Newsletter by Barbara Mintzer

Barbara Mintzer's Newsletter
The Power of a Vision... a Leader's Journey

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April 2005
Five Characteristics of a Winning Work Environment

Well, who would have expected such a response from last month's Newsletter? I was amazed at how many of you e-mailed me and let me know how difficult it is, from your perspective, to manage a team. Not only the team as a whole, but the individuals who make up the team. A number of you said you felt it was a "me against them" type of working environment.The issue once again seems to be trust ... getting your staff to trust that the decisions you make are in their best interests and you don't have a hidden agenda for making them. This is vitally important if you want their buy-in and commitment for the vision you hold. If the workplace becomes a battleground, nobody wins.

What does it take to build and sustain a work environment where everyone works for the betterment of the organization, and your team respects you and the authority you have as the leader? There are five characteristics that a work environment must have in order for people to feel free enough to be the best they can be. This Newsletter will discuss these characteristics:  

  1. Honest, open communication
  2. Trust in each other
  3. Collective responsibility for what the team does
  4. Caring attitude towards each other
  5. Pride in the organization

1.    We have discussed this in previous Newsletters, but it bears repeating once again. Nothing builds trust in a leader more than the leader's willingness to communicate honestly and openly to his/her staff. Our staffs are far more resilient than we give them credit for. I have had many employees tell me "I can take it...I can take what my manager tells long as I believe he/she is being honest and open with me." So, why do we resist? Why do we find it hard to sit down and communicate what is going on or how we feel?

It takes time. To sit down with your team as a whole, or certainly to speak to each member of the team, it takes time away from all the things we have to do each day. Many of us barely have enough time to accomplish all we have to do, put out the fires that keep coming up, and get through the day. Now, on top of that, we need to talk to the staff? Hardly seems worth it. BUT IT IS. In exit interview after exit interview when asked the question "why are you leaving?" employees have stated "my manager doesn't let me know what is going on; I feel out of the loop; I don't feel important; I don't feel a connection with my manager." 75% of people who quit don't quit the company, they quit their managers!

Find some time in your schedule to connect and communicate with your staff. Perhaps 20 minutes each day to see one person. Set the timeframe and the guidelines so that you and your staff member know the parameters. Have that person be thinking about what he/she would like to discuss with you in those 20 minutes. If your staff member has no pressing issue, take the time to get to know that person better. Ask him/her about future goals they might have, aspirations for the future, where they see themselves in five years, and how you can help with those goals. Establishing this connection with your staff on an individual basis will reap rewards for you in loyalty, commitment and buy-in. Don't look at this as just one more thing you have to do; it is the basis for a working environment that will bring out the best in ALL of you.

2.  Along with trusting you, the members of your team must be able to trust each other. They don't have to like each other, although that would be an added plus, they don't have to socialize outside of work, but they must have a basic trust in each other. They have to trust that each member of the team acts in ways that are for the betterment of the team, not for individual benefit. That trust may not come right away, as today's teams are comprised of people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, and ways of working and communicating. However, with time, it can be achieved. A cohesive team where everyone is working towards the same vision is a vibrant, creative, energetic and engaged team, and that is what you want. As the team leader you can help the team build trust in each other by having the team see themselves through your eyes. Appreciate in them what they may not be able to see. Compliment, encourage, coach and mentor your team and they will start to do the same for each other.

"Members of your team need to see themselves through your eyes so that they may see how they really are, not how they think they are. A leader has to show the face his team needs to see. People want to be on a team. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be in a situation where they feel that they are doing something for the greater good."

Mike Krzyzewski
Duke University Basketball Team

3.    When a team trusts each other, they work as one. As soon as a team achieves a group mentality, it can assume a group identity. And ordinary people with commitment can make an extraordinary impact in your organization. When a team assumes a collective responsibility, there is no scapegoating. It is so refreshing to see members of a team take responsibility for what was done, rather than finger pointing and blaming. Encourage your team to periodically ask themselves as a team "why are we doing this?" and "why does this matter?" These types of questions keep your team members engaged with each other, and keep them thinking as one. That is the real test: does your team think as one cohesive unit working towards a shared goal?  Each person on the team has a different role to play, but each person and each role is part of the whole. That is the team mentality you want your team to work from.

4.    Do the members of your team show a caring attitude towards each other? Again, they don't all have to like each other, but a basic caring and respect for each other needs to be present if people are to work without conflict. I must honestly tell you that I don't see as much caring and respect on teams as I used to. It doesn't have to be this way. Managers sometimes are the problem without even realizing it. In order to get the members of the team to be their best, some managers foster a competitive attitude amongst the team members that is counter-productive. Let me give you an example:

In 1976 I was one of the first women to sell drugs and pharmaceuticals for a drug wholesaler. The sales team had never had a woman on the team before and they really didn't want one! I, however, was determined to prove to myself that I could do the job, so I set out to be the best I could be. We all had monthly quotas that we needed to meet and as a way to "push" the rest of the team into meeting their quotas, our sales manager would send a memo to the sales staff stating "hey guys, Barbara made her quotas, why can't you?"  Needless to say, it caused a lot of ill-will towards me and it didn't make the guys do anything differently. As a manager, you create the culture in which the team thrives. Have the entire team strive to meet their goals, don't pit team members against each other .. it will backfire. I came across the following quote that seems very appropriate to this issue: 

"The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought to other people's lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them."

Rabbi Harold Kushner

Take some time for reflection and ask yourself "Am I doing anything that may be causing my team members to distance themselves from each other?" "Am I inadvertently fostering a you lose-I win attitude on my team?"  If you don't know the answers to these questions, be willing to ask your team and get their feedback.

5.    Are you proud of the organization you work for? Do you show that pride in the work you do and the way you speak about your organization? What do you do in your interactions with your team that shows your pride in your organization? Your team will take its cue from you. People stay with an organization when they have pride in that organization, when the organization's values mesh with theirs. Do you know what your company stands for? Does your company have a mission/vision statement and do you know what it is? Has the organizational vision filtered down to your team so that everyone is reading from the same page? I ask you these questions because pride in the organization is one of the main reasons people stay in their jobs. They are proud to work for the company; they don't have to apologize for it with statements such as "oh well, it's a living." What can you do to continually foster that pride in your organization?

First of all, please remember that you make a difference. You make an impact on the people who report to you. You can foster that pride by the way you handle yourself and your job. Do you come from integrity, i.e., when you say you will do something, do you do it? Can your people trust that when you tell them something, you are telling the truth? If you tell your staff this is a customer-oriented organization, how do you treat your staff? They will treat your customers exactly the way they are treated by you. Do you like your job, and are you proud of the work you do?

I know I have asked you to ask yourself a lot of questions in this Newsletter, but the time and courage it takes to answer these questions will be worth it. We live in such a fast-paced, technology-oriented world, that it is very easy to lose touch with the truth of leadership. Leadership is the ability to achieve results through others. Your ability to connect and communicate with your staff, to establish an environment of trust and caring in your team, and to role model what pride in an organization looks like, will be the benchmark by which your leadership ability will be measured.

We've had a lot to think about in this Newsletter. If you have any insights, feedback or experiences you would like to share, please e-mail me at I would love to hear from you. I will be out of my office on speaking engagements from April 6th to the 16th. If you would like a response to your e-mail, I would be happy to do so after the 16th. If you wish to pass this Newsletter along to a colleague who may find it of value, feel free to do so. If that person would like to receive the Newsletter, e-mail me with the address, and I will put it on my database. NOTE: National Nurses week is right around the corner. If you are looking for a speaker for a special program to honor your nurses, please call me (805)964-7546 to discuss the possibility of customizing a program just for them.

About the Author

Barbara Mintzer is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant with over 30 years in business and health care. She speaks from experience! Her how-to programs provide participants with immediately applicable skills and strategies for getting buy-in and commitment from staff and staying on top of their professions in today's competitive and constantly changing workplace. Barbara presents keynote talks and breakout sessions for international, national, regional and state Conferences. She also conducts management retreats and in-house seminars. She facilitates panel discussions and roundtables at the same meeting...a good investment for your meeting budget. To explore the possibility of having Barbara speak at your next event, or work with your staff/leadership team, please contact her office.

Phone: (805) 964-7546
FAX: (805) 964-9636

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