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Cultivate the Most Important Leadership Skill – Idea # 15 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

leadership skills

There are so many aspects to effectively leading others. Have you ever felt overwhelmed just thinking about where to begin?

For instance, we know that we need good business acumen, but we also need to have the emotional intelligence that allows us to effectively serve and care for team members. We also need to be competent, and we need to be able to inspire others with a positive vision of the future.

What’s the most important of these? How should we prioritize our time and energy?

What if there was a single skill that helped us improve every aspect of being leader — a meta-skill that influenced all the others?

Wouldn’t that be the most important skill to develop?

There is such a skill. It is self-awareness.

This is the most crucial skill there is for leadership (and for life in general) and I believe that the vast majority of people have likely reached less than five percent of their potential for self-awareness ability.

Why Self-Awareness Is So Crucial

This post was originally published on the Huffington Post.  To continue reading, please click here.


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Commit to Train Emotional Intelligence – Idea # 14 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members


I like to define emotional intelligence (EQ) in the broad sense as a combination of self-mastery and people skills.  By mastering our inner world, we are better able to influence the emotional states of those around us in positive ways.

Over the last 15 years, as a result of the bestselling book of the same name by Daniel Goleman, “emotional intelligence” has become one of the most common buzz words in the business world.

An abundance of research has been published suggesting that EQ is the most important skill for leaders to develop.  Daniel Goleman’s research suggests that EQ actually predicts stellar performance twice as often as IQ does.  Goleman’s research also suggests that for senior leaders EQ accounts for roughly 90% of the differences between stellar performers and those that are average.

As we would expect when there is so much written about a topic, and it is touted as being the most important skill to develop, there has been some backlash.

Studies have been conducted suggesting that EQ isn’t really that important in many situations.

Who is right?

I don’t think we need research to help us realize how important emotional intelligence is.  It’s actually quite intuitive.

Let’s imagine two hypothetical companies, company A and company B.

The leaders of both companies have relatively similar business acumen.  They have relatively similar levels of competence and intelligence.

However, at company B, the leaders aren’t able to create and sustain a positive emotional climate.  The culture is quite toxic.  Negative emotions like anger and anxiety are the norm.  People don’t enjoy coming to work.  They come in, do enough to keep their jobs, and go home.

At company A, the leaders are able to sustain a culture where positive emotions reign.  People are happy, inspired, and feel cared for by their leaders and their co-workers.  Communication is open and robust. People truly enjoy coming to work.

Which company would you imagine is the better performer, especially over the long-term?  There’s no question about this, is there?

Of course, in the short term, company B may outperform company A if they have a dominant market share or some other factor that allows them to generate a lot capital.

But, at company B, workplace metrics like quality, innovation, and customer service will all be significantly worse than a company A.  Over time this will create a huge disadvantage for company B.

Company A will be able to attract and retain people much more easily.  This will result in better workplace performance and lower costs due to the expense of high turnover.

Emotional intelligence is what allows the leaders at company A to achieve better long-term success as leaders.

Is competency important?  Are cognitive skills like creative problem solving and analytical ability important?  Of course.  In fact, these skills are required to be promoted to a leadership position in the first place.  Technical and cognitive skills are essentially a ticket that allows us to have a chance to get in the leadership game.

What Daniel Goleman’s research suggests, and what intuition tells as well, is that while technical skills and cognitive ability can help us get into the leadership game, they’re not what’s most important for long term leadership success.

For those of us who aspire to be highly effective leaders who can consistently serve and care for team members, EQ is what helps us close the gap between aspiring to effectively serve team members and actually doing it on a consistent basis.

The good news is that EQ is highly trainable.  We can train to change our brains in ways that make us more emotionally intelligent.

If we aspire to be highly effective leaders who can serve and inspire greatness in others, we should commit to a well-structured plan for training in emotional intelligence skills.

This topic of EQ is so essential to leadership success that I will be devoting numerous posts the topic of EQ over the coming months.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Can you think of examples where a technically proficient, smart person failed when promoted to a leadership position simply because she or he lacked emotional intelligence?


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An Inspiring Metric for Leadership Success – Idea # 13 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

lifting someone up

In Serve to Be Great, and in a recent post on this blog, I wrote about the importance of “measuring the right things.

The best leaders over the long term tend to place equal or greater emphasis on measuring the degree to which they serve and care for team members than the emphasis they place on numbers.  These leaders realize that by serving and caring for the people on their teams, they are helping to ensure that the numbers are taken care of.

Of all the metrics we could establish for how well we serve and care for team members, one of the most impactful is the growth of our team members.

At a strategic level, a metric could be as simple as asking the question, “How much did the person on my team grow professionally and personally, as a result of working on our team?”

Upon further reflection, it seems as though getting this aspect of leadership right would influence every other metric in a positive way.

When growth is a metric, each of the following are taken care of:

  • We inspire a person to achieve excellence and we help them to achieve it. Thus, we facilitate the individual’s peak performance.
  • We develop the spirit of teamwork, which helps the team achieve better performance.
  • We help the person develop personal qualities that will ensure their success both with our team and beyond; qualities like kindness, patience, compassion, empathy, and good listening.

In short, we work to help the team member become the best version of herself that she can possibly become, and this is a win-win-win-win.  This benefits us, her, our organization, and our community in general.

This approach also builds trust and loyalty.  Imagine working for a boss who cares just as much, or more, about you and your growth as a person as she does about what you can produce for the team.  Isn’t that someone for whom you would go the extra mile?

Tactically, the metric of growth becomes a little more challenging.  Measuring growth isn’t incredibly easy.  Also, we can’t make a person grow.  We can only facilitate the process.

A good exercise to help with this effort is to sit down and think of all the areas where the team member could grow both personally and professionally.  I recommend focusing on areas where the team member is strong and leveraging those strengths to help bring any areas of weakness up to the point where the team member could at least be average in that area.

The next step would be to discover what’s important to the team member and where he wants to go in both the short and long term, and both personally and professionally.  If you’ve already conducted the “How can I serve you?” meeting, you already have this information.

Once we know what’s important to a team member, and where he wants to go, we can construct both a plan and metrics for helping the person grow in the areas he’ll need to grow in to accomplish his goals.  It will also be much easier to align any areas of growth we would like to see with what the team member values.  If we combine this with involving the team member in building a plan for development, we can achieve a lot of buy in, which is essential for success.

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.


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Be Powerful By Giving Power Away – Idea #12 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

empowered kid

The following quote—attributed to Lao-Tzu, considered by many to be the wisest man in the history of China—summarizes a true leader’s achievement: “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”

There are many reasons why empowering people results in better business outcomes.  Below are just a few.

First, empowering team members can dramatically improve our organization’s capacity for creative problem solving.  When we find ways to empower people, we significantly reduce bureaucracy, which frees team members up to think on their own and come up with novel solutions.

In Daniel Pink’s best-selling book Drive, he draws on 40 years of research showing how much more effective providing autonomy is as a motivator than is money. He points out how this is especially true for any work that requires creativity and other forms of higher-level thinking, which is almost all work in the business world. A great real-world example of this principle in action is Google’s flextime.

Google employees are allowed and strongly encouraged to spend up to 20 percent of their time on campus working on any project they want to. In other words, they can spend a full day out of each work week on pet projects that excite them. The only requirement is that they need to report on what they’re working on from time to time. Google reports that as much as 50 percent of the company’s innovations are the result of projects that employees have conceived and developed during flextime.

Second, empowered people like coming to work more—and who wouldn’t want the members on their team to actually look forward to coming to work? Besides being the right thing to do, creating an enjoyable team culture results in greater productivity, more innovation, and a significant impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent.

Empowering the people on a team can also save a tremendous amount of time. When people know that we trust them and even expect them to make decisions without our input, we can eliminate having to think about and answer questions that they’re fully qualified to answer on their own. We are freed up to focus our energy on higher-level and more strategic aspects of our work, and on serving the members of our team.

This is vitally important for any leader, but especially for start-up entrepreneurs. One of the easiest ways to speed up the growth of a newer organization is to delegate as much responsibility as possible to others so that we can work on our business and our culture instead of being constantly caught up in the day-to-day operations.

Let’s look at some ideas and tools for helping us to become increasingly comfortable with extending high levels of trust to members of our team and truly empowering them, so that we can gradually make that a new mental habit.

The Power of Listening

A very simple way to empower others is to do less talking and more listening.  As leaders, the more questions we ask and the more often we ask for help, the more successful we will tend to be.  Asking lots of questions and listening more enables the intelligence of our team members to blossom.

Setting Boundaries

There is a legitimate concern about giving team members “free rein” to do whatever is needed to wow customers. We might worry that they’ll spend more than is appropriate, or make some other kind of rash decision. Although I think it’s natural to have thoughts like this, there is really no need to worry about it because when we care for and trust people, they almost always do the right thing.

That being said, we can also reduce the risk of some anomaly to the general rule of people doing the right thing by setting boundaries that give members of our team some structure for how they can go about wowing a customer. This is as simple as placing a limit on how much a team member can spend on any single customer, which can vary depending on the margins of our products or services.

For example, the Ritz-Carlton brand sets a limit of $2,000 (your limit may be much lower for lower margin products or services). Leaders at the Ritz-Carlton are saying to team members, “We trust you do the right thing to make sure that our customers are 100 percent satisfied with their experience with us. You can be as creative as you like to make that happen, and spend as much as $2,000 per customer to make that happen.” In most cases, the employees spend almost nothing to come up with creative ways to wow a customer. But, when it’s necessary, employees have the freedom to make some big decisions without getting approval.

Core Values Make Decisions Easy

Well-designed core values should act as filters for decisions. When faced with a decision, people should be able to run the options through each of the core values, starting with the first. If an option would violate one of the core values, it can immediately be eliminated as a possible course of action.  For instance, if one our core values is Long-term Success, when a member of our team has to decide whether to do something that will result in short-term gain, but could result in negative long-term consequences, she will know that the course of action being considered is not even an option.

Core values allow us to give team members even more autonomy. If our core values are well thought out, we should be able to say to the people we lead, “I hired you because I have great confidence that you will make good decisions. So, although you are welcome to seek my input on any decision, these are the only things that you need my approval on (there may be a several examples where you will want to have the final say). With everything else, provided that what you do is in line with our core values, it’s your call. I trust you to do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. As long as it doesn’t violate our core values, making mistakes will just help you learn and grow.”

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

This piece is an adapted excerpt from the book Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.


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Train to Be Happier – Idea #11 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

happy busienss person

Making the effort to effectively serve and care for team members is always a win-win: it helps improve business outcomes while also helping us to live a more meaningful, fulfilling life.

With some of the efforts we make to serve team members, it can take a little contemplation to make the connection between the effort to serve and the fulfillment that it brings.

There are a few examples, however, where the connection between fulfillment and achievement are immediately obvious.  One of those examples is being happy.

One of the greatest gifts we can offer to the people on our teams is our own happiness.

Research cited in the book Happiness Advantage, by positive psychology expert Shawn Achor, shows that leaders in more positive moods are better able to think creatively, problem solve, and negotiate.

Happiness is quite contagious.  According to a study at Yale, happiness is more contagious than bad moods, and smiling and laughter are the most contagious of all.

Thus, happier leaders are better able to drive positive emotions in the people on their teams.  Clearly, all other things being equal, a team with a more positive emotional climate is going to outperform a team where negative moods and emotions are the norm.

This might explain why in a study cited in Primal Leadership, by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, researchers found that leaders who laugh the most, and are able to get others to laugh, significantly outperformed other leaders in terms of how they were rated by team members and the bonuses they received for financial performance.

This is all likely quite intuitive for most of us.  We don’t need research to tell us that a happy leader is going to be more effective than a grump.

The important question is, “How do we increase our happiness?”

Fortunately, happiness is actually quite trainable.

It is now well established that we all have a baseline level of happiness that was set at a very young age.

We can experience times where we are happier or less happy than our baseline level of happiness as a result of pleasant or unpleasant life experiences but, within a short amount of time, we will return to our pre-set, baseline level of happiness.

This explains why some people generally seem to be happier than others.

It also explains why people who win the lottery or become paralyzed experience temporary changes in happiness but, within a year, both lottery winners and people who become paralyzed report that they are no more or less happy than before winning the lottery or getting into an accident.

Most people mistakenly pursue happiness by trying to change external circumstances in their lives, unaware that this only results in a short-term spike that will soon fade away, and won’t change their baseline level of happiness.

The wise approach would be to focus on cultivating happiness that doesn’t depend on outside circumstances by changing our baseline level of happiness.

Fortunately, this type of happiness is actually quite trainable.  For an exhaustive list of methods developed by positive psychologists for changing our baseline levels of happiness, please check out the book mentioned above, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor.

My preferred method is mindfulness training, which has been shown to literally change our brains in ways that change our baseline levels of happiness.

I believe, based on my own experience and research in neuroscience, that mindfulness has the most profound effects on the happiness that doesn’t depend on external circumstances.

The other major advantage of mindfulness training is that we can train in mindfulness without adding anything to our already busy schedules.  All we have to do is change the way we do things that we already do anyhow.

For a quick-start guide to mindfulness training, please click here.  If you’d like to go further, I highly recommend the book Search Inside Yourself, by my friend Meng, Google’s Jolly Good Fellow.


Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.


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Be a Mono-Tasker – Idea #10 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members


Some of the least productive people I’ve ever seen also seem to be the busiest.

They work long hours, often juggling multiple activities – such as eating lunch, reading e-mails, and listening to music – all at once.

I believe people do this because they have been fooled by the common misconception that the ability to “multi-task” is one that is highly valued and should be developed.

I wrote “multi-task” in quotes because the brain is actually not even capable of performing two cognitive functions at the exact same moment in time.  What we’re actually doing when we’re “multi-tasking” is switching rapidly between tasks.

Contrary to popular myth, this rapid switching between tasks that we tend to brag about as “multi-tasking” is extremely detrimental to performance and productivity.

As Dr. Susan Weinschenk explains in an article she wrote for Psychology Today,

“Task switching is ‘expensive…’

Here’s what we know from the research:

  • It takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time.
  • You make more errors when you switch than if you do one task at a time.
  • If the tasks are complex then these time and error penalties increase.
  • Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.”

“Multi-tasking” is such a bad habit, in fact, that the more often we do it, the worse we get at it.  This means we won’t be as effective at handling multiple tasks at once when life dictates that we need to do that.  We’d be much better off if we practice mono-tasking as the rule, and only “multi-task” when we absolutely have to.

Doing one thing at a time and doing it well – mono-tasking – helps us to improve our own output, and it is also a simple yet powerful way to better serve our team members.

By taking time to focus on the most important tasks, we get them done more quickly and we do them better, which is an indirect way of serving team members.

Mono-tasking also helps us to be less anxious.  When we’re less anxious, we are much better able to create a positive emotional climate for our team.

When mono-tasking becomes more of a habit, we also listen much better to others.  When someone is speaking to us, we’re better able to put down our smartphones, turn away from our computers, and give our full, undivided attention to the person who is speaking to us.

I humbly suggest that we all make it a practice to do one thing at a time, do it mindfully, and do it well.


Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.


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How to Compassionately Let Someone Go – Idea #9 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members


Does being a compassionate, servant leader mean that we should keep team members who are not performing well?

Using the approach below, we can often help an under-performing team member to improve and grow.

And, when necessary, we can use the approach to compassionately let someone go without having to fire them.

Addressing Poor Performance

I’ve certainly failed with this balance at both ends of the spectrum.

I’ve been too quick to want to let someone go. And, as I’ve grown more compassionate over the years, I’ve not addressed an issue that really needed to be addressed because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

But being compassionate doesn’t mean that we don’t address issues that need to be addressed, like consistently poor performance. Sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do, which would be in the best service of all the stakeholders, is to let someone go.

Are we really serving someone if we allow him or her to consistently do mediocre work? Or, are we actually hurting his or her long-term chances for success?

The Four Pieces of Paper

I learned the approach below from my friend and mentor, John Spence. He calls the approach The Four Pieces of Paper.

Although variations of it can be used with any team member who is underperforming, the approach is very powerful when thoughts come to mind of letting someone go.

When having a conversation with a team member who has been underperforming, we can frame the discussion by saying something like, “I expect really great things from you. Recently, I don’t think what you’ve been doing is up to your standards. What’s going on?”

Then we can let the team member know that we’d like them to have the greatest chance for success for years to come. Not encouraging them to reach their full potential is doing them a disservice.

We then allow them to create a solution, which they will write on four pieces of paper. The team member writes:

  1. What will they achieve in a given period that they feel adequately makes up for the previous poor performance
  2. What do they need from us, as their leader, to make that happen
  3. What should the reward be, within reason, if they hit the mark
  4. What should the consequence be if they fail

Using this approach, you might find that a team member you thought you would have to fire suddenly turns around simply because you showed them you care about them.

You’ll also find that if they don’t hit the mark, you won’t have to fire them.

They’ll have written, “I should leave,” on the fourth piece of paper because they’ll see that they picked the goal and were given all the support they needed to accomplish it. If they still don’t hit the mark, they’ll almost always see that they are simply not in the right place and voluntarily move on.

As a compassionate, servant leader, we could then help the team member find a position within our organization, or even outside of it, where she or he could thrive.

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.


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Measure the Right Things – Idea #8 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

measure the right things

There’s an old business axiom: What gets measured gets done.

Most organizations seem to do a good job at measuring things like sales and quarterly profits.  But very few measure what really matters.

Unfortunately, being too focused on short-term metrics, even quarterly financial reports, can be devastating for an organization’s long-term success. Former Medtronic CEO Bill George—who achieved extraordinary business success by every metric—makes it very clear why this is so in his book Authentic Leadership.

To put it simply, we eventually fail to serve the customer when we focus on quarterly financials. And no business survives very long without customers. This kind of focus makes us much more likely to want to cut costs than to balance the reduction of expenses with the long-term investments that are absolutely vital for actually serving our customers.

As Bill writes, “Inevitably, the short-term opportunities to increase shareholder value taper off. At this point top management usually turns to financial restructuring to achieve its financial goals. Nonstrategic acquisitions, divestitures, consolidations, layoffs, and cutbacks generally follow. By the time these financial moves are completed, the corporation has lost its capacity for growth. Restoring the firm to a growth company at this point is a long, arduous process.”

Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn’t be aware of our quarterly financial numbers, or that we should eliminate them as a metric. The point is simply that if we want to have consistent long-term growth in our organizations, we can’t just focus on short-term financials.

We need to focus on the underlying elements of the organizations that create the conditions for long-term growth and profitability: happy, loyal employees who ensure that we have happy, loyal customers. And the best way to increase our focus on these things that really matter is to measure them.

We can measure the health of the organization as a whole by asking team members questions like:

  • How happy are you at home?
  • How happy are you at work?
  • How would you explain the vision and mission of our organization?
  • To what degree do you feel your daily work contributes to our vision and mission?
  • How well do you feel our organization as a whole lives our core values?
  • What can we do to help you enjoy your home life more?
  • What can we do to help you enjoy coming to work more?

For the best results, leaders need to ask these questions in face-to-face meetings. An e-mail survey doesn’t have nearly the same impact as real human beings asking other human beings questions that show how much we care.

We can also apply this practice of measuring what really matters to ourselves, and to the organization’s other leaders. If we expect our leaders to live our core values and focus on serving those around them, we must measure precisely those things.

As Joel Manby points out in his book Love Works, many organizations are great at measuring what he calls do goals—the success of the customer experience, employee satisfaction, safety results, brand strength, and financials. But very few measure what Manby calls be goals—those we set for how we want our leaders to treat each other and the members of their teams while they are working to accomplish the “do” goals.

In essence, the “be” goals measure how well a leader lives the core values and fits in with the culture. Leaders at HFE are not only measured on how well they achieve the “do” goals, but their performance on “be” goals is also important. In fact, their compensation is directly tied to how well they do on both; in order to even qualify to be a senior leader at HFE, a person must excel at both.

To get the best measure of the “be” goals we set for our leaders, we should consider gathering anonymous, 360-degree feedback from employees and peers, and getting feedback from seniors in person.

We can ask questions (reformulated for accurate survey measurement, of course) such as:

  • How well does Bob listen?
  • How willing is Bob to help others?
  • How important to Bob is the happiness and success of the people he leads?
  • How kind is Bob?
  • How compassionate is Bob?
  • How well does Bob live core value A (repeat for each value)?

In essence, we’re asking, “How well does Bob love his team members?” Of course, we’re not talking about some romantic feeling that people often confuse with love. We’re talking about acts of love—extending oneself for others’ benefit and treating them with kindness and compassion and respect.

When we commit to measuring how well we love those around us, and how well the other leaders in our organization love those around them, we can dramatically improve the business outcomes for our organizations.

This helps us focus on the parts of our leadership development that are the most essential for achieving positive long-term business outcomes.

It also makes our lives much more fulfilling.


Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

This piece is an adapted excerpt from the book Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.


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Hire for Values – Idea #7 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members


It seems that one thing highly successful companies do that many average companies fail to do is prioritize values ahead of skills when hiring new employees.

This is something leaders of any type of team can, and should, practice.

Of course, in most cases, we want to ensure that someone has the basic skill set we need for the position.  But that should be determined via skills tests, checking with references, and/or an interview that is completely separate from the interview screening for values.

We should have at least one interview that focuses on nothing other than determining if the potential teammate we are considering shares the values of our team.

There are several reasons why this is so important:

1.  This is a great way to serve and care for our team members.  Shared values is one of the strongest forms of social glue, resulting in much more cohesive teams that consist of members who work very well together and are much more engaged.  Conversely, when we bring on a team member who does not share our values, team cohesiveness is likely to degrade rather quickly and engagement is likely to drop.

2.  When we have engaged team members who consistently live the shared values of the team, we also find that we have happier, more loyal customers.  Often, customers are as attracted to our values as they are to the product or service we offer.

If a customer interacts with a team member that doesn’t live the values the customer expects us to be living, she or he may become a little less loyal.  If the violation is severe enough, she or he may leave us altogether.

Conversely, when customers experience the same values-based behaviors from team members each and every time they interact with our organization, our brand is strengthened in their minds.  Loyalty and satisfaction are a very likely result.

3.  By taking our time during the hiring process to ensure that a team member shares our values, we can save a lot of time and money in the long term.

It’s almost a certainty that if we bring on a team member who does not share our values, she or he will either quit or need to be let go within a short time.  This is very costly in terms of both time wasted and money.  Most HR professionals estimate that it costs around one year of salary to turnover a mid-level employee, and significantly more for senior leaders.

How to Hire For Values

If we want to ensure that a potential team member shares our values, there are several steps we can take:

1.  We should ensure that our recruiting materials – including website, brochures, etc. – clearly articulate our values.  This can help a candidate to determine on her own whether or not she should even take the time to apply and interview.

2.  We should ask interview questions that require a candidate to explain a situations where he lived each one of our values.  It’s not enough just to ask what his values are.  He could be influenced by our recruiting materials and simply regurgitate them back to us.  We can learn a lot by watching a candidate think through and reply to a question like, “Tell me about a time when you put the mission of the team ahead of your own personal ambition.”

3.  You could take this process a step further by creating games or role-playing situations where candidates actually have to demonstrate values when put into situations that test their responses.  This is exactly what a travel company called Grand Circle Corporation does.  You can read about how they do it in this article in the Harvard Business Review.

Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.


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The Power of Keeping Your Head Up – Idea #6 of 101 Ways to Better Serve Team Members

texting in office

Recently, I spoke for the Tennessee Society of Association Executives at a hotel and conference center outside of Nashville, TN.  The evening before the day I would present, I took a walk around the property to scope out the room where I would deliver the keynote.

As I walked back to my hotel room, a staff member of the hotel came out of an office and walked toward me.

She almost looked at me, but didn’t.  She sort of smiled – that rather fake kind of smile – then stared intently at the ground as she walked and did her best to communicate non-verbally that she was thinking of something very important and she was not to be bothered.

Have you ever walked by someone like that?  They make it clear that they know you’re there, but they don’t make eye contact and make it clear they want to avoid interacting.

How did that make you feel?

In the case of the hotel staff member, I immediately thought, “This woman is in the wrong industry.”  That kind of avoidance sends the message to guests that they aren’t that important.  Whatever she was thinking about was more important than the guests.

Conversely, in hotels with excellent service, everyone makes it clear that the guests are more important than anything else.  Everyone makes eye contact and offers to be of help in some way.

I think there’s a great takeaway here for leaders, whether we have a title or not.

When we’re walking around the workplace, we always have a choice.  We could be texting like the woman in the image above.  We could keep our heads down and think a lot, like the hotel staff member I described above.

The better choice is to just walk – to be fully present with act of walking – and to be open to connecting with anyone we walk by.  We can think or text later, when we are alone.

There are many benefits to this, including the following:

1.  Walking becomes a chance for us get out of our heads a bit and unwind any anxiety that has been building up. When we’re aware of our bodies and the fact that we’re walking, we might notice that we’re tense or anxious.  This awareness helps us let it go.  Thus, we go into our next task or interaction with a better emotional state and a better chance for a positive outcome.

2.  We get a better pulse of what’s happening around us. This can range from the very obvious – where things are that we should avoid bumping into – to the very subtle, but also important – the emotional climate of the workplace.  If the emotional climate of the workplace is not positive, we should look into what’s going on and how we can help.

3.  By keeping our head up while we walk, open to connecting with those we pass by, we have the ability to make eye contact with people and offer a smile. If we consistently share heartfelt, genuine smiles with people, it can go a long way to improving a workplace culture.

4.  We can also notice the emotional state of individual people and take a moment to connect with someone who appears to be experiencing a negative emotion like anxiety, or sadness. This simple connection shows people we truly care about them, and can help them to both enjoy their day more fully and also be more productive.

I have three suggestions for improving your ability to have a positive connection with team members as a result of more consistently keeping your head up and being open while walking.

1.  Before walking anywhere, take a moment to pause a commit to being fully present while you walk without texting, reading, or allowing yourself to be pulled into distraction by thinking.

2.  Look at people you pass by – whether they’re looking at you or not – with an attitude of kindness and helpfulness.

3.  If you feel compelled to go back to thinking or texting while walking, or if you get distracted, gently remind yourself to start over with steps 1 and 2.


Please leave me a comment below if you apply these ideas.  I’d love to hear about your experience.


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