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How to be a Great CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer)

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How to be a Great CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer)

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Often when I’m traveling on planes, the person next to me asks me what I do for living. When I tell them I am a professional speaker, their next question is, “What do you speak about?” My answer is quite simple: I speak about leadership and about motivation. What I find very fascinating is the response to that statement almost 90% of the time is, “Wow! That is so interesting. We sure could use you at our office. Our leadership is terrible, and morale is at an all-time low.”

Why is it that so many organizations suffer from poor leadership and employees that lack motivation? I believe that a big part of it is that organizations are too focused on results and not focused on leaders being developed, so those leaders can be more effective in leading their employees to get the results. It’s a classic argument of getting the cart in front of the horse. As leaders we don’t focus on development, don’t focus on creating a motivational environment, don’t focus on building employee morale and give no time and attention to encouraging supporting and training front-line employees. So you as a leader, how do you become a great CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer)?

Step #1: Figure out where you are as an organization. What is the current level of morale in your organization? What is the current mindset of team members? When they talk about the company, what do you think employees are saying about you and about the company? There are several ways to find out what’s really going on in your organization. First, you could do an employee climate survey to find out how people really feeling about the work in the workplace. Secondly, you can actually talk to team members one on one. Wait, am I suggesting that you actually talk with your employees about how things are going, and not just when they’re in trouble? Yes, it is an outrageous revolutionary idea, talking to people, having honest and open communication to build their trust. Let me tell you, it really works.

Step #2: Let’s eliminate the old language of hierarchy. You would think by now that the old language of hierarchy would have been eliminated but that is not true. As I travel around the country, I still hear people use words that make me cringe such as:

  • Subordinate: Are you kidding me? Really? Is someone subordinate to you? I sure hope people don’t believe that. Let’s just refer to them as a team member.
  • Superior: I just can’t believe that this word is still being used today. No one is superior to anyone. Let’s just call them a manager or team lead.
  • Secretary: This term should’ve gone into the metal trashcan in the late 1960s but is still unmercifully hanging around. How about team member?
  • Temp: I don’t think we need to remind anyone that they are a temporary employee and that they could leave at any moment. How about we just call them a team member and leave out the comments on their status?

So, if we want to build maximum morale and encourage employees, we need to change the titles and the labels that we stick on those employees that imply they have less value.


Step #3: Find out what it is that they want. I have always believed that a critical part of management is to help people get where they want to go for their careers and for their personal lives. I believe that every leader should meet with every employee once a year, and have a meeting to discuss their short mid and long-term career goals. If we find out what it is that people want in terms of their career and we help them develop in order to get there, we will be managing maximum morale and encouraging them to achieve their dreams. I find that way too many leaders are dream crushers instead of dream builders, because when someone says they’re interested in a new role and they want to leave the department, the leader will hold them back, instead of encouraging them to move forward.

Step #4: Keep people in the loop and communicate. I once had a manager that I reported to who I needed some information from. When I asked him about the information, he said that that information was “on a need to know basis, and only managers can know that information.” He held that information as if it was a prize that only he and other special people could possess. I explained that I was going out in the field and doing training not knowing, and that information was making me look unprepared and unprofessional. Despite my explanation, he still would not tell me. To me this is the highest form of arrogance, keeping information for people just because you view yourself as more important. I know there are certain things that can’t be shared due to legal or human resources issues, but many things you can share. Talk with and communicate with team members. Explain what is going on and most importantly explain why it is going on. This makes people feel valued.

Step #5: Compliment people when they do well. The biggest complaint I get from employees around the country is they never get positive feedback for their managers and their leaders, the only feedback they get is when they make mistakes. You can’t expect people to continue to work hard, and put their blood sweat and tears into the work without at least being complimented and told they are doing a good job. If you want to light the fire of motivation, one of the ways is to give people positive feedback when they do well, and to give them credit when credit is due. In my career, I have reported to leaders who took my work and made it their own and gave me no credit. This was outrageous leadership behavior and crushed my morale. So make sure to give people positive feedback verbally, in writing, on performance reviews, and publicly in meetings. When you do that you will see people walking with their heads up a little bit higher, because they will be proud of their accomplishments, and someone noticed.

It all comes down to a very simple concept: people at work are human beings that just want to be treated  with a “little respect,” to loosely quote Aretha Franklin. Just a little respect goes a long way towards you being a great chief encouragement officer.

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