Image of a team of business leaders.

Resolve to Be an Exceptional Leader

By Mark Fleming, President, Academy of Business Training, Inc.

Responsible companies care about their employees and want to take care of them. Bonuses are good, and pay raises even better, but much like the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” the benefits of bonuses and pay raises can be short-lived. 

In this article, I want to discuss what you can do to create loyalty through exceptional leadership. I’m talking about the kind of leadership that engenders the kind of loyalty in a person that they would willingly follow you into a situation that could cost them their life. I realize this is rarely the business case, but if you study the leadership techniques of organizations that ask that of the men and women they lead, you can learn these exceptional leadership skills. The organization I’m referring to is the U. S. military. 

No organization in this country has more experience training leaders than the U.S. Army. Along with those of the other branches of service, these leaders are responsible for helping this country become the dominant world power, but how do they do it? Business managers are happy if people arrive on time and do an acceptable job. How do you engender the kind of loyalty in a person that they would willingly follow you into a situation that could cost them their life? That’s the kind of leadership the military must produce, so how do they do it? 

Due to time, I cannot go into leadership details in this article, which can take years to perfect. Still, I can provide you with the foundational elements essential to the success of any organization. 

In military leadership, you learn your first duty is to accomplish your unit’s mission or, in business terms, the organization’s goals. The senior management of most business organizations stops here and fails to understand the second duty of a leader…the welfare of those under you. Unfortunately, these managers view employees as a commodity; you buy them with an hourly wage or salary, and they’re yours to do with as you please. What happens to employees after they leave the workplace is of no concern to this type of manager.  The military is keenly aware loyalty is a two-way street. You cannot expect a person to give their all when those responsible for their well-being view them as expendable commodities. 

What do we mean when we say the welfare of those under you? It’s meeting the basic needs of every human being (for a better understanding of how motivation and a person’s needs being met go hand-in-hand, see Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). This starts with paying a livable wage. You cannot expect a person to be dependable and do a good job if they’re worried about how they’re going to pay the rent, how they’re going to get to work when they don’t have dependable transportation, or how they’re going to pay the medical bills of the sick child. 

Usually, at this point in our leadership class, someone will comment that their company does pay a livable wage, but it’s not their responsibility to watch over employees to make sure they spend their money wisely. I tell that person it is if you want the kind of loyalty to the organization I’ve been talking about. You must reduce the stress caused by the day-to-day pressures of life so your employees can focus on their job and realize their success is tied directly to the company’s success. 

Quality medical care is paramount. Everyone in the military knows that their medical care is second to none. Care enough about your people to provide the best medical coverage you can afford. 

Safe, comfortable housing and dependable transportation are essential to your employees’ well-being, especially hourly workers. I am not suggesting you buy your employees a house and car, but you can negotiate with dealerships to provide the lowest price possible. In the company I was privileged to be president of for over 22 years, our employees would find a vehicle they wanted and negotiate what they were told was the best price. We then sent in our vice president, who was a pit bull when it came to negotiating, who would get the price reduced by another 2 – 4 thousand dollars. We did the same thing when an employee wanted to buy a house by helping them save for the down payment and then negotiate the lowest purchase price and interest rate. 

I discovered early in my career that hourly employees, when faced with a situation they did not know how to handle, would adopt the attitude that it would go away if they ignored it long enough. Of course, when it comes to legal matters, this is always disastrous, but if they know they can talk with an attorney at no cost to understand what is about to happen and then make arrangements for legal representation at their expense, they are much more likely to deal with the problem. 

There are numerous free public services available to your employees. Most communities offer services like financial management, parenting classes, English as a second language, mental health counseling, and educational loan assistance. Take the time to compile a list of these services in your area and make that information easily accessible to your employees. 

So what can you do to promote the kind of loyalty I speak of? For large companies, I would encourage you to create a Director of Employee Services. This person would be responsible for creating and administrating the employee loyalty program. The position can be under your HR Director, but the employee services director should directly access the CEO. 

For smaller companies, like the one I was president of, the duties can be split among your senior managers. If your company is reluctant to adopt an employee loyalty program, then do what you can yourself. Maintain a binder with community services, so you know where to send someone when they are experiencing life’s little road bumps. 

You can use your resources wisely to create an environment of trust with your employees. When employees know the company cares about their well-being, you will engender the trust necessary for extraordinary growth and profitability.

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