Mark C. Crowley

Transformative Leadership for the 21st Century

If you're focusing on EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
you're aiming WAY TOO LOW!
“Shift your focus to what really matters to your organization:
employee commitment, initiative, and sustainable high performance.”
– Mark C. Crowley
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Five Things Leaders Should Do In December To Ensure Success In The New Year

Posted by on Nov 25, 2012 in Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Life Lessons |

The Month Of December “Fortune favors the bold.”
Virgil (70-19 BC)

There’s a great tendency in the month of December to wind things down.

With the holiday season upon us, and the least amount of sunlight of the year around to energize us, we’re influenced to work in slow motion.   We feel like resting, and to acting upon a conscious or unconscious mindset that tells us things will rev up soon enough – when the new-year arrives on January 1.

But it’s long been my experience that the most successful leaders have an altered state of awareness about December.  They see the month as the true start of the new-year, and purposely work very hard to lay the foundation for high achievement way before Auld Lang Syne gets sung.  For these highly effective people, the last month of the year is all about winding things up.

If your goal is to lead your team to spectacular performance in 2015, here are five things you’ll be very wise to accomplish in December:

1.    Share Your Vision
Ideally in person, but alternatively through a well-crafted and thoughtful written communication, use December to inspire your team.   The wonderful effect of sharing your dreams for the coming year – all you’d like to achieve and become – is that it gets the juices flowing in the minds and hearts of every person who works for you.  Weeks before the new-year starts for real, your employees can give thought to how their efforts fit into your aspirations.  And just because you planted the seed, they will begin to prepare themselves for the coming challenges.  One word of guidance: make sure to acknowledge all your team did to support you this year, before you re-direct your focus to 2015.

2.    Meet One-On-One With All Your Direct Reports
December is a wonderful month to check in with people and to personalize the new-year ahead by discovering new ambitions.  Knowing that the greatest reason people burn out at work is because their jobs lack sufficient variety, ask your employees if there’s a special project they’d like to be involved in.  Is there a cross-training or growth opportunity that inspires them?  The road to high engagement is making people feel valued and cared for.  That’s your essential goal for these meetings.

3.    Assign Next Year’s Goals
The funny thing about goals is that they are almost always higher than those assigned the year before.  We laugh at this, of course, but new and bigger goals very often have the effect of stressing people out and putting them into a disempowered state of fear.  So, one solution to this is to introduce goals long before they go into effect.  The extra time allows people to get their heads around the higher expectations.  I’ve also found it extremely helpful to ask employees to prepare a high-level plan for how they will go about achieving those new goals.  The exercise typically reveals to people that the mountain isn’t as high as they first imagined.  By the time they submit their plan to you, in other words, they’ve already envisioned themselves planting a flag on the summit.

4.    Build A Pipeline
Few things are more exciting for a leader and their team than to have a highly productive month of performance in January (especially important in sales).  Come early February, it simply feels great to know you’ve gotten off to a phenomenal start in the new-year and to have established early momentum.  The best way to ensure this happens is to stack the deck in your favor.   Whatever you traditionally do to drive results, do more of it in December.  Challenge each employee to double down his or her efforts, and to build a pipeline of work that can come to fruition in January.  Yes, your team will work harder in December, but the rewards will be worth it.

5.    Get Organized And Reflect
I love the last couple of weeks of December, and have made a habit of using them to get myself organized and emotionally prepared for the coming year.  I clean out files, organize my office, and update my planner.  Like chopping wood and carrying water, there’s an unseen but powerful reward for doing the mundane.

While not always possible, I also love taking off the last week of the year and spending time in nature, going for walks – having thinking time.   Late December is an ideal period for personal reflection and for becoming fully re-inspired about the future.  Every year around this time I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis who said, “you are never too old to set another goal and to dream a new dream.”

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Five Powerful And Purposeful Questions To Ask In Every Job Interview

Posted by on Oct 28, 2012 in Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Life Lessons |

Frank Sinatra“Everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”
                                     Rumi, 13th Century

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.
                                     Pantajali, 2nd Century B.C

I’m intrigued by the idea that each of us has been put on this planet for a specific purpose.

Virtually all religious traditions, of course, tell us that nature has imbued unique gifts in every person, even a special destiny.

Given the extraordinary number of synchronistic events I’ve experienced throughout my own life, I’m unequivocally convinced that I’m doing the work I was “born to do.”

Think about these people: Frank Sinatra, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill.

Now try to imagine each of them doing something other than what originally made them so remarkable.

If you’re finding this task difficult, it’s simply because their profound talents and impact seem entirely unsuitable to any other conceivable career or job duties.

Now think back on the most productive and engaged employees you’ve ever managed.   Picture one or two of them in your mind.

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The Greatest Obstacle To Leadership Greatness

Posted by on Sep 30, 2012 in Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Wisdom From Other Authors |

Ego“It is the nature of the ego to take, and the nature of the spirit to share.”

What’s the biggest obstacle that gets in the way of people and prevents them from becoming truly effective leaders?

Ken Blanchard, leadership guru and prolific author, is certain the answer is “ego.”
                                                                                                                                                      During a recent discussion he and I had for a magazine article I’m writing, Blanchard told me that there are two ego-related traits that take people out of their hearts and greatly undermine their true potential as leaders.

The first is “False Pride,” characteristic of someone who thinks mostly of themselves and is greatly self-promoting.  The second is “Self Doubt” or fear, where a leader thinks less of themselves than they should and is primarily motivated by self-protection.

According to Blanchard, leaders who are driven by their ego – whether it’s some form of false pride or self-doubt – are doomed to fail.  “Leaders cannot and will not succeed when their primary inclination is to be self-focused,” he says.   Leadership effectiveness is directly tied to one’s generosity of spirit, and to valuing the talents and differences in others.

For the past several years, Blanchard has been helping business students at the University of San Diego and Grand Canyon University (where the school of business bears his name) gain greater insight into their personal values, disposition, and to discover whether, deep-down, they have a true predilection for leading people.   Through numerous exercises of self-investigation, Blanchard’s program purposely leads students to answer this fundamental question: “Are you here to serve, or be served?’”

One of the most thought provoking activities of the curriculum Blanchard conducts is called an “Ego Anonymous” meeting – where students are required to stand up and publicly admit to some ego-driven, and thereby limiting, behavior.  By hearing the confessions of fellow students, it quickly becomes apparent how many ways the human ego can derail a leader in the minds and hearts of employees.

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Are You Prepared To Lead When Disaster Comes?

Posted by on Sep 23, 2012 in Leadership, Life Lessons |

Blowing Dry Flood Damage“It’s not how well you perform in your summers that will define your success in life, it’s how well you do in your winters.”
                                                      Jim Roan

Around 9:00 P.M. on Labor Day night, I headed back to my bedroom with a plan of doing a little reading before going to bed.

As I walked down the long hall, I had no idea that two-to-three hours earlier a connection had burst behind the bathroom toilet and hundreds of gallons of water already had gushed into the back half of the house.

Honestly, the sight of water pouring out of the pipe – imagine the pressure of a wide-open fire hydrant – was instantly stunning.

By this time of night, I already had grown tired; but my sudden change of fate required my sharpest attention and decision making.  At first, I felt entirely overwhelmed.

There’s a knob on the back of most toilets that serves to shut off the water in an emergency.  But once I’d turned it completely, the water continued its ferocious surge.   Greatly alarmed by this, as fast as I could, I ran outside to the front of the house, found the shut-off lever, and ended the flow.

Somehow during all this initial chaos, a thought crossed my mind that I was being tested.  Honestly, a voice inside of me was challenging me: “What’s the best possible way for me to respond to this crisis and leverage all I have learned about life and leadership?”   I’m not kidding.  And also quite truthfully, what that voice had to say was inspiring to me.   With water rapidly seeping through walls, putting antiques and other prized possessions at risk, I found myself determined to respond swiftly and maturely, and to achieve the best possible outcome.

I’d like to share some of the key steps that we followed with the hope they can help you when life’s inevitable disaster comes your way.   Just sixteen days after the pipe burst, our house was fully dried; walls were removed and replaced, and virtually the entire house re-carpeted and re-painted.   That voice in my head played a huge role in getting the crisis resolved.

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Be Direct In Your Communications And Excel As A Leader

Posted by on Sep 16, 2012 in Heart Leadership In Practice, Leadership, Life Lessons, Wisdom From Other Authors |


“There is no wisdom like frankness.”
                 Benjamin Disraeli

As an English literature major in college, my professors routinely asked me to write several-pages-long analyses of books they earlier had assigned me to read.  The goal of these assignments, of course, was to discover whether I fully understood the material and could effectively articulate every imbedded nuance.

While my undergraduate training definitely taught me to think analytically (appropriate time for a shout out to my alma mater, the University of California, San Diego), I painfully discovered after graduation that it had rather poorly prepared me to succeed in the business world.

In one of many examples of missteps I made as a young manager, I remember submitting a multi-page, single-spaced business proposal to my organization’s Marketing Director.  To this day, the most direct human being I’ve ever known, he refused to read it even though I’d spent hours working on it and was passionate about its content.

In working for this gentleman over the next several years, I chose to model his direct style in communicating.

I learned to be concise, candid and unambiguous in both my written and spoken word.  Doing this not only ensured my future proposals got read and approved, it helped me become a much more effective leader.  This is because directness not only is prized in the business world, it’s essential.

What I learned about being direct is that people appreciate it.  They know where they stand, understand what’s expected and waste little time trying to read into things you say.  How much time have we all spent worrying about what our boss thinks of us or meant by some offhand comment?

As I grew more experienced as a leader, I realized that by making myself very clear with people, they wasted little energy being concerned like this.  They routinely knew where they stood.  And because my employees far more consistently met or even exceeded my expectations, they very often heard me tell them how much I valued and appreciated them – and was grateful for having them on my team.  I made a point to be very direct in this kind of feedback, too.

Remembering that the hearts in people are sensitive, I’ve always had to remember that being direct can also destroy feelings.  On the day my boss refused to read my proposal, he could have chosen to acknowledge my effort, initiative and inexperience, and taken the time to show me how he’d like to see the next version.  I most definitely was dispirited by his terse response, and made a point thereafter to make sure my own directness never was perceived as being jerky or even disrespectful.  Being concerned about employee feelings, I’m absolutely certain, is what distinguishes a great boss from a merely good one.

In his own way, my former boss did try to teach me and, many years ago gave the following advice from some anonymous author who understood the value of keeping communication simple.   It’s worth remembering:

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