“The best executive,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt, “is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Suffice it to say during all of the years I was employed by someone else, there was only one boss I ever had who fit T.R.’s definition of quality leadership. Woefully, the rest were either manic control freaks and paranoid blame-gamers or women that were gung-ho about teamwork and upward mobility…until, that is, they crossed over into managerial positions and promptly pulled the drawbridge up behind them.
Such are the individuals who could benefit mightily from David M. Dye’s new book, The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. Targeted to leaders and managers, this how-to guide is packed with practical and encouraging tools for cultivating energized, responsible, and results-oriented teams.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: With 20+ years of experience in multiple business sectors – including nonprofits – who would you say had the greatest influence in honing your professional skills (and passion!) for leadership and employee engagement?
A: I’ve always believed that the very best life-textbooks we have are when things don’t go well. I’ve had some excellent leadership mentors, but often the people who weren’t very good taught me the most and helped me honed my own professional skills. My passion often came from realizing what would be possible if only the leadership was more effective.
Q: How has your mindset changed and evolved from how you originally approached leadership issues and how you address them now in consultations with your clients?
A: When I was young, I went searching for the secret to changing people (naïve, I know!). Of course, as I matured, I came to understand that the only person you are responsible for is you. Consequently, my approach to leadership shifted from fear, power, and control to real engagement based on taking responsibility for myself and the environment I create for the people I lead.
Q: Once upon a time, individuals fresh out of college (or even high school) would go to work for the very first company that hired them, climb the promotional ladder, and remain there until the day they retired. Nowadays, many students are not as wedded to the idea of corporate loyalty and, accordingly, view every job as a revolving door to somewhere else. How then, can today’s employers create an environment that will not only engage the members of their team but also provide incentives that will make them want to stay?
A: No team can thrive without trust. The tension you’ve described is a lack of trust between employers and employees. When neither group feels that the other cares about them, it is tough to build high performance organizations. The answer begins with something Stephen Chbosky, Writer and Director of Perks of Being a Wallflower, said: “The generation gap is nothing more than a conversation we haven’t had yet.”
People want similar things, but they want them in different ways. They want meaningful contribution, purpose, recognition, a feeling of growth, a sense of power over their own destiny, the opportunity to use their strengths in meaningful ways. These express themselves in different ways in different people…so start with conversation. What is important to you? What is important to them? Why are you both here?
Q: How do these principles of engagement and esprit de corps extend to the external teams with whom a company does business, especially, for instance, if their management practices are radically different?
A: It depends on the nature of the interactions. If an external group is going to be closely related to day-to-day operations, you want to be very careful about doing business with someone whose values are very different from your own. More generally, however, treat those individuals and their teams consistently with your own values and practices without judgment or criticism. You may even change how they do things.
Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that managers make under the umbrella of “Motivation”?
What I mean by Band-Aids is when manager becomes aware that there is a motivation or morale problem and they respond with a team bowling day or a pizza party. The team collectively rolls its eyes and now feels even worse. Why?
They feel worse because now the manager is essentially telling them, “I’m not going to address the real issue. In fact, you must now feel better because we did something ‘fun’.”
This is so demotivating. Fun is only fun when fundamentals are sound. If there are broken systems undermining productivity, having a pizza party is like slapping a Band Aid on an infected wound without first cleaning it, disinfecting, and getting stitches.
Q: Is leadership a natural born talent or one that can only be learned through hands-on experience?
A: It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. Leadership has many components and most everyone is born with strengths in one or two areas. Effective leaders learn their skills and acquire ability through study, mentors, and experience.
Q: There are lots of leadership books on the market but you’ve approached the topic very differently. How did you come upon the idea of the ‘things your team needs to hear you say’ as a structure for your message/book?
A: Above all, I want the tools I share to be practical – something you can read during lunch and apply as soon as you return to your team. I focused on what leaders say because words are an easily modified behavior, because words work, and because what we say is often the start of further behavior change.
Q: You’ve included a number of individuals and stories in your book. Was there one in particular that profoundly touched your heart and made you say, “Wow”?
A: I share a story about a time my daughter asked why nothing she does is good enough. It is difficult to share, even now, how impactful that was. It goes back to why I focused on what leaders say: our words have incredible power, either to create or devastate.
Q: What’s the first thing you hope your readers do after finishing your book?
A: I hope the first thing readers do is tell themselves, “You can do this!” The second thing would be to pick a phrase and share it with their team.
Q: What prompted you to launch Trailblaze and what are its core objectives?
A: We have thousands of years of leadership wisdom available to us and yet 2/3 of Americans say they’d prefer a better boss to a raise in pay.
Clearly, there are so many leaders in need of practical wisdom they can apply in a fast-paced, pressure-filled environment. I launched Trailblaze to provide leaders, managers, and supervisors with practical tools they can use to get more done, build teams that care, and meet their goals.
Our core objective is to help leaders be effective at what they do. I think of my work as a “force-multiplier” for all the wonderful vision, passions, and energy people bring to their jobs.
Q: If you had to summarize your message on a billboard, bumper sticker or tweet, what would it say?
Everyone’s a volunteer.
Lead to bring out the best, not wring out the worst.
Be the leader you want your boss to be.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
A: My website is http://trailblazeinc.com.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Imagine what can happen when people take responsibility for their corner of the world and work with those around them to make a better tomorrow. I invite you to be one of those people!
The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.