A Conversation with Leadership Expert and Best-Selling Author Chester Elton



Best-selling author Chester Elton is one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership and employee engagement. His books, co-authored with Adrian Gostick, have been translated into more than 30 languages and sold more than a million copies. He has served as a leadership consultant to organizations and major companies, such as American Express, AT&T, and Procter & Gamble. He’ll also be a featured speaker at the upcoming URJ Biennial.

ReformJudaism.org: Toronto’s Globe and Mail anointed you “the apostle of appreciation.” Why do you put so much stock in showing appreciation and recognition in the workplace?

Chester Elton: When people feel valued, everything gets better. It’s one of our most basic human needs, and we get it in our personal relationships – but when we enter the workplace, we often leave it at the door. It’s so easy to be kind, to take a minute and remind someone that they are valued. What better way to do that than to give praise regularly with a handwritten note, a pat on the back, an invitation to lunch, or to send flowers to the house? I used to work for a guy who would say, “Recognition is like a drop of oil in the machinery of business; it makes everything move a lot smoother.” When it is not here, things just grind.

You write that great managers who “lead with carrots, not sticks” achieve significantly higher productivity, engagement, retention, and customer satisfaction. Can you give an example?

In our book All In, focusing on highly engaged organizations, we spotlight one of my business heroes, Carlos Aguilar. He manages several hundred people at an Avis auto rentals in Dallas, TX. By every measure he is at the top of the charts as a manager – high engagement, low turnover, high customer satisfaction, and so on.

How does he do it? He does a lot of things with his people to build relationships. His best practice, he told us, is to put 10 pennies in his left pocket every day and sets a goal of having 10 positive daily interactions with his people. After each such interaction, he moves a penny from his left to his right pocket. If any pennies are not moved, he has not reached his goal.

Carlos has created a culture of carrots. When he arrives at work, people are glad to see him because he’s quick to point out what they are doing right. When they make a mistake and he pulls them over, they are open to his coaching because of the culture he’s created.

How do you define a “highly engaged organization,” as you call them?

People believe that what they do matters, makes a difference, is noticed, and is celebrated. A great leader gives people direction, empowers them, enables them, energizes them, removes roadblocks, and then turns them loose.

In The Orange Revolution, you write, “If you were asked who invented the incandescent electric light, and you answered Edison, you’d be right and you’d be wrong.” How can you be both right and wrong?

After a tour of Thomas Edison’s laboratory, I asked the guide what he thought was the inventor’s greatest contribution. His answer? “Teamwork.” One of the most brilliant minds in the world knew that he alone did not possess all the answers, so he surrounded himself with smart people who helped him find solutions. Edison understood that you can’t do it alone.

Is there a close correlation between job satisfaction and home life?

Absolutely. A University of California study found that when you are in the right job with the right motivators, you’re 150% more likely to be happy in your personal life. When you come home from work, you’re kinder and nicer to your kids and spouse or partner, and you’re more likely to get involved in your community.

What are the main motivators one should be aware of in choosing a job or career?

In our book What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work, we identify 23 motivators, one of which is money. The most successful and wealthy people I know rank money at the very bottom. For them, the top motivators are purpose, social responsibility, family, teamwork, and empathy. When these motivators rank high, money and success always follow.

What makes you happy?

If following my passions makes a difference to somebody and makes the world a better place, that makes me happy.

Chester Elton will be one of the featured speakers at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2015, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Register now for the largest Jewish gathering in North America.

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Aron Hirt-Manheimer

About Aron Hirt-Manheimer

Aron Hirt-Manheimer is the Union for Reform Judaism's editor-at-large.

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