ET-005: Avoid Becoming the a..hole Leader and Retain Your Talent
ET-005: Avoid Becoming the a..hole Leader and Retain Your Talent
by Wayne Brown on August 9, 2022
by Wayne Brown on August 9, 2022
Episode Notes: A conversation with Eric Harkins
What type of leader are you? How focused are you on ensuring your immediate team is engaged? Eric Harkins suggests that there is a core secret to turning around the abysmal employee retention stats. He believes that the real cause behind the great resignation is poor leadership.
Sure, COVID may have opened people’s eyes to the fact that there is more to life than working, but at the end of the day, we are unlikely to walk away from employment where we are happy with the leadership.
And that is where leadership plays its hand. As the title of the book suggests “Great Leaders Make Sure That Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck.”
Join me for this fascinating conversation with Eric and learn to LEAD through a series of eight simple yet highly powerful questions.
LEAD is an acronym for Leadership Expectations And Development!
Today’s Guest: MR. ERIC HARKINS
Eric’s a motivational speaker, consultant, executive coach, and expert in helping companies create a culture that high performers want to be part of. During his 25-year career in corporate America, Eric held leadership roles, ranging from manager to Chief Human Resources and Chief Administration Officer.
He’s the President and Founder of GKG Search & Consulting, which is a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that helps organizations get talent, keep talent, and grow talent.
Eric’s goal is simple, help every company he works with make sure Monday mornings don’t suck for their employees.
Eric Harkin’s book – Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Mornings Don’t Suck:
- Eric is a Forbes Books author of Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Mornings Don’t Suck: How to Get, Keep & Grow Talent.
- If you are looking for a short read (only 129 pages) but one packed with clearly articulated insights, then this is the book for you.
- If you are after a book that offers you the 4C’s as a method for effectively terminating employees, then this is the book for you.
- If you are wanting a book that offers you a set of eight simple questions that will set up new leaders up for success and also be a means for conducting ongoing assessment this is the book for you.
What You’ll Learn
Eric Harkins has an engaging story to share and numerous insights on how to retain talent.
This quick read gives you a recipe for creating a workspace where people want to be and a means for retaining your talent.
– the “LEAD” set of eight questions
– the “4C’s” termination guide
– the 3 lessons (Rules)
– the 3 mistakes leaders are prone to making
– and much more…
Final words of wisdom from Eric Harkins:
“I’ll go back to what I said towards the beginning, that I really do believe in this competitive landscape that we have, in this great resignation that people want to talk about, all the stuff that’s going on that companies have to deal with, the only differentiator you have is who you allow being a leader in your organization.
Because every company… Every company has things that are attractive to people and things that aren’t attracted to people, but if you focus on leaders who know how to create a culture that high performers want to be a part of, you’re never going to talk about the great resignation in your company.”
Episode title: Avoid becoming the A..hole leader and retain your talent
Wayne Brown: Hello, it’s Wayne Brown here, and today we have another great episode lined up for the ET Project. And as always, we’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for the benefit of executive talent all over the world, whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET.
WB: In this episode, our guest is the delightful Eric Harkins. Eric’s the President and Founder of GKG Search & Consulting, which is a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that helps organizations get talent, keep talent and grow talent. He is also a Forbes Books author of Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Mornings Don’t Suck: How to Get, Keep & Grow Talent. His goal is simple, help every company he works with make sure Monday mornings don’t suck for their employees.
WB: Eric’s a motivational speaker, consultant, executive coach, and an expert in helping companies create a culture that high performers want to be part of. During his 25-year career in corporate America, Eric held leadership roles, ranging from manager to Chief Human Resources and Chief Administration Officer. So I welcome you to find a comfortable space where you can relax and take notes while listening to the conversation Eric and I have, as we discuss today’s topic of How to Avoid Becoming that A-Hole Leader and Retain Your Talent.
Speaker: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach and mentor, Wayne Brown, as we unpack an exciting future together.
WB: Welcome, Eric. Fantastic to have you on the show, on the ET Project. It’s been a while coming since our first discussion, and I’ve really been looking forward to the conversation that we’re about to have. So, thank you very much for joining us. For those that are just tuning in, we’re talking with Eric Harkins. Eric’s an author and public speaker, and does a whole range of great things, and we’re going to have a great conversation. So I really look forward to the next 30 or so minutes. So welcome, Eric.
Eric Harkins: Yeah. Hey, Wayne, thank you. Good morning. Really looking forward to the conversation. I know we’re going to have some fun. Lots of good stuff to talk about today.
WB: Oh, yeah. We’re going to get on to your book and I love your book, so…
WB: On facts, anything to share with the group?
EH: You know, I usually share that my wife, my daughter and my son and I are all black belts in Taekwondo. And when my kids were very little, they wanted to get into it, and my wife and I said, “Well, let’s go to the first class with them and just get them started.” And three-and-a-half years later, we all became black belts, and I like to kinda joke that my wife and daughter and I retired at that point, and my son is now a fourth-degree black belt and competes at a pretty high level, so. Yeah, so that was a pretty cool experience.
WB: It’s an amazing sport for the family to be involved in, right?
EH: Really, I mean, something that I’ll always treasure that I did with my kids as they were growing up. It was a very fun thing to do as a family.
WB: I’ll know to go for a drink with you.
EH: Well, as I said, I’m retired, so you don’t have to worry too much about it.
WB: Excellent. Anything that’s exciting you around today, like anything out in the economy or in the business world that’s exciting you?
EH: Yeah, I mean, exciting in a really sort of frustrating way, I guess, right?
EH: I love this recent conversation about the great resignation, and it’s such a hot topic that people want to talk about, and I don’t think we’re experiencing a great resignation in the US, at least, I don’t. I think what we’re experiencing is an exodus of bad leadership, and I think people are finally saying, “Hey, we’re not going to tolerate that type of leader. I’m not going to put up with that kind of behavior, I’m not going to work in a culture that doesn’t have any energy or that isn’t fun at all, because I have too many options.” And I know that’s kind of what we’re going to be covering today. And…
WB: For sure.
EH:It’s what I spend a lot of my time talking about. And certainly a lot of the content in the book is around how do you create that culture that people want to be a part of. And I truly believe companies today only have one thing that’s going to differentiate them, and that’s who they allow to be a leader, and that’s your only differentiator right now.
WB: Well, that’s a nice message for this group, because we’re talking to executive talents, that’s their whole life blood, so, great. And also, a nice segue, if you like, into a little bit on your career, if you wouldn’t mind. You have a fascinating career, and you talk about it nicely in the book, but would you like to share anything in particular about the career?
EH: Yeah, you know, it’s funny, looking back now, I wish I was smart enough to have done it on purpose, because it really set me up nicely for what I’ve been doing in the last few years with my own consulting business. But I was lucky, I had this great journey, I started as a manager in training right out of college with Target Corporation, and went on to work for several different Fortune 500 companies. I’ve worked for privately-held companies. I’ve worked for PE-backed organizations in the technology, retail, CPG and healthcare space. And so, really, I’ve had experiences in most of the environments that you could have.
EH: And what I talk a lot about is, you know, hey, great leaders are great leaders and bad leaders are bad leaders, and it doesn’t matter what your industry is, what your business that you’re in, or if you’re privately-held or PE-backed or Fortune 50, and so really, really was fortunate to have a variety of different experiences. And I talk about it in the book, and I say, “Listen, I was really lucky in my career because I had the chance to work for some good leaders, but I was a lot luckier ’cause I worked for a lot of really bad leaders, and that’s where I learned my lessons.”
WB: And I’m expecting there’s agreement in the audience, hearing you say that, right, because I think the majority of us have probably experienced that as well.
EH: Yeah, I do a lot of keynote speaking, and I know we’re going to talk about it this morning, but I think in the book, I talk about these three lessons I’ve learned, I won’t spoil it yet, but when I talk about the three lessons, to your point, I can just see it on people’s faces, the head nods, the agreement, because we’ve all had those experiences, right?
WB: Yeah, I recall when we were having our first conversation, I was one of those nodding my head as we were talking about it.
EH: Yeah. And even the title of the book, I will tell you, the title of the book, Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck, it just resonates with so many people, and I have so many people who reach out and say, “Jeez, I love the title of the book,” or “That’s so accurate.” Or, “Hey, I used to be one of those people that didn’t look forward to going to work.” So it’s been a lot of fun, it’s certainly been humbling for me, the response of, you know, how it’s resonated with people, but that allows us to have some really good conversations, and then hopefully do some really good work with companies to help them understand what that really means, right?
WB: I can well imagine, having read the book, it’s one of the more enjoyable books that I’ve read recently, I have to say. And one of the really pleasing things is the length of the book, I think it’s about 129 pages, so it’s very easy to digest in an acceptable period of time, and it’s entertaining as well. So yeah, look, I’d highly recommend for anybody…
EH: I appreciate that. No, thank you, I appreciate that. I had… There was somebody on LinkedIn who referred to the book as a two glass of wine read, and I thought that was perfect. I took that as a compliment, and I did, I kinda did that on purpose. I think people have a hard time getting through 400-page books. We’re busy, you know, we start it, we never finish it. And so I wanted something that people could… Most people finish the book in less than two hours, and so a lot of people do kind of sit down and read it in one sitting, maybe two sittings, and I appreciate your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed it. But it’s been a really, really cool experience since having the book come out.
WB: Fantastic. In the book itself, there’s a concept called lead, L-E-A-D, and it’s one of the central themes, I guess, that you start and you conclude the book with. L-E-A-D has a special meaning. Would you like to elaborate on that at the moment?
EH: Yeah, absolutely. LEAD stands for Leadership Expectations And Development, and it’s something that really I developed over my 25-year career in corporate America, working in all those different environments, really stepping back, saying, “Hey, what are the things that really great leaders do every day, not because they have to, because it’s who they are as a leader.” And so, it’s eight questions and really is truly the foundation of our consulting practice as well as the book, for sure. It’s eight questions that you should ask of every leader in your company. And they’re kind of simple yes or no questions, do the leaders do these things, and I’ll read through them very quickly, right.
EH:The first one, and these are questions that you ask, so for anyone listening, think about a leader in your company, whoever just popped into your mind, and just answer kinda yes or no, right. The first question is, does this leader create a culture high performers want to be a part of? Do they bring energy and enthusiasm to work every day? Do they build relationships at all levels of the organization? Do they support the direction of the company with no hidden agendas? Are they decisive and do they make a tough call when it needs to be made? Do they manage the performance of their teams? Do they consistently deliver results? And do they help the company grow by developing people?
EH: And nobody’s ever read the book and called me and said, “Hey, Eric, how did you come up with this? This is really, really revolutionary.” It’s like, No, it’s very simple, but I think the issue we’re experiencing right now across companies is that we don’t set expectations for leaders. We hire leaders and tell them what their job is, and, “Congratulations, you’re the new VP of Finance, we’ll see you on Monday.” Imagine sitting down with that same person who’s about to join your organization and asking them questions like, what do you do to create a culture high performers want to be a part of? What does it mean to you to bring energy and enthusiasm to work every day, and then to take it a step further and say, “Hey, if you’re going to be a leader in our company, this is what we’re going to expect you to do. This is how we’re going to expect you to show up.”
EH: And it’s… Maybe the powerful part is in the simplicity, this isn’t overly complicated. And I love it when I do a consulting engagement, ’cause I’ll have companies, sometimes they’ll say, “Hey, we want your help implementing this, but I think we want to take a few of them off, there’s a couple, we maybe only want five.” Okay, great. And as we start trying to figure out which ones to remove, it’s hard to say, “No, you don’t want that from a leader, I mean, you don’t want them to consistently deliver results, or you don’t want them to bring energy and enthusiasm.”
EH: But I’ll tell you, the conversations have been so fun, because it’s just a different way to assess your leaders. There’s no science behind it, it wasn’t developed by a PhD, but it’s, wow, imagine if every one of your leaders did these things every day. And I’ve seen it, and that’s what I talk about in the book. I was lucky in my last experience in corporate America, where we implemented this, we used it as our interview guide, we actually made it our annual review. I mean, we took it very seriously that if you’re going to be a leader here, this is how you need to show up. And it was an amazing culture. It was… I mean, Monday morning didn’t suck. It works, and that’s why I said, “Hey, this really works if you’re willing to hold your leaders accountable to that.”
WB: Excellent. The book’s short, but I have to say there’s a lot in the book and there’s a lot of great insights that everybody that reads it will take from it. We’re not going to have enough time to cover everything, so I’ve done a little bit of vetting on behalf of the audience, so hopefully my questions are correct, but I’d like to touch on three areas if I could. One is, you mentioned the three lessons, and we’ll come back to that, you’ve already spoken briefly about that.
WB: The next is the Four Cs of termination, and then finally, and probably quite briefly, the three mistakes to avoid, so as a leader, the three mistakes to avoid. So maybe if we start by unpacking the three lessons, which then of course, you take the last one of those lessons and you make it a rule, right.
EH: Yeah, no, LEAD is certainly a foundation of the book, but so is… So are the three lessons I’ve learned. So I talk about, Hey, throughout my journey, there’s three lessons I learned that really kind of shaped my career and how I tried to show up as a leader. And the first lesson… And then in the book, I tell the story of how they became rules and how much more impactful it was once they became rules. But lesson number one, it’s okay to have fun at work. It really is, I promise, contrary to popular belief in some companies, it’s okay to have fun at work.
EH: Lesson number two, poor performing employees don’t quit voluntarily. Boy, we all wish they did, right. And I usually ask leaders to think about the last time one of their poor performers called them and said, “Hey, I quit, I’m out of here,” versus the last time somebody you didn’t want to lose did the same thing, right. So it’s your job as a leader to make sure you’re not letting those poor performers show up. But lesson number three, which by far is the most important lesson, that became rule number three, assholes are assholes, and they don’t change.
EH: And I love talking about it, because when I’m on stage, or if I’m in front of a group, sometimes I’ll get the question, “Hey, Eric, what’s your definition of an asshole?” And I always say, “You know, I really don’t know what the definition is, but I know who they are in every company I ever worked in.” And that’s when I really start to see some head-nodding in the audience and some agreement with that, so… Yeah, so those are the three lessons, and then I tell the story how somebody referred to lesson number three as rule number three. I had not called them rules, but I realized how much more powerful that was, and in this same organization that I worked at where we implemented LEAD, rule number three became a real thing. And we didn’t have to use that word anymore. We didn’t have to say it all the time. The people knew what it meant, it represented the quality of leader that we were or weren’t going to tolerate, probably the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen in my career in changing a culture of a company.
WB: Very interesting. Another challenging topic that you talk about are the Four Cs of termination, and for all leaders terminating people is never pleasant, but there’s an art to it, and you talk about that.
EH: Yeah, it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever… Of every leader that I’ve ever worked with it, because it isn’t… Nobody likes to fire somebody. I had to do it a lot throughout my career, I never went home and high five my kids, “Hey, I fired somebody at work today.” But it’s a necessary part of being a leader. And the gap is those leaders who just avoid it at all costs, but yeah, it’s not natural. So I tried to come up with a simple concept to help you prepare the four Cs of termination.
EH: And the first one is be confident, be calm, be committed, and be cautious. And there’s sort of a sentence to each one of those. Be confident. The employee being terminated has to realize that you made the right decision, that you truly believe this is the right thing. Being calm, don’t let their behavior change your composure, right. This is not an emotional event, this is a business-related decision. Be committed, there’s no room for negotiation. The decision is final. And be cautious, don’t answer a question you weren’t asked.
EH: You know, some of the mistakes, as leaders get nervous, they start to ramble, the employee says, “Well, what about Billy? Billy’s performance is worse than mine, are you firing Billy?” And instead of saying, “We’re not talking about anyone other than you today, the decision has been made, today’s your last day,” sometimes leaders start to engage and they, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m going to deal with Billy’s performance, and you’re probably thinking about Mary too,” that’s the whole don’t answer a question you weren’t asked. It’s like, the person didn’t even bring this… Why bring that up? It’s irrelevant to the conversation.
EH: And the other part of that discussion is, a termination conversation shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. And that’s a little controversial. I have a lot of people who’d say, “Jeez, that seems a little insensitive.” And it might seem insensitive, but it’s actually the respectful thing to do to the person. There’s no reason to drag this out to a 20-minute conversation. As soon as they hear the words that they’re terminated, their mind is on to 50 other things anyway. Be respectful, treat them with the respect they deserve on their way out, but short and simple.
EH: You know, I’ve had a bunch of people reach out and say, “Wow, the Four Cs, I had to fire somebody yesterday, I re-read that chapter about the Four Cs, and it really helped me prepare.” So hopefully people can take that away as an easy way to make a very difficult situation a little less…
WB: It’s definitely not the most pleasant activity, but if you have a method of doing it, and that’s what you’re giving with the Four Cs, so it makes a little bit easier. Yeah, for sure. Alright, well, the final area that I wanted to touch on were the three mistakes.
EH: Yeah, and I… Boy, I think this happens in every company, right, and there’s sort of three mistakes that I’ve seen companies make. And the first is they let tenure trump performance. The person is not performing, yeah, but they’ve been here for 10 years, they’ve been here for 20 years. They let relationships trump performance. “Yeah, well, we went to college together, I mean, I was in his wedding. How can you expect me to… I coach his son’s basketball team, I can’t fire him. I’m going to see him on Saturday morning.” And then the last mistake, which is probably the one I talk about most when I’m engaged with a client, is not letting the results trump the behavior.
EH: And I always ask a question upfront, do you think behavior is as important as results, meaning how you get the results matters just as much as the results themselves. And almost every single leader I’ve ever worked with says absolutely, 100%, I agree with that. But I guarantee a lot of the time, there’s at least one person in the organization who is not getting the results the right way, either they’re leaving a wake of people in their path or they’re committing things to the customer that aren’t filled with integrity. For whatever reason, the behavior doesn’t really match what the company’s expectations would be. So not letting tenure, not letting relationships and not letting behavior be more important, or making sure behavior is as important as the results are three simple kind of things to try to avoid.
WB: And it’s great advice, I have to say, and I have to admit I am guilty as charged on a couple of occasions at different times in my career. So you also made a couple of interesting suggestions, and before we finish on the book, I really want to touch on those. The first is that you suggest that everyone should experience being fired at least once in their career.
EH: Yeah, I talk about… I mean, losing your job, being terminated, having your position eliminated, it doesn’t really matter how it happened, but it’s the most wonderfully terrible experience that everyone should go through at least once. And I don’t mean to make light of it, it’s not something to celebrate, but it’s good to be humbled, and especially as an adult, where some of us more than others need to be humbled at times, there is nothing more humbling than losing your job. And you go through this range of emotions, and in the book, I say the only experience that has more emotion in any one day after being terminated is junior high school, which is the only other most wonderfully terrible experience everyone should go through once in their life, right.
EH: And so I joke, I said, “Hey, I’m lucky enough to have been fired twice,” and again, I’m not making light of it, it’s a terrible thing, but you learn from it and you grow from it, and you look back years later, and there were lessons learned and certainly, would I have done that again? And you take the learning from it, but it really is a moment of, filled with emotion that as adults we don’t typically experience. So that’s where I kind of say, Hey, I do think it’s an experience everyone should go through once, because you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about other people, and you take a lot of really good learnings with you whenever it happens.
WB: Excellent. And you have one chapter that I just wanted to highlight in particular. It’s called Chapter 6, and it’s a one-word chapter.
EH: So it might be the short… Well, it has to be the shortest chapter ever published in a book, ’cause you can’t get much shorter than one word, I guess.
WB: The word is no.
EH: So the title of the chapter is, Can A Bad Leader Create A Good Culture? And you flip the page and it says No. And when the book came out, I had somebody call me and they said, “I thought this was a mistake, like I thought it was a printing error, and then it hit me that you did that on purpose. That’s the best chapter I’ve ever read in my life.” And so, yes, it’s a very quick read, that chapter, one word.
WB: Yeah. I picked it up at the end of the book where you said, my favorite chapter is chapter 6. And I thought, Gosh, I must have missed that, let me go back to it. Ah. Yeah, no, excellent, excellent. Alright, well, great discussion around the book. Is there anything you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to share?
EH: Yeah. So the consulting firm, GKG Search & Consulting, GKG stands for Get, Keep and Grow. I talk about that in the book. It’s the three things I think companies need to spend most of their time focused on, getting talent, keeping talent and growing talent. So once the book came out, we started to get a lot of questions from people who had read it or teams that had read it about, “Hey, what’s next, what else can we do with the content from the book?” So we actually have a series of workshops that we’re very excited about, that we’ve started working with some of our clients on. One of the workshops is, Are You a Monday Morning Leader?
EH: And we dive a little bit deeper into your leadership style and some self-reflection and some exercises. And then we have workshops, How To Get Talent, How To Keep Talent and How To Grow Talent. Those are three separate workshops. And then we do a lot of work with our clients where we actually go into the company and we assess all of their leaders against LEAD, and as I tell them on the front end, “If we do an honest assessment, you’re going to have two outcomes, you are going to identify some leaders who are not going to be part of your future, you’re going to identify leaders who are going to be a huge part of your future,” and then that’s where we come in and we have an executive search practice, or if it’s coaching or these workshops.
EH: So yeah, a number of different things that we work on with companies, but our sweet spot is focused on leadership level, so whatever your lowest level leader and up is who we want to… Help you make sure you’ve got the right people to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, but can a bad leader create a good culture? No. And these companies that are wondering why they’re not making progress on retention, they’re missing the step to really do a deep assessment on the leaders in their company.
WB: Yeah, it sounds fascinating. And for listeners, where would they go to find you and to learn a little about your programs?
EH: Yeah, thanks. Probably the easiest is my website, ericharkins.com, E-R-I-C-H-A-R-K-I-N-S, ericharkins.com, you can find me on LinkedIn as well. Would love to connect with anyone who listens to this and wants to have a conversation, but you can find all my contact information on the website.
WB: And one more time, the title of the book?
EH: Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck: How To Get, Keep & Grow Talent.
WB: Excellent. We will put links in the show notes for everyone that’s interested. But excellent conversation. Thanks, Eric. Any final takeaway that you would like to leave with the group?
EH: Yeah, I mean, enjoyed the conversation. It always seems like they go so fast. I’d love to talk for another half hour, but I really appreciate the opportunity to join you. I’ll go back to what I said towards the beginning, that I really do believe in this competitive landscape that we have, in this great resignation that people want to talk about, all the stuff that’s going on that companies have to deal with, the only differentiator you have is who you allow to be a leader in your organization.
EH: Because every company… Every company has things that are attractive to people and things that aren’t attractive to people, but if you focus on leaders who know how to create a culture high performers want to be a part of, you’re never going to talk about the great resignation in your company.
WB: And that’s a very important message, I think, for our listener base, which are the executive talents. I would really encourage everyone to look at the eight points in this LEAD model that Eric talks about, because if you can answer those questions and use that as a basis for yourself to gauge and to analyze how are you doing, and are you able to make a difference, then I think that’s a great basis for you to launch your own career from. So excellent. I really enjoyed the conversation, Eric. Thank you very much. Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to connect again at some stage.
WB: Do you have another book in the future or anything or?
EH: That’s the million dollar question, and I would like to write another book. People ask, “Hey, how long did it take you to write this book?” And I say, “You know, it wasn’t too bad, it was only about nine years.”
WB: Yeah. [chuckle]
EH: There’s a little bit of truth to that. It was sort of a hobby for a long time, and then I got kind of serious about, “Hey, maybe this is a book.” But I enjoyed writing it, it’s been a humbling experience to be able to have conversations like this with leaders like you, and the messages that I’ve received from others. So yeah, I think there probably is, but not coming soon, but hopefully, before too long, I’ll start working on that.
WB: Maybe we’ll have to have a conversation about co-authoring one. [laughter] Alright, well…
EH: And we will, for sure. No, listen, Wayne, thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation and I appreciate the opportunity to be on the podcast.
WB: Eric Harkins, it’s been a great pleasure. Thank you very much. Until the next time, thank you all.
Speaker: Thank you for joining us on the ET Project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time, check out our site for free videos, e-books, webinars and blogs at coaching4companies.com.