Michael Foti

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Recipe for success

Most of us at one time have watched Oprah Winfrey or Jerry Springer. Believe it or not, your leadership style probably resembles one or the other.

Both have growing and profitable businesses, are competitive, hard working, persistent, and believe strongly in the social causes that impact their lives. This, however, is where the similarities end.

A pinch of Oprah

Oprah views her show as a teaching tool that presents positive role models and what is right with the world. She believes that while we are learning, growing and taking responsibility for our own lives, we can serve as inspirational leaders for others.

If we are passionate about our life’s mission, and are kind and considerate toward others, Oprah claims we can achieve a higher level of success than we imagined.

Since people are the heart of our businesses, she says we need to treat them with trust and compassion in order to make a difference. Oprah believes our greatness will be determined by our service to others and dedication to a larger purpose in our lives.

A sprinkle of Jerry

Jerry views his show as a vehicle to display the outrageousness in society and to expose the ludicrous beliefs, attitudes and prejudices of people. Jerry believes this is what people want.

His ratings prove that as the fighting and outrageousness increase, so does the number of viewers. While Oprah sees her show as a teaching tool for her larger mission to help others, Jerry sees his role as a paid entertainer exposing what is wrong with the world.

So what’s your company’s make-up?

To evaluate whether your leadership style is more like Oprah or Jerry, ask the following questions:

  • Is your goal to maximize earnings through whatever means necessary?

  • Do your beliefs appear through your work? Are those work beliefs and ethics different from your home beliefs?

  • Do you let people act outrageously if they are good producers?

  • Do you hire people who have a team attitude or free agents who provide immediate skills without caring for the team?

  • Is your company a developmental vehicle to help others learn and grow, or merely a financial tool to get a return on investment?

  • Do you spend the majority of your time controlling and managing the outrageousness around you or do you lead the team with a higher purpose and vision?

Add more Oprah for better flavor

To have an Oprah-style organization, you must believe that your organization has a larger purpose than just making money. You must believe that learning, growing and helping others and earning excellent financial returns are not mutually exclusive.

So how do you add those traits? Try these five steps:

  • When making a decision, ask whether your action is in concert with the values you teach your children.

  • Even if somebody is a great producer, if that person is destructive to the team attitude, find the opportunity to release him or her.

  • When hiring, be more concerned with personal and social characteristics (such as trust, empathy, compassion and family background) than you are with their immediate skill set. You can teach skills quicker than you can attempt to mold or change attitude.

  • Develop a personal development program for people who report to you. Do not limit this to skills immediately needed for their positions.

  • Publicize and present a larger vision for the corporation that not only shows a care for finances, but also a care for growing people.

All great things happen through people. If you want to lead your organization toward the best results, you must be people focused first and profit focused second.

If you take care to hire, develop and lead your people with a shared positive vision, the profit will take care of itself.

Michael Foti (sales@clevelandglassblock.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block Inc. He can be reached at (216) 531-6363.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

A little foresight

We want to make more money.

We don't have enough time.

Business scholars talk about having a vision and adding value, but they couldn't have more things to do on their desk than I have on mine. Why do I need a vision anyway? I'm not George Bush, Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. I'm just an owner of a small business.

As an owner and leader, one of your key challenges is to keep your best people. Some employers are giving away prizes to just get entry-level employees to fill out job applications, so you need to find ways to keep your people. You might ask why a paycheck is no longer a good enough reason to stay.

Consider the following:

  • There is some employer out there who will show them more money than you do. How many employers have felt that they have had an employee "stolen" from them?

  • Generation X and Generation Y employees are more entrepreneurial. This presents a leadership challenge to provide them with interesting assignments. Telling them to do something because you said so no longer works. They want to know why.

  • Older employees are staying in the work force and they want fulfillment (notice the greeters at Wal-Mart) and a sense of purpose.

  • Many people don't care if they "burn your bridge." Your competitors would love to hire them tomorrow.

A recent study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that the top drivers of employee loyalty are trust in the leadership and a chance to use their skills. Trust is built by communicating where you are going and giving people the chance to use their talents toward this purpose. That means having a vision.

For a vision or a mission to be truly energizing, it has to be about more than just "Show me the money!" While it is critical for businesses to be profitable (and I am certainly not averse to making money), others working on your teams really don't care about your pocketbook. They want to get their bills paid, have some time and money to enjoy themselves, and contribute and be recognized for their efforts.

So how can you create a vision that unites your efforts? Consider this four-step process:

1. Think about what really bugs you within and/or outside of the company. This can help focus your vision. My area of interest and concern has been education (one-fifth of the workers in this country cannot read above the third grade level). Our company vision, "Great People Getting Better," has included several educational and training programs to benefit all levels of our employee base. If you cannot determine what your vision is, consider what leaders you admire and what it is about their vision that inspires you.

2. Ask, "Does anybody else care about this problem?" and "Who wants to work with me to figure out this 'vision thing?'" For a vision to be truly exciting, others on our team have to see the mutual benefit. Are they going to feel good because the vision is either helping them or the larger community? Others must be committed and involved.

3. Explain it in simple terms. This is not the time to impress people with big words. The vision must be understandable for the person at the lowest level of the organization. Communicate the vision as frequently and prominently as possible both verbally and in writing.

4. Focus your efforts. If you have 10 things that you want to accomplish with your vision, you will probably get none of them done. Concentrate instead on one or two key items to rally around.

Are you still confused? If so, consider working with a leadership coach of mentor, or sign up for a strategic planning or leadership course through your local chamber of commerce or university.

Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO/chief visionary officer of Cleveland Glass Block and President of Leadership Builders. Foti speaks, coaches and trains organizations and individuals to improve their influence and grow their businesses, and can be contacted at (216) 531-6085.

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:32

Gang mentality

Ann, a business owner friend of mine, recently lamented the lack of loyalty in the business world.

She mentioned that several staff members had been lured away by signing bonuses and minimal per-hour raises. To combat the exodus, I suggested she build a gang.

At first she bristled. Then I explained that this type of gang is made up of people who are excitedly working together for a positive common experience within the business, not a group of hoodlums designed to scare people into sticking around.

Almost everyone has an inherent need for belonging. Whether your gang is a church group, fraternity, company or Internet group, you thrive and grow through connections with others. If your people feel independent and disconnected from the whole, you'll end up with anarchy.

To be successful, a gang must be a mosaic made up of different people, ideas and communities. It can't be a pyramid with you at the top. Gang members need an equal balance of rights and responsibilities.

They must have the right to express themselves without fear of retribution. And, they must understand that such freedoms are accompanied by a responsibility to respect others and be accountable for results.

Developing a gang is a three-step process.

Develop unified and diverse members

It's a seller's market, and turnover is an increasingly challenging problem. Consider the following when building that gang:

Unified Values. Your key values need to match with your gang. If they don't match, it may be impossible to positively influence one another. The question may be how you can determine if there is a values match. Try these four exercises:

  • Write down the 10 most important things in your life.

  • Narrow and prioritize your list to the three top values.

  • Identify people you connect well with and compare how you perceive their values match with yours. You should see a great degree of correlation here.

  • Seek gang members whose lists match yours.


Appreciate diversity and uniqueness. This is a key area in which "progressive gangs" vary from "traditional gangs." You are not looking for blind faith and conformity. You are looking for uniquely talented people who have the gumption to innovate, change and push new ideas.

Motivate members

Your gang members need to feel excited and engaged, that they are growing and contributing. The key question is, how?

Try to make your vision and purpose energizing by developing ways the organization can help the community. When you create a greater good and purpose, you magnetize people into action.

Match talents to the business mission. Your gang members have unique talents and gifts. Ask them where they see their strengths, interests and talents, both inside and outside the organization.

Recognize that growth is a bumpy road and challenge your gang to try new things and experiences. When there are setbacks, ask them to reflect on the lessons.

Finally, recognize your role as Chief Encouragement Officer. Find opportunities to tell others you are proud of their efforts and contribution.

Manage with tough love

With the benefits of gang membership come responsibilities. Your gang needs to deliver on the mission in the streets.

This requires difficult conversations and changes. While you need to be respectful, be direct when things go awry.

You are accountable for results and ultimately, your gang needs to deliver. Set expectations in the "slightly uncomfortable zone" and set up periodic checkpoints to evaluate progress. Insist that gang members deliver on their personal best.

Don't forget to share battles won and lost. Your gang needs to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Share information and solicit input where appropriate when reflecting on "lost battles." Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block and president of Leadership Builders. He speaks, trains, consults and provides executive coaching on leadership and personal development. Contact him at (216) 531-6085.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

High tech or high touch?

Your customers want it better and faster. Your employees want your undivided time and appreciation or they will take their services elsewhere.

Your family wants you to spend that quality time with them that you promised. How do you keep up with the ever-demanding pace without losing your mind?

The answer is in developing a 21st century game plan that combines high tech and high touch. It’s a blend of techniques and skills that will prepare you — and your company — for business in the next millennium.

When developing high-tech strategies, consider these five to improve your time management skills and get information to people faster:

  • Use personal information manager software (such as Goldmine or ACT!) to combine your Rolodex, to-do list, appointments and goals.

  • Purchase a hand-held palmtop computer and synchronize it with your personal information manager to stay on track, whether you are in or out of the office.

  • Use a fax or e-mail to communicate and minimize the vicious game of phone tag we all seem to play.

  • Broadcast faxes to groups to get a common message out faster.

  • Develop a Web site and consider e-commerce whenever appropriate.

    While working on this high-tech strategy is important, the way to retain customers and employees and improve your interpersonal relationships is by becoming a high touch person. This type is caring, encouraging, understanding, appreciative and helpful to others. Consider these high touch strategies when developing your goals:

    • Compliment someone every day.

    • Schedule uninterrupted one-on-one meetings with your key staff. You will get to know each other better and can save time by grouping projects and tasks together.

    • Send out thank you notes to everyone who helps you — customers, vendors, employees, friends and family.

    • Send newsletters to existing and prospective clients.

    • Give public recognition and awards during group meetings.

    • Provide your contacts with not only products or services, but also knowledge. Send articles and book notes that might be of interest to them.

  • When you begin to put your plan into effect, what you’ll find is that by combining high tech and high touch techniques, it will not only make your faster and more efficient, but it will make you the kind of person your employees and family will want to stay with.

    And isn’t that what business is all about, too?

    Michael Foti (sales@clevelandglassblock.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block Inc. He can be reached at (216) 531-6363.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Choose your bites wisely

When my brother Frank was 4 years old, he ventured into a neighbor’s garage and found a bushel full of apples.

Being a devilish little guy, he took one bite out of each apple, then placed them in a circle on the garage floor. When the neighbors found the apples, they were not happy about my brother’s sampling methods.

There’s a serious challenge facing business owners today, and it’s analogous to those apples — taking control of and enjoying life. There are limitless options, and studies show the average college graduate will have three to five career changes in his or her professional life.

So how can you choose the right apple(s) from the bushel? How can you develop a career or personal plan that truly addresses your needs?

The answers affect not only you, but your employees. It all begins with passion. A Stanford study revealed that 85 percent of people don’t like to do the work they do. The biggest gift an individual has is the ability to choose. In your pursuit of passion, you need to ask yourself several questions to determine whether your choices make sense.

First, where does passion occur? It occurs at the intersection of what one loves to do and what one is good at (or believes he or she has the potential to be good at). It’s imperative to have a competency for —and be challenged by — the activity you are going to direct your passion toward.

If you’re overqualified, you’ll become bored. If you’re underqualified, you’ll find anxiety in the work. Shoot for a balance of work that puts you — or your staff — slightly on the edge while still being within realistic capabilities.

How do you find your individual passion? Consider the following questions:

  • What do I love to do in my job? List five things.

  • What do I love to do in my free time? List five activities.

  • What subjects in school fascinated me?

  • What activities give me the greatest feeling of self-esteem and personal pride?

  • What accomplishments have given me the greatest feeling of importance?

  • What am I really good at? What do I think I can be really good at?

  • How can I combine what I like with what I am really good at? Can I put this into a greater purpose or mission? Will I be enthusiastic about this purpose?

After you’ve determined passions, visualize your preferred future and focus on the goals. Realize that you can’t take a bite out of every apple. Use the following strategies:

  • Ask the experts.

  • Learn to say no. It allows you to stay focused on your goals.

  • Develop time management techniques. Don’t spend all your time putting out the short-term high priority fires that are in front of you instead of pursuing the higher value, longer time frame projects that will lead you to your goals.

  • Mobilize support. Involving others sets you up to be on the line for success and opens you up for greater opportunities.

  • Define passion in a larger purpose. When passion is not just me-centered and has a larger positive impact on others, it’s possible to get many people to take action. Martin Luther King Jr. did not start out with the goal to be the leader of the civil rights movement, but his passion to eliminate injustice mobilized a large part of the country.

  • Assess your status. Can you create meaningful and challenging work that overlaps with your passion? If not, take the initiative to create it.

Once you’ve begun, don’t let your energy level wane. Here are some ways to keep moving toward your goal:

  • Set up a system of mini-rewards.

  • Recognize that progress comes in a zigzag fashion and that rotten apples will take you off course.

  • Self-education is the key to new ideas that can reinvigorate you.

Remember that the first apple you choose might not be the best apple. As you learn more about your preferred future, adapt and re-evaluate your goals. Continually polish your apple to better fit with both your changes and those in your environment.

Mike Foti (mfotigb@aol.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block Inc. and president of Leadership Builders. Foti works with organizations and companies that want to influence and motivate their people and grow their businesses. He can be reached at (216) 531-6363.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

The leader as rush chairman

Recruiting and retaining people has never been more challenging. As a leader, you can no longer stand on the sidelines and wait for gems to arrive on your doorstep after advertising for an opening.

Instead, take on a new role as rush chairman. If you’re not familiar with college fraternities and sororities, the rush chairman is the personnel director — in charge of recruiting new “pledges” into the organization.

Recruitment tips

An effective recruitment campaign is a challenging endeavor. Consider that it’s a process, not an event. If you are looking for people when you need them, it is often too late.

Make recruitment an ongoing process. Maintain lists of people you would like to work with, even if there is no opening today.

Great coaches like Lou Holtz use this method. Provide “value” to these potential recruits on an ongoing basis. Clip out articles of interest, do lunch and provide useful information to them to stay in touch. Solicit their participation in volunteer opportunities that provide them with mutual value and provide them with opportunities to know you better, extend their network of contacts and grow.

Involve everyone.

In fraternity rush, all the “brothers” in the fraternity are involved with qualifying potential pledges and then inviting the best to join. Leadership at all levels of the organization needs to be on the lookout for new talent, because great people are often found in unlikely places.

Use “high speed” networks.

Maintain groups of contacts in your network on the fax machine or computer, and e-mail others with a description of the people you seek. This gets the word out quickly and efficiently. Make sure this group includes key networkers and talent brokers you know.

Hire for their potential, not current skill set.

When considering people for a position, gauge them based on their potential, not on the job they may be doing at that time.

Make it hard to get an invitation to join.

Position your company as exclusive. Interview and recruit at different levels of the organization so it is a challenge to get in. This also provides you with an opportunity to really get to know people before inviting them in.

Retention rules

Once you’ve hired, the real challenge begins. Love, care and nurture the employee’s growth to enable an employee to reach his or her potential. This is harder than it may seem, because you not only begin to see their gifts, but you also get to know their blemishes. How do we maximize their gifts while minimizing their blemishes? Here are some thoughts to consider:

Create a “no fault” environment.

Develop a workplace where people are not reluctant to experiment with new methods. When you fail with a new method, you learn, grow, don’t repeat it and move on. Instill this belief in new employees.

Provide a common vision.

It’s nice to know what our larger goal is. Let others know how their smaller assignments fit into the larger picture. If people know why, it’s a lot easier to feel good about their diligent efforts.

Few rules, but high standards

No one wants to be managed, but accountability is needed for results. Set the bar high, but provide your staff with freedom of movement.

Involve them.

Give people exposure to higher-level programs with the understanding that they are expected to contribute, not just sit in. Ask them, “What will it take to keep you here?” This straightforward question will not only show your sincere desire to retain their services, but may also deepen your understanding of their aspirations and goals.

A key fabric that needs to run through the recruitment and retention process is fun. If it is fun, the process ceases to be a job and evolves into another journey in your company’s path to success.

Mike Foti (mfotigb@aol.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block Inc., and president of Leadership Builders. He works with organizations and companies which want to influence and motivate their people as well as grow their businesses. He can be reached at (216) 531-6363.

You get to the mall that closes at 9 p.m. at 8:35 p.m. and the employees are running the vacuum. Quitting time at your job site is 4:30 p.m., and at 4:10 p.m., workers are putting their tools away.

My father, who ran a masonry contracting firm, used to say that when workers packed up before it was time to go, they had a hand in his pocket. The last 20 to 30 minutes of the day could very well be the difference between making a profit and losing money. So what is happening to the work ethic? And as leaders of our firms, is there any way to get it back?

There have been advances in worker productivity, but that hasn’t stopped the inefficiencies inherent in our companies. The first question we might ask is why “we” as a society are not giving our best. Here are some reasons to consider:

Negative attitudes. We all have negative situations and hardships that could dampen our spirit to give our all.

“What’s in it for me?” Without reason and purpose, it’s difficult to get motivated. We need to know why.

Nobody else is giving their best, why should I? Apathetic individuals around us can make giving our best effort feel unjust.

No direction or challenge. If we do not understand the higher purpose for our activity and/or we are not mentally stimulated and challenged, we tend to get bored and performance suffers.

Not being paid enough. This is the classic story of the chicken and the egg. Paying for performance beforehand seldom results in improved value.

I can’t do it my way. When we are not allowed to put our stamp on a project, we feel like an underling.

We tolerate mediocrity. If we don’t challenge and inspire others to a higher level of performance, many will not reach that level, and possibly don’t realize the performance they are capable of.

We want to work with our minds, not our hands. We have shifted from an agricultural to industrial to service and technological based society. Many people don’t want to do manual labor because they see it as unfulfilling.

Spread between the haves and have-nots has gotten wider. Although our country has never been more prosperous, the spread in incomes from the top to the bottom has never been wider.

How do we get the work ethic back?

Identifying the reasons for the problem is the easy part. The real question is, what do we do about it? Here are some ideas to consider:

Team-oriented incentive-based compensation systems. When we give others an incentive to produce at a higher level, it spurs their creativity and desire to give their best.

Accountability, no matter how small. Put every person in charge of something. When we are given a sense of purpose, we can take pride in ownership in what we are doing.

Create a team environment. This is a process, not an event. A great way to do this is to use team meetings to express the vision for the corporation and to utilize team-building exercises to get people to interact and discuss issues with team members they do not normally interact with.

Goal setting. Utilize goal setting to learn the aspirations of others and to try to find matches and opportunities within the company that will be mutually beneficial.

Flexibility. We need to become more adaptable, to help each other out and be flexible with work schedules to accommodate expected and unexpected demands on our time, both inside and outside the work place.

Standards of expectations, not rules. We must be clear about the high standards that we have but without the burden of a lot of rules. Nobody wants to be managed. We all want the freedom to do our best.

Getting the work ethic back will not be easy. It will require us to change. We have to change the command/control format in our companies. At the individual level, we have to allow unique talents and gifts to rise to the top with the caveat of being accountable for results.

These talents and gifts need to be layered over the overall vision and objectives of the corporation and move toward a mutually beneficial end.

Mike Foti (mfotigb@aol.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block Inc. and president of Leadership Builders. He works with organizations and companies which want to influence and motivate their people as well as grow their businesses. He can be reached at 216-531-6363.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Laying the foundation

Eighty percent of a leader's time is spent communicating (approximately 2,000 hours per year).

According to a study by the University of Minnesota, 60 percent of all mistakes are due to poor listening skills. These mistakes lead to countless hours spent repairing the damage of poor communications. To lead a company, department or team, strong communication skills are required.

So how do we build ourselves to effective communicators? It's a three-step process.

1. Build a foundation of trust.

2. Design and build a bold and open floor plan.

3. Make sure there are no roofs.

In this month's column, we'll tackle step one, next month, steps two and three.

Without a foundation of trust, we cannot lead people and transform companies. Unfortunately, trust is a one block at a time process that can evaporate with one act of deception or a misunderstanding. Have you ever held a grudge against someone you believe wronged you only one time? So how can we build this foundation?

One-to-one connections

Trust is not a group process, it is created in one-to-one connections. Building these connections requires:

Using multiple media. Find out the medium the other person prefers for communication. Some love the flexibility of answering e-mails. Others want a five-minute telephone call once a week to stay in touch. For others, a face-to-face meeting is necessary.

Getting personal. People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. Ask about the goals and aspirations of those we lead. A leader's role is to serve followers and promote their potential. Ask team members how they're doing, find out their interests and goals and look out for their well being.

Appreciating, appreciating, appreciating. Hand-written thank you notes are the most powerful tools for team building. Identify what specifically the person did that was exemplary and how he or she contributed to the larger project or vision.

Our foundation has no "Buzz-ers"

How often do we communicate directly? Do we use long words, buzzwords and political politeness? To build a foundation of trust, this has got to stop. How?

Kill the buzz. Stop using terms and phrases like downsizing, paradigm shifts and "we need to get more eyeballs and increase the stickiness of our site." Speak in plain English. The goal is to be understood, not to impress.

Don't patch over problems. Use assertive communications. Most people communicate passively. If we have a problem with someone, we complain to someone else, which further erodes trust. How can we communicate assertively?

  • State the problem using only the facts.

  • Describe how these actions make you feel.

  • Explain the negative consequences of these actions and describe your reaction.

  • Describe what specific actions you want the other person to take in the future and the consequences if they fail to take the actions you have defined.

Increase the foundation's size

Trusted communications result when we understand people and situations better. We need to increase our foundation or our perspective to make this happen. As Steven Covey says, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Intellectually, this makes sense. Practically, it's a bit more difficult. Here are some suggestions:

Read, read, and read. Leaders are learners. Their offices have large bookshelves with books they have actually read. Consider one area of specialization and devour books, magazines and tapes focusing on it. Or, build generalist skills -- The New York Times, The Economist and Fast Company are sources to build a wider range of perspective.

Keep eyes and ears open on the job site. Listening is hard work but can be improved.

Concentrate. Remove distractions when possible. Focus on the person you are talking to instead of your cell phone and pagers.

Make eye contact. One powerful way to communicate interest is with our eyes. When we lock onto another person's eyes, this speaks loudly about our interest.

Now that we've begun to develop our rock-solid foundation of trust, the question becomes, how do we design and build a floor plan that really works? Find out next month. Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO/chief visionary officer of Cleveland Glass Block and president of Leadership Builders. Foti works with organizations to influence and motivate their people and help their businesses grow. He can be reached at (216) 531-6085.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

Designing the floor plan for success

Last month I began explaining a three-step process for developing effective communication skills.

Part one detailed how to build a foundation of trust. This month, I'll explain how to design and build a bold and open floor plan, then ensure there are no roofs on top of the communications house.

The floor plan must contain clear, direct, respectful, reflective and frequent communication. Here's how to get started.

Get to the point

Consider cutting 30 to 40 percent of the words from any written letter. Bold or bullet the key one or two points. The average business communication is reviewed for five seconds. Make it easy to casually glance at the letter to garner the main points.

When engaging in verbal communications, develop an outline in your head before speaking. If you tend to be chatty on the phone, use an hourglass or timer and reduce the time of phone conversations by 20 percent. If you want something, directly ask the person who can honor the request.

Even if you don't get what you want, it could provide a lesson on how to obtain what you want in the future.

Wire your house for communications

As organizations get flatter in structure and faster, with fewer employees and even less time, how can you get wired and automate your communications?

E-mail -- Properly used, e-mail allows a quick and cost-effective way to deepen relationships and add value. Use it to garner feedback, schedule meetings and send out FYI messages. E-mail should not be used as a firewall that you throw hand grenades over.

Word processors -- Leaders at all levels should learn how to use a word processor. Why write out a letter that another person has to type when it can be done in one step? This promotes a flatter, quicker company.

Use bold colors on walls

If you are not passionate about what you are saying, why would anyone else want to listen? Try using emotion to improve communications.

Focus efforts on potential -- Your potential lies at the intersection of what you love to do and what you are good at. The first question that Steve Marks of Main Street Gourmet asks his followers in a review is, "Do you love what you are doing?" If they don't love their work, they discuss changes to get on track.

Don't use the same bold color throughout -- If you speak with enthusiasm and always use the same words, you might be perceived as insincere. If someone asks how you are doing, you can answer great, wonderful, fantastic, if I were doing any better it might be illegal, etc.

Add brightness on the phone -- You need to over-emphasize your voice by 30 percent on the telephone to compensate for not being physically present.

Don't use red -- Speaker Tony Allesandra talks about practicing "pausitiveness." When you are in a "red" mood (elevated state), try at all costs to think, then act, not react. When you react, you pay dearly later.

Hold more conversations in the kitchen

You won't strengthen relationships if you sit behind a desk. Meet and talk to people in the lunchroom or break room. Go to their turf and break down communication barriers.

Install moveable partitions instead of permanent offices. Eliminate executive parking spaces. Open the floor plan for more open communications.

Install mirrors

Reflect on communications that have gone wrong. Pat Perry from Employers Resource Council once told me, "The mirror is your greatest evaluator." Consider using 360-degree feedback -- garner feedback from those at all levels of the organization, not just those leading -- and development plans.

By now, you've built your foundation of trust, you have a bold and open floor plan and it's time for a roof. Forget about the roof. Your growing house continually needs to be built up.

You cannot keep building up if you believe that you have a roof over your head. Communication potential is a limitless journey that is only stopped by obstacles you perceive.

Just like building an actual home, building a house of effective communications is not easy. It requires the efforts and cooperation of many people with different experiences and backgrounds.

Unlike building a home, the process of effective communications is never completed but is continually being built one block at a time. Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO/Chief Visionary Officer of Cleveland Glass Block and president of Leadership Builders. Foti works with organizations to influence and motivate their people and help their businesses grow. He can be reached at (216) 531-6085.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

Beyond knowledge workers

You've heard "Knowledge is power" and "Information is king." And, no doubt you're increasingly inundated with massive amounts of information and communications.

But do you feel more powerful? If you are like most people, odds are, you're actually feeling more confused than ever. The reality is that information and knowledge are useless unless you're able to apply them to some productive end.

There has been a lot of discussion about our economy becoming knowledge-based and needing knowledge workers. I disagree. We need to go beyond knowledge workers and cultivate wisdom workers.

Knowledge workers can successfully obtain knowledge through a multitude of sources, including the latest technology. These people are intellectually and educationally top-notch, with high IQs, although they may not always be practical in their approaches.

Wisdom workers are engaged in their work and successfully apply their knowledge to get things accomplished. Some may call these individuals street-wise for their ability to lead for results. They may not be at the top intellectually, educationally or technologically and may have done poorly in these areas in school.

They gain wisdom by reflecting on their life lessons, seeking to understand others and applying what they learn. They use the best means at the best time for the best end.

Here are five ways to grow your own wisdom workers.

Communications training for interpersonal skills. You can't uncork the knowledge in others if they do not feel comfortable in their ability to communicate. Consider courses in leadership training and communications skills, covering conflict management, respect in communications and how to show appreciation and encouragement.

People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Nobody listens to your wisdom if they don't feel you care.

Deprogram people to think entrepreneurially. Formal education taught most people to memorize and regurgitate facts. Now, your requests are for creativity in the workplace. So how can you deprogram your staff to move in that direction?

  • Devote 10 percent of your time to new projects. You may say you don't have time, but you will if you stop and identify what can be eliminated or delegated.

  • Test conventional wisdom. Ask why your company does things the way it does. Make changes where appropriate to be more efficient.

  • Invest time in entrepreneurial organizations and education. Enroll key staff members in an entrepreneurial studies course at a university or get involved with Ohio Business Week and/or Junior Achievement.

  • Show others the money. Consider paying cash bonuses on programs that provide a positive identifiable financial impact.

  • Initiate a no fear zone. Fear of failure is real. Consider programs that build self-confidence.

Rev up cross-generational and cross-functional learning. Cross-generational learning establishes formal mentoring alliances between younger and older workers. Have the younger mentor the older on systems; have the older mentor the younger on culture and ways to get things done.

Cross-functionally moves people laterally to obtain more knowledge and the wisdom of walking in another person's shoes.

Cultivate wisdom and be a responsible member of the community. Leadership wisdom is obtained through influencing others, not making demands.

A fantastic venue to grow leadership wisdom and contribute to the community is through volunteer efforts with nonprofit groups and organizations.

Blur the lines between business and education. Allow your staff time to contribute to the educational community. Invite people from the education field into your company.

If you are like most people, the Information Age has not made life any easier. The demands to increase your knowledge and your time commitments have never been greater. The real challenge is to cultivate wisdom. The winners in life have always been, and will always be, those who convert knowledge into wisdom.

Get started on your journey to move yourself and your organization into the Wisdom Age. Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO of Cleveland Glass Block (a Northcoast 99 winner) and president of Leadership Builders. He speaks, trains, facilitates and consults with individuals on leadership and strategic planning. He can be reached at (216) 531-6085.

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