January 12, 2019

Thoughts on Grass Roots Leadership Development

Thomas Kaess

Thomas Kaess
Vice President/SBG Technology Solutions

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"Everything rises and falls on leadership."

- John C. Maxwell


Who isn’t experiencing retention issues within their company today? I know, it’s a rhetorical question, but what are companies really doing about it? It is one of the most challenging problems facing corporations in recent years, especially in a labor market nearing 4% unemployment.

As a line manager and director, I took a different approach to this massive issue facing my company, which was having over 20% attrition year after year. Instead of focusing so much attention on recruiting for vacant positions caused by resignations (that’s what my recruiters focused on), I decided to focus more devotion on the personal growth of my managers.  As John Maxwell states, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This is such a true and impactful statement.  I knew I could impact the retention of my branch by developing the leaders I that directly influence. I set on a journey to explore various methods of leadership engagement activities that would improve the transparency, trust, and communications of our leaders.  I firmly believed that a total engagement approach would positively impact our employees, and ultimately increase retention within my branch.

As a member of the John C. Maxwell Team and certified coach, speaker, trainer and speaker, I organized a group of eight leaders from my branch, both Program Managers and other line managers. Most of these leaders have never met each other before since they supported various clients and physically located at different locations.  We embarked on a two-hour team building exercise playing the Leadership Game, based on the leadership teachings of John C. Maxwell. This game provided an interactive means to assess communication, address difficult topics such as attrition, and identify both individual strengths and weaknesses amongst ourselves and our team. I facilitated the game, while the group actively participated by providing completely transparent and honest responses to probing questions, allowing participants to better understand one another, the organization, and other critical issues facing the company.

The game proved to be an excellent mechanism to address high-interest items head-on by asking thought-provoking questions, helping stimulate individual reflection, and stir ideological debates which helped the group discern ways to behave effectively as a team on the hot topic of retention. One of the advantages of this game was that it required individuals to interact, communicate, and connect with each other on a deeper level than we normally achieve in less structured activities throughout the hectic workday.  The game helped strengthen team leadership abilities by driving open discussions on difficult topics, and aided teams in deepening their understanding of everyday leadership principles and practices. Everyone that participated in the game had actions and takeaways that they are now implementing within their leadership chains and in some cases, their own personal lives. They even had accountability partners during the game to ensure they follow troughed on their actions.

After the game, a structured approach was used to review topics uncovered by the game, and to then track progress as participants applied newly found or uncovered skills within their own teams and leadership styles. I was able to communicate new ideas or concerns from the participants in the game to my leadership and Human Resources Department, helping reveal and address greater issues that permeated within the organization. These concerns could now be addressed head-on with specific examples from the line leadership.  One of the other most powerful and rewarding aspects of the game was that my leaders were now collaborating, sharing ideas, and broadening their communications across the company. Whereas, prior to the game, my leaders would often come to me directly for advice, mentorship, and guidance.  Now, however, my leaders sought out their peers for advice and assistance. This not only freed up time for me but opened more doors for idea sharing and collaboration, ultimately increasing productivity and teamwork.  My leaders were now discussing various vacancies with one another, sharing ideas on their personnel who could be promoted or moved to a new position that perhaps they were interested in.

Nearly two weeks after the game, the eight participants in the Leadership Game had the opportunity to take the next step of our leadership development by participating in a "Mastermind" exercise in an area that resonated during the game: personal growth. We embarked on an 8-week journey using the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell.  A Mastermind involves a small group of like-minded people who meet regularly with a facilitator (typically 60-90 minutes once a week for 6-10 weeks) in order to learn and grow together.  Normally conducted face to face, we decided that it would be best to meet virtually due to everyone’s schedule and physical work location.  Everyone in the Mastermind committed up front to attend weekly, be prepared, participate, and share their thoughts. 

The lessons learned, individual stories told, reinforced lessons taught throughout the book. This was an additional and exceptional way to learn from one another, build trust, and open communications amongst my leadership team. By creating an environment of openness, sharing ideas with no judgment was established.  We were able to demonstrate our own humility, often sharing a personal story that resonated among the group.  In order to address the issue of attrition, I always drew a connection from each chapter to how we could utilize the lessons learned each week with our own people, ultimately ensuring everyone in the organization was growing. This increased our touch points, discussions, and contact with employees that we managed.  Having honest and open discussions with our employees leads to higher retention.

The highest level of success we can achieve as leaders is a changed life. As leaders grow, it is imperative that we look to grow our entire workforce.  Demonstrating our sincere desire to help our people and build complete trust, it is much more likely that employees won’t leave your organization for a few dollars more in pay. They stay because they believe they will be able to grow.  

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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