Chris Alexander

Outrageous Leadership

Volume 16, Number 1 - January 2005

Outrageous Leadership
Extracted from Synergizing Your Business
How to Build High Performance Business Teams
Focused on Exceeding Customer Expectations

by Chris Alexander

Jim was a 20-year Navy veteran when he took a job as the head of a food service department. In addition to purchasing supplies and equipment, inventory control, and menu planning, he was responsible for feeding everyone in an organization that operated year-round and around the clock. As an ex-Navy cook and manager, the schedule was familiar to him, but to his employees, it was an entire change of lifestyle. Most of Jim's employees had little or no experience in food service, so he was responsible for their on-the-job training. Fortunately, Jim had always liked the teaching aspect of management, so he enjoyed training; the pleasure he took in his work also made it enjoyable for his workers. He taught them about hygiene, portion control, nutrition, food preparation, baking, and even meat-cutting.

Once the first employees were competent, he set them to teaching the newcomers what they knew. This strategy freed him up from constant training and let his more seasoned workers add training to their repertory of skills. Without talking about it, he taught his employees about teamwork, so that when they received compliments on an especially fine meal, every person on the team had earned it and felt pride in the accomplishment.

When any team finished work early, Jim would teach them to create foods outside the realm of the institutional menu items with which they usually worked. The success of the team might be measured in a cabinet filled with croissants, or twelve dozen fresh, hot, nutmeg-scented doughnuts.

The hours were long and the work was heavy, but by the time the first year was out, people employed in other parts of the organization were asking Jim if he had openings in his department. He soon had a waiting list, and anyone who didn't want to work up to the standards of the team was replaced with someone who was excited to be on it. After awhile, it got more and more difficult to find team members who didn't measure up. And the food just got better and better.

Jim wasn't interested in hearing excuses or complaints, but he took time to hear what employees had to say about the work environment; and when he saw a chance to improve it, he did.

An old-fashioned manager by training, Jim was kind of tough and sometimes terse, but when he got angry, he kept it to himself until he decided on the best course of action. He spent minimal amounts of time in his office, and most of his time with the team, teaching and coaching. He told people what he expected of them, taught them how to achieve the goals of the department, and showed them the rewards of doing the job well. When people left the organization, many who had come to his department with no previous experience got fine jobs based on the work they had done with Jim.

Jim was an impressive manager: respected, human, straightforward, and determined. Under his leadership, budgetary goals were met or exceeded, work was accomplished on time, and employees grew into competent, responsible cooks. In any organization, managers like Jim are pure, unadulterated gold, but maybe Jim's accomplishment is even more impressive because of the special circumstances of his place of employment. His area of responsibility was the food service department of a state detention facility, and all his employees were convicted felons.

Jim's Outrageous Leadership Strategies:

Create Zones of Inspiration: Leadership is about working together and empowering others. It is about leading by example and creating power underneath you. When you create power from below, your employees push you higher and higher. Leadership is a process of teaching and serving; and great leaders understand that serving is a spiritual principle that creates zones of inspiration and willing participation.

When you are committed to the overall vision of the company, everyone around you can feel it. Leaders motivate and synergize the company culture. When employees believe in the vision, they are more secure. Employees value bridges that connect management and the work force.

Straight-line with Employees: Successful leadership rests on the premise that effective communication is essential. Effective communication is to the point, straight-line and diplomatic and helps you and your employees make their points quickly. Often, individuals will work up to what they are trying to say, rather than saying it directly. Diplomatically and with tact say, "If I understand you correctly, you mean..." Then, go straight to the point.

It is okay to allow people to see your human side. Be sensitive to individuals who require a softer approach. Listen to your employees! Sit down and take time with them. Give them undivided attention when they want to speak with you. Never say, "Yes, I'm listening to you," when you're not.

Motivate, Energize, Encourage, Teach, and Discipline: At times, working with people can be exasperating. It is a common reaction for supervisors to lose their patience and start threatening negative consequences. The fact remains, threats are a poor and inefficient way of dealing with people. Threats always create resentment and resistance. Even when people go along with a threat, they do so out of fear and not desire. Desire motivation is long-lasting and powerful. Fear motivation is temporary and perpetuates mistrust on both sides.

Help your people achieve their true and full potential. Motivate, energize, encourage, teach, and discipline. The CMPI (Coaching, Motivating, Performance Interview) is used for positive problem resolution and motivation. It is extremely successful and can be applied in many different situations.

There are six stages of the CMPI:

  • Relax and bond with your employee.
  • Clearly describe the situation to be resolved.
  • Ask your employee for the solution. Warning! Do not try to resolve the problem. The key is to allow the employee to find the solution.
  • Ask for a commitment to the solution.
  • Follow-up with a later meeting, at which time you can coach the person.
  • Finally, schedule another meeting to ensure that the team member is on track.


"Hi, Joe. Thanks for coming in. How's your family? Joe, I have something I need to talk with you about. I've noticed that you've been coming in ten minutes late every day for the past two weeks. What's the problem?"

Let Joe tell you what the problem is, and then say, "I understand. How can we fix this?"

Now, allow Joe to find the solution. And, then say, "Thanks, that seems to be a great solution. Why don't we try it out and let's meet here next week at the same time to see how itís working." Then say, "Thanks for coming in, Joe. I really appreciate your commitment to solving this problem. See you next week."

The CMPI is direct and to the point - the best tool a leader can use. It's not necessary for you to feel resentful, and it's not necessary for employees to feel guilty.

Be Prepared to Change: Change is a constant in today's business world. Alvin Toffler said, "Unless we can adapt and adjust to change, we're always going to be in a state of future shock." We have to listen to other peoples' ideas, their points of view, and when the old ways are no longer effective, we need to change the way we do things.

Mark Twain said, "Life is like being a river pilot on the Mississippi. What you learned yesterday, you have to relearn today." Isn't that outrageous?

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