The Time of Our Lives

If the title of this post brings up memories of the Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes song from Dirty Dancing because it was the theme song from your prom, you and I have something in common.  But when you think of the “best time of your life”, what do you think of?

On a recent stint of R&R in San Antonio, our good friends Tom and Patsy shared that when they asked their grown kids about their favorite time during childhood, they both mentioned that it was the time that their Dad (Tom) was out of work.

Getting ready for a Segway ride - Patsy is in the white jacket on right, Tom is right behind her.

Huh?

When asked why, they mentioned that they really enjoyed being able to spend more time with Dad (and Mom of course!), and that they really liked the simple things they did to spend time together.  Tom and Patsy recalled lunchtime picnics listening to the cars go by, feeling sort of bad that they couldn’t do more for their kids at the time.  Turns out, they were doing exactly what they needed to do.

If you have kids, feel free to take this as a lesson in parenting.  If you are a leader, PLEASE take this as a lesson about the MOST valuable resource you can give your employees – your time.

Your time means you care.  Your time means you’ll listen.  Your time means they can count on you and trust you.  You may have read my post from Jan. 16 about providing undivided attention to your guests.  Your employees deserve the same courtesy.

In that post I discussed looking at staffing levels and NOT reducing them to their bare bones level of efficiency, but to look at what is really needed to serve your guests properly.  Tom and Patsy’s example shows that we should be careful about spreading our leaders too thin as well.  In order to spend time with your employees, you have to HAVE the time to spend.  It’s unfortunate, but the area that usually gets eliminated when time is tight is the time with the employees.  Reports and paperwork seem to get done because there is a measurable deadline.  Why don’t we put the same value on time with the people who are most valuable to the organization?

This is also good to keep in mind when thinking about what it really takes to motivate your employees.  Ever wonder why gift cards and movie tickets lose their luster?  Same reason that toy you really wanted for your birthday is sitting in the closet collecting dust.  Those things cannot bring you the joy and value that quality time can.

Just like everything else regarding leadership, this is a balancing act.  So what can you do to carve out some extra time to spend with your employees?

What “the holidays” can teach us about leadership

Peace on Earth, good will toward men.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

Be nice to your sister, it’s Christmas!

It never fails.  When we get to “the holidays” time year, there is palpable feeling in the air of hope, good will, family togetherness and kindness for those less fortunate.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, states one classic song, and most everyone buys into it.

But why?  Why at this time of year do we all of a sudden turn on the compassion and caring and treat our neighbors (and even foes) with the respect and dignity they deserve?

It could be tradition, a time of celebration, or the desire to not end up on Santa’s naughty list… to me it doesn’t matter why we do it for a month in December, so much as it matters why we don’t do it the rest of the year.  Whatever the reason, we choose to act differently.  In many cases, we choose to give.

From a leadership point of view, this is a huge opportunity.  If you notice that people are a little more kind and cooperative around the holidays because more people are in a giving mood (including you), then why wouldn’t they react that way the rest of the year?

So what are we giving (beyond the obvious tangible “things”) that people are responding to?

  • Our time – the holidays are about slowing down and appreciating the people around you.  Why wait?  This is not the only time of year that people need attention and appreciation.  And it doesn’t have to be a lot… a little of your time and sincere attention will go a long way.
  • Our patience – Unless it’s 4 am on Black Friday, there is usually a little more patience granted during the holidays.  People learn, understand and develop at very different paces.  Allowing someone the opportunity to learn and grow on their own timetable makes them much more comfortable with the task or concept you are trying to teach them.
  • Our understanding – Employees are people.  Leaders and managers are people.  And people need encouragement, guidance and support.  Sometimes that just means listening to them about what they are going through.  Maybe a little compassion or a little empathy to show that you really care about them as individuals.

Walt Disney said it best, “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

And it takes time, patience and understanding to keep the people around you feeling like they want to give you their best effort.

Happy Holidays!

Step up to three burners

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this here, but my wife and I have been doing a little home remodeling.  It’s been quite a learning experience, and it’s great to see it finally all come together.  For the latest on ‘As The Dirt Turns’, click here.

The reason I bring this up is this morning (after about 4 months) was our first real, home cooked breakfast in our new kitchen on a stove that works.  In our old set-up, we were down to one burner, a toaster oven and a microwave for all of our meals that didn’t involve a phone or leaving a tip.  We had gotten quite good at improvising and juggling multiple parts of a dish on one burner.

This morning, as we had THREE burners going at once, Linda said to me, “this is a lot like taking on a leadership role or more responsibility – you have a lot more to watch.”

Too true… in our old kitchen set-up, we could take our time, focus on one thing and make sure it was done correctly before moving on to the next step.  Now, it’s more about how many different things we can handle at once.  Sound familiar?

One of the biggest reasons that new leaders fail is that they are not equipped to handle the added pressure, visibility, and accountability of the role.  Like a cook with too many burners going, something is going to get forgotten… and likely burned.

Being overwhelmed comes from not knowing what to do, or even where to start.  Think of the things you are really good at… when someone asks you to do it, it’s no problem, you’ll get it done right away, piece of cake!  Contrast that with getting asked to do something that you have never done before, and you don’t even know where to start.  Cripes!

Now, compound that by the number of things a new leader might be asked to do that they have never done before. Easy to see how they can get “in the weeds”, as our friends in the restaurant biz say.

Unfortunately, the remedy to this situation is the one thing we seem to have less and less of… time.  Not just time to do stuff, but time to learn.  Time to teach.  Time to grow.

If you are a seasonal business, you may be thinking of next summer’s leaders for your facility – which is great.  Your next challenge is to think of the leaders for 2011.  But don’t wait for 2010… do it now! Think of ways you can expose those employees to the critical skills they’ll need BEFORE they are handed the keys and radio for real.  Maybe they can shadow a current Supervisor when handling a guest complaint or have them take a crack at preparing the weekly schedule.  Anything to increase their confidence, and decrease the chance of being overwhelmed.

Successful leaders not only lead right now, but also set-up their teams to succeed in the future.

Oh, and they don’t burn stuff.