Leading with Gratitude and Growth

Leading with Gratitude and Growth

Bruce Decaster, an accomplished HR executive and author, underscores the importance of creating inclusive and innovative workplaces where all voices are valued.

An Interview with Iconic Leader Bruce Decaster on Empowering Success

Bruce Decaster: Senior Global HR Executive, President & Chief Executive Officer at Crescentia Global Talent Solutions, and author of the book The Art of Serving Two Masters, a guidebook designed to help those who are working two jobs or interested in starting a second job. Connect with Bruce on LinkedIn.


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Q1: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

Bruce: Creating workplaces where every voice matters involves fostering an environment that encourages open, respectful dialogue and ensures everyone feels safe to express their opinions without fear of repercussions. This approach is vital for driving innovation and change. A key strategy is implementing continuous HR planning to anticipate future organizational needs and challenges, allowing for agility and proactive adjustments. Regular, open communication between employees and managers is crucial, making annual reviews a summary of ongoing discussions rather than revelations.

Promoting a culture where both "walkers" (those who silently accept issues) and "talkers" (those who openly address problems) feel comfortable voicing their concerns is essential.

This can be achieved by truly embracing an open-door policy, not just in principle but in practice, and encouraging regular one-on-one meetings where employees can share their thoughts freely.

Moreover, the concept of creating a "no trouble bubble" — a safe space for open communication — is instrumental.

This environment not only facilitates the expression of concerns and ideas but also nurtures innovation by allowing employees to propose alternative approaches and solutions that management may not have considered.

Leadership plays a pivotal role in this ecosystem, acting as catalysts for change without directly involving themselves in every issue. This approach empowers employees to solve problems independently, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility. By asking the right questions and guiding employees towards finding their own solutions, leaders can cultivate a self-sustaining, innovative, and inclusive workplace culture.

In summary, creating a workplace where every voice matters requires a multifaceted approach that includes transparent communication, strategic HR planning, an open-door policy, the encouragement of a safe space for dialogue, and leadership that facilitates rather than dictates. This environment not only enhances employee satisfaction and engagement but also drives innovation and business success.

Q2: What does it take to get an employee's full attention and best performance?

Bruce: Engaging an employee's full attention and eliciting their best performance requires making them aware of their significant impact on the organization. Most employees are not fully aware of how their actions affect the company's bottom line. For example, if an employee spends a dollar, the organization might need to generate six times that amount to recover the expense. Yet, many employees are not privy to this kind of financial insight.

To bridge this gap, it's essential for employees to have opportunities to understand the company's financial health and their contribution to it.

Unfortunately, leaders often keep financial information closely guarded, missing the chance to show employees how their departments contribute to the organization's success or how their efforts add value.

Leaders and managers should take proactive steps to demystify the financial aspects of the business for their team members. This could involve arranging briefings with the finance team or providing simplified financial reports that highlight the direct impact of different departments. Understanding their financial contribution can significantly change an employee's perspective, making them more engaged and motivated.

Managers themselves need to develop financial acumen if they haven't already. Spending time with the company's finance controller, regardless of their primary role within the organization, can provide valuable insights into how the business operates financially. This knowledge can then be passed down to employees, helping them to see the tangible effects of their work on the company's financial health.

Encouraging employees to inquire about their value to the organization is also crucial. This dialogue can foster a "no trouble bubble," a safe space where employees feel comfortable asking about their impact and learning how to enhance it. By understanding their financial contribution, employees are more likely to see how they fit into the company's larger mission and be motivated to contribute their best.

In summary, to garner an employee's full attention and best performance, leaders must make the financial implications of their work transparent and accessible. This approach not only enlightens employees about their direct impact on the company's success but also empowers them to actively contribute to the organization's vision and goals.

Q3: What do people really lack and long for at work?

Bruce: At the core of workplace fulfillment, employees and managers alike seek understanding and recognition of their true impact within the organization. However, a disconnect often exists in how this need is communicated and understood across different levels of management and staff.

Managers, who are employees themselves, can be categorized into three distinct levels, each with its own focus. Top-level leaders prioritize cost reduction and sales enhancement, middle managers emphasize quality control of products and services, and lower-level managers value convenience and efficiency, desiring to minimize bureaucracy for quicker decision-making.

Employees, on the other hand, have varied desires but commonly aim to complete their work efficiently and return home, often without understanding how to effectively communicate with managers at different levels. This lack of understanding or skill in adjusting communication styles to suit the manager's focus can lead to misalignment and frustration on both sides.

Employees need to learn to tailor their communication based on the managerial level they're engaging with.

For instance, discussions with upper management should highlight cost implications, with middle management, the emphasis should be on quality improvement, and with lower-level management, the conversation should focus on how to achieve efficiency and convenience.

The responsibility, as highlighted, falls significantly on the employees to discern and adapt their communication to align with the priorities of their managers. This approach not only facilitates a better understanding between employees and managers but also enables employees to more effectively advocate for their needs and ideas.

Ultimately, the primary role of a leader is to remove obstacles.

For this to happen effectively, both employees and managers need to engage in clear, focused communication that acknowledges the priorities of each party. While much emphasis is often placed on what leaders need to do, employees also play a crucial role in shaping the organizational culture and driving change by understanding and adapting to the communication styles and focuses of their managers.

Q4: What's the most important question leaders can ask employees?

Bruce: The most pivotal question leaders can ask their employees is, "What motivates you? What's keeping you up at night?" This inquiry goes beyond the typical managerial focus and seeks to understand the personal and professional concerns that might be affecting an employee's performance.

Leaders often emphasize strategies, objectives, and outcomes without considering the individual needs and challenges of their employees.

This oversight can lead to disengagement and a lack of motivation. By asking about what truly concerns or motivates an employee, leaders can gain valuable insights into how to support their team members effectively.

For example, recognizing the personal interests or challenges of employees can significantly impact their loyalty and motivation. A case in point is when a leader allowed an employee to attend a family event, acknowledging its importance to her. This act of understanding and flexibility resulted in a deeply motivated and loyal employee, illustrating the long-term benefits of such leadership gestures.

It's essential to understand that not all employees are motivated by the same factors. Financial incentives, public recognition, or personal achievements might drive some, while others may seek a supportive work environment that acknowledges their personal situations. Leaders should be prepared to adapt their motivational strategies to fit the unique needs of their employees.

Furthermore, leaders should be observant and compassionate, recognizing that employees might be dealing with personal issues that affect their work. Engaging in open, honest conversations can help identify these challenges and provide the necessary support. This approach not only helps in resolving immediate issues but also fosters a culture of trust and mutual respect.

In summary, by asking employees about their motivations and concerns, leaders can create a more supportive and engaging work environment. This question opens the door to understanding the individual needs of employees, allowing leaders to tailor their support and recognition to what truly matters to each team member, thereby fostering a more productive and positive workplace.

Q5: What's the most important question employees can ask leaders?

Bruce: The most crucial question employees should consider asking their leaders is not a single question but rather a mindset of proactivity regarding their career development.

Instead of passively waiting for opportunities or promotions, employees are encouraged to actively take charge of their career paths.

A compelling way to embody this mindset is by identifying needs within the organization that align with one's skills and interests, then proposing solutions or offering help. This approach not only demonstrates initiative but also broadens one's experience and skills across different areas of the business. For example, an HR professional might volunteer to assist with a marketing project, thereby gaining valuable cross-functional experience that enriches their professional profile.

The key is to maintain enthusiasm and passion for one's work, regardless of the position.

Success stories often begin with humble beginnings, where individuals seize every opportunity to learn and grow, even in roles that might seem menial at first glance. This proactive attitude can lead to recognition, new responsibilities, and eventually, substantial career advancement.

Employees should consider approaching their managers with specific proposals for how they can contribute to areas outside their immediate job responsibilities. This can be framed as, "I've noticed a need in [specific department or area], and I believe I can help by [proposed solution or action]. How do you feel about me taking on this project while maintaining my current responsibilities?" This shows initiative, a willingness to learn, and a desire to contribute to the organization's success in more than one way.

It's also important for employees to seek out learning opportunities on their own. Rather than waiting for formal training programs, engaging in on-the-job learning through new projects or challenges is often the most effective way to develop new skills and competencies.

In summary, the essential mindset for employees is to proactively seek opportunities to add value, learn, and grow within the organization. By doing so, they can build a more versatile and robust career path, demonstrating their initiative and capacity for leadership.

Q6: What's the most important question we can ask ourselves?

Bruce: The most important question we can ask ourselves, acknowledging the uniqueness of every individual's life experience, is: "What am I grateful for?" This question encourages a mindset of gratitude from the moment we wake up, recognizing the gift of a new day. It's a personal reflection that may vary significantly from one person to another, given the diversity of our backgrounds and life situations. Whether one's daily life involves driving a taxi in South Africa or navigating the busy streets of Peru as a salesperson, the essence of gratitude can be universally applied yet manifest in countless different ways.

This question prompts a positive start to the day, grounding us in appreciation for the simple yet profound aspect of life itself.

It's a reminder of the many blessings we often overlook, including the very act of waking up, which is not guaranteed for everyone. By focusing on gratitude, we open our hearts to the abundance present in our lives, irrespective of our circumstances.

This approach doesn't prescribe what others should consider important but offers a personal practice that can enhance one's perspective on life. Starting the day with a question of gratitude can set a positive tone, influencing our mindset and interactions throughout the day.

Q7: What inspired you to write your book?

Bruce: My inspiration came from recognizing the widespread misconceptions about the Human Resources function and its intended purpose. With over 20 years in HR, yet coming from a background in sales and operations, I've seen HR from the perspective of a businessperson rather than a traditional HR career path. This unique viewpoint highlighted the need to clarify HR's role in advancing business goals and to challenge the outdated notion of job security within a single company for life.

I wrote the book to advocate for the benefits of pursuing multiple job opportunities for both employees and employers.

From an employee's standpoint, engaging in various roles can provide financial stability and a wealth of learning experiences. For employers, embracing employees who juggle multiple roles can lead to a more efficient, innovative, and adaptable workforce.

The book aims to dismantle the fear around employees having multiple jobs, showcasing how it can be mutually beneficial. By sharing this perspective, I hope to guide employees toward achieving financial security and growth, and encourage managers to see the value in supporting their team's diverse experiences.

Q8: What are the top takeaways you'd like people to get from reading your book?

Bruce: The book is centered around achieving optimal performance while managing multiple jobs. It addresses practical concerns such as managing fatigue, navigating intellectual property and legal issues, and understanding both the employee's and management's viewpoints on balancing multiple commitments.

A key takeaway is the concept of viewing salary increases not just as a reward for past performance but as an investment in an employee's future contributions, within the company's financial constraints. The book educates employees on how to document their achievements throughout the year and approach salary reviews with an understanding of how they are determined.

Q9: What question is at the heart of your book?

Bruce: The core question of the book revolves around what provides individuals with a sense of security and how they can proactively take charge of their career development. It challenges the traditional vertical career growth model, offering insights into horizontal career development opportunities that enhance skills and experiences across various domains.

Q10: Is there a question you wish people would ask you about?

Bruce: I wish people would inquire more about how to improve their communication patterns, not just their communication skills. The book delves into adapting communication styles to effectively convey information to different audiences, a skill that is crucial in both personal and professional settings. I share experiences of tailoring presentations to suit the preferences of various executives, illustrating the importance of flexible communication strategies for successful information delivery.

The book, therefore, not only explores the tactical aspects of managing multiple jobs but also emphasizes the strategic communication skills necessary for career advancement and effective leadership.

Q11: Bruce, you were recognized as the most iconic leader of the year in 2023 by CEO Magazine. First of all, congratulations. What does leadership mean to you?

Bruce: Thank you for the congratulations, but this was not achieved by myself. I had a strong team standing next to me, supporting me.

Therefore, to me, leadership means enabling others to reach the level I have achieved.

It's about investing in my team so they can share the company's vision and make decisions as I would, ensuring the organization runs smoothly even in my absence. It's crucial to prepare successors rather than holding onto roles due to fear of being replaced. This approach not only empowers others but also frees leaders to pursue new opportunities, creating a positive cycle of growth and development within the organization.

Q12: Who or what has had the most influence on your leadership journey?

Bruce: My spouse has been a significant influence on my leadership journey, providing honest feedback that others might hesitate to give. Additionally, mentors from various industries have shaped my leadership skills. Their guidance taught me the importance of taking control of my future, seeking out mentors, and actively pursuing success rather than waiting for opportunities to come to me.

Q13: You place a strong emphasis on the value of actively listening. How do you practice it, and how does one improve?

Bruce: Active listening has been a critical area of growth for me. Initially, I was more inclined to tell rather than ask.

To improve, I adopted the mantra "Ask, don't tell," reminding myself to engage more inquisitively with others.

Improving this skill requires self-awareness and a willingness to seek and act on feedback. Creating a "no trouble bubble," a safe space for open communication, has been instrumental in fostering honest dialogue both in my personal life and at work. It's about adapting communication styles to meet others where they are, an approach that takes time and conscious effort but is essential for effective leadership.

Final Words for Aspiring Leaders:

Leadership is about making things happen, staying proactive, and not letting the currents of life and work overwhelm you. It involves identifying which type of leader you want to be—one who drives change, observes passively, or is caught by surprise—and then embodying that choice through your actions and decisions. Always strive to be a leader who makes things happen, shaping your path and the path of those around you.


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