I recently watched a high school state track and field championship. At the beginning of the evening, the excitement among the athletes was palpable. Each athlete and team had such determination and grit — but, of course, not all of them were going to win their races or the meet.

At the end of the evening, I watched as one coach brought his female and male athletes together. Some had won their events, others had placed, and others did not. The young women and men did not win their overall championships, though they came in second and third, respectively.

It was clear they had wanted to do better. The coach rallied his team in the middle of the track, with their arms linked around one another, and talked about their journey through the season. He celebrated their accomplishments as individuals and as a team. After tears, hugs and laughter, the team walked away from this impressive display of coaching excited to train over the summer and head into the next season. (read more…)

Lisa was super-friendly and always eager to serve me. She was one of the main reasons I parked my car every week at the off-airport parking facility where she worked. Arriving at Acme Executive Parking, I would pull into the facility and Lisa would be the driver who always rode with me to the terminal. After I got out and retrieved my luggage, she would give me a ticket and then drive my slick-looking sports car back to the lot to park.

As a full-service parking facility, Acme could also wash my car, gas it up or change my oil while I was away. When I landed at the end of the week, I called the phone number on the ticket and someone (usually Lisa) would come to the terminal in my car to transport me back to the parking facility to settle my debt. Since I parked there 40 out of 52 weeks and frequently had other services done to my car, I was what you might call a premium customer. (read more…)

Engagement. Commitment. Morale. Satisfaction. Meaning. Happiness.

A lot of terms get kicked around in the human resources field and the so-called “employee engagement” industry to describe the worker attitudes they are trying to attain. Which of these terms is the right objective has lately become a debate.

“The idea of trying to make people happy at work is terrible,” Gallup CEO Jim Clifton told Fast Company last fall. “Measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels is just not enough to retain star performers and build a successful business,” he wrote on his company’s website. Businesses need their employees “engaged,” he argues.

Pick any two of the terms above, and it’s possible to find a consultant who is against one and in favor of the other, although the main debate has centered on “engagement” versus “happiness.” The arguments will continue fruitlessly until there is, first, better agreement on the meanings of the terms and, second, a better appreciation of the bargain employees make with their employers. (read more…)

Sadly, late last month we learned of the sudden death of Ed Gilligan, president of American Express. Gilligan spent his entire business career at American Express and was considered the likely successor to CEO Ken Chenault.

Also last month, David Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, died unexpectedly when he fell while exercising on a treadmill in Mexico.

These tragedies are unquestionably and, thankfully, infrequent. Nevertheless, they are a reality and remind us that planning for casualty is a necessity both for families as well as the businesses and organizations we all inhabit.

Planning can take many forms, but within the context of businesses, it is succession planning that should take center stage. Who is next in line for a role? Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, was a proponent of succession planning, and GE is often looked upon as the standard by which succession planning should be practiced. (read more…)

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

How do you invest your time and energy in your team members?

  • I spread it around evenly so it’s fair: 38.53%
  • I invest more heavily in low performers: 15.58%
  • I invest more heavily in high performers: 45.89%

Change Your View of Time Allocation. Low performers are being shortchanged. Your high performers might not want so much of your time. After all, they’re pretty self sufficient and your “investment” could be seen as “micromanaging” or a lack of trust. You’d be much better off investing your limited “leadership capital” (your time and energy) where it will yield a higher return in terms of improved performance. When you understand the relationship between your investments and team member results and learn to look at it differently, your allocation of time should shift significantly. (read more…)