Human Leader

How to be a Human Leader

“We still need to get 40 hours a week out of employees.”

As many leaders have had to move their workforce home, there are several issues they’ve had to deal with because of this shift in venue. Ensuring productivity clearly is one of them. But the statement above is just wrong. Plus, you can use this time to gain greater personal satisfaction from your leadership.

Regardless from where people are working, 40 hours of effort is not a suitable productivity measure. Examples of better measures are, number and quantity of customers served, purchase orders processed, product tests completed, or service requests filled.

Now is not the time to make sure your home-bound employees are sitting in front of their computers 40 hours a week. We had no time to prepare for this. Many didn’t have home offices. Many were also figuring out what to do with children, now forced to be home-schooled. Significant others are also now working from home. Some families adapted quickly. Some are still struggling.

Now you are called upon to be more human in your approach. You need to have one-on-one time with your employees and encourage your leadership team to do the same. Ask employees how they are doing, what obstacles they face, or what you can do to facilitate improved work-from-home conditions. Act on the feedback you receive.

Several years ago, I served as an ecclesiastical lay leader for a small congregation. We had the chance to build a new church building. We put tremendous effort in justifying and working toward this project. Along the way, I was rightfully criticized for putting more leadership toward this project than I was saving souls. We adjusted and moved forward. Years later when I concluded my term, I shared our successes with the congregation. I spoke of the new building for which we had recently broken ground, our 35% attendance growth, and our spiritual growth. I said the latter mattered most; and shared that you could witness the change. We had become more active in our love and kindness for one another. This won me more congratulatory hugs and handshakes than either of the other two accomplishments combined. Later I was told that if we hadn’t done the latter, the former two accomplishments would not have been possible.

What is the message of this story? Focus on the needs of your people. When you do, the business results will follow. Yes, employees are responsible for accomplishing work. When you take the time to see to their personal needs – particularly during this crisis – they will deliver. And they will deliver more than if you are only focused on “getting 40 hours of work out of them every week.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



How Humility Helped One New Leader Start His New Role

Adam Alonso is the Chief Executive Officer of BUILD Chicago Inc. BUILD Chicago’s mission is to engage at-risk youth in schools and on the streets to help them realize their potential and contribute to our communities. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Adam about leading transformationally.

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Adam: To me it means to bring people together through a shared vision. Leading by example, rolling up your sleeves and visibly following through on your action. It also means to have empathy, be humble, be honest, and be confident. Regarding humility – this is important. Don’t believe your own press. Don’t promote yourself to the team. Let your work speak for itself.

Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you.

Adam: When I first arrived at BUILD, I was not wanted here. There was a large group of employees who would have preferred another leader. I started by talking with every employee. We jointly discovered opportunities for improvement. We put much-needed discipline in place – such as being in the office for eight hours every day. This wasn’t popular, but we did it. Other basics included dressing professionally and keeping the place clean. I learned who my allies were, and we worked together to drive these basic elements of discipline. I was very clear and held them to these higher standards. We lost several employees who couldn’t adjust to the increased discipline. As new employees came in, we set the foundation for the new culture.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of this transformation?

Adam: It was ultra-chaotic around me. I determined not to become sucked into this. I experienced all of this and as an outsider had limited insight but great perspective. We needed to drive greater discipline and structure. I listened to suggestions and gave people the chance to engage. I went into this with 100% trust in them and gave them a 100% benefit of the doubt, even though there was a large group of dissidents. Slowly we moved them out and built the new organization and culture.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Adam: Early on we had a youth conference at a local high school that drew more than 100 attendees. I learned that the employee in charge of the event, Rick, was doing this all by himself. No one assisted him in setting this up. He established all the speakers, logistics, refreshments, everything. Other leaders did not help. People were in silos and did not speak with each other. To remedy this, I used this example and was quite clear with the leadership team that this behavior was not acceptable. We need to help one another prepare and host these large events. I set clear expectations and we performed postmortems on these. Over time, this improved greatly.

Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Adam: This organization was siloed with a great deal of mistrust, even within a team. People threw each other under the bus. We talked a great deal about changing it, but in the beginning, it was grueling. It had become so ingrained. There was an informal power structure that was untouchable. The good news was that everyone had enthusiasm for the mission and over time their passion outweighed the negative behavior. As we shared our positive experiences, it grabbed their heart and gave me a platform to move forward.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Adam: Much of this was done by clarifying the need for greater structure and discipline. There was also some negative reinforcement that worked in our favor: when people began leaving the organization some of those who remained were alarmed. The realized they either needed to engage or leave. They had to choose. It worked. People who stayed determined for themselves that the new culture was good for them and good for the organization for which they had so much passion.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Adam: This is a more recent development. I’ve learned to ask the right questions. I’m moving from the role of manager to become more of a coach. I am holding people accountable by asking them about what they did and how they can learn from it – both best practices and lessons learned.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Adam: To me, it’s all about humility. Yes, you have position and power, but don’t let this go to your head. Don’t believe your own press. Humility and kindness will take you far. It doesn’t mean being weak – you still need to hold people accountable.

Endnote: At the beginning of Adam’s tenure at BUILD, he was met with a great deal of resistance. As with most other organizations, people resist when culture is threatened. It is often the senior managers who become unseen detractors. Therefore, organizational transformation rarely follows a straightforward path. Instead, it is a social movement that spreads commitment.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please join the discussion on LinkedIn to add your comments.

Would you like to contribute to a fantastic cause? Your contribution will go to efforts to work with at-risk youth across Chicagoland. You can donate to BUILD here.

How culture impacts your ability to drive successful transformation, Part 2

Last week I described how your culture can predict your transformation success, and broke culture into two components – behavioral and structural. Today we’ll take a closer look at behavior.

The Behavior Trifecta shown above separates leader behavior from that of their leadership team, and that of employees generally. When all three parties exhibit productive behavior for their role, the probability of your transformation’s success goes way up. Here is a summary of the behaviors I look for in each of the groups:

Senior Leader Senior Leader’s Team Employees
– Communicates clear vision or purpose in measurable terms.

– Listens actively (more than talks).

– Coaches individual members of their team.

– Holds their team accountable for results.

– Cultivates an environment of trust and healthy conflict.

– Seeks to understand challenges and opportunities of their team mates.

– Understands that their leader’s team must be successful before their team can be.

– Willing to accept coaching and learn new ways to approach work.

– Frequently (but not always) comes to work early and stays late demonstrating an eagerness to succeed.

– Understand how to work with other people; is emotionally intelligent.

You can argue that all three groups should share all three sets of behaviors. Those listed are critical behaviors for the role.

Here are the signs to look out for if you only have two of the three:

  • Wrong Team: If you lack productivity from your employees, you likely need to upgrade the staff. Look for the three employee traits outlined above when hiring new team members.
  • Cross-Functional Dysfunction: Your leadership team doesn’t work well with each other. It may appear so in your team meetings, but how well are they otherwise working together? Look for withholding behavior, destructive conflict, over advocacy or low investment in their own teams as a sign that you might need to act.
  • Kumbaya: The team appears to lack direction or focus. The path forward is not clear, and employees are not held accountable for results.

Encouraging proper behaviors, particularly during large scale transformation, can be a daunting task. Properly equipped with the right tools, though, you can change your organization and drive greater productivity, yielding much greater bottom line value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


The biggest mistakes leaders make when making decisions

Recently I read an article that talked about big mistakes leaders make when making decisions. One situation is when the leader tells people they have input into the decision when they really don’t. Employees provide input to the decision only to find out later this was a ploy to gain their buy-in. There was never any intent to use their input.

I agree. This is a ploy that only ends up hurting the leader in the long run. It is disingenuous, and drives lack of trust. When you are leading a large-scale transformational change in your organization, building trust is paramount to your success.

Instead, be clear and honest about who is making the decision. Limit input to the decision to your immediate leadership team. Then enroll employees to implement the change. It’s crucial that employees help you define the implementation, but not the decision itself.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,