Leadership is NOT Transactional

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines transaction as an exchange or transfer of goods, services or funds or an exchange between people.  In American foreign policy, our international relationships with some countries are transactional.  For instance, in the early days of the Trump Administration, numerous foreign policy experts offered transactional to define our relationship with Russia.  While we hold differing views and object to their behavior, there are things we can do for each other.  I do this for you, you do this for me yet we can still hold each other in contempt.  Transactions, though they can be mutually beneficial, are, at their core, acts void of any relationship.  For example, you usually do not seek a mutually beneficial relationship with a car salesman.  The objective is to get the car for the lowest price you can.  Lower the car’s price, lose some of your commission and I’ll pay you that price and drive away with a car, simple as that.  On the contrary, paying for the college education of your child is less of a transaction and more of a one-way act of love.  You care for them and want to invest in them, therefore you pay for their education.  You do not require repayment or for them to pursue a career of your choosing.  You do what you do selflessly because they are family and their happiness is your happiness.  This is the behavior of a good leader.  Leadership is not transactional. 

Leaders of organizations can miss this.  I’ve seen some who view pay, benefits and even awards and recognition as transactions necessitating a return of loyalty and improved performance.  They equate these transactions to leadership.  Some are puzzled when they receive little or nothing in return.  It’s because this leadership transactional approach is flawed.  I give you something only because I am expecting something in return or I pay you or give you a performance bonus so now you owe me better performance and increased loyalty.  Some leaders convince themselves that this transaction approach is the answer.  On the contrary, this belief is grounded in selfishness, centered on what the leader wants instead of what the subordinate wants.  To be fair, pay, benefits, awards and even performance bonuses are not bad things.  They can be motivational offerings which foster loyalty and increased performance.  However, it is the spirit in which these acts or transactions are conducted which is key.  Indeed, we want our people to perform better and display loyalty in word and deed but that can be obtained in different ways.   

Instead of transactions, focus on the environment you create in your organization.  Do you have an inspiring vision to guide your people in all that they do?  I’ve worked with several companies whose vision is centered on forming and nurturing relationships with their clients.  The product they sell or service they provide is secondary to the relationship which they believe to be essential to business success.  Their employees follow this vision vigorously and display extreme loyalty.  They do so because this vision inspires them.  Do your people have a vision to guide them through the fog and friction of the modern business environment?  Do they serve a cause?  These answers are important.  Have you created an environment of belonging?  When your people walk through the doors of your business, do they experience kinship as they do when they are with their own loved ones?  Do they know that they have a voice and can be critical of what the organization is doing?  Do they know that you love them and have their back?  Do you listen intently when they speak?  Do you take time to know them personally and professionally?  My three decades of leadership taught me that the answer to these questions matters greatly.  If I wanted my people to be at their best and my organization to thrive, it is these questions I spent time asking and answering.  I do believe that pay, good benefits, awards and even performance bonuses are crucial elements to employee performance but I always viewed these secondary to the love and respect I held for my people.  Establishing great organizational environments and knowing my people came first.  I never once believed a simple transaction was the answer to my organizational woes.  You shouldn’t either. 

Being an Effective Leader is a Lot Like Being a Parrot

One of my Army mentors once said “If you want something done right once you have to say it 10 times.” While this may come off as rude, the point is we as leaders must emphasize that which is important. We must be repetitive or parrot-like. Investing in people was the most important thing to my organization. People were always foremost in my mind and I needed my leaders to espouse this. Therefore, I said “Investing in People” all the time, everyday. I must have said it thousands of times in my tenure as commander or CEO of a large organization. Moreover, I would spend time explaining what it meant and hold my leaders accountable for this investment. In the early days, many leaders failed to answer my question “what is most important in our organization?” Over time this phrase and more importantly, all it stood for became our norm. I started to hear this phrase from my leaders and watch it in action. I became a parrot, “Raaak, Investing in People!” It works. Check out my book for more on this topic and be the parrot in your organization. Make it Personal!

Leadership and Inclusive, Challenging Organizational Environments Matter!

Nate Grimes and I fought together in Afghanistan 10 years ago. He was just an Army Specialist (E-4). He recognized me at the baggage claim in Las Vegas and approached me. I embraced him instantly. 10 years does not diminish the kinship of 2 people who served in a special organization during trying times. He is now a Sergeant First Class (E-7) in Army Special Operations. I was bursting with pride over his growth and success. It matters! See Post

10 Things That Require Zero Talent... Don't Like It

Have you ever seen that list which gets posted on pages like LinkedIn and Instagram which outlines 10 activities which require zero talent. I’m not a fan. While it is factual, I feel offended by it, as if I need reminding that I must abide by these 10 rules. Moreover it is a horrible list to post in an organization as a reminder to people. I believe all you will accomplish is offending them. Indeed we want our subordinates to live by this list. Instead of drawing it out on a dry erase board or posting it in poster size in the break room, create an environment which motivates people to abide by these rules. Lead and care for them. Set a tone of inclusion and belonging and transparency and you’ll get all that and more.

What is your New Year's Leadership Resolution?

Many of us will begin the New Year with a personal resolution such as weight loss or better physical fitness. We will then take steps to see this resolution through like better diet and exercise. How about a leadership resolution? Seems to me you owe that to yourself and more importantly to your people. Develop one then set a goal for late 2019 as you await the beginning of 2020 to grade yourself on how you did. I have one. My New Year’s Leadership Resolution is to perfect my craft at executive coaching. I want to be able to look back at 2019 and see it as a year of growth for me specific to my coaching skills. There are many to pick from. Perhaps you want to exercise better patience. Or it might be better listening skills or active listening. Maybe you want to thank and recognize people more or lead in a more people-centric way. Whatever you decide the key is to do something with it. Transfer words and visions into action. Have a look at Chapter 5 of my book where you can find what I did specific to Investing in People when I resolved to place people first in my organization. Get help from those around you. For instance if you have a close confidant, someone who knows you well and can criticize you, have them help you achieve your resolution. Best wishes to you for 2019. Make it Personal!

"You" are now "They"

One of the greatest pieces of advice I was presented before I took charge of people in the Army was, “You” are now “They.” It made me reflect on my days as a subordinate, complaining about “them,” how screwed up they were and how I and my fellow co-workers could do it better. I was not about to become “They” and it made me think hard about what kind of “They” I wanted to be. “They” has such a negative connotation and I, being an optimist did not want a “we/they” atmosphere. I wanted to work hard to create an “Us” atmosphere. I did this by reflecting on what I disliked about “They” and how I could do it better. I wouldn’t be perfect and I knew there would always be some in the “They” bashing crowd. I connected with subordinates as much as I could to shrink the natural chasm which would form between us. In so doing I was able to increase mutual understanding about our two worlds. For a brief but important moment, I could see the world through their lens and they could see it through mine. It went a long way and it required constant presence to crush this “we/they” mentality which I knew to be unhealthy.

Happy Birthday to My Book!!!

That's right, she's 1 year old tomorrow, the 18th of November. This is cause for celebration and $$ discounts!! It's been an amazing year. Top-5 best seller 9 of 12 months on Silver Tree Publishing and top 12% of leadership books on Amazon. Countless speaking gigs. To celebrate I'm offering a FREE Kindle download on the 18th only! But wait, there's more! $5 off the Amazon price from the 18th-24th of November (Black Friday included!) Coming in 2019, the Audio version!