3 reasons why we lead

There was a time that I refused to lead.. I left my professional accounting career and worked as a consultant, or as a part-time or full-time contractor. In those roles, I worked with conglomerates, SMEs and multinationals, in the oil & gas, insurance, trade union, financial, hotel and retail sectors. From this external position, i had a wonderful vantage point to observe a wide and large cross section of leaders and teams. During those 11 years, I listened to employees and managers share their frustrations about leading or being led, and I realised that I was part of the problem – because I refused to take up the leadership mantle. And so, I determined to return to leadership within an organisation, so that I could develop and experiment with leadership. From my discussions with other leaders, my experiences and my observations I determined that there are three reasons why people decide to lead.

  1. We want to – Leadership offers the unique opportunity, to fulfil our loftier ambitions. When we decide to lead, we determine to move beyond management even while required to coordinate, organise and plan the work of others. These technical aspects of the job become mundane and are no longer enough to satisfy us; we feel the need to provide something more for our team members and to ask more of ourselves. Leadership allowed me frequent occasions to live my personal vision of “enhancing the lifes of people with whom I make contact”. On a daily basis, I was offered the potential to make a difference, to enhance a life, and to be the person whom I envisioned myself to be.  On a daily basis I could do as I wanted, to lead, that is, to harness the intelligence and creativity of the team.
  2. We need to – As I work with organisations, I notice that there is a dearth of leadership as well as an amazing bunch of talented leaders. I also noticed that not all leaders hold leadership roles on the company’s organisational chart. Yet, I see these men and women happily provide leadership to their teams. Yes, I am talking about the oft dreaded ‘informal’ leader. When asked why do they do it, they reply that, “Someone needs to do something,” or “If I do nothing I will be part of the problem” or they cast aspersions on the status quo. These leaders have identified the intangible qualities that are missing in the organisation and they decide, to provide or be what is missing in the system ( in their own way). They lead because they feel or think there is a void and they take responsibility for filling that void. In so doing, they issue a silent challenge to all of us – Lead from where you are, because the organisation needs you to. What better reason is there?
  3. We are placed in a leadership position – A lot of us never thought about leadership until hired or promoted to such a position. We have all seen it – the high performer or a technical expert who protested being placed in a leadership position.  It is easy for us to blame “management” for not listening, but what then is the onus of the new appointee?   Let’s face it, (s)he could have said “No”, or declined the job or resigned or found another job. Instead, (s)he said yes to all that the new job brings – which includes the perks and leadership. Once the promotion has been accepted then he appointee needs to live up to hi/her part of the bargain and be deliberate in his/ber intention to lead

Now dear reader let’s focus the light on you: Your leadership is important. What is the reason for your leadership? What is your new reason for leadership? Drop me a line, I would love to know.

Maxine Attong is the author of two business books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead your Team to Win.  She is a speaker, coach, Organisational Development consultant and of course an accountant.

3 reasons why Leadership is important

I’ve pondered the question,” Why is leadership important? throughout my career. The answer eluded me until I developed my definition of leadership as the harnessing of the creativity and the intelligence of people – then  I clearly understood why leadership is important.

There are many analogies of the leader – as surgeon, conductor, etc. –  that essentially share the importance of the leaders. (They direct team members, assign tasks according to the level of skill and competency, have a helicopter’s view of the team,  assists members to fulfil their roles and responsibilities, and the list goes on.)

What if we shift focus and narrow in on team members? Why do team members think leadership is important?

When I answer these questions from the team members’ perspective, the reasons become more nuanced, more social and less about business. I believe that when leadership acts as a harness, it  has the potential to allow each team member to be part of something bigger, to tap into members innate desire to be led and to provide members the opportunity to dwell in community. Let me explain:

We want to be part of something bigger – Each of us matters. Each of us wants to matter. While our current situation may not reflect our deepest desire, we each want our life to mean something. This desire for meaning also extends to the hours spent earning our keep. Effective Leadership helps us to link daily tasks, our roles and our responsibilities to a bigger vision, a larger purpose and a grander scheme. Leadership paints a vivid picture, that engenders our belief that what we are doing is important and often critical to the success of the team, of the organisation and of our individual selves. We want leadership to connect us to something beyond the mundane, other than ordinary, and into something bigger.

We want to be led – Why do people “keep up with the Kardashians”? Why do they adopt their fashion, behaviour and mannerisms? Because they want to be led. We’ve seen this before with great political, religious and thought leaders who have commanded large audiences, willing us to be more, and encouraging us to believe that more is possible. We want a voice to speak for us, we want someone to emulate, we want a champion and we want to be part of their world. Effective leadership, satisfies these needs on a regular basis as their image reflects the great in us, and as it acknowledges that we are not sheep.

We want to be in community –  Man has always lived in community – for protection, for food, for spiritual and other reasons. This is an old need of ours – to be of a community, to be in community. We want to belong to a group, that respects us, that we respect, that shares similar beliefs and holds complimentary values. Leadership allows us this sense of community when it corrals the various perspectives, personal agendas, skills and competencies of the team members to achieve a common purpose. Leadership is the glue that holds the various thoughts, opinions and ambitions of the team members together and guides them in a common direction. There is no loss of or squashing of or disrespecting of independent thought, instead there is a tacit agreement that for the common objective to be achieved we will move forward in this direction.

Now dear reader let’s turn the lens on you. Why do you want to be a leader? Why is your leadership important?

P.S. Drop me a line and share you thoughts.

Maxine Attong is the author of two business books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead your Team to Win.  She is a speaker, coach, Organisational Development consultant and of course an accountant.

What is Leadership?

Google the word Leadership and you will receive 805,000,000 results in 0.85 seconds. Do the same on Amazon and it will return over 214,000 results.  Clearly, there is a lot of interest in leadership. Yet, with the many websites, the various books, and the ever increasing amount of leadership gurus and executive coaches, most of us struggle when asked to take up the leadership mantle.
I was one of those leaders who was losing the battle with leadership. To be honest, the books that I read, the gurus that I listened to, could not have helped me. I’m the type of person who never reads the manual, I just plunge right in, believing that I could do it – how hard could it be?
So I had to stumble, fall, try different things, and then step back from it all, review my failures and successes, compare and contrast my behaviour with that of others and then make a grand conclusion about what leadership meant to me.
From my rumination, observations and experiences, I define leadership as the harnessing of the creativity and the intelligence of the people with whom I work.
This definition works well for me because:
It’s not about me – My role is that of leader, but leadership is not about me. It is about the team members and how I work with them to achieve objectives. My focus therefore needs to be external and not internal, my lens wide and not myopic and my embrace inclusive and not exclusive.
Leadership is not about control – There is a lot of imagery of the Leader taking charge – from in front or behind – of the Leader being in control, or of the Leader making decisions. When I take control of everything, I also take responsibility for all that happens, which leaves me overworked, stressed, and extremely tired with a long list of never ending tasks. Honestly, I do not want to be in control.
What’s with the harness – A horse’s harness provides guidance; a harness on a team of horses ensures that the horses stay together and keep pace. Yes, humans are not horses, but you get the idea. Leaders are to work with the personalities, the characteristics and the ambitions of each team member and guide these at an individual and group level to achieve the team’s objectives. No easy task.
People are Intelligent – Neuroscience confirms that adults are not “old dogs”, we can as we age learn new tricks, since the brain regularly produces new neurons. Psychologists have identified as many as 12 different types of intelligence in humans, and have proven that most humans display more than one type of intelligence and can learn other types. Leaders have a lot of raw material to work with. People are like mirrors, If we treat them as intelligent, they will act intelligently. Be warned, lots of patience, reinforcing words and compassion are needed when working with  persons whose intelligence has been battered.
People are creative –  Give team members permission to be creative – have discussions sans judgement, encourage the generation of new ideas and projects and build an atmosphere that engenders lightness, playfulness and risk taking.
Leadership is about you – You, the leader, are an unique individual with unique perspectives and experiences.  These hold real value and are the purest resources that you have to draw upon. Yes take the advice of others, or  read the books, but know that at the end of the day ,you have some decisions to make. What kind of leader do you want to be? How are you going to lead? What are those aspects of your personality that make you either an effective or ineffective leader? What are you going to do about it ?

Once I committed to my definition of leadership, I became more comfortable in my role as leader.  I saw my effectiveness grow (though the behaviour and results of the team). The task no longer felt daunting, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else or possess qualities that I did not have. I could operate from my perfectly imperfect self and be an effective leader.

Maxine Attong coaches leaders who want to be more effective. Contact her if you want to enhance your leadership. She is the author of Lead Your Team to Win.

3 Employee Engagement Tips

I’ve been writing about #EmployeeEngagement for the month and the most questions that I receive are about HOW?  How do we engage employees, as leaders?
I like these questions – not only because I can answer them – but because the emphasis is on the leader’s role.
Very often we speak of the employees being intellectually and mentally connected to the organization, but the organization is a thing and cannot of its own, take action.  The first line of connection that an employee has with the company is often and sometimes solely through the person to whom they report. It is the Manager, Leader, Supervisor, Team Leader who is the organization’s forward in delivering the #EmployeeEngagement goal. Unfortunately the leader , manager, supervisor or team  does not always actively think that engagement is part of his/her role.
When I lead teams I know that it is my responsibility to provide the conditions for employees to connect with the work that they do and by extension the organization. I use the three below tips to help engage employees.

  1. What’s in it for me? We are motivated when we think that our actions will bring us closer to what we want.  Each employee works for different reasons – some  want job security, others want to rack up achievements, while some want money to pursue their dreams, take care of families or build a business. Each employee has a reason for working even though they may not be able to, or want to, or are afraid of articulating it.  When I understood the personal desires of  each employee I was able to delegate tasks, develop career paths, offer relevant training and sometimes advise the employee to move on. Employees that I worked with did not always like me, nor me them, but they were connected to what they were doing because they were clear about the indelible link between their job and  their desire.
  2. One-on-One – How does a manager/ leader know what employees want? I have one-on-one meetings with employees. The intention of these meeting is to understand what makes the employee tick.  One-on-ones last for 30 minutes. In the first 10 minutes the employee talks about what’s on his mind, the second 10 minutes the manager asks “WHAT “ and “HOW” questions to  clarify the information received from the employees and to help the employee work through the issues presented.  The last 10 minutes are spent with the employee summarizing the meeting and thinking about the next steps. These sessions are voluntary so employees may not always attend or follow the proposed structure. I’ve lead teams whose members all refused to attend one-on-one sessions. Over time, some of these team members popped into my office, closed the door and began to talk. (Regular team meetings were used as avenues to engage others) Learning about the employee does not happen overnight, as employees are often tentative of such engagements – especially if this is a first for them. Initial sessions may be awkward and it will take several sessions for both the employee and leader to feel comfortable. These meetings allowed me to understand the dreams, the desires, the ambitions, the fears, the challenges and the dashed hopes of employees.  I was always left with a better appreciation  of their life priorities and what tasks to assign so that they remain motivated and achieved some aspect of their personal ambition because of the work that they do.
  3. What type of leader are you? Let’s be real – can you honour a one-on-one? When employees reveal themselves and their ambitions to you what do you do with this? I sift through the information to glean the bits that are relevant to the job and ignore the rest. I don’t fool myself – the person in front of me is a complex, adult, human being and chooses to show me only one side of his/herself. I only get a glimpse of the employee’s  personal affairs, and I cannot verify the information, follow up or give advice., nor can I take any action based on personal information revealed in the one-on-one ( unless the employee plans to hurt her/himself or someone else).  The personal information is a backdrop, my focus is only on how this information provides guidance about task assignment. It allows me an avenue for agreeing with the employee how the job and their ambitions can be aligned despite the challenges or limitations that may be present. Nothing else that they say is relevant to this, despite how juicy it may be.  So let’s be honest.
    One-on-Ones are not for you, if you
    * Can’t maintain confidence
    *Share what you hear,
    *Think life should/ must/ has to  be lived one way
    *Have little tolerance for differences

Put one-on-ones in your toolkit if you
* Can manage your judgements ( we all have them)
*Are willing to broaden your world view
*Are aware that you do not know the employee even if they share deeply
*Can compartmentalize and select only relevant information

One-on-Ones work when employees build trust in their leader and the leader respects the trust that has been built. This is not an overnight process.

In my book- Lead Your Team to Win – I share even more engagement tips.

P.S. I have  encountered  employees who do not want to connect with the job – some are marking time or passing through. When I encounter these persons I collaborate with them to identify what they can do while they are part of the team and work with them for a transfer to another team or help them get another job.

Do you agree that employee engagement is part of the Manager/ Leader’s responsibility?
How do you engage the employees who report to you?

No Silver Bullet – Change Engagement Results

She called and said,” Every year, we do an #EmployeeEngagementSurvey and every year our score is more or less the same.’
I asked, “What do you do with the survey results?
She responded,” What do you mean?”
I tried again, “What actions does the company take between #EngagementSurveys to change the scores?”
She was equally bewildered; and I knew the answer to both questions – Nothing.
The Employee #EngagementSurveyResult is not an end of itself.  It is an indicator of the level of engagement that  employees have with the organization. If we think of the survey as a communication tool, then it simply says, “These are the areas in which the company is connecting/ not connecting with employees or these are areas that the employees feel engaged or disengaged with the company.”
The survey provides feedback on the level of emotional or intellectual connection that employees have with the different areas of the work environment – strategy, leadership communication, the work that they do and their career path, inter alia.
Like any good listener, when the company receives this feedback, the company needs to

  • Check for understanding
  • Make a decision
  • Give a response

For example, the #EngagementSurvey results indicate that communication is ineffective.The company needs to:

  • Check for understanding – Meet with employees to understand what’s behind the scores and give employees the opportunity to give examples or express feelings further.
  • Make a decision – We can do nothing. Or based on the feedback we need to have more staff meetings.
  • Give a response – The company announces that effective January 1 quarterly staff meetings will be held with a stated agenda.

In this example, the company has created more opportunities for communication. If the score is unchanged in a subsequent survey, the company now has new information to process, that is,  more meetings does not equal better communication. The unchanged result, after discussions with staff, may reveal that the meeting agenda is inadequate, or quarterly staff meetings in the company’s environment may be insufficient or a misinterpretation of employee feedback.

There is no silver bullet, the company has to follow the leads presented in the feedback and put actions in place, bearing in mind that there may be many facets to a problem, all competing for recognition at the same time.
The company’s duty is to collaborate with employees for possible solutions and to involve employees in the implementation of the solutions. The company alone cannot change the #EngagementScores.
While the focus is on the score – everyone wants a higher score – we need to acknowledge that this doesn’t happen automatically. Things need to be done differently for #EmployeeEngagement scores to increase.
There must be targeted effort to address the low scoring areas – which are improvement opportunities- and staff need to be actively involved for this to happen.
My colleague’s company obviously views the #EngagementScore as the end result, without understanding that it is just a beginning.

What does your company do between Employee Engagement Surveys?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Business and Life Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017, Kapok Hotel. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

And the survey says….

The Human Resources Manager hosted a Town Hall to share the results of the recently concluded  #EmployeeEngagementSurvey. He entered the room with great flair and seemed just as excited as we, since it was the first time that such a survey was conducted. My excitement waned after his opening remarks, “I’ve heard complaints about the company, but the survey says…”
As he shared the scores, he told the audience that the survey results placed the complainers in the minority, and  perceived problems were not supported by the survey results. As I squirmed in my chair, I noticed that my colleagues seemed equally uncomfortable with his performance.  After the meeting, we huddled and were left with two questions:

  1. How were the results tabulated?
  2. What do the results mean?

How were the results tabulated?
How would you interpret the results for the question:

Do you understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on your job?

The survey scores questions on a range of 1 – 5.  ( 5 being the highest score for the question asked and 1 being the lowest.) The results:

  • 40% of staff answer with a 5 – which means that they understand,
  • 10% of staff answer with a 1 – which means that they do not understand
  • 50% of staff respond with a 3 – which means that they understand to some extent

The results can be interpreted as:

  • 90% of staff understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on the job. or
  • 40% of the staff understand the impact of strategy, 60% do not.

Which of the interpretations accurately reflect the situation?

I caution against the use of  median results to buffer and tabulate better engagement scores. These scores are often not positive indicators of engagement – they may represent neutrality or ambivalence or lack of interest about the 2017 strategy, or a feeling that the strategy is separate from my job or some other meaning. Unless there is shared meaning about median scores, these cannot be seen as positive purveyors of engagement

What do the results mean?
Survey results communicate the level of #EmployeeEngagement to the company. Though the numbers provide data, there is need for a shared understanding of what the scores reflect.

I always meet with staff – by departments/ teams – after the survey results, to understand what the results mean.  At these meetings, I aim to spend 95% of the time listening to staff explain the reasons behind the scores and clarifying what is shared. I have heard the reasons for high scores as:

  • I understand the strategy,
  • I did not want to rock the boat,
  • I don’t believe the survey is anonymous/or I fear retribution,
  • I did not want to seem stupid.

Low scores may also reflect – that

  • The strategy is not understood,
  • A different interpretation of the questions,
  • The impact of a recent event,
  • Misunderstandings of past situations
  • A lack of interest in the question
  • The question is not seen as relevant

While these meetings do not change the scores, they give good insight into:

  • The meaning of the scores,
  • What needs to be addressed to change the score,
  • Pointers to address with staff before the next engagement survey
  • How some questions may need to be restated at the next survey.

Even though companies with a longer tradition of performing engagement surveys have less interpretation problems with the survey questions, the need to understand what is behind the scores remains the same.

While the score itself is important, it becomes even more relevant, when everyone clearly understands the thinking behind the scores.

As I reflect on the Town Hall, I am still left with the image of the gleeful HR Manager juxtaposed with the staff shuffling out of the meeting room. The results were seen as a validation of Employee Engagement efforts even though no attempts were made to understand what the results meant.  The high scores (which may have included middle scores) were enough for him.

What does your company do after the engagement survey results have been tabulated?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Business and Life Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017, Kapok Hotel. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

What to Measure in the Employee Engagement Survey

You’ve finally admitted that you’ve had enough – enough of reading facial expressions, enough of listening carefully for double meaning, enough of second guessing – all in an attempt to figure out the level of #EmployeeEngagement at your company. You decide to conduct an #EmployeeEngagementSurvey.
Whether you are designing the survey internally or using the services of a provider, you need to ensure that survey questions refer to the emotional and intellectual connection that the employee has with the organization as well as the employee’s contribution to the business outcomes.
Consider if you want to measure Employee Engagement or #EmployeeSatisfaction, since with the latter, questions such as  Are you happy? or Do you have a best friend at work? become important, even though they may have little correlation to the business outcomes.

There are two main survey questions to be answered.  These are then further broken down to questions that deal with the what and how of the engagement

1) What do employees need to be emotionally connected to what they are doing? This is broken down to questions that deal with the following needs.  Employees need to:

  • Work in physical spaces that are conducive to their work
  • Have the right tools to effectively work
  • Be seen and heard
  • Feel that their contributions are valued and valuable
  • Feel a sense of pride in the work that they do
  • Feel a sense of pride in the company that they work for
  • Have a sense of belonging
  • Have fit with the organisation

2. What does your employee need to be intellectually connected to the work that they do? This is broken down to questions that deal with the following needs.  Employees need to:

  • Understand the company’s strategy/ mission/ vision/ core values
  • Understand how the work they do is aligned to the strategy/ mission/ vision/ core values
  • Be effectively led
  • See leaders walking the talk
  • Have the skills for the job they are doing
  • Work with effective processes
  • Be clear about their career paths
  • A view of their future within the organization

The survey questions can be grouped under different headings such as : Physical space, Strategy, Work Process, Technology, Leadership, Communication, Executive Management and any other headings that are important to your organization.

While some companies take the survey as an opportunity to ask about the kitchen sink I would caution against this approach, since it weakens the impact of the survey, and sends incorrect signals about what it important.  If there is a core competency or strength that your company sees as important to its business outcome then by all means include questions about that.
Be aware that what you measure is what you will get responses on.

Does your company conduct Employee Engagement Surveys? If so what is measured?
If not what do you want to measure?
Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Executive Coach and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

Measuring Employee Engagement

If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” Lord Kelvin

At times, we are only aware that our weight has shifted when we put on our clothes.  Whether it’s a looseness or tightness, we conclude that our weight has changed. If we want to know exactly how our weight has shifted, we get on a scale for an accurate evaluation, then we  decide, do nothing, or change the way we eat or exercise to return to the way we like our clothes to fit.
So too with #EmployeeEngagement. (See this article for a definition)  As leaders, we may unaware of the level of employee engagement.  While the reactions, the behaviours or the utterances of staff may be strong indicators of their level of engagement, the only way that leaders can determine if employees are engaged and the extent of their engagement, is to measure it, via an employee engagement survey.
Why do  you measure anything? Why do you measure your weight?
Measurements assist us to :

  • Establish where we are and have a common understanding- I weigh x pounds. I am over/ under or at a comfortable  weight.
  • Understand what is needed or not needed- I do not need to do anything. I need to lose/ gain weight.
  • Establish what is considered normal/ standard – For my weight, age, height and lifestyle I need to stay the same, gain/ lose weight.
  • Predict outcomes – If I maintain/ change my diet and exercise routine, I will stay the same/ gain/ lose weight
  • Indicate what we need to fix  – I don’t need to fix anything, I need to eat more/ less.

The same with the #EmployeeEngagementSurvey.  The #EngagementSurvey is a measuring tool whose results:

Provide an objective evaluation of engagement
  • Communicate the employee’s emotional and mental involvement
  • Give clues about what is needed to further engage employees.
  • Indicate how well the business outcomes are being met

Surveys can be internally designed and conducted, though some companies prefer to use a third party.
Regardless of who is designing the survey, the company needs to establish:

How does your company measure employee engagement?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

Employee Engagement or Employee Satisfaction?

What do you want? Do you want employees to be satisfied or to be engaged?

I know that a lot of companies use the two interchangeably, and I am suggesting that they stop. They are not the same.
Think about the things in your life that you are satisfied with versus the things that you are actively engaged with. For instance, you may be satisfied with the community that you live in, the roadways are well maintained, the play areas are clean and the garbage is collected on a regular basis. If you don’t attend residents’ meetings, or are not actively involved in ensuring that things run smoothly or  do not participate in the community’s events, then you’re not engaged.
We all have our favourite restaurant, where we are always satisfied with the food and the service, but, on the occasion that the dish isn’t well prepared we become dissatisfied and complain. We may be interested that the restaurant keeps its doors open but we are not vested in its success, we are not engaged with the restaurant’s business outcomes.
These arguments extend to the company – while it is flattering that employees are satisfied, companies need to appreciate that satisfaction is not #EmployeeEngagement. Read this article for a definition of employee engagement.
When companies focus on #EmployeeSatisfaction they are constructing a relationship, in which, the employees are the clients and the company is of service to the employees. When something goes wrong, the employees do not perceive any personal responsibility to improve the situation; while they may make recommendations, they will fold their arms and wait for someone to fix it, or wait to be told to fix it.
When we focus on employee engagement, we don’t have to worry about when things go wrong, because we know that employees see themselves as part of the solution, they have a vested interest in offering recommendations, and in fixing things.
There is the argument that satisfied employees will become more engaged. I can appreciate this from an emotional point of view – satisfied employees are happy employees and  will (more likely) work better. But what happens when the employees become unhappy or dissatisfied? What then? Whose job is it to make them happy or satisfied?

I believe that if companies focus on employee engagement, then they won’t have to worry about employee satisfaction. If companies only focus on employee satisfaction, then they cannot be certain that employees are engaged.

What do you want? Do you want employees to be satisfied or to be engaged?

Maxine Attong is an Organizational Development Consultant who specialises in Employee Engagement. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.