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Last updateThu, 20 Sep 2018 3pm

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Leading a Spirited Organization

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A positive attitude within an organization begins at its inner-most core: Its own top executives must want to create a company for which they, themselves want to work, according to Ken Branco, founder and principal of R.E.V.V. International, Stafford Springs, CT, who spoke at VMA’s 2011 Manufacturers Workshop. Organizations whose leaders strive for that goal can develop a company spirit, and that spirit will travel from the heart of the organization (its leaders) out to its perimeters (its employees) and return in the form of a leaner, more productive organization.

A spirited organization is: “A dynamic group of individuals, commonly focused, and energetically charged to reach beyond the current state and achieve positive changes.” In a spirited organization: “every day the best and brightest people from everywhere are at the front door asking if they can work here,” he added.

 

Branco outlined six traits such an organization displays:

  1. Optimism: Employees truly believe they can and will build a better future.
  2. Energy: Those employees are willing to work relentlessly toward that future.
  3. Enthusiasm: They are excited about working together to accomplish that future.
  4. Discipline: Within the company, methods exist that allow staff to collaborate effectively day-to-day toward their goals.
  5. Resilience: Employees embrace change and are willing to adapt.
  6. Determination: Individuals are empowered to forge ahead and prevail.

To get to that point requires building a foundation for disciplined resilience-a foundation that allows people to perform their work daily with ease and with the flexibility to react when needed. In other words, the everyday surprises should not hold people back, but rather allow them to grow.

The foundation also requires a spirit of collaboration. The organization has to be set up to discourage a loop of disrespectleading to distrust leading to employees who won't work together, which Branco called the “doom loop.” Instead, companies need to reach the point of a “nirvana loop-if I show you respect, you will (in turn) trust me and (in turn) want to work with me,” he explains. The key to all of that just may be learning to listen, a skill both leaders and employees need to develop.

But all of this “spirited-ness” begins with examining our own leadership. “In reality, the only thing we control is ... ourselves,” Branco pointed out.

To understand their own spirits, leaders must start by pinpointing what they believe in-which might range from “all people have worth” to “I will succeed” to “my perceptions may be wrong” (in other words, I need to take another look at the issue). After beliefs are outlined, leaders must face their our own attitudes such as “I’ll fake it then make it (I don’t know this stuff, but I’ll keeping working on it until I do)” to “I’ll do all I can with what I have” to “most problems are amusing.” Then, leaders can recognize their own behaviors in dealing with situations, which might range from glacier (you can be mad at me today, but I'll still be here tomorrow) to cooler head prevails (the more angry you get, the cooler I become) to decisiveness (I'll get the data, but then make the decision), Branco said.

The important thing to remember is that, in looking at leadership attitudes and behaviors, an individual does not have to work on every area at the same time. Each individual can select a set of priorities that are important to work upon to meet current challenges, Branco said.

After leaders look at their own beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, they need to look at influencing the attitudes of others and how to move the spirit of the company from them to the outside, Branco pointed out. Businesses today face a continuum of employee attitudes toward the workplace that ranges from the cynic at one end (what's happening is wrong, always was and always will be!) to the Pollyanna at the other end (what could possibility go wrong with this change?). The sweet spot in attitudes may be between the pragmatist (things could go wrong, so let's be ready) and the optimist (it's possible things will go wrong, but it will be all right).

As a leader of that continuum, a person can make two assumptions, Branco said: 1) Everything he or she, as the leader, does is observed by those under his or her leadership, and 2) the human energy needed to create the atmosphere of spirit and collaboration exists just as much as the potential for distrust and miscommunication.

“The evidence of employee attitudes is all around us. It’s in how people talk. We simply (though not easily) have to listen,” Branco said. One hint he gave the workshop audience from his own experience at weighing attitudes is "the more optimistic organizations talk about the present and future. Pessimistic organizations talk about the past.”

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