Safety, the Duty of Leadership

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day on the subject of leadership and what it is to have a great boss.  As we talked, he mentioned that the best boss he ever had was one who “had his back.”  In other words, this boss protected his people.

My friend went on to say that this feeling of security had a huge impact.  He said he felt empowered and safe to make decisions.  He felt more able to innovate and come up with novel ideas.  He felt better about sharing those ideas without fearing that he would be silenced or sidelined because he was taking the light off his boss.

My friend went on to say that this “protection” influenced the way his entire team operated.  The team was more open and shared ideas; they all worked more for each other than for themselves, and they freely shared credit for things.

As we were talking, I was thinking, “How can any of this be a bad thing?  Why are business leaders not more in tune with this?  How can these benefits not be a key to greater success?”  Ultimately, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Where have we gone so wrong?”

I found the answer in a quote from Simon Sinek in his book “Leaders Eat Last” (read this now if you haven’t already), “In the military, they give medals to people who sacrifice themselves so that others may gain; in business, they give bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that they may gain.” In other words, we have misplaced our priorities; we have fallen off the path to long-term success by focusing on an “each person for themselves” philosophy.  How do we change it?

I think it starts with each of us make a concerted effort to stand up for the people on our teams, to look to our left and to our right and see who we can help.  It starts by setting an example.  It starts by influencing those around us to build a circle of safety.  In the words of PFC Louden Downey in the movie “A Few Good Men,” “We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.” This is the nature of true leadership instead of just being a person with a title, and this is how we all can start building places where we get the benefits listed above.

QUESTION:   What can you start doing tomorrow to influence building an environment where people feel safe to voice their opinions and ideas?  How can you stand up for others with whom you work?






“How do you do that?”  My kids ask me that periodically when I end up talking to a complete stranger in the checkout line at the grocery store or on an elevator.  They seem to marvel that I can not only start up conversation but that I have a desire to do it.

It got me to thinking about communication and what I see as the sad state of affairs afflicting our culture to date. It seems we spend a lot of time looking at the tops of each other’s heads as we all type away on our mobile devices.  What happened to conversation?

The next time you are in a public place, look around and see how many people are talking to each other versus how many have their noses planted in their phones.  When you really look around and do this, you might find yourself shocked?

Well, before you stop reading and call me a fuddy-duddy old man who needs to get a grip on contemporary culture, think again.  What implications does this have?

When you go into a place of business, don’t you like a little relationship-building conversation?  Don’t you like it when someone asks how you’re doing or whether you saw the game last night? If the current teenager and younger has very little ability to do this, what will service experiences be like 10 years from now?  Will we just text each other everything?

I am addicted to my mobile device as much as the next person but I worry that our ability to connect on a basic human level is being lost.  I worry that one of the simplest and most rewarding things we do as human beings, face-to-face communication that articulates feeling, is being lost in the name of progress.  I worry that more and more educational opportunities are becoming available only in an online environment.  I don’t know about you, but at some point I like to sit with real living people and have meaningful discussion, not a computer screen full of faces or, worse yet, text boxes.

While I am not suggesting we go back in time, I am suggesting that we all take a moment each day to turn off our devices and have live communication without the distraction of texting and emails.  We could all use the practice and we could all use the connection to living people.  Next time you’re in the checkout line or on the elevator, look up from your phone and say something kind, change someone’s day, make a living connection.

The Big Question

I was talking to a friend yesterday who is an educator.  She recently took the position of Chair of her department.  In our conversation, she relayed her frustration that so many of her colleagues presented ideas and wanted to implement policies that she did not feel were in the best interests of the students.  She said she felt her colleagues had lost their way and were working on many things for their own benefit at the exclusion of students.  She expressed her new-found mission to begin looking at everything from the students’ perspective.  She said she wanted to make “is what we are talking about in the best interest of our students?” her first question and then move on to any other concerns dependent on a “yes” on that question.

I was very happy during this conversation because that is the essence of my entire philosophy of service and teaching is most definitely a service.  Think of it, if businesses, schools and organizations made “is what we are doing in the best interests of those we serve?” their first question, how would it change the level of service provided?  If managers asked that questions before implementing new policies and procedures, how would that change the life of employees?  How would it change the level of difficulty end-user customers deal with?

Ultimately, the point of service is really all about selfishness or selflessness, this is the real question businesses, schools and organizations must look at.  Do you want to look inward and do things that benefit you first or do you want to look outward and benefit those you serve first?  Huge concept, huge game changer, huge mission.

How to begin?  Ask yourself this every day, “Is what I am doing right now helping others succeed?”  If you need a reminder, go to the resources page and download the Big Focusing Question poster.  Hang it up where you can see it.  Start looking at whether your actions, ideas and plans are in the best interests of those you serve before you say yes to any other viewpoint.

QUESTION:  Is what you are doing or about to do in the best interest of those you serve?  Will it work to make others successful?



What guides your business decisions?

Starbucks, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Disney are examples of companies that make decisions based on what makes their customers successful and they prepare their people and their operations to follow through.  This decision making is due to clarity of purpose, “everything we do, we do to make our customers successful.”

This clarity of purpose gives the entire company the motivation to go beyond merely executing scripted tasks and demonstrating behaviors from a checklist to delivering interactions that connect with their customers.  This purpose moves their work from selling a product to helping customers do what they do better and perhaps changing their lives just a little.  When companies have a clear, customer-focused purpose, they make different decisions; they make decisions that are more selfless than selfish.  When companies have a clear, unified purpose they can overcome the problems of silos going their own way to satisfy their own needs; rather, a unified purpose gets the entire organization moving in one direction where decisions are connected and are guided by a common goal.

Regardless of the type of business, when purpose steers decision making, employees have a guide for what to do and what to provide.   This unity and congruence gives customers confidence in the business.  They develop loyalty and become advocates who want others to experience what you deliver.  Stories of the great experience with your business become what define you and customers become your most powerful marketing force.  This results in growth and profitability.

It’s a simple formula, make customer success your purpose, make decisions based on that purpose, customers love it and help the business be successful.  Everyone wins.  It makes me wonder, why is this such an anomaly?

QUESTION: What purpose guides your decision-making?