“It’s not about us. It’s about the mutineers!” This was the sobering advice of Steve Wiley, noted leadership training specialist, to hundreds of attendees of the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey, PA, in his keynote address titled “Performance in a Rapidly Changing Environment.”
At the heart of Wiley’s message were the results of several studies about marketing and personnel. The first study involved the purchasing decisions of a sample of 10,000 customers, who bought a variety of products, from fruits to festivals to limos. They were asked what factors were most important in their purchasing decisions. The key factors that emerged were the reputation of the vendor’s company, the details of the product or service, and the quality of interaction with the salesperson.
Which of these factors was most important? Surprisingly, 86 percent of the respondents said the most important factor in their purchasing decision was the individual they dealt with at the point of sale. As Wiley put it, “You have to have a good organization and you have to have good product or service, or you’re not in business in the year 2014. But 86 percent of the people said, ‘Okay, I’ll choose you; I’ll remain loyal to you; I’m going to forgive you’. . . because of a relationship that someone bothered to cultivate with them.”
The next study cited by Wiley showed the opposite side of this concept. In a study done by the White House and the Department of Labor, 6,000 persons were asked why they would stop doing business with a certain organization. Two thirds of the respondents said it had nothing to do with price or economics, or the quality of the product or service. They stopped because of a breakdown in communication with the vendor’s representative. Wiley points out that farmers are not really in the fruit and vegetable business, but rather are in the people business. “People buy from people. People sell to people. People fall in love with people. People get ticked off at people. It’s the people business.”
These concepts extend to personnel management as well as customer relations. Another study cited by Wiley reached the troubling conclusion that 70 percent of the employees in North America say they are not engaged, and half of them say they are actively disengaged. As Wiley pointed out, “If you have employees who are actively disengaged, you may as well find a terrorist and put them on your payroll. That’s how much good they are doing for your organization.” He further noted that in a federal study, employee disengagement in some agencies was as high as 91 percent. This reportedly increases absenteeism and turnover by over 50 percent each, and causes $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.
So Wiley asks the question, ‘What is the key reason found in these studies for people being disengaged at work?’ The reason given by employees in both disengagement studies was the quality of their leadership. They did not feel respected, valued, cared for, or appreciated.
Wiley’s prescription for this is what he calls transformational leadership. This kind of leadership emphasizes people skills rather than a command-and-control approach. Skills important to a transformational leader are co-creating the future with employees, faithfulness to key values, role modeling, confidence building, communication, listening and positive body language.
Wiley explains, “Let’s say that Rob is one of these disengaged employees — the 70 to 91 percent. Can you imagine a more effective way to engage Rob than to say, ‘Hey Rob, how about you and I co-create the agenda for next month’s meeting?’” All of a sudden, Rob is not a disengaged employee. Rob begins to think of his boss, “He values my opinion. I’m actually going to get a chance to contribute — to co-create the future.”
With regard to listening skills, Wiley believes that studies show North Americans to be poor listeners. His advice: “When you are interacting with someone, you should listen until it hurts. You should listen until you start feeling discomfort. I want you to listen until you start feeling pain. I’d like you to listen until you think ‘I can’t listen to this guy anymore.’”
Body language, says Wiley, is another key part of communication. Once again turning to those studies, he points out that only 7 percent of our message to people is communicated verbally. Thirty-eight percent of our message comes through our tonality — the tone, the volume and pitch of our voice. And a whopping 55 percent of our communication is in our body language-posture, demeanor, expression, appearance. “Wow,” he said, “93 percent of the message has nothing to do what we say.” As an example he cites the old lullaby “Rock a Bye Baby” which very literally is about a baby and cradle falling out of a tree. But when it is sung in a soothing way by a grownup, it is not alarming at all.
Wiley’s presentation was spiced up with dramatically acted video clips about the Battle of Gettysburg. Wiley, who is a Gettysburg native, draws much of his inspiration about leadership from this epic battle. But he had to go to the school of hard knocks first. In the 1980s he was in charge of a multi-million dollar international construction firm. Then in 1989, his firm showed a $4.7 million loss, his creditors initiated 16 major litigations in 11 states and two countries, his company endured a months-long IRS audit, his father died of lung cancer, his newborn son was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, his house was foreclosed, and his cars were repossessed.
Somehow he survived. He recovered financially without declaring bankruptcy. But his crises in 1989 gave him a chance to reflect on life and leadership. Out of this difficult time of his life, he determined to form the Lincoln Leadership Institute, which draws lessons on leadership and management from history, especially from the Civil War.
One incident Wiley finds key in the Battle of Gettysburg is Colonel Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top, with a severely depleted force. The depleted force was further hampered by having to guard 120 “mutineers” — disgruntled Northern soldiers who were uncooperative and unhappy with their working conditions. Col. Chamberlain showed transformational leadership by listening to the grievances of the mutineers, treating them humanely, and appealing to their patriotism. He did this so effectively that they abandoned their grievances, and joined him in the seemingly hopeless defense of the Union flank position, eventually running out of bullets, but turning the course of the battle against the Confederacy.
“We have our fair share of mutineers in 2014,” said Wiley. “They’re everywhere.” They are in our families, civic organizations and companies. Disengaged employees are one obvious group, but there are many others. And, says Wiley, if we want to have organizations that are not only good, but superior, we need to understand that, “It’s not about us. It’s about the mutineers!”
Wiley finally points out that a key aspect of transformational leadership in dealing with the mutineers is to understand our own personality style, and to learn to adjust it when dealing with others.
The key to dealing with people with styles different than yours, says Wiley, is to “Stretch your style! It’s not about us, and what we want, and what we get, and how we feel. It’s about the mutineers in our lives, and what they want, and what they get, and how they feel. Up to 91 percent of the people in North America are disengaged, so stretch your style.”