Years ago a very popular country song told the story of a man who was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” The same can be said for many of today's building supply owners when it comes to uncovering employee excellence—they usually search in the wrong places.

Why do I say this with such certainty? My company, in association with a large building cooperative, has begun a long-term research initiative to uncover both short-term and long-term leadership strengths and gaps within building supply companies. Future PROSALES articles will share more of the overall research, but I am compelled to comment now on the single most disturbing finding to date.

When asked to choose from a group of 20 items that exemplify the top characteristics of today's best leaders, the items chosen least were “grow future leaders” and “captures the hearts of employees.” All too often I encounter well-intentioned managers who attempt to ignite excellence through bonuses, perks, time off, or other short-lived motivational incentives. Some even go so far as to reorganize the company, implement new systems and procedures, or take such drastic measures as reorganizations, mergers, or acquisitions in an attempt to spur both employee and organizational excellence.

These tactics may work in the short term, but motivating employees takes a much bigger commitment and a deeper dedication. Leaders who consistently achieve great results understand that excellence does not begin with bonuses, systems, or even company structure. Achieving and sustaining greatness mandates more than just one leader at the top of your company. It requires an entire team of trained, competent managers who understand the vision, mission, and purpose of your company and who together can engage the hearts of all employees.

The bottom line: Excellence is impossible with a disengaged heart.

Great leaders must have a passion for excellence that engages the hearts, minds, and souls of their employees. Speaking to the American Management Association shortly before his death, legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi said, “Heart power is the strength of your corporation.”

Some employers engage the hearts of their people through a powerful mission or company vision. The “aim” of Raymond Building Supply in North Ft. Myers, Fla., for example, is to “help employees, customers, suppliers, and all families to achieve their dreams, goals, and a lifestyle that is personally and professional rewarding.” Bread Loaf Corp. in Vermont helps employees create a personal life mission statement. Others create lifelong learning and career growth opportunities, such as San Diego–based Dixieline Lumber's “Promote from Within” philosophy.

Every day thousands of building supply workers filled with untapped heart power walk into their yards, offices, or stores and wait for their leaders to give them a reason to commit themselves, a reason to exert their energies, a reason to excel!

So I ask two questions: 1) Have you invested in the growth of your management team to tap the latent heart power of your employees? 2) If not, when will you begin?

The birthplace of excellence begins within the hearts of your managers and employees. Engage their hearts, and excellence will follow. —Dr. Jim Harris is an adviser to business leaders in leadership, organizational, and management excellence. 877.638.7733;