Milestone Blog

"Slowly...Step Away from the Desk..."

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Jun 1, 2019 8:45:00 AM

There’s a tendency you’ll notice with far too many people as they progress upwards in an organization: the higher a leader goes on the org chart, the less you see them. There’s always some rationale, most commonly that work load grows with greater responsibility, making it harder and harder to get away from the desk or computer. Yet, leaders are responsible for staying abreast of and positively influencing the workplace climate, and it is highly unlikely much meaningful inspiration and team connectiveness comes from someone rarely seen on an informal day-to-day basis.

For this installment of Leaders in the Trenches, we would like to highlight a story shared with us about a public school educator whose daily actions inspired generations of students and colleagues:

“After an eleven-year hiatus taking off from my teaching career moving around all over the United States with my husband’s career, having four kids, and volunteering a bit, I completed a graduate level degree and was finally certified to teach in the state where we lived. I’d had several interviews, but repeatedly found out I was the “second choice,” and someone else was hired. Finally, I had what seemed to be a successful interview at an elementary school. After we’d visited a bit, the principal, Jim Lewis, asked me if I’d like to take a walk around the school with him. As we left the office, we encountered an aide pushing a young student with special needs in a wheelchair. As Jim made eye contact with both of these people, asked about their day, and then touched the child and spoke further with him, I was impressed. There was a sincerity and evidence of purpose here that impacted me greatly.

“After working with Jim for a few years, I was telling my husband a story about something remarkable this principal had done, to which he said, “You’d eat glass for him, wouldn’t you?” I thought about it a second, chuckled, and then replied, “Yeah, pretty much.” Besides demonstrating a sincere interest in his employees and students, what else did Jim do to command such loyalty?

“He knew the value of learning about others and then using that information to aid in collaboration for future success. After the horrific school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1998, he wondered what could be done to help better protect students. He visited with an involved parent, and the two came up with an idea to start a program to encourage fathers of students to volunteer a day to walk the school halls and make sure doors stayed locked, among other things. As parents would come in to volunteer, master collaborator Jim would visit with them and find out about their connections and interests. Many programs and the facility itself were improved over time because he knew who to call for help with common, shared goals. It’s important to note—that school safety volunteer program, WatchDog Dads, has gone national!

"One education consultant said, “If you want to impact change in your school, get out of the office, get out of the office, get out of the office.” While Jim probably had a stack of paperwork on his desk and a colorful pile of Post-It notes scrawled with names and numbers of parents to call, he made the time to walk the building to see what was going on. How else could he “brag” on the incredible work being done by teachers, students, and volunteers?! 

“Jim Lewis went on to be a superintendent then a retired grandpa who enjoys hanging out with his family and traveling. When many former students and colleagues hear his name, they inevitably sing, “See the sun, shining in the window, time to start a new day,” the way he often started morning school announcements.”

-Teresa Cornett, Retired Teacher

At a time when management of employees is increasingly done through email—or leaders rely on formally scheduled meetings rather than impromptu and casual check-in conversations, it’s no wonder many teams don’t really feel like teams. Add the challenge of workplaces that are a combination of physical office space and remote digital workstations, it’s more important than ever that leaders develop and practice effective methods of staying engaged with their teams.  

Here are a few ways a leader can make a real impact:

  • Get up and walk around the workplace on a daily basis—and not always at the same time. Talk to people where they are doing their work, ask questions, request feedback. Don’t leave anyone out. (If team members work remotely and walk-by visits are not an option, impromptu phone calls and video conferencing can achieve a similar effect.)
  • As casual conversations arise and team members feel more comfortable engaging, take the opportunity to use those discussions to reinforce values and vision. When a leader is able to illustrate the organization’s purpose in the context of real talk about real situations, it can have a positive, crystallizing effect for individuals and the overall team.
  • If a problem is identified in the course of visiting with team members, provide support right then. Not having all of the answers or the ability to remove barriers immediately is not what is important—but showing a sense of urgency to help problem solve and not default to “I’ll look into it” is key to helping team members believe leaders have their backs.

At Milestone Leadership, our work with leaders worth following over the years has shown us the enormous value of connection and the lasting impact of making a commitment to team engagement.

Step away from your desk. Go learn something new about someone you work with—and what is challenging them. Repeat. And repeat.

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Topics: Initiative, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Values, Feedback, Boss, Company Culture, Tips, Emotional Leadership, Success, Intentionality, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Team Health, Heart, Legacy, Stories, High Performance, High Performing Teams, Powerful Influencers, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Employee Development, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication, Affirmation

Go Ahead and File That Under "Happy"

Posted by Milestone Leadership on May 23, 2019 11:45:00 AM



More years ago than I care to consider, I started my own quiet little office tradition. I can’t claim the idea as uniquely my own, but I do know the concept came to mind for me on a particularly challenging day that was made unexpectedly, 180-degrees better by a simple handwritten letter from someone I only fleetingly met once. I don’t remember what the work crisis du jour was that had me momentarily out of sorts, but I certainly do remember that note, who it was from and what it said.

The letter became the very first document to go into my Happy File. A couple of decades later, that file is pretty fat. And it has gone with me to every job since—increasingly a little rough around the edges but more loved and appreciated with the passing years.

My Happy File is filled with cards, emails, formal letters and a few sticky notes. Each of those tokens represents a person whose path crossed mine, some on a daily basis and some only once. Some of those people are no longer with us. Every message is filled with encouragement, appreciation, affirmation and thanks; every message reflects another person’s consideration towards me and an understanding that a personal sentiment or simple handwritten thanks is worth more than its weight in gold.

When self-doubt creeps in or I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, a quick look through my Happy File can be a pretty powerful thing. I believe when other people put down in words what a great job you did or how much your efforts benefited them, the intent is undeniable and indelible. Reading messages like these again after time has passed is an effective reminder of your capabilities and impact—and can help us regain a bit of lost mojo.

So, here’s the leadership lesson in all of this. YOUR words are so meaningful to others; share them. Take the time to recognize what your team members do well and put it down in writing. I would like to challenge you as a leader to kindle this tradition in your own workplace or where you volunteer—and actually give your direct reports or peers their own starter Happy File…with the first letter or card from you.

At Milestone Leadership, we know leaders worth following take the time to recognize and reinforce the positive things their team members do. Great leaders know that high functioning organizations result when people feel appreciated, acknowledged and confident. Don’t leave others to wonder if they’re making a difference—tell them.

 P.S. If you decide to take this challenge, would you please let us know how it goes?

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Topics: Growth, Initiative, Worth, Candor, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Honesty, Authenticity, Candidness, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Reflection, Values, Feedback, Boss, Company Culture, Tips, Emotional Leadership, Success, Intentionality, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Ping Pong, Truth, Team Health, Heart, Legacy, Stories, High Performance, High Performing Teams, Challenge, Mentors, Learning, Powerful Influencers, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Employee Development, Personal Development, Creating Culture, Leader Worth Following, Communication, Affirmation, Gift

The Leadership Chronicles: “If They Don’t Get It, Maybe It’s You?”

Posted by Milestone Leadership on Apr 18, 2019 9:29:21 AM


We’ve heard it so many times – employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. Leaders have an enormous influence on employee engagement and morale, but they also have a critical responsibility to make certain team members understand their jobs and how to be successful in their roles. For many companies, training and onboarding is largely conducted by a professional training staff, so often managers feel they can take a back seat for encouraging and overseeing learning and skill development. In this edition of Leadership Chronicles, we offer a real-life example relating to this topic:

“One of my first jobs out of college was in retail management for a major chain clothing store in Princeton, New Jersey. Merchandising and operations were dictated to us at the store level in great detail, and it was our job as managers to hold the staff accountable for meeting the strict standards. The job and the hours were brutal, but what I learned in my two years there has continued to serve me better than almost any professional experience I've had since.

“Our district manager was a no-nonsense man named Lon who had grown up and lived most of his life in Brooklyn, New York. While Lon didn't have much in the way of soft skills, he DID understand retail. Ultimately, his no-nonsense approach taught me a valuable leadership lesson.   

“Most of the staff in our store were high school and college students whose concern for how denim was folded took a back seat to the rest of their lives. One day I groaned to Lon on his monthly visit to our store that I thought we were going to have to fire several people because they struggled to meet our standards. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Lon:     “Have you trained them?”

Me:      “Well, they all went through our orientation.” 

Lon:     “But nothing since then?”

Me:      “I guess not. We shouldn't have to show people more than once how to do                                something.” 

Long pause. 

Lon:     “If you don't think people are meeting the expectations, you first have to make                      sure they know what the expectations are. It's your job to develop them to meet                    the expectations. If you don't like the way the staff is performing, then as the                          manager, it's your fault.” 

“He then went on to explain why it's more costly to hire new people than to develop current staff. Of course, he was right

“This lesson has come back to me in every role I've ever had. As a leader it's my job to train, develop, and work alongside my staff so they can meet the expectations of their roles, and beyond that, so they can grow into other roles outside of the organization or company. If I'm frustrated with someone, then the first questions to ask myself are, ‘What is MY role in this person's performance? Where have I faltered in my leadership?’

-Angie Albright, Executive Director, Clinton House Museum

Research tells us that information gained from training on its own without direct application and reinforcement in reality is quickly lost. What team members learn in a classroom setting or through online training is a mere starting point. When leaders identify ways to take ownership in actively reinforcing training on the job, skills begin to really take hold.

At Milestone Leadership, we understand that managers possess great deal of influence over how team members feel about their ability to perform well. Leaders worth following take the time to develop a strategy for each employee that involves regular one-on-one conversations, coaching, opportunities to apply new skills, and a plan for future learning and development.  The message to direct reports is clear: they have a leader partner who is vested in their success–and they see firsthand that their skills, knowledge and capabilities both present and future are important to the organization.

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Topics: Professional Development, Storytelling, Productivity, Growth, Candor, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Honesty, Tone at the Top, Advice, Management, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Values, Feedback, Coaching, Boss, Organization, Company Culture, Tips, Success, Intentionality, Experience, Workplace, Teams, Milestone, Team Health, Top Down Leadership, Stories, High Performance, High Performing Teams, Criticism, Learning, Powerful Influencers, Relationships, Values & Ethics, Employee Development, Personal Development, Creating Culture, clarity, Leader Worth Following, Communication

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