WORK! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment.

Leadership Lessons

January 30, 2020 Cornell ILR School Season 1 Episode 5
WORK! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment.
Leadership Lessons
Chapters
WORK! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment.
Leadership Lessons
Jan 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 5
Cornell ILR School

Best-selling author Jon Gordon '93 and Dean Alex Colvin discuss the changing culture of today’s workplace. The duo examines the characteristics common in great leaders, the traits shared by successful teams, and how individuals can influence co-workers. 

Show Notes Transcript

Best-selling author Jon Gordon '93 and Dean Alex Colvin discuss the changing culture of today’s workplace. The duo examines the characteristics common in great leaders, the traits shared by successful teams, and how individuals can influence co-workers. 

Diane Burton:

Work is all around us. It defines us and the future of work impacts nearly every person on our planet. The ILR school at Cornell University is at the center of work, labor and employment, influencing policy and practice on the most pressing issues facing employees and employers. ILR school Dean Alex Colvin is the host of our series "Work!" Exploring the future of work, labor and employment," featuring discussion with experts on key world of work topics. In this episode, motivational speaker and writer Jon Gordon talks with Dean Colvin about workplace leadership.

Dean Colvin:

So one of the things that I want to start off talking about is something that's been a really interesting change going on in the workplace. When we looked at places like , Google, we're starting to see a lot of workers expressing their voice in the, in the workplace. I was just down there last year, at an event that was all organized by the engineers about a big policy issue at the company. You know, and it's, it's a really interesting thing we see going on. And it kind of begs this question of , leadership by people who are just, you know, regular people at work rather than a sort of major leadership role. And one of the questions I was wondering about is what, what makes it possible going forward for people to rise up to kind of leadership roles out of kind of regular rank and file employee kind of positions and employee, you know, their own leadership and making change in the workplace?

Jon Gordon:

Well, I always say that even if you influence one person, you are a leader. So when you are coming to work every day and you're surrounded by people, you're leading the people around you. So always start with leading those in front of you. Have an influence on them. I call it love, serve, and care are the three greatest success principles of all. The three greatest leadership principle. If you love people and you are able to serve them in some capacity, serve them at work that we're working on a project. "Hey, I want to work with you on this. I want to help you with this." You show that you care. Then you will stand out amongst the people who don't care. And so just by influencing the people around you, then you start to rise up. So I wrote a book called the Power of Positive Leadership. And this is what makes great leaders great. And even though it's a book for leaders with titles, even if you don't have a title, you can employ this framework and really influence those around you and be and become a great leader.

Dean Colvin:

Yeah. That is one of the interesting things I noticed about your books is that you often write , even though you're writing in that in the genre that , you know, they're leadership books, you're actually talking a lot to people who aren't in those kind of formal leadership titles. You know, in stories about those kinds of peoples, which seems a really different kind of perspective on leadership.

Jon Gordon:

Exactly. Because, you know, it really resonates with people at all levels. And when I first started my career, I was the guy who was brought in to speak to the company, not leadership. So as I would speak to the company, I would impact the people at all levels, not really at the highest level. Only in the last probably five years did my work now reach that the people at the highest level. So now you'll have an Alan Mulally reading my book and reaching out saying, okay, I loved your book. The power of Positive Leadership and The Power of a Positive Team. I heard from Evan Spiegel, the, you know, the founder of Snapchat, he brought me i nto work with his leadership team, you know, to help them deal with all o f the adversity they were facing from Instagram a nd, and, and challenges, you know, from competition and so forth. There was a lot of negativity in the news. Well guess what? They're now weathering the storm and they're doing great work as, as a leadership team. And so it took a while for the top leaders to get this, but now they're realizing this is the way to lead. Like you have to lead with optimism. You have to create a vision. You have to build up relationships with the people around you. The old style of, "Hey, just do it because I said so" no longer works. You just said it earlier. There's n ow a voice amongst the employees. There's a voice amongst the people at all levels and you have to engage them. Now you have to get them to be a part of the process, not make them feel like they're separate from the process.

Dean Colvin:

Is that something that's hard for , for leaders in that kind of traditional role? I mean, we do a lot of education here at ILR where we're, where we're, you know , educating, you know, HR, VPs , about dealing with their workforce. You know, you're sort of describing kind of a different kind of paradigm of how you think about how you relate to the subordinates, the regular people in your organization. Do you find that people have trouble making that adjustment or what helps them make that adjustment?

Jon Gordon:

I think more and more are making the adjustment is what I should say because I'm , I'm seeing a lot of leaders move in this direction. The millennials and now the younger generation no longer will work with a company or for a company that doesn't have a mission. They want a company that has a purpose. No longer will, they will work with someone who doesn't treat them like an individual or a human being. If you don't care about them, guess what? They're outta here. And so today's leader has to be a positive leader where they engage the people that they are leading. They have to develop a relationship with those people. And so it's not just a nice way to lead, it's the way to lead to get greater results. So what I believe is what I've been teaching all these years and what Ken Blanchard, you know our , our friend from Cornell as well, and one of my amazing mentors is , has been teaching for years. We're just seeing that reality is now caught up to what we've always believed to be true. That if you really want to get results, you have to lead people through relationships. And if you don't know someone, how can you lead them? If you don't know what motivates them, how can you motivate them? So it's really about more of a personal level. I'm a big believer in each leader connecting with the people that they lead on a one on one level, making time for five to 10 minute meetings on an ongoing basis. This is not, you know, quarterly reports or, or annual reviews. Hey I'm just going to meet with you for a review. No ! You have to meet before review is even necessary. Like you should be getting together with the people that you lead and getting to know them, have an ongoing conversation about their goals, their vision, their progress, what skills they want to actually develop and how you can help them develop them. And how what they can do, contributes to the bigger vision of what you're doing as an organization. And if you do that, you'd have so much more engagement and so much more success.

Dean Colvin:

Yeah. And it sounds like, you know, what you're talking about, it's really kind of a necessity, right? That if we want to be successful , you know, as leaders in the future, this is what we're gonna need to deal with, right? It's a changing workforce, a changing realities . You know, new generations come up and they , they have expectations. We gotta we gotta adapt to that.

Jon Gordon:

We do. And I've also just so people know, I work with a lot of sports teams and so I see this dynamic taking place in teams, which I love teams in sports cause it's a very interesting microcosm of what's happening at the cultural level and at organizational levels from businesses. So here I am, I go to these fortune 500 companies, but then I'm also working with Clemson football. I'm working with the LA Rams, the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat, the Chargers, the Cleveland Browns. I actually spoke to this year , which was, which was a lot of fun to actually interact with them and see their culture. And then you see it play out in the course of the year, right? So I love seeing the culture, but today's player, they want a relationship with their coach. They want to know that the coach cares about them. And we see the guy in the media who is causing a lot of problems. But then I see the great coach who I know and I see how that coach engages that player and develops a relationship with them. And that player that's usually a problem on other teams is no longer a problem on this team. So I could see real leadership how it takes place firsthand and that and that in that scenario.

Dean Colvin:

Yeah, sports are fascinating because you have this situation where to succeed you have to succeed as a team. So there are those lessons that you learn from sports about functioning as a team and being successful. One thing I think we share in common is a , is a Cornell sports. I'm, I'm a former fencer. I'm actually currently the Cornell fencing t eams a dvisor. And I know you played lacrosse here at Cornell. And you've written about that program you wrote about in your book The Hard Hat. And that book really talks a lot directly about lessons about how to be a great teammate. How do you see those lessons being adapted to the workplace?

Jon Gordon:

It's really great because a lot of companies have used this book, The Hard Hat for their company. All the proceeds go to The Mario St George Boiardi Foundation. And the book is about George Boiardi, the Cornell lacrosse player who played 11 years after I did and how in 2004, he was hit in the chest with a ball and died on the field. But that team would go on to carry on his legacy. They would go o n t o play like he did. They would go on to be the kind of teammate that he was. They wanted t o honor him and the kind of person he was, they embodied his character. And next thing you know, Cornell becomes a powerhouse lacrosse program again because they all became great teammates, selfless, loyal, h ardworking. And for businesses and organizations, it's about how can we come together as a team, one team to accomplish a goal. No one creates success alone. We all need a team to be successful. It's not just sports. Every great accomplishment was done by a team. And so I studied this in my book, The Power of Positive Team, where I discuss what makes great teams great. And I looked at all the great teams that have accomplished amazing things. Well, not all of them, but a bunch of them. And you see that it is the dynamic of being great teammates, of having emotional and psychological safety, right? Where there's trust, where there's connection, where there's then commitment knowing that you will never have commitment without connection. It's the connection that drives the commitment that reads the commitment that then leads to great results. So these dynamics play out. When you become a great teammate, you develop a great team, you then accomplish great things together and it's the leader's job to work, to build a great team. So my work now is all about developing positive leaders, helping them become better leaders who then are able to build strong teams.

Dean Colvin:

It's, it's really fascinating kind of idea that , you know, we learn these, these lessons when we're in the sports world and you know, many, many people d o i t in high school or even in college if they're, if they're lucky enough. But you know, carrying those lessons forward to the workplace, right? And not treating the workplace like, you know, we're all a bunch of little individuals but really is like a team. And that being a t eammates really critical to showing that kind of leadership that's g oing t o make the organization succeed. It's a powerful metaphor that you've got there.

Jon Gordon:

It really is. You know, it's funny now I've spoken to so many college athletic programs over the years and then I'll go into businesses to speak and I'll have people come up to me and say, Hey, you spoke to me when I was at Notre Dame. You spoke when I was on the Cornell lacrosse team and you spoke to, you know, our team, blah, blah blah. And now I'm at this company and you know what the same principles apply. It's so funny cause they see firsthand how the same principles apply in sports and also in business and so on. If you've done fencing, if you've done any score with any team, even a golf team that's considered individuals and fencing, you're competing in the way as well. You still are part of a team and anyone who's ever been a part of a team is now better able to go into a work environment and work more effectively with that team.

Dean Colvin:

You know one of the things that I think is, is really interesting to think going forward is, you know, this vision you're talking about is definitely, you know, a more sort of egalitarian team-based workplace. But you know, I'm thinking about what does that mean then for how we think of the future about our companies, our strategies. You know, we had this kind of very, you know , shareholder, just make money kind of focus, right? This seems like a really broader vision of the mission of organizations and working together for success in the future.

Jon Gordon:

I believe that the future is not going to be accomplished individually, although we are becoming more and more individual focused . But even through all the social media, we're very individually focused. I see the future that it really will be accomplished by people working together in teams and it's going to be where we have more virtual teams working together and they have to figure out a way when they're working virtually across the globe, how to work together in a virtual environment where you're not always connecting person to person. It's probably the greatest question I get, the most common question I get is how do you become a connected team when you're working in a virtual environment? And it really just takes more effort to make sure that you're connecting using the latest technology to do so. But now with Skype and zoom and all the, all the, all the , uh, the tools that we have that a lot of software companies have created, those are a really efficient and effective tools that create that connection. But nothing is as effective as actually meeting in person and developing that personal relationship. I don't care how much technology changes, if we're human, it's always going to be about the personal relationship. Can I trust you and do you care about me?

Dean Colvin:

Yeah. It's interesting you talk about the, the virtual teams. You know, one of the things , I was, I felt really old last year, I was at a conference and it was talking about sports and teams and there's a whole session on, on the E-sports world. You know, which, made me feel dated really quickly. But it was pretty fascinating how, you know, even in that e-sports world, y ou know, these were all like mostly college or recent college kids. You know, they were, they were forming teams, you know, competing in this e-sports world and they w ere interacting like teams that I was used to i n that kind of regular physical world of competition. So it seems like i t's, it's, it's extending out.

Jon Gordon:

It is in all areas. And you know, it's really a big topic that comes up a lot today is collaborative leadership as well. I believe collaborative leadership where the leader is now working with their people, where he or she is working with her team to develop a stronger team. Alan Mulally talked a lot about this. I've talked a lot about this with Sandy Barbour, who's the Penn State athletic director. It's more about, Hey, what do we, what do we want to do? What do we want to accomplish? Where are we going? Rather where in the old days it was, this is where we're going. Are you on my bus or not? I wrote the Energy Bus in 2007 if I could do it again, George says to his team, Hey, here's our vision. This is where we're going. Are you on my bus? In today's economy and today's world and where we're going? I would say, Hey, where do we to go and let's go there together.

Dean Colvin:

Are we going to see a new Energy Bus, a follow up?

Jon Gordon:

No. No. Because it's become in many ways a classic and a lot of people are, and I still think it's very effective for that one person to say, where do I want to go? And I have to build a team here around me to go there. You know, I'm just giving a little nuance. But y eah, when I wrote The Power of Positive Leadership, that was everything I've learned over the last 12 years working with all these different leaders and teams. So that pretty much fills all of the practical ideas and practices and principles about what makes great leaders great. And so these are really concrete ideas that are being used that you can use. And it's not saying, Hey, use all of them, pick what works for you and your team, get some good ideas, and then go out and start implementing them and you'll see results.

Dean Colvin:

Yeah. Well, uh, you've been an incredibly prolific author and I think , I think our listeners will be looking forward to the next, the next offering from the Jon Gordon authorship because you've got some really fantastic ideas that I think people g onna look forward to hearing more from.

Jon Gordon:

Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me.

Dean Colvin:

Yeah, thanks very much for being on the podcast.

Diane Burton:

Thank you for joining us for "Work! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment." In our next episode, Dean Colvin talks with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Again, thank you for listening and learn more about ILR by visiting us on the web at ilr.cornell.edu.