Measuring the Right Stuff

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Dear Colleague,

Best-selling author Annie Lamott tells the story of her competition with another pre-school mom in her award winning book Traveling Mercies.  Their sons were best friends but the mothers were constantly locked in a competitive battle of who had the better son, and thus was the better mother.   On one occasion, the other mother gave Annie a feigned smile and offered a small stack of used picture books with the observation “Since my son is an ‘early’ reader, I thought Sam would enjoy these since he seems to be a ‘late’ reader.”

Annie recalls boiling with anger but accepted them with a forced smile.   She immediately wanted to find an arena where Sam excelled, so she could be the better mom.  Then she noticed that Sam’s sneakers were about 2 sizes bigger.  “Aha” she gloated.  “My son may not be the early reader, but look how big his feet are.”   Then she stopped in her tracks and had a true “aha” moment when she recognized the ridiculous lengths she was going to in order to win this contest that was only between the moms.

Just like parents, leaders often compete over the wrong issues just to convince themselves of being number one.  When pressured to succeed, we can all be tempted to measure the wrong stuff and get caught up in what doesn’t matter or add value.  In stressful times, it becomes easy to forget what the real mission is in leading others.

Measuring and valuing the right stuff are at the center of every healthy corporate culture.  Research has proven that the surest path to profitability is a culture where everyone – from hourly temps to mid-level managers to C-level executives – is valued as having a piece of the puzzle.

Susan sig

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The Right Stuff:

1.  Generosity:  Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla recently gave away the rights to all his patents to Tesla’s electric vehicles, making them available to any car company that wanted to use them.   While he believes his company will continue to produce great electric vehicles, he could see that the current production and sale of electric cars was too small to make much of an improvement in lessening carbon dioxide emissions.   So in a wildly courageous and creative move, he removed the framed patents from the walls of the corporate office on Friday, June 13, 2014  and on the following Monday offered them to anyone who would use them.  That very week Tesla was in dialogue with rival BMW to discuss building recharging stations and creating a common infrastructure.

As Einstein said “We cannot solve today’s problems with the same level of thinking we used in the past.”  Whether we are attempting to get a disinterested employee more engaged in the workplace or passionately trying to make a dent in the universe with an idea or a product, playing it differently, with greater generosity and less self-interest, can product amazing results.

2. Honesty with Ourselves and Others:   Brené Brown, author, speaker, and researcher has over 15 million views on TEDtalk.  She is one of the highest rated speakers on the site.   Her topic is the power of vulnerability in the workplace.  Brené has proven that vulnerability in both personal and professional relationships can be a tremendous source of strength and a force for good, and not just a perceived weakness that needs correction.

One of our clients was very frustrated with an under-performing direct report who had a consistently bad attitude.  He overheard this rather heated exchange between his direct report and a co-worker: “Don’t work so darn hard.  You are making the rest of us look really bad.”   As his supervisor, our client was ready to fire him but decided to have a few minutes alone with him and asked him sincerely, “What is going on?  Why are you so angry?”

There was a long pause and the employee blurted out “My mom is dying of cancer and I’m the sole caretaker of her.  And I’m burned out.”  Our client was able to provide family leave, had the job open when the employee returned six weeks later, and now the employee is among the most loyal, dedicated, and positive employees on his team. His compassion also provided a powerful example to other team members of the seeing the right stuff in their workplace.

When leaders are perceptive and vulnerable, ask the right questions, listen without formulating an immediate response, and try to improve the situation even if it is a temporary inconvenience to them, the right message gets infused into the workplace.

3. Hospitality in all Relationships:  Danny Meyer, author, creator and owner of 11 of New York City’s most successful restaurants is a hard-charging entrepreneur in the best sense of the word.  He takes big risks, works incredible hours, has moments of true doubt and anxiety, and has perfected the delivery of the secret sauce in his business – hospitality.  He wrote Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality about lessons he has learned in opening and running spectacularly successful restaurants and how to apply these lessons in hospitality to all businesses.  Simply stated, hospitality is a genuine connection to how others feel and how your actions will impact them.   It’s the warmth, thoughtfulness, and gratitude to a customer who has made the decision to hire your company and buy your product.  It is also the warmth and connection that exists among team members within an organization.

One of the reviews he received about Blue Smoke, his barbecue restaurant, applies to nearly every business.  “We love your restaurant, we adore the food, but your people are what we treasure most about being there.”  Danny instructs all his people to make three gestures each day to three customers that significantly exceed expectations and show that the restaurant takes a special interest in them.  As a hands-on manager, Danny himself will regularly go out of his way to introduce one guest to another, linking them via a personal interest or a business connection.

Measuring the right stuff requires a kind of vigilance.  Whether a business is there to welcome and feed people, raise capital, sell cars, or provide any other important product or service, generosity, honest connection, and authentic hospitality transform teams, leaders, and businesses. View your customers, or potential customers, as you would a good neighbor and treat them accordingly.  Then watch your world expand and your career and business grow.