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  • Aspire » Leadership

    30 May


    It’s likely you’ve never heard of Frederick Winslow Taylor…but it’s almost a certainty that he’s impacted  your business to a large degree.

    Back in the late 1800’s, Taylor was a pioneer of sorts.  As the son of a wealthy family, he could have done almost anything, but he found himself drawn to working in a factory…starting on the factory floor instead of going to Harvard or some other big name school. It turns out Frederick Taylor had a fascination, almost an obsession with work and efficiency.  And in the late 1800’s factories were more efficient than making something by hand on your own (but not by much…!).

    Taylor’s calling had him doing detailed research and experiments with his factory co-workers (eventually with the approval of the factory manager).  He would do time studies to figure out how long tasks should take (vs. what they were actually taking) and he would study the overall efficiency of the factory – looking at it like an engine he could improve. One of the first things he realized was that the best way to improve the overall output of the factory, was to improve how the workers worked. In his opinion they were mostly a lazy, untrustworthy lot and they had to be actively managed if you wanted to get anything out of them.

    Here are a few of the ideas he implemented (pioneered):

    • Pay for performance – instead of paying a worker based on their tenure, they were directly compensated for how quickly they could get the work done (at a reasonable quality level)
    • Standardized work – each worker has a specific set of tasks to be done in a very specific way. Thinking and creativity are reserved for management – the workers are intended to resemble machines as much as possible
    • Optimized workplace – proactively designing the flow of the work to create a logical, optimized assembly line. This also included refining when people worked; using shifts and time clocks to maximize overall output

    Taylor likely wasn’t the most fun at parties, but he did have significant impact – at Midvale Steel Company he doubled the machinist’s output. At Bethlehem Steel Works he shrank the number of employees from 500 to 140 without any drop in production…!  He went on to write ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ in 1911 which became the foundation for much of the Industrial Revolution and modern manufacturing techniques and principles.

    How does this impact you in 2016?

    Somewhere along the way (certainly in the last 20 to 30 years), many of the ideas that started with Taylor stopped working in the modern workplace.  Most of today’s workplaces don’t need employees who can and will only do 1 or 2 things repetitively – we’ve got actual robots and computers for most of that work.  But there’s a problem – despite the world changing, many of today’s management conventions are still modeled after techniques that worked great in the 1930’s and 40’s.  Here are a few examples:

    Clock In

    Consider the use of time clocks…and the standard work day (9 to 5). In a factory setting way back when, that made perfect sense because you needed to optimize the factory output in order to make a profit.  Today most work can be done from anywhere and with a lot of flexibility on time. Recent studies have repeatedly shown a significant increase in motivation and engagement when people are given autonomy on how and when they do their work.

    How many employees would love to work somewhere where they had control over when and where they did their work?

    Micro Management

    Likewise think about micro-managing and focused, purposely mindless tasks. Way back when a lot of the work was boring and repetitive; you needed a manager or supervisor watching over the workers like a hawk just to keep them doing the work they likely hated.  Most businesses today require employees who can think on their feet, who can display creativity and problem solving. Managers should be leading, innovating and focusing on the big picture, not trying to micro-manage the staff.

    How much more quality could you get if you had a team that was constantly pushing you with new, great ideas and better ways to get things done?

    Compensation and Motivation

    Finally – think about compensation strategies and the idea that money is the only motivation for most workers. Numerous studies have shown that paying for performance does work – but only up to a point and only in work environments where creativity and thinking aren’t required (in other words, mindless physical tasks). For most of today’s jobs, motivation is intrinsic to the employees either because they inherently buy into the bigger purpose or mission of the business, because they want to master a skill or because they have the autonomy to do things in their own way. Engaged, intrinsically motivated employees outperform non-engaged employees by 31% on average…!

    Are your employees internally or externally motivated? What would it take to get them engaged and excited about work?

    Frederick Taylor made a huge impact on the workplace (and society) but isn’t it time we moved on from Industrial Revolution era ideas? When you look at your workplace, what do you see? Are there things you could improve on?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    02 May


    I met with a business owner a few weeks ago who was exhausted.  This wasn’t just your common ‘I’ve had a long couple of days and I need some sleep‘ exhausted. This was more like ‘I have been pushing a huge rock uphill for years and I can’t take anymore‘ exhausted.

    He was burnt out.

    There’s no doubt about it – running a business is hard. Managing a team successfully is hard. And when you feel like you are the sole source of energy for the team…that you are the only person pushing for results it’s exhausting, especially over time. That’s not to say that you can’t have a successful team or business operating that way – lots of people do…it’s just not sustainable for the long run and you’re not going to be very flexible or proactive since all of your energy and focus is towards making things happen every day.

    The good news is there’s an alternative that works for any team. Imagine having a team around you that is delivering great results, coming up with new ideas and implementing them without your specific direction. A team that stays up at night worrying about how to make things better (just like you do). It’s not a complex idea, but it’s also not easy to implement – but if you can get there, you’ll have the makings of not just a good team or business, but a GREAT team that will blow your competitors out of the water.

    But there’s a catch, and this is a big reason why there aren’t more of these kinds of teams.  If you want to create this kind of team, then as the leader you have to let go. You have to empower others on the team to take ownership and responsibility for the outcomes and the approach. If you’re a typical small business owner, that idea probably makes you a little bit nervous.

    It’s all about Motivation…

    This is a recurring idea that I’ve been noticing in a lot of the business books that I’ve read or presented on at Book Reviews over the last couple of years. If you want a team that’s engaged and motivated, that motivation has to be intrinsic – it has to come from within those individuals, not from the top down.

    In Dan Pink’s great book ‘Drive’ he identifies the 3 drivers to intrinsic motivation: Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.  If you can enable these 3 ingredients in your workplace, then good things will happen.

    Mastery is the idea of enabling and encouraging the growth of skills and knowledge in a field that someone is interested in.  We are wired in a way that we want to become good at something that’s meaningful to us.  Do you know what your employees are good at…and what they’d like to master?

    Autonomy is all about letting people find their own way of getting the job done.  Are you willing to let your team figure out their own solution…possibly with a failure along the way?

    Purpose is the idea that there’s a bigger picture that the organization is pursuing, something meaningful…it’s more than just a job.  What’s the bigger reason (beyond money) that gets you up in the morning?  Have you articulated that? Have you recruited others that want that same outcome?

    Creating an environment and culture that supports these 3 ingredients isn’t something you can just do overnight with a wave of a wand, but it is possible – if you make that your focus and priority.

    Address your WIG with an RIP…

    One tangible way to help create an empowered culture and add those motivational ingredients is to focus your team on a specific project or outcome that will make your business better.  In the book ‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’ they recommend you start by figuring out your Wildly Important Goal (WIG) – the 1 or 2 strategic projects that would make the most impact in your business. Most teams or business owners try to do too many things…and they end up getting nothing done. It’s critical to narrow your focus down to just a few really important things at any one time.

    In a similar fashion, in the book ‘Ownership Thinking’ by Brad Hams, the author recommends what he calls Rapid Improvement Plans (RIP). Again focusing your efforts on 1 or 2 key things and then having your team brainstorm ideas on how to improve or implement the changes that will help you reach your goals. These are focused bursts of improvement that your entire teams owns.

    In both of these books, the key to success is making this a bottom up effort. As the business leader, you will ultimately identify the goals, but you have to let the team identify how they will reach those goals…and give them the tools to track and report on their progress (keep score) in a way that’s meaningful to the team…not just the leadership.

    By creating focused, relatively short term reachable targets…and then celebrating your successes along the way, you will start energizing the team. If you’re focusing on the right things, you’ll end up with an engaged team that’s excited about making things happen.  Find a way to make it fun – more of a game and you’re well on your way to creating something special.

    Do you have a culture of empowerment now? What would it mean to you if your team stepped up and surprised you with great ideas and execution that even you hadn’t considered?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    26 Apr


    35,000 each day; that is the estimate often given, referencing the number of decisions you make in an average day. It is no wonder we often feel like 24 hours is not near enough time to get everything done that we have on our schedules each day. So how do you decide, “What Matters Most?”

    First of all, you may be thinking 35,000 decisions can’t possibly be correct; the reality is that is only the tip of the iceberg. When you add in all the subconscious decisions the brain is making every second, the number is more than your brain can even comprehend. So pat yourself on the back, IBM’s supercomputer “Watson” still has a ways to go before it catches up to a human brain. This is an interesting video on number of decisions you make in a day.

    What Matters Most….

    Over the last week, on three separate occasions, I witnessed where the question of “What Matters Most?” was a topic of a discussion. Early in the week it was the used to prioritize action items during a client meeting. Mid-week, it was part of round table discussion on time management with a group of business leaders. Then Friday evening at a local church, keynote speaker and author, Matthew Kelly posed the “What Matters Most?” question to a capacity crowd during the first few minutes of his presentation on Life’s Passion and Purpose. Each a different circumstance, though the question was equally effective.

    After you hear something three times in one week, in three different contexts, it must be a sign to share a few thoughts on the power of What Matters Most, be it business or life. Actually, this idea of What Matters Most is something we regularly challenge our Aspire clients to ask. The pointedness of the question naturally drives you to a response that leads to clarity and action. That’s the power of the question. What Matters Most?

    A Great Place to insert What Matters Most….

    Everyone is familiar with “To-Do Lists”; in fact a quick search on google netted 40 of the Best “To-Do” Apps. So, it is fair to say there are at least another 100 out there that missed the cut! The problem with the traditional To-Do List is unless you consciously think of prioritizing the items everything on the list is equally important. It will leave you feeling overwhelmed with where to even start.

    Try this, start renaming your To-Do List as a “What Matters Most” List. It is really just a simple play on words, but it automatically makes your brain think about the importance and priority of the task as you write or type it. Even if your argument is “It doesn’t matter, they all need to get done”, it challenges you to put them in an order of significance and importance. Think of it this way, if you were plugging holes in the deck of a sinking boat, your “What Matters Most” list would have all the holes listed, but I assure the biggest would be at the top of the list.

    You can plug these three words into everything from daily business tasks, to weekend chores lists, and long term strategic planning initiatives. When you create lists of action items think of them in terms of “What Matters Most?”, see how your eyes naturally are drawn to what is most important and how you naturally prioritize them as you write them. If other people create lists for you to complete, introduce them to the What Matters Most approach, so you will know the order of importance when you receive the list. What Matters Most to You? And, if you still want more help organizing your priorities, try these 6 questions to keep things moving.

    Challenge for the week…..

    WRITE: What Matters Most? On a sticky note(s) and place them in places you will see them regularly, IE.: Bathroom mirror, Car dash, Corner of Computer Screen (or make it a Screen Saver), Family Photo. Let us know if it drives you to more clarity and action as you go through your day.

    Have you ever used the What Matters Most approach in your personal life? Have you tried in your business? If so, how did your team respond? As always we love hear your comments in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    15 Mar


    The Circle of Safety. In his latest bookLeaders Eat LastSimon Sinek uses this term to describe businesses that thrive because everyone inside the circle looks out for each other.   There is trust inside the circle.  You don’t spend your day looking over your shoulder.  The Circle of Safety wraps around the entire company, not just a limited number who have a title of authority attached to their name.

    The Circle of Safety builds and promotes a culture of helping each other.  Instead of worrying about who is going get credit for everything, the focus is on the company getting credit.  You trust that the whole and not a part, will do the right thing.   It isn’t about what I will do; it is about what we will do.  When you are inside the circle you protect everyone else inside the circle from the dangers that lie outside beyond the border of the circle.   In business, those forces may come from competition, workplace conflict, governmental regulations, economic pressures, new technology, or any other number of issues that challenge the long-term success of a business.

    Leaders that build their companies with a culture that promotes this type of trust are more likely to freely exchange ideas back and forth without the fear of being betrayed or the fear that someone else is going to steal or profit from their idea.   In simplest terms it means “I’ve got your back because, I know you have my back.”   When we have each other’s backs we move forward.  When leadership allows the culture of a business to shift to individuals seeking personal praise or only looking out for their best interests, it becomes divided and their shield of strength is diminished. 

    A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field.  Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. Aesop, sixth century B.C.

    That fable really sums up the Circle of Safety!  In his book, Sinek references several recent examples where the Circle of Safety either never existed or it broke down over time; think Goldman Sachs.   He also referenced several businesses that are clearly focused on the Circle of Safety with their Corp culture; think Costco and 3M.   If you mindfully observe over the course of a week, one doesn’t have to look very hard to find examples of both in our own local cities.

    The invention of the 3M Post-It notes is pretty well known, but it really captures the power of the Circle of Safety culture that 3M promotes.   As the story goes, an engineer was working on high strength adhesives for the aerospace industry, he accidentally created the compound for Post-It notes.    Without a culture that fosters a Circle of Safety, his failed adhesive many have never been shared with anyone.   But because 3M’s leadership and culture operates from a Circle of Safety, where employees freely share and exchange information the Post-it was born.

    What about your business, is there a Circle of Safety?  Do you have your employee’s backs?  Is there a level of trust?  Or is there a constant fear of being blindsided?  Do you promote yourself over the company?   Simon Sinek said in his research the one comment that confirms a Circle of Safety more than anything else is simply asking someone “Why would do this/that  for him/her?” And the answer is always, “Because they would do it for me”.   Pretty easy test; I encourage you to try it!

    As always we value your comments in the space below.   Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach.

    23 Feb


    Some would argue you can narrow leadership down to one or two qualities and everything else is a function of the others.  As the United States prepares for (or endures) another Presidential Election year it is fair to say many of us will be questioning what makes the qualities of a leader pretty regularly over the course of this year.

    I had the opportunity to hear Pat Williams speak a couple weeks ago at a breakfast hosted by the Accelerent group of Kansas City.  Pat is currently with the Orlando Magic, and he has been involved with professional teams since 1968, including a World Championship in 1983 with the 76ers.   He speaks regularly across the country and has authored over 100 books, many of them on the topic of leadership.

    Mr. Williams shared his 7 Qualities of a Leader with the group that morning and we would like to in turn share them with you.

    1) Vision helps you do three things.  A clear Vision keeps you Focused on the goals, Fueled and energized in your mission, and help see you through to the Finish.   It isn’t always easy being a leader. Vision helps keep your eye on the prize when setbacks and obstacles get in the way.

    A powerful example is that of Martin Luther King, Jr.  His vision was….“a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

    2) Communication.  Leaders must have excellent communication skills of they are going to share their vision.  Great leaders have the ability to speak in a way that everyone understands the message.  Leaders need to be clear, concise and correct.   And when you aren’t correct, you still own your decision.  Leaders must communication optimism and hope.   Would you rather be led by a pessimistic leader or an optimistic leader?  The answer is simple.   Some of the greatest leaders have been those who can speak clearly and inspire with their optimistic message.

    3) People Skills.   Great leaders care about people.  They have empathy for people.  In order to demonstrate this, you must be visible and available.    Tom Peters famously called it MBWA: “Management by Walking Around.   You can’t lead if you spend 100% of your time locked in your office.  Great leaders are accessible to their team and their team knows they care. And when they know you care…they’re willing to run through walls for you.

    4) Character.  There have been no shortages of examples that have tested this quality in the last few decades.  Personally I feel this one is the fundamental value that all the other qualities are built from.  Most value systems start with the ideas of Honesty and Integrity…and that’s a huge part of what Character is all about.  Leaders need to live and breathe Character.  It means taking responsibility in all matters both good and bad. And finally it means being humble. When you spend time with someone of high character, you normally leave them feeling better about yourself and you want to be a better person.  Pat Williams referenced experiencing this feeling after spending time with the late John Wooden, probably the most famous sports person in history.  Don’t under estimate the need for Character if you want to be an effective leader.

    5) Competence.  You must be good at what you do. You don’t need to be the absolute best at everything, but you do need to be good at at least a few things. If you want to be a leader you have to stretch yourself and commit to being a lifelong learner.   You need to be a problem solver, be a good judge of talent, and be a teacher.  Leaders develop leaders.

    6) Boldness.   Leaders have to make decisions.  They have to be able to quickly assess information and make something happen.  And once the decision is made they have to stand by their decision and not second guess themselves.  That doesn’t mean leaders don’t make poor decisions, but it means when they do they correct it as soon as possible and take responsibility for both the good and bad decisions.  When leaders are unable to make decisions, it cripples an organization.

    7) Serving Heart.  Most of us have heard the term Servant Hearted Leadership, but Pat suggests the verb form of having a Serving Heart, because it denotes action.   With leaders who possess this type of mindset the impact is powerful.   They think in terms of  “It is never about me, it is about you”. “It is never for my benefit, it is for your benefit”   “It isn’t about advancing my career goals, it’s about advancing yours”  ”It isn’t about personal success, it’s about success of the organization.  Are you getting the picture?  The best leaders lead with a serving heart.

    What do you think?  If you had to grade yourself on each of these 7 foundation qualities what kind of a score would you give yourself.  More importantly if you had your team grade you on each of these qualities what kind of score would that give you?    Are you sure?   It might be a great conversation to have with your staff.  After all, they are your future leaders and that’s what leaders do, they lead.

    Thanks to Pat Williams for the content of this article and for sharing your message.  Please feel free to leave any thoughts in the space below.  We always value your comments and feedback.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach