven Quick Tips to help you move through your fear, conquering the paralyzing effect it can have on you.

  1. Prepare well, but do not memorize your presentation! Memorization forces you to get married to one way of saying what you want to share. If you forget a word, you panic and freeze up. You know the general concept of your message, so just create an outline to keep you on point, but speak from your knowledge. (I recommend that you only memorize two things: the first words you will say to begin your presentation and the final words you will say to end it!)
  2. Rehearse from your outline, practicing out loud so your mouth gets used to actually saying the words. As you rehearse from the outline, you will discover you can get your message across in many ways — and you create a muscle memory that will take over if your nerves get the best of you during the real performance.
  3. Rehearse any stories you plan to use, to ensure you can deliver any punch lines with power and pizzazz. Never use a story you have not rehearsed!
  4. Visualize your speaking success. Imagine, in your mind’s eye, moving through your presentation with ease and confidence. See the audience responding to your presentation with enthusiasm, acceptance, and appreciation. (Remember, most audiences are filled with people who want you to be successful! Who wants to listen to a poor presentation?)
  5. Take your time before you begin! As you walk to the podium or out in front of the audience, take a moment to look at people. Take a breath, make eye contact with a few folks in different sections of the audience, smile, and then begin. (I have actually seen some presenters begin talking before they are even at the podium!)
  6. Be yourself. There are lots of speaking coaches out there who try to create “cookie cutter speakers.” But the most successful speakers know how to be themselves, at their best! So listen to speaking experts with a grain of salt, and use what works for you without forcing you to be something you are not.
  7. Remember: you are the expert in this moment, on this topic. If you forget something, keep in mind that the audience does not have your notes! No one knows what you planned to say, so just go with the flow and rely on what you know. Also, no one knows what you are feeling on the inside. So if you feel the butterflies hit you, remember you don’t necessarily want them to go away … you just want them to fly in formation!

fear-scrabbleHere is a FEAR acronym that works with any kind of fear you may experience. It is created so you can quickly recall it when you most need it (like when you are about to walk in front of a crowd!). Think about the word itself: FEAR.

  • Face It: In other words, acknowledge what you are feeling. Call it what it is; name it.
  • Embrace It:  Make friends with your fear by letting it know you accept it for what it is. See fear as a friend who is gently leading you into new adventures!
  • Act through it: Do it anyway! There is a great quote by Emerson: Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain!  
  • Reinforce Your Success! Allow yourself to appreciate your courage in acting through your fear, and enjoy the sense of power and energy you experience as a result.

Stars-12PowerColorsWhenever you are able to move through fear and doubt, you experience an exhilaration and zest for living that is unbelievable, and your power center is strengthened. You find yourself ready to face the world from a new level of confidence that opens incredible horizons. We may not be fearless — but we can be Fear Conquerors!

“Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.” (Virgil Thomson)
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TeamProv™ — A Great Way to Guarantee Powerful Teamwork, Engage Employees, and Generate Great Ideas

 Are the folks on your teams experiencing any of the following characteristics?
  • Frustrated with change and ambiguity
  • Stuck in ruts of “the way we’ve always done it”
  • Strangled in poor communication and unclear roles
  • Boxed in and unable to discover new options
  • Bored with self-managed teams, empowerment, projects or processes
  • Begging for something different to “jumpstart” their collective genius
  • Bogged down with internal difficulties, hidden agendas and lack of accountability
  • Tongue-tied when challenged to defend their actions or present results to management

Now there’s a solution! Expose your team to a little bit of TeamProv™!

TeamProv™ (an exciting new concept developed by Master Team Facilitator Cher Holton) is based on the skills used successfully by improvisationalists around the globe. It helps your team members:

  • Develop creative problem solving skills and the ability to “think outside the box”
  • Explore options, expand perspectives, and reach better solutions
  • Adapt to change quickly and positively, and thrive in uncertainty and ambiguity
  • Strengthen the ability to communicate under pressure
  • “Think on their feet” and “shoot from the hip” (planned spontaneity)
  • Build trust, interdependence and camaraderie

Here is one great activity you can use with your team right away, to help them TeamProv™:


Purposes: Stimulate creativity and free-flow of ideas; generate potential solutions that go beyond conventional thinking; build teamwork skills.

Team Size: Works best with teams of 4-7 per group. It can also work with a larger team, but you will need bigger paper so everyone feels like they have space for creation.

Resources needed: Lots of chart-size paper; a variety of colored pencils, markers, crayons, and/or paints. Tables with lots of space for movement is helpful to the process.


  1. Create working teams of 4-7 per group. Each group receives a healthy supply of drawing implements (pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paints, etc.) and a few large chart-sized pieces of paper.
  2. Invite each team to create their “masterpiece” with team members alternating turns, each person adding one line or feature to the drawing at a time.
  3. (Optional but powerful) This activity is to be done without talking.
  4. When there is a long hesitation, the drawing is complete.
  5. Next step: Without talking, the team creates the title of the artwork, with team members alternating turns and adding one letter at a time until a title is written at the top of the drawing.
Options: This can be a “free idea” activity or you can assign a topic for the drawing that relates to the issue being discussed. For example: “Your team is creating a picture that demonstrates exceptional customer service.

BONUS! Download a complimentary copy of TeamProv-Article (a great article published in Pfeiffer’s Annual) which includes some actual games Cher uses, to teach your team how to TeamProv™ for success!

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How to Re-estabish Trust and Credibility

BrokenTrustOnce trust is lost, it is very difficult to re-establish, particularly if team members have experienced several setbacks. Leaders have a tough road ahead, but one that must be traveled if they want to experience increased productivity and employee engagement. The following recommendations can facilitate the process of  rebuilding team trust.

 WARNING! You only get one chance to rebuild trust. Before embarking on any of these strategies, be certain you are able and willing to follow through on any commitments made. If you use these techniques and fail to fulfill your promises, you are in worse shape than if you had done nothing!

Here are several suggestions to help leaders put the shattered pieces of a broken team back together:

  • Team-Meeting-ca71365708Facilitate a “Clear the Decks” Team Dialogue, involving all team members, respected representatives from higher-level management and a neutral facilitator. Include the following elements in the agenda for this session:

Past History (Acknowledging what has happened in the past — and agreement to ‘let it go’. This should be fairly brief, and is designed to set the stage for the meeting.)

Keepers/Releasers Activity (Looking at the past, identifying what was good that the team wants to keep, and what was not good that team wants to release.) [I suggest some symbolic activity of team and management together releasing the items on the list, such as a bowl burning, a burial, etc. If there are items on the list that cannot definitively be released, reach agreement on how the team will deal with them.]

Trust Me! Activity (Defining the specific characteristics that make up a trusting environment. Focus on behaviors that are observable and measurable. Together the team can think back to relationships they experienced which involved high trust, and brainstorm the descriptive behaviors that created that environment.)

 Optional Trust Building  activity (such as a blind trust walk; fishbowl information sharing; spider web; or other type of experiential activity requiring trust.)

Team Challenge (Defining a specific goal for this team as they move toward rebuilding trust together, focusing on a quick hit approach. Include a time goal, and agree on a celebration for success.)

Commitments (Opportunity for team to clarify expectations from their “executive sponsors” and vice versa. Reach clear agreement on expectations, and capture commitments on chart paper. A ceremonial signing by everyone in the meeting is a powerful closing.)

TakeActionOther Suggestions for Leaders to Take to Re-establish Trust and Credibility:

  •  Provide specific training to the team, giving them tools to be more effective in their assignment. This should include skills in establishing a Code of Conduct; clarifying roles and expectations; creating a shared vision for success; running effective team meetings; problem solving and decision making as a team; evaluating team effectiveness; and making presentations to executive sponsors.
  • Conduct periodic critiques with the team to determine progress
  • Provide a mechanism for regular communication between you and the team. Encourage the team to constantly answer the question: What do you need from me to ensure success? Be responsive to their comments, and demonstrate results.
  • Invest your time to be present for your team. Walk around informally, and make time to chat with your team members when nothing is “on the line.”
  • Schedule Huddle Meetings on a regular basis, to ensure everyone is “in the loop” and has an opportunity to ask questions for clarity or express a need.  
  • Look for opportunities to celebrate success! It does not need to be on a big scale. Recognizing small successes contributes to the “halo effect” and keeps team spirit high. Advertise the team’s success to the rest of the organization as a model for other teams.
  • Be sure you are always a good model for the trust and credibility you want to see in your team.

It is not what you say, or wish, or hope or intend, it is only what you do that  counts. (Brian Tracy)

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Empower People by Giving Thanks … Every Day!

When asked to write a composition entitled, “What I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving,” one little boy summed it up quickly. He wrote, “I am thankful that I’m not a turkey.”

 If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

Okay, I’ll stop! But the silly riddles often bring smiles to our faces, which create an inner joy so important for living life from an attitude of Thanks. And most especially in the workplace, an attitude of Thanks can go a long way toward building an environment conducive to engagement, empowerment, and productivity!

ThanksgivingPicWith the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, it seems a perfect time to share a great technique you can use to “Power Up” your level of THANKS in the workplace. There are two key words that make up the name of this upcoming holiday: Thanks and Giving. Thanksgiving has absolutely nothing to do with the food on our table, the people gathered ’round us, or which football team is winning (or even whether it’s appropriate to eat Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV!). It has nothing to do with which Thursday the day is celebrated.  It is all about a state of Consciousness, not a special day!

In this blog article, I want to “talk turkey” by giving you a Thanksgiving Turkey Talkometer! It’s divided into four segments, and  identifies four actual levels of Giving Consciousness that can occur in the workplace. As I quickly explain, see which levels you see — and even more importantly, which ones you are exhibiting as you work with your employees.


Level 1: Grudge Giving
Grudge giving comes from a consciousness that says, “I hate to give! This person doesn’t even deserve it!” When you do a heart check, you identify a feeling of resentment. You give, but there’s no way you want to, and you are hating every minute of it. This is actually not really giving at all; it is more of a holding onto. Examples: It’s the person who was passed over for a promotion, then does just exactly what they need to do to get by, but won’t do one eensy bit more. It’s the manager who holds a grudge when one of his employees went over his/her head to complain to the CEO.

The Rx to move you out of the GRUDGE GIVING? If you are the one practicing Grudge Giving,  practice release — big time! Let stuff go. Release it! Give it up! Grudge giving only hurts you. If you see it in your workplace, make time to sit with the individual, one-on-one, and talk about the situation. Encourage the opportunity to let it go, and focus on what’s next. Sometimes a ritual of some sort is very powerful for a team that has experienced a difficult time. We have done a team building session where the team creates a “Keepers/Releasers” list, identifying what is good about how they operate (which they want to keep at all costs); they then identify the list of attitudes or behaviors which has held them back. These are things to release. We then create an experience where we actually burn the list, using flash paper that eliminates it “in a flash” with no remaining residue! It becomes a powerful metaphor for the team’s growth.


Duty giving comes from a Consciousness that says, “I ought to give.” When you do a heart check, you identify a feeling of guilt … or a martyr complex. You’re giving all right, but only because you feel like you have to. There are tons of examples, particularly at holiday time: gifts you purchase and give—because you have to; traveling you do — because you feel it is expected; office parties you attend — because it is the smart or appropriate thing to do; spending time in your employees’ work area because it’s required. Duty giving robs us of any potential joy that could show up in the situation, because we’re too busy feeling like a martyr!

The Rx for Duty Giving is to practice the Indiana Jones Principle! When faced with something you are dreading, approach it like an adventure! Imagine you are setting out on a new adventure, and focus on looking for something you are grateful for in the situation! Doing this on a regular basis will soon boost your Consciousness to the next level.


Thanks giving comes from a Consciousness that says, “I enjoy giving.” When you do a heart check, you identify a feeling of generosity and love. You’re definitely moving up on the Thanksgiving Turkey Talk-ometer rating! But what you’ll notice is that, at this level, your focus tends to be on giving from the awareness of what you possess. When you feel abundant, you give abundantly; when you feel a sense of lack, you back off on your giving spirit. And we see-saw back and forth. The problem for a leader operating at this level is the inconsistency of it. Your employees are never sure if you are going to be positive or negative, generous or withholding, serious or joyful.

Thanks.1This level is obviously several steps above the others, because there is a focus of giving thanks. To jump up to the next level, try this Rx: Several times during the day, stop and assess your attitude. Ask yourself, “How am I letting people know I am grateful for their performance? How am I bringing a sense of joy and a feeling of safety to our work environment? Where am I right now in my own attitude of Thanks Giving?”

Level 4: Thanks Living!

Thanks Living comes from a Consciousness that says, “I LIVE to give.” When you do a heart check, you identify a feeling of oneness with everyone, a recognition of pure thankfulness, dependent on nothing external, and a sense of abundance, a KNOWING that together we can create amazing results as a team. Therefore, you can live in a perpetual state of Thanks and Giving. … a perpetual state of joy! You live to give, because you know the more  you give, the more joy you experience! That is a spirit of Thanks Living — and that is the essence of an engaging workplace!

A Great Example: Several years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all “differently abled”, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back … every one of them. One girl bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down it connects with the true essence of Thanks Living!

Let me leave you with some excerpts from Kahlil Gibran, on the spirit of giving:

You give but little when you give of your possessions.

It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard, for fear you may need them tomorrow? And what is fear of need but need itself?

There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desires make their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. … It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; …

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. …

You give but little when you give of your possessions.

It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

This then is the Consciousness of Thanks Living, which extends beyond a date on the calendar. It is more importantly a reflection on what’s going on inside you … and it is directly proportionate to your focus. As we move into this Thanksgiving week, we invite you to check  your focus, and measure yourself on the Thanksgiving Turkey Talk-ometer. If you find you are beneath the Thanks Living level, in that moment stop and shift your focus:

  • TakeActionFocus on Others, not yourself;
  • Focus on Joy, not outer circumstances; and
  • Focus on Abundance, not the appearance of lack.

And you will find yourself leading from the “Extraordinary You” and inspiring each and every one of your employees to be extraordinary, too! Happy Thanks Living!!

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Trick or Treat Management: How to Jump Start Innovation

TrickOrTreatBagTrick or Treat: That time-honored tradition of dressing up in a special costume so no one can recognize you, then going from door-to-door challenging the homeowner to give you a treat or receive a trick. (I remember back in the day, when we only went to homes of people we knew. They invited us in, made a big deal of trying to guess who we were, and then providing a wonderful, delicious, handmade treat like popcorn balls, fudge, or cookies. It has changed a bit since then!)

We’d like to suggest an organizational Trick or Treat session! No costumes are required. Instead, organize a small task force composed of 5 – 7 people who are unfamiliar with or have limited experience with a new product line, plant start-up, customer contact program, proposed policy change, etc. Bring these folks together, provide great treats, and propose the challenge.

The challenge could be anything! For example, how to:

    • institute a fair and equitable employee benefits or compensation package;
    • reduce the costs of operating by 15%;
    • ensure zero defects in XYZ assembly;
    • create a new product idea;
    • increase first-time complaints resolutions by 10%;
    • modify existing information retrieval systems to make them more user friendly; establish a work environment characterized by optimism and positivity;
    • increase the level of employee engagement, etc.

That’s right!  We’re asking you to lead a group of people who are totally unfamiliar and unknowledgeable about the subject area.

Create-Imagine-stones-ca19396557Before you throw your martyred hands up in despair, consider this:
A half-dozen or so highly reputable studies of the process of invention reveal the following fact: the lion’s share of invention comes from the wrong person in the wrong field in the wrong industry with the wrong credentials and the wrong connections at the wrong time in conjunction with the wrong user (Kaufman et al, 2009; Meusburger, 2009).

You may want to read that last paragraph again. Go ahead. We’ll wait!

Typical among the invented by imposter scenarios:

    • Kodachrome, invented by two musicians;
    • synthetic detergents by dye-making chemists;
    • a birth-control device by a gynecologist AND dentist, of all people;
    • camouflage patterns used in the military came from the cubist art of Picasso and Baroque;
    • the ohm mea­surement in electricity by a mere Jesuit math teacher; the unbreakable U. S. military code used during WWII was based on the Navajo language; and (our favorite)
    • manned flight was invented by two bicyclists, the Wright brothers (although an August 1901 flight by Connecticut aviation pioneer Gustave Whitehead made this the first successful powered flight in history, beating the Wright Brothers by more than two years … Testament to the power of good marketing

Ideas-fancyVariations on this theme: Extend an idea. Talk to lead-users. Ask customers to help design a more customer-friendly service system. If you’re a manufacturing manager, ask a distribution manager to suggest ways you could improve your operations. If you’re in distribution, ask sales. If per­sonnel, ask new hires. If the COO/CEO, ask the custodian, quality assurance manager, maintenance supervisor, secretary, or office ser­vices manager. Cross the border. Trespass. Use outsiders as your passport to fast-paced innovation.

When you open yourself up to the ideas of others, no matter who, you will experience an abundance of “treats” that will “trick” the economy and lead to amazing results! That’s what extraordinary leadership is all about!

Research support:
Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály, Creativity:Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Harper Collins, New York, 1996.
Kaufman, James C.; Beghetto, Ronald A., “Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity”. Review of General Psychology 13 (1): 1–12; 2009.
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3 Ways to be Optimistic Without Ignoring the Facts

DramaMasksWhen did optimism get such a negative reputation? All of a sudden, it seems if you mention anything about being optimistic, people say you are looking through rose-colored glasses, you are impractical, and you live in a dream world. But science has come to the rescue! Research is now recognizing that there are incredible benefits—both personally and organizationally—that come from an Optimistic Spirit.

Optimists have been shown to live healthier lifestyles, have fewer harmful habits, tend to be more active, and live longer, healthier lives. According to Jeffrey Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management, the one and only common trait among 40 of the world’s most successful business executives was an Optimistic Spirit (from The Mind of the CEO).  These CEOs did not become successful by ignoring the facts; instead, they all had the ability to project beyond the immediate problem, and focus on the confidence that solutions were at hand. They all used self-talk to combat negative internal messages, reminding themselves of their past ability to conquer challenges.

Three Ways to Use an Optimistic Spirit to be Extraordinary

010610b-1D.cdr1. Reframe negative thoughts. Whenever you realize you are focusing on negative thoughts, imagine your hands are a big clapboard — like they use in movie production. Snap your hands together and shout, “Take Two!” Then spend a few moments reframing your thoughts and words surrounding the situation. And if it doesn’t work the first time, just remember that, just as in movie production, you can always “Take Three, Take Four … Take as many as you need!” The reason this technique works is because our brain’s neuroplasticity, which allows our thoughts to create new neural growth, unleashing incredible power to master any situation.

QuesMark2. Play the “What If?” Game. When you find yourself stuck smack in the middle of a problem, or discover your team circling the same wagon of unresolved issues, just stop. Take a deep breath to clear your mind of all the rigidity and habitual patterns, then pose this question: What if…? Allow yourself (or your team) to go on a serendipitous journey of other ways to handle things than the way it’s always been done. Imagine there are incredible solutions right in front of you. By optimistically discussing potential options, you are open to innovative options that may have eluded you before.

According to psychologist Dr. Barbara Frederickson, who coined the term “positivity,” an optimistic spirit does not just change the way you think about things. It widens the span of possibilities that you see.

Blessings3. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude. This works on an individual basis, but is also a great practice for work teams. Look for as many ways as possible to stay focused on what you are grateful for. Search for ways to express gratitude to others in as many ways as possible. At a specific time in the day, or at intervals during a project, take time to identify things for which you are grateful. Keep a journal to capture these awarenesses.

What’s the point of the Gratitude Journal? One experimental comparison reported that participants who kept a Gratitude Journal on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, demonstrated higher degrees of alertness,  enthusiasm, and determination, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

One of our favorite quotes about the power of an Optimistic Spirit comes from Duke Ellington:


An Optimistic Spirit is one of the chief qualities of our extraordinariness. It is not ignoring setbacks and challenges; rather, it is recognizing the setbacks and challenges as something over which you have control. Be extraordinary!

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How to REALLY Assess Your Employee Engagement Quotient

Everyone says they WANT employee engagement … but how can you tell if you are really hitting the mark? Even more powerful than surveys and assessments, here’s a technique every manager and leader can do … and the cost is zero dollars! The ROI is incredible! If you’re willing to invest some time, try this to measure the engagement quotient of your department:

BusPeople-talking-iStock_000022382935XSmallPersonally conduct a language audit. Listen attentively to what people say. How are employees, supervisors, managers, customers, and the company itself referred to? What labels and descriptors are assigned to company executives? In what ways does the language you hear show pride in your organization, its services, its products, its mission, its markets? In what ways is the language complimentary? Derogatory? Positive? Less than encouraging?

Here’s an example from our own experience: With a recent client, we posed this question to a customer service team: “What perceptions do you have of your customers?” We were amazed and appalled with the responses. 90% were negative (demanding; uninformed; waste our time; bad attitudes; irritable and irritating…). After the rant was over, we then asked, “What percentage of your customers fit these descriptions?” The response: “Maybe 5%.” And yet, this customer service team was so focused on the difficult customers that it was creating a negative attitude and high disengagement among the entire team — which of course transferred to the customer, which resulted in decreased sales and lost opportunities. But until that moment, no one in leadership had been aware of how the employees were feeling — because no one was listening to what people were saying during casual conversations!

So listen up! Do casual conversa­tions in the break area, lunchroom, and hall talk foul the air? Is the tone of the language laced with thinly-disguised contempt? Or is it spiced with loyalty, commitment, and pride? (We must remind you, none too gently, that one of the biggest bar­riers to sustainable superior performance and high levels of engagement is contempt: contempt for the customer,  contempt for co-workers, and contempt for leadership).

How often do you hear genuine (not phony) involvement expressed? How are co-workers at all levels viewed? Is the talk focused on personality differences, turf issues, yester­day’s sports scores, or outside interests? Or do you hear echoes of enthusiastic chatter about revenue enhancement, quality improvements, cus­tomer obsession, market orientation, profitability, competitive positioning, and the like?

One thing is certain, when we consider the nature of an organi­zation, its leadership, and the growing trends of decentralization, complexity, global markets, and employee involvement, we are drawn to the following conclusion: Today’s organization requires crystal-clear communication, the utmost integrity, and unmitigated openness at all levels.

One of the earliest indicators of a misalignment between organiza­tional goals and employee values is evidenced in the type, quality, and direction of the language spoken in the shops, in the offices, in the lunch rooms, and in the boardrooms.

TakeActionHere’s What You Can Do

Spend a solid week quietly (and non-confrontationally) listening to the organizational chatter. Take mental notes. Notice the patterns and trends which emerge. Record your thoughts. Make no judgments about what is said, who said it, and under what circumstances it is uttered.

Consider the following questions:

    • How do you “feel” about what you are hearing?
    • What is it about your orga­nizational climate which perpetuates such dialogue?
    • In what ways is the language characteristic of the behaviors you see exhibited toward management, support staff, hourly employees, customers, etc.?
    • What about the lan­guage excites you, encourages you, makes you proud to be a key contributor in your organization’s success?
    • What about the language disappoints you, frustrates you, raises red flags about the levels of commitment and engagement among your entire staff, at all levels?
    • How is your own language contributing to what you are hearing?

What will you do with the results of this audit? Consider these questions:

  • What respon­sibility do you have in cultivating an atmosphere of trust, cooperation, respect, dignity, loyalty, commitment, integrity?
  • How will you clean up your air?
  • How will you chat with colleagues, direct reports, your manager?
  • How will you resolve to take better care of your people?
  • What steps will you take to encourage people to change their language?
  • How can you get everyone involved in taking personal responsibility for how we all talk about our coworkers, our customers, our leadership, our company?
  • How will you relieve sources of atmospheric pressure?

Heart-talk.ca2.21474400We’d like to say one more thing about language at work before we sign off on this blogcast: Change people’s language and you’ll change their hearts. Change people’s hearts and you’ll change their language.

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The Truth About Sustainable Employee Engagement

maze-people-ca32170972cropIf you’ve been in management for any time at all, you know that traditional forms of engagement strategies work initially but then seem to lose their appeal over the long haul. Why? Because the traditional forms of engagement are not engagement at all! They are merely enrollment, not true engagement.

The same reality holds true for cutting edge employee engagement today as it did 125 years ago: The secret of  motivating employees – you can’t make people motivated or engaged if they don’t want to be motivated or engaged! Psychologists have told us that for decades.1

Having said that, we can assure you there are things you can do to help foster genuine employee engagement. You can create an environment conducive to engagement so that people perform work tasks because they enjoy the assigned work tasks, rather than simply doing their jobs for fear of losing their jobs.

If we were going to offer you traditional employee engagement tactics, there would be no reason for you to read this. You are, no doubt, very acquainted with thousands of conventional employee motivational and retention practices which have been around for years.

These well-worn employee engagement strategies, in and of themselves, are not as effective as they used to be and are not a panacea for sustainable growth. They may work for awhile, but they will not guarantee sustained employee engagement. You’re probably already experiencing their limitations.

Extrinsic forms of motivation (material things) have become commonplace. They attract top performers, but won’t keep them. It is the intrinsic engagement strategies that will guarantee lasting engagement. And a compelling amount of research bears that out.

EmployeesOnBreak-DTEmployees who are fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, will act in ways that further their organization’s interests. You are, no doubt, very aware that engagement is the degree of employees’ positive emotional attachment to their job, their colleagues, their managers, their customers, and their organization that profoundly influences their willingness to be immersed in their work. This level of immersion, as you know, is distinctively different from job satisfaction and being happy at work.

How Do You Know There’s a Problem Brewing?

  1. Weariness, fatigue, and lethargy are often the first signs of disengagement. When employees are no longer eager to complete tasks, something has caused their excitement about work to evaporate.
  2. If you’ve noticed an increase in absences among certain employees, this is a major indication of withdrawal.
  3. The most blatant signs of disengagement are complaining and outright sabotage. If you hear employees chronically complaining about issues, it means they’re dissatisfied and they feel that the company’s goals and values are not in line with their own goals and values. Nothing is more infectious and damaging to employee spirit than contagious disengagement. 2

We’ve seen the above scenario repeated in the workplace many times, and we believe you have too. What happens is that external motivators which characterize  most employee engagement programs lose their shine. They are extrinsic motivators that work over the short run but do not have a lasting influence.

Check Out the ROI:

Employers spent nearly a billion dollars on employee engagement in 2012. And in 2013 they’re projecting that number will rise to $1.5 billion. The $1.5 billion question is: What are employers getting for this investment? Not much, if you accept the findings in the most recent Gallup report, “State of the American Workplace.”

The statistics on the level of employee engagement have virtually flat lined  with about 30% of employees genuinely engaged since the initial Gallup reports in the late 1990’s. That means 70% of the people who work with you are disengaged, disinterested, and distanced from the work they are hired to perform. So, the percentage of engaged employees has not improved at all over the last twenty-five years!

Why? Because today’s workplace has not kept up with the current science of employee engagement. The latest findings from positive psychology, the neurosciences, and the psychology of happiness and optimism tell us that material things (perks) and money do not lead to lasting employee engagement. They do not have the staying power for sustainable engagement.

No amount of spending or energy devoted to extrinsic engagement strategies is likely to dramatically affect employee engagement unless people recognize that employee engagement, as it is currently being practiced, puts the burden for engagement on the employer and leaves employees to judge whether or not they want to be genuinely engaged.


It is our belief that employees must do their part. Employee engagement is a partnership. Employees need to recognize that both they and their employers are in the engagement business. Each has a role to play to make the workplace conducive to performance, productivity, and profits.

The question employees, at all levels within the organization, must ask is: “Am I getting out of bed each workday morning and heading in to engage in something that is worth my time and effort?” 3

If the answer to that question is ‘yes’ then investing in both intrinsic and extrinsic employee engagement would be a worthwhile investment. If employees are at their place of work for any reason other than sharing their talents, skills, and knowledge in work they truly enjoy, they will not partner in the process.

Positive psychologists remind us that employees who are valued and respected, allowed to use their talents and abilities to the fullest, seen as partners in productivity achievements, rewarded for their optimism and creativity, and feel as if they can be authentically themselves will devote themselves to their work and drive themselves to unbelievable excellence. 4

Unfortunately, there seems to be a pervading belief – one that originated in the early 1920’s – that in order to motivate employees (to keep them engaged), there must be plenty of extrinsic incentives. This worn out perspective continues to suggest that if employees are not compensated adequately using extrinsic reward systems, they will be lazy, unmotivated, and habitually disengaged.

Carrot-ca1755266 copyThis view also touts that all that’s expected of employees is that they just need to show up, do their job, and obey management. According to this out-dated motivational strategy, using extrinsic motivation as a carrot, managers can expect exemplary performance. Sound familiar?

As we’ve indicated before, extrinsic employee engagement strategies are not the elixir they used to be. They may make it more difficult for top performers to shop around for higher stimulus employment; however, as soon as they can find similar eperks somewhere else, they will leave the nest! And in many cases they will leave knowing there may be less eperks waiting for them. Why? Because people:

    • value being respected,
    • want meaningful work,
    • need opportunities to be creative,
    • want to contribute to something they feel is significant and worthwhile,
    • want to be genuinely listened to,
    • need to have their ideas valued and used,
    • enjoy working in environments compatible with their own beliefs and values,
    • value being able to pursue personal growth interests, and
    • want to feel they are part of a ‘community’ that has a heart.

Believe it or not, they want these things as much as, and even more than money!

Current research substantiates our views on employee engagement. The eperks that characterize eemployee engagement strategies are simply temporary engagement drivers. We advocate their continued use, but not their ‘pedestalled status.’ We categorically recommend iengagement strategies for sustainable and enduring employee engagement. We also want to say that it has always been the intrinsic motivators (imotivators) more than the extrinsic drivers (edrivers) that have interested employees the most.

Star-5aspects-EEWhat’s required now is what’s always been required: It’s called “sustainable engagement.” The key factor, the study finds, is a work environment that more fully energizes employees by promoting their physical, emotional and social well-being. Add to that mental and spiritual well being — or more specifically, the added energy derived from the capacity for absorbed focus and a strong sense of purpose.

Many employers are pursuing a variety of wellness efforts, typically focused on giving incentives or penalties to people who embrace healthy behaviors like exercise, good diet or effective management of a chronic illness, the report concludes.

These are important, but to sustain energy, employers have to go beyond these core programs and embrace the notion of workplace energy on a far broader plane. When they do, the consequences are nothing short of staggering. For organizations, the challenge is to shift from their traditional focus on getting more out of people, to investing in meeting people’s core needs so they’re freed, fueled, and inspired to bring more of themselves to work. 5

While organizations need both intrinsic and extrinsic employee engagement strategies, there must be just as great, if not more, of an emphasis on intrinsic drivers (idrivers) to make the employee engagement formula complete – and realistic.

Our approach is visionary, but pragmatic; forward-thinking, yet present moment focused; strategic, yet tactical; founded on scientific principles, but proven to work outside the lab.

We believe you will find our approach just what you’ve been looking for because it places just as much responsibility and accountability for exemplary engagement on your direct reports as it does on you. We see employee engagement as a partnership, not an entitlement program. We think you’ll agree.



  1. James, William (1890) The Principles of Psychology; Freud, S. The Ego and the Id, 1923; Jung, C. G. (1902–1905). Psychiatric Studies. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung Vol. 1; Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396; Herzberg, Frederick (1959), The Motivation to Work, New York: John Wiley and Sons; Skinner, B. F. (1961). “Why we need teaching machines”. Harvard Educational Review 31: 377–398 – to name only a few).
  2. Khakhria, H., Employee Engagement Ideas to Combat the Walking Dead, Randstad Canada, Posted on October 30, 2012).
  3. Cook, M., The New Definition of Insanity – Expecting Employee Engagement to Improve, Human Capital League, June 26, 2013.
  4. Martin Seligman,(2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
  5. Schwartz, T., New Research: How Employee Engagement Hits the Bottom Line, Harvard Business Review, November 8, 2012.
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