Group Power: Clarity, Feedback & Accountability - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 291

291 Group Power: Clarity, Feedback & Accountability

Group Power: Clarity, Feedback & Accountability - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 291

That’s a photograph of my first grade class. An extremely bright group. ūüėČ

Look at us. All bright, young and shiny. Solid potential all around. Nineteen kids. One teacher. That’s her at the back, Mrs. Arnold. And the Principal who appears to be wearing bunny ears thanks to that bunny on the bulletin board behind him. I don’t recall his name.

I was with this group on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Mrs. Arnold was our leader on that dreadful day, a day we couldn’t quite fully comprehend. I’d been a seasoned, even grizzled kindergarten veteran, but that wasn’t the same as first grade. Kindergarten wasn’t nearly as organized, or profitable. I mean we took naps! Naps, I tell you. Hardly a productive group experience, at least for me. I didn’t gain much clarity, but I do recall getting a bit of feedback. Accountability was always in place ’cause we were kids. And it was the 1960’s when adults believed in teaching us discipline. Not like today where the kids rule. Yep, I think it was a better time and I’m thankful to have been born in an era where kids were safe, but expectations were higher. Come on. Just look at us here. Okay, forget that kid on the right in the front row. He looks like he could enjoy spiteful behavior, doesn’t he.

There’s power in a group, but it certainly depends on the group. Today’s show was sparked by a conversation I had some weeks ago with somebody about a group that I’m part of where accountability is pretty high. It’s a group where leadership isn’t bashful to serve the group. As we were talking I found myself reciting all the reasons why the group worked; why it performed at a fairly high level. That’s what I’d like to share with you today.

I want you to think about your own situations, your own opportunities with whatever groups you’re a member of — and whatever groups you may be looking to join or form in the future. I don’t claim to hold any profound wisdom about this topic, but I’ve got extensive experience working with and forming high performing groups. I know how powerful they are. And I know how addictive they can be for the members, too. So let’s dive in.

Why Does The Group Exist?

If there’s no common purpose, the group won’t be high performing. Kindergarten was a low performing group because we were just there doing time. Sort of like a fun kiddie prison. Okay, a half-day prison of sorts. With toys. And snacks. And naps.

Every member of the group must know, understand and believe in why they’re together. I’ve posed it as a “WHY” question, but others would say it’s PURPOSE. Same difference. It’s quite simply the reason for the group to exist.

Take something as simple as a coed recreational volleyball league. Players can be put together who never knew each other until their team was formed. The volleyball league is made up of teams of men and women who want to play volleyball. Let’s suppose this league has a rec division and a competitive division. The rec league is made up of people who just want to play according to the real rules of volleyball, but they’re more interested in having fun, getting some exercise and being on a team. The competitive division is more serious and the teams are more competitive, with each member having higher skill. That’s important because the teams – the groups – are comprised of mostly similar people desiring similar things.

Have you ever been on a team where you wanted to really compete, but others were mostly just interested in having fun? It’s frustrating. I’ve coached many teams in my life and there’s always trouble when some don’t want to take it as seriously as others, or when others want to take it too seriously when that’s not the purpose of the team. So, purpose is very important. And it’s important that every member of the team understand why we’re together and what we’re here for. I’ll include the necessity for high performing groups to also be of similar ability and skill. That likely deserves it’s own heading, but I’m including it here in this first category because you’re not likely going to ever be able to assemble or be part of a group where everybody is identical in skill, ability or experience. The key thing is to make sure the disparity is small. That is, A players want to play with A players. Even in the rec league that’s true. A players will be fine with some B players, too. But insert a C player or two and you’ll instantly make the A players annoyed and frustrated. C players need to step up to become B or A player if they want to be part of a high performing group. Otherwise, I don’t think they have a home.

Few things destroy the effectiveness of a group more than a disparity of purpose. Now this isn’t the same thing as – some are here for one thing and others are here for different things. The recreational volleyball players know why they’re on the same team. They don’t want to have their nose broken by a spike. They want to play legitimate volleyball where lifts and net violations are called (accountability), but they mostly want to compete in a less competitive stress-filled league. One wants to do it for exercise. Another wants to do it to improve in hopes of eventually moving up to the competitive league. Another is mainly there so he can play a sport with his wife. Each person may be getting something specific out of it – something they want and need – but they all know why they’re together as a rec team.

If just one player is a¬†wannabe Olympian, then there’ll be trouble. He’ll be taking things far more seriously than the rest. At every lost point he’ll rant and holler at teammates. He’s out of context with the purpose of the group and he’ll negate any joy the rest of the team might otherwise have. It’s important that players get placed on the team that best fits the purpose of the individuals. A. To play purely for recreational purposes where winning isn’t nearly as important as just playing. B. To play as competitively as possible. Two different reasons for each group. Urgent that every roster be made up of players who know why they’re together.

This is the fragility of team chemistry. It’s where it starts. I’ve seen many personality conflicts erupt because team members don’t share the same purpose. In every high performing group I’ve ever been a part of, everybody knew precisely why we were together and what our purpose was. This includes “buy in,” that proverbial mental consent that joins people together to chase something in the same way.

How Committed Are We To Do This?

It’s one thing to know why we’re together, but that doesn’t mean everybody brings the energy necessary to get it done. High performing groups are committed — to a man and woman. Nobody is left behind on the Commitment Train. Everybody is on board.

Think of the times when you were part of a group that had high performance potential, but something went awry. It could have been any number of things that disrupted the performance of the group. I’ll almost guarantee you that among any other problems the group may have faced, this one was most certainly right at the top. Not everybody was willing to put in the work, make the sacrifices and commit themselves to getting it done.

Remember, we’ve already talked about A, B and C players. So at this point we’re assuming that the group is comprised of people who belong together. But I should inject something right here — a C player who is at that level due to inexperience or even a lack of talent can play nicely with the group if he’s fully committed, putting in the work and the group is seeing improvement and contribution. It’s context. High performing groups appreciate the hard working, lesser experienced person who know their place. They don’t appreciate the C player who seems convinced they’re an A player.

Likewise, the AAA player who won’t work hard, who feels entitled and special will destroy the group. No amount of talent will overcome the group’s expectation that everybody bring value. While every group can easily recognize the difference in each member, there’s an equality that is expected. There are minimum standards established by leadership or the group that everybody must meet. When those aren’t met, commitment is appropriately questioned and peace gets disturbed quickly.

Nothing can replace commitment. Talent won’t. Experience won’t. A title won’t.

Let’s talk a bit about motivation. We’ll define motivation as the energy we all bring with us to do the work. That’s different than inspiration. I may be able to inspire a person’s motivation, but I can’t give somebody energy they don’t have. It’s like a battery. The battery can have full energy, but if the connections are bad…nothing happens. The energy is there, but it needs direction. Connection. Inspiration might include some education to help a person connect or tap into their inner energy, but their “battery” level is something they’ve either got or they don’t.

This is important because high performing groups need everybody to consistently show up with the energy to do the work. You’ve seen this destroy a group. Somebody is always suffering some issue. Maybe they’re always running late, filled with excuses. Or they’re sick all the time. Or they’ve got drama in their life that they’re intent on sharing with the group. Everybody thinks they could bring higher value, but sooner than later the group learns to not rely on them because they lack consistently. Every questions their commitment – rightfully so. Who cares what potential good they might bring to the group? Potential doesn’t accomplish anything. The group will grow increasingly disgusted with them.

Every single member of the group must bring the energy and determination to contribute.

How Selfish Are We?

High performing groups won’t tolerate selfishness. Peace is disturbed by this one awful trait. Selfishness.

The group is what matters. Members know that they can only get what they need and want through the group. Let’s go back to our volleyball team. The person who wants to exercise weekly with his wife is getting something specific and different than the person who wants to improve so they can eventually play at the more competitive level. Yet neither can get what they want outside the context of the team. They need the team in order to get what they want.

Suppose they put their desires before the team. How is that going to work? It isn’t. It’ll wreck the team and their chances to have the team serve them. More importantly, it’ll rob each of them of the opportunity to serve the team! Everybody loses.

And it happens all the time. Team members can’t get their attention off themselves. They’re desperate to want what they want and they don’t care about anybody else. They behave as though the group is there to serve them and they have no responsibility to serve others. It’s the single most destructive behavior of any group – high performing or otherwise.

I’ve never seen a group perform at high levels consistently where there was no peace. I’m not talking about respectful conflict and debate. That can be quite profitable if members will behave appropriately, respectfully and with the intent of making the work better. It will be destructive if it’s self-centered, full of ego and lacking respect for the overall performance of the group. It’s borne of that “I’m gonna look good even if you guys all look bad” kind of philosophy. High performing groups can’t and won’t tolerate it.

Great groups check their ego at the door and refuse to let their own (or anybody else’s) interfere with the overriding reason for their existence together. Sometimes it means sacrifice. It means we submit to the group’s decisions and well-being. It means the idea we think is best may have to be tabled because the group desires something else. There’s a time to speak and a time to sit quietly. Our level of selfishness often determines which is appropriate.

Another part of this is our ability and willingness to serve others in the group. The less selfish we are the more we’re likely to gain. Suppose you’re on a volleyball team of 9 people. There are 6 people on the court at any one time. That means 3 people are sitting on the sideline, if everybody is there. The selfish player can think, “I should be out there. I’m better than him.” If he continues to think like that he’ll act that out eventually. But he could decide to cheer and encourage, staying upbeat and ready when he does go into the game, determined to be the very team mate possible. It’s an enormous difference in behavior sparked by how players think.

Consider how the team will behave toward those two different approaches of a player on the sidelines. If you’re on the court do you want to surrender your spot to the pouting, I’m-better-than-you teammate? Not likely. The high energy, cheering, encouraging teammate who is excited for those on the court…would you like to see him get some playing time (remember, he’s fully capable of playing at your level, that’s why he’s on your team)? Sure. Most of us will gladly share our time with a guy like that because he’s serving us. It’s more than an attitude. It’s behavior.

How Proud Are We?

Without exception, every high performing group I’ve been a part of, or the ones I’ve watched from the outside, have a pride in the group that is without question. They’re filled with pride to be part of the group. They’re proud of the accomplishments of the group. Proud of the growth and the opportunity.

There’s something exclusive about high performing groups. It’s special. And addictive.

It’s manifested in how much time people spend together. I’ve run organizations where people stood in the parking lot for long periods of time talking, brain-storming and telling stories. I’ve coached teams who did the same thing long after practice had ended. There’s a reluctance to part. There’s an attraction to stay together. It’s a bond that I’ve learned many people have never experienced. That’s sad to me because these are special times when we’re part of something that brings us such pride.

Pride can fuel greater commitment and discipline to make sure we’re earning our keep. It’s not an arrogant, I’m-better-than-you kind of pride. It’s a feeling of gratitude to be able to contribute to such a group, and to be part of it. We want to maintain our inclusion in such a group.

What About Clarity, Feedback And Accountability?

I think by now you can see how clarity happens. High performing groups are quite clear about their why or purpose. That drives their ability to be clear about how to get things done.

Feedback is valued and encouraged because without it clarity is lost. Without it, improvement is stopped dead.

Where there is no accountability, there is no high performance. It’s impossible. Expectations have to be established and met. When they’re not, what’s the repercussion? There isn’t one? Then the group isn’t high performing. It’s got nothing to do with whether a member is an A player or a B player. The stars on the team need higher accountability because they’re able to contribute more. Every member has to be expected – and required – to bring all they can to the benefit of the group. If the group tolerates your willingness to bring anything less, then why should I put forth my best?

Accountability isn’t a dirty word. It’s vital and craved by high performing people comprising a high performing group. The best people want high accountability. Slugs don’t. They resist it.

As I was talking about a specific high performing group with a friend recently all these components were part of the discussion, but accountability was a real focal point. Mostly, because it’s so rare. People talk about it, but few people do it, or experience it. I’m not talking about a calling on the carpet. I’m talking about real, legitimate positive accountability. I’m talking about maintaining a high expectation.

We’ve all experienced getting in trouble. That’s not what this is although it might include it when it’s deserved. Mostly, it’s manifested in not letting people off the hook for a less-than-you-can-do job. It’s not expecting the B player to perform at an A level. It’s expecting the best that we know the B player can deliver. It’s accepting nothing less for the good of the person, and the performance of the group. It’s a service thing. Not a punitive thing. That doesn’t mean it can’t involve some punitive measures if they’re required, but that’s not the purpose. The purpose of accountability is to elicit the very best of each member so the group together and soar as high as possible. It’s a teamwork thing.

If your end of the boat sinks, so does mine.

Each group member deserves to be held accountable. Otherwise, they become unfit for the group. How is that fair?

Everybody deserves to perform at their highest level. To allow otherwise is to lose confidence in each other, to lower our expectation for each other — and to be willing to put our group at risk. Again, that’s unfair to all concerned.

Let’s End With A Myth

Some people think that high performing groups just happen, or they don’t. They think it’s a serendipity thing that can’t be created or controlled. WRONG.

I’ve heard people, including sports team coaches, talk about team chemistry as being this¬†ephemeral, fragile, hard to predict kind of thing. It doesn’t have to be. I don’t think it should be left to chance or happenstance. Still I often hear leaders hoping to capture it. They approach it like a search for a 4 leaf clover. The odds aren’t great, but it could happen. Such leaders aren’t prepared to lead a high performing group in my opinion. They’re not strategic or intentional enough to deserve to lead such a group. And a high performing group deserves better leadership than that.

The world is full of examples of leaders or coaches unable to assemble a winning team. Chip Kelly has been a colossal failure in Philadelphia even though he’s been empowered to pretty much have things his way. I’m not qualified to second guess NFL professionals, but it’s easy for anybody to see that what coach Kelly is doing and has done, isn’t working. Fact is, it’s not working spectacularly! On the flip side look at the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. Last season was a lackluster affair. This year, they’re leading the league. Watch them play and you see they’ve got something special. I don’t know, but I’m willing to give credit to their leadership for helping make that high performing group come together.

If you’re a leader, put in the work to assemble the best group possible. Be devoted to making sure these ingredients are in place. Don’t short cut it. Don’t accept mediocre or excuses. Make it happen. People are craving such groups. They want to be part of it and they won’t want to let it down, or be ejected from it. It’s why in too many cases the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Top performing people who aren’t yet part of such a group long to be part of one. They’ll line up to be part of yours. Case in point, the top college football programs continue to be the top programs year in and year out because the best high school football players want to be part of a winning program. Recruiting is easier when you’re leading a high performing group. It’s also a whole lot more fun.


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Leading With Collaboration - Higher Human Performance Podcast Episode 285

285 Leading With Collaboration

Leading With Collaboration - Higher Human Performance Podcast Episode 285

Novice leaders are often tempted to overestimate their own value and importance. They may incorrectly think they need to have the answers. Believing that our worth is determined by our own sole abilities is commonplace. And wrong!

History shows us that many strong and productive leaders behaved that way. “Impose your will,” was more than a phrase, it was a way of life among many leaders of the past. Sometimes the only distinction between an evil tyrant and a so-called genius is the work product. Steve Jobs, according to many sources, was quite tyrannical, but we view him as sort of a mad genius because his work product resulted in so many things we love. Other leaders, equally tyrannical (or maybe even less so), are viewed as evil men because their work product didn’t impact us, or the people of their day. Maybe their leadership just resulted in record profits. We revere business leaders who accomplished great things, not just revenues or profits. The men who built America were largely self-centered, overly driven, ego maniacs willing to do whatever it took to propel their businesses and market dominance forward. But they built buildings, railroad tracks, bridges, cars and other things that changed our country. Could they have accomplished what they did without the tyranny? We’ll never know. I have my own theory — I don’t think so. Time and place and all that.

Leadership in America in the 1800’s looked quite different than leadership in 2015 America (and the world, for that matter). Last Sunday, in a new episode of The Good Wife, the younger attorneys who aren’t yet named partners are complaining how they do all the work, but at the last minute a named partner will swoop in, taking 70% of the billing and all the credit.

Sure it happens. All the time. The boss takes credit for the good work or good idea of a subordinate. Without so much as giving any credit or recognition to the subordinate. It’s a worthwhile podcast topic, but we’ll table that for another day. For today, it’s about a leader’s obligation and value in fostering collaboration. I’m not talking about collaboration for the sake of it, although I could. There is something to helping make people feel included and important. But that can be a natural outgrowth of the hard work put into helping people improve their performance and their satisfaction with their lives.

Leadership development isn’t a solo activity. Sure, you can lead your own life (and you should), but leadership is developed by interacting with others. It’s about learning how to impact others through serving them. That’s not how everybody views leadership, but it’s how I roll.

Here, let’s see if I can’t make it easier for you – what will all this talk of world-class folks who have accomplished great things in business. I’m re-reading a biography on Andrew Carnegie, the one by David Nasaw. I confess, I’ve dipped into it before, but bailed out on it. I fear I may do it again. It’s a thick book filled with historical details that sometime drown me, but I appreciate the author’s completeness. Well, Carnegie was very accomplished. He was a “get it done” kind of a guy. Very driven. Very competitive. Very strategic. And like most titans of industry, fully capable of self-delusion and ruthlessness. Don’t mistake high achievement for leadership. A person can be both, but they’re very different things.

People can be the boss – or in charge – and be poor leaders. Carnegie and many other men who made America (there’s a great series of documentaries by that same name) were very successful. They accomplished great things during a time when our country desperately needed infrastructure. They also came on the scene during some very critical years where basic things like railroads, fuel and steel had extraordinarily high value. Today, high technology presents opportunities, but nothing trumps the basics of owning the transportation (cars, railroads, trucking, shipping), the fuel (oil, gas) and construction technology (including roads, bridges, buildings). The technologies associated with the Internet are the closest thing we’ve got to the opportunities experienced by these early men who made America. Some might argue it’s easier to today because costs can be low and money or funding easily available. But competition is also more fierce because the barrier to enter markets is low enough it allows more players. But none of that matters because none of that has anything to do with becoming a great leader. Great business builders may lack the ability to effectively lead even a small team of people. They might be able to instill enough fear in people to solicit good work, but it doesn’t make them a great leader. Edison’s lab was the place to be, even though he wasn’t a good leader. So the technical people wanted to be there, and many remained there under poor circumstances. Don’t confuse high accomplishment with great leadership.

Conversely, some men and women are great leaders, but they don’t generate great revenue, build bridges or donate millions to worthy causes. Some of them are poor. Others disinterested in building wealth. Others work in non-profit spaces. Still others serve others in city government, or in faith-based causes.

You can be a great leader and not be boss. You can be the boss and be a pathetic leader.

You can be the most skilled at the work, but the most incompetent at leading. You can be the least skilled at the actual work, but be a stellar leader.

Can a person be a great leader and some of these other things? Of course. But we’re talking about leadership and we’re specifically trying to get to collaboration, which is what’s required if any leader is going to be great. It doesn’t mean great leaders listen to just anybody, or everybody. Nor does it mean they abdicate decision making to their team or organization. It means they understand the value of group thinking and group participation. It means they realize that however people are at the table means there are potentially that many viewpoints and ideas worth hearing. Before you can hear them, you have to find ways to foster sharing. The person at the table who is afraid to share a thought isn’t helping. A leader can either elicit participation and collaboration, or he can shut it down.

Great leaders get the work done better because they’re busy serving others – namely, the people most responsible for getting the work done. People can do more, do it better and have more fun in the process if they have a great leader! But too often the person in charge thinks they must have all the answers. It’s a myth.

In episode 284, the last episode, we talked about how what got you here won’t necessarily get you there. That idea rears its ugly head here again. The boss – that’s usually who we think is the leader – gets to be the boss by being better than the rest. He or she is able to get things done that others can’t. Or they’ve got qualifications others don’t. But in far too many cases, the boss got to be the boss in one of a few ways:

a. They own the joint
b. They’re family to those who own the joint
c. They were extremely good at something (their own work product was shining)
d. They rose through the ranks by being good each step of the way
e. They outlasted others
f. They were an easy choice (convenient, available, inexpensive, etc.)

There are other reasons why people become the boss, but those 6 give you enough of an idea to prove my point — bosses tend to be the person with the answers. Or they tend to be people who feel they need to know the answers. Thankfully, I’m seeing that change as the demographics of the work place change. Increasingly organizations are going to non-hierarchal structures where people collaborate and use the collective knowledge and wisdom of the group. I think it’s a good thing because I’m quite fond of fostering positive group dynamics. Great ideas and solutions often come out of great dialogue and questions. Not to mention that solutions often come more quickly with added brain power and points of view.

The challenge I often find in helping leaders fully embrace collaboration – by that, I just mean letting other people have a seat at the table where ideas can be openly exchanged – is the need of the boss (or the guy at the head of the table) to be the smartest guy in the room. If you have that hang up, I’d encourage you to unburden yourself. For starters, your people already know you’re not the brightest bulb in the socket. For another thing, even if you are the smartest guy in the room, it’s likely better to be the wiser person instead. Foster the dialogue. Ask questions. Probe. Vet the ideas, but don’t squash the passion of the arguments. Let people mount the pulpit and preach their ideas. You don’t want to silence the congregation of people who will carry out whatever plan is agreed on. Many a good idea has been sabotaged because the boss didn’t allow people to be heard. It robbed them of the opportunity to buy into an idea they might have otherwise happily followed. But because nobody asked them, or listened to them, now they see it as tyranny. Be better than that.

That’s really the point of today’s show. Get out of your own way. Unshackle yourself from feeling like you’ve got to come up with the best ideas or solutions. Try framing the problem in a way so your team can clearly understand what you’re up against. Then turn them loose to figure out ways to fix it. Don’t be hasty to respond to what’s said by any member of the team. Avoid judgments so the conversation will continue. Instead, if nobody asks the question you know should be asked, then ask it, but in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way. Something like, “Well, if we do that, will we have to make any adjustments to our delivery schedule or any other part of our process?”

If you’re a boss who isn’t accustomed to leading like this, prepare for lots of silence the first go round. That’s okay. You’re going to have prove to your team that you’re serious about wanting their input. There’s nothing wrong with telling them you want to hear candid conversation and dialogue about the issue. Lean on somebody you know will help you get the ball rolling if necessary. As much as possible, resist the urge to chime in. At first, you’re going to be tempted to cut to the chase. Resist. The process is important. People need time to warm up to the comfort of being able to have these conversations in front of you. All eyes and ears are on YOU. Make sure the entire room learns this is a safe space in which to share their ideas. Don’t scoff at anything, even the most ridiculous ideas. Protect everybody in the room. Don’t let any bullies take over. Don’t let anybody belittle somebody else’s idea. It’s pretty easy to stop if you just let the room know about one of your craziest ideas you once had. Laughter is a good thing…don’t try to suppress it. Let the team enjoy the process, even if some good natured ribbing goes on – especially after you poke some fun at yourself.

The whole thing hinges on your willingness to be human. Leaders can’t foster collaboration if the team feels there’s going to be negative consequences. It’ll be easier for them to just sit quietly than to participate. Nobody wins if people withhold their ideas. Besides, those of us who fancy ourselves as idea people know that most of our ideas are ridiculously stupid, but by ripping and snorting through our ideas we may occasionally come up with that one brilliant one. It’s worth it. We all need our best ideas to help propel our businesses and our organizations forward. If we have to hear 99 bad ideas to get to the best one, so be it. Let’s get on with it.

Here’s what I predict is going to happen…because I’ve seen it happen too many times. People engage. The wheels begin to turn faster and faster as people begin to enjoy the process. They ponder. And pondering is good. You want people willing to ponder at work. You don’t want human drones. You want your team to think well. At long last you’re going to give them an environment where they can do their best thinking together. And did I mention the fun? Well, there’s going to be lots more fun than sitting there listening to you tell them, “Here’s what we’re going to do…”

I’ll put my team who came up with a great solution, and who own the execution of it up against your team who was informed of your decision all day long. And my team will kick your team’s butt every single time! Plus my team will have a lot more fun ’cause winning is always more fun than losing.


Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

Leadership Communication: Don't Talk, Teach - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 283

283 Leadership Communication: Don’t Talk, Teach

Leadership Communication: Don't Talk, Teach - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 283

Leadership communication is the responsibility of the leader. Sounds basic and fundamental, but it has caused grief with some clients of mine in the past. People can be quick to point out how the receiver has a responsibility to get it right. I know, I know. But communication is not a 50-50 proposition. Ever.

The burden is always on the person doing the communicating. All of it? No, but most of it.

A person groping to find the words, stammering around searching for the right phrase and otherwise bumbling around is not going to have a good experience in being understood. It’s their fault. They have to shoulder the responsibility to be properly understood. Put me on a plane and drop me off in Italy. I’m going to be looking for somebody who speaks English because I don’t speak Italian. It won’t be the fault of the poor Italian citizen I encounter. It’ll be my fault because I don’t know how to communicate in their language. I can get mad. I can pitch a fit. I can blame the Italian citizen. But it’s my fault because I just can’t effectively communicate with them.

Sometimes leaders fail to understand that burden. They look at their work force and blame misunderstandings on the employees. Some seem to get it. Others seem lost. Others clearly are lost. The leader surveys the troops and concludes he’s got some idiots working for him. Well, that may be, but their idiocy may not be the problem in failing to understand. It could be the leader is speaking in a way – or communicating – in a way that just isn’t easy to understand.

I’m fanatical about clear communication. Clear means direct, candid and easy to understand. Clear communication is without conflict or misunderstanding. Sadly, it’s too rare.

Emotional Intelligence

the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior

This is a key to effective communication because one of the things that can get in the way, our emotions! This can be especially true in high performing organizations. Pressure and intensity tend to bring about exaggerated emotions in some people. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or overly sensitive. It just means they’re wired in a particular way. I don’t think people are unable to improve or remedy weaknesses, but I do believe we all have our tendencies. That is, we’re naturally inclined a certain way. Some people cry more easily than others. Some people have a tough time showing any emotion. Knowing and understanding how people respond to certain situations impacts our ability to connect with them. And communicate effectively with them.

Confront an employee who is upset and snap at them to shape up. See how that works for you. It won’t. They’re emotionally charged up. Bert Decker, famed communications expert, says the most powerful communicators reach not just our minds, but our hearts: They win our trust. I think he’s right. In order to do that, we first have to acknowledge how people feel. What upsets them. What fuels them. What scares them. What exhilarates them. Leaders need to know those things and recognize them. That has to happen before any effective communication can take place.

Call center employees fail miserably at it, but they’re given scripts to try to do just this – especially when we call them and we’re upset. “I understand how you must feel, Mr. Cantrell,” she says. I feel patronized. I know she’s reading a script. And I know it’s not her fault, but it angers me anyway. Things have just gone from bad to worse because she works for idiots who think merely reciting the words is effective communication. It’s not. And we all know how it feels when it doesn’t work.

On the other hand, if a close friend or somebody you trust acknowledges how you feel and they express sympathy, coupled with an offer to help us…we can’t help but feel better. It can instantly put our head in a much more receptive place for effective communication. It’s the difference in being genuine and real versus being contrived and scripted. Good leaders aren’t contrived. Or phony. They’re real. Mostly, they’re really interested in helping their employees grow and improve.

This isn’t a tactic. It’s human interaction. It’s how we feel. Ignore it at your peril. Your leadership hinges on getting this right.

Enter work barking orders, growling and biting. Sure, you’ll provoke a flurry of activity, but it won’t all be meaningful. Or productive. Maybe you’ll feel better, thinking you’re really driving your people to higher performance, but instead…you’ll be driving the life force right out of people.

Can you be a good boss, but a bad leader? Can you be a good leader, but be a bad boss?

Sometimes people engage me in debating these questions. I answer the same way each time. “It depends.” The context determines the answer. Context plays a major role in leadership. Besides, there are definitions required. What does it mean to be “the boss?” The owner of the business might be the “boss,” but he may not be anywhere on the radar of the company leadership. Too many questions to ask and answer before any meaningful debate can be had about these questions.


I do think there can be distinctions between being the boss and being the leader. And I think it just might be possible to be good at one, and not the other. But in my work with leaders and executives I don’t distinguish the two. I want the boss to be an exceptional leader and I want the leader to be a great boss. That’s what the employees want. Better yet, that’s what they need.

There are other components to effective leadership, but can any of them exist if there’s not first effective communication? I don’t know of any. By definition, a leader accomplishes things through helping other people. Leaders need followers. The effectiveness of the followers determines the effectiveness of the leader. So much for the tyrant who think he’s a stellar leader, but he’s just surrounded by incompetence. His followers are a reflection of his leadership (or lack of). Since we’re not clairvoyant, we have to communicate what we want, how we want it and when we want it. We do that with words.

Quality, Not Quantity

Looks like they’re listening, but do they understand?

An old preacher friend of mine once told me, “Everybody thinks muddy water is deep.” We had been discussing another preacher who was notorious for preaching over an hour. The long-winded preacher was known for preaching in a very professorial tone. He would hold forth, using big, fancy words. My old friend got it right. People would marvel about the long-winded preacher. Some would even emerge from listening to him and say, “I have no idea what he said, but he’s really smart.” Sometimes leaders communicate the same way. They spend more time trying to razzle dazzle the troops than in just making sure the troops know what they’re saying.

Words have meaning, but only if the employees understand them. Every work place has a vocabulary unique to them. But hopefully you do a good job of onboarding new employees so they know what you’re talking about. But what about all those fancy (or trite) buzzwords and phrases that so often creep into organizational life? One such phrase I hear almost everywhere I go is “employee engagement.” There’s nothing wrong with that phrase, but I’m often asked – mostly by employees – what does THAT mean? More often I’m asked by employees what the bosses want in the way of improved employee engagement. It’s a classic case of leadership often neglecting the elephant in the room – helping employees fully understand what the exercise is all about by telling them plainly about the desired outcome.

“What do they mean?”

“What do they want?”

Employees spend far more time than leaders realize just trying to figure out what was really said. Or what was really meant. Just because they appear to be listening doesn’t mean they understand.

Who’s most responsible for understanding?

No, it’s not a riddle. It’s not a chicken and egg deal. Nor is it a trick question.

The top boss tells me how he thinks it’s the burden of his direct reports to “get it.” He’s talking about his staff meetings and the ability of his executive team to know what he means. “If they don’t understand, I think it’s their responsibility to get clarification. How am I supposed to know if they don’t understand unless they tell me, or ask questions?”

I don’t argue with him because I agree with him, in part. We all bear a responsibility to understand. Especially executives tasked with leading the troops. However, it’s unfair to put the burden on the listener or recipient of the message – any message. I can talk with my little granddaughter using words she can’t possibly understand. Does that make it her fault that she can’t understand? Or is it mine? You know the right answer. But at work we sometimes fail to get it. We put undue pressure on the employees to really understand our directives, our wishes, our opinions and just about anything else that comes out of our mouth, or our writing. That includes our texting and our emails.

But I’m not teaching…

I don’t mean teaching in the traditional classroom setting sort of way. I mean it in the way of transmitting information that is accurately understood and useful. “Teach me now to drive a manual transmission,” asks a new teen driver of his dad. All the stuff dad does to teach his child how to drive a standard transmission involves effective communication. I know, I know. You’re not teaching your employees how to drive a manual transmission. But you are teaching them what you expect, how to deliver what you expect and all the other details of their work performance.

You’d better be. If you’re not, my question is, WHY NOT?

Employees are frustrated by a leader who operates without clarity. Too many senior executives have said, “I just want them to do the right thing.” Or, “I want them to reach the conclusion on their own.”

My wife and I successfully raised two teenagers. They’re both grown with kids of their own now. They mostly make their own decisions now, but my wife had a hand in forming their view of the world, their view of themselves and how they’ve decided to operate as adults. During their teen years we were teaching and training. It involved lots of communication. We didn’t sit around as their parents hoping they’d figure it out, or hoping they’d dazzle us in a surprisingly positive way. No, we clearly communicated (taught)¬†what we expected from them, how they could deliver on those expectations and then we held them accountable. Do you still want to tell me that you don’t need to teach when you communicate?

You’re either teaching your employees to know expectations and how to achieve them — or you’re willing to let them figure it out on their own. That begs the question…

What’s a leader for? Why do your people need you?

The role of the leader is to serve the employees by helping them achieve things they couldn’t otherwise achieve. That’s the difference made by every effective leader. People’s lives – their performance – is made better because of YOU. Or in spite of you.

Talk at them and it’s in spite of you. Teach them and it’s because of you.

Help them understand. Fully understand. Don’t patronize them. Just do the extra mile to make sure you understand how they feel, acknowledge their feelings…then teach them. Expect greatness from them and they’ll deliver. Together, it’ll change everybody’s world and rock your entire organization. In a good way!


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Evidence-Based Leadership: The Only Fair Way To Lead - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 281

281 Evidence-Based Leadership: The Only Fair Way To Lead

Evidence-Based Leadership: The Only Fair Way To Lead - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 280
A 2006 book by two of my favorite business authors

I sub-titled today’s show, “The Only Fair Way To Lead” because it’s fair for YOU, the leader and for your team, too. I want you to be fair to yourself. That’s important as you work to be fair to your team. Any leader who won’t face their own reality will find it tough to face the reality of those they hope to lead and serve. Everybody is made better by dealing with how things really are.

I’m pained when I see a leader struggle with their own quality of professional life issues that could be helped if they’d just open themselves up to the possibilities of leadership growth. Unfortunately, too many leaders have a worldview that is destructive and formed in cement. Driven by paranoia, fear and insecurity, many of us can’t seem to get out of our own way to consider a better way. We get stuck in some bad habits that we think may be serving us, but really — they’re killing us and making our lives (and those we hope to serve) miserable. I have never wanted such a life for anybody, especially anybody I’m privileged to call “client.”

I want YOU to soar as a leader. I want your team to thrive under your leadership. I want you to feel wonderful about the service you provide to your team. Joy. That’s what I want for you. The joy of serving others. The joy of personal and professional growth. The joy of seeing your people grow under your watchful care and concern.

First a small bit of history. I’m a fan of scholar/authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton. By the time their book was published (2006), Hard Facts: Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense (Profiting From Evidence-Based Management) – I had well over 2 decades of experience in working hard to make sure I was seeing and hearing things correctly. Based on evidence.

Jumping To Conclusions

I first learned it without knowing what to call it. For me, it was just seeing reality instead of practicing knee-jerk leadership. Early in my career I worked for a guy who practiced anything but evidence-based leadership. His behavior drove employees crazy, but over time I noticed it mostly drove a particular kind of employee crazy. The top performers.

The owner was one of the first people I ever worked for. I’d later learn – through experience – that he was among a large group of business owners and leaders who practice management without evidence. He would make purchasing decisions on how he felt about things rather than what was actually selling. He would make determinations about people based on how well he liked them rather than on how well they were performing. Everything seemed to be more feeling-based or emotion-based than evidence-based. And it drove us nuts. Well, as I said, it drove those of us who were performing at high levels nuts.

I saw it happen over and over. People would be highly regarded by the owner in spite of compelling evidence against them. Others would be lesser regarded in spite of evidence to the contrary. Life in business taught me it was a¬†common malady. Partly because it’s hard to resist. Most of us get first impressions based on appearances, demeanor, speech and whatever else we observe. Those observations aren’t necessarily evidence though. Even so, we draw conclusions. We peg people. Not always correctly.

I was once introduced to two people. One was a manager. One was not. It was a very brief introduction made in passing. A week or so passed and I found myself in a business meeting involving both of these people. The meeting is clipping along when suddenly I’m smacked with my own idiocy. Turns out the person I thought was the manager wasn’t. In that brief introduction I’d been given of two people I not only got their names mixed up, but I also mixed up their roles. For more than half an hour during this meeting I’m looking at them based on my wrong conclusion. Thankfully, I sat passively, not¬†addressing either of them, or discussing anything that would give away my stupidity. But I remember sitting there thinking, “Wait a minute. He’s not the manager?” I had it wrong. Getting it right changed everything. That’s the point. Getting it wrong versus getting it right changes everything!

Jumping to a conclusion implies a quickness that doesn’t always serve us well. We have to reach conclusions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing provided we’ve got some evidence from which to draw our conclusion. It’s the jumping that can kill us. We sometimes fail to hear properly or see properly. Then there’s that whole discernment problem – sometimes we just don’t see things clearly, or hear them clearly. How else do you explain multiple witnesses giving completely contradictory accounts of the same event? It’s like they saw or heard completely different events. Nope, they just each had their own head trash and perceptions (or lack of). Sadly, it’s not a case of somebody being right and somebody being wrong. When it comes to evidence-based leadership, sometimes we all just flat get it wrong!

Why do we do what we do? Why do we think what we think? What’s the evidence upon which we based our assumptions or conclusions?

Evidence Isn’t Truth, But Evidence Leads To Truth

There’s a difference between evidence and truth. Hopefully, evidence leads us to truth. But like any data, evidence is subject to interpretation. The important thing is to be open enough to see and hear the evidence clearly so you can follow it to where it leads you.

Great leaders need to be led by the evidence. And I’m speaking as a very intuitive person. I’m an INFJ (Meyer-Briggs assessment). I’m very intuitive. I have strong empathy. Maybe that’s why I’ve learned how important evidence is in my own leadership. It may also explain why evidence-based leadership is so urgent for me personally. Given my levels of intuition, I want to make sure I’m getting it as right as possible. I’m always looking for confirmation or denial that my intuition is valid. Getting it right is far more important than feeling or believing it’s right. I want proof.

When I began my career computers were no where to be found inside small businesses or large ones, except maybe the super-large ones. Cash registers and tabulating machines (mechanical adding machines) were the extent of our high tech world in the mid to late 1970’s. Sort through data was laborious. Bean counters were so named because those stodgy personalities disposed to hole up in a room with only their colored pencils and journals wanted to dive deeply into the numbers and let the rest of us mortals know which end was up. Or if both ends were down. Data was hard to come by. Gut feel was highly regarded, especially if the gut had a winning record.

But things change. Data began to be easier to collect. Pretty soon we had bigger issues than no data or a lack of data. We were over-run with data. An avalanche of data come sweeping our way daily, weekly and monthly. Pretty soon we had it pouring over the falls hourly. Now, it’s real-time shot to our headquarters from every remote location of our companies worldwide. We’re in a zero latency data environment today. It’s terrific and challenging at the same time.

While authors Pfeffer and Sutton focus on evidence-based management, I’m concentrating on evidence-based leadership. We manage work. We lead people. That’s the distinction I make.

The authors begin the book talking about corporate acquisitions and how the majority of them fail. There are reasons (evidence) why this is so. They cite the success of Cisco to incorporate new acquisitions and teams into their culture with far greater success because the Cisco leaders use evidence. Unlike many businesses, Cisco executives don’t rely on hope or fear or anything else. They go with where the evidence leads them and it works.

The authors write…

If doctors practiced medicine the way many companies practice management,¬†there would be far more sick and dead patients,¬†and many more doctors would be in jail.”

People make decisions. They dream up new ideas. They fix problems, and often create them. They get work done, or fail to. In short, people have the power to think. That’s the trump card, provided people are thinking correctly. That’s where evidence-based leader makes the impact.

Have you ever heard a successful person interviewed and the interviewer, hoping to draw out some secret strategy about why the person made a particular decision gets an answer they never saw coming? Maybe it’s a rock star or some other performer who made it big. Hoping for some insight the interviewer asks, “What was the strategy to go to Nashville?” And the artist might say something like, “We weren’t headed to Nashville. We set out for L.A., but we ran out of money and our drummer had a brother in Nashville where we knew we could crash until we earned some more money.”

Nothing terribly strategic about that. They ran out of money and needed a place to crash. Nashville was a lot closer than L.A. Hello, Nashville!

But we’re trying to replicate their success and dissect their strategy. We’re examining their story and drawing some conclusions. Until we find out, we’re wrong. They were just on the road running out of money in need of a place to crash for a few days, or weeks. So it goes with how we sometimes operate our organizations. We give meaning to things that have no meaning and we overlook other things that seem to have no meaning — but may mean everything!

A Copy-Cat World

More than ever before, it’s a copy-cat world. Chinese manufacturing has enabled the resourceful person to “knock off” just about anything. I’m not saying it’s legal. I’m only saying it’s possible and it’s happening every minute of every day. From hand bags and fashion products to high tech toys, somebody has a factory who can crank them out for you. Why do the engineering when all you need to do is buy one, tear it apart and reverse engineer it? Welcome to the world where generic is benefit.

All that R&D expense, saved. All those man hours of engineering, saved. All that time vetting the proper components needed to make it, saved. Not to mention all that wasted time being creative. We’ve migrated away from the notion that reinventing the wheel isn’t just unnecessary, but’s stupid. In fact, don’t even improve the wheel or put your own design on it. Just copy it outright. That way you only copy what works, what’s selling. You’re never stuck with a dog because you don’t copy dogs.

What was once bench-marking is now copying. We just gave it a fancy name, bench marking.

Judging books and people by their cover is standard fare today. That’s why bloggers and podcasters – at the least the ones who clammer for more readers and listeners – spend extraordinary amounts of time writing headlines and show titles. I should follow the evidence and do a better job of this myself. I do care about attracting more listeners, but I clearly have cared enough. Click bait is the practice of luring web surfers to click on a link by use of crafty copywriting, or other tactics. Sometimes we get what we thought we’d get. Much of the time we’re fooled. Again.

The authors point out how copy cat like we are, even in police work. At the time of their writing¬†only 4 out of over 19,000 legal jurisdictions implemented an evidence-based practice of using sequential lineups instead of the commonly practiced, six-pack approach where witnesses are shown 6 people at a time in a line up. About 75% of all the convictions overturned by contrary DNA evidence resulted from eye witness testimony given by people who viewed a lineup. But there’s comfort in copying. At least if we’re wrong, so are most of the other people. Misery and misinformation love company.

Thankfully, you’ll likely find law enforcement agencies now practice sequential identification where a witness looks at one person at a time.¬†Collective wisdom finally caught up with the evidence. It took a long time, but better late than never. Sometimes evidence takes awhile to be seen as valid, especially when everybody is going in the same direction – even if it’s against the evidence.

Years ago corporate America would purchase IT services and products from IBM because it was always the safest choice. Executives wouldn’t be reprimanded for going with IBM. It was the “no risk” option even if other suppliers might have proven to be better suited. So it goes sometimes with actions that go contrary to the evidence.

Let’s Simplify Things

Peter Drucker was asked why managers fall for bad advice and sometimes fail to use sound evidence.

Thinking is very hard work. And management fashions are a wonderful substitute for thinking.”

Blind spots, biases, prejudices, assumptions, perceptions, perspectives and a host of other things cloud our view and impair our hearing. We often hear what we want and see what we want. Then, we cram in data to make it fit. Square peg or not, sometimes we just don’t care because we’ve got a round hole that needs to be filled. Grab a bigger hammer. Make it fit.

It’s hard work to think. Harder still to see the evidence clearly. Still harder to follow the evidence until we get closer to the truth. If it’s your murder being investigated, you want a relentless blood hound of a homicide detective leading the way. Not some gloss it over and draw a quick conclusion kind of a cop. Chase the evidence and find the truth. At least get as close as humanly possible.

Leaders owe their people that commitment. Maybe you’re not solving a crime, but you are an investigator. You’re searching for the most accurate evidence you can find. Decisions hinge on it. Choices are made based on it. Careers are elevated, or knocked down because of it. And if not evidence, then what? Your gut feel? Intuition? The rumor mill? What others claim to have been told by somebody?

So many things in life don’t work, but still we seem to put in the work. Kids drop out of school and we think truancy rules work. They don’t. We often fix problems by creating new ones. All for a lack of thoughtful consideration in gathering evidence and following it toward the truth. A young woman pipes up in a meeting, saying something we deem a tad inappropriate and we castigate her forever more as uncouth and unprofessional. Maybe she just didn’t properly read the situation one time. Maybe nobody else in the room saw it like we did. What appears bad at first glance may be completely innocent upon further examination. But that would take too much time and effort. Easier to jump the conclusion that first hits us. And peg her forever more as somebody unworthy of our executive team. She may be the brightest bulb in the room, but not the most socially savvy. I don’t know. I need more evidence.

Some Tips To Help You

It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’ll get you started. I encourage you to think of your own steps. Ponder what actions you can take to improve your own evidence-based leadership.

One, know yourself. 

I know I’m an INFJ. I also know I’m high on empathy. There are many things I know about myself thanks to years to living with myself. And being critical with myself. But also thanks to the input of others. When in doubt, ask others how they see you. It may not mean they’re correct, but if everybody tells you the same thing, you’d be foolish to discount it.

Every leader – and investigator – has tendencies and views that have to be taken into account. Women see things differently than men. As a result, our interaction with others might be curved toward our view. Knowing that and acknowledging that helps us gather and vet evidence.

AlwaysAs a coach and consultant I have a mandate that I live by: do no harm. Yes, I stole it from the medical profession because it fits! The last thing I want to do is harm somebody, or hurt their career. That doesn’t mean I make sure to tell people what they most want to hear, or that I pander to clients who have behaviors that are contrary to accelerating their careers. No, I’ll speak the truth that I’ve witnessed, but I’m committed to making sure I’ve got it right. When I get it wrong – and yes, it happens – I want to be quick to own it and make it right. It’s how I choose to live. These aren’t difficult concepts or practices for me. I embrace them because they fit what I value most.

As a leader the do no harm mandate is a wise choice. Knowing yourself and controlling yourself gives you the best opportunity to avoid doing harm to others, and yourself. There’ve been time that I got it wrong and made it right, but harm was still done. Regrettable, but until I can be perfect, it’s life. I’ve wronged people. People have wronged me. When people own their actions I can pretty easily forgive. That’s what I hope happens when I own my own errors.

So part of knowing yourself is knowing where you’d like to err. Do you want to err in jumping to the wrong conclusion where harm might happen, or in jumping to the wrong conclusion where grace might be extended. An employee who neglects to perform a specified task may be guilty of neglect. Or they may have a valid excuse or reason. Jump to the conclusion that they’re negligent and climb all over them. Feel better? What if you discovered they were enduring some serious family challenge? Does that alter your view? It might. By foregoing the conclusion jump you give not only the employee, but yourself the opportunity to get it right – or get it MORE right. By knowing yourself you can decide which approach you’ll take. You know which one I’m encouraging you to take!

Two, know your team members.

There are many reasons to love small teams. Chief among them is the ability to really know and understand people. Every person.

Anonymity doesn’t serve leaders well. Being anonymous or having anonymous team members isn’t helpful for any leadership. You need to know the people you’re leading. They need to know you, too.

Be real. Stay real. Don’t pretend. Sure, you’ve got multiple personas, but leave the masks in the closet for Halloween. Personas are for situations. Like clothing. Sometimes I wear a suit. Other times I wear jeans. The circumstances dictate the choice. Whether I’m wearing a suit or jeans, it’s still me though. The presentation or persona is the only thing that changes. Otherwise, I’d be flexing in and out of personality styles, vocabulary choices and people would be looking to have me committed to a mental health facility.

The word is congruency. Every leader must be congruent. Your people need to be able to accurately predict your behavior. The more predictable you can be, the better.¬†Don’t undervalue this. Or think it’s better to “keep ’em guessing.” It’s not better.

Your team members want to know where they fit and that they matter. Do you want them to feel uneasy when they drive into work each day? Or would you rather they walk into the office confident that they matter? You keep that uneasy team member and I’ll take the confident one every time. My confident team member will kick the butt of your always-on-edge worker every single time!

Parents know their kids. Kids know their parents. The more the better. Good parents have instilled training into their kids so much so that their kids know what mom and dad want – even if mom and dad haven’t addressed this specific thing facing the child right now. Was it that way when you were growing up? Did your folks have to train you in every possible specific thing or did you know your parents well enough to understand what they would disapprove of and what they would think was okay?

Leadership in your organization works the same way. Predictability doesn’t mean your stagnant lacking innovation or creativity. Nor does it mean you’re not devoted to changes leading toward improvement. It means your team knows what matters most to you. They’ll make the decisions they think will please you. If they do that and suffer for it, they’ll quickly begin to wonder what you want. That’s why you should put being congruent on a front burner of your leadership. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be consistent. Don’t say one thing and do something else. The team will be confused and congruency will slip. Pretty soon people will dread coming to work because they just can’t predict how you’re going to react or behave.

Three, attract the facts.

Attracting the facts is important work for the leader. Some leaders are surrounded by deaf mutes because only deaf mutes survive. Then they wonder why nobody will tell them anything.

It’s one thing to go gather facts. Anybody with sufficient resolve can do that. It just takes work. Attracting facts is a completely different skillset that you must develop. If you’ve become proficient at the first two steps, then this step is much easier. Fail at either of those and I don’t give you a fighting chance at making this one happen.

As a leader you want others to willingly share facts with you. You want them to be proactive to share facts. The goal is to have a team of people who are forthcoming. I’ll give you 2 simple, but powerful tips to accomplish this. One, be forthcoming with them. You can’t expect people to be forthcoming with you if you won’t be with them. And you’ve got to start the ball rolling. Be forthcoming without any expectation or conditions from them. Two, don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t be emotionally charged when people bring you facts that disappoint you. Be calm, not reactive. The more reactive you are, the more you’re negating your ability to attract facts.

Thoughtful. That’s what people want in leadership. Sure, considerate, too – but thoughtful and considerate aren’t the same thing. Thoughtful means you consider things. It implies you’re careful in your thinking. You don’t jump to conclusions. You take the time to get it right. Everybody will respect that, even if they don’t understand it. You’re liable to have some knee-jerk employees who will encourage you to join hands and jump to the conclusions they’ve already reached. Avoid the temptation. You have to be better. Hold to a higher standard. Show them the way toward evidence-based leadership by giving people a culture where presenting the facts is highly prized.

Attracting facts isn’t the same as attracting complaints. Or rumors. An employee approaches you to tell you something they’ve heard. Thinking they’re being dutiful they’re anxious to tell you about an exchange they just had over lunch. It seems their lunch partner told the story of a manager who may be working employees without paying them the required overtime. Rather than listen passively you begin to ask hard questions like, “How does this person know this?” You follow that up with more specific questions, including searching answers for who talked to whom. You want to attract facts, not rumors. This will accomplish two important things: one, it signals that you’re interested in facts and two, it signifies that you’re not going to be a sounding board for rumors. People need to have their facts when they present them. If they don’t, you don’t want to attract nonsense.

Sadly, too many leaders can hear something and deem it fact or credible evidence. Somebody told somebody something and a leader swallows it hook, line and sinker. That’s not evidence-based leadership. That’s foolishness. “Did you hear them say that?” asks the leader to a person coming to them with “facts.” The fact revealer says, “Well, no. But Bob said Tom told him, and Tom heard it firsthand.” Well, isn’t this peachy. Somebody fetch Tom and let’s see if we can figure out the facts.

Rumor-based leadership is not nearly as effective or productive as evidence-based leadership. Seek facts. Attract facts.

Four, accurately discern the facts.

Sounds easier than it really is. You have to take the time to ask questions. You’ve got to pause and ask deeper questions.

It starts in your head by questioning your questions. Is there a better question to ask, one that will take you closer to the truth? Always remember that truth is the quest. You want to see things as they really are. Your team deserves that from you. Your career and leadership do, too.

Dig like a detective. Keep digging. If you need corroboration, go get it. President Ronald Reagan gave you the formula for evidence-based leadership.

Trust, but verify!

Don’t lead by paranoia. Don’t be cynical and untrusting. Just be guarded about forming conclusions. Base them on facts and evidence.

Ask yourself:

‚ÄĘ What do I know to be true?
‚ÄĘ Do I know for a fact what really happened?
‚ÄĘ Do I know for a fact what was really said and meant?
‚ÄĘ Who are my sources and how credible are they?
‚ÄĘ Do I have evidence to prove the motive behind this?
‚ÄĘ Where’s the proof?

Keep adding to that list. Think. Craft your own questions. Above all, stay the course.

Five, don’t give in to shortcutting it.

Sometimes you’ll be pressed for time and tempted to shortcut it. Just this one time you’ll knee-jerk it and jump to a conclusion. That’s when you’re going to get it wrong and undermine all the discipline and hard work you’ve put into being an evidence-based leader.

You want your team to do great work all the time. No matter what. Don’t show them how willing you are to shortcut your own work because that’ll show them it’s okay for them to do it, too – every now and again. No, it’s not okay. It’s never a good thing to intentionally – due to your own laziness and neglect – to get it wrong. Sins of commission are better than sins of omission. Be caught doing the wrong thing because you were trying to get it right. Don’t be caught doing nothing because you were lazy or afraid of getting it wrong.

This includes avoiding playing favorites. The best and brightest often get it wrong. Just because you’ve got some team members who have proven reliable every other time doesn’t mean you should accept conjecture from them. Keep holding them to the same high standards you do everybody else. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost trust in them. It just means you’ve got a process that is important to your leadership and you’re unwilling to compromise it. Make it a non-negotiable standard for your leadership.

Curiosity And Vulnerability

Let me wind things down with a bit of focus about 2 vital ingredients to your leadership effectiveness: curiosity and vulnerability.

Leaders, especially senior leaders, can be prone to arrogance and know-it-all syndrome. That whole smartest-guy-in-the-room thing can hit any of us. We have to be on guard against it.

Leaders don’t have super-powers. You’re not as good as you think you are. It’s likely you’re not as bad as you sometimes feel you are either. Accept the truth (and evidence) that you’re blessed with an opportunity at this moment in time. For this moment in time you’re the leader. You’re the steward in charge of the organization, or the department or the team. Responsibilities are a blessing and a burden. Bear them with sobriety and clear thinking. Own them for the time you’ve got them.

Your power is a gift to share with your team to help them do their work better. It’s not a betrothal of superiority. You’re not better than anybody else, or necessarily smarter. You simply have a role and responsibility that has a wider and broader reach than others. A bigger platform gives you authority to influence the direction and work of others. Use it wisely.

Keep learning. Curiosity drives learning. Stop being curious and you’re done! The smartest guys in the room are only interested in showing off, not learning. Avoid being that guy, or gal. View the other person – whomever they are – as knowing something you don’t. Find out what it is?

You know what you know. Growth comes in learning what you don’t know.

Vulnerability is accepting failure. Maybe better yet, it’s being open to failure. Your own.

You must be willing to be wrong. Then, you must be willing to make it right. I regularly ask leaders a question about their leader: “Have they ever apologized to you?”

Simple enough question. You’d think everybody has heard their leader apologize to them for something, unless they’ve only worked for them a brief amount of time. Evidence – the answers I get to that question – has shown me that far too many leaders have never apologized to their team for anything. When I press and ask, “Why do you think that is?” the most common response I get is — “I don’t think they want to appear weak.” Being human isn’t weak. It’s real. Everything else is dishonest.

That’s vulnerability – being honest about yourself. Stop worrying about people thinking you’re all that and more. In fact, I’d encourage you to not fret much about your image with your team. Instead, worry about how well you’re serving them and that image will be everything you wanted and more! And when you’re devoted to leading with evidence, you’re going to start getting it right more often than not. That alone may shoot you and your reputation up into the stratosphere of extraordinary leadership and higher human performance.

Avoid hoarding knowledge, information and expertise. That’s vulnerability. Be confident enough to share what you’ve learned. Pass it on. You’ve spent years and endured many scars to get where you are. Help others avoid the potholes that have nearly broken the ankles on your career and work. These are your people. Their success is your success. Show them the way. Lead.

A Final Word About Leadership¬†Growing Pains (And Why They’re Exactly What You Want)

Any discussion about evidence-based leadership must include some consideration about personal, individual growth of the leader who dares to embrace it. Organizations change. They mature. Personnel changes. Chemistry does, too. If leadership remains in place for a prolonged period of time, they also have the opportunity for growth and maturity, alongside the entire organization. Here in Dallas the Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones hired Jason Garrett to be the head coach, first as interim in late 2010. By January of the next year, 2011, he was named head coach where he remains today. It’s his first head coaching job in the NFL. Jerry Jones has kept him in place. As a result, Garrett has grown. He’s learned. It’s doubtful he’s working exactly the same today as he did 4 years ago. Not all that growth has been comfortable or easy, but it’s clearly been profitable.

So it can go with your leadership and your organization. You can and should learn. You want your team to grow and improve so it’s only fitting that you demand the same of yourself. I’ve seen it happen often. Especially leaders willing to embrace change. Leaders who are vulnerable enough to adapt and grow will experience some tension and stress. Growing pains. That’s exactly what you’re after. You want this pain because it means you’re finding new levels in your own leadership performance.

Don’t take a bow just yet. This is a tough time that you’re going to have muscle through because it’s going to weigh you down and kick your butt if you’re not careful. You’ll be tempted to avoid the pain by reverting back to how things used to be, back when you were totally comfortable. The uneasiness can devastate some leaders. Some even get physically sick. Facing the realities of these changes – especially if you’re going to fully embrace evidence-based leadership – can seem a daunting task. You’ll question whether it’s going to be worth it. The answer is, YES. Keep moving. Push past this pain. It’s a sign that you’re putting in good work.

Leaders brave enough to keep going find a path to organizational excellence they wouldn’t have otherwise found. Here’s what happens. As they’ve been elevating the performance of their team they’ve been urging their top performers to reach new heights. Along the way, they’ve likely seen the gap between their bottom performers and top performers close. They’ve lost some poor performers along the way because they just couldn’t keep up. Now, it’s a different organization that it was years earlier. The team has grown and you’ve grown with them. It’s time to embrace the ultimate way to lead, evidence-based leadership.

You come to grips with the past and sometimes want to kick yourself for failing to see this earlier. But these often happen at an appropriate time, a time when you’re open to see them. A time to accept them and a time when you’re most ready to implement them. Now is your time!

Your team will experience some bewilderment. Don’t sweat it. Go with it. Understand that it’s just part of the necessary process. Keep doing what you must do to practice evidence-based leadership and management. It won’t take too long until your team realizes that this is just the new YOU. It’s now how you roll. They’ll adjust. Then they’ll begin to mirror it in their own leadership and work. The results will amaze you when you see people following your lead, performing at levels they didn’t even think possible.

Fun. That’ll happen. Unless you’re an ogre it can’t be stopped because high performers doing great work have fun. Success and winning make it so. When you’re in the growing pain phase look past that and envision this fun place because that’s where you’re headed.


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Improve Your Leadership By Turning The Knob - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 278

278 Improve Your Leadership By Turning The Knob (4 Benefits)

Improve Your Leadership By Turning The Knob - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 278

F. Scott Fitzgerald was quoted in a 1936 Esquire article.

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

First rate leadership certainly demands the ability to see a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. If you’re thinking, “Yes, collaboration and consensus are important” — I might agree with you, but those have nothing to do with my point in today’s show. Table both of those ideas for the moment because I’m going to focus on YOU and YOUR leadership, not on collaboration or consensus building.

Your leadership can have a dramatic geometric shift with just a slight turn of the perspective knob. Sometimes you might have to turn the knob further. Either way, it requires a willingness to make the adjustment so you can be more effective.

My podcasting studio has some professional audio gear that is easily tweaked. Some of these contraptions can be adjusted ever so slightly and it can alter the sound pretty dramatically.

turning knobs inside the yellow studio
Lots of knobs. Lots of turning that can happen. One slight adjustment can alter the sound dramatically.

That’s what tweaking is all about.

to make small adjustments

It doesn’t mean the smallness of the adjustment mirrors the size of the outcome. Look at that knob in the upper right hand corner of the picture. The one labelled, FADER.” You see how close that knob is to -10? It’s not quite all the way to -10, but it’s close. If I turn that knob to the right enough to be dead center on the -10 the sound isn’t as good. Hard to believe such a small adjustment can make a big difference. Welcome to the world of tweaking!

Your leadership is the same way. We could apply this to many facets of your leadership, but today I want to apply it to just one – your need to make the best decisions possible. More specifically, your need to solve problems based on the best evidence possible.

Turning knobs is necessary when something changes. If I use a different microphone, many of those knobs you see pictured have to be adjusted. Things rarely can be nailed down and left alone because audio is just like leadership (and decision making or problem solving). It’s not happening in a vacuum. There are variables that are constantly affecting things.

3 Ways Knob Turning Will Benefit Your Leadership (plus a bonus 4th)

a. Your willingness muscle will be more flexible and agile.

Leaders can become rigid in their thinking and their approach. It’s dangerous.

The other day I was doing some office work and the movie Pearl Harbor came on. I’d never seen it. The world in 1945 was a very different world. The inability to know where the Japanese fleet was, and how far out the attacking planes might be put the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor in a deadly vulnerable position. The strategy of the Japanese commanders succeeded in catching the Americans off guard. But that strategy wouldn’t work today because of radar and satellite technology. What once worked wouldn’t necessarily work again. The foolishness of such a notion in warfare tactics seems obvious to us, but we can be blind to our own leadership foolishness. Maybe the tactics or strategy we employed last year worked magnificently. That doesn’t mean they’ll succeed at all this year.

Leaders can fall in love with their ideas, tactics and conclusions. More so if those things have served them well in the past. And like most things that once worked – they work until they don’t. The key is to abandon them before they cause us too much harm. But I’m urging you to embrace something even more progressive and innovative — the willingness to explore alternatives to what has worked in the past.

The knobs are there. You may as well turn them and see what happens. Just like my audio gear, your leadership has lots of knobs — many options and combinations. Those knobs are there to be turned sometimes. Exploring improvement is a habit, just like failing to explore improvement. Your leadership isn’t benefited by locking and loading one path.

After I go to the gym and workout I’ll spend 15 minutes or so stretching. I focus on my hamstrings because I’ve always had really tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings can cause lower back pain, but I avoid that because I take the time to stretch them. Stretching them keeps them flexible and helps me combat stiffness (or back pain). It’s a pretty small investment in time and effort, but the payoff is big! It’s a knob I’m willing, even anxious, to turn so I can improve.

What knobs are you afraid to turn? What knobs have you set and forgot about?

b. Your ability to get closer to the truth is enhanced by your ability to turn the knobs.

In a future episode (I’m planning for it to be episode 280), I’m going to talk about evidence-based leadership. Turning the knobs on your leadership is mandatory.

You’re paid to solve problems and make decisions. The better your evidence, the better your decisions. The better your evidence, the better your conclusions.

Leaders who practice knee-jerk management ignore evidence. They’re often disinterested in it. They know what they know and nobody can tell them differently. That’s poor leadership. It’s also foolish.

Instead, you want to be a leader who more often than not gets it right. None of us are right all the time, but you can improve your rightness by leaning harder on evidence before you decide, or before you draw a conclusion.

Have you ever made a decision before you even had to?

You had more time to gather evidence, but your mind was made up and you went forward. Another day, another week might have been available, but you didn’t see the need to delay. Your speed wasn’t a competitive advantage. Quickness got you nothing, but still you went for it. Maybe it was impatience. Maybe it was your closed mind. Maybe you thought you already had all the information necessary to confirm your rightness. You just couldn’t resist holding off.

It’s another bad leadership habit that can be difficult to break, especially if you don’t get your hands on the knobs. Impatience during times when you could take more time isn’t virtue. It’s a curse lending itself to foster increased knee-jerk management.

A few weeks ago a senior executive was talking to me about millennials – 30 somethings in the workplace. We were wondering what future leadership adjustments might be required for teams comprised of this generation. I observed that as a baby boomer I wasn’t sure a broad brush could properly define me, or my generation. I’m equally convinced that it’s likely impossible to do so with Generation Y or the millennials. People are individuals and we be fit various categories, but it doesn’t mean those categories accurate depict us. For example, I break many molds for my generation. I’m tech savvy. So much so that my millennial kids rely on me for technical support. I know more about web technologies, new media, social media and the rest of it than both of my kids put together. I also break the mold in the stereotypical materialistic view of life held by many baby boomers. My generation was very interested in getting ahead and making money. I’m not immune from that, but I’m far more interested – and always have been – in getting something done and in making a difference. I acknowledge the facets of being a baby boomer that have likely influenced me, but in many ways I can more easily identify with millennials and other generations bent more toward service and living with purpose.

As we talked this senior executive remarked about a millennial employee who had made a faux pas in a meeting. The millennial had said something “sucked” and this senior leader thought it was inappropriate. “When did this happen,” I asked. “A few years ago,” he said. “Did you talk with him about it?” I asked. “No, but I haven’t forgotten it,” he said.

And I thought to myself – “Man alive, turn that knob already.” But I said nothing. I just listened, taking in the information, formulating a strategy – committed to turning my own knobs knowing that I didn’t have to decide anything right in that very moment. I was in fact-finding mode. Gathering more evidence so I could help this senior leader improve his own leadership. But first, I had to make sure I was handling up on my own leadership.

At some point I’ll be able to discuss this very issue with him. I’ll remind him of our discussion and how he’s pegged this millennial employee forevermore based on a poor choice of wording in a meeting. By the way, the meeting was an internal meeting amongst teammates. There were no outside customers or external people in the meeting. The senior leader even acknowledged to me that he was fairly sure nobody else in the meeting had a problem with it. But he did. And I could sense some judgment being rendered even to the others in the meeting because he alone felt it was improper.

In that moment — and even later on — he didn’t turn any knobs. He didn’t turn the knob to ask the question, “Does this millennial employee even know what he said, and that he should choose his words more carefully?” What about the knob that has him feeling a specific way about this employee that may not properly characterize this employee?

I’m not saying what the employee said was proper. That’s not the point. The point is, I’m not sure I can draw any conclusions from it without more evidence. The willingness and openness to get more evidence is the knob turning that will better serve this senior executive. Right now, he’s not developed the habit of twisting and tweaking the knobs necessary to bring about a clearer sound. That’s where I come in. I’m there to help him learn how to better do that so he can become a more effective — and evidence-based leader.

c. Your ability to foster innovation, creativity and all the best possible solutions is enhanced when your team knows you’re willing to turn the knobs.

Employees know if the boss is open to ideas. Your employees know what they can say to you and what they’d better refrain from saying. You don’t likely think of yourself as a person who fosters “yes men” but you might be exactly that kind of a leader. Every team knows the boss well enough to know how receptive the boss is to anything. They may not all manage it well, but they know.

I sit in a large conference room filled with executives. At the head of the table is the divisional big boss. Like many leaders he’s strong-willed and opinionated. After he presents a problem to the group he quickly chimes in with his thoughts. He goes on to tell the team what he doesn’t want to hear or see. I look around the room and if air were visible, you’d have seen it all rush right out of the room. A collective switch was flipped by all the people seated at the table. They all – to a man and woman – flipped their brain into the OFF position. Well, not entirely. They flipped their brain into the OFF position on what they may have thought was the best solution. Instead the wheels appeared to be turning to find a solution that would fit with the constraints the boss had just put upon them by telling them what he wanted and what he didn’t want in a solution. He didn’t turn a knob, instead opting to make sure his team know every knob was firmly fixed without room for tweaking. The team responded in kind.

Privately, he laments how his team isn’t as creative as he’d like. “There’s not enough innovation,” he says. He hasn’t yet figured out why. By turning the knob on holding his opinions in such settings to himself, he could foster more creativity and innovation. If he’d just turn the knob that lets him speak last instead of first – when it comes to stating his initial opinion – he might find his mind being more open and he’d most certainly foster greater dialogue among his team. How big of a turn is that? Not much really, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have an easy time of it.

There are inherent benefits of being a knob turner. People know you’re willing to make adjustments. They know you’re open-minded. That alone can serve you to be a more effective leader because it will foster more ideas, better ideas and a variety of diverse opinions.


d. Your willingness and ability to turn knobs demands you learn to be a more effective communicator. 

It may be a chicken versus egg quandary. I’m not sure which comes first – the ability to properly communicate or the ability to turn the knobs. I know one can’t be had without the other. They hinge on each other. Repeatedly I’ve seen people who worked hard to turn knobs more effectively and seen them enhance their communication skills, too. But I’ve not seen it work the other way around – improved communication doesn’t necessarily make one better at turning knobs. And I think I know why.

If you’re going to embrace knob turning you must communicate. Any respectable knob turning leader has learned to ask questions. Turning knobs necessarily means you refrain from jumping to conclusions, even if they’re the right conclusions. Like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid running away from that posse in that famous movie scene. You only jump when you have to.

We all know that false assumptions are killers, but still some leaders continue to make them. We assume the young person in the meeting knows not to use the word “suck” in a meeting. But what if he thinks nothing of it? What if we corrected him with a conversation and he never did it again?

These things require communication. They require being willing to engage in candid conversations so we all improve our understanding.

How fair would it be for a parent of an elementary aged child to judge that kid based on all the stupid things he says? It’d be grossly unfair. Parents correct their children when they say and do improper things. It doesn’t mean they’re rebellious or stupid. They just don’t know what they don’t know – until we teach them. We shouldn’t tolerate their rebellion, but we do tolerate their ignorance or inexperience. We handle this by talking with them and explaining things to them. We ask them questions. We answer their questions. Those same techniques are required by every leader who would become more accomplished at turning knobs to become a great leader.


You need rigidity in one area of your leadership. Non-negotiable standards. That’s it.

You should be inflexible in your expecting good behavior and good performance. Minimum standards must be held sacred.

Flexibility should characterize the rest. Even in non-negotiable standards it’s wise to exercise caution in drawing a conclusion. For example, a leader can complain about a person lying, violation of a non-negotiable standard. Upon further investigation and conversation, turns out the person wasn’t lying at all. He merely didn’t know what he didn’t know. He made a statement based on his limited knowledge of the facts and it sounded like lying, but it wasn’t. When he was more fully informed it changed everything. He acknowledged that he “just didn’t know.” Okay, is he a liar or is he uninformed? Being uninformed wasn’t a non-negotiable standard for this company. That’s knob turning in action.

Give yourself the opportunity for a bigger, clearer sound. Turn some knobs. See if you can’t gain some insight with a slight adjustment. Make a full quarter of a turn if you want…you can always turn it back. Twist and tweak. You may find that you’ll be able to create a leadership that is monumentally better than anything you’ve ever created before.


Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

Empathy Leadership's Top Ingredient - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Episode 277

277 Empathy: Leadership’s Top Ingredient

Empathy Leadership's Top Ingredient - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Episode 277
Photo courtesy of Flicker user @gagilas

I was a young leader when it first happened. An employee was going through a divorce. Not just any divorce (is there such a thing?), but an especially hurtful one. His wife had been having an affair. She didn’t want him anymore. He was crushed.

Everybody felt awful for him, but nobody knew what to say really. I was watching it from a distance required of leadership. I expressed my sympathies, but not much else. At first.

He moved out of the house into an apartment close to work. They put the house up for sale and he wrestled with all the details required of starting part of your life over.

As the weeks rolled on his performance, which had once been high, was continuing to slip. For weeks I let it go because I know he was struggling to get back on his emotional feet. My gut told me he needed time. But I was watching. Closely.

It was years ago and I can’t be sure how long I sat on the sidelines watching his performance, but it may not have been soon enough. I had never dealt with such a thing before. I was in my 20’s and had no clue what divorce felt like, or what my leadership support should look like. I was figuring it out in realtime just like he was. Two men in unchartered water. Me, determined to serve him as best I could, but struggling how. Him, determined to hang on, survive and get past this pain but struggling how.

At some point after reviewing his performance slide I made up my mind that I was going to have to sit down with him and have a difficult conversation. The truth of the situation dawned on me at some point while I observed his pain, and his performance. My role was to serve him. Namely, to help him – and all the employees – perform and achieve as much as they could. I had always viewed my role as a leader to knock down the roadblocks or speed bumps that might prevent employees from doing their best work. Regularly I had told employees that if not for that work, then I had no purpose. It wasn’t idealism. It was (and still is) reality.

Empathy Is Easy. Or It’s Not.

For me empathy was always easy. I never remember a time when it was difficult. Even as a little kid. If anything life hasn’t hardened me in that regard. It has made me more sensitive, knowing the hardships that life can dole out.

On the playground, I was the peacemaker. I didn’t want kids to get in trouble. I sure didn’t want somebody to get hurt. I didn’t insert myself with kids I didn’t know unless we were all playing together and an argument broke out.

I was a communicator and quick to negotiate a solution to avoid the strife. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes kids were just bent on fighting. Meanwhile, my empathy grew with my height and maturity. I’m confident that my empathy today is higher than it’s ever been and I suspect it’ll be even higher in the future.

The day arrived that I was intent on having the tough conversation with my divorcing employee. I called him to my office. I was nervous, but I had thought this through and knew the words would come easily to me because as with most things — I was going to speak from my heart. I cared about him and his performance. I wasn’t his buddy or personal friend. I was his boss. My actions resulted from my obligation to serve him.

As we sat together I told him I was sorry he was enduring such tough times. I couldn’t relate or understand because I had never endured what he was going through. I told him so. Mainly, I told him I owed him better and I apologized for taking so long to talk to him. I was worried about him and his professional performance, which had always been very high. Understandably, it slipped, but it was continuing to erode and I knew it was time to tell him my commitment to him was intact.

“I can’t do much to help you away from work, but I’m devoted to help you excel here — and get back to your typical high performance.”

I told him I had no idea what life was like away from work, but I knew that letting his career go south wasn’t going to help. I expressed two basic thoughts: my devotion to help his perform well and my expectation that he’d get back into his prior form.

Within less than 10 minutes I was done and his relief was visible. I stood up, he stood up. I told him how confident I was that he could reclaim his prior position of being an excellent performer. I extended my hand to shake his and he looked at me able only to say, “Thank you.” I gave him a brief hug and told him he’d get through this and that I was determined to help his succeed “here” (at work).

His performance started to slowly accelerate. It wasn’t some proverbial switch flip. Coworkers noticed things changed right away – for the better – but it was a couple of weeks before his actual performance started going up. To his credit he kept it going up and got back on track.

I tell that story because empathy is what drove me to do it. Empathy drives every good leader to properly serve the people of the organization. Confronting somebody’s poor performance may seem an odd way of showing empathy, but it’s the best way if you’re going to be an effective leader.

The Words Leaders Use

Control. Accountability. More. Better. My. Mine. I.

These depict the kind of leader we are. They speak to what’s in our heart.

Pay attention to your heart, your emotions, your feelings and your reality. Pay more attention to those things in the people you lead. They need your very best if they’re going to deliver their very best. You owe them that. Empathy is your biggest ingredient for being the most effective leader possible. Don’t leave it out. Don’t skimp on it. Use the appropriate amount and you’ll see your people respond positively.


Photograph courtesy of Flicker user @gagilas

Subscribe to the podcast

bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance,¬†please¬†leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking¬†Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

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