How to get employees to do great things

September 24, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

It’s one thing to be a great individual achiever by outperforming and outselling everyone around you, innovating the coolest breakthrough ideas, mastering the work that feeds your passion – perhaps even leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Yup, there’s nothing like being at the top of your personal game and being recognized as a rock star in your chosen field. It’s what’s possible when you have the courage and tenacity to relentlessly push yourself beyond the comfort zone of “ordinary” to “extraordinary.”

It’s something completely different to lead and inspire an entire company of people to do great things. It doesn’t matter if there are five, 500 or 5,000 people looking to you for direction and inspiration; it’s just not that easy to get that fire in your gut to burn bright in others. As a leader or entrepreneur, your dream was to grow a company – not be a cheerleader, disciplinarian, or babysitter. Heck, just getting employees to show up on time for a meeting or follow a new policy can be a Herculean task. It’s that “people thing” that keeps getting in the way. It wears you down and takes all the fun out of growing a company.

So, if you admire how some leaders get employees to do great things, here are some no-compromise leadership absolute must-do’s:

  • You must want it the most: I’m not talking just about grand visions of growing a company here. I’m talking about that fire in the eyes, burning in the gut, nothing less than 110% will do, success at all cost level of “wanting”; that endows a leadership with courage and passion. People follow and are emotionally lifted up by leaders that believe in achieving the near impossible. Why? Because they believe great things are possible too. I’m not saying that a leader should come across as the Wizard of Oz or some superhero. I’m saying that a leader must want to succeed ten times more than those they lead. No one wants to follow a taskmaster or a leader who fears failure or confrontation so much that he or she has no fight left. If you want people to do great things – you must want those great things the most. Otherwise, you’re just striving for mediocrity.
  • You must clarify thinking and behavior: I could have written, “clarify expectations” but I wanted to go deeper. Clarifying expectations is like a laundry list of performance requirements. Go deeper by clarifying the thinking and behavior that will embody the company’s culture. Culture IS about thinking and behavior – not expectations. “We show up early for everything we do,” speaks volumes about the core values of a company. “Don’t be late for meetings,” sets you up to be a disciplinarian. There’s a profound difference between showing up late and breaking trust and shared beliefs.
  • You must celebrate the right stuff: You can’t inspire people to do great things when your leadership has devolved into catching people doing things wrong. Tell me I did something great and I’ll do more great things. Show appreciation when I do something great – even if it’s just a high-five – and I’ll do more great things. Celebrate and appreciate when people step up at team huddles, gatherings, or in creating company communication tools and more and more people will step up because they get the thinking and behavior that makes their company great.
  • You must inspire “Accountability x Ten”: One of the tenets of No-Compromise Leadership is “Everyone is responsible.” I call it “Accountability x Ten” because it entrusts everyone to take ownership in the success of the company. It rids the company culture of indifference and “I don’t care” thinking and behavior. It fast tracks change initiatives. It accelerates efficiency, performance and growth. If something is wrong, broken, dirty, late, etc. – own it and fix it. When “It’s not my job” infects a company – great things can’t happen.
  • You must surround yourself with “A” players: Steve Jobs was fanatical about hiring only “A” players at Apple. He believed that lowering your standards to hire a “B” player would quickly spread to his “A” players. Jobs was relentless when it came to innovation and getting EVERYTHING right. Last week Apple stock hit $700. Analysts predict Apple will sell 20 million iPhone 5’s by the end of September. (Yes, I ordered mine at 4:15am Eastern – just 75 minutes after they went on sale. I forgot to set my alarm.) You can’t achieve this level of success with a team of “B” and “C” players. Accept mediocrity and that’s what you’ll get from your people. It’s not easy going no compromise – but it’s what leadership is about.

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Categories: Leadership , Monday Morning Wake-Up , Productivity , Staff Retention

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  1. Thank you Neil for the reminders! Alot of INCUBATOR training surfaced while reading this morning “wake up” . Just when I feel I may have forgotten some of the STRATEGIES training, the “wake ups” tickle my brain. Then it happens!, I get the energy I need to “just keep going”. TRULY AMAZING!

  2. Hi Neil – a quote from your Monday Morning Wake-up hit home today, – “Tell me I did something great and I’ll do more great things.” I love this way of thinking and leading. Thank you for the reminder!

  3. Hi Neil,
    I love your mmwu’s they encourage and challenge me to lead with compassion.
    “Tell me what I did right”…..I need to hear that, I need to express that. Where do you get so much to teach us every Monday? I love it!

    1. Hi Bibi,
      You asked, “Where do you get so much to teach us every Monday?” The simple answer is … from somewhere inside me. I come up with a title that “speaks to me” and connects with what leaders are facing every day. Then, the words just come. As long as the words keep coming … I’ll keep writing because more and more people rely on my MMWUs to start their week. And…I enjoy writing them.

      If you haven’t read my new Wake Up! book, pick up a copy. It’s fast and great reading. It’s available in hardcover and on Kindle, Nook and Apple.

  4. Hi Neil,
    Thank you for MMWU! It’s a great support to me as a brand new business owner.
    My question is, how do I get Independent Contractors to do great things, since there is a certain boundry of what I can and cannot expect (from what I gather)? I could be wrong or just don’t understand this aspect.


    1. Hi Tania,
      Independent contractors are “independent.” They do not work for your company – they rent space to run their own businesses. You have no claim to their customer lists or control over how they do their work. You cannot establish standards of performance, required education, attendance, or anything else that resembles an employee-based business. Like any landlord, you job is to provide and maintain the “space” you rent to independent contractors — and collect rent. Their success is not your responsibility.

      Hate to be so blunt…but that’s the booth rental business model. It is extremely limited by design and best for owners that prefer not to deal with employees.

      Perhaps you need to explore what an employee-based business model looks like and the potential for success that it offers. I suggest that you consider attending our 4-day Incubator course. There’s one coming up in October that has a few seats still open. Go to http://www.strategies.com and click on “Incubator Course.”



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