6 Leadership lessons from Ethan Hunt

♫ Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun ♫

Some time ago, I witnessed how Ethan Hunt, played by Hollywood phenomenon Tom Cruise, together with his team for the fifth time saved the world from destruction. I must honestly admit, I have a weakness for the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise and Rogue Nation certainly did not disappoint: lifelike action scenes, sensation, humor, as well as beautiful locations and good acting. But above all, the film series is also instructive. Starting as a novice, Ethan Hunt grew to become the natural leader of his group. His leadership is the key to success or failure. What important leadership lessons can we draw from the film franchise and implement on the work floor?

1. Build a strong team

There is no doubt about it, Ethan Hunt is wonderfully talented, but he does not accept any single mission on his own. The goals achieved are the result of a wonderful piece of teamwork. Each team member has his specific skill and contributes his or her bit. Just think of Benji Dunn who can hack any computer system with the click of a mouse or the fighting skills of Ilsa Faust that helps Hunt escape from The Syndicate. A leader is only as good as his team. Good leaders recognize the talent of their employees and use them as well as possible, so that everyone makes a positive contribution to the final goal.

2. Work systematically

In every Mission Impossible film there is an obstacle that needs to be overcome: breaking into a highly secure building, downloading a heavily guarded computer file… This does not happen in haste, but always requires extensive planning, with timing as an important factor. Every step that is taken is mapped out. A leader stands or falls with a good planning. A supervisor must organize the work in such a way that the intended results are achieved within the set time. Leaders therefore all benefit from first drawing up a thorough plan before they get started.

3. Be flexible

Plans, however, have the habit of changing. Every Mission Impossible film has a plot twist that jeopardizes the team. Fast anticipation is therefore a must. Leaders must always be prepared to adjust their planning where possible. He must be characterized by his flexibility. After all, a working environment is never static, but changes all the time.

4. Radiate self-confidence

However dire the situation, Hunt always believes in the good outcome. He remains courageous and always finds a way to overcome the obstacles. His positive attitude rubs off on his team members, who are only too willing to go the extra mile. A manager must stand by his own convictions. Leaders with self-confidence inspire their teams to get the best out of themselves. In short, managers with confidence have employees with confidence.

5. Dare to take risks

Ethan Hunt is not afraid to take risks to achieve his goal. Whether he jumps from a skyscraper, climbs a cliff, or dangles from a rising plane, Ethan does it all to reach his goal. Leaders must dare to take risks from time to time. Especially in a world where innovation is the basis for success. Leaders must often take decisions without enough background information. Or they end up in a situation where they must deviate from the standard procedures.

6. Show appreciation

As already mentioned, Hunt is extremely aware of the qualities of his team members and therefore he does not miss any chance to express his appreciation. A smile, a pat on the back, a simple thank you, a drink to celebrate the good outcome, Hunt does it all. He gives his team members the opportunity to use their talents, gives his team members wings and commands loyalty. Luther, Brandt and Benji are only too willing to put their lives at risk to help him with the mission. By giving recognition to employees for their achievements, you motivate them to achieve better work performance. Their involvement in the job will increase. Every employee longs to be noticed and appreciated by their manager.

Jasmien Schaevers

On why and how true leaders truly connect

The future belongs to those who are capable of connecting with others on a deeper level. Enduring CEOs and top managers are those who know how to connect with their employees; winning politicians are those who know how to connect with the public; successful sales representatives are those who know how to connect with their prospective customers.

In short, regardless of one’s role or position, connection is key!

Slowly but surely, we are leaving the era in which technology and the purely analytical and rational way of functioning has always taken centre stage. And we are moving on to a new era: the era of “emotion”. As such, it will be the companies in which that “emotion” plays a pivotal role that will become the protagonists of the success-stories of the future. It will be those companies that promote “feel good” concepts and/or help people fulfil their dreams that will be the ones to make the cut.

At Arteel, experience has taught us that there are 3 guiding principles that lead to the path of booking results and being successful in this new era.

Here, I’ll happily share them with you!

1. Generosity

Just to be perfectly clear from the outset: “generosity” does not mean giving away or endlessly doing good by financially supporting charitable organisations.

“Generosity” does mean developing the skills and ability to give yourself. How?

  • By fully embracing vulnerability – it will be the leaders that summon up the courage to show their vulnerability that will be tomorrow’s successful leaders
  • By showing your engagement, basing it on your own personal story
  • By acknowledging the essential importance of recognition and giving twice as much as you receive. Once you have mastered the art of truly recognising the people that cross your path, these people will open up to what you have to say. By expressing your appreciation and giving people a good feeling after meeting you, you secure yourself a position on the winning team!

Now, how many leaders of this kind do you know? I think you will find that most leaders still position themselves to function from the “I”-perspective and from a purely rational point of view, instead of from their heart, bringing “emotion” into the equation.

2. First lead yourself

The media is swamped with theories, lectures and workshops on “leadership”.

But how many people in leadership positions, functioning on the highest level, are equally truly capable of being a good leader to their very own body and mind? How many leaders of this kind do you know? My guess is: not many.

Yet how can someone be a true top performer, or fulfil a top executive function, if he or she is not capable of performing the physical tasks of running 10 km at a nice speed or making it up the hill without the need for an electric bike? How can someone supposedly be in “top condition”, yet at the same time only be able to function on pills and energy drinks? Body and mind go hand in hand, and the expression “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is a truism.

Still, most of us are not aware enough of the fact that investing in both our physical and mental health is essential to be able to function optimally; and in order to be successful in our modern-day economy, functioning optimally is exactly what one needs to do.

And this is even more true for those in leadership positions: if you cannot manage to be a good leader to your own body and mind, how can you be a role model for others? Al Pacino once said: “I wish the stage was a tightrope where only the brave could enter”. How many leaders, consultants, top managers and role models do you think would meet that benchmark?

3. Be Passionate and love what you do

The successful companies of the future are those companies that have the know-how of aligning their own mission and values with the mission and values of their employees, so as to create a healthy company culture.

Only if employees genuinely can’t wait to walk through their office door and “breathe” the company culture, are they able to connect with customers. Yet how many people truly feel connected with the mission and values of the organisation they work for? How many people truly feel passionate to pull their weight?

Only with enough oxygen can you keep a fire going. And the same applies to a company: only when the company’s employees receive enough oxygen, can they keep the company’s fire going – come rain or come shine. That is why every person in a leadership position needs to be like a top playing captain of a sports team: well-trained, strong and with a healthy balance in both body and mind. Then, from this position of strength, he or she can create a solid mission and contribute in a positive way to the vision of the team he plays with – pushing his team all the way to the top.

And, in the light of the above, it goes unspoken that such a top playing captain is made out of far more than a mere check-list of job-related competencies.

How about you?

Are you a top playing captain?

Nathalie Arteel
Leading Angel Arteel Group
Recognition and Motivation Expert

On how to do it differently

You get your wages every month, what more do you expect?

This was –  a bit jumping to conclusions – the attitude of one of my previous employers. Coming from a company where every effort was considered an obvious thing, working at Arteel is an eye-opener to me every day about how things can be done differently.

What makes Arteel such a special employer? Appreciation!

I already wrote down a first account of  ‘my story’ in this blog. Now I would like to resume it.

The background

In my previous job I managed a small team. The last months in this position I was stubbornly looking for a way to really do something with the talents of these skilled people. I noticed that I was not the only one who was searching for the best way to do this. Some of my team members wanted to change course within the company, but not much was done by the top team. The functions were strictly delimited, creativity was not punished but certainly not encouraged either. Some felt clearly trapped in their function but also dared not to do anything because the corporate culture did not allow this. Some had already made an attempt to introduce ‘something new’, but if nothing was done after three attempts, this initiative also stopped. I myself was one of these.

Organizing performance interviews, a solution that seemed to me a very obvious first step and was still lacking in this company, was not an option. The management did not believe in it, and now that I look back on it, they might have been right on that. Because if I had known then what I know now, and especially what I have experienced in a short time about appreciation, then I am convinced that I would have handled it differently.

The basic principle of appreciation

Appreciation is more than to, once a year, put someone in the spotlight for an exceptional result – with lots of bells and whistles. Appreciation starts with being attentive to other people’s actions and emotions, day in and day out. You must first notice the actions before you can recognize someone for them. Show genuine interest in what someone is doing and you will be amazed at what doors will open.

How appreciation can be a lever for …

Creativity

A successful organization is one that tries to reinvent itself every day, which is always one step ahead of what the market demands or expects. You need creative employees for this. It is often thought that creativity is something you have or don’t have, but nothing is less true. You can stimulate creative ideas as a business leader by receiving and appreciating them in the right way.

To propose creative ideas, people have to dare to come out of their shell. Nothing is more frightening than giving an idea and not knowing how others will respond to it. Maybe they think you are a freak, or they laugh at you … Create an environment in which your employees feel safe to put even the most crazy ideas on the table. Always take the input of your employees seriously and do something with it. This does not mean that you have to think that every idea is great, but you should show sincere gratitude for their input and take it into consideration. Always motivate why you think it is a good idea or not.

There is nothing that will undermine the self-confidence and creativity of employees more than seeing nothing is done with their idea.

Ownership

Employees that are involved in the ins and outs of the company, will feel valued. The fact that you allow your employees to think about certain decisions and are genuinely interested in their opinion, makes that they will feel co-owner, will give the best of themselves and will continue to grow.

Compare it to a toddler who likes to do everything himself. As a parent, you know that your patience (and your china) will be put to the test if you let your little one set the table or put own his shoes himselve, but if you just grin and bear it, you will undoubtedly reap the benefits in the long run. Just think about how those eyes sparkle when they have succeeded in that great task. Your child gets a boost of self-confidence and can hardly wait to acquire another skill.

Even adults can be as proud as a small child, fortunately. And even though that first attempt was perhaps not the most efficient one, the pride that one experiences will trigger a domino effect of new and ever-improving efforts. It will create a contagious appetite for your employees to always get the best out of themselves.

In short, appreciating involves getting involved, but at the same time giving someone the opportunity to experiment within his own knowledge and expertise. Letting someone experience and discover their own successes and talents will make sure that they will dare to take the plunge and feel ownership of their responsibilities within the organization.

Successful retention management

There are a number of reasons why people decide to leave a company over time. Being insufficiently appreciated is certainly one of them, but the reasons for leaving are, of course, broader than that.

For example:

  • If the learning period has passed in a new position, people sometimes tire of the job if no new responsibilities are added. There is no more challenge. Either these people get into a bore-out, or they resign.
  • As a new employee you often have high expectations about your boss, job and responsibilities. If after a while these expectations are not met, chances are that people will look elsewhere.
  • Dissatisfied employees who still want to fight for the job of their dreams by attempting to discuss the issues they face, will come home empty-handed when they can’t talk with their supervisor. Frustrations will gain the upper hand, resulting in voluntary leave.

What is often not realized is that the solution for all these people leaving can be found within the basic principle of appreciation. It all starts with noticing and recognizing someone’s (mal)functioning in an organization. If you, as a manager, are attentive to how someone feels and behaves on the shop floor, boredom, expectations not met and frustrations can be detected before they pose a problem.

A vicious circle, but a positive one

The fact that on my previous job talents often remained unused, that creative ideas were not encouraged and that change ideas were not picked up were clear alarm signals. The fact that I finally made the step to leave is proof of that.

Noticing the problem – recognizing it – is a first important step. The steps you can take after that were discussed above. Employees who feel that their input is valued, who are involved in the organization and who get the necessary room for experimentation and responsibilities are happy employees. Employees who are happy in their job demonstrate this happiness and self-confidence in their interactions with customers, resulting in more satisfied customers. Satisfied customers give extra contentment and motivation to your employees.

This way, your create a positive working environment.

A work climate for which someone would even like to give money to be able to work there.

Leen Joos

The one secret most bosses never tell

We find a job. We work hard. We receive a promotion. But despite our career, there is one truth almost all leaders keep quiet about. They find it too awkward to talk about. Even when it shouldn’t matter, most leaders never address the subject. They think they’ll lose face.

What is this best kept secret?

It’s this: we first became manager because we were getting results, not because we were deemed good at leading others. We have technical knowledge and know how to go about getting the work done. But we never experienced or learned what it means to lead, inspire or motivate others.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of!

It happens to the best. Take David Novak for instance. He’s the former CEO of Yum Brands. Yum Brands is a fast food company that employs around 90000 employees in 135 countries. David is a humble man who never saw himself as a leader. And he’s not an exception, since 87% of managers wish they had received more training when they first took on the role. For more insights on the modern management deficit, please read Good Manager, Bad Manager.

It’s not new either

It was already put forward by Dr. Laurence Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle.

In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

Even if Peter meant the book to be a satire, it was recently proved to be accurate. Early 2018, three professors from MIT and Yale wrote the paper Promotions and the Peter Principle. If companies only tried to promote the best potential managers, they should put less emphasis on current performance.

Dr. Benson – one of the authors – was surprised. “I expected that the best salespeople would become merely-good managers. After all, some skills translate to management and others don’t,” he said. “To see that the best salespeople were becoming the worst sales managers was surprising.”

Is it even a problem?

Actually, I don’t think so. Granted, many managers are promoted out of their comfort zone or even competency at that moment. But with help, most people can become good leaders. I firmly believe leaders are bred, not born. And David Novak apparently believes this as well. After all, he switched careers and founded oGoLead to build better leaders. Be sure to check out his views on the power of recognition as well. It’s a good read.

What can we do?

Assuming the Peter Principle is a reality in at least some cases, those bad managers do have a very negative impact on business. Because bad leaders tend to inflict talent casualties. So what can we do about it?

1. Being a top performer needs to carry more prestige.
Managers get more attention from the top team, enjoy greater prestige and have more opportunities for personal growth or career advancement. One way of addressing this is the double or parallel career path where technical and management ladders are treated more equally.

2. Decouple promotions to management from current performance.
Evaluate potential managers on leadership skills. Look at soft skills. Allow people to take on temporary leadership roles, e.g. in a project context. This will help you understand their capabilities. And it also allows the employees themselves time to discover if a new role is right for them.

3. If you’re newly promoted yourself, get humble fast.
Realize yourself the skill set that got you promoted may not be the one you need to excel as a leader. See yourself becoming a great leader as a journey. If it isn’t offered to you, find a start-to-lead training program that helps you inspire, coach and motivate people. Perhaps a good start would be to take the time to talk to each new team member. be sure to ask questions such as “How can I best help you to excel?” and “How can I best show my appreciation for the good work you do?”.

Koen Schreurs
Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

Five management tips from Circus Barones

How does a circus succeed in being successful today? The challenges for most circus companies to remain financially profitable are greater than ever before.

But not only do they have to survive financially, they also face important HR challenges.
How does such a circus attract new talent without an attractive salary package and with typical working hours well beyond a 9 to 5? And what if people get sick?
How can they survive at all in a world where children quickly find everything ‘boring’ and prefer to spend time on their PlayStation? And how do they deal with people who consider circus people as being ‘strange’ with different standards and habits than those in the normal world?

This and many other thoughts went through my mind when I attended a Circus Barones show with my family last week.
Contrary to expectations, the performance was almost sold out and I never got bored for two hours. What’s more, I was so impressed by the whole thing that the next day I went back to ask for an interview with circus director Richard Barones about his ‘secret’.

I would like to share with you the five aspects that make Circus Barones the most successful circus in Flanders and how the circus world can be a source of inspiration for our personal and professional lives.

1. A circus artist does not choose a job but a way of life

Richard comes from an Austrian family that has continued the circus tradition for 180 years. In 2002 he bought a small, old circus and started his own business. Today he works with his wife, three sons and a team of twenty permanent employees. Circus Barones has grown into a successful SME and yearly gives 220 performances in Belgium or the Netherlands.
“I am a life artist”, says Richard, “the people here don’t have a job but a life mission. You don’t work in a circus for the money, you work there because you feel connected to the mission and vision. You do it because you have a dream…”.

“Therefore, every time we recruit someone new, we will check to what extent that person chooses our mission and to what extent we can help realise this artist’s dream. Only then do we see how that person and his or her ‘act’ can add value to the circus.”

To what extent do you test during an interview how connected the candidate feels with your mission? And do you test whether you can help your employee’s dream come true?

2. Jobautonomy and trust are the basis of success

“I believe that you should give every artist the freedom to do his or her own job,” says Richard. “You can’t force artists, but you have to give them the opportunity to develop themselves further within a certain framework. If not, you undermine their creativity and passion.”

“Trust is also very important in our world. Not only giving confidence in the way the job is done, but it is also important to stimulate the trust between the employees themselves. People must be able to trust each other blindly when they bring an act together. They must therefore also be able to operate perfectly as a team.”

No greater contrast than between a company and a circus, you would say, but no: in the combination of individuality and group spirit, freedom and self-discipline that is inherent to the life of a circus artist, you undoubtedly recognise a dynamic that is inspiring for us all, both in our professional and personal relationships.

To what extent do you give trust and job control to your employees?

3. We are one big family

“Because we travel 365 days a year with a caravan of fifty vehicles, it is important that people really feel connected to each other. They have to fit within the group. After all, people live together day and night, so they have to get along well. What’s more, they have to support and encourage each other.”

“What matters is that you learn to live and work together. And that is a learning process that takes time and patience. In a circus you have extremely diverse and very free-spirited figures, who have to live together. They succeed by respecting each other’s freedom very informally, and by listening to each other.”

“We always look at the attitude and values of someone in the recruitment process. Self-reliance, teamwork, mental resilience, discipline and generosity are important values for us. Diplomas are only secondary.”

Do you dare to say that you have a strong team where people really feel connected with each other and stand up for each other?

4. Applause

“The most important reason why our artists go the extra mile every day is undoubtedly because of the applause they get from the audience every day.
If that were not the case, if the public were to boo them if an act wouldn’t succeed immediately, our employees would mentally break down.”

“The fact that the audience encourages them when an act doesn’t immediately succeed and the fact that sometimes three times in a row they applaud one performance, makes that the artists continue to give the best of themselves, time after time. Even when things sometimes go a bit more difficult.”

How much applause do you give to your employees? And to what extent do you express your confidence in your employees and encourage them if they fail the first time?

5. The show must go on

“Whatever happens, we cannot let the public wait. The show must go on.
We have to be able to count on each other. Generosity is therefore very important to us. This means giving the best of yourself at as many moments as possible. When we find people don’t share this mindset and the team fit isn’t as it should, the person is replaced.”

“And everyone knows that he or she is replaceable, even I myself”, says the director.
“How can we continuously reinvent ourselves so that we keep captivating the audience every year? How can we add extra value compared to last year? This mindset comes natural to everyone, because an artist must continue to grow by continuing to invest in himself in the first place. It is his or her own responsibility to continue to have job security next year.”

“And as a family we invest in the human side of the business by showing that our people are important. By regularly encouraging them, by expressing our faith in them, by appreciating them but also by being there for them when they have a difficult day”.

To what extent are your employees motivated to always give the best of themselves and to keep reinventing themselves?

Conclusion

Participating in a circus means going back to basics. It means living and working in a demanding and honest way, with dedication and unconditional commitment, with courage and daring. It means being given the space to develop yourself personally so that you can continue to grow.
It means learning to combine great freedom with strong self-discipline and concentration. It means being generous and taking your responsibility, it means learning to be self-reliant. It means daring to be yourself, expressing your personal style, and seamlessly integrating it into the whole.
Circuses can teach us something about mobilizing strong employee engagement, installing effective teamwork and building a ‘learning organization’.
In a circus you can’t hide and you learn what it means to be vulnerable and to be yourself.

Shouldn’t we all have to go back to basics with our HR policy?

I would like to thank Richard Barones and his team for inspiring me and my family.
It is so beautiful to see such passionate people who give the best of themselves every day, train hard and go for ‘excellence’ in everything they do.
It is also interesting to see how appreciation and encouragement play a crucial role in this so that they can always give ‘the best show of their life’.

I would like to encourage all readers to share this blog so that this circus and its artists get even more visibility.

Nathalie Arteel
Recognition expert – Entrepreneur