By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Editor
Gail Lowney Alofsin
An in-depth understanding of leadership characteristics and vision can greatly assist a person throughout his/her career path, regardless of one’s position within a company. That was the central message presented by Gail Lowney Alofsin, president of Authentic Measurable Performance (AMP!), author and university professor. Alofsin was a guest speaker during an ISSA educational seminar. Her session was titled, “Chalk Out Your Career Path! The Foundations Of Leadership.”
Attendees explored core skills to refresh and hone their leadership prowess. Alofsin also focused on “best practices” in written and verbal communication that enhance professionalism and productivity in the workplace.
From the frontlines at work to the corporate office, Alofsin explained that leadership is a skill that can be developed and enhanced by a person’s daily choices and actions. Therefore, each person should ask him/herself, “Where am I on the leadership ladder versus where I want to be?”
HAPPINESS, AT THE INTERSECTION
To show a correlation between general happiness and career/leadership success, Alofsin discussed the works of Jennifer Aaker, professor of marketing at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Dr. Aaker’s work has demonstrated a relationship between:
■ What a person love to do;
■ What that person does well;
■ What the world needs; and,
■ What the world is willing to pay for.
Found within those four areas are a person’s true passion, vocation, career and desire to be charitable, with the intersection of all four leading to a person’s true happiness. A happy person is often on the right track to being a good leader.
A willingness to learn is also critical to leadership. To make that point, Alofsin quoted the late Zig Ziglar, noted author and motivational speaker, who said, “If you are not willing to learn — no one can help you. If you are determined to learn — no one can stop you.”
Alofsin explained that developing leadership skills is a continual process. A person can always improve his/her skills.
“What does ‘leadership’ mean to you? Think about impactful leaders who you knew from your past. What traits did they exhibit?” Alofsin asked.
Such traits may have included: trust, loyalty, honesty, vision, the ability to listen, guidance, authenticity, courage, passion, wisdom, knowledge, character, integrity and being nonjudgmental.
To further make her point on the importance of strong leadership skills, Alofsin referenced research conducted by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, of the University of California, Riverside. That research has shown a strong relationship between positive leadership and success. According to the professor, companies with positive leadership are:
■ 50 percent more likely to have lower employee turnover;
■ 44 percent more likely to have higher customer satisfaction; and,
■ 38 percent more likely to build productive teams.
Alofsin asked attendees to write down positive lessons about leadership they have acquired from a teacher, parent, coach and/or pastor. She then asked the attendees if they have “paid” those valuable lessons forward to subordinates.
“Why is that important? One reason is, the more you mentor others, the more you are also teaching yourself,” Alofsin said, adding that there are always key lessons to be learned from positive mentors/leaders.
Such leaders often find success by including their subordinates in “the big picture,” keeping those people better informed, asking for their opinions, demonstrating intelligence, sharing knowledge and earning people’s trust.
On the latter point, Alofsin quoted noted author and business trainer Jeffrey Gitomer, who said, “You cannot purchase trust at any price ... but over time, you can build it for free.”
Alofsin then outlined the “Seven Rules Of Trust” for better leadership. They are:
1). Trust requires time — To “get” trust, you have to first “give” trust.
“For example, as you build faith in your people, it’s important to first trust that the assignments you give them are getting done,” she said.
2). Trust needs boundaries — Personal versus professional.
3). Trust develops through learning — Involving knowledge and proficiency.
As a leader, Alofsin explained it’s important to stay on top of business/industry changes and events. “Make sure to stay knowledgeable and proficient,” she said. “It helps to read industry trade magazines and monitor social media and LinkedIn.”
4). Trust grows through reliability — Make everyday productive.
5). Trust is tough — Straightforward and solution-focused.
6). Trust requires “loyalty to the absent” — No gossip or perpetuation of rumors. Alofsin explained that a good leader does not engage in company gossip.
7). Trust requires true leadership — Honesty and integrity. “If you consider yourself a leader, what are your relationships like at work? Do people like you? Do they want to be around you? Are you positive? Do you have a good attitude?” Alofsin asked. “What is your reputation in the industry? Are you reliable? Are you resourceful? Are you remarkable?”
On the latter point, she discussed the book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable, by Seth Godin. The book addresses the importance of standing out among the competition, to be a “purple cow” in a field full of regular cows.
“As a leader, how do you become a ‘purple cow’ with your spouse, friends, co-workers and clients? What are you doing to be remarkable?” Alofsin asked. “It’s your job, as a leader, to be remarkable — if not each day, at least two days a week.”
Being a leader can be compared to pushing a large rock up a hill. Once on top of the hill, the rock has the tendency to roll back down.
“That is what our lives can be like as leaders. There are certain challenges to being an effective leader,” Alofsin said.
Those challenges often include everyday minutiae controlling a leader’s time and taking over what he/she wants to accomplish. Another challenge can involve inclusion, such as the fear of being left out of important decisions or inadvertently leaving other people out. There is also the challenge of maintaining loyalty to, and from, co-workers.
When it comes to leadership, however, Alofsin stressed the importance of always striving for excellent performance. To make her point, she discussed Danny Meyer's “salt shaker” leadership philosophy. He is a restaurateur, business professional and author of the book Setting the Table, which focuses on the power of hospitality in restaurants, business and life.
When it comes to leadership, Meyer stated: “Your staff and your guests are always moving your ‘salt shaker’ off center (on a dinner table). That’s their job. It’s the job of life. It’s the law of entropy. Until you understand that, you’re going to be aggravated every time someone moves the salt shaker off center. It is not your job to get upset.”
In this analogy, the salt shaker represents the core of a company, and the true reason to come to work.
“All day long, people pull leaders away from the core. It’s a leader’s responsibility, however, to get back to the core, to get back to the center,” Alofsin said.
She added that Meyer goes on to state: “Your job (as a leader) is to move the salt shaker back each time, and let people know exactly what you stand for. Let them know what excellence looks like to you. Wherever your center lies, know it, name it, stick to it and believe in it. Everyone who works with you will then know what really matters to you, and will RESPECT and APPRECIATE your unwavering values.”
Alofsin added that developing and working on natural attributes can go a long way in helping leaders stick to the core of what they want to achieve. Those attributes can include: inclusion of others, self control, flexibility, cooperative attitude, self awareness, enthusiasm, honesty and directness. It’s also critical for leaders to develop good communication skills, which is often easier said than done.
“I’ve been teaching communication at a university for a long time and guess what, I’m still not a perfect communicator,” she said.
Despite such imperfection, Alofsin focuses on the importance of “kaizen,” a Japanese word for “improvement.” In business, kaizen refers to activities designed to continuously improve all functions of a company and involve all employees.
“Because no one will ever be perfect or reach 100 percent, kaizen helps us constantly improve, with the understanding that we can always get better,” Alofsin said.
She added that when improving one’s communication skills, it’s important to understand:
■ Most people have the capacity to listen to 400 words per minute, but most people only speak at 125 words per minute. That means listeners often zone in and out during a conversation. The question remains, how can people speak more effectively and listen more intently?
■ When it comes to most people’s interpersonal skills, 55 percent of communication is from body language, 38 percent is from tone of voice and 7 percent is from actual words.
■ Email sent does not automatically mean email received or read. Alofsin added that email messages generally should not be longer than a person’s thumb as people’s devices keep getting smaller, making emails harder to read.
■ Face-to-face communication can be improved upon when focusing each conversation on the other person, rather than oneself.
Alofsin added when communicating, as in life, it’s important to be open to change and new ideas. She quoted the late author and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer, who said, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.”
A CLEAR SENSE OF DIRECTION
Having a clear sense of direction that includes vision, purpose, consensus and an action plan is very helpful when developing leadership skills, according to Alofsin.
“As a leader, ask yourself, ‘What can I do in the next 30, 60 and 90 days to improve?’” she said.
Part of that improvement revolves around self-education, which can come in the form of educational apps, podcasts and books on tape.
“There are a lot of great podcasts available on career development. One podcast I love is How I Built This. It shares stories of how successful businesses were developed,” she said. “As you think about your career goals and leadership, also think about your vision and purpose. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I here? What am I trying to achieve?’”
Being a leader also requires having a great attitude. Alofsin shared three tips to help leaders remain positive while building up the people around them, both at work and elsewhere. They are:
■ Show More Teeth — “We all need to show more teeth, which, of course, involves more smiles. There are too many people looking down today. Everybody is looking at their phones, and fewer people seem to be smiling. It’s important then for you, as a leader, to be the ‘smile,’” she said. “Be the first to say ‘Good morning,’ and, ‘How are you doing?’”
■ You Are Your Company — “Wherever you go, represent your company well. Don’t ever talk bad about the boss, fellow workers or clients. All that does is make you, as a company representative, look bad,” Alofsin said.
■ Re-recruit — It’s easy to lose quality people within a company. Alofsin said steps must be taken by company leaders to help “re-recruit” good employees.
“Once people are hired, we tend to start looking at their petty flaws. Why? It’s better to look past such flaws and rather re-recruit those people every single day,” she said.
For example, Alofsin added, don’t complain about co-workers who take vacations. Instead, have a “welcome back” sign at their desks when they return, with a plate of cookies on their chairs. Help them get up to speed on what they may have missed while away. Make their transition back to work easy, not difficult.
Alofsin said taking such steps can go a long way in keeping valuable employees, while also demonstrating quality leadership skills within an office setting.
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