Mark C. Crowley

Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century

What people feel in their hearts has profound influence over their motivation & workplace performance.
“In contrast to longstanding management thinking, the heart is the driving force of human achievement, and employee engagement is a decision of the heart.”
– Mark C. Crowley
Navigation Menu

The Unintended Consequences Of A Leader’s Lack Of Trust

Posted by on Feb 3, 2013 in Current Affairs, Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Wisdom From Other Authors |


So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
                                                      Peter Drucker

As many of you know, I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of the analytics software giant, SAS Institute.

I spent a day at the company’s North Carolina headquarters, and then returned home to write an article that described many of the key reasons the firm recently was named the “Best Company To Work For” – in the world.

But here I am, less than two weeks later, wanting to tell you more about SAS – and a masterful leadership insight I picked up from Goodnight that many of the greatest minds in business routinely overlook:

If your objective is to build extreme employee engagement, and to inspire your people to contribute to your firm as if they owned it, you must first create – and then vigilantly sustain – a culture of trust.

Said another way, the reason SAS experiences less than three percent annual turnover, and has had 37 consecutive years of record earnings, is because its management fully understands that by giving people its trust, they earn a profound payback. When employees know they are trusted, they take initiative; they put their hearts into their work. They more willingly take the risks that lead to breakthrough innovation.

But here’s the rub. Plenty of otherwise intelligent leaders in business come from an entirely different perspective and believe that employee productivity is better driven by strict rules and internal competition. As you’ll soon see in the following three real-world examples, in the absence of trust, neither employees nor organizations can ever fully flourish:

  1. When James Corcoran was hired as the President of Retail Banking at Washington Mutual Bank (now owned by Chase), he quickly determined that the firm needed greater discipline in how it evaluated business decisions.

    Corcoran soon introduced a tool he called a “four square,” and informed his staff that any time they sought his approval on a proposal going forward, they were required to present their business case on a single sheet of paper – delineated into four equally sized boxes.

    Corcoran was very clear. Each box on the “four square” had a specific purpose and he expected his rules to be followed. A summary of the proposal always went into the top left corner box, and the financial analysis always in the bottom right. Everything had its place.

    But where things went awry was when Corcoran was displeased with the content provided in a “four square.” He very often sent managers away, without rendering a decision, until they returned with a more satisfactory presentation. He did this even when he had sufficient data to make his call.

    To be clear, Corcoran cannot be faulted for instituting a more formal and consistent decision making methodology at WaMu. This decision proved to serve him and the organization well. But by insisting on absolute perfection in every form he reviewed, people began spending disproportionate time producing faultless “four squares.” And in order to avoid hearing Corcoran harshly voice his rejection, some employees grew to fear bringing him new ideas and proposals altogether.

  2. As recently reported in Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, Dish Network founder and Chairman, Charlie Ergan, may be the single worst executive in America when it comes to establishing and nurturing organizational trust. According to writer, Caleb Hannan, the list of trust-destroying practices Ergan employs is virtually endless. Here are just a few.

    • To ensure people arrive for work on time, he installed fingerprint readers at every entrance. Now, any time a worker comes in after 9:00 am, an e-mail is sent to both Human Resources and the person’s supervisor. Sometimes, Ergan himself is copied.

    • Up until very recently, every check coming out of the company’s headquarters had to be signed by Ergan. Even today, trusting none of his senior managers to act in the best interests of the organization, he still signs all checks over $100,000.

    • Despite having over 100 full-time employees paid to research “reams of customer data” and decide how much to charge for satellite service, Ergan recently dismissed their endless hours of collective work, and unilaterally chose the final price by himself.

    According to Breen, current and past Dish Network employees describe an Ergen-created culture as one of “condescension and distrust.” Turnover at the firm is predictably high.

  3. An August 2012, Vanity Fair Magazine article titled “Microsoft’s Lost Decade,” revealed that CEO, Steve Ballmer, effectively destroyed organizational trust when he introduced an employee evaluation process called “stack ranking.”

    According to writer, Kurt Eichenwald, Ballmer launched a review system predicated on the idea that only a small number of employees should ever be graded highly.

    Imagine you’re a Microsoft worker assigned to a team of nine other highly talented and qualified people. In Ballmer’s bell-curve methodology, only two members on your team could ever receive a great evaluation – no matter how well you and your colleagues perform.

    The system required that seven employees would always receive a mediocre review, and one person a terrible one. People on the bottom often lost their jobs as a result.

    It’s stunning to think that one of the world’s largest companies, one with extreme competition for talent from the likes of Apple and Google, wouldn’t seek to design an evaluation process that inspired every employee to excel and share in the firm’s success. Instead, here are the predictable, albeit unintended, consequences the firm inevitably suffered:

  • Top employees did everything they could to avoid working with other superstars out of fear of getting hurt in the rankings.

  • While employees sought to do a good job, they worked equally hard to sabotage the performance of colleagues. This all but crippled cooperation and collaboration.

  • Because reviews occurred every six months, people focused on short-term performance rather than the long-term innovation that would greatly benefit of the firm.

I’ve come to be certain that no organization can fully succeed and thrive in the 21st Century without first displaying the highest regard and affection for all of its employees.  Human engagement is greatest, therefore, when people feel valued, important and trusted.

Because of this, it’s time we all agreed to push the human race forward and change how we manage people in the workplace.  Our ambition now as leaders must be to improve lives, mitigate fears and make people feel strong.  Anything less diminishes us all.

Building a culture of trust remains the road less traveled in business today.  But organizations like SAS are proving it’s the superhighway to organizational excellence.

Know that we’re extremely grateful when you share these blogs with friends and colleagues via all social media.  We want to make a difference and this is how you can help.  If you would like to receive Mark’s articles and updates directly, we invite you to join his tribe (no personal info is ever shared).

PPS: If you haven’t already read my Fast Company Magazine article about SAS and would like to, here’s the link: 

Read More

Ken Blanchard: A Premier Leadership Mind Turns To The Heart

Posted by on Dec 2, 2012 in Current Affairs, Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Life Lessons, Wisdom From Other Authors |

Leadership Sage, Ken Blanchard

Leadership Sage, Ken Blanchard

On a crisp and sunny afternoon at his cabin on Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York, internationally-renown business leadership expert, Ken Blanchard, surprises me by taking frequent and sudden breaks in the midst of the interview we’ve just begun.

He affectionately acknowledges his grandkids who randomly pop their heads into the room, patiently calms a barking dog, and fully excuses himself to greet the mail lady who delivers him packages every day by boat.

To judge him in this moment, unmistakably relaxed and easy-going, the 73 year-old author, thought leader, and management sage appears to be knee deep in retirement.

And Blanchard certainly has earned some R & R.  He’s written 55 books – selling a remarkable 20 million copies – and for the past three decades, has been the spiritual head of an eponymous training and consulting firm that serves clients in over 30 countries around the globe.  Along the way, he co-created Situational Leadership® theory and co-authored The One-Minute Manager – a modern day classic that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

But winding down his career is the last thing on his mind.  Inspired by his friends, Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking author who worked well into his nineties, and motivational legend, Zig Ziglar, who told him directly to “re-fire, not retire,” Blanchard has no interest in calling it quits.  Instead, he’s on a two-month sabbatical for the explicit purpose of gearing up for the next chapter of his life.

Clearly vibrant in both heart and mind, Blanchard remains passionate about making a difference in the world – most especially in business.  Tied to his conviction that there remains a “desperate need for positive leadership role modeling” today, he’s eager to write more, speak more, and essentially live the brand of management and stewardship he’s grown to believe is requisite for the 21st Century workplace.

Downplaying an already luminous resume, Blanchard intentionally skirts away from questions related to his personal legacy.  Emphatically life affirming, he’s hired a nutritionist, a physical trainer – and has lost 35 pounds – all to ensure his body holds up as long as his spirit does.  After five decades of dedicated study, he’s now absolutely certain he’s acquired the wisdom about how to most successfully manage and inspire people in their jobs; and he appears unwilling to leave the planet until he’s shared it with all of us.

Character Building At An Early Age
Blanchard grew up in Westchester County, New York with parents who instinctively seemed to know they were grooming a future philosopher and teacher.

His mother, daughter of German emigrants and the only one of five children to earn a high school diploma, met her future husband – a Naval Academy and Harvard Business School graduate – on a commuter train heading into New York City.  According to Blanchard, their wide difference in educational backgrounds mattered little to his father.  “He’d never met anyone with such incredible energy and positive views on life,” and immediately was swept away.

Radiant positivity is characteristic of Blanchard’s own personality, apparently imbued in his DNA.  And his mother’s lessons on the importance of being a generous person would establish the foundation for his life’s philosophy.  “She taught me to give and be charitable with people insisting I never expect anything in return.  But she also told me to never be surprised by all the good that inevitably would come my way.”

Blanchard’s father graduated from Annapolis right after World War I.  With a reduced need for officers, the Navy released him to pursue an MBA and begin a career on Wall Street.  But when the prospects of a second world war later became imminent, he eagerly re-upped.

When Blanchard was just seven-years-old, his dad took him to the old Polo Grounds to see his first major league baseball game.  The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the hometown New York Giants, and the trip to the stadium was motivated by much more than introducing his young boy to the national pastime.  “There are two guys on the Cardinals who have values I think it would be good you looked at,” he told his son.

Vividly and nostalgically recalling the experience, Blanchard said one of the players was Enos Slaughter, who “ran to first on every hit as if his life depended on it.  After we saw Slaughter play, Dad told me ‘if you’re going to do anything in life, hustle.’”  The other player was Stan Musial, a 24-time All-Star considered one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.  “That Musial could hit well wasn’t really the point.  Musial was a perfect gentleman and my father was always focused on teaching me values.”

Synchronicity And The Evolution Of His Career
Blanchard’s greatest accomplishments seem to almost always be tied to chance meetings or other serendipitous events – and to his seizing these moments.

After graduating from Cornell with an undergraduate degree in Government and Philosophy, he applied to the best graduate schools in the country and was accepted at none of them.  A self-confessed average student, he struggled to matriculate anywhere until Colgate University admitted him provisionally.

With plans of becoming a college administrator, Blanchard enrolled in the school’s education program, a curriculum he quickly found both tedious and boring.

While having a beer at the Colgate Inn one afternoon, he struck up a conversation with a bar mate, someone who happened to be a new Sociology professor just joining the faculty.  Revealing a sober distress, Blanchard told his new friend how unhappy he was with his course work and how dispassionate he’d become about pursuing it.  Who knows what motivated the professor, but he not only persuaded his drinking companion to instantly change his major to Sociology – where Blanchard would first study Leadership – he personally ensured the transfer.

Read More

When Stephen Covey Made Me Really Mad: My Posthumous Apology

Posted by on Jul 29, 2012 in Current Affairs, Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Life Lessons, Wisdom From Other Authors |

Dr. Stephen CoveyStephen Covey made me really mad twenty years ago and it’s only recently that I’ve come to realize that he was right, I was wrong, and I owe him an apology.

Covey, of course, passed away a few days ago, and so I clearly missed the opportunity to express my mea culpas while he still was alive.  The good news is he never knew I was upset; I never actually told him.  But, in my heart, I still feel compelled to share the story (maybe he can read this where he is) and (if not) hope very much that it will be of great help to you.

It was 1991.  The 60-year-old bank where I was working had just suffered some massive loan losses, and the future of the firm suddenly was in peril.

It was a peculiar company in the sense that many of the people working there – my wife and best friends included – really had never worked anywhere else.  We’d begun our careers there in our early twenties, and hadn’t yet had enough life experience to know that banks could fail, people could lose jobs, life was inherently uncertain and, despite it all, we would be ok.  So, when news came out that our stock price had plummeted and more big losses were imminent, a lot of us descended into fear.

Our bank had an annual meeting where every manager in the firm was invited.  It was part of my responsibilities to plan and execute this event – and that included the selection of a keynote speaker.  In light of the sudden change-of-fate the bank was experiencing, I decided we needed a presenter who could lift us up.  Someone who would inspire us to believe we could turn things around and to keep our hopes high.

Working with a speaker’s bureau, I hired Stephen Covey to come speak; but there was one caveat to the selection.  I wanted to have a conversation with him prior to the event, and to share my intentions for the meeting and lay out my expectations for his address.  Covey willingly agreed to meet, and we had an almost hour-long chat.  When we were done, I was absolutely certain he knew I wanted the most upbeat speech possible.

Covey didn’t waste a minute of his speech before annoying me.  Acknowledging our bank’s setback, he immediately launched into the story of Victor Frankl, a German Jew imprisoned in Nazi death camps “where he experienced things so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shutter to even repeat them.”  Covey told the audience that Frankl was mercilessly tortured, never knew moment-to-moment what his fate would be, and suffered through the deaths of his parents, brother and wife – most in the gas chambers.

Honestly, I wasn’t mature enough at the time to understand why Covey thought such a distressing story could some how restore our spirits.   In light of our recent conversation, I perceived his tale to be a complete downer, and I think I mostly tuned out the rest of what he had to say.

But here’s what Covey did go on to express, and why it was so relevant to all of us listening.

Read More

Drill Sergeants With Heart? How The Military Is Reinventing Its Leadership For The 21st Century

Posted by on Jul 22, 2012 in Current Affairs, Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership |

Fear Inducing Drill SergeantIf I asked you to conjure up an image of an Army (or Navy, Marine Corp, etc.) Drill Sergeant, I’m almost certain what you conceived would match up pretty closely to the photograph on the right.

For generations, Drill Sergeants have been characterized by the intensity of their yelling, screaming, and fear inducing barking of orders.  Quick to both scold and harshly punish, that guy in the photo is no cliché.

With our minds in agreement on how Drill Sergeants have historically sought to train, motivate and even inspire their young recruits, I’d like to now tell you that things have greatly changed in the military.   Out go the feral tyrants; in come leaders with heart.  I’m deadly serious.

It was announced this past week that Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Heilman was named Drill Sergeant of the Year.  Out of 5,400 Drill Sergeants in the active duty ranks and Army Reserves, Heilman was intensely evaluated by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command before being chosen.   Here are some highlights of the process:

Read More

How 100 Super-Creative People Are About To Change Life As We Know It

Posted by on Jul 8, 2012 in Current Affairs, Wisdom From Other Authors |

Fast Company 100 Most Creative People“Genius means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.”
                                       William James

Fast Company Magazine recently published its annual list of the “100 Most Creative People In Business,” an assemblage of truly remarkable and inspiring human beings.

Honestly, it took me several hours to read through the 50-plus-page digest, a considerable commitment of time I willingly made to gain greater insight into the minds that are changing the world we live in.

Before I’d read any of the 100 mini-biographies, I’d already begun to wonder what common denominators I might find among all these uber-creatives.  I also wanted to discover where the focus of all this brainpower was going.

Gratefully, the list has broad representation in areas really needing man’s ingenuity: politics, education, medicine, design and technology.  And the top-ranked genius, Mah Jun, has committed his life to China’s environmental clean up.

But it deserves our attention that the highest percentage of our greatest innovators and creative thinkers have devoted their gifts to advancing the causes of social media and e-commerce.  And by the time I was done reading about all these wunderkinds, I was certain that their ideas were about to have a profound influence on our personal and professional lives for years to come.

You should know what trends these 100 geniuses are creating.  With that in mind, I want to share the three most prominent ones in hope that the information will help you more effectively lead your people and enterprise in the months ahead. 

Read More

3 Reasons Why We Care So Much About A Bullied Bus Monitor And Why It Matters To Leaders Everywhere

Posted by on Jun 25, 2012 in Current Affairs, Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Wisdom From Other Authors |

Disrespected Buss Monitor Karen Klein

Note: This blog also was published by on June 26, 2012.

“Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it.”
                                                     Fyodor Dostoevsky

Karen Klein, a 68-year-old school bus monitor, was verbally abused and bullied by a group of seventh-grade students a few days ago, and her story quickly has become a sensation across the country.

In a matter of days, 5 million people have viewed a You-Tube video that documents her mistreatment, and television news shows have replayed it for many millions more.

The situation is painful to watch.  An upstate New York grandmother who earns $15,000 per year ensuring student safety is incessantly tormented and derided by several of the kids she works everyday to protect.  The teenagers make extremely cruel remarks, often profanity laced, and insult her long enough to bring Mrs. Klein to tears.  Before it’s over, one boy physically taunts her by poking her in the stomach with a textbook.

Remarkably, Mrs. Klein’s demeaning experience hasn’t just earned our human interest; it’s earned an astonishing outpouring of our money.

A campaign that initially sought to generate enough donations to send the beleaguered widow on a well-deserved vacation has ballooned into an account that’s now quickly approaching $1 million!  Monies sent in support of Mrs. Klein already exceed $650,000 and at least 16,000 people have contributed.

The question of why so many of us care about Mrs. Klein so deeply that we feel compelled to send her supportive cards along with generous checks deserves our attention.

I believe there are three main reasons why we’re all reacting so viscerally to what happened to Mrs. Klein and, essentially, all of them relate to the fact that many of us feel disrespected and under-appreciated for the work we do everyday.   Consciously or unconsciously, we’re projecting our feelings about our own jobs onto the experience of Mrs. Klein.   We’re hurting at work and are suffering Mrs. Klein’s pain as that of our own:

Read More

Pin It on Pinterest