We are Human Beings, Not Machines

Fired Up or Burned Out Book CoverWe are human beings, not machines. We have emotions, a conscience, hopes and dreams. We need to be respected, to be recognized for our contributions, to feel a sense of belonging, and we need autonomy, personal growth and meaning in our work. When these needs are met, it is life-giving.  When they are not met, it drains the life out of us.

When people relate to one another in ways that fail to reflect our shared humanity, it results in dysfunction.  Here are links to two recent articles that recognize the importance of emotions and the ability to connect with other human beings.  A New York Times magazine article entitled “The Korean Dads’ 12-Step Program” described a “Father School” where emotionally challenged Korean fathers learned to connect with their wives and children. And here’s a Wall Street Journal article entitled “On the Lesson Plan: Feelings” that describes business school efforts to help MBA students learn to connect relationally with others in the workplace.

Gap’s Chief Innovation Officer Recognizes Connection Required to Innovate


I’m encouraged to see more leaders recognize that individuals and organizations need connection to thrive. Here’s a video of Polly LaBarre at MIX interviewing Ivy Ross, Gap’s Chief Innovation Officer, about the need for connection to innovate. To learn more about “Connection Cultures” download the Connection Culture Manifesto published by changethis.com. You can go even deeper into Connection Cultures by signing up for my new quarterly email newsletter after which you will receive an email that contains a link to a free download of Fired Up or Burned Out, the book that introduced Connection Cultures.

New Research: Relationships Make Hospitals Great

The New York Times recently had an article entitled “What Makes a Hospital Great” that described new research concluding a hospital’s culture and the quality of relationships were the most important factors determining patient outcomes. This finding is consistent with our research that concluded leaders must be intentional about developing both “task excellence” and “relationship excellence” in order to achieve sustainable superior performance.  If leaders focus on task alone the eventual failure of relationships will sabotage excellence.

George Washington, Worthy of Praise?


Today is Presidents’ Day in the U.S., a day in which we primarily celebrate our first president, George Washington. After reading the article “George Washington’s Tear Jerker” in The New York Times, one might ask, was Washington really the great leader he has been made out to be?  I asked myself that question during the summer of 2002 and began a journey to unpack truth from myth.  I went as far as contacting and speaking with Edward Lengel, the foremost historian on Washington’s generalship.  After doing my own research I wrote the following which became one of the chapters on 20 leaders in Fired Up or Burned Out.

First in Their Hearts

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Scholar at Harvard University, observed the following about George Washington: “It wasn’t his generalship that made him stand out . . . It was the way he attended to and stuck by his men. His soldiers knew that he respected and cared for them, and that he would share their severe hardships.”

To Achieve Excellence

Michael Lee Stallard and Jason Pankau

K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues famously concluded that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are required to achieve excellence and expert status.  Malcolm Gladwell popularized Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers.  What many forget is that Ericsson’s research also concluded the experts benefitted from coaching and mentoring by people who told them the truth, even when it was painful to hear.

The point here is that no one becomes great at anything without coaching and mentoring.  Do you have coaches and mentors in your life who help you learn, grow and develop into the person you want to become?  Do you want to be better at exercising and eating healthy?  Why not ask someone you know who is good in those areas to mentor you.    Do you want to be a better listener?  Ask a good listener you know to give you suggestions about how to improve.  Want to be a better parent and spouse?  Ask your children and spouse how you can improve.

Michael Lee Stallard is president of E Pluribus Partners.  Jason Pankau is the president of Life Spring Network, a Christian ministry.  They write, speak and teach workshops on leadership and employee engagement. Michael and Jason are co-authors of the bestselling book Fired Up or Burned Out.

Leaders Can Learn From College RAs

TCU Logo

Most leaders can learn an important lesson from the RAs at TCU who are creating a sense of community in the residence halls on campus.  You can read about it in this excellent article entitled “Culture of Caring.”  The article makes an important point that creating a sense of community requires intentionality. Daniel Terry, TCU’s director of Community Renewal, puts it this way:

“We’re trying to create whole people here at TCU. [TCU has always had an emphasis on personal attention and mentoring relationships.] We’re implementing Community Renewal at TCU because, like all communities, there needs to be some intentionality around relating to the people around you.  Where there is no intentionality, people tend to take relationships for granted.”

So true.

Developing Connections When People are Geographically Remote

At the heart of building community is developing a bond of connection among the members of a group. In other words, when the members of a group feel positive emotions related to being understood, respected, appreciated, and included by their group’s leaders and fellow members, it forms a bond that strengthens cooperation and commitment among group members.

Emotions are important to organizational effectiveness. Research by the Corporate Executive Board has shown that emotional factors are four times as effective as rational factors when it comes to the amount of effort employees put in their work. Emotional factors include how an employee feels about his organization’s identity and the people he works with whereas rational factors include what an employee thinks about his compensation.

Typically, an organization’s managers and stars feel emotionally connected while three-quarters of all employees do not. What happens to those who don’t feel connected? They stop caring. They stop giving their best efforts. They stop fully communicating and, as a result, decision-makers don’t get the information they need to make optimal decisions. This disconnection results in a gradual spiraling down of performance that may eventually threaten an organization’s survival.

Connection is grounded in human needs. I’ve found that two of these needs, recognition and belonging, can be partially met through participation in online communities. The need for recognition is in our DNA. It’s almost as if we have a “recognition battery” that needs to be charged regularly but the curious aspect of this battery is that its plug-in is located at a spot on our back that we can’t quite reach. As such, we rely on the people around us to charge our recognition battery. If it’s charged, we are energized; if not, we become drained and lose energy.

In addition to recognition, we have a need to feel that we belong to a group — to be in a place where “everyone knows your name,” as the popular theme song of the old comedy television show Cheers stated. Positive interactions on a regular basis with members of a group bring about this feeling of belonging.

There are a number of online capabilities that organizations can put place to help meet the needs for recognition and belonging, and bring about feelings of connection.

Online Personal Profiles that allow people to express their personal identities through posting photographs, hobbies and interests outside of work provide recognition. When co-workers inevitably comment on these personal expressions of identity, it provides recognition and a sense of belonging that makes people feel more connected. Giving employees a place to express who they really are helps them avoid feelings of isolation that occur when they begin to feel like cogs in a machine. Also related to personal identity are affinity groups such as book clubs and alumni groups. These groups can be encouraged and supported with online intranet websites and social media that increase connection among people with shared interests outside of work.

Social Media can be used to inform employees and invite them into conversations about corporate issues. Leaders who mine the resulting body of content for good ideas, implement them, and give credit where credit is due will discover that this helps employees feel more connected. This practice will also improve decision-making and innovation as decision makers gain access to new information and participants to identify new business opportunities, process improvements and product possibilities.

Podcasts and Webcasts are helpful tools to facilitate connection by reaching employees who have visual and auditory learning styles. They can also be used to increase awareness of thought leaders and experts in an organization. For example, Polly Pearson, former Vice President of Employment Brand and Strategy Engagement at EMC, interviewed thought leaders and experts on an internal webcast entitled “Culture Talk.” Polly helped several EMC employees to become internal bloggers and eventually to blog externally. As a result, EMC developed more than 40 bloggers.

These are but a few of the online means that can be utilized to foster connection among the members of an organization. By helping everyone to feel connected, organizations will increase the employee engagement, strategic alignment, productivity, innovation and overall performance.