Chris Stathakis' LEADERSHIP Blog!

I Choose Everyone or No One

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 @ 09:12 AM

Leadership Picking People resized 600Recently I sat in on a meeting with a team who began arguing over who took credit for what. After a few moments, I felt like people in the room were positioning themselves in front of others. Whose idea it was, who worked harder, who did more—who cares! At the point of almost feeling uncomfortable, I told them that ultimately the credit goes to the team and I didn't really care so much about individual accomplishments. I told them that I refuse to choose one person over the other so I choose everyone or no one at all.


Look, this is not to imply that individual efforts should not be rewarded. They should be and they are. But the reality is that teams are built around all of their members and not just an individual or two, no matter how good they might be. Try running a successful business with just a few star players and you'll quickly realize that without all of the important roles on a team filled, you’re never going to rack up the wins or the records. Grandstanding and showboating might serve to make a star player look good or feel good, but it will never win the game.


What wins the game? Teamwork goes a long way, but the phrase gets bounced around so much without people actually taking a moment to really consider what it means. Teamwork is the cooperative and coordinated effort on the part of a group of people acting together as a team in the interests of a common goal. Look at the words: cooperative, coordinated, together, common, group-- nowhere do I see individual, me, I alone.


As a leader, my job is to define where we are going and put together the plan that gets us there. Do you want to be a rising star, an MVP, an up and comer? Then work in cooperation and coordinate your efforts with your team to advance our common goals. The reality is that as your leader, I have a pretty good idea who does what. When you work harder or do more than others on your team, I see it and I appreciate it. What means the most however is that you steer that effort back to raising up every person on your team. That’s how we’ll win the race because it’s a marathon, not a sprint and by the way, it’s a marathon that never ends. The only way we make it is by working together and strengthening every team member. We win by continually focusing on the big picture and not just a few snapshots.

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday, Ubuntu

One Finger Cannot Lift a Pebble

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 @ 08:27 AM

Ubuntu Pebble resized 600 

“One finger cannot lift a pebble.”—Malawi Proverb


We Americans really seem to value our self-sufficiency. Among leaders, this reverence for ‘going it alone’ gets even greater traction. Self-sufficiency, independence, self-reliance, autonomy—all of these words have exceedingly positive connotations. But a quick look at the antonyms tells another story entirely—need, reliance, addiction, inability and inaptitude. We really tend to see needing others as a weakness.

So it might surprise you that in the world of leadership, needing the help of others is often seen as a sign of strength. Asking for help, no matter what we are told through words and actions growing up, is not in fact, a sign of weakness. Likewise, many of us have been taught that asking for another’s help will make them see us a burden, irritate or infuriate a person or even put distance between us.

Rather than pushing people away, asking for help brings people closer to us. Think about it for a minute. We are humans, creatures who rely on community for a big part of our emotional and physical well being. When someone asks something of us, we feel important, vital and needed. We also can feel like a productive exchange has happened that takes some of the pressure off of us for needing others so acutely. We can say to ourselves, see, I need them but they need me too. It allows us to create relationships with the people around us that aren’t dependent, or codependent but rather interdependent.

It may seem utterly counterintuitive to many leaders out there but here are three truths about leadership balanced with interdependence:

  • Asking for help is a mark of a strong, self-actualized leader with high levels of personal awareness.
  • Humility, that belief that we are no better or worse than any one else, is among the most prevalent traits in history’s respected and loved leaders.
  • When a respected, competent person asks for help, he draws people to him by creating a relationship of mutual giving. 

Ubuntu , the African philosophy that has come to define our corporate culture here at Stathakis, is about just this interdependence, this idea that we humans work best when we work together. What does the Malawi proverb “one finger cannot lift a pebble” really mean? It means that some things, no matter how simple they might appear, require the cooperation and help of others to accomplish.

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday, Ubuntu

Hard Work Is Dignified Work

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, May 23, 2014 @ 11:31 AM

“We believe our industry to be a dignified one, entrusted with serving the interest of public health; therefore, we pledge that we should do our utmost to deserve this trust.” From the ISSA’s Member Code of Ethics

Hard Work resized 600This is a quote from the ISSA’s Member Code of Ethics. The ISSA is an industry organization for those of us in the building services industry like myself.  I take what we do seriously, so the Code of Ethics is more than just an empty codex, it’s a set of values that I work hard to hold up day in and day out. I strive to not only live and work by these ideals, but to inspire my team to do the same.

There’s a particular part of this quote that always gets me and that’s the dignified part. Some people might suggest that the work of a cleaning and janitorial company is a long way from dignified and yet, I can think of nothing quite so dignified as an honest day’s hard work. Our team of employees, now over 450, come to work every day, they pick up after others and ready their work areas. They clean toilets and refill supplies, wipe dirty smudges off of glass windows and doors. They do work that almost no one notices, unless of course, it isn’t done.

Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs and champion of manufacturing and blue collar careers is actively trying to change people’s perception of manual labor. As he recently said,
I just know that in the end, there's a list of jobs that are non-negotiable, absolutely essential. Who's keeping the lights on? Who's making indoor plumbing a reality? Who's keeping the roads smooth? Who's keeping the runways well-paved? Those jobs are no less important today than they were 50 years ago. They're just not celebrated in the same way. We've just shifted our focus a little bit and looked at a new type of career and said, 'Ok, that's aspirational. These other things -- let somebody else do it.”

That somebody else, that’s us and I am proud of the work my team does every day. Is it celebrated? No. Is it important? Absolutely.  My dad Mike Stathakis worked as a brick layer at a steel company most of his life. He was undeniably a very hard worker. He was dependable, he put in the work and he was always willing to do what needed to be done. For those of you doing work that doesn’t seem important in a way that maybe careers like doctors, lawyers and such do, think again. When you get up everyday, do honest work and care about the job you do, you are among the people that keep our country running. You are telling a story to future generations about responsibility, dedication and service--service to your family in the form of work and making a living and service to your community in keeping the lights on and everything running smoothly. You do dignified work and as the ISSA Code of Ethics reminds us, you serve the public health.

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Tags: Culture, Ubuntu

Change Your Organization With These Two Words

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sun, Apr 06, 2014 @ 03:13 PM

Two WordsWhat two words combined offer your business the most powerful positive change? It isn’t “you’re fired” or “shape up” or even “more money.” The words that offer the most powerful transformative change, increase employee engagement, enhance communication and even drive profits are “thank you.” Maybe we forget the power of a thank you because it’s free and often delivered with little or no thought. You’ve probably been on the receiving end and the giving end of the pat, reflexive or even insincere thank you. It can be polite and the social norm to deliver a quick thanks but this has in part diminished the value of the thank you.

So how do you add weight to a thank you? How do you make your thank yous more meaningful and more powerful whether they are delivered to your top sales person, your front line employee or your customer?

Don’t Say It If You Don’t Mean It
Yes, it is good to thank someone but if it isn’t sincere, it won’t be believed. Unless you are Meryl Streep, save the acting for someone else. Even if you are consciously trying to express more gratitude, you can still make it authentic and earnest. Find the thing you truly appreciate about the person or something they did, even if you have to dig deep.

Be Specific
In addition to being sincere, a real thank you should be specific. It sounds easy but it really requires some thought. A quickly delivered, “hey thanks, good job” can sound pretty bland and empty. A sincere thank you calls for you to stop and focus on an individual. What exactly did they do right? What personality trait or behavior do they have that positively impacts the workplace or the work? What does an earnest, individual thank you look like? First lets look at what it doesn’t look like:

Hey James, thanks!

This is much better:

James, thank you. Mary is a challenging customer and difficult to please but her business is important to us. The way you handled her was terrific, you were calm, you listened and you seemed to know exactly how to move things in the right direction. I have to say, seeing you handle this so well takes a load off of my shoulders because I know I can count on you. Thank you.

Maybe you are thinking can’t I just give a good employee the day off or get them a giftcard? You can, and employees appreciate these things too, but there just is no substitute for a well-delivered thank you.

Gratitude & Ubuntu
Gratitude is a big part of our Ubuntu company theme here at Stathakis. For us it stems from the idea of sawa bona, which literally means “I see you.” Thanking our people in a variety of ways is our way of saying “I see you. I see the good work you do. I see the way your enthusiasm helps build up your team. I see how hard you try.” Creating a great company culture is in part driven by how people feel about their work, their company, their supervisors and their peers. When people feel like they are seen and appreciated, they work harder for you and they are happier about the work they do.

Tags: Culture, Ubuntu

People - Our Most Important Asset!

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @ 08:25 AM

Stathakis People Most Important Asset resized 600I recently had the opportunity to represent Stathakis at a CEO Conference for leaders in the Building Contract Services Industry. I got the chance to get to know some of the most successful, respected leaders in our industry. One thing that really stood out was how every single successful company without fail shared a deep respect and passion for their people. This certainly makes sense in an industry that pays more than 70% of its gross revenue back to its employees in wages. It was clear that the people leading the most successful companies are the same ones that understand it is their people along with the training and support they are given that dictates their success.

Of course, here at Stathakis, we feel this same way and this belief in our people has been a driving force in every area of our business. For instance, this idea of succeeding through the combined efforts of our diverse group of individuals influenced our choice of Ubuntu as our company theme. Hearing so many other industry leaders talk about how important their people are and how they are trying to make that a part of their company culture really cemented for me the importance of Ubuntu at Stathakis. We have taken our positive intention for creating an engaged work environment that benefits everyone involved and turned it into a reality.

We really do go out of our way to make sure that everyone that works with us is treated with a level of respect that every human deserves regardless of his or her job qualifications. We do this because it’s the right thing to do. The fact that our employee turnover is well below the industry average and we have people who are more engaged in our business is just a bi-product of doing what we believe in.

Most of what I write in this leadership blog is related to leadership issues and people, because without people there are no leaders. Often it is learning to see people and their potential that makes for the best leaders. Do you treat your people with respect, dignity and compassion? Do you see them as individuals and not just a means to your ends? Treating employees with dignity and respect is the basis for success in any business. There is an old saying that, "For every action there is a consequence, what goes around comes around. Karma will teach us all something, whether we like it or not." 

Tags: Culture, Leadership, Ubuntu

Nelson Mandela & the Lessons of Ubuntu

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sat, Dec 07, 2013 @ 10:45 AM

nelson-mandela-ubuntu"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  --Nelson Mandela 

The world lost a great humanitarian this week as we mark the passing of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). Nelson Mandela will be remembered for his humanity, his local activism against apartheid and his global call for peace. Mandela set a powerful example for peace and he struck an incredible balance between the hard virtues like courage, determination, fortitude and persistence, and the softer virtues, like compassion, humility and connection. Quite simply put, Nelson Mandela was a man who changed our world for the better. I cannot think of a higher compliment as a human.

Here at Stathakis, we also remember Mandela in part for his influence on Ubuntu. Nelson Mandela didn't need to write books or lecture on Ubuntu to have such great influence on Ubuntu. He was Ubuntu, he embodied the best of Ubuntu and lived his life in such a way. Ubuntu comes from the culture in which Mandela was born and has been captured in the phrase “I am because we are.” Mandela fought apartheid from within prison for twenty-seven years, securing his freedom only when his fellow South Africans could likewise claim it--the very embodiment of "I am because we are."

Mandela did not eschew personal or individual aims, yet he believed that true enrichment naturally aligns with the responsibility to uplift and contribute to the growth of one‘s community. This idea has been a driving force here at Stathakis, the idea that when one among us wins, we all do. Mandela knew that through Ubuntu, people could be empowered to do incredible things. He understood that to earn respect you must first give it. Mandela’s message of unity, community and humanity has always been in step with Ubuntu and his noble life offers a tremendous lesson to us all.

Tags: Culture, Leadership, Ubuntu

19 Things That I Am Thankful For

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sun, Dec 01, 2013 @ 11:50 AM

Things I Am Thankful For resized 600We are in the midst of the beginning of another whirlwind holiday season with Thanksgiving, Christmas and then the New Year not far behind and that can mean for any of us time to enjoy ourselves or times of stress and exhaustion. I myself have worked hard to maintain the right state of mind after just finishing up on Thanksgiving weekend.  It is all too easy for the wrong frame of mind to turn the holiday season into a time of reckoning to makeup and mend fences with family, friends and colleagues through excessive gratitude and giving that feels unnatural when only done once annually.  In recent years, I have really tried hard to show such gratitude all year long so that the holiday season can simply become a time of thankful reflection.

So here is my simple list of things I am thankful for this holiday season:

  1. God
  2. A loving family
  3. A patient wife
  4. Good friends
  5. Good health
  6. Books and learning
  7. Great mentors
  8. Everything chocolate
  9. Family vacation
  10. Summertime in Michigan
  11. The appreciation of time while I still have some
  12. Music
  13. Barbecue
  14. Birthdays
  15. The memory of my Dad
  16. Good food
  17. Great conversation
  18. Watching my children play sports
  19. Ubuntu

I am sure that this list could be much longer or consolidated into something shorter. But the truth of the matter is it doesn't really matter because it is my list and the things that I feel very grateful to have in my life. What are you grateful for in your own lives? I sincerely hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving, a full plate and the love and warmth that comes with being around the people who feed you body and soul. Happy Holidays!

Tags: Culture, Ubuntu

It’s TOTALLY About People

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 08:13 AM

Its TOTALLY About People resized 600Last week I was in Las Vegas attending the BSCAI Annual Convention and the ISSA Tradeshow. As I walked around the tradeshow, I saw stall after stall of the latest and greatest assortment of chemicals and equipment designed for our industry. With promises as big as their price tags, the vast array of options designed to make a cleaning business better was overwhelming.

I had to step back for a moment and consider the real impact any of these offerings would really have on our business. It’s easy to get excited about shiny, new equipment and the newest green cleaners, but if it is all designed to put us ahead of our competition we really must first ask the question, what really makes one cleaning company better than another? The answer is quite simple, our people make us better. So anything we do or acquire must be about our people and how we can best support them.

BSCAI Building Service Contractors Association InternationalAs the Building Service Contractors industry continues to mature, there become fewer and fewer differences between vendors and suppliers. I would guess that end users of Janitorial Services could probably say the same thing about Janitorial Companies. At the end of the day the most important part of our business is how we treat and support our workforce. Everything great about what we do grows from that single directive.

It is often said that the Building Service Contractor Industry is B to B (Business to Business), I say it is P to P (People to People). At the Las Vegas trade show, I had the opportunity to sit down with other business owners from around the country to talk about our industry and where it is headed. Through every conversation the importance of people in our industry continually resonated. Whether the topic was the economy, government healthcare policy, or new industry trends, it always pointed back to how it impacted the millions of employees that make-up the BSC workforce. How many other businesses have such a dependence on their workforce?

At Stathakis we appreciate and support our employees everyday. It is part of our Ubuntu Management Philosophy but more than that, we truly depend on our people to point us in the right direction to greet every tomorrow prepared and ready to do our best.

Tags: Customer Focus, Culture, Ubuntu

Valuing People Over Their Position

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Sun, Oct 06, 2013 @ 01:37 PM

People Over Position resized 600Over the past couple of years we have implemented an Ubuntu Management Philosophy, which you can read more about at the following links:

The more we talk about and live Ubuntu, the clearer the message and its meaning become. We try really hard here at Stathakis to value People over their Position. What does that mean? Valuing a person is about seeing who they are as a human being not just viewing them based on what their occupation or position is or what you think they can do for you.

People = Who You Are
Position = What You Do

I recently met Steve Sisler at the EO Entrepreneur Masters Program, Class of 2014, at MIT in Boston. Steve wrote a great book called There’s More to Management Than a Big Desk. In his book, Steve writes at length about this same idea of the importance of individuals over their jobs. 

The bottom line is that who you are is much, much more important than what you do. Just because jobs have differing levels of pay, responsibility or authority does not mean that any one individual is less important or less critical to an organization’s success. In any organizations people have different positions, this may stem from talents, education and even early opportunities. Some positions may have more authority, which is often because they have more responsibility, but no position is more important than any other. Some positions may require specialized skills that fewer individuals have and other positions may require little more than a willingness to work hard and a good attitude, but every position is needed to keep things running.

To understand this, think of an automobile for example. A car engine is a pretty complicated and expensive part of a car and if it isn’t working properly, your car isn’t going to run. On the other hand, a disconnected hose is comparatively easy to fix and cheap too but if that hose is disconnected, you’re still not going anywhere. Neither the engine or the hose is any less important to getting that car moving.

In my own example, I am the CEO to many front-line janitors, who is more important? From an organizational standpoint, I have more reposnsibility and authority but who do you think our customers would choose if they had to? I'll give you a hint, it wouldn't be me. They would choose the person that they see everyday and who helps keep their businesses looking good and running smoothly. But the reality is, here at Stathakis, like the car, we are running a pretty complicated operation that relies on many individuals, all equally important From the CEO to the Cleaners to an Office Manager to Day Porters and so on, each person does their special part to keep the whole thing moving forward.  It's all because our people care about other people and are working together towards the common good of our customers.  Now that is PEOPLE over Position!

Tags: Culture, Ubuntu

Angels in the Workplace

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Aug 16, 2013 @ 12:46 PM

Angels at Work resized 600Do you believe in Angels? Maybe it’s a heavenly angel, a guardian angel or a person in your life who just seems to appear with what you need at a time you really needed it. Maybe your angel is a family member or friend who has helped you without obligation, without a feeling that you owe them, just a sense that they knew you needed help and wanted to ease your burden. Think about how wonderful it feels to be on the receiving end of this kindness. Not only did you get something you probably really needed, you got the sense that someone cares and has concern for you. Someone said to you through their action “I see you and I know you could use some help.” Like Ubuntu’s Sawabona greeting that translates into “I see you,” that sense of being seen and noticed is a powerful human connector.


Think about some of the national and personal tragedies our nation and community has gone through like 9/11, the Sandy Hook school shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings. These difficult times are also quite often the times we feel the most connected and close to people we don’t even know. This is because their suffering is so visible, so obvious that we can’t help but see it. As a human, when we really allow ourselves to see someone, sometimes the best parts of ourselves can be triggered into action. And when you can access the best parts of you, you can be like an angel for someone else.


We have all have faced impossible odds at work and have been bailed out by someone who came out of nowhere to help. Not only was their help freely offered, the individual brought with them a calming reassurance that we can get through this. It was no accident, but it was someone who decided to become an "Angel in the workplace." Who doesn’t want this kind of help sometimes? To find an angel you have to be an angel. Maybe you get this kind of care and concern back from the person you gave it to. Or perhaps that person needs help but is not yet able to be there for someone else. Know that when you step outside of your normal responsibilities to help another people, you will get it back. Maybe you’ll get help from another person who witnessed your kindness and was inspired by it. Or you benefit from the good vibe you get when you do something for someone else, that vibe that can make you feel good all day. No matter what, you win. And when you win, I win, we all win because attitudes and actions are contagious.

Tags: Culture, Ubuntu

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