Take A Summer Vacation This Year


by Jeff Wolf

How many times have you heard your boss tell you that? In fact, how many times have you told your employees that?

Come on, fess up. Either case is as rare as a drenching rain in the Sahara. Let’s face it. Too many bosses discourage employees from taking more than a day off or a weekend here and there. And even then they don’t discourage a barrage of phone calls from work and many will expect employees to check their email several times a day. A two-week getaway to the Far East? Not a chance.

Every year, the media reports on surveys showing that large chunks of U.S. workers don’t plan on taking all their vacation time. Why does this happen, when it’s part of a worker’s compensation package? Large percentages of workers wouldn’t pass on a company-sponsored life insurance plan, or forgo a paycheck for all of December, so why are so many people willingly (or perhaps not so willingly) giving their paid time off back to their employers?

Forbes Magazine contributor Kristi Hedges nails the explanation: “The idea of a skimpy vacation as a worthy sacrifice or badge of honor is culturally embedded. The U.S. is the only rich country to not have legally mandated paid vacation and holidays.” She goes on, “science tells us that this is a very bad idea. Increasingly, studies are showing that breaks of any kind are not only good for you; they can actually increase productivity and well-being.”

Long Vacations Benefit Both Company and Employee

To create a lasting change in their organization, and maybe even greater society at large, leaders must fully embrace the practical benefits of vacations. Good leaders will be more inclined to not only grant, but also encourage employees to take not just a couple of long weekends here and there-and maybe a week off in the summer-but longer vacation time. Employees come back from a full week (or two or three) of time off when they were able to truly disconnect from work energized and recharged, with better ideas, a fresh perspective, lower stress-levels, and genuine excitement to tackle work challenges that can become overwhelming without time to recharge. Truly effective leaders recognize the value of paid time off, and understand it’s key to a productive and engaged workforce.

Here are specific steps leaders can take to make sure this happens:

  • Issue specific company policies that encourage all employees of the organization to take all vacation days due them, and in any increments they prefer.
  • Be clear the time off must not interfere with mission critical work, but also be clear that one person’s week off shouldn’t incapacitate a well-run department, and that while every department has busier times on the calendar, it is normal and expected that departments will experience slower times periodically throughout the year.
  • Require that all managers and supervisors conduct short meetings with their employees explaining the vacation policy.
  • Ask employees for feedback regarding perceived problems with the vacation policy. Since many employees may feel constrained to speak up, use a suggestion box where they can offer suggestions or voice complaints.
  • Assure that all complaints and suggestions are answered by a third-party, such as Human Resources.
  • Follow-up yearly to make sure the new vacation policy is working.

As we head in to the height of the summer, when friends and family frequently plan reunions, couples get married, families with children have the freedom to travel, as leaders it’s our job to help facilitate these getaways. Your employees will thank you for it, and ultimately, your bottom line will thank you for it too.

Jeff Wolf is the author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness.

Contact us today to discuss how we may partner with you to develop your current and future leaders or to have Jeff Wolf speak at your next meeting, conference or convention: Michael Adams madams@wolfmotivation.com 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com


Building an Optimal Team – Team Health

By Jeff Wolf –  Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All the competitive advantages – strategy, technology, finance, marketing – that we’ve pursued in the past are gone. The disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they have lost their power as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set your company apart. Why? Virtually every organization has access to the best thinking and practices on those topics. As information has become ubiquitous, it’s almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas.

However, one simple, reliable, and virtually free competitive advantage remains – team health. Healthy teams all but eliminate politics and confusion from their cultures. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else…and even more important.

Even the smartest team will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. But a healthy team will find a way to succeed. Without politics and confusion, it will become smarter and tap into all of the intelligence and talent it has.

Team health requires real work and discipline, maintained over time, and the courage to objectively confront problems hindering true team achievement. Leaders must confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their teams with honesty and persistence. Persistent leaders walk into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Four Disciplines

To get healthy, leaders need to take four simple, but difficult, steps:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Get the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running a team, department, or organization are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade down and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  1. Create clarity. Ensure that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around simple but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists and what the most important priority is for the next few months, and eliminate any gaps between them   Then people who work one, two, or three levels below have clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  1. Overcommunicate clarity. After the first two steps (behavioral and intellectual alignment), leaders can take the third step: over-communicating. Leaders of healthy organizations constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little.
  1. Reinforce clarity. Leaders use simple human systems to reinforce clarity in answering critical questions. They custom design any process that involves people from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making to support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

Healthy teams get better at meetings. Without making a few simple changes to the way meetings happen, a team will struggle to maintain its health. Healthy teams rarely fail. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered to design products, serve customers, solve problems, and help one another. Healthy teams recover from setbacks, attract the best people, and create exciting opportunities. People are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace when they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility: creating a culture of success.

Applying the principles of great performance is hard, but the effects of deliberate practice are cumulative. The more of a head start you get in developing people, the more difficult it will be for competitors to catch you.

–Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams: jeff@wolfmotivation.com, 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffWolfUSA

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Building Better Management Teams

The following is a guest post by John Cotter. Building Better Management Teams first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Designing work for senior management teams starts by identifying the tasks that are unique to the top level of the organization. People accustomed to managing a particular function often think that the outputs of the group that they manage are the same as their own outputs. The challenge is to help them discover what the senior management team as a whole produces. This voyage of discovery starts by developing a shared understanding of how their business fits in the ever-evolving environment. By understanding the business context and the contributions of the management team to the success of the business, expectations evolve about what work is needed and who is best suited to accomplish it. Individual roles are then developed by negotiating these expectations.

Experience suggests the steps to use in developing senior management teams are as follows:

  • Share individual understandings of the current business context and agree about important trends, potential problems and emerging opportunities.
  • Review what the senior managing team currently produces and evaluate its relevance in relation to emerging business developments.
  • Identify any new outputs required from the senior management team to assure that the company will be successful in the future.
  • Examine the processes required to create these outputs and agree about how the management team should work together to support these processes.
  • Redesign and reassign the current roles and responsibilities of senior managers as needed.
  • Define new accountabilities and negotiate new performance and recognition agreements.
  • Provide the management team with the skills, information and guidelines they need to operate successfully.

Senior managers sometimes feel a little foolish creating operating guidelines about how they should work together as a team. Surely, they think, we’re all adults and have years of experience working in groups. That, of course, is the problem. Everyone has practiced dysfunctional behavior for years. Operating guidelines should be explicit, simple, clear and concise. Here are some typical examples:

  • Speak honestly. Make clear and direct requests. Be willing to surface issues or take positions that may result in conflict.
  • Anyone can disagree about anything with anyone, but no one can disagree without stating the reasons why.
  • Listen for peoples’ contributions, rather than editing with assessments, opinions or judgments.
  • Support each other. Operate from the point of view that, “we’re all in this together.”
    It’s not OK to win at someone else’s expense or at the expense of the company.
  • Support people in fulfilling their commitments and hold them accountable for results.
  • Show appreciation by giving, receiving and requesting acknowledgment from others.

Managing at senior levels today involves four fundamental tasks: first, monitoring and influencing the environment to develop new business opportunities: second, articulating, modeling and creating ownership for a vision of what the organization aims to accomplish in the future: third, attracting business leaders, matching them with the right assignments and holding them accountable for results: and fourth, investing, distributing and balancing resources across the organization’s portfolio of businesses.

These are all collective rather than individual tasks. If they’re to be managed effectively, learning acquired from enterprise-level teams needs to be transferred into the executive suite. As AT&T board member Charlie Brown said, “You can’t run the business from memory any more.”


The Best Advice Career Experts Ever Received | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

We asked five successful career coaches what was the best career advice they ever received. Here, the words of wisdom that’s stuck with them through the years.

Surround Yourself With Great People

Roughly 15 years ago, Jeff Wolf, author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader, and founder and president, Wolf Management Consultants in Chicago, had just come out of corporate America. During a conversation about business and leadership, his father-in-law, a consultant, told him, “Make sure you surround yourself with great people.” Wolf was in the process of building his team, which now totals 55, and thought about how much better has CEO life had been when he was surrounded by top talent.

Be sure to read the whole article over at Fast Company!

The Best Advice Career Experts Ever Received | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Leadership Lessons from March Madness


Image courtesy of J Rosenfeld on Flickr

It’s inevitable. Once March Madness begins, workplace productivity plunges. Office pools and brackets push aside work schedules, and employees spend more time around the water cooler discussing teams and players than working. Bosses tear their hair out trying to get the job done. And forget about fighting it. This is one of the most exciting spectator sports events of the year. Literally millions will watch the country’s best college basketball teams fight for dominance and the chance to become this year’s NCAA champion.

But there’s more to learn here than the game of basketball. You can pick up many valuable leadership lessons from the NCAA tournament.       As a huge basketball fan and former coach, let me share a few leadership lessons you can take away March Madness.

1. Just as the morale of a basketball team must start with the coach, in business morale must start at the top and work its way through all levels of the organization. Dispassionate leaders pass their lack of engagement onto their staff, and that sets the stage for high employee turnover. Employees, like basketball players, respond to leaders who infuse their own level of passion into their teams, resulting in improved workplace engagement and productivity.

Fortunately, work passion is an achievable, do-it-yourself process. Always remember that it must be self-initiated. On the basketball court, no player has been tasked with the job of pleasing the coach. The same holds true in business. It’s your job as leader to make it happen.

2. Basketball players learn quickly from their coaches that attitude is everything. Successful leaders, like basketball coaches, are ambitious and self-motivated. They wake up each morning with a positive attitude that carries them throughout the rest of the day.

Each leader at work has a similar choice. We can either wake up with a positive attitude or grumble and groan with a negative attitude. I look at it this way: If I wake up above ground in the morning and can see myself in the mirror, I’m positive. Positive attitudes can take us a long way; leaders with positive attitudes can take everybody else around them on the same journey. They’re the pied piper of business.

Success requires a whatever-it-takes attitude; whatever it takes to get the job done, within ethical business constraints. There are no shortcuts. Ethical business constraints is a key term because we‘ve witnessed, over the last few years, despicable behavior, with the fall of Anderson, Enron, and many other companies.

3. Development is key to keeping promising basketball players engaged and motivated. The same holds true in business. By encouraging and providing ongoing personnel development, you create a pipeline of talented people who are full of ideas, thoughts, and inspiration. This sends a strong, motivating message to each employee: We care and we’re willing to invest in you. You’ll then be rewarded with tremendous engagement and enthusiasm, positioning your organization as an employer of choice.

4. On the basketball court and in business, teams fail when players lack the time and training required to complete their assignments. As leader of your organization, here’s how to prevent it: Perform a reality check. Ask yourself how much time and how much training your people need to fulfill the demands you place on them. Next, determine whether your team, based on members’ experience levels, requires more, less, or the same amount of time and training. Seek input from team members, asking them to honestly assess how long specific components of the task will take. Your goal is to develop an accurate, realistic timeline.

5. Team captains in basketball and in business should be one of the most respected members of the group. If you have chosen a team captain in your organization to lead a task, allow this person to delegate responsibilities as he or she sees fit. Make sure the captain knows the difference between delegation and abdication. The team captain’s job is to set the vision, delineate strategies (often with the help of other team members), and provide the conditions and support needed for success.

As for autonomy, don‘t micromanage your team (or team captain). Give members an attainable goal and enough autonomy to complete it. Monitor progress, but avoid being overly intrusive. You’re a manager—not a babysitter.

Let team members feel empowered enough to embrace responsibilities and enjoy a sense of ownership. Remind the team that you are available if anyone needs a consultation.

6. Before a successful basketball coach blames individual players for failing to handle his position well, he needs to assess first whether he fulfilled his responsibilities. No different in business. Did you, leader of your organization, clearly explain your goals and expectations? Did you communicate effectively? Did you ask team members to describe, in their own words, their perceived role in completion of the task? Did you regularly check in with team members to ensure they were on the right course? Did you follow up, as necessary? Did you inspire them? Building high-performing teams requires open communication, constructive dialogue, cooperation, and appreciation of what each person brings to the team.

Now, let’s get back to March Madness. What are your final four choices? Tell me in the comments