Chris Stathakis' LEADERSHIP Blog!

Handle Tough Conversations Like a True Leader

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Tue, May 15, 2018 @ 07:09 PM

chris stathakis, stathakis, leaders, difficult conversations

Whether you are announcing exciting new changes within your organization or terminating an employee, these conversations can be difficult. Sometimes they are exciting for you but potentially scary for employees, like major company or staffing changes. Sometimes, like terminations and layoffs, there is simply no good news to counter the bad news. While you can’t make everyone happy or make bad news happy, as a leader, you can handle tough conversations from a position of strong, capable leadership and make these conversations as easy and smooth as possible. What can you do to make your tough conversations go better for everyone involved?

Be honest and be direct. Sugar coating or stepping around the elephant in the room doesn’t help anyone. Get to the point, be honest, be direct and wherever possible, be kind. Of course, some truths or information cannot be shared but do your best to be direct about what is happening and why. People recover from change better if they at least understand it. 

Don’t read from a script but it’s a good idea to collect your thoughts beforehand. Use a few bullet points if you need them. Practice if it helps you. With tough or weighty conversations, preparation is key. Not only does it help you make sure you touch on important points, it can reduce your discomfort by helping you feel ready to present information and answer questions with at least some amount of ease.

Be clear and provide enough information. This can be hard because when you know the details, it can be easy to think you have fully communicated when perhaps you have left out important information that might provide much needed context. Make sure you customize your conversation to the intended recipient and you give them the details that are meaningful to them.

Don’t let small stumbles throw you off course. There are very few people who relish tough conversations so if you trip over your words or misstep, just correct yourself if you need to and keep moving. Our mistakes or misspeaks are more noticeable to us than anyone else.

Put yourself in your listener’s shoes. If you are changing someone’s work life in a meaningful way, understand that whether it is positive or negative, news takes time to adjust to. Don’t get bent out of shape or defensive if you announce exciting news to your team only to see a sea of unsure expressions and trepidation. You likely have had a while to warm to changes, you team may not.

If it’s difficult news, deal with your feelings somewhere else. Listen, it’s hard to lay off an employee, terminate an employee or explain a restructuring plan to a room full of employees, only some of which will ultimately have a job, losing a key piece of business or whatever your bad news is. Being a leader doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings, just that you don’t burden the people you lead with them. So keep the “I feel so bad about this” and “I wish I didn’t have to do this” “this is so hard for me” for your spouse, business partner or therapist. No one getting bad news really cares how you feel.

Be kind and compassionate where possible. Of course not every situation calls for it but wherever you can, be a human being who cares about people. It doesn’t mean you have to help them or feel sorry for them, but wherever possible, be nice. Tough conversations are not pleasant, but compassion can help you deliver bad news as fair and kindly as possible. Keep in mind people remember how you made them feel and it’s a small world.

If it doesn’t go so great, don’t beat yourself up. Review what worked, what didn’t and adjust course accordingly.

 Stathakis Open Positions

Tags: Culture, Leadership

Ubuntu & Giving Thanks

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 @ 01:54 PM


“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality Ubuntu, or’ I am because we are’, you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.” - Desmond Tutu


Ubuntu is an African tradition that tries to show us different ways to think about humanity and working together. It is our company philosophy here at Stathakis. Ubuntu, or “I am because we are,” tries to show us that as humans, we are much more alike than we are different. Ubuntu invites us to see that while we are individuals, we do not exist apart from each other.

It was a tough year for many of us--economic uncertainty, social issues, a contentious election season and of course, any number of personal problems we as people face on any given day. We all know of people who are suffering with the passing of a loved one, sick or infirm family and more. Thanksgiving might be tough for us, the idea of sitting among people, even loved ones with whom we disagree or have issues. Or the idea of trying to be grateful at a time when we are struggling in our own lives. But that is one of the things Thanksgiving is supposed to be about, seeing past our differences, seeing past our own hardships to come together and eat some food, have some laughs and even maybe watch some football. 

Ubuntu as a philosophy is a cornucopia of good ideas and ideals. Ubuntu urges us to work together to help everyone. Ubuntu presents us with the truism that there is enough for everyone and that by helping others, we help ourselves. The future is unknown and sometimes it can be a challenge to believe that there is enough for all of us, that things will get better or that we can find a middle ground with people who think differently than us. Ubuntu tells us we can.

This Thursday, many of you will join family and friends to break bread and give thanks. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American tradition meant to embody the ideas of gratitude in the face of hardship, different people coming together making connections and finding understanding. In Ubuntu there is a phrase, “sawa bona,” it means “I see you.” In spite of our differences, our troubles, our strife, Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to sit across from each other and say with our actions and words, “I see you.” And we give thanks, for whatever we can whether it’s our families, our children, our friends, our health or maybe even the promise of a good season for the Detroit Lions.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you and your families and sawa bona.

Tags: Culture, Leadership

All In: Why Commitment Matters So Much

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Sep 25, 2015 @ 12:24 PM

commitment, leadership, stathakis, chris stathakis, michigan business leaders, detroit business leaders

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.” –Abraham Lincoln


I like this quote, I really do. I think because it takes a buzzword like commitment, which can easily be strewn around without much attention to its meaning, and it makes it a much more concrete thing. Commitment is certainly a critical component of character and success but I contend it’s also a major factor in happiness. Think about it, commitment means you make a promise to be all in on those things that are important to you, whatever they are. Maybe it’s a personal interest, a goal, a sport, your partner, kids or your organization. Commitment means you have a willingness and reason to do the things needed to get you what you want.


When you are willing to do the things you need to get you what you want, you are way more likely to actually get them. And even when you don’t, knowing you were all in and made a real effort, knowing you dared greatly and tried your best is a reward in itself. Commitment takes real courage though, and not everyone has it. Why courage? When you commit to something, whether publicly or privately, you make a promise to yourself. This promise makes you vulnerable. What if I fail? What if I’m not smart enough? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m not strong enough? Savvy enough? Tough enough? Courage is the answer to all of these questions. It is little voice in your head telling you, ‘who cares, I’m going to go for it anyway.’


Why is it so important in leadership that leaders of all types have a strong commitment to our vision, purpose and plan? Because leading people to do new, different and better things is very hard. Because quite often, our commitment can ignite commitment in our teams. Without commitment, without the ‘making time where there is none,” without the internal drive to get to the finish line, race after race after race, without the courage to talk down the fear and doubt, the transformation of a ‘promise to reality’ would never happen.



Tags: Culture, Leadership

Reaping Real Rewards

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 @ 08:00 AM

michigan leaders, michigan janitorial company, michigan commercial cleaning companiesAs leaders, we talk about employee rewards quite a bit. We use rewards to reinforce the behaviors we want to see. We use rewards to increase engagement and keep our teams energizing working towards our goals. But rewards don’t just work on our teams, they work on us too. After all, we are just human and the same things that keep our teams engaged can work equally well for us. Rewards can offer the extra push that you need to get motivated and stay engaged. And you can create positive reinforcement with rewards that creates lasting reinforcement of successful practices.


While the efficacy of awards might be much the same, the rewards themselves are quite different for leaders. All too often, I see leaders reward themselves with the wrong things. Whether you are the leader of the family, your church or your company, some rewards are constructive and positive bringing us closer to our goals, while other rewards are benign at best and destructive at worst. Think about the things you use to reward yourself. Are they things like food, alcohol, shopping or other things that tend to numb stress and anxiety? With the challenges we face as leaders, numbing difficult feelings and emotions is just a part of the human condition. So I’m not saying that you can’t have the cocktail at the end the day, the lavish meal out or the new computer you’ve been eyeing, just try not to use these to reward yourself.


So if the usual suspects with regard to rewards are not so effective, what kind of rewards really pay off for us as leaders? First we have to talk about what we mean by pay off. In this context, I mean which rewards are going to make us feel good long-term and not just in the moment. Which rewards contribute to our overall well being as a person and not just a leader. Which rewards help build the stamina we need to keep going and offer our teams and organizations our best? I think there are four rewards that we as leaders tend to forget that really feed us as people. What are they?


1. Time Off
As a leader, making the time to get away from our organizations is vital. All work and no play does indeed make Johnny a dull boy. Vacations and time with family and friends keep our batteries charged and our creativity  and energy levels high.


2. Downtime With Our Teams
Sure, we spend quite a bit of time with the people in our organizations, but how much of that time is spent just being people? The relationships we build with our employees matter. Having rapport and a reserve of good feelings can get us through challenging times on the job and it creates loyalty. You cannot wait until you need them to establish these relationships. Not only does it do your employees good, it does you good. Whether it’s a good spirited competitive bowling tournament among your teams or departments, or a summer picnic, take time to be with your people with your leader hat off.


3. Fun Is Fundamental
If you can’t remember the last time you really had fun, you’re not having enough of it. Studies tell us that children learn best when playing and adults are much the same. Having fun can relax our brains making creativity and problem-solving more effective and efficient. It doesn’t matter where you find your fun, as long as it’s fun for you.


4. Do Nothing
As leaders, we often operate at a quick pace so making time to do nothing can seem counter intuitive. Spending time doing nothing is recuperative, restorative and helps feed our creativity by giving us the downtime they can help position us in the right direction for our next set of movements.


So don’t just use rewards to get the best from your teams, put rewards to work for your own purposes. Make sure you’re taking some time off periodically, spend some time having fun with your teams, make fun part of every week and make sure you spend some time doing nothing at all. What other rewards might you use to help keep you motivated and moving?

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday, Leadership

In Defense of Fun

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, May 29, 2015 @ 02:04 PM

summer fun leadership fun in the workplace creativityWith summer just a few short weeks away I thought it might be a good time to address a very, very serious topic: fun. Fun can all too often be a dirty word in the work world. Sure we talk about fun in the workplace, but we don’t always believe it. Especially as a leader, there is always so much to be done that fun can seem like a distraction or diversion from the business at hand. But “all work and no play” does in fact make “Jack a dull boy,” and fun is critical to your success as a leader.


“Sure we talk about fun in the workplace, but we don’t always believe it.”


Fun is fundamental, if you will, and an absolutely essential component of balanced leadership. Both inside and outside of your organization or workplace, fun can act as a supplement giving you the extra energy, stamina and creativity to problem solve and inject energy into your teams. It is important to get enough Vitamin F(un) day to day, but summer should be a time when you are making sure you get plenty of extra doses.


“Fun acts like a supplement giving you the extra energy, stamina and creativity to problem solve and inject energy into your teams.”


How does fun help us as leaders? First, fun helps spur creativity, which in turn benefits every single thing we do on and off the job. Fun gives your brain time to step away from immediate problems and chug away on big ideas. Have you ever been in the middle of a great vacation and your brain just starts churning out great ideas? That’s your relaxed brain chewing on all the information you have given it and it’s nearly impossible to do when you are in a state of constant problem solving. Your brain gets to get creative and create entirely new things to think about!


“Fun gives your brain time to step away from immediate problems and chug away on big ideas.”


Second, fun allows you to recharge your batteries. This is essential as a leader because everyone in your organization draws on you as a power source. If you aren’t fully charged, giving others energy to reach your vision can be impossible at worst and inefficient at best.


“As a leader, your team draws much of their energy from you.”


And finally, there is the issue of fun and work/life balance. Sure we as leaders typically really enjoy working and feel internally rewarded by both the process and the outcome of our hard work. And yet, if we can step away and have fun, take a break, go on vacation, what are we really doing it all for? So with summer on the horizon, if you don’t have anything planned yet, plan it. If you haven’t had fun in awhile, ask yourself what you can do to get your recommended dose of Vitamin F.

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday, Leadership

Handling Team Mistakes & Performance Issues

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, May 22, 2015 @ 11:35 AM

angry boss leadership motivating employees performance issues compassion trust visionAs a leader, you are tasked with balancing a great deal. Your company must be profitable, robust and innovative and your teams must be happy, engaged and productive. So how do you really coach in an environment where measurable success is critical? What do you do when an employee makes a mistake or isn’t performing well?

Mistakes and poor performance will cause frustration for anyone. As a leader, these mistakes can cost a customer relationship or add significant work to one’s already overflowing plate. So anger, irritation and disappointment are normal when someone you rely on drops the ball. 

If you go with your first impulse, you might opt to angrily reprimand the employee. Why is this the go to for many leaders and managers? I guess the hope is that you can teach a lesson to the employee in question through negative reinforcement. But research tells us that negative reinforcement isn’t very effective. So maybe by chewing someone out you can keep other team members on their toes? Again, research shows that seeing a manager react this way makes employees see you as less effective. Then the only thing that really comes from this kind of action is it can discharge and relieve some of our own stress and frustration. That is a fairly temporary benefit with some pretty significant long-term consequences.

Seeing our leaders get angry and frustrated erodes loyalty and trust. Yes, we all lose it now and then so we are really talking about patterns of handling mistakes and performances issues. When we get visibly angry or vent our frustration directly at others, we as leaders block creativity, kill innovation, squelch experimentation and stall learning. If they fear us, employees become unwilling to risk making mistakes. These kinds of reactions result in a great deal of CYA and blame shifting as people try to avoid our attention.

The reality is that our people are a critical component of achieving our vision, we need their trust and loyalty to make it happen. So what should we do in these instances? In some cases, there must be consequences, but these should be delivered with respect and even kindness when you are emotionally calm. Studies have demonstrated that showing compassion and kindness can result in employees seeing us as strong, level headed and effective. Compassion actually increases our willingness to trust and follow.

When you lead a team or teams, you have to expect mistakes and a sometimes steep learning curve. If you pause before you respond, you can control your emotional response and direct positive action. Don’t pretend you’re not upset but you can use phrases like, “I’d like to think about this before I respond,” to allow yourself time to cool down and consider the best path of action. 

When you are faced with a mistake or performance issue, it can help to consider the three C’s: compassion, curiosity and coaching. Compassion literally means “suffering together,” it is the understanding that we all make mistakes and as fellow team members we share the suffering. Then we approach the issue with Curiosity, what happened, why did it happen and how can we prevent it from happening again? Then the Coaching comes in to help us get the outcomes we want and move everyone forward, ever closer to our vision.

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday, Leadership

Real Problem Solving Will Always Trump a Deal

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 @ 01:41 PM



   “Buy two, get the third free!”
   But I only need one.

   “Save 20%, today only!”
   But I’m busy today.

   “Go with us and pay less!”
   But am I getting less?

   “Get a free this with that!”
   Is it Christmas?

   “Earn double points!”


Sometimes I wish businesses would focus less on deals and more on solving a real problem. I know many of these slogans apply to retail businesses and they are certainly in a different game than cleaning, building maintenance and janitorial, but it seems like nearly everywhere I look, businesses are emphasizing a deal or price, but skimping on problem solving and real value.


Sure, everyone likes to save money or get free stuff but really what kind of businesses get our business for the long haul? Those that solve problems. Delivering a quality product or service is certainly problem solving because whether it’s a wrinkle free, well fitting men’s dress shirt or a top notch janitorial company, both will make your life easier.


And of course, lower prices are great if you are getting the same service, but we all know that doesn’t happen very often. Delivering a low price is not the same as delivering value. Value is about your perception of what you are getting versus what you are paying. For instance, when shopping cereals at the grocery store, one box may be cheaper but smaller than a slightly more expensive box. If you look at the price per ounce, you’ll see that the larger box is a better value. Unless of course no one in your house eats that brand which in turn negates any cost savings you might get! In my own industry, some companies are cheaper yes, but value suffers more often than not. If you are paying 10% less money for 40% less in services, the value is just not there.


So how do you solve a problem? Of course you could uncover a problem and invent the next best thing, but most of us aren’t in that game. You solve problems by being all that your competition isn’t. What complaints are common in your industry? Be the one company or among the few companies that don’t do that. Surprise your customers by being better. My industry is known for high turnover and our turnover here at Stathakis is significantly below industry averages. That solves a problem for our customers because it means fewer new people in and out of their buildings and better overall service. Is your industry known for constant upselling? Be the company that what you see is what you get. Be the doctor that always runs on time and doesn’t rush you through. Be the diet company that doesn't promise overnight results.


Most of us leaders, owners, managers, salespeople and the like want to build our businesses, make money, dominate our fields and achieve excellence. Sure the occasional deal has its place, but it’s usually about what you need rather than what the customer needs. You need to clear inventory, you need to make your month, you need to meet budgets. Focus on your customers’ needs and problems and you will last the marathon and not just the sprint.

Tags: Customer Focus, Culture

Synergy: What It Is & How You Get It

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Feb 27, 2015 @ 10:32 AM

bigstock-Create-Synergy-43660006Synergy can be an over used business buzzword, but what does it really mean and what can synergy do for you? Simply put, synergy as it applies to business, teams and leadership, is the idea that a well operating team is more than the sum of its parts. If you like math analogies, synergy looks like this:




Synergy is essentially the ability of the group to outperform even its best individual. This is important for businesses because I know of no business leader who has a team full of star performers. Rather, our teams are a mix of people, talents and attitudes. So the idea that we can take so many different individuals with different abilities, strengths and weakness and distill from them an alchemy of gold performance is hugely appealing.


Where are we likely to find the most synergy? It tends to magically happen in the most cohesive groups where each person is individually working toward the same goals. If we want to capitalize on synergy and synergy is found in abundance in cohesive teams than we must consider how to maximize team cohesion.


The first thing that pops to mind is the second sentence from the subsequent paragraph, “It tends to magically happen in the most cohesive groups where each person is individually working toward the same goals.” As leaders, we are responsible for sharing our vision with our team to create the goals that will get us there. If we don’t have a clear understanding of where we are going, our team will lack the shared goals that make synergy a real, solid thing.


What else creates real synergy by magnifying the positive individual traits of group members? First, strong mutual positive attitudes among members can help stoke the fire of true synergy. Second, positive interactions and communication helps create the interdependence, friendship and satisfaction that shore up very good groups against outside threats.


As a leader, we can’t go to our teams and say "I’d like us to have more synergy." However, what we can do is work to put all of the needed elements in place for it to happen naturally. Work on defining your vision, sharing it and creating the kind of culture that is positive and supportive.

Tags: Culture

Just One Bite

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 @ 11:34 AM

bigstock-Beautiful-Woman-Pulling-Big-El-53597095What tops most of our New Year’s Resolutions list? The big four include health, work, money and family. Most of us want to be healthier, quit smoking, lose a few pounds and exercise more. Others among us want to improve at our jobs, maybe make more money, go back to school or learn a skill we have been meaning to. And nearly all of us want to save more, spend less and get debt under control. Likewise, we may want to spend more time with our partners, kids and family. Maybe we want to travel or help a child save for college.


Whatever your resolution is, know that it is the small steps we take every day that get us closer to our goals. Even big journeys begin with small steps. If you want to lose thirty pounds just thinking about all the stuff you have to do, or not do can be overwhelming and ultimately send you off track soon after you start. Want to get healthy? Start small, maybe pack your lunch and take a short walk each day. Or figure out a way to remake your favorite comfort food into a healthier version.


I know a little something about small steps leading to big things. Stathakis started in a garage as a small painting business and has grown to a large thriving company of over 400 employees. If I would have had to mentally work to where we are now, it would have been too much, too big, too seemingly impossible. Instead we grew steadily and as we got better at what we were doing, we added services and we added people. The goals changed as we grew and with every step, I got bolder in imagining where we could be a year from now and five years from now.


There’s an old saying “how do you eat an elephant?” And the answer is “one bite at a time.” If you had to think about eating a whole elephant, you’d get acid indigestion just thinking about it, but that first bite is a real possibility. The beauty of small goals is you have something real and doable to focus on. And when you get there, you go on to the next bite. So for all of you, for me, for any of us, I wish you a Happy New Year and the resolve you need to start planning your next bite, whatever that might be.

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday

No Excuses!

Posted by Chris Stathakis on Fri, Dec 19, 2014 @ 12:54 PM


“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

― George Washington

One of my biggest pet peeves has to be when people make lame excuses when something didn’t get done. Sure, there are times when there is a legitimate reason for something left unfinished. Maybe a person was blocked from moving forward waiting on a needed piece of information from someone else. Or perhaps it was uncovered during the process of getting it done that some other element was critical to having it done right. And sometimes a person is legitimately overwhelmed juggling too much at any given time.


But more often than not the reasons fall into the excuses camp. Like they say “I didn’t have time” and I hear “I didn’t make time.” They say “I didn’t get around to it” and I hear “It wasn’t important enough for me to give it my attention.” They say “I forgot” and I hear “I overestimate my ability to remember without writing something down.” “It’s not my responsibility” can all too easily translate into “I have no initiative or ownership.” No one told me” can often equate to “I wasn’t sure but it would have taken too long to ask.”


The thing about excuses, we ALL know exactly what they are. Whether you are a newly hired employee or the President of the company, excuses like these make you look like an overgrown twelve year old trying to cover bad behavior or a lack of thoughtfulness or follow through in a situation. I’m not saying that any among us shouldn’t be allowed our mistakes. In fact, even as leaders, making our fair share of mistakes shows our team we are in many ways, just people, fallible and capable of missing things now and then. It humanizes us and isn’t bad—if we handle it well. What I am suggesting is checking in with yourself about how you posture your own missteps. What can a little accountability add to the pat excuse driven responses?


“I didn’t have time” or “I didn’t get around to it” becomes “I’m sorry I let that one slide, I will get on it now.” (and follow through).

“I forgot” could look more like “I’m sorry I got caught up on another issue and I completely forgot that you asked me about that. Let me get you an answer on that.” Or “Can you please remind me because I know this is important for you to move forward.”

“It’s not my responsibility” becomes “How can I help you figure out what you need to do or get the information you need?”

“No one told me” becomes “I should have paused to ask or confirm and I will next time.”


Do you as a leader model the adolescent lame excuse path or do you model the kind of accountability that serves you, your team and your customers? The reality is the better we can be at real accountability, the more likely our team will engage this same kind of ownership with us, our managers and our customers.

Tags: Culture, Learn Everyday, Leadership

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