“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”  – Max DePree, former CEO of Herman Miller

I was talking with my son yesterday about his job. He is a supervisor in a high transaction billing business. The transactions number in the hundreds of thousands.

He and I  have had many conversations about his job over the past eight months that he has worked there. What has been disturbing is some of the ways that leaders above him express themselves about deadlines. He recounted one recent conversation in which his manager said, “If we haven’t gotten through this backlog of accounts by the end of September, heads will roll.” This ‘threat’ seems to be a consistent method of motivation.

There is a certain irony in this, given that I wrote about culture last month, and I am assisting an organization currently with their culture and engagement. I write a fair amount about engagement and culture, but this month I want to add another ‘thread’ – the notion of ‘compliance’ versus ‘commitment.’

I looked back at one of my earliest columns in 2014 and found this reference to you, my readers: “You are part of a community of people interested in leadership and coaching.  As such, I will put out information in our newsletter and in my coaching blog (the third Monday of the month) that is intended for your consideration.  Your reaction, additional observations, information, and opinions will lead to a richer body of knowledge and that is my goal.  I hope you will take time to add to the value for yourself and others by contributing and sharing what you read with others. Feel free to reach out and contact me to ask questions or learn about our services.”

It’s hard to believe that it has been over five years that I’ve been sharing my thoughts in writing, and you have been sharing yours. I am blessed to be part of a community that willingly provides feedback and encouragement.

Be well and do your best work,


Compliance or Commitment

In the 46 years that I have been working, ‘how’ we work has changed dramatically, as has the environment we work in. When I started work in 1973, the ‘top down’ organization was very much in evidence. Within 10 years, the rate of change (think information flow) was beginning to move with such pace that it challenged the ‘top down’ organizations to keep up. It was becoming more evident that in order for organizations to survive and thrive, it was necessary that more and more decisions be made at the lowest levels of the organization.

Adding to the complexity of organizations was who was coming to work. Over the last 30 years we moved from having people born in the 1920’s to people born in the late 80’s and 90’s. That span of 70+ years was an amalgam of people with very different ideas about work, about family, and about priorities in life. Perhaps one of the larger shifts might be generalized that the older generations ‘lived to work’ (Traditionalists and Boomers), the younger generations tend to ‘work to live’ (Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials).

With the shift in how we were working, and the increasing decentralization of decisions, the nature of our work environments began to shift as well. It was necessary for us to understand that what motivated people at work was less about money and more about meaningful work and that someone cared about our success.

We have continued to evolve in our understanding of why people are engaged at work, and why they aren’t. We began to understand that we had to do a better job of hiring for the person’s ‘fit’ in the organization and on the team. We began to understand that how ‘clear’ someone was about their role, their job, and the performance expectations was important to how they would perform and the decisions they would make.

Perhaps the most important contributors to a person’s level of engagement were whether they felt supported (necessary training and resources to do their job, timely and useful feedback, supervision that had their back), and valued for their individual contribution (“The way you resolved our key customer’s complaint was awesome. You are such a vital part of this team.”).

Doing ‘meaningful work’ is the final key to creating an atmosphere where people feel engaged. What do we get when these five things exist? A workforce that tends to be 30% more productive, and a company that is 28% more profitable.

Yes, we have evolved a great deal, yet there are countless organizations that are still trying to figure out the ‘secret’ to a healthier culture and a more engaged work force.  At the core of engagement is respect. You have value as a person, not just a member of the workforce. We will listen to one another and be present in our time together.

Many years ago, I would have been tempted to label the place where my son works as a ‘sweat shop.’ “We will tell you what to do and you will do it!” With no more information than I have, that would be premature. What I understand about organizations that tend to ‘threaten’ their workforce as a way of motivating is that they get ‘compliance,’ but they don’t get ‘commitment.’

Why is that important? As I stated, organizations that have more committed people are more productive and more profitable. That is because those people who are committed (engaged) will give you their discretionary energy. They will stay later, put in extra effort, volunteer for additional assignments. Conversely, when I work out of ‘fear’ I do so because I’m afraid that I will lose my job. I will do what is required of me, but that’s all. The quality of my work often suffers. What we’ve learned about intimidation is that it work works – in the short run.

It is not uncommon to find in organizations that handle a lot of transactions, and have many tight deadlines, use ‘threats’ to get the work done. The pace of work is very high, making threats an expedient way to ‘motivate.’ They also tend not to develop people, especially their management. Eventually, people working in that atmosphere get discouraged and leave. This strategy works against them long term because their turnover rate is a lot higher. With a constant ‘shuffling’ of staff the organization is less productive, creating greater pressure to hit deadlines.  If the organization is in a market with little competition they can survive and even make good profit. At the point there is increased competition, however, their ability to compete begins to diminish.

You can do a lot of things to ‘mask’ the intimidation – better benefits, lunches provided by the company, short term ‘games’ that bring moments of fun. In the end, however, people know how they are treated, and whether they are supported and valued.

At the core of a healthy culture is an organization that actively promotes relationships. They understand that leadership is a by-product of relationship. They engage each other from a place of respect and a desire for people to be successful. Their individual and collective behavior as leaders demonstrates that understanding.

If you serve in a leadership capacity, how does your behavior contribute to what you see around you? Are you part of promoting a healthy, respectful place to work, or are there aspects of your leadership that need a little ‘tweaking’ to create an atmosphere that promotes more engagement?

To your journey and living out the best version of you…



Of InterestMaking your company a great place to work.