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5 Leadership Lessons from History

5 Leadership Lessons From Crossing the Delaware

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Leadership Lessons From History

Several years ago in a meeting, we were asked to share the name of the best leadership book we’d read in the past year. My colleagues suggested books by Maxwell, Gladwell and Collins, yet my mind went directly to the historical account of General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, depicted in “To Try Men’s Souls” by Newt Gingrich.

You may remember the story from high school history class. In December 1776 during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was demoralized and on the run. Christmas night, while camped along the Delaware River, Washington realized that their only chance to win – or even to survive – was to attack the British at Trenton.

It wasn’t evident at the time of course, but historians now consider the events of that evening and the next morning as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. As we study Washington’s decision-making during these extraordinary circumstances, five leadership lessons emerge.

1. Heroes Exist in the Unlikeliest of Places

Henry Knox served as Washington’s chief artillery officer, and before the war, Knox managed a bookstore.

According the Washington, Knox’s efforts made the attack on Trenton possible. As a devastating blizzard engulfed the area late on Christmas night, the river seemed impassable. Knox coordinated efforts to load the army’s few remaining artillery pieces onto the creaky flatboats and to navigate the ice-choked river. Once across, it was his leadership that allowed men to transport heavy machinery up and down the icy hills in the midst of an historic blizzard.

Washington later said he was stunned by Knox’s confidence and impressed by the routine, matter-of-fact way Knox explained his plan. He had horses drag artillery pieces up frozen hills in the middle of a snowstorm, in the dark, using malnourished and barefoot soldiers, yet Knox made it seem like an ordinary, routine event.

Like eagles, leaders don’t flock together. You most often find them one at a time, and sometimes a bookseller helps you win a war.

2. Hold Steady in the Face of the “But Sirs”

Once Washington made his decision to cross the Delaware and attack, he never wavered. As soon as the order was disseminated through the ranks, leaders were hit with a barrage of “but sirs.”

• “But sir, the river is filled with ice.”
• “But sir, these boats weren’t designed to transport cannons.”
• “But sir, my men haven’t eaten in three days, they won’t survive the march.”
• “But sir, the British are well-rested and well-fed, what chance do we have in battle?”

But sir, but sir, but sir. As a leader, how often do you deal with resistance to a tough decision? Washington responded by increasing the level of communication so that everyone had better understanding of his decisions, as illustrated in this brief aside to his officers:

“If we do not win soon, there will be no army left. When there is no army left, the rebellion will be over. When the rebellion is over, we will all be hung. Therefore we have little to lose.”

3. Frequently Communicating Vision is a Necessity

Washington didn’t say it just once, he repeated himself over and over, up and down the line of soldiers. The vision: Cross the river, move the artillery and cross Jacob’s Creek. In twelve hours.

Did everyone agree with his plan? Hardly. Did they execute the mission? Definitely.

4. Be Visible

A Continental soldier’s diary recounts that for every mile he covered, General Washington probably covered twelve. Riding back and forth, checking on the front line, then crossing the creek to check on the men at the back of the line, then back to the front again. The soldiers knew their leader was invested and that he was fighting right by their side.

A good rule-of-thumb for leaders: the tougher the mission, the higher the visibility.

5. Leaders Aren’t Called to Do Their Best

Washington knew this leadership secret better than anyone. He knew that most of his men’s enlistments expired in a week and that he was outmanned and outgunned. He knew that their only chance of survival was to attack and win at Trenton. Everything else was irrelevant.

It didn’t matter that the river was filled with ice, or that half his men had no shoes and hadn’t eaten in days. The boat boarding passcode that night was “Victory or Death.” This is what Washington believed and it was how he led his army. He knew that as leaders, we are not called to do our best – we are called to do what is required.

Washington’s army went on to win the battle at Trenton, and to win again at Princeton. The momentum of those wins turned the war in their favor, eventually leading to American independence fifteen years later. And I believe the momentum truly began with the perseverance of one man, directing his forces to victory through a blinding snowstorm.

Nearly two hundred fifty years later, General Washington’s leadership lessons are as valuable today as they were that snowy night on the banks of the Delaware River.


Jim Quillen

by Jim Quillen


Author Bio: As director of tax at Paycom, Jim Quillen is responsible for ensuring payments and returns are filed timely and accurately, and for eliminating tax issues with the potential to negatively impact clients. Quillen, a CPA by training, has worked in many fields during his career, including finance, auditing, recruiting, sales, business development and software implementation. Prior to his current role, Quillen has served Paycom as the director of business intelligence, director of new client implementation and director of recruiting.

talent shortage

How the Talent Shortage Threatens Your Business’s Bottom Line

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Human nature and the rapid pace of the workday sometimes conspire to force us into a myopic view of our organization. For instance, we may be so concentrated on attacking a problem within our department that we neglect to consider if the issue has infiltrated other departments as well.

If the issue is filling head count with qualified candidates, assume it has spread like a virus, to every room of every floor. Your business cannot afford to do otherwise.

While the problem is global, it is worse in the U.S., where 46% of all organizations currently experience difficulty filling open positions. Not only is that number up from 32% in 2015, it’s at its highest rate in 10 years. Experts predict it will rise even higher, meaning the war for talent just got harder.

The skills gap

The irony is, with an improving economy and an employment-to-population ratio around 82%, more people are in the American workforce now than in nearly a decade. So shouldn’t employers be inundated with résumés?

In general, they are … but not with the right kind of résumés. Almost 20% of applicants lack the experience companies seek. An equal number do not possess the necessary, specific hard skills the positions require, such as computer programming.

This skills gap has led to longer open positions. This year, the average is a full month: 31 days. Ten years ago, it took eight fewer days. How long can your business get by with letting critical functions go unfilled?

A domino effect

Arguably, the most obvious effect caused by open positions is lower morale among staff members, particularly those who have to pick up the proverbial slack. Having extra work atop their regular duties lowers their productivity, which in turn, lowers quality.

Before long, customers will take note. Perhaps they notice the product is not up to the company’s usual standard, or that your service may be lacking. Or, worse, they notice both. Either way, your competitiveness in the marketplace takes a hit, and we know the effect that has on the bottom line: not the desirable kind.

Ultimately, in a talent shortage left unaddressed, your business experiences all of the above, plus higher turnover. And higher turnover only compounds the problem that started this whole mess!

 Steps to take

The good news is, good news exists. The proper HR technology can streamline, speed up and automate your recruiting processes to attract more qualified candidates and filter out the unqualified ones. Automated preboarding helps keep new hires looped in, so they are not lost to the chasm of time between the job offer and Day 1.

The bad news is, if you don’t take such steps, and outdated, manual processes continue to rule the roost, your business will suffer defeat in the war for talent.

For more information on the current talent shortage, as well as strategic steps organizations can take on a path toward victory, download our free infographic, How the Talent Shortage Harms Your Entire Business.

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Posted in Blog, Featured, Talent Acquisition

Rod Lott

by Rod Lott


Author Bio: As Paycom’s Creative Services Manager, Rod Lott brings more than two decades of experience in marketing, advertising, branding and journalism. A published author and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, he has worked with such brands as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Sonic Drive-In and OU.

The 1 Thing Efficient, Happy and Motivated Employees Have in Common

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Efficiency, happiness and motivation: These traits characterize the ideal employee, but how can today’s employers inspire their workforce to have more of each? Through the use of carefully chosen technology. Here’s how technology factors in to developing your employees into the best they can be.

Click here to see Jacob Morgan’s SHRM-certified on-demand webinar “How to Win the War for Talent and Crush the Competition” on how the world’s top companies are redesigning work around their people by focusing on three environments: culture, technology and the physical workspace.

Efficient employees

Of course, your employees are not machines. Efficiency for your business means employees are doing the right things at the right time; as management consultant Peter Drucker put it, “Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.” The work you hired them to do is performed with excellence.

Technology goes hand-in-hand with efficiency, and that can make your employees happier! In fact, as reported by Access Perks, 92% of employees say having the tech to efficiently do their jobs improves their overall satisfaction in their work. Employees don’t want just any technology; make sure you’re offering the latest tech that can help them perform better in their roles.

Happy employees

Whether your employees are happy can affect many things within your workplace. More than a feeling your people exhibit from 8 to 5, happiness speaks to their satisfaction in their role within your company. When your employees love what they do, that’s how you know they’re happy in their jobs.

The employee experience is the sum of all things good or bad in an employee’s time at your company. A positive employee experience leads to happier employees who are more willing to accept growth and change, and are emotionally prepared to handle the occasional setback.

Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience, describes technology as a key factor in building a positive employee experience. His research shows that 81% of workers say technology is the most important factor in their happiness at work, and 86% say that when their company’s technology is ahead of the curve, they love their job. When employees love their jobs, they become more motivated for the success of the company that has invested in them.

Motivated employees

According to Forbes magazine, motivation leads to productivity, allowing for more work to get done and boosting your bottom line. Chances are, no matter the quarter, your HR team has looked for innovative ways to motivate and engage employees. Incentives, prizes and pizza parties are obvious choices in the search for employee motivation, but is a “prize” the best method?

One powerful motivator that isn’t just another prize is technology; according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, at 48%, nearly half of the American workforce says that new technology is an effective motivator. Are you providing the state-of-the-art, user-friendly tech that can motivate your workforce?

Technology that is up-to-date and simple to use can help you provide the environment your employees need to thrive.  As tech-dependent millennials make up a larger share of the workforce, and Generation Z digital natives begin their careers, technology increasingly becomes a critical part of the employee experience.  Help your employees meet their maximum potential by providing the right technology to keep them efficient, happy and motivated.

Looking for a deeper dive into the employee experience? Check out the HR Break Room podcast episode, “Happy Employees = Happy Customers: The Equation for a Winning Workforce” with author Jacob Morgan.

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Posted in Blog, Employee Experience, Featured

braeden.fair

by Braeden Fair


Author Bio: Braeden Fair produces webinars and podcasts for Paycom, in addition to writing content for the company’s blog and its employee culture magazine, Paycom Pulse. A graduate of Oklahoma Christian University, he managed social media for the college’s student life division and worked in the broadcasting departments of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas-based sports-talk radio station The Ticket.

Employer Brand

Why Your Employer Brand Matters

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Hello. My name is Amy, and at one time, my Coca-Cola rugby shirt was my most prized possession. Chances are you – or someone you know – had at least one and felt the same way. Those preppy, color-blocked beauties with the classic Coca-Cola scroll were pure Americana. They were so rad.

They were also uncomfortable. The material was thick and hot, the boxy shape was cumbersome and the collars were stiff. So what would inspire millions of sensible people to pay good money and outfit themselves in one? The answer: brand power.

Brands amplify the personal traits and characteristics of which we’re most proud. Brands show others who we are and want to be. They’re a fiercely personal association that sways our decision-making, regardless of whether we like to admit it, and they’re just as powerful today as they were in 1985.

If you don’t believe me, just embroil yourself in a debate about Macs vs. PCs, or Target vs. Walmart. Two things will happen immediately. First, regret will overwhelm you. Secondly, as voices rise and tempers flare, you’ll see that brands continue to serve as an extension of who we believe we are.

Great expectations

While the influence brands have over us remains strong, what we expect from them has changed. Today, companies can’t win customers by building a brand the old-fashioned way, with logo-emblazoned gear, slick photo shoots and ads in glossy magazines. Cultivating a trustworthy brand requires transparency. We want to know which brands mirror our values and operate in a way we believe in, too.

And we can, thanks to the internet. Now, not even the slickest ads in the world can spare brands from the destruction that negative reviews, an exposé on unethical practices or a shocking YouTube video can bring. The power of shaping a brand now lies with the company who owns it and the customers they serve.

Why it matters for HR and recruiting

So what does this have to do with your company’s reputation as an employer, aka your employer brand? Everything.

Just as consumers choose products based on brand identity, candidates choose jobs based on employer brand. Consumers want transparency. Candidates do, too. Review websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp offer consumers a forum to share honest experiences with thousands of people. Major job sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Indeed provide employees a similar outlet.

And candidates pay attention. Much like consumers contemplating a big purchase, candidates planning to make a big move do research. Before applying, 62% of job seekers will use social media channels to evaluate a company and 76% will view an employee’s LinkedIn page, while 60% consider word-of-mouth to be their best source of information.

To nab today’s top talent, you must enter the conversation and cultivate your employer brand.

Isn’t that marketing’s job?

Although the similarities between the consumer brand and the employer brand would suggest it, that’s not the case. And shaping or managing your employer brand doesn’t just belong to HR, either. Because your employer brand has to portray your company’s employee experience accurately, everyone who has a hand in shaping that has a hand in cultivating the employer brand.

Download our new, FREE white paper: Discover Who Owns the Employer Brand? (Hint: It’s Not Just HR)

Once you understand the role everyone in your organization plays in cultivating the employer brand, you can begin making steps toward recruiting, hiring, onboarding and retaining the talent your business needs. Then, take some time to design an awesome (and hopefully comfortable) employer-branded shirt. Your workforce will be just dying to wear it.

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Posted in Blog, Featured, HR Management, Talent Acquisition

Amy Double

by Amy Double


Author Bio: Amy, a tenured professional in sales and marketing with over 10 years of experience, is dedicated to creating content focused on helping organizations achieve their business goals. As an experienced writer, Amy is committed to researching and blogging about topics that affect businesses across multiple industries, including manufacturing, hospitality and more. Outside of work, Amy enjoys reading, entertaining and spending time with family.

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