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Small Business Digest


Leading by Example Can Be Stronger Than Cash in Current Times

After months of economic tough times, a glimmer of light is starting to appear at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Rather than being harbingers of doom, economic-news stories are now starting to look ever so slightly brighter. This improved economic forecast will likely have many company leaders looking for ways to motivate their employees to keep up the hard work necessary for navigating their companies into calmer waters.

Unfortunately, despite the recent economic uptick, most company leaders still can't offer what they view as their greatest motivational bargaining chip with their employees—the almighty dollar.

Charles Garcia argues that money isn't the only way to rally employees and boost morale during this crucial time. In fact, he says, positive, strong leadership can often garner far greater results than offering money or other perks ever could.

"Too often, businesses assume that offering more money is the only way to motivate employees," says Garcia, former White House Fellow and author of Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows: Learn How to Inspire Others, Achieve Greatness, and Find Success in Any Organization (McGraw-Hill, 2009). "The reality is that employees value having strong leaders who motivate them to do their best, just as much if not more. And there's no greater defense against a tough economy than a work force motivated to do their absolute best."

As an alumnus of the White House Fellowship program, one of the most prestigious leadership programs in the country, Garcia knows the value of quality leadership.

"There's never been a more appropriate time for the rest of us to look to great leaders for inspiration," Garcia says. "The lessons that can be learned from the White House Fellows mentors are universal and absolutely invaluable to any business leader smart enough to heed them.

"Remember, all the money in the world won't keep a hardworking but unhappy employee with your company," he adds. "But follow the leadership principles that help you better motivate and encourage that employee, and she will be just as invested in making your company a success as you are."

Citing firsthand accounts from past program participants, Garcia's book explores the leadership lessons that former White House Fellows said they took away from their year working under some of the best of the best in Washington, D.C.

Here are eight lessons from some of the nation's greatest leaders:

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 1: Energize people. The employees have just helped pull the company through one of the nation's worst economic periods. They've been constantly bombarded with bad news in their personal lives and in their work lives. It's time they had a source of positive energy. Who better for them to turn to for that kind of encouragement than their leader? Instead of being the type of leader who sucks the energy away from others, resolve to be the kind of leader who strives to bring passion and positive energy to the workplace every day.

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 2: There's more to life than work. Great leaders have deep reserves of physical, spiritual, and emotional energy, and that energy is usually fueled by a strong and supportive relationship with the people they love, regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and setting aside time for reflection.

Sure, companies want employees to stay focused on moving the company forward, and leaders might feel it's important to keep everyone's noses (including their own!) to the grindstone right now, but it's also summertime. There are barbecues and baseball games to attend, warm days to be spent at the park or by the pool, and much-earned vacation time waiting to be used! Encourage employees to spend time with their families, whether it results from taking an afternoon off or going on a weeklong vacation. Doing so will help them power up for the difficult work to come. And leaders should remember to give themselves the same respect!

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 3: Put people first. No organization is better than the people who run it. The fact is that leaders are in the people business—the business of hiring, training and managing people to deliver the product or service the company provides. Attend to people with a laserlike focus.

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 4: Act with integrity. In a time when news reports are filled with the stories of private and public leaders who've acted inappropriately and have gone against the best interests of their employees or constituents, showing employees that leaders value integrity can help motivate them and create a sense of pride for the organization.

Garcia says, "Remember, the actions of great leaders are consistent with their words. Saying the right thing doesn't mean much. Doing the right thing means everything when you want people to follow you passionately. By acting with honor and integrity, you build trust with your followers."

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 5: Be a great communicator. If employees aren't heeding leaders' advice or company protocols, the problem likely lies with the leader, not them. Are leaders using the methods of communication they prefer? Are messages clear and easy to understand? Leadership is about influencing others, and this cannot be achieved without the ability to communicate. If leaders are struggling with communicating to employees, they should first work on their ability to influence individuals by choosing words that are impactful to carry a message. Then figure out how to communicate to a larger audience.

Remember to be open and honest with employees. Communicate to them how the economy is affecting the company and where the company would like to take it in the future. And always keep in mind that actions truly speak louder than words.

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 6: Be a great listener. The most effective leaders are the ones who take the time to listen not just to their team members' words but to the priceless hidden meaning beneath them. Remember that during good times and bad, sometimes employees just need someone to talk to. Leaders should communicate to employees that they are always waiting with open ears.

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 7: Be a problem solver. Several years ago Garcia returned from a business trip to find that his assistant had hung a gigantic 15-foot-long wooden sign above his office door. The sign reads, "Don't Bring Me Problems. Bring Me Solutions."

He suggests that leaders post a similar sign and then set about the task of guiding each person on the team toward the goal of becoming a top-notch problem solver during this crucial period. Sure, it takes time and effort to teach problem-solving strategies to people, but when leaders experience the payoff, they'll know it was an investment worth making.

LEADERSHIP LESSON No. 8: Lead through experience and competence, not through title or position. For more than four decades, by pairing young people with established leaders, the White House Fellows program has given hundreds of young Americans the tools, experiences and mentors necessary for them to become confident, well-prepared problem solvers and leaders.

And companies want to survive the tough economy, that's exactly the kind of leadership motif they'll adopt for their organization. Mentor employees, encourage them, make partners out of them, and the organization is sure to benefit.

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