Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 28th Annual Material Handling and Logistics Conference (MHLC) alongside thought leaders Patrick Lencioni and Guy Kawasaki, as well as The Container Store’s VP of Logistics and Distribution, Amy Carovillano (not to mention live performances by Jay Leno and REO Speedwagon).
Although each of these speakers addressed a different aspect of leadership and organizational growth in their talks, it was interesting to note the commonalities in the experiences they shared and some of the points I discussed in my presentation on what organizations require from today’s leadership to help them navigate the current global business environment.
To help give you an idea of some of the insights shared at this conference, here are three of my favourite quotes from these thought leaders, and how they reflected some of the actionable steps I discussed in my talk on what leaders need to implement in order to ensure their organization can succeed and thrive in today’s increasingly competitive global market.
1. “Make a culture that makes you smarter about the decisions you make.” – Patrick Lencioni
One of the speakers I was looking forward to hearing from at this conference was Patrick Lencioni, given how I used a quote from him to reinforce one of the concepts I discussed in my talk.
In describing the ideas and insights he writes about in his latest book “The Advantage” (which Patrick generously gave me a copy of and signed for me after I asked him a question about his talk), Patrick pointed out how fostering trust and respect in our organization’s culture allows us to better manage conflict, as our focus shifts away from ‘playing politics’ to ensuring we’re not holding ourselves back from making the best decisions or choices for our team and organization.
The idea of what we focus on was one of the central themes of my talk on what leaders need to address in terms of managing the various challenges their organization faces or will face going forward. In one of the exercises I used during my presentation, I demonstrated how easily our attention can shift our focus away from what we need to be working on, and consequently, we end up responding or allocating time and resources to address the wrong things.
In yet another exercise, conference attendees got to experience first-hand just how easily we can wrongly perceive a situation or circumstance because of the way our brain processes visual information, an exercise which had attendees throughout the day telling me how they still couldn’t get over what that exercise revealed about their capacity to accurately perceive things.
Through both of these exercises, I demonstrated how the growing distractions and communication channels leaders now have to manage in their day-to-day affairs can so easily cause us to drift from the leadership path and direction we originally set out to take.
In light of these exercises and insights, I reminded the audience that we have to be mindful that we’re demonstrating to our employees that we’re not invested in being right, but in doing right by them.
And that means that we have to be willing to openly acknowledge that as leaders we don’t have all the answers so we can create that culture and healthy organization Patrick spoke about – where our employees feel compelled to share their insights, wisdom, and experiences to ensure that we are making the best decisions for our organization to succeed in its collective efforts.
2. “Make meaning by increasing the quality of life.” – Guy Kawasaki
Another speaker I was eager to hear from and meet was Guy Kawasaki, who was the first guest on my leadership podcast show, “Leadership Biz Cafe”. In Guy’s presentation, he spoke about the 11 steps organizations need to take to become more innovative, with the first step being that we ensure that whatever initiatives we take must create a sense of meaning and value.
Of course, the ability for an organization to create value not only impacts how innovative it can be, but also whether it can succeed and thrive in today’s fast-paced, interconnected global economy. In my presentation, I reminded leaders that if we are to increase employee engagement levels and tap into the discretionary efforts of our employees, we need to develop relationships with them so we can discover what matters to our employees and how we can connect that to what matters to our organization.
In other words, in our pursuit to create meaning through our shared efforts, we need to ensure that we’re creating value not just for our customers or shareholders, but also for our employees, if not also for the community in which we operate.
Regardless of whether we’re trying to improve our collective ability to innovate or not, we have to make sure we’re creating and communicating a long-term objective that’s bigger than us; that your employees want to be a part of not only because they believe in our vision, but because it makes them feel special. That this is something that only we could do.
As I pointed out to the conference attendees, it is this belief and attitude that we see in such thriving organizations as Southwest Airlines, Zappos, and The Container Store where their collective commitment to their organization’s shared purpose is driven by that sense that what they do is special and unique, and creates value not just for their customers but for those within the organization as well.
That’s why I encouraged the conference attendees to shift their perspective from how do we help our employees to manage their work-life balance, to facilitating their employees to bring their full selves to work through a work-life integration, so their employees will feel a sense of value and meaning not just in their personal lives, but in their work lives as well.
3. “It’s all about your ‘wake’.” – Amy Carovillano
Another presentation I enjoyed for both its leadership insights and commonalities with my talk was given by The Container Store’s VP of Logistics and Distribution, Amy Carovillano. While Amy shared several great points on how The Container Store’s 7 “Foundation Principles” has helped their organization to build and sustain organizational growth, I loved her quote above regarding how we need to be mindful of the impact we have on those around us – both within and outside our organization.
Although Amy discussed how the efforts leaders make can create these positive ripples that empower and enable their employees to succeed, in our conversations after her talk, Amy and I also discussed the darker side of our “wake”, in which we have a deleterious impact on employee productivity and morale.
In my talk, I shared with the conference attendees research that has shown that the more power we have – regardless of whether it’s real or imagined – the lower our ability to take into account the perspective of others. In fact, as I pointed out to the audience, if you make someone feel powerful for just 90 seconds, you will significantly reduce their ability or desire to seek out the perspectives of those around them.
That’s why I encouraged those in my audience to “get out of your head to see and understand the perspective of others”, something we saw Amy putting into action in her organization as we watched videos of her going around asking her employees what they valued about being members of their organization.
Although she shared these videos to demonstrate the level of engagement and empowerment her employees have in her organization, this simple act also showed how her focus was on reaching out to connect and understand what truly matters to her employees, no doubt a key factor behind The Container Store’s being listed 14 years in a row on Forbes “100 Best Companies To Work For”.
There’s no question that there were numerous great insights and perspectives shared at the 2013 edition of the MHLC Conference, many of which reflected and built on each other to help create a full picture of the realities and opportunities to be found in today’s organizations.
Through these three quotes and some of the insights I shared in my talk at this conference, we can gain a clearer perspective of what measures leaders need to take to not only ensure their organization’s ability to remain competitive, but to succeed and thrive in this ever-changing, interconnected global economy in which we now operate.