How one company destroyed its employee incentive plan with one act of generosity

deflate baloonIt seemed like a good idea at the time and an incredibly generous act on the part of the company. When Gravity Payments founder and CEO Dan Price announced that he would raise everyone’s minimum wage to $50,000 a year with $10,000 a year increases until everyone’s minimum was at $70K in 2017, it drew cheers and kudos.

But it hasn’t worked out so well.

In an article in Forbes dated August 2, 2015, contributor David Burkis observed that the company is struggling to deal with the implications of the plan (emphasis mine). Some of the most valuable people have left the company and others indicate they are on their way out, too.

One departed employee said that “she was initially excited about the new policy, but as she thought about the details she began to get dismayed. “He gave raises to people who have the least skills and are the least equipped to do the job, and the ones who were taking on the most didn’t get much of a bump.”

Notice that in the past sentence of paragraph three above is the phrase “most valuable people.” Many novice or naïve business people don’t seem to understand that some employees are more valuable than others. A person’s hard and soft skills, loyalty, experience, and job-related acumen add more value to a company than those possessing less.

The downside to across the board raises at the entry level should have been obvious to Price, but apparently they weren’t. He is now renting out his house and took a substantial pay cut himself to keep the doors open.


Because he failed to appreciate the nuanced layers of motivation. When you raise base salaries substantially and those of proven performers only minimally you erode the incentive you’ve put in place. While those whose abilities are less developed and less proven are rewarded, those employees whose abilities are more developed and proven more effective are perceived to be worth less. It redistributes the balance of payments, as it were, to favor the less valuable as much as or more than the more valuable.

In short, it pisses off the very people you do not want to piss off.

Always, and I mean always, reward producers and reward them well. You want to grow the less productive employee into a more productive one. You DO NOT want to inhibit the growth or productivity of the more effective and productive employees.

Price did precisely that and in so doing, did himself and his company much harm. It may have seemed generous to Price, the most valuable people in his company do not see it that way.

Now, before you object that we should all feel happy at the advancement of others, let me suggest we need to live in the real world where there are real emotions and complex psychological forces with which we must contend. It simply does not work. We are emotional being and how we feel significantly affects how we perform. Price should have substantially increased the pay of everyone proportionately, which I am sure he could not economically afford to do. What he did in essence was to make the most productive appear to sacrifice the most. Others got substantial raises while they did not.

So what should he have done?

If he wanted to increase the base salaries, he should have instituted a series of pay increases based on key and critical productivity markers. When an employee reached a defined level of competence, performance, and productivity, s/he would receive an appropriate increase in pay or benefits. And it should apply to everyone.

5 lessons in motivation from my tailor

danny the tailorHis name is Danny (that’s him in the middle) and he owns “Danny’s Fashion Shoppe, bespoke tailors Hong Kong”. His shop is tiny, tucked into one of the many arcades that line Kowloon’s streets. The shop walls are stacked high with bolts of cloth interrupted three or four times by mirrors.

I used to get my suits made there. Every time I passed through Hong Kong I’d lay over long enough to be fitted for new duds. Danny always did a great job at a fair price. I left there feeling better about my purchase and about myself. Custom made things do that. They mean that someone has listened to you, done what is important to you, and conformed to your individual tastes.

But beyond the obvious benefits to the owner and purchaser of a custom made suit, there are the not-so obvious benefits for the person who creates a custom made product. Now, it is also obvious that I am not taking up your time to write about suits and my experience with a tailor on the other side of the world. A few days ago I wrote about my old Ford pickup and the idiosyncrasies of getting it started and keeping it running. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do (but then, I would recommend my own work, now wouldn’t I? – it can be found here.)

So the subject at hand is tailor-made acts of inspiration and motivation. I’ve already established that one size fits only one and that blanket acts of motivation are highly inefficient and only somewhat effective as a general rule. Like a suit off the rack, which can look pretty good, can be made of quality material, and can be customized somewhat to massage the details and make it fit better, our efforts at motivation can be somewhat effective.

But I like Danny my tailor and here’s why and here are the important things that apply to our job as leaders and managers.

Pay attention.

Danny paid attention to me. When we first met he was thorough. He found out what I liked and what did not like. He advised about what worked well on me and what did not. He did what he could to make sure I had his undivided attention. Do you know what your associates like and don’t like, what fits and what doesn’t? We can’t motivate well unless we know what motivates them well.

Your presence and participation is vital not just incidental, organizational, or academic.

Leaders are not divorced from the workplace. Even when you are not physically there, your influence is. The values you hold, reinforce, and reward resonate throughout the company. Your handiwork can be seen long after you are out of the picture. Never underestimate your power of persuasion and influence. Never take for granted the effect you have on others.

It means your prejudices and presumptions have been challenged and most likely revised, altered, or scrapped altogether.

Danny learned over time what worked for me but he made no assumptions. He was not guilty, as many leaders are, of immaculate perception, that fantasy that their beliefs, presumptions, assumptions, and perceptions are infallible and divine. No indeed, Danny learned that he needed to learn who I am and what I like. Never assume. Never presume.

It means you actually have to listen to what you learn and do something about it.

I would not be writing accolades of a tailor I knew years ago if he had made suits of a material, color, fabric, or fit that I did not like. I would be writing accusations instead. One store manager held a weekly meeting with the department managers. The store manager would bring a pad and pencil to the meeting. Whenever an issue would come up in discussion he would make himself  a note and mumble that he would deal with it.

He never did!

All the managers soon learned that when the store manager wrote on that pad and said he would deal with it, what he really meant was that he would toss that paper in the trash as soon as he got back to his office.

Associate and employees expect action not talk.

It means you’ve stopped talking and started listening.

Face it. We’re in love with the sound of our own voice. We talk a lot. We have to talk a lot. Ralph Nichols said that  “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Danny is still in business even after decades. No custom products producer will survive for long unless s/he listens. You won’t either.

And I’ll close with Danny’s tagline – “God made you a man, we make you look like a gentleman.” The things we do and say either makes people feel better about themselves or they don’t. Motivation…or the lack of it, does the same thing.

One size fits one – the one motivational secret known and used by all effective leaders

P8300021 - CopyI have a 66 year old Ford pickup. It’s in great condition both mechanically and cosmetically. I keep it in my garage and take it out for a drive every few weeks. I’ve owned it since 1973, used it back when I first bought it as my daily driver so I understand its ins and outs.

It’s not easy to start. An engine that old is not fuel injected like today’s vehicles.  And it was built well before automatic chokes. So, I have to get in the driver’s seat, put the key in the switch, pull out the choke cable knob just far enough to enrich the fuel/air mixture feeding the cylinders but not so far as to inhibit ignition with too much gasoline, pump the accelerator pedal three or four times to get some gas into the intake manifold, turn the key to on, then press a separate starter button on the dash. The engine cranks, coughs, sputters, and fires to life. I have to fiddle with the accelerator pedal and choke to get the right amount of fuel to mix with the right amount of air to feed the cylinders to keep it running. As the engine warms up and begins to run smoothly, the choke has to be adjusted for a more efficient blend of more air and less fuel.

Sitting in the driveway in front of my garage is a much newer vehicle. With the advancements in engine design being what they are, the start-up procedure is much simpler. Insert the key in the switch, push in the clutch pedal, turn the key, and the engine starts. No fiddling with the choke, no pumping the pedal, no rough running until it warms up.

Now, I am obviously not making comparisons between old and new, nor am I merely really talking about engines. I am illustrating a motivational secret – a one way, one device, one approach, one size does not fit all.

There have been valiant and intelligent attempts to understand motivation. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one of the most well-known but as competent and well-considered as Maslow was, it still relies on a one size fits all approach. And neither life, people, nor devices work that way.

Those of us who work in the real world, and have done so for quite some time, know that there are simply too many variables. Indeed the most effective leaders never rely on singular approaches to motivating others or even to understanding others.

The secret is this:

If you treat everyone the same you will not get the same results because everyone is not the same. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting anything even hinting at unfairness or playing favorites. I am suggesting that we motivate best when we know the people better.

My knowledge of my old truck has taught me what works to get it going and what doesn’t,

what’s enough and

what’s too much.

I know how to coax it to life,

what to do to keep it running long enough to run smoothly on its own, and

perhaps most importantly, I know when to stop tinkering with it and let it run without interference from me.

I also know what it can do…and what it cannot. It will do a lot of things but not everything. It does some things very well, other things not so well, and some things not at all.

Unlike Southwest Airlines whose planes are all exactly the same, our associates, subordinates, superiors, and employees are individuals. They are dimensional not flat, individualists not clones, and possess singularly unique characteristics that when understood by leaders, capitalize on strengths, avoid weaknesses, and function as what they are not what we wished they were.

Well, you get the idea. The one secret effective leaders understand about motivation is that there are no methods, rewards, awards, devices, or techniques that work equally well with everyone and we must not indulge in the fantasy that they can, should, or do.

6 Essential Lessons About Motivation From a Job Offer…and the person turned it down

no thanksJason is a principal officer in one of a consulting firm’s city offices.  The Regional VP recently met with Jason to offer him a position as a District manager. For two hours or so the Regional guy talked about the district, its strengths, and its few weaknesses and offered the job.

It was an offer that carried with it some prestige and, for a short time, Jason considered accepting the it. But in the end, he turned it down.


When I discussed it with him I learned there are three reasons why he declined.

First, there was the challenge of finding a successor. The office Jason managed ran like a well-oiled machine and all the numbers were up over the previous year. Jason was concerned that there would be too much disruption to simply move on unless a suitable successor could be found. There was some flexibility as to when he would need to move up and had that been the only issue or even the major issue, he would probably have accepted the offer. But there were two more challenges.

Second, accepting a position of higher and broader responsibility implied a commitment of sufficient time to make the transition work, time Jason did not have. While the Regional VP did not define a specific length of time he expected, Jason would not accept the offer unless he could devote a minimum of two years in the new position. His personal leadership philosophy, set of values, and sense of responsibility told him never to take on a job unless he could devote himself fully to it and offer it a more than a tentative commitment. He liked challenges but shunned advancement for the sake of advancement alone. The problem was that Jason has become the local office manager with a clear understanding to the company that he would stay in it for two years and no more. He was committed to other pursuits outside of that office and away from that company. Two years was the limit. He was one year into that two year period which left only one more year. Taking the district manager job would mean extending it another year, something he was not willing to do.

Third, during the two hours or so that he met with the Regional VP, Jason got the distinct impression that the VP was far more interested in the company and the job than he was interested in Jason. Not once did the VP draw any parallels between what the company needed and the skill sets of Jason. Not once did the VP even try to find out if the needs of the company came close to matching the needs, ambitions, and values of Jason. When it was over, Jason felt he was little more than an object than an important and vital part of the company’s vision.

So, he declined.

There are 7 very essential lessons about motivation in this that we need to look at.

  1. The people with whom we work are not objects and should never ever be treated like objects. Only manipulators, who move pieces around to satisfy their own designs treat people like objects.
  2. Motivators know that outside pressure will change someone’s direction, interests, schedule, or efforts only as long as that pressure remains. Manipulators know that, too, but they are committed at keeping the pressure on. It is a demeaning relationship for both parties.
  3. Enticements like more responsibility, higher prestige, even more money will usually be trumped by a person’s personal values and commitments. That’s what neutralized the offer for Jason. He was unwilling to ignore his own “two and through” commitment and he was unwilling to leave his colleagues at the local office in the lurch simply to move into a perceptibly better place for himself. He had a sense of collaboration and fair play that effectively blocked the singular move up and away. It just seemed too selfish for him.
  4. We must remember to always engage with our associates and subordinates as whole people. We may think we own them for several hours a day, but we don’t. We’re only renting their attention and efforts. They have objectives and ambitions that transcend those of the enterprise or the organization. The stronger a person’s personal sense of values and defined philosophy of living, the less likely they are to succumb to the enticements that mere mortals like ourselves can dangle before them.
  5. Draw others out before you try to pour it on. The Regional VP would have been received far better had he tried to discover a parallel between his needs and the ambitions, desires, values, and intentions of his prospect. His entire approach was, in this sense, doomed from the first word. Had the VP found out where Jason was in his career and where he was going things might have turned out better. As it was, Jason perceived he would be solving the VP’s problem and helping out the company at great cost to himself.
  6. Don’t make things worse. The Regional VP did. After Jason declined the offer what do you think the VP did when he received Jason’s answer? The Regional guy did nothing. He sent no letter thanking Jason for his service and for being willing to listen to his proposal. He made no phone call. He did nothing! He made no communication of any kind, not even to acknowledge that he had received Jason’s refusal. This only reinforced in Jason’s thinking that the Jason’s perceptions and conclusions were right, that the VP didn’t care much about him. He cared more about himself and his company. The old adage that we work for ourselves regardless of who signs the paycheck really is true. The VP had not figured that out.

The last I heard, the VP was not having an easy go of it finding a District Manager. It seems just about everyone has figured him out. Motivation is always internal. People are motivated already, the question for us as leaders is to find out where and for what and discover ways we can help them reach their goals while we satisfy our own.

10 Reasons why motivation is not optional for leaders


It may be easier to do it yourself, but it is not better and certainly not more effective.  10 Reasons why motivation is not optional for leaders

  1. If you do it yourself, in a short time you will be neglecting those things that only you can do while you do the things that others could and should be doing. You the leader have certain responsibilities that no one else has and you cannot afford the luxury of wasting your time, talent, and energy on doing things that could and should be the responsibility of others.
  2. It means you can define and articulate just why it is that the work you do is so vital. If you can’t, then motivation will fade. If you can, the “why” in this equation becomes the reason for the existence of the company or organization. Reason equals motive. The ability to impart reason is to motivate someone.
  3. A motivated workforce requires far less management. Efficiency rises when those who carry out the work are energized and enthusiastic. Since leaders are committed to producing both effectiveness and efficiency, it is in the leader’s interest and that of the company they lead to produce and maintain a climate that supports and promotes motivation.
  4. Leading an unmotivated workforce is like driving with the emergency brake engaged. You get where you’re going eventually but it takes longer, requires more energy, overheats everything, and puts stress on the drivetrain.
  5. Motivated workers show up and show up more often. You don’t hire people just to see their pretty face. You hire them to produce. If they aren’t there, production suffers. This is especially critical for businesses that depend on billable hours.
  6. Motivated workers pay attention. Enthusiasm captures energy and focuses it on the task at hand. Unmotivated workers wander.
  7. Turnover is less. People leave jobs for many reasons, many of those reasons are understandable and beyond your control. But unmotivated workers become bored. Their lack of enthusiasm for the job keeps them looking for something else somewhere else. And turnover is expensive.
  8. A motivated workforce is evidence of one critical leadership quality – concern for others and their experience in your administration. An unmotivated workforce indicates the opposite…and gives rise to temporary, gimmicky efforts to create motivation.
  9. Motivation fosters self-control but manipulation relies on control. Self-regulating, self-directing, self-governing people are limitless in their ability to tackle challenges, find resources, and produce solutions. Without it, all of that depends on you which does what? Throttles down productivity and progress.
  10. A motivated workplace fosters higher productivity, higher quality, and higher efficiency. You get far more done for far less effort and infinitely less stress.

Internal Combustion – How to Keep Employees and Associates Motivated

sparkplugToday begins a new series, one prompted by two things. First, how to keep employees and associates motivated is a question I am often asked. Second, I’ve been working with a company in the recent past where the use of practical techniques to motivate the workforce radically turned around the company in a short period of time. So, it is fresh on my mind.

But even that description implies something that is a bit misleading. Let me explain

The motivational seminar business has pretty much run its course. There are pockets left but most everyone has discovered that motivation is not something that can be transplanted. Motivation, like a fire, needs certain components to thrive.

In an internal combustion engine, there must be fuel, a container (like the cylinder), a spark, and timing. All must meet at precisely the right time…and continue to function in sync…if movement is to occur.

Motivation should be defined in our setting.  I explain it as

“a desire within someone to do the right things at the right time with the intent of producing the right result.”

But I want to really emphasize that motivation and motivational skills are not applied as much as they are gathered and made to be integral components of the work environment.  They are not one and done tasks (too gimmicky) nor is it the result of one, two or three things done at one time or another (too haphazard).

An atmosphere of motivation is far more effective than anything gimmicky and far, far more enduring.

How you motivate, the things you do to motivate others, and the expectations you have about those things you do definitively reveal your values and those of your company or organization. What you believe about others will absolutely be seen in what you do, when you do it, and how you carry it out.

So, let’s settle it now. Motivation is not merely something you do. It originates from the core of your character and is a manifestation of your value system. It is almost certain that we’ve all been subjected to clumsy attempts by bosses to appear motivational. Here is just a few of the things covered in this series:

  • I’ll detail some of the clumsy attempts and what should have been done instead.
  • I will also explain the things you can do to create and sustain an atmosphere of growth, inspiration, and motivation.
  • I’ll also explore some mistakes commonly made and how small changes can make huge differences.
  • I’ll talk about the four levels of development in subordinates and associates and what effective motivational leaders have to do at each level.
  • Finally, I’ll explore some simple techniques for building a fire in others and keeping it burning.

So, if you’re not signed up for The Practical Leader newsletter, please consider doing so right now. Not only will you receive practical leadership tips not found on this website, you will automatically receive a notice that another blog post is up and ready.

Impediments to Progress – Monumental Inertia

inertiaAs the twentieth century began, navies in only a half-dozen countries were experimenting with a new type of watercraft – the submarine. Invented in its most recent and most useable form by Irish immigrant and schoolteacher John Philip Holland, most traditional navy officers didn’t like submarines, did not understand how submarines could be deployed or used, and did not want them.

Torpedoes had been the weakest component of submarine warfare until the technicians at Vickers, Limited, a British firm, came up with a revolutionary improvement. For the first time a long-range torpedo with a large warhead that could travel at a high rate of speed.

But there were a few who could see well into the future and imagine how submarines could expand a navy’s fighting capacity. Those visionaries were persistent and vocal to the point they convinced the U.S. Navy to build a torpedo factory an Newport, Rhode Island.

As the factory became a major component of the area’s economy the predictable began to happen. Creativity and productivity slowed to a trickle. Any attempts to change things resulted in forceful and high-level pushback. Unproductive or insubordinate employees could not be fired because politicians always intervened. Inertia, monumental inertia set in. Once it did only minor refinements resulted.

Some may object that this example is typical of government contracted work and bureaucracy. But sadly it is not. Consider the following:

Thomas Watson, president of IBM, in 1943, said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

In 1946, Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, said “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

In 1977, Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, said “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

“Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet’s continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse,” a spectacularly wrong prediction by Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com made in 1995.

All of the above are indicators of monumental inertia, of leaders wanting things to stay as they are. “Monumental” has more than one meaning. It means gigantic, huge, bigger than big. It also means an honored tribute, a reverence and respect for and a sense of duty and responsibility towards.


  1. We fall in love with the past. We know it. We understand it. We like it…a lot. We’re comfortable in it. We’ve learned how to manage it and become apprehensive about embarking into the seas of change.
  2. We tend not to see flaws, inadequacies, or obsolescence…and resent those who point them out. Like living in the same house for a long time, when you decide to sell, the real estate agent will see things that the buyer will see but that the seller doesn’t. Often, perhaps almost all of the time, the resident (that’s us) have lived with a house for so long we do not notice how it is showing its age and history. The same principle applies in business and organizational leadership. Methods, processes, thinking patterns, and systems may have served us well but objects of veneration they are not. It is very, very easy to build monument to the past and validate our work by our faithfulness to what was.
  3. We think that being busy is as good as being productive. Activity is not progress. It’s activity. Busyness is not business. Yet maintaining a full schedule is often substituted for maintaining a productive schedule. Review everything all the time to make certain the movement is forward not circular.
  4. The choices we make either lock the past onto the future or they change the future. Nothing happens until someone decides to do something and makes that decision by thinking differently than she did yesterday. Changes happen because changes are made.

Here’s what to do with inertia-induced thinking:

  1. While we may be able to control and throttle back progress and productivity within a small context, we can do nothing about controlling either in the rest of the world. It seems symptomatic of leaders who believe they can stop the earth from rotating, cause the tides to cease, or reverse the inevitable march to tomorrow. We can’t and should never embrace the thought…not even for a moment. To do nothing is to entertain the delusion that things outside our control will remain the same. They won’t.
  2. It’s better keep up than to try and catch up. In 2012, Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers embarked on a brave new program to become tech friendly and tech savvy. After listening to and examining their proposals and their timeline it became obvious to everyone but them that even if they were to enact every proposal on schedule they would be even with today five years from now making them five years behind even as they “caught up.” They assumed that tech would remain the same. FYI, one of their more user-friendly proposals was to install credit card readers at each service desk throughout the store, eliminating the need for customers to make their purchases through the checkout counters at the front. Their schedule called for the card readers to be operational by September, 2012. I was in a Lowe’s store last week (March, 2015). The card readers still don’t work. What’s new today is obsolete tomorrow. It you’re going to overcome inertia and plunge ahead, plan to plunge far ahead. Don’t be timid about it.
  3. Pushback is inevitable so expect it. Change is seldom easy for most workers. Humans like space they can control because it gives us a sense of security. Inertia reinforces that feeling. Movement makes control less, well, controllable. A car is simple to control when it is standing still. But when it’s moving it becomes more difficult. There are more things to attend to, more dangers to be aware of. People like control and pushback when they lose it.
  4. It will require more effort to get going than it will to keep going. Inertia is strongest at the start. Once the ball starts rolling, centrifugal force begins to assist our efforts. The dynamic forces of possibility and probability overcome the resistant forces of fear and comfort. Once we get into it, we actually do begin to enjoy the ride.

If a leader has not overcome inertia personally, professionally, and practically, s/he is not really leading. S/he is managing. Leadership is always movement and progress. Management is always monitoring and process.


Three things you can measure right now that will help determine where you fit as a leader or manager

FindingYourPlaceAt what level do you most often think? At what level are you most often called upon to think?

You have to think about a lot of things. You daily task list may be long and detailed or limited and general. But you have a lot to think about.

Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard conducted research to determine the types of thinking leaders and managers do. Then, once the types were defined,  they plotted them out to determine who did which type of thinking and what that indicated about their roles.

They discovered that leaders and managers think about:

Concepts – understanding the organization, department, or business as a whole. They seek to discover how their work and their role fit into the overall organization. Most importantly, they think about how to keep vision alive and vibrant and to insure that all that goes on does so according to that vision.

Human interaction and motivation – how to best understand the people with whom they work. They know that people are not machines and that each responds to opportunity and challenge differently. Motivation is a purely personal response which demands that leaders and managers possess the ability to discern the dynamics that are at play and know what to do.

Technical tasks and methodology – People need to be trained. They must have certain skills for certain jobs. Job schedules and quality must be maintained while using safe practices and safe equipment. Widgets have to be made from whatzits so someone has to consider how that happens, by what process, and in what order.

Hersey and Blanchard also discovered that the mix and blend of thinking differs depending upon the leader’s or managers position in the organization. Lower level leaders and managers have a greater responsibility to consider technical tasks and methodology. The higher up the scale one progresses the more one’s thinking transitions from tasks and methodology to concepts. Predictably, everyone at every level thinks about the human side of things at about the same amount. They diagramed it like this:

hersey blanchard chart

Where do you fit?

So, we can reverse engineer this to discover where we fit. The more we are responsible to think about concepts and the implementation of those concepts, the higher up we sit on the management scale. So the obvious conclusion is this ‘ what are you responsible to think about and what does that reveal about where you are in the organization? Then, there is one more thing I suggest you consider. That is, where would you like to be? Are you feeling comfortable and fulfilled where you are? If you’re stressed out much of the time, one must ask why? If it is due to a bad fit, if you are a concepts thinker stuck in a technical thinking position, stress will result. The reverse it also true.

Think about this over the weekend. Next week I will discuss how to find your place.

7 Things you can do right now to enthuse your associates and employees with hope

EncouragementA few days ago I shared 5 reasons why hope is not an effective strategy. In that same article I also emphasized that hope is nonetheless an essential attitude.

There is a difference between hope and hope so. The former is certain, expectant, optimistic. The latter is tentative, doubtful, and pessimistic, at least to a significant degree.

Hope is an energizing and invigorating force. It is often the difference between success and failure. It provokes effort, creativity, and positive feelings of value. This intangible asset is a by-product. One cannot get it by demanding it of others. One cannot maintain it without a continual source of fuel. The things you do and do not do directly impact it.

Hopeful people show up for work excited about prospects, bolstered by past successes and future opportunities, and energized to address the challenges of the day. The path to the fulfillment of vision is long, takes unexpected turns, and encounters setbacks. Hope as a strategy ill-prepares a team to address those difficulties. Hope as an attitude adds horsepower to the engines of enterprise so that obstacles are overcome and barriers are breached.

Stress (often recognized as distress) is the negative force that dulls thinking, drains energy, and allows us to consider defeat as an option. Eustress is the positive force that sparks enthusiastic participation, ignores fatigue, and never considers defeat an option. The difference between the two is the attitude of hope.

 7 Things you can do right now to enthuse your associates and employees with hope:

  1.  Be decisive even if you’re not always absolutely certain. Indecision and its brother inaction can influence a group’s desire to win, even its will to survive. Leaders lead. That means they have ideas, know what to do, give direction and take action. People follow leaders. They equate strength with decisiveness – rightly so. They abandon leaders who cannot or will not lead.
  2. Be confident, even if you don’t feel very confident. Sometimes bluster is necessary. Not bullying or abuse, but that swag that comes with assurance. You as leader must be comfortable with and confident in your position, your authority, your right to lead, and your responsibility to make things happen.
  3. Smile even when you feel like scowling. Hope as an attitude is an intangible quality influenced and demonstrated by subtle markers. Look positive, sound positive, act positively. Optimism breeds optimism which births enthusiasm and energy.
  4. Be nice even if you’re angry. Bluster and BS may make you feel better and you may think it produces big results. But those returns are only short-term. You get much farther, succeed much quicker, and exert far more influence when you act in a gracious manner. Some months ago I wrote about the two major leadership styles – X & Y (You can read about it here.) Well, there’s a third. It’s the SOB style and we’ve all run into that one. If you are one, you can change. You cannot impart hope by screaming or shouting. Cannot be done!
  5. Acknowledge setbacks and failures but celebrate successes. Your associates are not stupid. They know when something has gone wrong. Admit it, address it, deal with it, and move ahead. Don’t be positive to the point of being insensitive. When one major American corporation changed its pay policy, it negatively impacted several thousand employees. Some of them experienced a $25,000 drop in annual income overnight. Local store managers tried to put a happy face on it by saying it was a “positive move going forward.” For the company it might have been positive. For those employees who experienced a loss, it most certainly was not. Don’t be insensitive. Hope is born out of understanding of circumstances and the people who must deal with them. Anything less is hot hope. It is pure fantasy.
  6. Impart confidence in your team and in their ability to meet the challenges they face even if you have secret doubts and reservations. Don’t interfere with their sovereignty. Don’t butt in unless it’s absolutely critical. That’s called meddling and it only provokes annoyance and dismay. If you’ve done your job well, if you’ve recruited and hired competent people, let them do their job. You do yours which is to lead and we all understand that leadership is an inspirational function primarily. Stay out unless and until you’re needed and then tread carefully.
  7. Give away credit when victories are won, objectives are surpassed, and milestones are reached even if there is still a long ways to go. Every week, every two weeks, or once a month, money shows up in our bank accounts. Pay periods happen often on most jobs. Why? Because we have bills to pay? Well, yeah, but it is the periodic reward made in exchange for our work that keeps us coming back. Here’s a hint: The higher up the pay scale someone is, the more critical it is that rewards be more than monetary. There is the sense of satisfaction, the feeling that effort and talent have meaning that encourages us. Hope comes when we feel that we are making a difference. That cannot wait until the job is completely finished

9 things your associates and team absolutely need to make the journey towards vision. What Lewis and Clark shows us about effective leadership and the pursuit of vision.

lewis-and-clark-paintingUndaunted Courage is one of the great stories in American history. When Merriweather Lewis and William Clark departed St. Louis in May, 1804 on what was then called the Corps of Discovery Expedition, they actually failed in their stated purpose. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce” their 2 year journey did not find a contiguous water route across the continent.

Nevertheless, their expedition can be regarded as successful because they did find much more and they did extend the sovereignty of the fledgling United States government over the continent. They made the trip to the Pacific Ocean and back, gathered information about the resources included in the Louisiana Purchase, and made notable contributions to science. Their skills as leaders are beyond question and their accomplishments as explorers and emissaries of the President are beyond question.

It is their ability to handle the unknowns of the journey that concern us here. Lewis and Clark were highly competent strategic planners. A close examination of their journals and the testimony of those who accompanied them attest to that. The embarkation into the unknown, to boldly go where no one had gone before, testify of excellence in the entire team, leaders and followers.

The very word “leadership” implies going somewhere, doing something. If vision is the ultimate destination planning is the key to a successful journey. Travelers need the following 9 things.

  1. They need an idea of where they are going and that it makes sense. It must connect in some logical manner with the overall business one is in. A commission from the President helped, but that alone is inadequate. One must connect the dots, to employ a tired phrase from the vocabulary of consultants. The trip must make sense.
  2. They need a reason to make the trip with you, preferably more than one reason. “Because” is not good enough. Neither is “I said so.” This is the first step into buy-in, that intangible bot oh so real element of voluntary cooperation and energetic enthusiasm.
  3. They need to know that the journey is not a trip to fantasy land. Always deal in facts not opinions, in truth not speculation. The unknowns hiding in the future are threatening enough. The assurances found in the familiarity of past patterns and manageable surroundings are sticky. Breaking free of them demands that something desirable and real lay within reach.
  4. They need to know what to expect along the way. Even if you don’t know, they need to feel like you can handle it. Effective leaders never let on they are in the dark or without answers. Their fears will probably be bigger than real life. Fear and anxiety magnifies the unknown and you can bring it down to manageable size.
  5. They need an answer to the question “Are we there yet?” The enthusiasm found in launches of new ventures soon wears off. Celebrate incremental progress. It helps cut the journey into manageable into pieces.
  6. They need sustenance on the journey. Your input here is absolutely critical. Stay connected. Stay communicative. Stay engaged. Stay positive. Stay optimistic and expectant.
  7. They need courage and motivation to continue the trip. See #’s 5 and 6. Weariness sets in. Don’t press too hard or too much. Allow downtime and recreation which “re-creates” the initial feelings of excitement and renews enthusiasm.
  8. They need assurance that the trip is worth the effort. If you’re not sure, if you’re discouraged, and you transmit that to your team, they will be discouraged and uncertain, too. Keep the vision foremost in your thinking.
  9. They need a reasonable expectation that it will be successful. No one likes a lost cause. Participants in suicidal missions are hard to find. Everyone needs to feel significant and that the things to which they give their lives and efforts need to be worthy of their best efforts. If the objective is not, don’t even bother. Give yourself only to things which will make a great deal of significance when you succeed. Don’t ask others to do anything else.
  10. They need to know that you can handle surprises. You do this based on your history with them and, if you’re new, by pulling off wins. If you exaggerate, if you fail early on, the journey will be even more difficult, perhaps even impossible.
  11. They need to know they can meet the milestones set for the itinerary and why they are missed. Don’t be over-optimistic here. Your staff functions in the real world, or at least they should, and so must you. Use your experience to set reasonable and realistic goals remembering that if anything can go wrong, it will.

Lewis and Clark pulled it off. You can too.