Leadership development is a crucial factor in employee retention. I was fortunate enough to speak with Jeffrey Davidson with Great Team LTD on the subject.
Jeffrey Davidson has been exploring the boundaries of world-class teams for over 20 years. As a recognized expert in strengthening leaders and building teams, he has worked with 100s of teams, taught thousands of employees, and consulted with multiple Fortune 100 corporations.
By the age of 35, Jeffrey had been both director at a start-up and president of a multi-million dollar sales organization. Despite his reading, the teaching, and different roles he wasn’t a good leader. None of his teams came close to reaching their potential. In frustration, he gave up on management and became a consultant.
Real leadership began when a client asked Jeffrey to build a team of analysts. He started by hiring good people. And keeping an unrelenting focus on learning and improvement. Within 2 years the team was the envy of the organization.
Roy Barker: Welcome everybody to episode number three of the Business of Business podcast, I’m your host Roy Barker.
As everyone knows, a big passion of mine is employee retention. I don’t think a lot of business owners and companies understand that it has a huge impact on the bottom line, but also on your clients, potential clients, and also the employees that are left behind [00:00:30] when employees leave. Two components of a great retention strategy are both company culture and engaging employees. Today, I have asked Jeffrey Davidson with Great Teams Limited to come on and talk to us about building leadership, cultivating leadership, the importance of team building, and some strategies of how to do that.
Jeffrey, appreciate you being [00:01:00] here. Could you just tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into this?
Jeffrey D.: Well, I was born up north in Chicago. No, no, no, that’s really not the background you wanted. Growing up, I had a fascination with leadership. I read Machiavelli as a teenager.
Roy Barker: Oh wow.
Jeffrey D.: I studied leadership in college, and then I even taught a college class. The Dean of Students and I co-taught a class [00:01:30] on leadership. It was kind of fascination for me.
Then along the way, I ended up becoming the president of a company in my early 30’s. It was a multimillion dollar sales company, and I was all proud of myself, and I was really an absentee leader. I had read and studied, but I didn’t know what to do. There’s a difference between reading a book and actually leading people, so I gave up on [00:02:00] the whole thing, thinking something is not working, and I went into consulting.
I learned a whole bunch, but I had a client that said, “Hey, can you help me build a team of analysts?” Eventually, I became an employee and I directed this team. Eventually build it from a team of one person on to a team of 21 or 22 over two years. It ended up being the best team in the whole company, and I was proud to say it, and I was proud of my team. [00:02:30] They taught me how to be a leader.
That joy I felt on that team was just outstanding, and our interactions in our group, and our achievements, and our accomplishments, and our camaraderie. You know, it’s something that I then went about studying, to figure out how to share it with others, because there’s such a big difference from having an organization that’s not quite right, [00:03:00] whether you have an absentee leader or a micromanager or whatever kind of leader there is today, to doing a few subtle shifts, and just being the kind of leader that builds a great team.
I know your passion is engagement and retention, and oh my gosh, it’s such a difference! Because you’ve got people you like to work with, and you’re doing work that makes a difference. If you’re having fun, you don’t [00:03:30] wanna leave your job.
Roy Barker: Right, right. I think that the importance of this is that as a leader or maybe not even as a leader, as the boss of a company I can try to mandate engagement, and the culture, but unless I actually get involved and lead that process, it really doesn’t work. I think that these [00:04:00] initiatives have to start from the top, there has to be that level engagement by the leadership, and frankly a big component, like you said, is listening. Listening to your people.
Every team is different, and so what are some of the key things that you learned from your team? As you figured out you had a great team and a great situation, what are some things that you learned from that?
Jeffrey D.: Well, [00:04:30] I learned that leadership doesn’t have to be near as hard as we often make it. That a big part of it is just getting to know your people, and showing that you care about them. There comes a summary, I don’t say this very often to many people, but that’s the summary of everything I do when I am helping teams become great. It is really I’m helping [00:05:00] the leader learn about their people, and then show people they care, because when you show someone you care about them, you learn about their past. You learn about their interests. You say, “Here’s how I can help you.” If they take a step outside the line you say, “Oops, that looked like a misstep. What can we do to get you back inside the lines?” Just showing someone you care about them.
It’s not really much different than that. We do it at home, we do it with friends, we do it with family, but for some reason [00:05:30] at work we forget about it.
Roy Barker: Right, right, and that’s something-
Jeffrey D.: That’s my goal is to bring it back.
Roy Barker: Yes. Yes, and I think that’s important. One thing I talk about in recognition is a lot of companies, when you talk about recognition you get pushback because they think it’s gonna cost them a ton of money. My theory has been that sometimes all it takes is maybe, I like to use the proverbial cupcake, or a $10 gift certificate, and really [00:06:00] what I think it is as well is getting out from behind your office door, from behind your computer screen, and just patting people on the back. Because, and I’ve fallen into this trap, I have to admit, but we don’t hesitate to run out and find the person who has made a misstep to try to correct it, but are we as eager to run out and pat them on the back to say, “Great job, thank you [00:06:30] for being here”?
Jeffrey D.: You know, I am totally integrating with you. I’m a big believer that people are not identical. For me personally, a $10 gift card is great, but do you know what I really want, what I love when I’m an employee some place? I just want you to call me in front of the group and say, “Jeffrey did a great job. Let’s all give him a round of applause for doing [00:07:00] ABC.” Then talk about what I did. That kind of feeds me.
Roy Barker: Right.
Jeffrey D.: My beautiful bride, she actually would hate that same thing. She just wants you to have an honest conversation with her and to her, one on one, thank you so much. Other people, they totally just want a little of that recognition of a gift card or a cupcake. If it was huge, boy, saying, “Here’s a gift card for you and the family to go out to dinner,” [00:07:30] even to Outback, people are like, “Wow, that’s amazing, they’re taking care of my family.” But you gotta get to know your people. It doesn’t take a huge budget, but it does take a little bit of time and effort.
Roy Barker: Right, right. What do you think about interaction outside the walls of a company? Prior to my consulting I was a construction manager with AT&T, [00:08:00] and one thing that I strived to do was not only to have some cookouts and meals during work time, but maybe about once a quarter we always planned an off site event. It wasn’t mandatory, you could come if you wanted to, but we always had a great turnout, whether it was a cookout at our house or whether we went out to a restaurant. Just something to get out, and I found it to be amazing what you can learn about people, and [00:08:30] how they will open up when you have time to sit and talk, and you’re not in the hustle and bustle of the day.
Jeffrey D.: You know, I love that, and I’ve seen a bunch of things that I like doing that. Sometimes it is, let’s just say you go out to lunch with your staff members like once a quarter. Like a different staff member each time, or once a year even, or doing breakfast. I know some groups who go out for a drink afterwards. [00:09:00] When you talk about having a barbecue or people coming over, I love that idea, but I also wanna say, you gotta know what your people like.
I was reading this story just recently about this boss who, he was kind of high fluting, he was fancy. He got tickets for the opera to people. Well, his staff hated the opera.
Roy Barker: Right, right.
Jeffrey D.: Then he said, “Oh, well, why don’t we do this week long renewing, [00:09:30] team building thing?” Well, his team hated that because they’re now missing their families. He didn’t understand how come he couldn’t connect with these people, and finally one of these people, one of his trusted talents said, “I see what you’re doing, but it’s just going all wrong.”
He’s like, “What do I do?” He’s like, “Well, why don’t you do something they wanna do?” He ended up getting them, everyone in the group, tickets to a wrestling match that was coming to down. Everyone showed up, everyone had a great time, and this guy who [00:10:00] thought, “Well, opera guy, I’m never gonna like it,” he ended up having a good time, but also he learned about his people, and they learned that he wasn’t just a stuffed shirt.
I love what you’re saying, just remember to do what they want, not just what you want.
Roy Barker: Exactly, and I think that leads into a good point about as a boss, as a leader sometimes we think that we have to have all of the answers, but that communication is important, and asking questions, [00:10:30] and really trying to get to know people is not a weak spot. That’s one thing I have found out with some companies that I’ve worked with with high rates of turnover, they may say, “Oh, well, Joe Smith left.” I would say, “Well, who was Joe Smith?” “Well, I don’t know, I would have to pull his employee jacket and see.” This was a small company, [00:11:00] so they should have had intimate knowledge of all their employees. The fact was they didn’t. They didn’t take the time to ask these questions, to even learn who this person was.
How important do you feel that I guess making yourself human, kind of letting your guard down as the boss or as the leader. There are times that we do have to lead, I don’t wanna minimize that.
Jeffrey D.: No, no, no. It’s [00:11:30] not about showing every fall, but it is about saying, “We’re human.” I know that some people are gonna listen to what we’ve said so far, and they’re gonna say, “Roy and Jeff were talking, and I’m supposed to know everything about your personal life.” That’s not actually what I mean. I think you should know if they have a family. I think you should know if they have kids. I think you should know, but I don’t think you necessarily need to memorize every kid’s name, and their last [00:12:00] grade, and what sports they’re in.
You should just show enough interest to show that you care about someone, that you know some of the basics. And, there’s an and in here, I think you need to know something about them professionally. In other words, what did you do before? How do you think this fits in? Where do you wanna go next? I think that’s minimum, as a person who leads people because I need [00:12:30] to know how you want to use this job to better yourself, to better your career, to better your profession, so that I can say, “Here’s the chance for you to help reach your goal.”
If you can do this, and you know more about their personal lives, I think that’s great, but that’s an extra. I think the minimum is knowing them, knowing a touch about their personal lives and personal history, but really understanding [00:13:00] where what they do today fits into their own work-life picture. We all do things, we’ve changed jobs, we’ve changed companies, we’ve often changed careers. What skills do you bring to this? What skills do you wanna add? What do you like? What do you wanna do more of? If you know things as a boss, leader, supervisor, whatever your title is, [00:13:30] and you do a little bit to help your people go from where they are to reaching any part of those goals, they will appreciate you, they will work harder for you, they will be more engaged, and you will have a better team.
Roy Barker: Correct, correct. I think that also goes to challenging employees, not in a bad way but in a good way, that maybe there’s [00:14:00] not a promotion open right at this moment, and you have good people on your team. If you know their interest and what their skillsets are, it makes it a lot easier to assign special projects, to give them a little bit more freedom to express themselves through these skills, and feel like they’re really adding value to the company.
Jeffrey D.: Oh, I’m with you. I’m with [00:14:30] you. Engagement isn’t just something employees magically do because you decide to bring in ice cream once a month, or because you’re like, “Oh, I’m gonna be more like Google, and put a bunch of free sodas in the fridge.” That’s not really engaging them, that’s a nice perk, but that doesn’t mean people like their job any more. Engagement starts when you start talking to people.
Roy Barker: Correct, correct. Yes. [00:15:00] I believe what you say, and I’m all about the perks, the free sodas, the ping pong tables and all that, but sometimes that’s just fluff if we are still not communicating, asking questions, and basically building relationships. I think that’s something that really runs through this is that in order to retain people, employees, you need to build some sort of relationship, and have a personal relationship [00:15:30] with them where you can actually talk and communicate in person, not just behind a keyboard. Which I find that so often these days, and we’re busy. Everybody’s busy, but we gotta get out from behind the text and the computer, and actually talk to people.
Jeffrey D.: No, I agree. When you’re behind the keyboard, you run the danger of being an absentee leader. [00:16:00] You’re just a seat that they walk by your office, and you’re too busy even to be sitting in your seat. Talk to people.
Roy Barker: Right, right. That kind of gets us to the appraisals, and typically everybody does a one year appraisal, and the whole year goes by, and you think, “Oh my gosh, I’m really knocking it out of the park, I’m doing this and doing that.” Everything’s rocking along, and then you get [00:16:30] either a meets expectations or below expectations, and you don’t understand why. Talk about the importance of this engagement, conversations as we go through the whole entire year.
Jeffrey D.: You can’t see me the way we’re talking, I am shaking my head in a combination of sadness, sorrow, disgust. You [00:17:00] know, my problem with the annual performance review, and I understand you need to do it, but if that’s all you’re doing it’s like saying, “I’m gonna go spend thousands of dollars to go find the perfect tree.” I mention you spend thousands of dollars to find that perfect tree for your front yard, and then you put the tree through a training program, and you water it for a couple of weeks. You [00:17:30] say, “This tree looks so perfect, I’m gonna build a box around it, and once a year I’m gonna open up the box so I can tell the tree how much I love it, and how good it’s doing.”
If you really did that to a tree in your front yard, a year later when you opened the box, the tree would be dead.
Roy Barker: Right, right. That’s a great analogy.
Jeffrey D.: If you only tell your people how they’re doing once a year, you’re killing them. It’s like you locked them in the closet and said, “Hey, you’re doing such a good job, that here’s some goals. I’m gonna lock you in [00:18:00] the closet, and I’ll talk to you in a year and see how you do.” That’s crazy talk. No one should be doing that.
This gets back to engagement in conversation. [inaudible 00:18:12] because it’s on the same topic, and that is people are dying to know. When people go to their jobs, in my mind, I’ve got a bunch of questions in my head that I don’t always say. I’ve heard it’s true for every team member. One of the questions that people ask [00:18:30] themselves is, how am I doing? I think I’m doing great, I’m trying to do great, but how am I doing?
People wake up in the morning, and they want to do a good job. They look in the mirror as they’re getting ready and say, “I’m gonna have a good day at work today.” No one wakes up thinking, “I’m gonna be a jerk.” No one wakes up thinking, “I’m gonna knock something over, and make something crash, and ruin something.” They all think, “I’m gonna have a good [00:19:00] day.”
They don’t know how to judge, and it’s the leader’s job to say, “You know what? I believe that your intentions were good, and here’s something you did that was good, and I think here’s a way that you can make it even better. Here’s something good, I think if you tweaked it a little bit, you could be a superstar.” When I’ve had bosses like that, I stand up strong, I stand up proud, and I love that [00:19:30] relationship, because my boss is honest with me, so that’s great.
To be honest, if you’re a leader, sometimes people aren’t doing what you want. You can say, “Yeah, I think your intentions were good, but you missed the mark. Let’s look at how we can tweak this so that you meet my expectations, so that you satisfy the customer, so that you delight the team,” or whatever you say. [00:20:00] How do we take your expectations and really help them do as good as they wanna do? Whether they’re hitting the mark and could get better, or they’re missing the mark and they need to refocus. What should they build upon? Where should they refocus?
This should not be an annual conversation. If you’ve got a new employee, if someone’s just joined your team, in the first two weeks you should be saying this a couple times a day. In the first couple [00:20:30] months, you should be doing it daily. In the first quarter, maybe you can get down to once a week. I don’t know your environment, maybe that’s too long, but you should never be waiting months or a year to be telling people, “Hey, you mean well, and here’s how you can get better,” or, “Hey, you mean well, this is the mark, here’s where you should refocus.”
That needs to be a part of your regular conversation. I so strongly believe [00:21:00] that when leaders have these conversations, their people become engaged with the work, become engaged with the meaning of their job, and do a better job.
Roy Barker: Right, right. Yeah, and the other part I think is that as we communicate more often and as we give the pats on the back, and reassure employees, we build this trust so that when it does come time to maybe deliver some bad news or try to [00:21:30] change the outcome of an employee’s actions, it makes that conversation much easier instead of just an employee always feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I never see this guy unless he’s fixing to come out here, and come down on me.”
Then another part to that is also to ask questions, to understand if something’s not going correctly, why is it? A great example [00:22:00] I had recently was there was an employee that was underperforming. He had heavy interaction with somebody else in a different department. The guy that he was used to talking to had left the company, a new guy came in. There was a disconnect, the other guy trying to get up to speed, and it was really impacting this other employee’s job, but he didn’t feel like he wanted to be a tattle tale, so he [00:22:30] kept it to himself and tried to work it out.
Luckily, the manager went out and tried to engage him and ask him, “Is there some things going on?” All this came to light. It wasn’t this employee’s fault, but it was reflecting badly on him. That’s another thing I feel we have to be careful is jumping to conclusions and to judgments before we get the input from what the real situation is, because sometimes [00:23:00] it could just be processes that need to be tweaked and changed as companies evolve.
Jeffrey D.: There’s no doubt. I’ve already said I believe most people wake up, and their intention is to do a good job. I firmly believe that most often the problem with people doing a good job is that they don’t have the right tools, or the processes get in the way, or there’s some system that’s a complication, or [00:23:30] some red tape somewhere, or they have a dependency on someone else either inside or outside of the company, or they don’t even know what they’re supposed to be doing sometimes.
Roy Barker: Right, right.
Jeffrey D.: All these things add up to get in the way of someone doing a good job.
Roy Barker: Correct. What would you say are the hardest parts of building a great team, and maybe a couple tips on how leaders can get past these hurdles?
Jeffrey D.: [00:24:00] When building a good team or building a great team, one of the hardest parts. That’s a good question. I think that there’s a change in mindset if you’re not used to team building. Before you’re a team builder, you end up working with people, [00:24:30] and it’s all based on your individual contribution. That all sounds good, but that doesn’t help you build a team, it helps you do the job by yourself.
You have to come to realize that it’s not just about you, it’s about the team. You need to have all of them become great contributors. I think that that’s probably the biggest challenge is leaders think they can do it all, and [00:25:00] if they’ve got a slow team member, well they’re just gonna put up with them until something works itself out. No, as a leader you’ve gotta step in there, get to know them, and then help guide them to the place they need to be.
Roy Barker: Right, right, and that’s something that I think a lot of leaders find it hard to do, is to have those tough conversations, and work with employees. What I have found is that [00:25:30] a lot of times that’s really all it needs, is just a small conversation, trying to give them either some tools or advice on what could be changed, and then like you said, I don’t know anybody that comes in and says, “I really wanna do a terrible job and be a bad employee today.” I think everybody comes in and tries. I think that they get frustrated because they don’t get the feedback, maybe they don’t have the tools that they need.
As a leader I think that’s part of [00:26:00] our task is to develop talent, and obviously sometimes people are thrust into our groups. At larger companies we don’t have a lot of say who we get, but obviously they had some skills to find their way into our group, so trying to manage that, to develop that. Sometimes even within groups you find somebody has a strong skillset in one part. Maybe it’s [00:26:30] just tweaking their job or moving them over to a little bit different position where they can excel, which all gets back to I think the underlying theme is the communication, and the asking questions, the getting to know people, building these relationships so you understand how they work, what they do best. Very important.
Jeffrey D.: Yes. It is, and I could say that there’s unsaid in this conversation, and that is you need to have clear expectations for what [00:27:00] your people should be doing. I talk with leaders all the time and they’ll say, “Oh, I am upset with Cassandra because she’s not doing this.” I’ll say, “Well, when was the last time you explained this to Cassandra?” The answer is, “Well, she just knows.” I’m like, “How?” “Well, we’ve been doing this forever.” “Well, she’s been a member for three months. Who would have told them?” “Well, she should [00:27:30] just know.”
Roy Barker: Right, exactly.
Jeffrey D.: Cassandra’s never gonna succeed!
Roy Barker: Exactly, yes, and that’s another thing too is with these clear expectations, is having a good job description written down, and have it evolve. Some of these jobs that were created 20 years ago, some of the expectations have changed, but yet we haven’t updated our documentation and we haven’t communicated [00:28:00] that to employees as things evolve. Here again we get back to communicating, and making sure that we’re clear on expectations.
Jeffrey D.: It really is. If you’re clear on expectations, you’re gonna find that some of your other problems go away. When someone doesn’t need them, and you have good communication, you can find out that there was a misunderstanding about it. Just because you think something is understood doesn’t mean [00:28:30] someone else really understood it.
I was having dinner with my father-in-law the other day, and he didn’t have in his hearing aids. Oh my gosh, we would make a statement about someone weeping, and he’s like, “Who’s gone to sleep?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” It’s kind of funny when it’s at the dinner table with family or friends, but this happens at work, and we don’t realize that people heard something different than what we said. [00:29:00] Having this clarity is so vital.
Roy Barker: Right, and sometimes it’s even good to have that other person repeat. This is something that I’ve talked to groups about in the past as well is because I have a vision of something in my mind, even if you hear the statement, and hear the words that I’m saying very clearly, it can draw a whole different picture in your mind. [00:29:30] That doesn’t mean that one’s right and one’s wrong, it just means that we interpret data or we interpret a situation a little bit differently. Having the receiver of a conversation, of an important, critical conversation repeat back what they think that you said, and what direction that they think you want to go.
That can also be helpful instead of just, hate to say it gruff like this, but instead of just barking orders [00:30:00] at somebody and saying, “Do this, do that, this is the vision and where we wanna go.” It’s to take the time to have a true conversation, to make sure that everybody is on the same page. I guess my example, I’m not an artist. Creativity is not really my thing, I’m more of a spreadsheet and numbers type guy. I had gone to one of these painting classes where the instructor stands up at the front [00:30:30] of the room, and she paints the picture, and kind of walks you through the steps. Use this brush, this color.
There were 25 or 30 people in this room. Now, we were all watching the same instructor, we’re all getting the same instructions, but there were 25 or 30 different pictures that came out of that. It’s not that one was right and one was wrong, it was different interpretations of what she said and what she was doing. For me, that translated to business [00:31:00] as well. We can learn a lot from that is that everybody interprets things so much differently. We have to be clear.
Here again, this isn’t a right or a wrong, it’s just we need to make sure that we are on the same path together.
Jeffrey D.: Oh you’re right. Imagine I’m sitting, talking to three of my staff members, and I say, “Here’s the shape our future’s gonna be next year.” One person heard the word shape and thought [00:31:30] of a circle, and one person heard the word shape and thought of a square, and one person heard the word shape and thought of a triangle. Well, I say shape, and they each picture something different.
You can talk about our vision for the future is we’re gonna double our sales. Well, one person thinks that means you’re gonna double the staff. One person thinks that means you’re gonna hire a sales person. One person thinks you’re gonna automate everything and [00:32:00] fire everybody.
Roy Barker: Right, right. Correct, correct.
Jeffrey D.: You need to get these conversations to get it all out, because without the conversation, the clarity plummets, the understanding plummets, and then we get frustrated. Like, “How could you not know? I said here’s the shape of the future.” Everyone else is like, “Well, I’m working towards the shape. It’s not my fault my teammate’s doing something wrong.”
Roy Barker: Right, right. Well Jeffrey, it’s been great talking to you today. I wanna try to [00:32:30] wrap up. If you wouldn’t mind, just tell the audience how that they can get a hold of you, and you can talk to them further about leadership and team building.
Jeffrey D.: Sure. Happy to do that. First, I wanna say thank you for having me on. I really appreciated your questions, good conversation.
For those people who wanna learn more about building up great teams, I do something that’s just for you, the podcast listener if you [00:33:00] go to my website. I’ve got a little hidden page, and it’s GreatTeamsLtd.com/more. Great Teams Limited, the abbreviation is Ltd. GreatTeamsLtd.com/more.
What I have there is just a couple quick downloads that leaders can use to run some exercises with their teams. To double check and make sure that people have the same understanding, [00:33:30] to learn a little bit more about their teammates so they can work together better, and to give them a chance to practice giving some feedback to each other. Not a bad word, just telling people what they can build upon and where they can refocus.
How do we use these ideas? To help grow our teams. GreatTeamsLtd.com/more will give you a few freebies for you, the podcast listener. If you wanna reach [00:34:00] out more, click on the contact page, send me an email, and we’ll start a conversation.
Roy Barker: That’s great, Jeffrey. I appreciate you having that download for them, and I’ll be sure to include that in the show notes. Thank you again for being a great guest, it was a great conversation, learned a lot, and hope to have you back in the very near future.
Jeffrey D.: Well Roy, it was a pleasure talking to you, I look forward to our next conversation.