Secret Sauce

“Secret sauce”.  What is that?

Well, it’s that thing we have which pushes us to greatness.  It’s our key to success, something we have to offer that sets us apart and makes us valuable to our customers or clients. 

For some it’s a process, a tool, or a standard.

Identifying your secret sauce and harnessing it for the benefit of your customers is a key ingredient in success, yet so often leadership misses the mark when it comes to understanding and utilizing such a thing.

The most elemental and overlooked secret sauce an organization can develop is its people.

If you immediately thought about training programs and org charts when I said this, then you are the right person to be reading this post.

If you had visions of creative office spaces, foosball tables, and goofy inter-office contests, then you are the right person to be reading this post.

You see, the training, the titles, the fun and games – are all relevant layers to a very complex exercise.  Before you get to those things, you have to take the first step:  get to know your people.

  • How do they think?
  • What energizes them?
  • What deflates them?

And the most important question:

  • What do they contribute to your organization?

That last one is a doozy, and it’s something I’ve been noticing in leadership for close to two decades.

Understanding Contributions

Too many leaders do not take the time to really understand what each of the individuals on their team contributes to the success of the organization or company. 

I’m not talking about knowing a job title or knowing what a person’s role is on paper.  Anyone with access to an HR file can have that knowledge.

I’m talking about really understanding what this person contributes.

For those who work outside of the lines doing far more than what is noted in an HR file, there is a lot of value when it comes to a leadership team simply knowing what that person does.

Not everyone needs prizes or accolades.  For some, there is reward in the personal satisfaction of a job well done.  They just want someone to know what they do.

As a leader, it’s important to know that prizes and high fives only hold meaning from someone who understands a person’s full contribution.

Likewise, feedback for improvement loses value when it comes from someone who hasn’t taken the time to gain full comprehension of the person to whom they are providing feedback.  (If you don’t know me, then why would I place value on your assessment of me?)

Understanding the Person

individuals and interactions

It’s true that people are not resources.  My business partner Nick wrote a nice blog post about that here, explaining that “resource” refers to something you can buy.  A projector is a resource.

People are rich and unique, bringing with them all of the intrinsic qualities life has placed upon them, as well as experience from places that you can’t begin to fathom unless you ask.  A projector can’t do that.

Understanding the depth and breadth of the people you hire is the first step in creating your secret sauce.

  • How do you know if you’ve harnessed a person’s full potential if you are unaware of everything they bring to the table?
  • How do you know how to best communicate opportunities to a person if you haven’t spent time understanding how they process information?
  • How do you motivate a person if you are not aware of their personal motivators?
  • And most importantly, how do you avoid the risk of losing a high performer if you never learn how to avoid burning them out?
    • (Hint:  Things that energize your high performer are typically things that will burn out another person.  Simply taking tasks from a high performer in an attempt to avoid burn out can often create the very thing you were trying to avoid.  High performers can be huge assets, but they are also sometimes tricky to understand.)

People don’t come from templates. You have to learn each individual person and put the work in to understand the ingredients of your secret sauce before you can perfect it and reap the benefits.

I promise you:  No matter what you are trying to accomplish, no matter the tools, the product, the process, or the office space – your people are your secret sauce.  Your secret sauce will be the ultimate decider in your failure or success.  Until you understand that, you will be treading water.

Are you able to tell me the ingredients of your secret sauce?  If not, then I advise you to make that a priority.  Your success depends on it.


Agile Servant Leadership Assessment

Every agile book that you pick up discusses the topic of leadership on an agile team. One of the cornerstones of any successful agile implementation is the concept of servant leadership

Servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay that he first published in 1970.  The business dictionary defines Servant leaderships as:

Servant leadership stresses the importance of the role a leader plays as the steward of the resources of a business or other organization, and teaches leaders to serve others while still achieving the goals set forth by the business.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a successful team without self organization, accountability, and transparency.  Having Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and Managers with servant leader skills can make all the difference on your team’s journey.

If you are interested in applying Servant Leadership skills to agile-specific roles check out our courses page. 

In every agile implementation, I am asked, “How will I know who will make a good servant leader?”  My answer is always the same, “Everyone can be a servant leader – some people just may have to work at it a little more than others.” 

The next question I hear is, “What are the qualities of a servant leader?”

I have devised a simple test to help people identify servant leader qualities: 

Step 1

Write down the names of 4 leaders that you admire. These may be people at your current or previous jobs, community leaders, civic leaders, or anyone else that you look up to. 

Step 2

Write down 4 qualities that stand out for each of the leaders.   When you are done you should have 4 names with 4 qualities for each leader, for a total of 16 qualities.

Step 3

Choose and circle the top 4 qualities you think are the most important in a leader.

BAM! I will bet the top 4 qualities you have chosen are all qualities of a Servant Leader. Each of us already instinctually understands the qualities a Servant Leader must possess.  These are qualities we admire in other great leaders.  

Each person’s top qualities might be different, and that is ok.  This is a personal test to highlight the qualities we find the most important and the same qualities each of us are striving improve upon in our journey to become better leaders.  

So the answer to the question, “What are the qualities of a Servant Leader?” is this:  You already know what they are, you just need to look at the great leaders around you.

If you would like more information about leadership or to learn how One80 Services can help your company implement a Servant Leadership culture, check out our Agile Leadership or Leadership Conversation courses or contact us for more information.

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