Leadership: Shift from Straight On to Straight Up


Despite all the focus on employee engagement today, there are leaders who continue to act with the do it my way mindset. I see it in all size businesses from the well known Fortune 500 to the lesser known 20 million dollar privately owned companies.

As I speak with these leaders, it is clear they share one mistaken belief. They think that the straight on direct approach will more quickly propel the organization straight up.

Simple Example That Lost Instead of Won

Consider the leader who objected to the team summarizing what they were doing well, before exploring customer service and teamwork improvements. “We know what we do well. Let’s go straight to what’s wrong.” Team members’ heads lowered. Spirit sank. This straight on approach did not propel the organization up. It reinforced the blame culture that was stopping people from working together on improvements.

This leader’s emotionally unintelligent do-it-my-way straight on approach was driven by his belief that everyone is inspired like him to explore the negative.

“If you want people to unite for success, start with the positive.”

This straight on approach did not propel the organization up. It reinforced the blame culture that was stopping people from working together on improvements.

Complex Example With Disastrous Results

An entrepreneur and leader of a 10 million dollar company wanted to take it to 20 million dollar mark. This leader hired an executive coaching firm to guide everyone to a success mindset. The executive coach mapped the strategy to the leader’s straight on approach.

Suddenly each employee was thrust into doing 360 degree evaluations of everyone and required to have necessary conversations with anyone they ranked low!

Morale plummeted. Teamwork disappeared.

Once again, the entrepreneur and the executive coach assumed that going straight on to the problems would take the company straight up to the 20 million mark. It actually lost money during the unrest and they had to rebuild morale to rebuild success.

“Leaders, switch off your impatience.”

“Shift to focusing on success through the employees.”

Leadership Lessons for Employee Engagement

  • Straight on works better for those with power or very close to the reward. Positive engagement works better for most everyone else. Sales training and executive coaching often use this straight on approach with great success. Why does it work with the sales force and top leaders? Because commission sales reps and executives have an intense immediate connection to the reward. They feel the positive is nearby and are willing to charge through the negative to reach nirvana quickly.

Leaders, switch off your impatience. Shift to focusing on success through the employees.

The rest of the employees live the negative often without any feeling of a positive horizon. They don’t make the decisions. They don’t directly receive money for facing their weaknesses straight on. Thus when leaders announce, “let’s skip what you’ve done well”,  employees don’t reach upward; their morale slides down.

  • A positive learning culture gives employees the comfort to address the negative. Leaders, when you engage employees in identifying what they’ve done well, you give them the positive horizon that already drives you to improvements. Starting with the positive doesn’t breed laziness. It does not delay success. It inspires commitment. Here are 5 positive leadership moves to engage employees for success.
  • You can build initiative through the positive. High performance and success come from accountability – the practice of initiative, ownership, and follow-through. It doesn’t come from blame. If as leaders you always approach the employees about the negative, the employees recoil from blame. If you engage them in positive learning, you get accountability and success.

“Breed accountability, not blame.” 

Employees do not walk in your shoes or share in your perks. Understand what inspires them to drive to success and walk in their shoes. It is then you can charge to the summit together.

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc.  This post was written specifically for the SwitchandShift blog.  If you wish to repost or republish this, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.


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Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, inspires leaders and teams in large & mid-size corporations to the heights of service and performance. Her special focus for 20+ years in keynotes, workshops, and consulting has been turning interaction obstacles into supreme success. Kate's latest DVD -- Customer Service USA: Regional Differences That Make a Difference -- shows you how to have your customer's back! Kate invites you to join the people skills chat on Twitter (#peopleskills) every Sunday 10am ET/3pm GMT and click on the icons above to connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and LinkedIn. Kate has a B.S. in Mathematics and a Masters in Org. Psychology.

  • Jeff

    Great post, Kate. Thanks!

  • David Ivers

    Thanks for the post Kate. Professor Dexter Dunphy (an Australian expert in organizational theory and organizational communication) once stated “It takes us seconds to send a signal via satellite around the world, yet it can take years to get a message through the human skull.” There would seem to be something in that statement. The second law of thermodynamics, deals with entropy. Entropy, is roughly defined as the mathematical measure of disorder. The law states that in a closed system it cannot decrease, at best it remains the same. It also states that in natural and open systems, entropy can increase and decrease in degrees but you can never get rid of it. In short, adding unnecessary disorder to the disorder that must exist for the organization to have any sense of life to it, is generally futile, unless it has a short lived purpose to help bring about much needed change. If employees don’t feel valued and honoured for their work, productivity will decrease. In reverse, value what your employees do well, they will own the process and be more receptive to ideas of change, making unnecessary any increase in disorder. In this age of transformation, such companies that don’t get this message, will find themselves relegated to the pages of history, if they are not careful! Thank you for a thought provoking piece. David Ivers | @edu_ivers

  • KateNasser

    Hi David,

    Wonderful analogies. I especially like the concept of entropy. So pleased you have expanded my message with examples from other disciplines.

    Grateful and honored by your contribution.

    Best regards,
    Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

  • KateNasser

    Thank you Jeff. I saw a tweet about this post on Twitter that this post is a great start for new leaders. I am always gratified to know that the posts make a difference.

    Warmest thanks,

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