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Cheri Dudek-Kuhn | Listen. Learn. Lead. Repeat.

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I read in the book “Boss Bitch” (Nicole Lapin) that there are two types of leaders — those that lead as if they are playing checkers, and those that lead as if they are playing chess. Her point was that people are like chess pieces — we all move a little differently. We want to be treated differently. And leaders who treat everyone the same (checkers pieces) are less effective because people are individuals that respond uniquely. I completely agree.

This is especially true of your direct reports: The people you interact with, coach, inspire and manage on a daily, or at least a weekly, basis. Most people share common wants and needs: autonomy, purpose and mastery. I have written much about that, so I will stay off that soap box, but leading your team in a way that fosters these things is paramount in any business or organization that wishes to recruit and retain the best people. But aside from these basic tenets, there are ways to personalize your leadership — at the individual, team and company level.

Our No. 1 Core Value of “Do Right” guides much of what we do. In order to do right by our team, we must know and understand them as people — part of a work family and not just “employees.” In large companies, this needs to be done at the departmental level (it’s hard to know 500 people really well!). At Orchard Corset, our team shares a sense of humor. We recognize this and enjoy (even encourage) light-hearted shenanigans when time allows. I don’t know any other workplace where jumping out from behind a shelf to scare the crap out of your CEO is a regular occurrence — and a jubilant morale and loyalty are the byproducts. This does not mean we aren’t a dedicated, hard-working and ambitious team. I believe that I get the work of at least three average employees for every two of our team members. And no, they are not genetically-altered, but they do know we genuinely care and appreciate each of them — because we do!

I have a number of younger members on my team, several of whom are working toward a degree that will eventually take them away from us. We encourage and promote employee development intentionally — both within and outside of our organization. We do this by being creative with scheduling when it does not compromise shipping deadlines and customer-service response quotas. For some of our working moms, time often trumps money so we also offer a choice of more PTO time as part of their pay raises.

A fellow leader and friend says it beautifully: “When an employer understands their employees have lives outside of the office, but that they spend most of their time at the office, it means a great deal to them when you take into consideration what they value most. That can be a flexible work schedule, the ability to work from home some days, encouraging them to take REAL vacations (when they completely disconnect from the office), helping them achieve a personal goal like completing education, becoming more healthy, volunteering for a cause they care about, or simply not being a jerk when they need to call in sick.”

We do quarterly check-ins with each of our direct reports. These are informal and typically off-site. We focus on sharing what’s working and not working, how our core values are represented and any other concerns. This tool has provided immense value to our leadership team and team members. What we learn from our check-ins absolutely drives our leadership approach and often guides changes that increase productivity and efficiency in our organization.

As a leader, your time is a more valuable asset to your team: Listen, learn, lead.


Cheri Dudek is a leadership enthusiast and CEO at Orchard Corset. Read her leadership blogs at www.cheridudek.com//category/latest-news/