Leadership Attitude

It’s simple in concept...
  • Surround yourself with high levels of aptitude
  • Generously give others the credit
  • Take responsibility…put yourself out there to be ultimately accountable.
I’ve never met a great leader who didn’t embody these qualities. And more importantly, I’ve never met anyone who acts this way that isn’t a great leader…no matter their title.
Really hard to execute…but it starts with a mindset, a world view that this attitude is what it takes to lead and to make change.

Does a Leader Care?

If you think about Seth's recent post about loving customers in the context of leadership, a leader has two customers. There' s the external customer who ends up paying for the experience. And then there's the internal customer, the staff...all the people under the leader's care.

I've seen many managers totally miss the point of "who serves who" inside the organization. They have this idea that employees are there to serve them, to do what they say and follow their "lead". Great leaders recognize the opposite is true. They know they are there to serve everyone else, to inspire, to remove obstacles, to comfort, to teach...to create leaders.

Best plan for a leader is to always treat employees like customers. Failure leads to distrust, disgruntlement and finding someone else to buy from. 

What Can I Do to Improve?

Most of the time we wait for someone to tell us…because that's what we've been taught. Rarely do we take the initiative to ask (our boss, customer, friend/spouse) this question without solicitation…mostly because we're afraid to. Asking the question invites criticism of our work, our world view and what we stand for. Asking suggests that we aren't good enough and that we have issues to correct. Perhaps the questions should be rephrased…how can I help make things better?

As a leader imagine if your front line employees came to you with that sort of initiative. Now imagine what the employee might say if you came to them with the same question…what can we do to help you realize your goals, dreams (different than asking how can we help you improve)?

We're taught that as leaders our job is to get the most out of people…that's management. We're taught to teach, measure and correct…to improve productivity and yield. We're taught that as followers we should do our best to meet standards, fit in and follow the game plan. And if we're not doing so, our bosses will tell us. But what would happen if we moved the waiting game out of the way? What if everyone every once in a while asked themselves (then those around them)…how can I make things better? Imagine how refreshing that would be.

Treat People Like Family

As a leader, a large part of earned respect is dependent on your delivery...not what you say, but how you say it. Here’s a simple rule I follow...treat subordinates as you would your own family. If you wouldn’t say it to your loved ones, don’t say it that way to the people at work. Now, extend that to customers, peers and others in general.

A slight twist of the golden rule...and very effective.


Most people fall into one of two categories. They are either more prone to wait for instructions. Or, they choose to initiate and inspire. Waiting for a road map is easier and seems safer. Unfortunately, it also leaves you in an unenviable position...being indistinguishable. And as a commodity your value is determined by someone else, instead of you. On the other hand, taking a chance by executing an unproven idea or stepping up to solve an interesting problem is tough...and a bit scary. But, that’s leadership. And that’s what separates you from the pack...and creates tremendous value. 

The world has way more followers than we need, leaving plenty of room for those who choose to inspire. I hope you do.

Dream Company

I’d probably call it Appelos...hybrid Apple and Zappos

It has nothing to do with computers or an internet store. It’s about their obsessions...

Apple- quality, innovation, design, spirit, growing the tribe

Zappos- employee care, employee dream fulfillment, customer engagement, pursuit of happiness

Obviously, both organizations have been very successful on every measure. But, they also both started at zero and went through serious dips before emerging into what we know today. The key takeaway is how they stuck to their core values and developed obsessions around them. They survived and made progress by ignoring popular trends and advice and simply (but not easily) doing flawless work. They executed their obsessions...and continue to do so.

Lesson...Write down your purpose, what you stand for. Develop obsessions and execute. There, that’s your business plan. Please go do something remarkable.

Don't Answer the Question

Try this experiment the next time a subordinate or child asks you for an answer to a challenging question (warning, does not work well with a spouse)...ask them a question in return. Leaders know how to solve problems and find answers. Giving people answers then doesn't really help develop this critical skill set. Conversely, helping them find the right path teaches them to think and find the right support.

Your Style Matters

If you consider that people always do their best work when they are treated fairly and with enthusiasm, why would anyone in a leadership position (boss or peer) treat someone any differently? How many times have we seen someone (or been someone) getting chewed out, diminished or made fun of? Treating people with a lack of dignity and respect is probably the single greatest threat to being successful...at anything.

If you can only spare enough time to make one adjustment...this is the one.


Understanding the People You Lean On

What makes a person tick? What makes their needle spin? What dreams can you help them achieve?

These are the most important questions you can ask someone in an interview (both ways). Without knowing the answer you can’t make the employment relationship anything more than just a job...a transaction, you give me eight hours and I’ll give you $$. And, if it’s just a job, nothing remarkable is going to happen...and eventually you’ll be replaced, out of business, or at best be in a constant struggle to survive.

What Did You Do to Move Your Organization Forward in 2010?

Whether you work for yourself or for a company of 5,000...the question is the same. This is the simplest form of the annual performance review. If you're honest with yourself, you can get a lot from the answer. If you think you might cheat a little, ask five or ten other people that are close to you. By the way, the same principle can and should be applied to how you did with friends and family.

Awaken Possibilities...the New Grind

As a boss, you have a choice...hire Labor to produce what you want, exactly how you want it. Give them a road map, and mandate they work as hard as they can to get you there...first. For this, you need Labor that values the trade-off between pay and the grind more than the idea of directing the outcome. Generally, you need people that are asleep...at least while at work. If you're lucky, you'll survive and get that 3% margin, enough to hang on for another year.

The other choice is to hire people who care about your idea and are emotionally engaged with the outcome...people that are awake. Your job isn't to direct what these people do everyday, but to keep them awake...energized and ready to take on new possibilities.

Choosing the first path is dangerous. Not just because of diminishing returns associated with increased efficiency, but because the robot labor supply is also shrinking. While you can still find a fairly large group of rule followers willing to trade eight hours of being bored to tears for a paycheck today, this group is dwindling. Labor is figuring it out...they don't have to settle. They can get paid for for something other than working in a box...they can get paid to think...and to lead, even if their tribe is a group of one. In the process, thinking will become more valuable than doing.

As more and more of your competitors choose the latter...what's your choice really?

Awake...the new order, the new charge...the new grind. Best get started.

Happy Labor Day

Why Are You Doing It?

Companies spend a lot of time, energy and money answering this for themselves. They hire consultants, develop mantras and mission statements. It's the latest thing in a meaningful, self-reflecting, find your true north sort of exercise. They used to call it branding.

A more important question and answer might be...what are you going to do about it when you find our you're not doing it?...whatever the it was when you defined it in the beginning. Let's say for example you set out to "make people happy" because the "make a profit" answer sounded too shallow and self-serving. Question is...what are you going to do when people (both your employees and customers) tell you they aren't "happy"? Are you prepared to stop or change course...180 degrees if necessary? Would you do whatever it took to get realigned with your core values? While codifying your "why" is important, I think it's equally important to understand the likelihood that you will need to change or scrap the idea altogether. Otherwise, it's just some fancy words in a handbook...perhaps a big lie.

Actions always speak louder than words. 

Hospitality is in the Details

Little Rock has a relatively nice airport...comfortable, easy, a pleasant experience by airport standards.

So, who makes the decision to let this sort of thing get in the way? I've seen this fan just like this for months. How many employees and managers are saying, "it's not my job to fix this" even though it clearly disrupts the marketing program?


Hospitality is in the Details from Michael Chaffin on Vimeo.

Become an Expert

Experts get noticed

They get hired first...and fired last
Experts get paid more...and are given the best projects
Experts are asked for advice...and, they're listened to

Good news...you don't need a Phd or a twenty-five year career to become one. Just, passion, desire, willingness to learn and the ability to endure and fail.

You can be an expert barista, an expert car valet, an expert admin, an expert sales executive or an expert housekeeper. Doesn't really matter which category you choose...it just matters that you choose to do so and understand why it's so important.

Point is...why settle for average when you can become an expert at something.


Picked this up from Tom Peters' Thanksgiving post...

"Make no mistake, the keys to surviving and thriving, as individuals and organizations, will not primarily be the “out of the box” cleverness of our “strategic response,” but instead individual and organizational character as expressed by the depth and breadth of relationships throughout our individual or organizational networks."

It's his answer to the seemingly insurmountable, but doable, global economic crisis. Spot on. Ask yourself...are you the type of person or organization people gravitate toward and enjoy doing business with?

Even in tough times, the job remains the same...build a loyal audience of raving fans, that is, focus on relationships...showing people you care.

Happy Thanksgiving