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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Functioning in a Less Than Meaningful Workplace

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Effectively addressing negative employee interaction requires singling out what truly engages the minds, actions and hearts of individuals. Leaders must identify the factors producing the need in some employees to act negatively and callously toward others. In almost all cases, negative interaction among employees is the result of functioning in a less than meaningful workplace. To stifle interactive negativity, leaders must identify both the factors defining and methods creating a meaningful, reciprocal work environment.

It is important for leaders to understand every employee has a personal set of factors defining a meaningful workplace. When leaders fail to apply practical strategies for making the workplace more reciprocal, with people respectfully and productively working toward a common goal, they can expect continuous negative interaction among employees. This creates havoc that slows productivity and advancement for both the individual work unit and the organization.

How employees define a meaningful work environment determines how they function within their current environment. Some factors are more important than others. For one employee, the top factors may be a desire for a deep sense of purpose, the freedom to be innovative, and the opportunity to build strong relationships in the work setting. Other factors might include ownership in ideas and solutions, an atmosphere that encourages overcoming challenges or a feeling of success within the work unit.

The leadership challenge for reducing and eliminating employee interactive negativity is to reflect on what it is that makes a work environment truly rewarding and fulfilling. Leaders need to create a workplace that keeps its employees busy and productive, but one that also keeps their minds and hearts actively engaged. The only way personal negativity and accompanying actions are displaced is with security, trust, comradery, positive interaction and mutual respect.

Leaders assess their workplace and put into word and action what employees desire to see in a meaningful and rewarding environment. In order to do this, leaders:

Conduct An Environmental Climate Check

Leaders analyze their own negative feelings regarding the workplace. They ask, “Do I often find myself dwelling on the negative aspects of my work and performance and the atmosphere that exists?” If the answer is “yes,” the reasons behind their feelings are a good indicator of why employees feel the same way and negative interactions are taking place.

Taking the time to complete an analysis of the entire work unit atmosphere is the first step in dealing with negative employee interaction. In order to effect positive workplace change, leaders should both ask themselves the following questions and take appropriate actions wherever a “yes” response exists:

  • Is there an unspoken understanding that work should always be first in every employee’s life?
  • Does the organizational culture favor workaholics?
  • Do employees that don’t share this “work first” philosophy feel guilty?
  • Is there undue pressure on employees to make trade-offs with tasks and assignments against time, resources and availability?
  • Do individual assignments have more importance than collaborative efforts, trial-and-error methods and interactive positive communication?
  • Is praise a lower priority than the completion of timelines and tasks?

Seek Out Specific Areas in Which to Focus Your Efforts

Every organizational work unit has room for improvement. The key rests in a leader’s ability to know where to focus his or her efforts for maximum effect. The following are actions proven to transform the work environment in the quickest and most effective way:

  • Finding out what is most important to employees as far as creating a non-threatening, secure and fulfilling work environment.
  • Understanding each employee’s top priorities as they relate to work and themselves personally. This can be the starting point for creating a more meaningful and productive workplace for all.
  • Allowing employees to pause after a major completed task or project in order to gain a sense of closure and to savor their accomplishments.
  • Acknowledging all progress and getting upper management to recognize major milestones and hurdles employees reach and overcome.
  • Making challenges exciting, somewhat demanding, but realistic.
  • Allowing employees to make best use of their talents and to freely use others whenever needed as resources for input, ideas and suggestions.

Track the Fit of Your Employees

Getting to know what fires up your employees is crucial in fostering a rewarding work environment. Identifying the skills and talents they have outside the workplace can help place them into a better fit inside the organization. One of a leader’s responsibilities is to find out what their employees’ interests are, or their sources of motivation and energy. It is vital to talk to each employee about their passions, talents and creative abilities, and then tap into them however and whenever possible.

Negativity permeates an employee’s attitudes when they feel misplaced in their jobs, tasks, assignments and responsibilities. In order to overcome this, leaders assess:

  • Whether the big picture of the organization is thoroughly discussed with employees so that they clearly understand their personal place in it and how they specifically factor into its success.
  • If there are any employees who feel a particular job or assignment “just isn’t right” for them. It is important to find out what employees feel they can take on more capably, then match them with projects, assignments, and duties where they can better achieve success.
  • If there are some employees who feel a clash between their values and goals and those of others in the workplace. When work makes employees feel they need to be a different person in order to “fit in,” a leader can expect negative employee interactions to occur repeatedly.
  • Whether employees are allowed to consistently tap into their strengths and spend a great deal of their assignment time in activities best matched to their interests and talents.

Analyze Your Unit’s Flexibility

Nothing creates more negative interaction among employees than a work environment that remains inflexible to their needs. Leaders need to establish a more meaningful work environment by making certain that flexibility exists for all employees. They need to make sure the corporate rulebook does not overshadow the positive accomplishments taking place within the unit and among its members. Leaders need to consider:

  • Are work unit rules flexible when certain situations arise, or are they rigid to the point where the rulebook is still the ultimate word?
  • Are policies and procedures followed to the letter without allowing employees to question their validity and necessity?
  • In order to accomplish certain things do employees feel they must sidestep rules and hope they don’t get caught?

Addressing and changing areas needing improvement allows leaders to spend more of their time doing that which works to motivate employees and move the organization forward. Strengthening these areas is best accomplished by interacting with every employee, and taking action to build stronger personal relationships and subsequently a more secure, meaningful workplace.

Excerpt: Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD


Interaction is a Necessary Component of a Vibrant Workplace

Leaders Have Three Motivational Tools Available to Them

When Motivating Employees, Expectations Are Everything

Seven Proactive Steps to Take to Deal With a Problem Employee

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Evaluations Have to Be Consistent with Leadership’s Overall Direction

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As organizations shift and adapt to forces of change, leaders must also evolve their personal methods—including how they evaluate their employees’ performance. Evaluations have to be consistent with leadership’s overall direction as well as the motivational methods employed by other individual leaders. They should enhance, not undermine, the progress of the organization.

There is a sizeable gulf between leaders who build empowered organizations and those who employ more traditional and antiquated evaluative methods. This has resulted in a source of conflict causing internal dissention and personal rifts that run counter to the goals of the leader and the organization.

As organizations evolve, new methods of performance evaluation must be designed and incorporated so that employees feel they “are” the organization. When this is achieved, employees will both better understand what it will take to accomplish goals and be more inspired to work toward them.

Thus performance evaluation methods need to adapt with the organization to involve rather than alienate the individual employee. Rather than focus on past mistakes and failures, the evaluation moves the organization forward through the development and increased competence of its individual members. In this manner growth is enhanced and ongoing.

Traditional performance evaluation methods typically measure individual employees’ performance based on a rigid set of standards and parameters. These are used to evaluate their work against a job description rather than gauging the employee’s involvement, contribution and personal growth as factors in the larger picture of achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. With this in mind, leaders must look at the method by which they evaluate employee performance, and ensure it is designed to:

Bridge Performance

In an empowered organization, employees cannot be simply evaluated upon whether or not they are working within the parameters of a specific job description. As the organization becomes increasingly empowered and evolves in the use of workgroups and teams, job descriptions become increasingly irrelevant evaluative tools. Performance increasingly shifts away from the individual and to the group or team as employees work toward mutual goals as defined by the shared vision.

In this light, leaders must evaluate the performance of the organization he or she directs and determine how well the individual employee fits into the overall picture. All performance is interconnected; an individual is either a strong or weak link in the entire process. They are evaluated according to how well they work within this environment. Leaders must use the evaluative process to make the individual employee’s work more meaningful by expanding their understanding of how they fit into the organization and how their job can lead to personal self-improvement.

Evaluate Employee Contributions

Rather than evaluate individual employee’s performance against a specific job assignment, leaders must view it in the context of their contribution to the entire organization. In this regard, leaders demonstrate to employees in a very real way that their ideas, insights and personal contributions are both valued and needed if the organization is to succeed.

As empowerment deepens in the organizational environment, a synergy develops within each unit that leads to organizational cohesiveness. Once developed, leaders can easily evaluate how well the individual works and operates within this environment and whether they adapt to or fight the transition.

Provide Guidance for Growth

Rather than focus on past performance, leaders should use the counseling process to give their employees guidance in developing their individual capabilities. This is designed to provide individuals with a road toward increased competence, personal growth and satisfaction. The focus should be on future development and direction that contributes to increased overall levels of productivity required by the organization. In this context, employees understand what is expected of them as they contribute to the future success of the organization.

Increase Personal Involvement

In empowered organizations, the performance evaluation is not an “us against them” proposition, but a process where employees are involved in the improvement of their own performance. The ratings and conflict associated with traditional performance evaluations should be reduced if not eliminated as employees feel an increase in freedom and self-determination through meaningful involvement in their evaluation.

When the focus of the evaluation shifts to the performance of the organization and the employee’s contribution toward the accomplishment of mutual goals and objectives, it becomes clear to most what is needed to improve. This is different than focusing on the faults and problems associated with individual performance.

Individuals want to be part of something bigger, and will work harder toward the attainment of a mutual goal. This is clearly demonstrated when sports teams comprised of average players are able to win championships over more talented teams. The mutual goal of the organization brings out the best in each individual when he or she works with the team. Strong synergy and cohesiveness spurring individual performance on to greater heights is not just a sports phenomenon: it can take effect in any organization.


When Evaluating Performance Consider the Intangibles

Focusing Your Employees on Future Performance

Should Accountability Be a Primary Priority?

Excerpt: Strengthening Leadership Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

A Systematic Approach is Required to Structure Your Teams

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Leaders should be cognizant of the fact that teams do not evolve automatically, and that the only things that do in the organizational environment are disorder, friction and poor performance. Effective team design and structure require thinking, analysis and a systematic approach to their development.

Organizational and team structures are not mechanical, but organic, as both organizations and the teams that work within them are comprised of people, not machines.

Additionally, designs and structures are unique to the organization, matched to meet its particular needs and objectives. Leaders should note that some of the worst team development mistakes were made when a mechanical model of an ideal team structure was imposed upon a living and organic business.

It is important for leaders to understand that strategy determines the structure of a team. The basic questions, “What is our business?” “What should it be?” and “What will it be?” define the purpose of any team and organizational structure.

The answers to these questions identify the key tasks and activities for which specific teams are formed. It is this effective structure that makes these activities get off the ground, function and produce results. Therefore team structure needs to be primarily concerned with these key activities; all other purposes are secondary.

Team structure demands self-discipline from every member. All individuals must take responsibility for the work of the entire team and its performance. It is the combined efforts of organizational teams that allow them to accomplish all of the key goals and activities.

Teams need to be designed and structured to integrate three distinct forms of work:

Operating Task – responsible for producing the results and output of the team.

Innovative Task – enables the team to approach its assignment with a view toward the possibilities the team can attain.

Management Task – directs the work of the team, creates and monitors its vision and sets its course.

All of these distinct forms of work are integrated into the team’s structure and approach. The specific blend of these tasks is determined by the responsibility, assignment and makeup of the team.

The structure and approach of the team is created to satisfy specific organizational needs, including:


Clarity should not be confused with simplicity. Teams can be working on complex problems and issues that require complex solutions. They are not expected to simplify these solutions for the sake of the organization, but they should clarify them so they are understood and implemented.


Teams must employ an economy of effort to maintain control over the group and to minimize friction between team members. Excessive time devoted to the resolution of internal problems wastes the team’s resources and is uneconomical.


The direction of the team must be geared toward results rather than the team process. This means that teams should be concerned with the reasons why they were created rather than with the techniques they need to employ. The focus should be placed on output over form.


Teams need to be structured so that team members clearly understand their specific roles, tasks and assignments and how each contributes to the accomplishment of individual team goals.

Decision Making

Decision making must be structured to focus on the right issues; it must be action- and results-oriented.


Teams must be structured for stability rather than rigidity. This allows them to survive turmoil and to adapt to the changing circumstances and environment that they are operating within.

Perpetuation and Self-Renewal

The team structure should be conducive to producing new leaders for the organization, and further be instrumental in helping these new leaders continually grow and develop their skills. It is this self-renewal of leadership that allows teams and organizations to develop and incorporate new ideas. Only with self-renewal can businesses maintain their competitive edge.


There are Only Three Reasons to Form a Team

The Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

Five Critical Factors of Team Success

How Do Know If Your Teams Are Remaining Strong & Productive

Excerpt: Developing a Team Approach (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Mastery of Details is an Integral Part of Leadership

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Oprah Winfrey  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Oprah Winfrey
(Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

The United States Nuclear Navy has an enviable record for engineering excellence and safety. From its inception in the 1940s, Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) established exacting standards for every aspect of its operation. Not content to remain behind a desk, he was present on the bridge of every newly launched vessel as it underwent its sea trials.

He was truly immersed in the details of each project and every mission, and left nothing to chance. This included interviewing every naval officer before they were allowed into the nuclear program. He stated that, “The man in charge must concern himself with details. If he does not consider them important, neither will his subordinates.

Yet ‘the devil is in the details.’ It is hard and monotonous to pay attention to seemingly minor matters. In my work I probably spend about 99 percent of my time on what others may call petty details. Most managers would rather focus on lofty policy matters. But when the details are ignored, the project fails.

No infusion of policy or lofty ideals can then correct the situation. To maintain proper control one must have simple and direct means to find out what is going on. There are many ways of doing this; all involve constant drudgery.

For this reason those in charge often create ‘management information systems’ designed to extract from the operation the details a busy executive needs to know. Often the process is carried too far. The top official then loses touch with his people and with the work that is actually going on.”

Colin Powell (U.S. Army) noted, “Sometimes details are neglected because they’re not sexy enough… Running anything is primarily an enormous amount of grubby detail work and very little excitement, so deal making is kind of romantic, sexy. That’s why you have deals that make no sense.

Good leaders don’t view details… as grubby. They view the mastery of detail as an integral part of leadership.”

As military leaders, both Rickover and Powell recognized the value of being immersed in details. They understood that in a combat environment, overlooked details can be costly in many ways, especially regarding the lives of the men and women who serve under them. This immersion in detail was also observed in other military leaders, including Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant and Robert Wood (Sears).

A desire to immerse themselves in details isn’t limited to military leaders. It was observable in the behaviors of other great leaders, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Elizabeth Arden (Elizabeth Arden), and Estée Lauder (Estée Lauder) to cite a few.

William Boeing (Boeing) began his career in the lumber business before he saw the future of aviation. In addition to Boeing he also created the United Aircraft Corporation and United Airlines as subsidiaries. (The Federal government ultimately broke-up Boeing as a monopoly in 1934.)

As Boeing grew his aviation business, “[he] continued to run his timber business and was able to absorb details of both lumber and airplane enterprises. Years later, he could recall the description and topography of a parcel of land and the species and quality of timber that it would yield. He believed in details and told his managers that many a wrong decision stemmed from a detail overlooked or incorrectly interpreted.”

Another aviation pioneer, Juan Trippe (Pan American Airways) immersed himself in every detail of his emerging business. “When [he] got Pan American Airways into the air in 1927 he knew every wrinkle in its flying equipment (a lone tri-motored Fokker), every part in his stockroom, every wavelet in the go-mile mail route between Key West and Havana.”

When viewed from the perspective of “ruthless efficiency,” the practice of immerging oneself in the details of managing a successful enterprise makes absolute sense. Large and widespread companies by their very nature, creates potential waste and duplication.

This is underscored by a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March 2010 entitled, Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, which reported wide spread waste and duplication of efforts throughout the Federal government, costing taxpayers up to $200 billion annually.

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) is a notable example. “Of all the lessons John absorbed from his father, perhaps none surpassed in importance that of keeping meticulous accounts… The titan had to know to the last pipe, to the last oil storage tank at each of his refineries, to the last Standard Oil tanker at sea, to the last penny in Standard Oil’s Accounts Receivable, and to the last of whatever else he could think of in his business, where everything was, how the item or person served his purposes, and their exact value.”

Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions) openly admits her lack of management acumen. She delegates that aspect of the business to professional managers within her organization. Yet, this does not stop her from immersing herself in the details of her business.

“Everything is personal at Harpo. While Oprah does delegate operational decisions, she is all over her content. Before O gets shipped to the printer, she reads every word and scrutinizes every picture—typically working on the magazine, via her office PC, from 3 P.M. to 8 P.M. Tuesday through Thursday and all day Friday, when she doesn’t shoot her show.

‘She’s into every little… thing, the commas, the exclamation points,’ says Gayle King, who, as editor-at-large, is Oprah’s eyes and ears at the Manhattan-based magazine.”

Winfrey’s attention isn’t just limited to her content. She personally signs all checks and pays close attention to how her money is being spent.

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

January 2, 2013 at 10:50 am

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