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How to Create Connection in the Workplace: A Review of “Fired up or Burned Out” by Michael Lee Stallard

How to Create Connection in the Workplace: A Review of “Fired up or Burned Out” by Michael Lee Stallard
Fired Up or Burned Out cover

How do business leaders create a sense of connection and shared passion in their organizations? How can you make your employees (and by extension you r company) more productive and more innovative — instead of struggling to maintain the status quo?

These are the questions that Michael Lee Stallard sets out to answer in his book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity, and Productivity (Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2007; with Carolyn Dewing-Hommes and Jason Pankau). Stallard and his partners are the founders of E Pluribus Partners, a think tank and consulting firm focused on helping companies build connection among their employees and with their customers and clients. In Fired Up, they explain why such a sense of connection is important, and how to create it, offering good advice that would be as useful for small businesses and non-profit organizations as much as for corporations.

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The Case for Connection

We live in strangely disconnected times. While the Internet gives rise to new forms of connectedness, in our day to day lives, Americans (among other industrialized peoples) feel a great disconnectedness. This affects us i our homes, our communities, and especially in our workplaces.

In a 2002 Gallup study, only 25% of American workers reported feeling engaged at work. A global study carried out by the Corporates Executive Board in 2004 found that 76% of workers had an only moderate commitment to their employers, and 13% had little or no feeling of commitment.

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Organizations with disconnected and disengaged employees pay the price in lost productivity, lost innovation, and ultimately lost money — to the tune of $250-300 million dollars in the American economy as a whole, according to Gallup. On the other hand, corporations that have learned to foster a connection culture enjoy greater success by almost every measure. And employees who feel connected at work find themselves feeling more connected in other parts of their lives.

The Keys to Connection

Stallard identifies three factors that forster greater connection within an organization — Vision, Value, and Voice — and offers suggestions to increase them within an organization.

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  • Vision: Having a strong vision that employees identify with and that gives their work meaning encourages engagement across the board. Employees in organizations with strong visions are inspired and feel that their roles are important — from upper management to front-line and maintenance staff.
  • Value: By “value”, Stallard isn’t referring to values in the ethical sense, but to the value of people. Too many organizations fail to recognize or acknowledge the value of their employees, leading to disengagement. Organizations show they value their employees by making sure they’re in the right role for their particular strengths and talents, empowering them to make decisions within their area of expertise, and actively listening to them. Stallard cites the example of David Neeleman, the CEO of jetBlue, who sets aside a day every week to work alongside the crew on the company’s planes.
  • Voice: Vision and value come together in organizations that give employees a voice by fostering knowledge flow from bottom to top and back. Making sure the knoweldge flows both ways engages employees, allowing them to make better decisions, participate more fully in shaping and realizing the organization’s identity, and innovate more freely. Encouraging the flow of knowledge involves more than just putting a suggestion box outside the CEO’s door, but requires a total reshaping of the corporate or organizational culture.

Evaluation

I should say that I’m as far from the corporate world that Stallard and his co-writers describe as I could be. As a writer, I work more often than not on my own; as an adjunct instructor, I am only marginally attached to the two colleges I teach at. Still, I found much of the book exhilarating. I’ve worked too many hours and months of my life for corporations, non-profits, and other organizations that captured knowledge in rigidly stratified hierarchies, all too often leaveing the lower and middle reaches of the org-chart without adequate kunderstanding to perform our jobs, let alone to be more innovative.

Stallard and co. illustrate their work throughout with examples drawn from today’s corproate world, as well as from sports, military history, and elsewhere. The last part of the book, especially, shows Stallard’s ideas in action, with a close examination of the lives and careers of 20 notable leaders, ranging from Gen. George Marshall and Queen Elizabeth I to Frances Hesselbein (CEO of Girl Scouts of America from 1976 – 1990) and neurosurgeon Dr. Fred Epstein. These examples assure that the ideas expressed in Fired Up or Burned Out stay concrete and approachable, never zooming off into abstractions. And the ideas are good — the importance of fostering connection between employees and their organizations cannot be over-estimated.

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I did have a few qualms. The first has to do with the repeated use of “leadership” when they mean “management”. I understand that the corporate world lives and dies by the illusion that the terms are interchangeable, but Stallard’s work itself shows that is not the case. What kind of leaders allow their teams to become totally detached from their mission? What kind of leaders need to be told to share their vision, to value their people, and to give their team a voice?

Equating leadership with management creates an important gap in the book — because vision, value, and voice are assumed to come from management, there is little room left for, and thus little attention paid to, the kind of “grassroots” leadership that often rises from below to create vision, value, and voice in the absence of strong management. I’d have liked to see Stallard pay more attention to this — how can employees in leadership-deficient organizations create leadership from below?

My last issue isn’t the fault of the book, really, which is clearly aimed at a business audience. That said, given the ever-thinner line between our worklives and the rest of our lives, I’d like to have seen more attention paid to building connection outside of the workplace. Maybe in the next book… Or, more likely, the next author.

In the end, though, Fired Up of Burned Out is a powerful, interesting read, packed with great examples and practical advice. The information is most valuable to mid-level and higher management and team leaders, but there are lessons here for workers at every level, as well as for entrepreneurs and even the self-employed.

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Last Updated on October 18, 2018

10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

When it comes to starting your own business and pursuing your dream of becoming an entrepreneur, it can be advantageous to go all in and embrace the flexibility of finally quitting your day job.

Keep in mind, though, that it takes a special kind of person to take the business world by storm: a person who has cultivated the key characteristics of entrepreneurial success.

People with these characteristics are likely to succeed, whereas people without them have difficulty moving forward with even the most brilliant business ideas.

These characteristics of an entrepreneur are so important that I’ve decided to cover all 10 of them in detail so that you can start your business with your best foot forward.

1. Successful Entrepreneurs Practice Discipline

Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline.

To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun.

Andrew Carnegie, one of the most financially successful Americans of all time, grew up working dull and difficult jobs in factories. Despite going to bed hungry some nights, he continued doing his best work. He was eventually hired by a railroad company and continued to move up the ladder until starting his own successful businesses. Carnegie is a fine example of an entrepreneur dedicated to discipline and hard work. He truly earned his dreams of prosperity and success.

When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there’s no short-term consequences for skipping out early.

Sure, if an entrepreneur plays hooky enough he knows that the business just won’t happen, but it’s very hard to convince someone that ‘just this once’ won’t hurt (and to keep ‘just this once’ from becoming a daily occurrence).

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2. Successful Entrepreneurs Keep Calm

Things go wrong when you run your own business.

Most entrepreneurs go through crises with their businesses — and more than a few wind up with outright failures on their hands. But when you’re responsible for a business, you have to be able to keep calm in any situation. Any other reaction — whether you lose your temper or get flustered — compounds the problem.

Instead, a good entrepreneur must have the ability to keep his cool in an emergency or crisis. It may not make the problem easier to solve, but it certainly won’t make it harder.

Honestly, losing your calm is a quick path to becoming the kind of person who gives up in the face of adversity. Instead giving in to frustration, remember classic entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin kept his calm as he experimented and tweaked his inventions again and again in pursuit of success. He didn’t give up during his many failures – he chose to innovate. You can choose innovation, too.

If an entrepreneur can handle failure without frustration or anger, s/he can move past it to find success.

3. Successful Entrepreneurs Pay Attention to Details

Restricting your attention to the big picture can be even more problematic than ‘sweating the small stuff.’

As an entrepreneur, unless venture capital has magically dropped out of the sky, a small expense can be a killer. It’s attention to detail that can make a small business successful when it has competition and it’s attention to detail that can keep costs down.

Attention to detail can be difficult to maintain — going over ledgers can be tedious even when you aren’t trying to pay close attention — but keeping your eye on a long-term vision is just asking for a problem to sneak in under a radar.

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After a business grows, an entrepreneur might be able to hire someone to worry about the details. In the beginning, though, only one person can take responsibility for the details.

Skeptical about the importance of details? Look no further than Howard Schultz, who grew a small coffee shop called Starbucks into one of the most globally successful coffee businesses in the world through his extreme attention to detail.

He is famous for taking all aspects of growing a business into account, paying attention not only to financially smart business decisions, but also focusing on socially responsible business decisions. Details can take you far.

4. Successful Entrepreneurs Embrace Risks

No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money s/he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business.

It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that without developing an ulcer, you have to have a good tolerance for risk.

You don’t need to channel your inner frat boy and take on absolutely stupid risks, but you need to know just how much you can afford to risk — and get a good idea of how likely you are to lose it. If the numbers make you uncomfortable, the risk is too great.

Embracing risks is essential for growth and additional success, as well. Walt Disney, for example, could have stayed comfortable with his advances in the film and animation industries, but decided to expand his brand with a new dream: a theme park that soared above the competition. Without taking this risk, the incredibly successful Disney theme park empire would never have come about.

An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.

5. Successful Entrepreneurs are Balanced

You can take any characteristic too far. There’s a point at which attention to detail can become obsession or calm can become unemotional response.

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As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to balance your characteristics, getting the most of them without going over the edge. But balance for an entrepreneur goes far beyond keeping your characteristics in check, though.

Just as an entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to keep them at work when necessary, they don’t have one to send them home when they’re done. If you are working for yourself, you have to decide how to balance your work and home life — and if you have a day job to add into the equation, balance just gets more complicated.

Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs out there, understands the importance of balance. Winfrey has a lot going on; she runs her own media kingdom, acts, produces films, publishes print, and more. In an interview with Fast Company,[1] she talks about her efforts to balance priorities and self care, saying that she must ask herself what is truly important in each limited day.

You may or may not have as much on your plate as Oprah, but learning how to balance whatever you have going on in life will certainly help you farther along down the road as you learn to be a great entrepreneur.

6. Successful Entrepreneurs are Passionate and Motivated

In order to develop any of the above characteristics, you must have a foundation of passion. Staying disciplined day after day during the building of your business takes unrivaled motivation.

Before you start any business, ask yourself if you can sustain true excitement about your idea during even the darkest days ahead of you. If the answer is yes, then good for you! Nurture your natural motivation by taking these action steps throughout your business journey:

  • Commit to making short and long-term goals. Check in with them often to stay on task.
  • Have a plan in place for the inevitable days when you feel discouraged. Make a list of things that will help keep you motivated and focused.
  • Share your ideas with trusted individuals who are just as excited as you are. They will help keep your enthusiasm rolling even when you are feeling down.

By being prepared for apathetic days and holding fast to your authentic passion, you can actually enjoy your journey to success.

7. Successful Entrepreneurs Adapt

Remember this one word: flexibility. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that change is not only a part of life, but also a part of the business world. Expect change and choose to adapt.

As a new entrepreneur, it will be tempting to cling to your original business plan with no exceptions, even if you notice it isn’t working. Good entrepreneurs know that it’s okay to make smart, informed changes in order to ensure efficiency.

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8. Successful Entrepreneurs are Marketing and Sales Experts

No matter what kind of business you are starting, a knowledge of marketing and sales will save you many headaches. A passion for creating a beautiful handmade lifestyle product is not enough to run a successful lifestyle brand; it is critical that you understand key business principles in addition to your natural skills or great product line.

Not sure how to start? Taking business courses is a great idea, but you can also easily brush up on sales and marketing through free online resources. Check out these 10 Sales Skills Everyone Should Master To Be Successful to begin now.

9. Successful Entrepreneurs Have Strong Money Management

Along with sales and marketing skills, money management is a very useful tool in the box of the entrepreneur. Understanding how to best manage your money can be the difference between early success and early failure in the business world.

If money management isn’t your strongest skill, prepare to hire a financial expert to help you with any tricky business that comes up. Financial guidance and knowledge is never a bad idea.

10. Successful Entrepreneurs Ask Questions and Continually Improve

Pride is a natural human quality, but it’s important to humbly conduct some constructive criticism every now and again on both yourself as a leader and your new business as a whole.

Assess how things are going and be willing to make positive changes if necessary. Here’re 15 ways to cultivate lifelong learning.

If you are always improving, then how can you ultimately fail?

The Bottom Line

Let me remind you of one important fact: the qualities of an entrepreneur listed here are not exclusively available to some people and elusive to others.

Although some people may have natural strengths and weaknesses, these qualities can be learned by anyone interested in taking up the entrepreneurial challenge. It might not be easy to change old habits, but it is absolutely possible to cultivate these characteristics in yourself.

Whether you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, with hard work, you can train yourself to develop the qualities that truly determine the entrepreneurial spirit and future success.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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