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Monday, August 29, 2016

Deep Thoughts

I’ve known Sam Deep for many years. He’s written a number of books. Consulted for many well known companies. Even has started his own leadership academy. You can find out more at

In his own words: Sam Deep’s value proposition to his clients is that their leaders will become beacons of integrity, engagement, accountability, strategic thinking, and success.

This week’s blog is a recent interview with Sam.

ME: Sam…for those who are not familiar with your work, describe how you help business leaders.

SD: My mission is to take pain out of the lives of my clients. Three common sources of the agony they report are (1) departments working at cross-purposes, (2) an absence of accountability among their employees, and (3) the pressures from above to do more with less. Leadership needn’t be as painful as it is for so many business leaders. The focus of my coaching and the curriculum of the Sam Deep Leadership Academy is to prescribe proven cures for what ails them, their teams, and their organizations.

ME: You’ve written several books. Summarize ones you feel are the most practical for people facing challenges on the job each day and how they help.

SD: Someone once said this about the books: “All you do is tell people to put up an umbrella when it rains.” He was right! The most helpful truths are simple ones. I recall a TV talk show interview for the bestseller Smart Moves: 140 Checklists to Bring Out the Best from You and Your Team. The host asked, “Sam, with over 1600 tips in those 140 checklists, how do readers find the most important one? Is there a tip more valuable than the rest?” My response was, “There is: know your audience⎯whether leading or following, speaking or listening, selling or buying.”

ME: Since you’ve been in the leadership development business for decades, what changes are you now seeing in the workforce issues leaders face?

SD: Successful leaders do two things: they win people’s hearts (engagement) and they hold their feet to the fire (accountability). Both appear to have become more difficult since my first consulting engagement in 1969, and for different reasons. Engagement is tougher to achieve as workers become more transient and as companies show less reluctance to summarily shed them in tough times. Accountability is in shorter supply as our society grows more politically correct and leaders cooperate by tolerating previously unacceptable behavior.

ME: How has the technology of social media, email, and mobile use made communication better…and perhaps worse in some ways?

SD: Charles Dickens answered this question back in the middle of the 19th Century when he said, “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” Email and texting are wondrous ways to transmit plans, budgets, and schedules. But they expunge the “soul” of interpersonal communication that relies on some degree of emotion, desire, or intent for its success⎯and most of it does. As Dickens foresaw, our expressive voices and animated body language are nowhere to be found in electric communication.

ME: What assessments do you make of the millennials coming up in the workplace?

SD: We should take care not to attribute the characteristics of a broad group to any individual. Some millennials behave more like baby boomers and vice versa. That said, these are the distinguishing attributes of under-30s that my clients have shared: creative with little patience for plodding; energetic, but with little desire to sacrifice personal time for overtime; a strong sense of entitlement resulting from the “you deserve the best” culture in which they’ve been bred. Perhaps their most positive impact on the workplace is that they pressure organizations to give them the great leadership they should have been giving all employees before millennials ever appeared on the scene.

ME: Who are the people you set forth as role models for leadership in either the for profit or non profit environments?

SD: I’ve had the pleasure to work with several great leaders. Three who come to mind are Tom Rittenhouse, former CEO of GS1US; Tony Buzzelli, retired Senior Partner at Deloitte; and Ray Betler the current CEO of Wabtec. They’ve each demonstrated the ability to involve their people through servant leadership while holding them strictly answerable for results. A leader who once graced the international scene and who was a superb exemplar of that blend of engagement and accountability is General Norman Schwarzkopf. That’s why his troops called him “teddy bear” and “stormin’ Norman.”

ME: If you were Donald Trump’s leadership consultant, what might we hear you telling him? And…Hillary?

SD: Leadership is the same whether practiced on the campaign trail, in the Oval Office, or in a mom and pop shop. Create a distinct and inspiring vision for your team. Maintain a positive, hopeful, and optimistic outlook. Listen to your people and welcome their ideas. Never make a statement, when a question will get better results. Keep your people informed. Be clear, specific, and forthcoming with your expectations. Show your appreciation for hard, smart, and value-added work—constructively criticize the opposite. Keep disruptive emotions and impulse in check. Set a correct example; hold yourself to the highest ethical standards. Remain humble. Lead like Jesus!

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Quitters for a Reason

One of the more difficult and often painful challenges of management is employee turnover. It is an expensive problem in terms of both time and resources. Doing multiple job interviews, paperwork, perhaps paying search firms, etc., all take away from the process of moving forward.

It’s particularly painful when the person leaving is a more valued employee. Certainly no one is irreplaceable and we must assume a value for every individual. But some are more difficult to replace than others. When the fit seemed so good, why does this happen?

Over my career, I’ve left several jobs and had a few leave me. Most often, my next move came because of a new opportunity that presented itself. In a couple of cases where I chose to move on, greater effort by an employer to keep me “engaged” might have made a difference.

When in a management role, I’ve faced the frustration of good team members moving on. Discounting the “this job wasn’t the right fit” departures, pursuing new or better opportunities were usually the reason. Let’s face it…good talent in any position is likely to draw other interested parties. And better opportunities.

All that being said, I blogged last week about the remarkable “engagement” of people involved both at Willow Creek Church and the Willow Creek Association. This readily surfaced during interviews I conducted with team members while covering the recent Global Leadership Summit. These people love their work…and the organization that employs them.

Employee turnover through lack of engagement should cause any serious employer pause to consider solutions. How big is the problem? Studies have shown that around 70% of U.S. workers regret facing a new workday. Worldwide it’s calculated at 87%. These are primarily the people not engaged in what they do.

Repeating this important definition: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.”

The attention I would focus on today is losing employees who WANT to be engaged and that leave unnecessarily. The ones who really cost a company. And what to do about it.

A recent Linked In blog gives some good input on this. Titled, “Before They Quit, They Quit,” it’s written by Ryan Houmand, cofounder of Querke and the author of A Passion for Monday (

Houmand self assesses his effectiveness at keeping his employees engaged pretty highly. He provided evidence of 20 years in a large corporation with terrific team results. And there was something else: people tended to gravitate to his teams. As he says, “I have a talent to help people reach their potential.”

Now a consultant, Ryan Houmand shares the story of a talented employee who recently left a firm he advises. This person had been struggling at work and, apparently, had been giving signs. The employee started doing only the minimum. There were diminished results. He became…disengaged. Before he quit…he quit. Perhaps, unnecessarily so.

According to Houmand, “studies of employee engagement tell us…that as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement is attributable to the employees’ direct manager.” His followup to this statistic is most troublesome in observing that most managers don’t know what engagement is and neither do most organizations!

For companies and managers who do focus on employee engagement, Ryan claims “productivity, profitability, client satisfaction, safety, and quality are positively impacted.” You’d think that’s enough to grab some white collars and call attention to this!

So what to do? Houmand offers two starting points. The first is for managers to rearrange their time commitments. He’s found most managers spend a majority of their work time on projects versus people. How about reversing that? And moving more toward coaching people and less time on projects.

His second recommendation is to “discover your employees’ talents and put them to use every day.” The use of assessment tools such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder was one idea. There are plenty of those kind of resources available.

While I like Houmand’s strategies to move forward, I would add a few thoughts to his. The reason many managers focus more on projects stems from company demands and comfort zones. A lot of management people are not that interested or effective at coaching. Plus, the demands put on them might require this attention.

A second critical aspect is how a company and management truly view people. Are employees only a means to an end? Or are they valuable souls whose worth and meaning on this earth are prized a lot? High turnover rates may send a strong warning signal that should be evaluated.

Do we “push people forward” just to reach company goals? Or are we helping people reach their potential in a way that is meaningful to them? Employees detect when there is no real sense of “organizational love.” And it’s often costly.

Using more modern language, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words to people about their value this way: “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” (Matthew 10:29-31, MSG)

People love feeling valued and appreciated. When they truly sense it in their work, they engage.

It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Global Leadership Engagement

Last Thursday and Friday I had the opportunity to be on site at Willow Creek Community Church during the Global Leadership Summit (GLS). I find the Summit unparalleled in generating highly inspirational talks, leadership coaching, and insightful interviews with high profile game changers in both the for profit and non profit arenas. Speakers include several people in what we would call Christian ministry.

The audience at Willow Creek was separated into three different rooms. The largest group was in the main church sanctuary. It seats a few thousand. In two other rooms—both large—people view the Summit on video monitors. But that’s just the beginning. Several hundred satellite sites around the US carried the live broadcast. Within the next several months, many international locations will feature their own presentations of the Summit—some with full translations. When all the numbers are totaled, over 300,000 people will benefit by this conference!

To be clear, I was not there to attend the GLS. My role was to conduct sixteen interviews in two days for my talk show. Most of my interviews were somehow connected to the Wlllow Creek team—either the church or their partner ministry, the Willow Creek Association (WCA). A few of my interviews were people who were attending the Summit including international guests.

With that being said, I heard only a few segments of the actual Summit program—none of them in their entirety. I heard many conversations coming out of those sessions and the buzz created around some innovative thought processes that create energy and motivation for many. Well known communicators such as Melinda Gates, John Maxwell, former Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mullally, Erin Meyer, and Patrick Lencioni were big hits. One of my personal favorites, Bill Hybels, always strikes gold.

There is something about being around creative, hard charging, forward thinking people that gives life to the human spirit. Being around the WCA team, one senses the clear view of purpose that these people possess. I could name their names but collectively they have a fusion of enthusiasm for their mission. It’s fun to be around them. In a sentence, these Willow Creek team members are highly engaged.

It is that word where I put my focus today. There is ample material to be read on employee engagement. One basic definition goes like this: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.”

An excellent article along this line appeared in 2012 on and is written by Kevin Kruse, author of the book Employee Engagement 2.0. His article is titled, appropriately, “What Is Employee Engagement?” It’s easy to find online.

I’ve written about this subject before, usually around the theme of how many people in the workplace are not fully engaged in their work. The number is startlingly high. As Kruse points out, employee engagement does not mean employee happiness. Nor does it mean employee satisfaction. This might seem counterintuitive to the subject, but it is not.

Developing a work team that is engaged is management art. It involves getting team members to understand the why of what they do and that it makes a difference. But there is also a component of true people management that generates a belief that each employee matters. It’s why Willow Creek people are so aware of their common purpose. And they see caring all throughout the organization. It’s in the DNA.

Two challenges exist in building an engaged workplace culture. First, getting it established. That alone is a course to be studied. But a secondary and equally important consideration is that engagement can slip. Vision can fade or drift. Passion can diminish.

I felt that was core to what many appreciate about the Global Leadership Summit experience. They come expecting to be revitalized. And they are. In big doses. Bill Hybels spoke on this himself in his opening talk.

One way leaders have shown they care about their team advancing in engagement is to get them to the GLS. One man from South Africa paid “full freight” for some of his team to attend the GLS in Chicago! Wow.

At lunch on Thursday, I ran into a chiropractor who has a radio program on AM1160, Dr. Jeremy Barone. He had in his company an employee he brought with him to the Summit, and paid her fare. He said his conviction is to invest in good people. Like…keeping them engaged. Bravo!

There is much in the church we can learn about this. And particularly we should consider how to apply this to those full time servants on a church staff. They are most worthy of our abiding attention.

Regardless of the kind of work you do, it would be wise to evaluate your own engagement. Then, determine how to take some steps to elevate it. A payoff is definitely there.

The disciples of Jesus of Nazareth were captivated by His message and His love for people. Even after others turned away after difficult messages, the disciples stayed loyal. As the apostle Peter said to Jesus, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69, MSG)

Engagement. Loyalty. Commitment. You could build a team around that. One that might change the world!

P.S.  Next week’s blog: where disengagement shows up. And why.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

“Scumbag Baby Boomer”... Really?

Ageism. Somehow I missed that “discrimination” category. I must have been napping.

Type the word in Google and up pops the definition: prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person's age. Why ageism even has its own Wikipedia entry! And my, what I learned there!

A small sampling: “Ageism in common parlance and age studies usually refers to negative discriminatory practices against old people, people in their middle years, teenagers, and children. There are several forms of age-related bias: Adultism…Jeunism…Adultocracy being just a few.

I was drawn to look into this when seeing the Washington Post story, “Baby Boomers are Taking on Ageism — and Losing”.

My blog this week is a follow up to my last post on older folks who can’t find jobs even though they want to work. The WaPo story features a Chicagoan named Dale Kleber who left his job as a Chief Executive at a dairy trade organization. As a skilled attorney, he thought he would have NO trouble finding work. He was wrong.

One company to which he applied posted in their ad that a candidate should have a “maximum of seven years legal experience.” Dale applied — even though his experience was well beyond seven years. He was passed over. He’s filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Dale claims, “They expressed concerns with an older person being less likely to take supervision from someone that’s younger than they are.” Probably not a good thing to say.

What the graying citizens are finding is a predisposition to youthful “energy” and “innovation” found in younger workers. Some of that can be understood. Depending on the products or services being marketed, a certain kind of connectivity in relating to customers might prove most effective.

But it was quite a surprise to me to know that there are internet memes being circulated such as “Scumbag Baby Boomer” and “Old Economy Steve.” Several of these “lambast boomers for transgressions from failing to adopt technology to causing the wars and recessions that millennials have weathered.” And as the Post adds, this channels “resentment against an entire category of people in ways that might not be tolerated if they were members of another protected class.”

It’s noted that ageism is not a modern phenomenon. Globally, other cultures have seen this for centuries where youth is prized over wisdom. One study from 2013 revealed East Asian countries’ attitudes were worse than Western countries toward seniors. This has resulted in an increase of suicide rates in China, South Korea, and Taiwan!

The wake up call (for us napping seniors) can most readily be detected in one paragraph from the WaPo story. Absorb this…

“In a 2015 survey by the Harris Poll…65 percent of boomers rated themselves as being the ‘best problem-solvers/troubleshooters,’ and only 5 percent of millennials agreed. Fifty-four percent of millennials thought boomers were the ‘biggest roadblocks.’ Sometimes these perceptions come straight from the top: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once said ‘young people are just smarter.’”

One researcher at New York University’s Stern School of Business, even said “younger people tend to resent it when older workers don’t ‘get out of the way’ and retire.”

Enough already!

Of course, some seniors will pursue such things as an EEOC filing (as Kleber did) in clear cases where they feel they’ve been wronged. There are legal protections derived from such legislation as The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. But who wants to age fighting legal battles?

I’ve been thinking of another idea. Call it “Seniors United” or “Fossil Fuel” if you will. It includes the banding together of unemployed, but very willing and able, older adults who want to work. It could be organized both regionally and nationally.

You enter the program through aptitude and skill analysis. There are innovator teams to generate new product and service ideas. Development teams to determine how best to create a marketable product or service. Marketing teams strategize how to engage with the end user. Finance teams work on budgets and cost analysis. Revenue generating teams look at all reasonable ways of getting the necessary capital. And a workforce is established by skilled, experienced producers.

In other words, this age- and experience-rich group creates their own business development world. Imagine a large complex where all the employees are over 50! Experience and wisdom would be rampant!

I’m confident there’s enough investment capital from the senior population to make such an idea happen. As with any enterprise, there are certainly challenges in creating a venture with a more aging workforce. But it certainly beats sitting around and complaining about the circumstances. Or growling at the quotes from some smart aleck technology entrepreneurs!

The Bible offers clear teaching about respecting parents and the older crowd. Here’s an example: “Show respect to the elderly, and honor older people. In this way you show respect for your God. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32, God’s Word Translation)

As author May Sarton wrote, “Do not deprive me of my age. I have earned it.”

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Putting Retirement to Pasture

I am sometimes asked, “How long do you plan to work?” For some reason, it sounds better than people asking about “retirement.” Of course, it gets to be a logical question when one approaches the age of 65—which I am just months short of doing.

Times have changed. Views of retirement have changed. And certainly how one handles ending career life and becoming part of the leisure crowd is also changing.

As far back as the 1960s, we knew a Presbyterian minister who was in his 90s and still working! In fact, he traveled a good part of the year, filling in the pulpit at churches around the country. Senior executives with corporations stick around longer these days. Media types, like those 60 Minutes hosts and Barbara Walters, want to keep doing what they love.

And why not?

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune featured a story headlined, “More Americans plan to retire after 70.” Willis Towers Watson, a human resource consulting firm, reports those who plan to stay on the job into their 70s is up from 16 percent in 2009 to around 23 percent now.

As noted, if you enjoy your work and feel very up to it as I do, that’s one thing. But of 30,000 surveyed in 19 countries revealed, “employees who expected to work longer were ‘less healthy, more stressed and more likely to feel stuck in their jobs than those who expect to retire earlier.’” So there is a dark side!

Other interesting findings from the survey included U.S. employees being more pessimistic about whether their generation would be worse off in retirement compared to their parents. Women, more so than men, felt less financially secure for extended retirement. The percentage of men 65 or older still on the job in 2003 was 15 percent. Now it hovers aound 22 percent. Other countries are seeing significant jumps as well.

A second story regarding the aging of our workforce has troubling news, too. The Washington Post carried this gem in March, with this headline: “Not ready to retire, but not finding work.”

The brutal truth came from a 2012 GAO report showing that workers who were 55 and older—currently unemployed—were the least likely to find another job. It isn’t that these people aren’t looking. They just face great challenges in landing the next job. As the Post reports, “The elephant in the room is age discrimination.”

Many workers hoping to stay on the job are not well equipped financially to do otherwise. A survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald and Associates revealed “fifty-seven percent of retirees reported having less than $25,000 in savings and investments, not counting their homes or traditional pensions. Twenty-eight percent said they have less than $1,000.” This forces many to take Social Security before they had planned which can mean thousands less during a lifetime.

One man who set his course differently is Christian leader Rick Warren. Even after the success of his multi-million selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick had chosen not to pursue a life of lavish spending. He’s chosen a simpler way.

As Forbes magazine reported, Rick said “I drive a 12 year old Ford, have lived in the same house for the last 22 years, bought my watch at Wal-Mart, and I don’t own a boat or a jet.” His reasoning is to rely on Scripture and “time-tested money-management principles to guide his personal and financial life.”

Three years ago, when this article was first published, Rick announced his “retirement plan.” He would work until age 65, and then turn over the leadership of the church to someone younger. But wait—is he retiring?

No. Rick Warren said he won’t ever “retire,” explaining that the word “retirement” is not even in the Bible. So here’s a quote from Rick to take to the bank for aging workers: “The Bible says that as long as your heart is beating God has a plan and purpose for your life…to grow personally, to get to know God, to serve others, and make the world a better place.”

He challenges us all to consider what will be the “center” of our life as we age. How will we keep growing? What will be the character of our life?”

Several years ago, I decided to view my career steps differently. Regardless of where I would serve, I would pray that God would direct my steps to my next assignment. Which He has.

Proverbs 19:21 states: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” (ESV)

If you yield your life skills to His direction, you need never retire.

And as for my trade, as one soul has stated…old broadcasters never die. They just change frequencies.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.