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The New Keys to Leadership (from 1500 years ago)

Alcide DeGagné

The North American economy appears to, finally, be finding some traction and slowly moving back into a growth phase. And as the economy recovers, many businesses are finally loosening some of the cash that they have been sitting on, using it to invest in technologies and systems that will allow them to grow as well.

These technologies are being sold as the answer to quality and productivity challenges. By pouring money into the “innovation” of their physical plant and systems, these issues will evaporate and magical growth will follow.

Unfortunately, many firms are not finding the returns from these investments that they were expecting at the outset.

The ongoing question for many confused senior managers continues to be “how do we get better traction from our investments?”

Part of the answer lies in the fact that technologies and systems will only take the quality and productivity quest so far. Without an accompanying improvement in the management of people, these investments will never achieve their intended goals. As Tom Peters and Bob Waterman have so eloquently pointed out, “excellence is about people, creating communities of excellence through listening, respect and giving people the space to be innovative and creative”.

While there are a number of service excellence frameworks for high-level engagement here’s a simple one to judge your own efforts by:

  1. Mission: A key element of success too often missed is the importance of aiming past the target. In hockey we aim for the back of the net, in golf we aim for the back of the cup. All too often in business we settle for profit. That may work for the capitalist, but it’s generally not very motivational for the vast majority of employees. For a growing number of firms, the mission is safety, sustainability, and positive social impact. Profit becomes one of several measures by which overall success is measured.
  2. Selflessness: One of the great secrets of work life for me was the realization that no firm could achieve outstanding results without the full engagement of all employees - what is more generally known as the discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is all Monestary-260x173about putting in the extra time and effort to achieve excellent results. It’s the opposite of ‘what’s in it for me’ so prevalent in much of society. In that sense it is an unselfish work behavior; its precondition is belief in the intrinsic worth of the business mission. Of course, there are significant enablement conditions that must also be in place. In essence it’s a simple idea but it is not easy to achieve.
  3. Commitment to Excellence: Commitment to excellence means that the business success of the firm depends first and foremost on the brand promise to provide products of the highest quality. This links back to the over-arching mission of “aiming past the target”. It is also the discipline by which the business strategy and subsequent lower level goals and activities must be aligned. Commitment to excellence provides the glue - the intrinsic reward - that every single person in the production chain receives in their quest for satisfaction and well being that comes from knowing that they have done their job well.
  4. Ethical Standards: Outstanding ethical behavior must be seen as an imperative from the highest levels of management to the provider of most lowly task. People at all levels must be rewarded for doing the right things regardless of the cost. Behavior premised on the notion that “it’s wrong only if you get caught” is unacceptable.
  5. Cultural Integrity: Every person must believe that everyone accepts and works by the principles espoused by the service excellence framework - or they will be found out and there will be consequences. Employees who firmly believe this to be true of the company may be seen as naive by an outsider but not to insiders; it is just “the way we work here.”
  6. Trust: Trust is the lubricant on which service excellence thrives. Every employee must be able to say: “I trust my employer and I trust the process we follow.”
  7. Living the Life: Living the life is all about inculcating the values into the daily work of the entire organization, in every office, meeting, and work site. These values must be trained for, fostered, nurtured, and rewarded throughout every system—particularly in the human systems—of the organization.

Although it seems rather straightforward, is it really that simple? Not exactly, but for the organization who can achieve this state, it is worth its weight in gold!

Are these ideas new?

No. Actually they’re more or less 1500 years old.

This blog was inspired by the Business Secrets of the Trappists Parts 1 to 4 published by Forbes in 2009.



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About this Article

Posted by Alcide DeGagné
Posted on February 19, 2012

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