A few weeks ago, during an episode entitled “The Duel”, Michael Scott reached an important milestone in his career at Dunder Mifflin, where he presides over the Scranton, PA branch as regional manager. Michael’s boss called him for an face to face meeting at Corporate where he asked him to share the secret of his stellar management of the outperforming Scranton Branch. Viewers of The Office know the truth—Michael’s leadership is not responsible for his branch’s excellent performance. The branch is topping the others in sales not because of, but in spite of, Michael’s contributions.
So his boss asks him the question, “What are you doing right?” Michael is unable to clearly articulate an answer. He fumbles; he fabricates elaborate stories about his approach to business. Nonetheless, his boss sends him on a tour of the other branches so he can share his ideas for success with them.
Michael’s listening tour does nothing more than expose his shortcomings. Instead of helpful direction and advice, he offers a repertoire of insensitivity to diversity issues. He is obliviously self centered in his interaction with others. Even without a leadership education, it is easy to identify his failings. Still, the basic idea behind this episode provides great direction for those seeking to lead others to success in business.
Identify employees who are doing well. Recognize their contributions. Often, we as managers are so caught up in our own projects and deadlines that we miss this important first step. Who is consistently achieving the results your company desires? What employees seem to “get” the vision of your organization? If your company has no formal system to recognize outstanding performance, consider how you might begin to reward excellence.
Listen to what is working. Again, we are often too busy to take time with our employees. Set aside time each month or quarter to spend with high performing employees. Hear their perspective about what is working well in the company. Listen to any suggestions for improvement. In doing so, you will communicate respect and promote cooperation and teamwork.
Distill transferable concepts from their success stories. As you listen to what’s working, consider what might be transferable to other facets of your company’s work. When I was working for a non-profit, I participated in a brainstorming session with co-workers from other departments. One of the most useful parts of the discussion was discovering that another department struggled with a similar issue and found a solution. By implementing their idea, we overcame a major gridlock in our operations.
Expose other employees in your organization to these lessons learned. Find a way to share what you find out with your employees. Do this formally, in a staff meeting or company newsletter, or informally, in casual conversation around the office. What counts is making sure that people hear success stories — especially stories told in a way that illuminates a path to greater effectiveness in your organization as a whole.
Perhaps it’s time to take your own listening tour, and ask yourself, what are you doing right?
This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.