Fan to Player-Critic To Coach

Sports FanWhen you look at team members within your organization do you see fans or players? Are you a coach or critic? What is the difference?

Many of us are fans of a sports team. We do not have to attend practice or strategy sessions. We show up 10 minutes before game time and enjoy the show. When they are successful we celebrate along with them and wear the t-shirt with enthusiasm. However, when they fail to meet our expectations we complain about the players, the coach, and how they play the game. We take the t-shirt off and our enthusiasm begins to fade. Critics take pen to paper or hit the airwaves with their breakdown of all that is wrong.

Players and coaches do not have the luxury of showing up 10 minutes prior to game time. They cannot sit back and enjoy the show. They have to become actively engaged and pursue with passion their vision.

As a team member within your organization are your actively seeking ways to help your organization reach its mission statement or are you sitting back as a disgruntled fan? As a leader are you setting a vision before your team? It is easy to show up to work each day and just respond to whatever happens. Meet with your team to discuss how your department or team can be better. Look for ways to engage each team member in setting the vision for the team. Stop being a critic and coach the team.

Without a vision there will be no passion. Without passion there will be no change. Without change you will get the same results.

Pride and Insecurity: Leadership Killers

One day I was leading a meeting with a group of about 25 managers that reported to me. At the opening of our meetings we would always discuss a leadership topic. On this particular day I choose responsiveness. As I was speaking about the importance of being responsive to customers, other departments, and our team one of the managers raised her hand. What came next was gut check time…Pride and Insecurity

      ” I sent you an email two weeks ago asking you a question. I have been waiting for a response but have not receive it. I do not think that is being very responsive.”

As a leader there are going to be times when our response to a situation will reveal our true leadership. We should not let our pride or insecurity kill our leadership.

Your pride will be the devil on your shoulder convincing you that you are the most intelligent and important person in the room. Your pride will elevate you above all others. Once you elevate yourself above others their opinions, ideals, and feelings no longer matter. Would you follow someone who is indifferent to your opinions, ideals, and feelings? Leadership Killer.

Insecurity is the devil on your other shoulder whispering you better defend and cover up your mistakes because you are not good enough. Our insecurities can cause us to lash out or attack others in order to deflect attention from our own mistakes. Insecurity keeps us in a defensive mind frame where we believe the opinions, ideals and feelings of others are an attack on our own. Again…Leadership Killer.

In that moment I had to push back against both my pride and insecurity. As a leader I was not exempt from being responsive. My response…

     “First, let me say I am sorry I have not responded to you. I could say that I have been busy but that is not an excuse. When we meet as a group to discuss leadership topics I am speaking to myself also. As a leader, I have to be more responsive to each of you.”

Acknowledging a mistake takes courage. It takes pushing pass our pride and insecurity. Great leadership requires us to care about the opinions, ideals, and feeling of others. Sometimes at the expense of our own.


Good Leaders Produce Good Fruit

Below is a short story on leadership.

Susan Carson answered her phone.  On the other end was an exasperated Diane Smith.  Diane was a mid-level manager that reported to Susan.  Diane had three team members that reported directly to her.  Susan had a gut feeling that Diane’s frustration was stemming from a run in with one of her team members.

“Susan, I just do not know what to do about Jim!  I do not think he is the right person for the job!”, Diane exclaimed.

As Diane continued to give all the reasons why Jim was not the right person for the job; Susan was thinking that I get this call from Diane every couple of months about one of her team members.  Besides, Jim had only been there 60 days.  How could he be so drastically different from the great person Diane described when she decided to hire him?  Susan had supported Diane in her decisions to hire and terminate team members but this was beginning to become a pattern.  When Diane was finished with her diatribe on Jim,  Susan asked her a question.

“What type of fruit do you bear?”, Susan asked.Good Leaders Produce Good Fruit

After a few seconds of dead silence Diane answered.  “What are you talking about?”

Susan answered.  “You can always tell a good leaders by the fruit they produce.  What type of fruit have you produced from the team that you lead?”

Diane paused again.  “What do you mean by fruit”

Susan answered.  “Your job as a leader is to hire, train, and nurture your team.  If you do a good job you will produce fruit.  By fruit I mean highly trained, motivated, productive, and promotable team members.  You have three positions on your team.  Over the last 12 months you have turned over two of those positions twice.  Now you are telling me that another team member you just hired less than 60 days ago is not working out.  As your leader I am evaluating you based on your ability to lead your team.  Based on the amount of turnover you have experienced,  how do you think I should evaluate your performance?”
“I guess I have not looked at it that way.  But what am I suppose to do when people do not do their job?” , Diane asked.

“Diane, I think you have to ask yourself a different question.  Good leaders ask themselves what role they played when things go bad.  I’m not sure if you are not hiring the right people or failing to nurture and train, but there is an issue.  I want you to take the afternoon to think about what role you have played and what you might be able to do differently.  Once you discover what you can do differently we can talk about Jim.”

As leaders it is our responsibility to produce good fruit(highly trained, motivated , productive, and promotable team members).  Think about the last five individuals you managed.   Are they good fruit?

Guess What Leader…It’s Not About You!

its-not-about-youEarly on in my career I desired to be the “boss.” The one that called the shots. I wanted to be the most important person in the room. As I matured and advanced in my career I learned an important leadership lesson.

“It’s not about me!”

From my first leadership role where I led a team of 3 to my largest opportunity of leading a team of 150 I discovered a leadership truth. I quickly learned the more time I invested in helping others reach their goals and becoming the best they could be the more I benefited also. Our natural human instinct tells us to focus on protecting our own interest. We naturally look for opportunities that will benefit ourselves even at the expense of others. We become prideful and self-serving. When we become prideful and self-serving we are no longer leading; we are trying to control in order to keep our standing.

If you want to be a great leader you must first come to the realization that it’s not about you. You are evaluated as a leader by your ability to help others accomplish a task with high efficiency. In other words, your success depends on the success of your team. If you invest in training, supporting, and rewarding your team they will flourish. They will recognize the investment and trust you have placed in them. You will witness them working hard to accomplish the mission and goals you have set. And when they succeed guess who also succeeds…..Y-O-U.

This week think about the people on your team and how you can help them be more successful in their career. Is there a professional designation or training they could attend that will help them be more successful? Can they shadow someone in the organization that can help them obtain a new skill? Is there a special project they can lead that will show your trust in their ability while giving them valuable experience? As a leader focus on the development of your team’s individual careers. It will pay great dividends for your career.

Executive Interview: Rob Johnston with First Communities

rob_johnstonI sat down with Rob Johnston, Founder and President of First Communities, for a leadership discussion. What an awesome conversation with a great leader and pillar of the real estate industry. We discussed what the world’s largest can food drive he founded did for his company (“It gave us a heartbeat.”)…why his team loves working at First Communities (“People remain where their needs are met, and they are challenged, inspired, respected, and nurtured.”)…the number one skill he looks for in a senior role(“First, they will have to manage people well”), and other leadership topics.

Rob Johnston founded First Communities in 1978 by striking a deal with a single client. Thirty-four years later First Communities is the premier property management company in Atlanta and one of the top in the nation. In addition to leading the First Communities team Rob is also the General Chairman of the Tour Championship which is played at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Rob has a reputation for being a great leader, smart businessman, and having a big heart.

Can you tell me the story behind the food drive?

“In 1978 I looked at four key areas where we might have an opportunity to give back. Housing, Education, Health, Hunger. I choose hunger.” Rob tells me the story of the team at Chastain Apartments pulling a red wagon though the community for a week asking residents to donate cans. He is very candid about his disappointment of only collecting 250 cans. He calls a local church to ask if they have any family in need of food. An elderly couple shows up asking if this is the place giving away free food. He gives them a brown paper grocery bag filled with some can goods. The couple begins to cry and proceeds to tell him they have not eaten in several days. When Rob and his team witnessed the effect 15 cans of food could have on someone’s life they felt the call to do more. First Communities would grow their annual food drive from 250 cans to an astonishing 10,000 cans over the next ten years before turning the food drive over to the Atlanta Apartment Association. That food drive that started out with 1 community raising 250 cans is now the world’s largest can food drive. Rob say, “You can’t underestimate the power of an individual. Property educated and motivated they can accomplish anything.”

What did finding a way to give back do for your organization?

“It gave us a heartbeat. People are at their best when they are reaching for a higher calling. It held my company together and bonded us together as a team.”

What is the culture of First Communities and how do you contribute to that culture?

“We have a culture of team work. We are a family. We invest in our team members just as they invest in us. If that means they need a month off from work to deal with family issues we are there for them because they have dedicated themselves to the work of First Communities. I see myself as the “Head Cheerleader” for our culture.”

I understand the 60% of your team has been here 5 years or longer. Your senior executive team has a tenure averaging over 16 years. What do you attribute that to?

Rob talks about how a pay check is not enough to keep a great team. He explains that the culture of First Communities and how people are treated keeps them loyal. “People remain where their needs are met, and they are challenged, inspired, respected, and nurtured. We are always looking for ways to make First Communities a fun place to work.” Rob speaks about a company practice of sending every team members flowers on their birthday. “The bouquets are not as big as when we first started but it is a small token to let them know we acknowledge and recognize them as an important part of this organization”.

On your website under “Our Leadership”  you have a group picture of your executive team titled “Leadership Committee.”  Was that on purpose and what was the thought behind that?

Rob smiles and says “I’m glad you noticed that. That was on purpose. At First Communities decisions are made as a team.” Rob further explains that everyone on the team has to buy into what we are trying to do as an organization. He believes the best way for that to happen is to make them a part of the decision making process. “The best decisions always come as a result of team work.”

If you were filing an important senior leadership role what would be the number one leadership skill you would be searching for?

Rob talks about the unique culture of First Communities and how important it is to preserve. “First, they will have to manage people well. A new person may want to be too academic and not understand the team dynamic we have here at First Communities. I have to make sure they fit in with the existing team. I am very hands on with a new senior management person. I have made some mistakes and had to correct them. They must be accepted by the team they are leading.”

What is the one leadership skill you possess that you believe has helped you the most throughout your career?

Rob immediately answers this question with no doubt in his mind. “Empathy. I understand that my team members here at First Communities have personal lives and go through challenges. We all do. My ability to understand that and be flexible has created loyalty within my organization.” Rob talks about making sure to carve out time to listen to his team and his ability to empathize with their situation whether it is work or personal.

Is there a leadership skill that you feel is lacking in the apartment industry today?

Rob speaks at length about how important it is for a leader to bring along the bottom performers in the company. He measures leadership ability by how a leader handles the bottom 15 percent of their team. “It is not how fast you bring along the top 15% but how fast you bring along the slowest 15% of your team that defines your success. If leaders spent less time complaining, punishing, and firing, and more time encouraging, training, and nurturing they would see better results.” This part of our conversation was very interesting. Culture today would say just fire the bottom 15%. However, Rob sees success as investing time and effort to train them to produce the desired results. “I would rather have a “B” student that works their butt off than an “A” student who thinks he know everything.”

How are you developing leadership skills within your organization?

At this question Rob rises from his desk and proceeds to a credenza that is behind me where he retrieves two books. The first was The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller. The Smart Swarm is a book that studies how bees, ants, and birds work together as a team to accomplish task and what we as humans can learn from them. The second book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The Power of Habit is a look into our habits and why we do them. The book also focuses on how we create new positive habits. Rob explains to me that about once a quarter he shares a book with his senior executives on team building and leadership. Once they have had a chance to read the book they sit together and discuss how they can improve. Rob tells his team, “The difference between success and failure is your ability to work with people. The more input you get from your team the more productive we will be.”

What does your mission statement mean to you?

Rob once again gets up from his desk and walks toward a credenza to my right. The credenza is filled with personal and business photos covering years of Rob’s life. In the center of all those photos is a silver 5×7 frame that he retrieves and hands to me. “I have had this for 33 years.” In this frame is the mission statement of First Communities.

  • To provide the best possible apartment home, with the best service, to the best qualified applicants at a fair market price
  • To provide this service to all in a professional and enthusiastic manner operating within owner objectives and policies
  • To provide our employees a nurturing and motivating environment that is profitable, honorable and rewarding

“It is really the basis of how we do business. We work hard to build relationships. We are not perfect. We make errors but we work hard to get it right. The relationships we build with our team members, customers, and clients allow them to see our heart is in the right place. Even when we make mistakes they give us a chance to get it right.”

You have core values of Loyalty, Leadership, Integrity, Commitment, Experience, and Strength. Which one is the most important one to you?

Rob takes a moment. “Kareem would you rather I cut off you leg or your arm?”
I said, “I would like to keep both.”
He says, “Exactly. We have to exhibit them all. I cannot rank one over the other. Our core values are about doing the right thing.”

What Does It Take To Have A Magnetic Culture?

Organizations with a magnetic culture attract the best talent and customers. So what is a magnetic culture? It is a culture where team members enjoy being a part of the team. They are more connected to the organization then the paycheck. The culture is so magnetic that it would literally take an offer they cannot refuse in order for them to even consider leaving. Customers are willing to pay more because they love the relationship they have built with the brand, the product, and the people.

MagneticHow can you create a magnetic culture? Well, before you can build a magnetic relationship with your customer there must be a magnetic relationship within the organization. Great organization are built from inside out, not outside in. Here are some common characteristics of organizations with a magnetic culture.

Share A Common Vision: Team members of a magnetic organization share a common vision. As humans we need a destination. We are conquerors. Just as President Kennedy put before our nation the challenge of putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade during his 1961 speech, organizations must set a destination for their team. Magnetic organizations do a great job of putting a clear and precise vision before their team. They create excitement and pride toward accomplishing that vision as a team.

Invest In Each Team Member: Once the vision is set magnetic organizations turn their focus to assembling and training the best possible team to accomplish their goals. President Kennedy ask for 9 billion dollars over 5 years to ensure that their vision was realized. As the leader of this very lofty vision President Kennedy understood that he had to invest in the training and education of the NASA team. In addition he had to provide the resources necessary to accomplish the mission set before them. In order to accomplish the mission organizations must have highly trained and motivated team members. Investing in their continued education and providing them with opportunities to enhance their professional experience will set the organization up for success.

Solve Problems Together: Embrace problems that arise and solve them as a team. Find me an organization without problems and I will show you an organization that is not in business. If there were not any problems guess who they would not need anymore….Y-O-U. Magnetic organizations identify problems that are a threat to accomplishing the mission. Once the problems are identified, set them before the team and work together to solve them.

Celebrate Successes: Organizations with a magnetic culture take every opportunity to celebrate success. If you want success repeated then celebrate when it happens. Magnetic organizations have short-term and intermediate goals. These goals are specific and measurable. Accomplishing these goals will ensure the team is on the path to reaching the overall vision of the organization. As these goals are reached they take time to celebrate the team and individuals for their accomplishments and hard work.

Focus on creating a magnetic culture at your organization and watch performance excel. It all begins with creating a shared common vision through your mission statement.

Get ready…budget season is here again

With summer half way over we start the second half of the year looking to finish strong and begin our preparations for the 2014 budget season.  Yes, it is that time again!  One of the traps we all try to avoid is just taking this year’s budget and adding 5%.  Where did that 5% number come from anyway???  During these tough economic times leaders must look for creative ways to produce realistic budgets that deliver income growth and tighten expenses.  The question is how do you get managers to take a sober look at their current spending habits?  How do you get them to look for creative ways to discover income growth potential?Tighten the Budget

These questions remind me of the 2nd habit from Dr. Stephen Covey’s book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  The 2nd habit is “Begin with the end in mind.”  This next statement may absolutely sound crazy.  You have to remind your team that you are in business to make a profit.  I know right now you are saying “really???”.  Yes really!  Managers get tunnel vision.  All they see is the task and what they need to purchase to accomplish it.  They also get so caught up in renewal and occupancy percentages that they fail to consider income growth potential.

Before you delve into the budget process take the time to communicate to your managers the purpose of your organization.  Start with the mission statement.  Use this opportunity to help each team member understand how their particular role and department is critical to the financial success of the organization as a whole.  This will allow them to escape the tunnel vision from day-to-day operations and gain a new perspective from a 10,000 ft level.  This new perspective will help them see creative avenues to reducing expenses and discover potential for income growth.  Challenge them to think outside the box on how to deliver upon your mission of delivering a great product or service to your customers while producing income growth to the organization.

Need help focusing your team on the mission?   Reach out to me by clicking here.

Does your team actually like you?

Is it important that your team actually like you? You bet it is. People follow those they like and respect. I have met too many managers who take the approach that I am the boss and my team will follow me for that reason. I have the power to fire anyoi-love-my-boss-130942999750ne that does not recognize my authority and that is enough. WOW!!!!

Consider this. In order to be a successful organization you need a team of highly skilled and motivated people. Highly skilled and motivated people are in high demand. If you were in high demand would you work for someone you did not like and respect? Of course not.

Your team will like you if you are simply a nice person. A person that follows the “Golden Rule”…Do unto others as you will have them do unto you. Take a genuine interest in their personal and professional life. Invest your time and experience in helping them attain their goals. Treat each team member with respect and let them know they are valued.

How do you earn their respect? Your team appreciates structure and boundaries. They want to understand how they are performing against your expectations and how they can improve. If they make a mistake they want the opportunity to correct it.

Being liked and respected by your team does not require that you ignore performance issues. You should address all performance issues. The key is your delivery. It starts with setting clear expectations for your team. Next you give them authority and resources to complete their tasks. If they do not meet the expectation have a direct conversation with them. Your goal is not to punish but to change their behavior. You want to provide guidance without attacking or devaluing the team member. They will respect you for being direct and coaching them to success.

It is vital that your team likes you. Fear and intimidation may get you temporary results but eventually all of your top talent will find opportunities to work for someone they like and respect. Remember people do not leave a company they leave their boss.

Have Fun At Work

Earlier this year the oldest of my three sons turned 15. We have a standing tradition in my house. On each person’s birthday I wake them up to a blaring rap song entitled It’s Your Birthday. Imagine being awaken from a dead sleep at 5:45am with someone jumping and dancing in the middle of your bed singing along to It’s Your Birthday. Yep, that is what I do each birthday. Oh what fun…at least for me.

Just because we have fun at our house does not mean we lack rules and order. Our kids do their home work, get good grades, and do their chores. It is important that as the leader of my family they get to see me come down from being Dad The Enforcer and enjoy me being silly and having fun.

Fun At WorkIn the same way you as a leader can create a fun and exciting culture by letting your team see you have fun. I do not mean showing up to work dancing down the hallways. Although, now I think about it; it may not be a bad idea!!! Great leaders look for ways to build a culture where their team has fun working hard. Here are a couple of ideas to help you create a fun culture.

  • Make a commitment to yourself to have fun at work( your team will follow your lead)
  • Create opportunities for your team to interact outside of a work assignment
  • Have an 1-2 hour ice cream social this summer
  • Take your team out to lunch or dinner to celebrate completion of a project
  • Have a talent or karaoke competition
  • Celebrate the opening of a sports season with Wear Your Favorite Team’s Jersey Day

The more opportunities you provide for your team to learn and have fun with each other outside of work projects the more fun they will have with work projects. Your team will learn more about each other and build personal bonds that will help them to work better as a team.

Great Leadership In 30 Minutes or Less

Great leadership does not have to take a large amount time. Here are some tips that will improve your leadership in 30 minutes or less per day. Have fun with these. Do not let it be a task but an opportunity for you to get outside of your box and enhance your leadership skills. These will eventually be the best 30 minutes of your day.

Inspire Me Monday: We could all use some inspiration on Mondays. Use Monday to set the tone for the rest of the week for yourself as well as your team. Use your 30 minutes today to have a quick meeting, conference call, or send an email to your team. The meeting or email is not to list all the problems you face for the week. It is not meant to review the plan. Your goal is to display great leadership by simply inspiring your team to accomplish the mission for the week. For example you may be having a big inspection on Thursday. You might say the following:

          Good Monday Morning! As you all are aware we are having a very important inspection this week. I know you are all busy preparing and will show why we are the leader in the industry. I look forward to the great results and celebrating our success.

You have set the tone for success. You have instilled trust, confidence, and pride in your team. They will not want to let you down.

Teach Me Tuesday: Great leaders are forever learning and building their skills. Invest in yourself by using your 30 minutes today to read an article related to your industry or on the topic of leadership.(This blog would be a great example… I’m just saying) Take the information you read and decide how you can use it this week. Knowledge is knowing something…Wisdom is putting it to use.

Wow Me Wednesday: Recognition is one of the most powerful tools of a great leader. Here is a sure fire way to wow someone. Use your 30 minutes today to find a person on your team or in another department to recognize for something they have done well. Make sure that you are specific about their accomplishment and how it affects the company. This could be done in several ways. The following are some examples:

  • Send a personal note or card to their home address
  • Send an email and cc their immediate team leader and the human resource director
  • Buy a couple gallons of Ice Cream. Send an email after lunch telling everyone what a great job the person did and that there is ice cream in the break room for everyone to celebrate.

Two TalkingTalk to Me Thursday: Great leaders listen. If you want to know what is right and wrong on your team just ask. Use your 30 minutes today to seek out one person on your team or from another department to pose the following question.

Can you tell me one thing that we are doing well and one thing that we can do better?
Spend no more than 15 minutes on each. Do more listening than talking and take notes. Even if you disagree continue to listen. Your goal here is to gain insight on the perception of others within the organization. This will give you clues on where you need to focus to be better.

Messy DeskFocus Me Friday: Fridays are good for planning and organization. Use your 30 minutes today to list at least three things you want to accomplish the following week. If any of those items require meetings make sure to send invites. This will help set up success for next week. Make sure the last thing you do before your leave on Friday is completely straighten your desk. One of the world’s worst feelings is walking in on a Monday and seeing you desk covered with “stuff”. A cluttered desk on Monday makes it difficult to get started.

Use these tips and watch how you develop a habit of inspiring, coaching, and great leadership.