10 Habits of Brilliant Leaders

Zuckerberg quote
I recently shared a drink with a friend who runs a small company. He told me a secret that I’ve never heard him discuss before.

He talked with me about his employees’ moods and how they can fluctuate in such a broad way, which really affects the quality of their work.

“A few years ago I caught one of my employees sleeping at his desk. He wasn’t a bad employee, but he wasn’t great either. He was never late, but there were times he didn’t seem interested in his work at all. Then there were other times he was fantastic. It would fluctuate like this all the time. I didn’t know what to do.”

Shortly after finding his employee asleep he decided he had to make some changes. He told me he took my advice from a conversation over a couple beers last year. He began to explain his vision and why he made certain decisions. He opened up his thought process to all his employees every month. He explained the companies income and costs, what direction the company was trying to go in and why. This also opened up a dialog with his employees that he never knew was possible.

His employees responded better than he thought they would. He even got ideas from his employees of how the company could save money and how to improve the customer experience.

“It was like someone flipped a little switch on in our company. I wished I had done it sooner. Almost everyone was happier and much more engaged. It’s funny though. I never got through to the guy that sparked it all. I eventually had to let him go. Hope he’s at a job he enjoys. I still think about him and feel grateful for the idea he sparked.”

People often stop looking at the larger picture because they get comfortable. This comfortable feeling reduces their desire to go above and beyond. They coast along, slowly disengaging and disliking their work.

A study at the University of Alberta showed that people need a sense of purpose in order to feel engaged with their work. A ‘Spirit at Work’ intervention program for a group of long-term health-care workers boosted morale and job retention. This program urged employees to rethink their job, which reduced absenteeism by 60% and turnover by 75%.

“We discovered that people who are able to find meaning and purpose in their work, and can see how they make a difference through that work, are healthier, happier and more productive employees,” said Val Kinjerski, a University of Alberta PhD graduate who co-authored the study in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

By helping your people understand why they do what they do – you can increase happiness and productivity.

I’m going to give you a few ideas that should help your employees feel more engaged with their work.

Are you interested in bringing more fun and happiness to your team? I’m creating a beta program to help you improve employee engagement. I would like to help a small group of leaders grow a happier culture and improve communication at work. If you are a team leader, manager, HR, or CEO then reach out to me. The program will be extremely affordable (big discount) in exchange for your help in making the program better. If you are interested please fill out this short form and I’ll get back to you right away.

1. Empower employees to improve the company

When a leader listens and empowers his employees to fix the small things, there are more people responsible for creating a great customer experience. Each small improvement quickly adds up, improving innovation and helping keep customers happy.

“We try to have as many channels for expression as we can, recognizing that different people, and different ideas, will percolate up in different ways,” Laszlo Bock, VP of Google

When employees believe that their voices matter, they are more likely to feel appreciated by the company. This feeling then encourages each employee to do better work.

Your organization employs smart people, otherwise they probably wouldn’t hold the positions that they do. They just need a chance to unleash that creativity and wow their co-workers and customers.

2. Share positive stories

Your organization has many stories of how employees solved problems, helped others in need, and other ways in which they went above and beyond to make someone happy. However, a lot of companies like to play the modesty card. They hesitate to flaunt their achievements.

Great leaders understand the power of positive stories when they show the value that they bring to the customer.

A client recently told me about how I helped her feel happier. She explained that medication that she took to keep her emotionally balanced didn’t help, but I did. She thanked me profusely. (I put her quote on my Happy Employees page.) I sent the email to my editor. I think she got a better understanding of who I’m trying to help and why I work so hard to create great content. Since she edits many of my articles, I need her to feel engaged with the work, so we keep putting out the best content to help the readers of this blog.

You need to flaunt your greatness!

You have to share similar stories with each other. Talk about how a customer gushed over your attention to detail. It shows the rest of your co-workers why you do what you do. Most of you aren’t working just for the paycheck. You are also working because you make a difference in people’s lives.

The more stories an organization can compile the more powerful it becomes. If your organization is huge, then break it down into departments. Even departments such as marketing and accounting need to compile stories. Many of these stories may be more internal, but it’s still important to document what is happening so you can share with your people why you do what you do.

3. Focus on great culture

Great results are the bottom line of every company. The only way to get great results is to have support at every level. If one domino falls short the customer experience weakens. You can’t have great marketing and bad customer service. That’s why empowering employees to create their own happiness systems, we’ll discuss more in #5, is vital to improving every aspect of your company culture.

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Simon Sinek

When a leader makes the company’s culture a top priority it ripples throughout the whole organization. They want create as many avenues for employee happiness that their resources will allow. It’s this habit that helps an employee feel engaged with their work and deliver great results.

4. Explain the vision again and again

A great leader has vision that guides everyone in the organization. They are able to plan for next year like it’s next month. They know how they want to get there and help explain what he wants done to make it happen.

It’s this vision that helps put into focus every action an employee makes within the company. Without explaining this vision many employees become lost, unable to see what is truly important.

“If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning.” – Larry Page, CEO of Google

Every company helps someone. It’s up to the leaders in your company to bring clarity to who you serve and how you will make it happen. The more ways you can explain your visions the clearer it becomes.

5. Allow employees to design their work systems

Your employees know their strengths. They know whether they enjoy certain projects and which ones drive them crazy. Utilizing this information is vital to getting great results out of your employees.

Allow your employees the freedom to design how they would get the task done. They will own the project and work harder to make sure it succeeds.

6. Listen to Feedback

In order to stay engaged in our work, we have to recognize our mistakes and understand how to fix them. By listening to employee, customer, and vendor feedback, an organization is taking the time to understand their mistakes and correct them.

I have known many people who like to solve problems. They get an energy boost from making a solution happen. I worked at K-Mart in my teenage years and I’ll never forget a look on one customer’s face because of what one of my co-workers was able to do for her.

A woman came into the store asking for a patio umbrella that wasn’t in stock. The salesperson called 4 different stores before she found the lady’s umbrella. He asked the store to transfer it and he would call the lady as soon as it came in.

I remember when the lady came into the store to pick up the umbrella. She was gushing because it was the only one that fit her patio furniture.

You could see the manager of the employee beaming with pride.

I’ve seen and been on the receiving end of an employee just not caring. They can hear and/or see that I’m upset and they choose not to help.

You need to give your people a chance to create solutions so they can feel like they are a superhero.

7. Encourage employees to fix mistakes

Yaro Starak wrote a blog post about his experience at Starbucks. It made great advertising for Starbucks. Starbucks empowers their employees to make good decisions, which leads to the best type of advertising in the world: word of mouth.

Yaro ordered a tea and an oat brownie. He waited for it to arrive on the counter. After a few minutes he told the barista that he was still waiting for his tea. The Starbucks employee had forgotten about his order. He quickly made the tea, apologized and handed him a piece of cardboard that said…

We apologize if your Starbucks experience was anything but wonderful. We want to know how we can make things better and always invite you to share your thoughts with us. The next time we see you, please enjoy a beverage, on us. We hope your next visit is better.

Yaro might bring a friend in with him the next time he goes to Starbucks. Now that extra expenditure almost balanced itself out.

Yaro explained how he felt…

I waited about an extra minute longer for my tea than I should have. That is definitely not long enough for me to get angry and I was served very quickly once I notified them that my tea was missing.

Yet, despite this, the Starbucks policy is to offer a complimentary beverage even if their system is slightly out of whack. I walked away impressed that I scored a free beverage voucher, but not really because of the beverage itself, I was impressed with the customer service policy I just witnessed (hence I’m writing a blog post about it!).

Starbucks did not diminish in my eyes as a result of this incident. In fact they impressed me, so much so that I’m now writing a blog post that will be read by thousands of people proclaiming good things about Starbucks service (that’s some good word of mouth). Of course not every Starbucks customer has a blog they can rave to when something happens, but every person has friends and people they talk to, and this one policy of Starbucks will encourage word of mouth through normal social interaction too.

It all started because Starbucks empowers their employees to make the customer feel good. That’s the benefit to happiness at work. The employee corrects a mistake, and the customer is happy after receiving a free voucher for something of such little inconvenience. Everyone feels good. The drinks that Starbucks make don’t cost them that much, so in reality they are probably losing less than a dollar on the whole transaction.

Gaining a loyal customer.

8. Recharge internal battery every single day

When you run a company you can’t go 9 hours straight without stopping. You probably can’t even go 4 hours without recharging. That’s why smart leaders take the time to recharge their mind and body.

Listening to your body instead of powering through, it’s vital to making quality decisions.

“Manage your energy, not your time.” – Tony Schwartz

Next time you feel sluggish try going for a walk or taking 10 deep breaths. The idea is to do something that gets you away from thinking about work and allows you to let go of your tension loop. You’ll feel refreshed, happier, and make better decisions.

9. Celebrate hard work and great results

The number one reason people leave their job is because they don’t feel appreciated. If you are ho hum about showing your appreciation then your people may stop trying.

You can do something simple like walk up to them and just thank them for their hard work.

People want to know that what they do matters. That means celebrating all the good things.

This should be done in large and small groups. The larger gatherings can occur about 1-4 times a year, while the smaller groups (celebrations within a department) should be done more often.

Making your celebration a regular routine is the key, because you want to make a habit out of celebrating your successes. Try celebrating once a quarter to start. If you overload people and celebrate too often, they will get bored and also be unable to find reasons to rejoice in their hard work.

To avoid allowing this practice to fall away, it’s important to make the celebration fun. That might mean bringing food, let people play a game, and finding other ideas that get people excited about attending your party.

10. Develop company core values 

Making the values visible for the employees to read and hear every day helps each employee connect to a larger vision. We all need to believe that our work means more than just completing our tasks.

“Your personal core values define who you are, and a company’s core values ultimately define the company’s character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”
― Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

I suggest to my clients that they encourage their teams to come up with core values as well. What truly matters to the company is important, but team values are just as important. They will help guide daily decisions.

Help your people connect to a larger purpose. Ask them what they believe are the core values of the organization. You may be surprised by the responses.

Good Habits Build a Better Company

After implementing just one of these habits, assess how these changes affect your organization. You will probably notice that people are more engaged and willing to try a little harder.

“I think as a company, if you can get those two things right — having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff — then you can do pretty well.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

I know one of these ideas will help make a big impact in your company. The companies that succeed are the ones that make these ideas a regular habit. It needs to become part of the culture, so when something difficult happens there are good habits to fall back on. And when something great happens everyone can celebrate together.

* Do you want your employees be happier and encourage them to become more engaged? Then check out our Happy Employees Beta program and see how the Work Happy Now 10 step process can help your company retain it’s great people, improve their focus, and deliver a great customer experience.

5 Ways to Recognize and Utilize Talent

946545_glassblowerEditor’s note: This is a guest post Mike King of Learn This.

Talent is an interesting topic and one that is SO critical in the workforce.  Talent makes the difference between the top performers poor performers.  It can be cultivated and enhanced. Unfortunately the biggest problem is that talent is not always recognized by those who can see a use for it and individuals do not always see or even know how they can use it.  Luckily sometimes talents are obvious and people do utilize them in their life and work, but more often than not, talent is lost because it is difficult to recognize.  Here are 5 specific ways to recognize and utilize talent!
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4 Techniques to Help You Deal With a Difficult Boss

difficult-bossEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Adrienne Carlson.

If life could be split into two general parts, work would take up one compartment and personal life the other. While we tend to put our personal relationships on a higher rung, work too is significant in the larger scheme of things because it puts food on our table and provides us with the money we need to lead a comfortable life.

So when your work life is not satisfactory, your personal life suffers too, because as much as we may try to keep the two like parallel lines that never meet, the fact is that they are like train tracks that tend to cross over and merge once in a while. So if you have the misfortune of working with a boss who is difficult, your work tensions may spill over into and ruin your personal life, which is why you must know how to deal with superiors who make your work life a heavy cross to bear.

A few ways to deal with a difficult boss are to:
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The Secrets to Workplace Leadership

shh-leadershipI shared a drink with a friend who manages a team of five people. He was wondering how people’s moods can fluctuate in such a broad range, which affects the quality of their work. One of his employees is always up and down. He is engaged with his work one week and then he seems to lose interest. His interest fluctuates and he isn’t sure why.

We all have this problem it’s just that most of us force ourselves to stay focused. My friend told me that he has tried giving this employee various kinds of work to see what interests him, but that didn’t work either.

I asked him if he ever sits down with his staff to explain the reasoning behind the work.

He said he didn’t. He never really thought of that because it’s pretty obvious to him. They need to design websites that exceed the customer’s expectations.

He was losing out on a huge opportunity. People often stop looking at the larger picture because they get comfortable. This comfortable feeling reduces their desire to go above and beyond the normal effort.

A study at the University of Alberta showed that people need a sense of purpose in order to feel engaged with their work. A ‘Spirit at Work’ intervention program for a group of long-term health-care workers boosted morale and job retention. This program urged employees to rethink their job, which reduced absenteeism by 60% and turnover by 75%.

“We discovered that people who are able to find meaning and purpose in their work, and can see how they make a difference through that work, are healthier, happier and more productive employees,” said Val Kinjerski, a University of Alberta PhD graduate who co-authored the study.
– E-science news gathered this information from the Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

By helping your people understand why they do what they do – you can increase happiness and productivity.

I’m going to give you a few ideas that might help your employees/coworkers to connect with their work.
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Netflix Company Culture – Freedom & Responsibility

Netflix believes in creating a culture that supports Freedom and Responsibility. They don’t promote to placate or keep people around out of loyalty. They know they have to make people happy and in order to do that they need to challenge and engage their employees.

Seven Aspects of Netflix Culture:

  • Values are what we Value
  • High Performance
  • Freedom & Responsibility
  • Context, not Control
  • Highly Aligned, Loosely Coupled
  • Pay Top of the Market
  • Promotions & Development
I came across this awesome slideshow on Twitter from @pavel_pt. The slideshow explains why each aspect is so important to their success.

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How do I make my people happy?

So you want an atmosphere that encourages great work? Don’t we all. Most bosses and managers talk a good game, but they don’t create a plan to make it happen.

Almost every CEO I worked for always talked about the importance of their people, but their actions did not coincide with their words. They were always more worried about the bottom line.

I know how important it is to make money, but if the employees are happy then believe me, the money will come. That is if you have a good product/service.

It’s why Southwest airlines is the only consistent money generator in the USA airline industry. They believe in creating a culture that encourages happiness.

As a leader of people you need to encourage happiness in every facet of your business. I’ve created 10 techniques that will help your company be happy and successful.

  1. Be happy yourself.
  2. Know your people.
  3. Make time for your people.
  4. Show people the autonomy that they already have.
  5. Help them find meaning in their work.
  6. Listen and respond to their emotions, not their problems.
  7. Stop letting assholes dictate the company culture.
  8. Encourage friendships.
  9. Recognize hard work.
  10. Find out why people leave.

These are concepts that are easy to understand, but may be hard to apply to your company’s culture. I’ll break them down so you can use them in your company.

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Obama Wins – 7 Career Tips You Can Learn From Obama’s Strategy

Whether starting a business or building your career, most likely you are going to have to start from the bottom and work your way up. Obama is a man who has worked his way up by optimizing his resources.

I’m not going to give you the history of all his accomplishments because you can read it right here.

Obama ran a fantastic campaign that put him in a position to win. He is a black man running in an industry dominated by white men. Nothing was handed to him. He made the best of what he had and now he’s the President of the United States.


1. Don’t be Reactionary

Obama understood the message that he wanted to send and kept delivering it every step of his campaign. McCain attacked Obama to try to gain lost ground. McCain attacked his character, religion, and love for America. Obama stuck to his message of change. I’m not saying he didn’t cave and attack McCain’s ties to big oil, but this didn’t last long. He showed the public that McCain wasn’t perfect, but then went right back to delivering a positive message.

Obama could have attacked McCain’s age and his lack of control, but he chose to talk about the issues. This showed that he had the awareness to not get dragged down by other people’s tactics.

People at our jobs may say bad things about us when they are jealous, afraid or bored. It has happened to me and I’m really a nice guy – most of the time. When we get sucked into office politics, sometimes we lose control of how we want to create our career. The best thing we can do is trust our gut and do what is best for ourselves.


2. Stick to Your Beliefs

Obama could have wavered on taxing the rich or wanting to give healthcare to everyone (now we’ll see how true he is to his word), but he stuck to what he thought was right. When you have as many people whispering in your ear as Obama you’ll find it tough to stick to your beliefs. I know that when I have too many people telling me what to do it actually locks up my decision making ability.

Side note: This is actually a weakness and strength of mine. I waver easily because I can usually see other people’s point of view. I’m learning to take people’s opinions into consideration, but not let them dictate my choices. I’m the youngest child and most of the time youngest children tend to be too empathetic towards other people’s ideas. Knowing this about myself has forced me to strengthen my own beliefs and learn to stick with them.

You must have a solid understanding of what you want out of a situation. You must listen to that little voice inside your head and make the best choice. The book, E-myth Revisited, discusses the importance of aim. If you know what you are trying to achieve then you’ll exponentially increase your odds of success. Read the Mens With Pens review of the E-myth Revisited.


3. Family is More Important Than Anything Else

Grandma was a vital influence throughout Obama’s life. He took time in a crucial part of his campaign to be with the woman who has helped mold him into a strong leader. He could have justified that she was older and the campaign was more important, but he didn’t. He flew all the way to Hawaii to be with her.

Family and friends should be put ahead of our careers. It’s these people who have supported us through depressions, conflicts and pain. Obama didn’t stay with his Grandma until her last breath because he understood that he had to get back out on the campaign trail. He spent time with her, probably thanking her for all her love, then told her he was going to win the presidency.

You have to have balance between your career and family. If your child or parent needs you then put everything aside and help them. Then when you are ready to get back to work, go and do great things to help make this world a more prosperous place.


4. Sacrifice for the Good of the Whole

Obama didn’t tell us what we all wanted to hear. He laid out his economic plan and stuck with it. He wants to raise taxes for people making more than $250,000.

McCain talked about lowering everyone’s taxes, telling everyone what they wanted to hear. How can we lower everyone’s taxes and pay off a $10,000,000,000,000 in debt? Most of you have or had debt at some point. You know that there is a price to pay when you owe someone else money – interest. Lots of interest. Just think of all the interest we are paying to other countries on 10 Trillion dollars. It’s killing our economy.

Obama asked the American people to understand this concept and expect to give back through higher taxes. The rich have prospered from this country just as much as everyone else, so why not give back and help put this country back on its feet? Is it too much to ask for more taxes to help pay down our debt? I think not.

If you have kids then you understand the sacrifices a parent makes so his kid gets the best things in life. We need to sacrifice now so our children aren’t saddled with debt that will wreck our country.

You need to sacrifice your time and money to get your dream career off the ground. If you need more knowledge to leverage your ability to earn more money then you must make sacrifices. That may mean not going out on weekends to create an at home business or going back to school to get a different degree. Whatever you need to do to make your future happiness a reality then sacrifice now and reap the rewards later.


5. Plan According to the Big Picture then Adjust

Obama was down in the polls against Clinton at the beginning of the Democratic primaries. He knew where to put his money and how to gain the confidence of the right leaders. He managed up. He won a few states and the tide kept rolling. He gained Oprah’s endorsement and the endorsements kept coming in.

Then when campaigning against McCain he knew where the weak spots for McCain were and went to work. He knows his strengths. He is a great speaker and probably won thousands of votes every time he spoke. He was able to do this in states that previously always voted republican.

Obama is able to look at the big picture and plan accordingly. He knew that he would have more money coming in than McCain because he is excellent at raising funds for his campaign. He refused to take tax payers money which allowed him to raise as much money as he wanted (Yah! Money that goes towards real programs). He was able to outspend McCain in a lot of key states. This kind of strategic thinking is what all presidents should be great at. Strategic thinking is basically all they do while they are in office, so it looks like America made a solid choice.

You need to see your career as a link to a larger goal. When you gain the right endorsements from the right people within your organization then you have created stepping stones to move up. When you are in a position of power it’s up to you to adjust your resources to get the most out of your people; planning and adjusting your tactics at every level will help anyone succeed.


6. Surround Yourself With Great People

Obama picked an intelligent Vice President who could help him solve issues in the White House. He also picked great people to run his campaign. They never forced him to be something he wasn’t and they helped the “Obama train” get into the White House. You can’t win a presidential election without great people around you.

The friends that you surround yourself with must be intelligent and kind, otherwise they will drag you down. I’ve made bad choices in the past when choosing my friends, but as I’ve developed I’ve learned to let bad friends go and bring in friends who will support my needs.

Side note: Most writers, like Stephen King,  will swear up and down that they wouldn’t be where they are without a great editor. An editor keeps the writer in check, but can also optimize his voice to get the message across to the reader.

The best way to improve your career is to associate with the right people. Business is not about who can do the work. Any rich man can hire someone to do work for them. Business is about surrounding yourself with great people who can do the stuff that you aren’t so good at, so you can do the stuff that you are good at.


7. Never Listen to the Masses

If I were a betting man in the beginning of this election process I would never have thought that Obama would be in this position (President). He was way down in the polls against Clinton and running against a war hero, but Obama didn’t listen to the naysayers. He trusted himself. He aimed high and won.

Your career is in your hands. Never once for any moment believe that life is all luck. You have to put yourself in a position to win. Obama could have lost, but he maximized his resources and got the job done. He was able to do this because he wasn’t afraid.

You should never be afraid to shake hands with great people and try to get them to help you. If you believe in yourself so will they.


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Image courtesy of transplanted mountaineer

Active Managers Win the Race

Running in SuitYou’re leisurely jogging toward the finish line in your khakis and button down shirt when you look back and all the other managers from your various competitors are on your heels. You thought you were leading the pack by a good distance, but they caught up. You look forward again and the finish line got pushed so far away that you can’t even see it. 12 swear words pop into your head, you ease up and everyone passes you by.


This attitude has struck down the greatest companies because they stop pushing for innovative ways to separate themselves from the pack. The best way managers can help a company flourish is by dedicating themselves to professional growth. We all need to keep moving or we become a bucket infested with mosquitoes, attacking others to stay alive. The only way to avoid the blood suckers is to keep moving.


Complacency will wreck any company, especially one that relies on the same tactics that they used last year and the year before that. If marketing companies kept putting out the same ads then the audience would learn to tune them out. If managers keep using the same techniques their voices will fall on deaf ears. That’s where continual learning fits in. Whether it be classes, conferences, meetings, or consulting companies, there are ways for a manager and his employees to learn new tactics that rock the world of their customers. It’s the only way to stay alive in this hyper competitive working world.


Chris Bailey wrote Four Professional Growth Issues For Managers (And How To Address Them). My favorite line was:


If you are a leader, know that a key responsibility of leaders is to produce more leaders.


Managers should be creating people that can help a company grow. They should never fear that they are producing someone more capable than them. If that does happen then the manager should be happy. The company will only prosper if it beats out the competition. The only way to do that is to have great people around you. Every master should be ready for the day that his pupil surpasses his abilities. If you taught them right, they will respect this relationship and treat the company and the manager with respect.


Chris wrote four reasons why managers don’t further their professional development as well at their staff’s. It’s a good read for any manager wanting to overcome obstacles that might be preventing them from growing.


My biggest obstacle to continual learning was convincing upper management to buy into the idea. They don’t want to spend money when they think they are doing fine without it. If they were having a bad quarter they sure as hell didn’t want to spend money on professional development. They wanted to cut back on every extra expense. The only thing I can say to this is to keep trying. Most sales people get rejected between 8 and 16 times before a client agrees to do business. Consider yourself a salesman and keep after your bosses. If you keep trying, they will start believing.


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