How do you communicate passion over practicality in the workplace?

Man holding a red woolen heart concept for valentine's day, busi

By Mark A. Leon

I grew up with an overwhelming amount of imagination. I was the youngest of four and for the most part my parents loved me, but didn’t feel like going through the motions of involving me. From a very young age, I have been on my own to discover the world. This most likely has contributed to my nomadic and creative persona.

For the last decade, I have been motivated by a world of possibility. Not quite in the Houdini manner, but I look at organizations and I see potential outside the walls of accepted practice.

A number of years ago, General Electric (GE) coined the term “boundaryless”. That term has stuck with me throughout my career.

In 2008, the idea of a corporate community page on Facebook was taboo. In 2009, creating LinkedIn groups focused on building a skill specific talent community was silly at best. In 2010, a career experience blog highlighting individual success stories and telling the cultural story one person at a time was shunned upon. “What is the value added?”, “How is this going to help us hire people?” – These were the questions posed by the senior leadership or the naysayers.

In 1998, we had a challenge: How do we support our growth in Engineering and Product Development as a result of a major decade funded government contract? The solution: Let’s show them what we got. The idea was formatted for an on-site career fair and expo.

Here was the pitch:

  1. We reach out to the professional sports teams, museums, theaters and radio stations asking for donations and participation.
  2. We do a picture collage of the last 80 years and focusing on the number of generational families that have worked here.
  3. We show off our state of the art 3D simulation studio.
  4. We have hiring managers on-site to answer questions and do same day interviews.
  5. We offer an inside look at the future of military design and development with plant tours.Impossible they said. You won’t get buy in from all the departments. We can’t interview people right off the street. This will be overwhelmingly expensive.At about $600 per attendee and 21 confirmed hires, this was a raging success. The answer was simple; we brought passion, culture and a very intimate personal touch to the candidate experience. If you drove by our facility, we looked like an old manufacturing plant gated in with no clue what was going on inside. Invite them in and they will come. They sure did. Almost 300 attendees on a Saturday morning.In the last 15 years, I have updated my resume once and have not seen the light of day of a job board. I am approached and on occasion I listen.The career choices I have made have been because of a few common trends.

    1. The recruiter provided me with an incredible candidate experience. Quick follow up, education on the role, deep interest in my background and love of their company.
    2. The hiring managers challenged me. They weren’t looking for a body with some technical or soft skills to fill a role. They were looking for individuals to partner and contribute to the growth and innovation of their teams.
    3. A set of values that were demonstrated in the words and actions of the team.

    I am very good at what I do and I know I have limitations. I work extremely well as an individual contributor, but thrive with a team that shares expertise and values support.

    We all have good and bad days, but the minute it becomes a regiment of mental clock in and clock out the passion dies and the wall come tumbling down.

    Do we need process? Absolutely
    Do we need checks and balances / QA? You bet
    Do we need mandatory training? Hmmmm, I suppose
    Do we need structured hierarchy? No always.

    What companies truly need is a human capital element that thinks and acts with emotion. The ability to care about your team, clients, supervisors, subordinates and cross functional groups is a gift. That gift will reverberate and send positive shivers down the spines of all you are in contact with.

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    Start each day with positive electricity and energize those around you.

Is your boss cool or cruel…Let us evaluate the signs

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I am fortunate to have a warm and receptive boss that cares about my future and goes above and beyond to provide me with the tools and resources to gain the necessary skills to grow and work in a very satisfying environment.

With her cheerleader persona, focus on rewards and recognition and balanced workflow, she is a role model for the qualities that we look for in a “cool” boss.  On a daily basis, I witness a leader that:

  • Fosters innovation
  • Promotes strong positive behavior
  • Engages a teaming environment
  • Provides her staff with opportunities to promote leadership through project management initiatives
  • Shares in best practices and process improvement
  • Promotes strong performance through a series of monetary and non-monetary rewards
  • Acknowledges individual and group successes to the team and leadership
  • Has trust to allow the team to work independently and not micro manage responsibility and results
  • A proponent for growth and development
  • Supports your causes if you have researched them and believe in them
  • Provides the tools and resources to succeed
  • Sets measurable and challenging goals
  • Believes in the success of the team each and every day

There you have it, the attributes of a “cool” boss.

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“Cool” bosses win championships, lead successful companies, mentor the future leaders of the world and at the end of the day are incredible mothers, fathers, children, siblings, friends, volunteers and advocates for good.

All to often, at some point in our career we fall under the jurisdiction of the “cruel” boss.  There are many reasons we are supervised by individuals with negative energy that inhibit growth and change.  

First, we should identify the signs of a “cruel” boss:

  • Aggressive and negative in behavior and communications
  • Takes credit for the work of their subordinates
  • Does not promote or reward positive behavior and results
  • Micro manages work flow, output and daily responsibilities
  • Does not provide resources, tools or budget to promote efficient and productive output
  • Focused only on oneself and not the betterment of the team
  • Wedges barriers between team engagement
  • Finger points and pins colleague against colleague
  • Not supportive of the team goals

Many factors go into negative personality attributes affiliated with a “cruel” boss.  Some are affected by their personal life, feelings of rejection being passed up on a promotion, a history of bullying or overbearing behavior or a perception that you need to be hard and aggressive to move up the corporate ladder.

Studies have been done on backgrounds, behaviors, genders and even height on the types of people that are promoted and make the most income.  Some fields of study argue the tough and aggressive approach while others engage the collaborative and supportive approach.

Either way, more people spend time in the office environment than in their home and personal lives.  From the time we are 18-22 until we turn 65 to 70, we will be spending most of our adult lives working.  This is a statement that really needs to sink in.  A negative work environment breeds stress, health issues and an overall negative environment.  It can lead to such unhealthy behaviors as drinking, smoking or violence. This negativity will translate to the family live, personal life and interaction with strangers.

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It is critical that leaders with people management abilities understand their roles and develop an approach that is positive, productive, engaging and fun.  Here is how:

  • Learn about your team.  Understand their strengths and weaknesses and partner up skills.  Understand their personalities and determine how they can co-exist in a cordial manner.
  • Spend time understanding their future goals and aspirations.  Set up measurable projects, action items and training that will get them where they want to go.
  • Promote and reward strong productive performance.  Winners win and others will follow.
  • Be fair but be supportive of their efforts even if there is a risk.
  • Let them be.  These are professionals, no matter what industry and trusting them is a big sign of support.
  • Let them become the professional they want to be.  Guide them, but let them breathe.
  • If comfortable, learn about their lives outside of work.  We are in a social engagement/networking world now.  Personal and professional lives are starting to become one.

There we have it.

There are “cool” bosses and “cruel” bosses.  The entertainment industry has taken a comical look at “cruel” bosses in film with Office Space, Horrible Bosses, Swimming with Sharks, The Devil Wears Prada and Glengarry Glen Ross, but this should not be the stance we take in the work force.

A productive team is always better than a productive person. The collective sharing of ideas, innovations and expertise will lead us forward in the business world. We need leaders that understand, support and foster a positive work environment.

Do you have a “cool” boss or a “cruel” boss?