Awareness: Both in ensuring that you are the right person for the job and that you have the tools to do your job. If you are great at sales, you are likely not a good manager of people, so don’t manage people as it will prove destructive. If you are suited to management, ensure you manage up, and get clear on the vision that you are responsible for executing. Great managers know what needs to get done, are resourceful, and provide clarity to their team members; removing obstacles and always giving the credit for successes to the team, while owning “failures”. You cannot be arrogant if you are aware and curious.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin G. Armstrong. Kevin is an author, speaker, business advisor, disruptor and authority in implementing simple, proven management solutions — but simple doesn’t mean easy. Kevin has decades of experience helping business owners — from “mom and pops” to Fortune 500s — get more out of their businesses. For the past 20+ years of his career, Kevin has studied the important differences between the roles of ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ in business. His speaking engagements expand on this concept in an interactive, thought-provoking manner which disrupts current thinking and leaves audiences with a new understanding of how leaders can be leveraged through exceptional management to achieve business and personal success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My pleasure! In working exclusively with business owners for the past 20 years, I came to the realization that most business owners are great leaders and terrible managers. They have courage, vision, smarts, and drive, but they don’t know how to both build a management infrastructure and properly manage people. This is the reason that most entrepreneurial companies are lucky to grow to even 40 employees.
We realized that we could address these core issues and guide entrepreneurs to the next level through peer support and a management operating system. The results we have experienced, when business owners whole-heartedly devote themselves to creating cultures of accountability, have been revolutionary.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I come across interesting stories every day working with entrepreneurial business owners, which I am incredibly grateful for. One of our main objectives is to help business owners find freedom from their businesses. In order to accomplish this, our scope must incorporate health and wellness. One of my favorite sayings is, “If you have your health, everything else is a game!” The following testimonial says it all:
“A few years ago, before Kevin Armstrong was my Advisor, I was coming off two years of consecutive business financial losses, my business was a mess, I had hardly any net worth. I was overweight, I was working 60–70 hours a week, taking 2 interrupted weeks off a year and my family life was in trouble. Today, my business is growing, I just experienced two consecutive profitable years (and expect to double last year’s net income in 2017). My net worth is up over $1m for the first time ever, I have lost over 40lbs, I took 7 weeks of uninterrupted time off last year (aiming for 8 this year) and my family life is amazing. I have to give my Advisor, Kevin Armstrong, a ton of credit for that turn around.” Kyle Dion,
Owner, New Line Skateparks.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we are currently working on a 19-minute video that will clearly define the differences between a leader and a manager because these words are often used as synonyms, which is an epidemic that is the root cause of much dysfunction in business and in society. Our intention is to build awareness that will lead to society valuing differences and working together to leverage strengths in achieving common goals — a culture of community (common unity).
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
The number one reason is that unhappy employees don’t know what they are accountable for, and who the one person is that they are accountable to. Just the other day, I’m working with an architecture firm and we are talking about Sheila. Sheila reports to three different architects. Each architect, of course, likes this because they get to tell Sheila what to do directly, but there is a very good chance that Sheila is extremely stressed in trying to satisfy each of their needs. There is no one prioritizing Sheila’s work or setting her up for success.
Sheila needs to report to one person and “support” each of three architects. The architects can’t see this because they can’t see things through Sheila’s eyes.
I think the other reason is that most of us don’t fully understand the importance of recognizing the great things people do for us. The #1 reason employees leave a company is because they don’t feel valued.
We are often quick to jump on those who are underperforming, but giving ‘truthful’, ‘positive’, and ‘specific’ feedback is rare. Being specific is the challenge. Saying “good job Jack” to Jack might be truthful and positive, but it’s not specific and therefore doesn’t mean anything. Being specific requires intention, thought, and sincerity and it requires practice and work in a manager or coach. Great managers understand that all feedback is a coaching opportunity and if the employee cannot link the feedback to a behavior, it is frustrating, especially for high performers.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Employees must know that what they do matters (purpose) and must know if they are measuring up in contributing to that purpose. I think that happiness involves many factors, some being outside of the scope of an employer. With that stated, a sense of purpose has been proven to contribute to happiness and is a necessary ingredient in improving the mindset, health and wellbeing of all of us, including those suffering from mental illness.
Allowing our perceptions and measures of “happiness” to dictate business decisions may not lead us to achieving our objectives, purpose and true joy. You won’t see one smile on the face of a single climber at stage 3 of climbing Everest, or on a Tour de France cyclist climbing Alpe d’Huez. But they all know the Why, How, and What behind what they are doing. It’s the internally driven passion and sense of purpose that gets us moving and in business we often forget that in dealing with employees.
So, if you want to improve morale, profitability, and the health and well-being of your employees, make sure to reinforce their purpose by making sure they know why they are doing what they are doing, and how it is contributing to the overall goals of the company. It sounds simple and it is, but don’t confuse “simple” with “easy.”
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
I prefer not to lump “executives” and “managers” together. A ‘manager’ gets things done efficiently and effectively through others. Quite honestly, I am often confused by the executive’s responsibilities in many companies.
1. Awareness: Both in ensuring that you are the right person for the job and that you have the tools to do your job. If you are great at sales, you are likely not a good manager of people, so don’t manage people as it will prove destructive. If you are suited to management, ensure you manage up, and get clear on the vision that you are responsible for executing. Great managers know what needs to get done, are resourceful, and provide clarity to their team members; removing obstacles and always giving the credit for successes to the team, while owning “failures”. You cannot be arrogant if you are aware and curious.
2. Be clear on what the company’s core values are, they start at the top and filter down, whether you like it or not. I have a hobby of asking employees of companies who display and advertise their core values if they know them, most often, they don’t. If your employees don’t know what the company stands for, how can contribute to it?
3. Make key decisions based on clear core values. A core value of one of my clients is that everyone, from the top down, is willing to push a broom. In order to ensure this culture is maintained, if a senior manager does not sweep the floor when it is necessary, he will be fired. Great managers protect a healthy culture though clarity and action.
4. Setting expectations. People, regardless of their role, like to know their scope of responsibility. It seems like a simple concept, but Lack of clarity seriously diminishes morale and performance in the long run and opens the door to the cancer of politics. Politics and accountability cannot live in the same room.
5. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball, specific, honest feedback including at least 3 specific examples if it’s negative. Not conveying where your employees stand in the overall purpose of any team is cruel, it is like being the only person on a boat not knowing where you are or where you are going. Managing people is a privilege, and these days, too many sub-par managers or coaches (we call great managers “manacoaches”) hide behind their key boards in delivering feedback because it’s easy and convenient, but also cowardly and ineffective.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I’m not a big fan of sweeping generalizations. I work with, and have worked with, hundreds of business owners both in the US and Canada. It all starts at the top. If the founder is around, it’s usually his or her core values that define the culture. The culture at Southwest Airlines is defined by what Herb Kelleher values. The culture at Apple was defined by Steve Jobs. As Jim Collins continues to conclude regardless of the Hypothesis he starts out with, look to the leadership team of any company and there lies the strength and weakness of the culture.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
My leadership style is direct and forward looking. I’m a terrible manager, so I choose not to manage people, I hire great mangers to implement my vision and to manage our employees. I help people understand why they are, or are not, managers even though they might be great leaders and I give those with management traits the tools to succeed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was the top sales person for an international investment firm, and they made the classic mistake of making me a manager. I was the Vice President of Sale and Marketing reporting to the CEO, Jim Renahan. Jim protected me against making major mistakes in my roll, and he taught me a lot about running a business. He treated me like a human, he was incredibly insightful, discreet and a peaceful warrior. He taught me how to stay focused and manage my time.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I speak to business audiences and groups of young people; I wrote a book published by ForbesBooks called The Miracle Manager; I write articles and produce videos, all communicating a message that leaders are not necessarily good managers and providing management tools. In fact, take a top engineer, accountant, or sales person and make them a manager, and that person has a 20% chance of success in that role. We need to reward our leaders and put proper manacoaches in place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you always think what you always thought, you will always get what you always got.” I don’t know who said it but since hearing it many years ago, I’m constantly analyzing the way I think, and what I believe to be right, true and good.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We are inspiring a movement to recognize and leverage the differences (the unique and inherent qualities) between great managers and great leaders.
Leadership is looking to the future and doing the right thing; management orchestrates getting things done. When Rosa Parks refused to vacate her seat, she wasn’t concerned that she was breaking a law, or who was following her. This is true leadership, not management. If we keep placing our leaders (visionaries and subject matter experts) in management positions, we will continue to see a decline in the health of our work culture and society.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!