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How Steve Harvey’s Memo Can Make You a Better Leader

by Phyllis Reagin, Executive Coach & organizational Effectiveness Expert, CSRH Consulting, LLC

By now, you may have read or heard about the disastrous memo that entertainment leader, Steve Harvey, sent to his team. Why is this important to you as a leader? This memo is reflective of what can happen when a leader uses negative messaging to communicate to his team a need for redirection or a new team behavior. The result can be a team that is disillusioned, unmotivated, and disappointed.

Today, I will address the leadership mistakes made by Steve Harvey and provide immediate actions that can solve these problems for any leader and set you apart as a leader of excellence.

News sources were provided the memo that Steve Harvey sent to his staff in Chicago before the start of the fifth season of his former daytime talk show, “Steve Harvey,”. Starting this fall, the revamped show will tape in Los Angeles with a new crew. Below, is the email that his team received:

Good morning, everyone. Welcome back.

I’d like you all to review and adhere to the following notes and rules for Season 5 of my talk show.

There will be no meetings in my dressing room. No stopping by or popping in. NO ONE.

Do not come to my dressing room unless invited.

Do not open my dressing room door. IF YOU OPEN MY DOOR, EXPECT TO BE REMOVED.

My security team will stop everyone from standing at my door who have the intent to see or speak to me.

I want all the ambushing to stop now. That includes TV staff.

You must schedule an appointment.

I have been taken advantage of by my lenient policy in the past. This ends now. NO MORE.

Do not approach me while I’m in the makeup chair unless I ask to speak with you directly. Either knock or use the doorbell.

I am seeking more free time for me throughout the day.

Do not wait in any hallway to speak to me. I hate being ambushed. Please make an appointment.

I promise you I will not entertain you in the hallway, and do not attempt to walk with me.

If you’re reading this, yes, I mean you.

Everyone, do not take offense to the new way of doing business. It is for the good of my personal life and enjoyment.

Thank you all,

Steve Harvey

Steve Harvey stood by his memo but admitted that perhaps he "should've handled it a little bit differently." “I just didn't want to be in this prison anymore where I had to be in this little room, scared to go out and take a breath of fresh air without somebody approaching me, so I wrote the letter," Harvey said.

It’s easy to see at first glance the glaring problem of rudeness, however, if you dig a little deeper this email is filled with many everyday leadership problems that you may be guilty of as well.

Leadership Problem #1:

Telling your team what you don’t want will NOT get you what you want.

Message from the Coach:

Leaders can see the problems often from a different vantage point providing them with a unique sense of what needs correcting. The wrong approach is to take this information and communicate to your team in “problem” language. Instead, spend time thinking about what it looks like when it is right, when it is working perfectly. Now, what are the components that make this happen? What do your team members need to do exactly to produce these results? Craft communication around what it looks like and the results it will produce. Your team will focus on the outcome and their part in making it happen. The focus needs to be on the outcome you want and not how they are an obstacle to positive results. People won’t hear what really matters if they are focused on hurt feelings or defending themselves.

Do This Instead:

  1. Spend time thinking about the outcomes you want. More collaboration, less meetings, better delegation? Now, work backwards as to what it will require to achieve the outcome.
  2. Clearly understand how team members affect the desired outcome. What helps them? What obstacle needs removing? What do you need less of? More of? What needs to stop? What needs to begin?
  3. Communicate this information to your team in a succinct and encouraging way. Find the right moments to integrate their comments, thoughts, and suggestions for making the outcome a reality. They will feel like a team and will want to be a part of the solution.

Leadership Problem #2:

Changes to your team structure is not the time to discuss the broken aspects of the team, environment, or process. Timing is everything.

Message from the Coach:

Everything changes when a team changes. Leaders need to not blaze through this transition and to discuss work “as usual”. This is a valuable time to realign your Leadership vision and the mission of the work your team will perform, to find out more about your team, what motivates them, why do they do the work they do, and what do they want from you as a leader. When performed correctly, your newly structured team will feel encouraged, motivated, and inspired.

Do This Instead:

  1. Schedule a team meeting to discuss the new project, work, etc. At the meeting, present your vision and why their work matters to making the vision a reality.
  2. Set expectations for behavior, communication, and collaboration. This is the time to act like the leader. Your team needs to know what is expected of them and what it looks like when it is being done correctly.
  3. Inspire with your words. Use uplifting words and tone that clearly lets your team know that you value them and honor them as people. This is also about respect. You must demonstrate it first if you want it to become a part of the culture. Do your part.

Leadership Problem #3:

Self-awareness is a not a luxury for a leader. You must know your triggers so you can prepare for them and have “go-to” approaches when you are in a tailspin. Your good intentions are lost when you respond with anger, rudeness, callousness, or aggravation.

Message from the Coach:

Leaders must know their weaknesses and what makes them behave in less than stellar ways. Facing this and understanding it deeply will enable you to not respond to triggers and to instead use more effective words and actions. You may have a good intention for wanting to address an issue with your team but if you let the aggravation you are feeling trigger you, the message will get lost in the negative words or mood you convey. It is your responsibility to understand yourself well enough to know what your triggers are and to then ignore or negate them immediately and to focus on what really matters.

Do This Instead:

  1. Think about all the professional and personal situations that have made you feel irritable, aggravated, or angry. What are the common variables? What was said? Who was there? What response did you give? How did it make you and others feel afterwards?
  2. Now, consider another response that would have provided a better result. How could you have recognized the trigger earlier? How could you have thought about the occurrence differently for an improved outcome?
  3. Look across your current environment. Are those triggers happening? Is there a possibility of them occurring? Be ready with options of how to respond to them.

Leadership Problem #4:

Justifying your poor behavior is NEVER the right thing to do. Saying you are sorry is ALWAYS the right thing to do.

Message from the Coach:

Nothing breaks a team apart and lower trust faster than a leader who will not admit his mistakes. Even the glaringly, embarrassing ones that make you want to dig a hole and disappear. Your team members may feel disappointed in you and your prior action but admitting to your mistake will keep them on your side. Your team will stop caring about you and the work if they believe that you don’t care about their feelings.

Do This Instead:

  1. Being a strong leader means taking the stage front-and-center with your team and saying, “Hey, I screwed up. I know it and you know it. Firstly, I apologize. Secondly, I ask for your forgiveness. Here’s what I really wanted to say…”
  2. Don’t do it again. How do you make sure of that? Surround yourself with a few go-to people that you trust who will review your messages, thoughts, actions before you present them. Here’s the hard part. You must trust that they are right and put the brakes on if they tell you to do so.
  3. Mistakes are not what will kill your career first. Mistakes without any corrective action certainly will. Your team (and stakeholders) see this as a character trait and know that a strong leader takes on the hard stuff, like saying you are sorry.

Steve Harvey is not alone in making such leadership mistakes. His was broadcasted for all the world to see and judge. For any leader, to lead with excellence means knowing your triggers, setting expectations with your team, clearly messages your intentions, surrounding yourself with people that can give you good counsel, and remembering to own your mistakes without any justification.

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