Relentless, Stoic Leaders Win the Day


“To be a good leader,” lectured a university professor, “you have to build up morale, appreciate what others do, pat’em on the back, show them that you care.  Take care of your people; they will take care of you.”

A hardened, construction superintendent addressed his team.   “All of you need to know that I expect you to work hard every day.  We will stay on schedule and we will follow all safety processes.  I’m not here to win a popularity contest.  I’m here to get the job done.  If you accept that, we will get along fine.”

Who’s right?  The polished college professor or the crusty, construction leader?

“It depends on the situation,” you say?  In some cases, fun-loving, pat-them-on-the back cheerleaders win the day.  In other cases, the no nonsense, get’er-done drill sergeant fills the bill.

Some argue that the really good leaders toggle back and forth between people-pleasers and task-oriented grinders.

Personally, I think Sam Walker, in his book “The Captain Class:  A New Theory of Leadership,” has a better answer.  Great leaders are relentless (They do not quit.), and they exhibit ironclad emotional control (Don’t get too high; don’t get too low).  Most other traits are inconsequential.

Jack Welch’s Approach to Appraisals


I like Jack Welch’s (the very successful, former CEO of General Electric) approach to performance appraisals.

Manager presents to the employee a handwritten sheet of paper.  The left column lists the manager’s view of employee’s achievements.  The right column contains items the employee could do better.  Both lists focus on performance metrics and team behaviors.

Manager and employee engage in a meaningful conversation.  Manager gives examples, “Your error rate is less than .03 percent, almost a ten percent improvement over last period.” “I like that you went out of your way to help our new engineer learn our software tool.”

Sum up by reporting, “Shelly, you are in the top twenty percent of our employees, and I’ll recommend a good pay increase.” Or, “Jackson, your overall performance puts you in the solid seventy percent of our team and your raise will reflect that.  I would like to see improvement in meeting deadlines and reducing errors.  I’ll help you with those.

Or, “Alford, I’m disappointed that, after considerable training, your response time is still the slowest in our group.  Let me help you find another position that is a better fit.”

Conduct these interviews at least twice a year and allow about thirty minutes for each session.

Employee Motivation is Not Rocket Science


When asked to identify his strength as a leader, Steve responded, “I’m a motivator.”

“How do you motivate your team?” I asked.

“I encourage my employees to push themselves.  I tell them how important their jobs are. I applaud their efforts. I’m always trying to build them up.”

“How is that working for you?”

“I think it works pretty well.  Not everyone responds the way I would like but I keep encouraging them.  I think most appreciate my efforts.”

Employees said they liked working for Steve.  They described him as “helpful,” “energetic,” and “caring.”

I applaud the efforts of leaders like Steve, and I’m confident that most employees would appreciate working for him.  However, I think a highly motivated work team also requires two additional ingredients.

One, employees’ motors need to be running when they come to work.  It is near impossible to kick-start a low-energy employee into spirited performance.

Second, employees’ must have the natural talents and acquired skills to perform the tasks well.  Long-term commitment to a job requires earned pride that comes only from doing something well.

When these two elements are present, Steve’s methods work great.  If one or both are missing, Steve’s well-meaning approach will likely whiff on motivation.

My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements


businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”