Whose garden are you growing?

I’m not much of a gardener, but I have friends who are exceptional gardeners, and it’s a lot of work. Breaking ground, tilling, sowing, watering, feeding, deweeding, and pruning are just the common activities for whatever you’re growing. Then there’s a litany of not so common activities: planning, calculating, fencing, maintaining your tools, and protection from a host of factors.

Organizational culture is similar to a garden and has many correlated activities. Interviewing, hiring, installing (of new hires), paying, training, mitigating, and correction, along with vision casting, calculating (math is math), settling disputes, seminars and industry news, and legality. Neither list is exhaustive, and yet I’m confident that for every one, there is a corresponding other.

It raises a simple question: who, or what, are you growing? Continue reading

The courage of the servant-leader

There are few who have a harder job than a receptionist.

Nobody is more abused than the receptionist, whether that is by customers, staff, or the job itself. If your job is hard, then the receptionist’s job is likely harder. Your receptionist gets the brunt of your mistakes in the form of disgruntled customers; customers will tell your receptionist before they tell you (if at all), and serenity is often absent when they inform your receptionist of your failures. Show me a dispirited pool of receptionists, and I’ll show you a dysfunctional organization.

With that said, perhaps the hardest receptionist position is the one who serves the mentally ill. Continue reading

Doing the dirty work

It was one of the most efficient crews I ever worked with, in one of the most unlikeliest of places: fast food.

Yup, I worked fast food as a teenager, as have many others. Where I did so is not relevant, as they are all pretty much the same, born from the same process attributed to Ray Kroc. It was an education, but only because of my age, as we all have to start somewhere. What stood out about the experience was not the job or the industry, but the general manager.

What was remarkable about him? He was always doing the dirty work. Continue reading

What is your intrinsic motivation?

As a new UPS supervisor, it was a simple challenge: raise the standard of quality from “good” to “excellent”. And I had nothing to work with.

Many know about the excellent pay and benefits at UPS, and this is generally true, from management, to line-haul drivers, and to delivery drivers. In short, everyone is paid well, except for one department: the loaders. This was the department I was newly elected to lead.

A “loader” is simply anyone who works off of the conveyor belt, distributing packages from one source to another. Regardless of where the loader is placed, it is a physically demanding, often part-time job of little pay. For those seeking employment in a better-paying area of the company, it is the entry point to prove one’s self. For the rest, entry-level employment at UPS is often a mistake not repeated: many don’t last past the first month.

How do you raise the standard of quality when your department is defined by constant turnover? Thankfully, I already had a solution.

Every moment not spent doing administrative tasks was spent on the shop floor, conversing with my employees and getting to know them. My aim was to find the reason for why they took the job in the first place. What were their goals? Their dreams? Their needs? As I got to know them, I welded their individual motivations to organizational goals.

Turnover was reduced as an efficient team began to form, motivated to meet the rigorous standards UPS demands as they were cross-trained to handle any position, up and down the conveyor belt. By the holidays, we were a well-oiled machine, turning in one of the highest-quality performances in recent memory. In spring, our branch was selected for a dreaded external audit. Our department earned a perfect score, something never achieved at that branch.

All of this accomplished through understanding and applying two simple words: intrinsic motivation.

Motives are the foundation from which goals are derived. Your career goals are often motivated by obtaining what you want in life and supporting yourself and your family. Although this is often enough to show up everyday and earn a paycheck, to be truly good at whatever you do, you need to have stronger motives than these basic needs. Otherwise, when faced with adversity, you will not have the endurance to overcome the copious amounts of discouragement and disappointment you will experience during your journey and, instead of overcoming the adversity, you will sink back into mediocrity. This is as true for the CEO as it is for the burger-flipper.

The quality of the motive corresponds to the challenge. Peer into the lives of everyone exemplifying greatness at a level of immense responsibility, and you will often find a motive that is greater than the person, whether that is religion, a higher power, a higher level of moral reasoning, or some other motivation that is beyond caring for one’s base needs.

Are you failing to achieve a standard of excellence in what you do? Maybe it’s time to reexamine your motives.

Motives should never be static. What motivated you yesterday will likely not do for today. As we grow, our interests change, our dreams evolve, and we reach for more than we have today. As we do all of this, our motives must necessarily evolve to match the change within each of us. If our motives do not change, it is a sign we are not growing in life as well as we should.

What drives a person to reexamine their motives? When the old motive no longer sufficiently powers that person through the challenges and suffering encountered in life.

I firmly believe burn-out happens for many professionals when their present motives are no longer sufficient for current challenges. What started with noble aspirations becomes drudgery as the spirit at the core of their service offering to others is lost.

Which brings me to one last point for leaders. Every good leader I have witnessed does not address where they think a person ought to be, but rather where they are presently. Good leaders are consistently challenging their people to strive for more, reach higher, and become more than they were yesterday because they practice this themselves as necessary for success.

And as a wise person once said, the un-examined life is not worth living.

So I’ll pose the question again: what is your intrinsic motive for what you do?

The sublimity of servant-leadership

Servant-leaders are grown from servants. How do you find someone with servant-leadership traits? You first have to know the tools used to form servants. If you don’t recognize the tools, you won’t recognize the handiwork. Continue reading

Cleaning up after mice

I didn’t know I was building character for a lifetime. I just wanted some extra cash.

I was a freshman in high school, and I was hungry. Not literally, of course: I came from an affluent middle-class home and I had all the basics amply provided. However, my parents were instilled with that hard-nosed work-ethic, which says life is meant to be earned, not handed to you. If I wanted money for something, I had to wait for a holiday.

So, when my Dad mentioned someone he knew and worked with who needed help on his ranch, I jumped at the idea. Then he told me the wage.Two bucks an hour. Minimum wage was more than double. Still, I took the job. It wasn’t like I had other options. Continue reading