The Secrets to Workplace Leadership

shh-leadershipI shared a drink with a friend who manages a team of five people. He was wondering how people’s moods can fluctuate in such a broad range, which affects the quality of their work. One of his employees is always up and down. He is engaged with his work one week and then he seems to lose interest. His interest fluctuates and he isn’t sure why.

We all have this problem it’s just that most of us force ourselves to stay focused. My friend told me that he has tried giving this employee various kinds of work to see what interests him, but that didn’t work either.

I asked him if he ever sits down with his staff to explain the reasoning behind the work.

He said he didn’t. He never really thought of that because it’s pretty obvious to him. They need to design websites that exceed the customer’s expectations.

He was losing out on a huge opportunity. People often stop looking at the larger picture because they get comfortable. This comfortable feeling reduces their desire to go above and beyond the normal effort.

A study at the University of Alberta showed that people need a sense of purpose in order to feel engaged with their work. A ‘Spirit at Work’ intervention program for a group of long-term health-care workers boosted morale and job retention. This program urged employees to rethink their job, which reduced absenteeism by 60% and turnover by 75%.

“We discovered that people who are able to find meaning and purpose in their work, and can see how they make a difference through that work, are healthier, happier and more productive employees,” said Val Kinjerski, a University of Alberta PhD graduate who co-authored the study.
– E-science news gathered this information from the Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

By helping your people understand why they do what they do – you can increase happiness and productivity.

I’m going to give you a few ideas that might help your employees/coworkers to connect with their work.

Create Your Own Spirit at Work Intervention Program

1. Talk about positive stories
2. Have people share positive stories to be compiled for other employees
3. Listen to customer feedback
4. Find out what improvements your people would like to implement
5. Ask your employees how they want to celebrate great results

Your organization has an opportunity to create happier and more engaged workers with these easy to apply secrets that everyone should know, but many aren’t willing to try.

1. Talk about positive stories

Your organization has many stories of how employees solved problems, helped others in need, and other ways in which they went above and beyond to make someone happy. However, a lot of us like to play the modesty card. We hesitate to flaunt our achievements.

Wrong. So wrong. You need to flaunt your greatness; it’s a must.

A client recently told me about how I helped her feel happier. She explained that drugs that she took to keep her emotionally balanced didn’t help, but my site did. She thanked me profusely. (I put her quote on my hire me – coaching page.) I sent the email to my wife. I think Nikki got a better understanding of what I’m trying to do with this blog. Since she edits all of my writing I need her to feel engaged with the work, so we keep putting out the best content to help the readers of this blog.

You have to share similar stories with each other. Talk about how a customer gushed over your attention to detail. It shows the rest of your co-workers why you do what you do. Most of you aren’t working just for the paycheck. You are also working because you make a difference in people’s lives.

2. Have people share positive stories to be compiled for other employees

So now that you have all these positive stories, you should compile them in a central location. That means keeping emails from customers/clients and that also means writing down stories from employees.

I keep every positive email from my readers. Whenever I feel like my mood is low, I can always go into the archives and remind myself why I need to stay motivated.

The more stories an organization can compile the more powerful it becomes. If your organization is huge, then break it down into departments. Even departments such as marketing and accounting need to compile stories. These stories may be more internal, but it’s still important to document what is happening so you can link to why you do what you do.

3. Listen to Customer Feedback

In order to stay engaged in our work, we have to recognize our mistakes and understand how to fix them. By listening to customer feedback, an organization is taking the time to understand their mistakes and correct them.

I have known many people who like to solve problems. They get an energy boost from making a solution happen. I used to work at K-Mart, and one day a woman came into the store asking for a patio umbrella that wasn’t in stock. The salesperson called 4 different stores before she found the lady’s umbrella.

I remember when the lady came into the store to pick up the umbrella. She was gushing because it was the only one that fit her patio furniture.

You could see the manager beaming with pride.

You need to give your people a chance to create solutions so they can feel like they are a super hero.

4. Find out what improvements your people would like to implement

If you can listen to customers’ needs then it’s time to listen to employees’ needs. Your employees are at their most creative when they are trying to fix problems.

I worked for a company in which the employees had so many good ideas, but the manager never listened. We would be sitting in the lunch room and three different people would share ideas that sounded great to me. I asked them if they tried to talk to Alex about it and they said yes, but he told them to email him. They did and they never heard about the idea again. They got so disheartened that they stopped trying.

Your organization employs smart people, otherwise they probably wouldn’t hold the positions that they do. They just need a chance to unleash that creativity and wow the customer.

5. Ask your employees how they want to celebrate great results

Every company is capable of achieving great results, especially if they’ve been around for more than a few years. If your organization is ho hum about the results that do occur, your people may stop trying.

People want to know that what they do matters. That means celebrating all the good things.

This should be done in large and small groups. The larger gatherings can occur about 1-4 times a year, while the smaller groups (celebrations by department) should be done more often.

When you allow your people to dictate how they want to celebrate, they are less likely to find fault with the celebration.

Making your celebration a regular routine is the key, because you want to make a habit out of celebrating your successes. For the first month, try celebrating every week. Then have a celebration only once a month to keep things from getting stale. If you overload people and celebrate too often, they will get bored and also be unable to find reasons to rejoice in their hard work.

To avoid allowing this practice to fall away, it’s important to make the celebration fun. That might mean bringing food, letting people joke around, and finding other ideas that get people excited about attending.

Why It Works

After implementing these secrets for about a year, assess how these changes affect your organization. You will probably notice that people are more engaged and willing to try a little harder to meet each other’s needs as well as the needs of the customer.

These techniques will work for most companies. The companies that do fail usually do so because they don’t make this practice a habit. It needs to become part of the culture, so when something difficult happens there are techniques to fall back on. And when something great happens everyone dances on their desks, feeling proud of their effort.

Are you on Twitter? Then check me out at @workhappynow. I give stress relief tips, happiness ideas, and cool quotes that save the day.


As many of you know I’m a recent father and I’m not a big fan of father blogs, but I am a big fan of Sean’s Writer Dad. I love his writing style and flair for a story. Check out one of my recent favorites, The Mothers and Fathers of Tomorrow.

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Image courtesy of (cup)cake_eater

10 thoughts on “The Secrets to Workplace Leadership”

  1. Hi Karl,
    Employee engagement is a real underlying part of employee satisfaction. I really like the idea behind #4 – some people are more than willing to share their ideas, but other people are more reserved. If managers are going out there (management by walking around) and really talking (and listening) to their employees, those ideas will come out. And when all ideas are considered, that makes the person who shared an idea, more willing to do it in the future. And that’s a good place to get to.

  2. Hi Karl,

    Interesting article. One question did come to mind. Do you think that maybe one issue why some employees may not be engaged in their work is because they do not love what they do? I have noticed that when I love my job, I have no problem being engaged in whatever task I have to do. So maybe we need to start really becoming aware of what we love to do…just my two cents.

    Hope all is awesome! 🙂

  3. Karl, I absolutely love what you said in #5. I worked on a year-long strategic branding program for my firm, and after all was said and done, one thing we needed was a recognition and reward program. I’ve often said that the money I received paled in comparison to the genuine accolades from my boss. Leadership MUST be engaged with their employees, knowing who they are, what they do, and then looking for ways to recognize their work.

    You said this so well, and I hope it inspires managers to implement such changes in their workplaces.

  4. Great point. We all crave meaning, both in our workplace and in our daily lives. Without a “why,” we sometimes lose sight of what we’re doing and where we are going.

  5. Nice post. I’m fascinated by the movement to bring the power of story into organizations. It’s such an instinctual human thing – sitting around the fire telling stories. Why not at work? Carol Pearson has also done some cutting edge work on helping organizations discover their particular archetypal stories, with the Organization and Team Culture Indicator. She also has a really good book on this: “Mapping the Organizational Psyche.”

  6. Hi Lance, We have to encourage people to share. The more people that share the more that we can improve the company.

    Hi Nadia, You make a good point. We should do work that resonates with our strengths and passions, but sometimes it’s just a confidence issue. People are afraid to do actual work because they will mess it up. If a person’s job is not a good fit they should be building their confidence by learning new ways to get better at their job. Then when they are feeling strong they can find something that meets more of their needs.

    Hi Megan, Actual praise from a boss is so much more meaningful than money and an email.

    Hi Positively Present, Thanks.

    Hi Nathan, That’s why leaders in an organization must always be finding ways to help people connect with their work. I know it can be a pain, but that’s what leadership is.

    Hi Patty, Carol Pearson sounds fascinating. I will have to check her out.

  7. Your suggestions are right on the money. More leaders need to share positive news and listen to (and act on) what employees really value in terms of rewards and recognition. Listening is always more powerful than talking. Thanks for the great post!

  8. Great post! I like the idea that the team leaders help members connect to their purpose. Guidance as well as listening can help provide inspiration and motivation. If these fail, and like what Nadia said, it may be a case of members not actually loving the work they do.

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