Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

What Are Your Leadership Values?

This past week I was asked to give a talk at my alma mater, Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida.  I was speaking with a select group of their senior management team from across the entire organization and they sent me a list of questions they wanted me to answer and discuss.  One of the questions was, “What are the three values you rely on that underpin your leadership?”  I’ve never been asked a question quite like that and was pleasantly surprised after I gave it some thought.  Here are my top three…

Honesty

To me this is the absolute foundation of leadership, if you don’t tell the truth you can’t build trust and without trust, there is no loyalty, commitment or belief in the “leader.”  The rule here is simple, tell the truth all the time, period.

Love

I believe if you treat your team, your customers, even your competitors with love and respect you are following the path of a servant leader who understands that their job is to help and support others to be successful leaders.

Excellence

As one of my personal leadership values, I see the pursuit of excellence as the driver to creating an exceptional organization that has a positive impact on the lives of its employees, customers, community and the world.  Using “excellence” as a benchmark pushes each individual to be uncompromising in the quality of their work and always striving to deliver their very best.

Those are my top three, what are yours?

Strong Culture through Vision, Value, and Voice

strong culture vision value voice

When working to make positive changes or keep the “right” kind of people within your organization, it’s important that you have a strong set of company values and direction.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this concept lately and took a few minutes to talk about it in my latest video. Check it out or read through the written format below.

 

 

I think most business leaders understand that culture is a critical element in the success of their organization.

A culture of engagement with employees who have an ownership mentality, who are satisfied, loyal, proactive – those are the sort of cultures we try to build because, as I like to say, culture equals cash. It’s one of the biggest areas in most businesses that you can improve the bottom line.

And as I look at culture, there’s a ton of stuff around: There’s the Gallup poll, the Great Places to Work Study, the Firms of Endearment Study – all of which show, unfortunately, a very high level of disengagement and even actively disengaged employees who are basically trying to sabotage their company.

But, to me, there are a few fundamental things you have to have in place before making positive changes or putting “icing on the cake.”

3 Things Every Relationship Needs

Several years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine that’s a psychologist and he said, “John, there are 3 things that everybody looks for in all the most important relationships in their lives: Safety, belongingness, and appreciation.”

Safety

Folks need to know they’re physically safe.

People need to know things like they’re not going to get their arm caught in a machine and that it’s safe to walk in the parking lot at the end of the evening.

They also need to feel psychologically safe. They need to know people aren’t going to yell at them, scream at them, intimidate them, and, at some level, that their job is safe and that the company’s not going to go under tomorrow. They’re not going to go out of business. They’re not having a massive layoff.

So, they need to have an underlining idea of safety.

Belongingness

People want to feel like they’re wanted on the team, that they belong as part of the tribe, and that they’re an integral part of the company.

Appreciation

People need and want appreciation for the work they do. They want appreciation for bringing a positive attitude to work every day and appreciation for their ideas and the things and diverse ideas they bring to the table.

 

So, safety, belongingness, appreciation: These are the elements that must be present in any given relationship.

Vision, Value, and Voice

I was listening to a podcast this week, and they were interviewing a gentleman named Mike Stallard. He had 3 other things that he focused on.

I think these match up very, very, well, and I liked what he said.

His 3 elements were vision, value, and voice.

Vision

People think, “If I’m going to be engaged in the company, I need to know what the vision is. What’s the direction?”

The way I always phrase this is that people need a vivid, compelling and well-communicated vision and strategy for growth.

If you’re not doing those things, if you can’t communicate where your company and your team are going, why certain things are, what and what you plan to achieve, you’re missing something.

You must have a clear, vivid, well-communicated vision and strategy for growth.

Value

I’m taking my friend’s model and changing it slightly, by splitting it into 2 things, value and values.

The first one, value, means that people need to know that the company values them, that they’re important, that their work is valued and they’re respected, that they’re treated with dignity and that they play an important role within the company. Their work is valued.

Values, also align with the values of the company. These folks believe in the things the company says are important, and when they go to work every day, they’re proud of where they work, and what the company stands for, and hold their team members and other colleagues accountable for living the values of the organization.

This is one of the big things we talk about in hiring now: You really have to hire for a values fit as well as some skills, experience, aptitude, and a positive attitude.

Voice

The last one is voice. People need to know they will have a voice within the company. If there’s an issue, or problem, or a challenge, they have faith that people will listen to them,

But equally as important or more important is, they have a voice and a stake in the outcome. They know their voice will be heard about the vision, the mission, the value of their work, projects, teamwork, customer focus, and that they can speak up and say what’s on their mind.

Bringing It Together

So, I believe, if you want to build a really strong culture at the foundation, you have to have safety, belongingness, appreciation, vision, value, and voice.

My question to you is, How well does your organization do those 6 things?

 

The Courage to Speak Up

happy employees happy customersRecently, I took a few moments to talk about something I see far too often in the companies and groups I work with all over the world. It’s something that exists in every organization to some degree – in every industry – and it’s something I’m passionate about helping leaders identify and work on with their teams.

Check out the text below or, if you prefer, watch the video on my YouTube channel.

 

This is one of those videos you’re gonna wanna gather everyone around the computer or send it out to everyone in your organization, because I’m gonna discuss an issue that drives me crazy that I see over and over again in organizations when I’m coaching people or working with different groups or teams. It’s the unhappy employee who doesn’t bother to tell management they’re upset.

They sit at their desk, they brood, they build up more and more anger and frustration and resentment. Oh, and they’ll go tell other people in the organization, or they’ll go home and tell their family, but they won’t go to their manager, leader, boss, whatever it might be and say, “Hey, I’m not happy about this,” or “I think this isn’t going well.” Many of you that are watching this now that you think yourself, “Well I got some things I really don’t like about how they do things around here, but I’m not gonna go tell my boss, because I’ll get” – and I love this term one person told me – “I’ll get vaporized.” And you’re gone.

If you live in an environment where bringing criticism, let’s say negative feedback, pointing out something that doesn’t seem to be going right to you, if you work in an environment where doing that would cost you your job, you probably need to work someplace else because you work for a poor leader and things will likely not ever get better.

State or Trait?

There’s another thing to check: Maybe it’s your attitude. What I always say when I teach this sort of stuff in companies is, is it a state or trait?

A state, “I’m just having a bad day, I’m just upset about this one project, I’m just … Things aren’t going well in other parts of my life and I feel like taking it out on the company.” It’s just a temporary state of being dissatisfied, frustrated, whatever it might be… stress.

If it’s a trait – that you see this happening over and over again in your life and you’re constantly frustrated and upset, then you might wanna look at the mirror and say, “Maybe it isn’t the people around me, maybe it’s me.”

This is also, – now I’m gonna shift to the leader – this is also something to look at when someone brings you a critical feedback or they’re frustrated or upset or angry or stressed. Is it a state or a trait? Are they just having a bad day or is this an employee who just has a bad attitude?

Leaders: Listen Up

Let me now speak to the leaders. The only people that can tell you how to improve your company are your customers and your employees. I am flabbergasted at how often leaders and companies don’t wanna hear from either group. “Let’s send out a customer survey? Oh no, they’d tell us all the things they want us to change and expect us to change them.” or “I don’t wanna get the negative feedback.”

I see this a ton internally, where I’ll go to a leader, a CEO and say, “When did they do an audit of your internal organization?” They’ll say, “No, no way, I don’t wanna hear what they’re complaining about, I’d have to do something.”

Now the reverse is I work with a lot of organizations and great leaders who want to get that feedback. Often times it frustrates them that they don’t get enough of that feedback, because they know everything’s not perfect. They think to themselves, “Wow, if people would just bring the information, I could fix it.”

It’s kind of like if you’re really sick but you don’t wanna tell the doctor about it, I’m not thinking you’re gonna feel a lot better soon. But this is the really important point for leaders, managers, leaders, bosses, CEOs, and presidents: You have to make it safe for people to bring you bad news. You can’t kill the messenger.

If someone goes way out on a limb to share some not-so-great information with you, don’t saw the limb off, run out there and give them a hug. Say, “Thank you. I didn’t like hearing this, I’m upset to hear this is going on in the company,” or “I’m distraught to know that you feel this way.” But you can’t have retribution, finger pointing, getting back at them, telling them they’re wrong. You’ve gotta make it safe – you’ve got to make it really safe for people to bring you even bad news because you can’t fix it unless you know about it.

Ignoring the Problem Solves Nothing

If it’s down there festering and people are afraid to talk to you about it, it will likely hurt or kill your organization. We’ve got two things here: If you’re an employee, you have to have enough courage to go and talk to the people above you about issues or problems or concerns or criticisms you have if they’re bad enough to really impact your productivity. If you’re a little upset, a little frustrated, let it go, this too shall pass. But if it’s really something that’s got you worked up, you owe it to yourself and to the company to let people know. Now the other side of that, I‘m saying again, Leaders, is you have to make it safe. You have to thank them, thank them, thank them for bringing you the bad news, the criticism, the negative feedback and encourage other people to do it, too. Hold them up as someone that brought you information you didn’t want to hear, but information that, now you know it, you can work on it, improve it, fix it and make the company better for everybody.

Here’s a big, big idea: Happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to more profit. Unhappy employees lead to unhappy customers, a bad workforce, and talent leaving, which isn’t typically the way you run a successful business.

I really hope you take this to heart, pass it around your organization, send it to other folks because this is an issue I see over and over again. I see how bad it hurts the individual and the company not to be able to discuss things that aren’t easily discussed, that might be a little bit uncomfortable, but if fixed or attended to, it could have a huge positive impact on everyone involved.

I hope you found this helpful.

 

The Role Of A Leader

It was 36 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a pretty good football player in high school, not a star, but at least one the key starters. I played nose guard on defense and when we were in the red zone close to the goal line I would sometimes go in as a running back to punch the ball across the line. I was a big guy even back in high school, a good athlete, but not the best… then everything changed.

In my senior year the head coach came to me and said that he was going to make me the captain of the defensive squad. I was excited, honored, and proud… I was going to be one of the team captains! Then he explained something about my role as a captain. He said, “John, if you’re going to be one of the captains you have to lead by example. You’re going to need to work harder than everyone else, play the best you’ve ever played and help the rest of the team to be excellent. That means coming to practice early, studying the playbook, supporting the coaches, working hard in the weight room and always coming in in the top three on sprints and long runs.” As I said earlier, I was a pretty big guy in high school, I think the word would be fat, and I had never, ever come in anywhere close to the top three on any running drill. Coach must have seen the fear in my eyes and said, “You can do this Bear (my nickname in high school), I have confidence that you can stand up and be a real leader for this team. Can I count on you?” I immediately answered, “Yes Sir.”

The next day, after the coach announced that I was one of the team captains, I started coming in in the top three in every drill. I ran faster than I ever had, I pushed myself harder than I ever had, every time I got tired I just kept saying to myself, “I’m the captain, I have to set the pace, I have to lead by example.” The metamorphosis was amazing, I literally changed my performance, dramatically, overnight. That’s when I realized it… I could have done it all along. Apparently, I had always possessed the ability to run fast and for long distances, but when I was just one of the guys on the team it was easy to come in last, there was always a few of us “heavy guys” bringing up the rear. But the minute I accepted a role as a leader I knew that everybody on the team was watching, all the coaches would be watching, everyone in the school would be watching me, and I could not let them down.

It is the same thing in my business career when I’m running a company I understand that I live under a microscope. My team sees everything I do, they see what I don’t do, they hear what I say, and they hear what I do not say. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – everything you do has an impact on how you are perceived as a leader. I love this, because it pushes me to perform better than I might on my own, just like on the football team I have to run faster, work harder, do more homework and deliver the highest level of excellence I can, because if I didn’t I couldn’t ask anyone else on my team to do it either.

Over the years, based on this experience, I have developed my own definition of leadership.

“Leadership is being a living example of what you hope your followers will one day become.”

I hope you found this helpful and will share it with your network. Thanks – John

 

Do You Have A Culture Of Purpose

How To Lead Four Generations At Work

A great new book from Kelly and Robby Riggs.

Buy it from Amazon HERE

Five Things To Focus On For 2018

At the beginning of every year I put together a video with what I feel are the most important things to focus on for business success in the coming year. For 2018 I have five major things that I believe will be extremely important for you and your business. I have also added the video from 2017 for you to view. There are some very powerful ideas in these two videos, things that I know will help you as a professional and your business.

Also, please share this blog with your network, I’ve dedicated my life to helping businesses and people be more successful, so I want to get these ideas in front of as many people as possible.

Thank you very much and I hope that 2018 is an absolutely wonderful year for you and your organization.

 

Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.

 

Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!

Questions:

  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.

 

Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

Here is a link to the book I recommended in the video: Who – by Geoff Smart