Leadership, Crafting Culture and Management

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 27th 2021)

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 27th 2021)

Day 27. Four more sessions including today and then we’re have completed our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course, a series of about 5 hours of real-world leadership coaching. You’re doing the work. I’m only here to help spur you on to do the work by showing you a few things you may not have considered, by sharing some insights that might be helpful, and by giving you some concepts that might help you move forward in your own leadership journey. Thank you for being part of this 30-day journey. 

High-performance leadership focuses on creating a high-performance environment where people can do their best work, where they can grow, where they can be challenged, and where they can see how their contributions make a difference. Your leadership relies on knowing what is real and true. It’s been said that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. You don’t want to be ruled by fear, but by reality. 

That means you have to have great, accurate information. Data. Intel. Analysis. Measurements. Great leaders embrace knowing the numbers, the facts, and other data that can help make better decisions. After all, the daily work of a leader is communicating and making a series of decisions. Usually, the decisions aren’t “bet the farm” magnitude, but the higher up you go, the more critical the decisions become. The CEO can make a decision that can have an enormous negative or positive impact. The staff supervisor can make a decision that will move the needle, but the repercussions will be much smaller than those made by the CEO. 

I must reiterate the progression of leadership because these ingredients matter. Greatly. Especially that foundational ingredient, humility. It’s not just an honorable character trait. It’s practical. Without it, you’ll be robbed of seeing things more clearly and accurately. 

Business intelligence is steeped in curiosity, seeking answers – and questioning existing answers. Effective leaders want to make sure they’re seeing things accurately. Understanding is an accurate comprehension of something. Delusion isn’t helpful. False assumptions aren’t either. 

Survey organizations and ask them if they’re high-performing. Most, maybe all, will say they are. Probe more deeply and you’ll quickly find they stake their claim on how they feel about themselves. They think they’re high-performing, but they really don’t know. 

Let’s Go Bowling In The Dark. Wanna Go?

Who wants to go bowling when you can’t see the pins? You have no idea how many pins you knocked down. You hear the ball rolling down the lane. You hear pins fall. But you can’t see anything. No way to properly measure your success or failure. Nobody would sign up for such a game. The fun of bowling isn’t merely the act of tossing the ball down the lane. It’s in the work of trying to knock down as many pins in a single throw as possible. 

Why then do you think your team or organization should perform at a high level when nobody can keep score? Lots of people are disengaged because they can’t see how or if they’re making any difference. 

Measurements – keeping score – is important so you can objectively know if you’re making progress. Feeling good about yourself isn’t an accurate measurement. Those annual performance reviews tend to not be performance-based at all, but rather how somebody feels. Those feelings may be based on something, but often the basis isn’t something very quantifiable. 

What is quantifiable in your organization? Likely anything and everything. Does it mean everything is important? Not necessarily. You must be careful to connect the dots. Perhaps you have to be even more careful not to connect other dots that don’t belong together. 

The other day I heard somebody talking about how many Native American tribes were prospering because of casinos. One particular tribe comprised of about 400 members was prospering so much that tribe members were each paid over $80,000 monthly. Unemployment was over 99% because nobody needed to work. The slim percentage of people who did work, I’d assume did so because they wanted to – not because they needed to. Not knowing all the facts, some economist or expert could look at this particular tribe with 99% unemployment and conclude, “We need to help this tribe. Hardly any of them have jobs.” But by knowing and understanding the context, you realize unemployment in this community is not a problem, so far as earning money is concerned. 

Leaders can make erroneous conclusions, too. We can all get it wrong if we lack the humility to see real answers, accurate data, and even more accurate conclusions. 

From the number of incoming phone calls to inventory turnover ratios to customer acquisition costs – we can measure just about anything and everything today, thanks to computing power. Don’t be afraid to measure. People daily ignore going to the doctor even they “know” something isn’t right. Incorrectly thinking “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” can prove fatal if we have something seriously wrong.

Ignorance is not bliss. Know your numbers. 

Great leaders don’t fall into the trap of tracking only the key numbers indicative of their industry. They look to track things few others are willing to track. Seeking the competitive edge others may be unaware of, high-performance leaders push to figure out ways to gain the slightest edge for their organization and the people doing the work. And the workforce responds to the scoreboard. If you don’t think so I urge you to read The Great Game Of Business by Jack Stack of Springfield Remanufacturing. 

Employees can understand business. They can understand the numbers and how they matter. Great leaders show them. Teach them. Inspire them. And help them see how performance can be improved. 

What are you measuring?

What are you failing to measure?

In order to know where you’re going and how to get there, you must first know where you are. That’s why the measurements matter. They’re the starting point of your GPS, without which you can’t possibly compute a route to the future.

Share that information with the organization. Information isn’t to be hoarded. Don’t ask your employees to bowl in the dark. “And enjoy it.” 

Help the organization know the score, then you can get busy helping the organization learn how to improve the score. It’s a major path forward toward that coveted prize of “highly engaged employees.”

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 26th 2021)

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 26th 2021)

Session 26. These are the last five sessions. But don’t zone out because these are going to be important lessons for your leadership journey.

Back on day 15, we talked about writing your story. Let’s circle back around to that today with a context you may not have considered. 

To keep things simple, let’s consider ourselves as the main character in our story. After all, this is our life. There’s nothing necessarily selfish about it. We’re looking through our eyes, seeing things the way we see them, and experiencing what we’re experiencing. Perfectly natural. 

And we’ve got two primary options in living the life of this main character that is OUR life. We’re busy writing a hero story or a victim story. 

Think of yourself in those terms. Hero or victim. Examine your life and you’re writing one story or the other. But your story is comprised of many smaller stories. There’s your overall story and then there are the specific chapters of your story. All those little stories that sum up your main story. 

From King Arthur to Sherlock Holmes to Superman – heroes are always heroes. Sometimes they suffer defeat. Sometimes they make foolish decisions. Even superheroes aren’t perfect. You aren’t either. And that’s okay. 

But their overall story – the way everybody would characterize their lives – is the life of a hero. 

When we think of victims we may think of people who were murdered. No matter what kind of person they were we may feel sadness, sympathy, and even sorrow that somebody’s lost their life to such violence. In some cases, people are killed because they’re involved in dangerous things. Or they’re in dangerous situations. Or they’re choosing to be around dangerous people. But sometimes murder is random. Sometimes it’s not through any fault or decision on the part of the victim. 

But there’s a much wider population of victims. In 2019 there were just under 20,000 murder victims in the U.S. That’s entirely too many murders, but a single murder is too many. Sadly, the people who are writing a victim story of their own life number in the millions and millions. People who are choosing to see themselves as pawns of others, or of circumstances beyond their control. 

As a leader, you must write a hero story for yourself and for others you hope to influence. All the people you serve can be influenced by you to write their own hero story. But only if you show them how. 

Heroes Emerge From Burning Buildings, Not Instagram Photos

There’s something we don’t often consider about heroes and that’s, “How are they made?”

Well, they’re not made by living an Instagram life filled with great vacations, exotic cars, and beautiful people. Heroes were made at 911 by greasy, sweaty, exhausted firefighters trying to lead people out of those towers. Heroes were made by a group of randomly thrown together strangers on an airliner when they decided to storm the terrorists and bring a plane destined to kill others. Heroes emerge from disasters, calamities, crises, danger, obstacles, and bad situations. 

Sometimes leaders emerge in such situations. Sometimes leaders find themselves in those circumstances. 

Everybody can be a leader because we all have the capacity to write a story where we’re able to influence others and do for them what they can’t do for themselves. 

Everybody can be a hero because we all have the capacity to write a story where we’re able to rise to the occasion and refuse to be victimized by others or by a situation, no matter who or what caused it. 

Victims fixate on blame. “If only I had gotten the promotion he got, then I’d be successful.” Victims love the phrase, “If only…” This is why I concentrate so much in my work on the power of the corner – the place we all must enter if we’re ever going to rid ourselves of our excuses. People who have never experienced the corner are victims. They refuse or don’t yet know how to accept responsibility for themselves. As they see it, their lives would be much better if only…

Heroes don’t see themselves or the world that way. Wherever the hero finds herself she realizes this is the reality that must be dealt with. Heroes answer the question asked by others, “Now what are we gonna do?” 

The hero may not get it right. Not always. But the hero has a willingness – courage and strength – to face the realities and declare, “We’re going to move forward.” The hero – the leader – gives people hope. Following the leader is always seen as the best option. Otherwise, leaders have no followers. And that’s not leadership. Heroes and leaders have people in their life willing to let them serve. Which is a whole ‘nother truth about leadership – it can’t be imposed or forced. You can foist a boss on people, but people choose whom to follow. 

The hero isn’t out for himself. He’s out to help us, too. So is a leader.

You can view challenges as opportunities to write a hero story — or a victim story. You get to decide which you are, and which one you’ll become. And in either story you choose to write, you’ll take others along with you. You will influence others. 

Heroes work to emerge from the burning building. Hopefully, they emerge, but they don’t always. Live as a hero. Die as a hero. 

Or a victim. 

Victims tend to die as victims unless or until they decide to no longer be a victim. That’s the power of the corner – the place of NO MORE EXCUSES.

Both have a group around them. Both bring out something in others. 

Write the victim story and most people won’t care. They’re too focused on their own problems to care that much about your griping, complaining and finger-pointing. But some people will chime in because they share the same feelings about their own life. Misery does love company. To a degree. You can write such a story. It’s highly popular and there are more victims than heroes because more people make that choice. 

Heroes just make a different – a better – choice! They figure it’s far better to accept responsibility to move forward than to cower in fear. They want to escape the burning building and they really want us to escape, too. They have the courage to step up and step forward. We love them for it and we put our faith in them because we know they’re seeking our best. 

Victims are the most self-centered, arrogant people around. It’s all about them. And their problems. And their lack. They don’t serve us with anything that makes us better. They don’t provide any help to us. Zero. Rather, they’re detrimental to us. They make our lives worse. It’s their story and they want others to join them. Resist.

So what’s your story? How determined are you to write your very best story? If today’s chapter isn’t so good, then look at it as an opportunity – your burning building moment. Be a hero. Be a leader. Make a difference.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 25th 2021)

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 25th 2021)

Day 25. The countdown begins as we’re winding our way down in this 30-Day Micro Leadership Course, but we’re going to finish strong with some pivotal lessons. 

The vertical pressures every leader must manage are “boots in the dirt” versus “eye in the sky.” Now we’re going to consider the horizontal pressures, “YOU” versus “a focus on others.”

Back on day 13, we talked about the power of the corner. Helping clients paint themselves into a corner where they’re able to face themselves in the mirror and stop making excuses is a major component of the value I provide. It’s work that’s entirely focused on them, which could sound selfish until you understand the context. Self-awareness and self-improvement are necessary if we’re going to increase our value to others. It’s not selfish because the work is about getting better, growing, and making ourselves better able to serve others. The ROI (return on investment) is higher than anything you can do – for yourself and anybody in your life. 

Imagine if we all were able to paint ourselves into that corner where we could at long last eliminate all the excuses in our lives. Where we could finally start doing the work of a hero, not a victim. Think of all the positive impacts we could have individually and collectively were to do that. Well, that’s the point of putting a focus on YOU.

Like the vertical pressures, these horizontal pressures swing back and forth as needed. At any given point you’ll be in one vertical spot and one horizontal spot. Circumstances will warrant which. Depending on your role and responsibilities you’ll likely be spending more time in some than others. For example, yesterday we talked about how the higher up you go in your leadership the more likely you’ll spend more time in the sky than in the dirt. It’s also likely that the higher you go – the more experienced you are – the more you’ll focus on others and less on yourself. Many excellent senior leaders find themselves with more long-term strategic thinking (eye in the sky) and thinking of how to best serve their employees (focus on others), but almost all admit they’re constantly and consistently trying to figure out how to improve themselves (YOU). There are no hard, fast rules. The key is knowing when to go where and knowing how long to stay there. 

These horizontal pressures are very different than the vertical ones because these two aren’t quite as distinctly different. Humility is key to it all. 

The most accomplished and effective leaders confess they’re always focused on these two horizontal pressures simultaneously. That’s very different than boots in the dirt and eye in the sky work. But it’s not only possible, but it’s also preferable. 

The ER physician invested money and years to learn the skills necessary to treat patients effectively. She didn’t just check the box on her learning and then stop. She’s constantly learning and improving, focusing on herself. But her focus is purpose-driven. She’s doing all this work for herself because it’s her choice – her life – but she’s also doing it because she wants to help others. 

The same is true for leadership.

Get focused on yourself so you can positively influence others and so you can do for others what they can’t do for themselves. 

Besides, how hypocritical is it for leaders to expect and urge others to grow and improve if they’re unwilling to do that themselves? Don’t be a hypocrite.

A focus on others. That’s where the rubber meets the road. 

Your impact on the group, team, or organization is your ability (your willingness) to serve others in ways few others (perhaps nobody) can. Willingness is such a strong part of leadership success because not everybody is willing to surrender to the high value they can supply to others. Most of us are intently focused on ourselves in selfish ways. 

These 2 pressure points must be simultaneously pursued at all times. Turns out the highest performing leaders operate in 3 of the 4 areas simultaneously at all times, and know when to enter that 4th area as needed – boots in the dirt. For good reason…

Influence on others and doing for others what they can’t do for themselves is the focal point of all the work. THAT’S why great leaders operate 100% of the time in 3 of the 4 areas and choose to selectively operate in the 4th only as needed. That’s where the highest service is rendered. 

By focusing on others, leadership knows not to rob people of opportunities to learn, grow, develop, improve and contribute. The details that are vital to any enterprise are mostly performed by the people who do those jobs daily. And mostly, they’re able to handle it well. On some occasions – like the vendor contract with costly cloud storage – the leader needs to dive down into the dirt to make sure the team has the most success. The leader isn’t doing this to embarrass or show up the team. No, she did it to protect the people and the organization. And in doing that, she taught a lesson nobody will ever forget. Everybody learned from it. And success was insured. She did for the department what they weren’t yet able to do for themselves. But that was then, this is now. NOW, they better understand to pay closer attention to the finer points of negotiation. 

Leaders (a’hem bosses) to stay in the details of everybody’s business are robbing people of opportunities to grow and accept responsibility for their own work. Thinking, “I can do this better than them,” isn’t the point. Can you grow them so they can outperform you? That’s one point. Can you help people grow individually and collectively so the entire group performs at levels never before achieved? That’s a point. Can you make a positive difference that otherwise might not be made if you weren’t involved? That’s the point. 

Do you make others betters because of the high value you bring to their lives? 

Great leaders do. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 24th 2021)

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 24th 2021)

Day 24. There are four distinct pressures I always cover in my leadership coaching. These are in contrast to the trite subject of “balance.” Somebody may have figured out balance, that perfect mixture of business and personal. Work-life and personal life. It’s an impossible feat as far as I know. Instead, there are priorities…which are subject to change and shift situationally. 

Let’s start with the pressure points I hear most often. “He’s in the weeds,” says the boss. “I need him to be more strategic.” 

Translation: He’s in the details and I need him to not get bogged down in the details.


Translation: He’s doing the work still like he did before we promoted him to Director. We need him to better manage the work instead of spearheading all the work.

By strategic, most bosses mean “operate at a higher altitude where you can see the bigger picture.” Implied, if not directly stated, is the added desire for leaders or supervisors to be proactive and think ahead because every #1 (CEO, city manager or any other top-level leader who is in the top spot) is fearful about what might blindside the organization. Every wise leader is somewhat concerned about what they don’t know, or what they may not see coming. Hence, the admonition for everybody to be strategic with forward-thinking.

I use two metaphors for these two vertical pressures: boots on the ground versus eye in the sky.

Boots On The Ground

There are times when it’s vital for the leader to put on the boots and get them dirty because the devil truly is in the details. Consider an MIS (management information systems) department reviewing a pending vendor agreement, a 3-year contract that includes cloud storage. The CTO looks over the terms, diving more deeply into the weeds of the deal. She notices a pricing clause that includes the first year of free cloud storage. However, in years 2 and 3 the cost is approaching $300,000 annually. A seemingly minor detail that buries a cost of almost $600,000 over the term of the contract. The vendor representative never mentioned anything other than the first year’s “free” storage. She now begins to negotiate years 2 and 3 telling the vendor the deal hinges on those fees dropping significantly. 

Do you think the CEO wishes the CTO had not dropped into the weeds on that deal? Or do you suppose the CEO is pleased she got her boots on and jumped into the dirt to ferret out the pitfalls of what could have been a bad deal? Yes, this CEO was very happy his CTO decided to get her boots on when she could have refused claiming her job was be the eye in the sky. Problem…the eye in the sky wouldn’t have spotted the costly detail. 

The higher up the food chain you go in leadership or authority, the more time you must spend as “eye in the sky.” 

There’s a reason for this. As well as a practicality. The higher up you go the more direct reports you tend to have. Direct reports who can more easily be your boots on the ground, doing the work you once did, but now can’t because you’re busy working from a higher altitude. As you climb the ladder you have to figure out when and how long to stay at each vantage point. You can’t just stay in one or the other without regard to the other perspective. It’s a life of constantly moving down into the details, when necessary, then soaring back up to higher climbs so you can see the bigger picture. It’s knowing when to go to each place and how long to stay so you can be most helpful to your enterprise, team, or group. Don’t forget leadership is influence and doing for others what they can’t do for themselves. 

Eye In The Sky

This is the bigger picture, strategic viewpoint required to see the entire playing field. Being at this height enables you to see how things are working, or not working. Additionally, it helps you see what may be approaching – the ability to be transformational. That just means you’re able to see the greater or bigger vision. To future proof as best you can. To serve teammates in being able to see more clearly, too. 

Admittedly, there’s not a ton of hourly or daily work performed at this level. It’s more vision and clarity work. It’s seeing things in order to prevent your people from being blind-sided. Unless you’re the #1 it’s also about helping your boss avoid being blind-sided. But it’s not just about being preventative, which is plenty valuable enough. It’s also about having the ability to be proactive and act in advance, hopefully, faster than your competition. 

Jack Welch, while at the helm of General Electric, had a simple strategic plan. He’d ask his leadership, “What can our competition do in the next 18 months to nail us to the wall?” Then he’d ask, “What can we do in the next 18 months to nail them to the wall?”

That’s pretty simple, powerful yet straightforward strategic thinking. It demonstrates how important such thinking is to a global multi-billion dollar enterprise. But it’s also important to the small business owner or municipality. 

Successful leaders and managers aren’t only interested in protecting themselves, but they also want to go on the offensive to ensure their futures as much as possible. Growth and improvement are vital. Our survival depends on them. 

Tomorrow we’ll discuss some of the issues you’ll have to face as you navigate these two pressure points. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 23rd 2021)

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 23rd 2021)

Day 23 of our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course. 

Difficult conversations. How do you handle these? How does your culture deal with them?

Hiding is pretty common. Maybe not physically, but sometimes it could be. Avoiding is hiding. Does that describe how you react to tough conversations? 

It’s a common way of handling things. Ignore it – at least head-on – and hope it improves or goes away. Maybe somebody else will say something. Maybe the situation will just get better on its own.

The opposite approach, which I admit I’ve seen only on extremely rare occasions, is what I call “the Kramer approach,” named after the Seinfeld character notorious for blurting out obvious observations that everybody else dare not speak of. Does that better describe how you or your culture handle difficult conversations? You just dive right in without any considerations other than to confront it. 

Very few people or organizations, in my experience, embrace the Kramer approach. Most procrastinate dreading the whole thing. 

Let’s define what we’re talking about. What is a difficult conversation? It’s simply a conversation you likely know needs to happen, but you dread it. 

Maybe it’s coaching an employee on personal hygiene (that example is used quite often whenever I talk with clients about difficult conversations). Maybe it’s correcting poor performance. It could be confronting bad behavior. It could be informing the boss of an error you uncovered. It could be reporting some unethical behavior you’ve witnessed. 

Difficult conversations aren’t easy to lump together because they can cover a broad array of topics, people, and situations. That’s why I’ve given them a simple definition as a conversation you know you should have, but you really don’t want to. 

I need to reiterate the need for psychological safety again. The safer the culture – the relationship – the easier it is to be candid, which includes being able to say what must be said in order to move forward. 

This isn’t about voicing complaints. It’s not tattle-telling. It’s not gamesmanship where we’re trying to look good by pointing out something bad about others. Those are just bad behaviors and no high-performance culture will foster those. This is about being able to muster up the courage to say what needs to be said, even though it’s hard. 

The degree of difficulty in having the conversation can be a good thing. Consider the alternative. Suppose you have an employee on your team who has habitual body odor. The fact that you dread having that conversation could mean you don’t want to hurt or embarrass the employee. That’s a good thing. The alternative – the Kramer approach – disregards the person. That’s not a good thing. 

Keep in mind how we’re defining leadership – influence and the ability to do for others what they’re not able to do for themselves. When we apply that to this situation we realize as much as we dread having the conversation it’s the best thing we can do for this employee. Delay doesn’t help, except for us to gather our thoughts, rehearse what we want to say, and to make sure we find an appropriate time with this employee to have the difficult conversation. 

It’s highly likely the dread and fear are worse than the reality. Through the years I’ve found that almost 100% true. In my head, things typically were much worse than they turned out to be. 

Consider the alternative. Consider your responsibility as a leader. 

Ignore the body odor problem (or whatever the issue may be). Hope somebody else handles it. That’s not leadership. That’s cowardice.

Hope the person just realizes the problem and fixes it themselves. That’s not leadership. So far they’ve not been able to do that or they’d have already done it. They need somebody to serve them. That’s leadership and courage. 

The moment is here. You pull them aside to have a private conversation where you gently, but clearly explain the problem and how you’re committed to help them. You handle it with compassion, but with a firmness to assure them you will do your part to help them remedy this problem. You deal with their embarrassment. You show them the path forward explaining to them this is how all growth and improvement work. You give it your best effort and it goes pretty well, even though it’s admittedly very awkward. You talk about specifics by asking questions like, “Do you have a washer and dryer at home?” Could be they don’t. Could be they don’t even know how to use a washer and dryer. Don’t laugh – I’ve had it happen. I’ve personally confronted this issue on more than one occasion, only to find out the person lacked the lifeskills I took for granted. Nobody had ever shown them these basic life skills, so I took it upon myself as a leader to do that for them. You may think leadership is some grand, big-scale initiative and it can be. But I can tell you when you walk into a laundromat with an employee, armed with a bunch of quarters, and you show them how to do a load of their own laundry…it’s life-changing. For both of you. That’s service. And they’ll never forget it.

That may or may not be your situation, but it does demonstrate a point – avoiding the difficult conversation helps NOBODY. Nobody gets served by hiding, ignoring or putting it off. 

Compassion and leadership share a common theme – a focus on others! Focus the attention on how you can best serve others. It can help you better navigate difficult conversations. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 22nd 2021)

30-Day Micro Leadership Course (September 22nd 2021)

September 22, 2021. Day 22 of our 30-Day Micro Leadership Course.

Daily communication.

Yesterday we focused on the DNA kind of message – the communication that tells everybody why we’re here together, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. In my experience, conciseness and candor pay. Bigtime.

Before we go further about any kind of communication it’s important to figure out how valuable candor is going to be in your group, team or organization. I’m happy to make an appeal for you to embrace candid conversations fully, but you have to decide for yourself. 

There is an environment among any group where everybody understands the unwritten rules of having candid conversations. I’ve coached clients who were in environments where being candid simply wasn’t done. Not out in the open at least. Secret private conversations might be, but leadership dare not engage in such behavior when they were formally together. It typically goes that way because the top-level leader – the #1 – doesn’t place a high value on candor. I respect every leader’s right to operate as they please. Even if I disagree with their philosophies or way of doing things. 

Such cultures though take a heavy toll on people. And they stymie innovation, growth, and high performance. It’s especially vexing when an organization performs at a high level in spite of their lack of candor. What could they do if they fully embraced honest, candid communication? That lost potential always haunts me. 

I encourage every leader and every emerging leader to understand the high value of candor – the quality of being open and honest in expression; frankness.

The enemy is usually just one thing, a lack of safety. The leader doesn’t feel safe. Others don’t feel safe. So people remain silent or they avoid being as honest as they need to be. It’s safer to avoid speaking up, speaking out, or being completely honest. 

We’ve all experienced those situations where we just stare down at our shoes, unwilling to speak up even though our minds are racing with things that need to be said. It’s especially frustrating when nobody says the very things that need to be said and we’re wishing we could. But we don’t. The fallout, the potential for negative consequences is just too great. It’s called being stuck. Not a place of growth or the highest performance!

So let’s figure out how we can build safety so we can then make candor part of the fabric of our organization. 

First, avoid a critical judgment environment. 

But how? For starters, listen – and listen so you can better understand. Go back and revisit those critical components – the ingredients – that make up the progression of leadership.

Without a commitment to these ingredients, there’ll never be enough safety to have candor. Critical judgment emanates from people who lack humility and curiosity. Show me an unsafe culture and I’ll show you a culture filled with arrogance and answers. That’s why people keep their mouths shut. There’s no need to share insights with somebody who already has their mind made up. 

The boss enters the room, asking people to weigh in on an issue, but first, he throws down this verbal gauntlet, “My mind is made up.” 

Nobody in their right mind dare speaks up after that unless it’s to echo agreement and consent with the boss. It’s the proverbial “yes men” syndrome that can overtake any culture led by a closed-minded person. 

Second, avoid playing the blame game. 

At the moment, finger-pointing isn’t profitable. Even if we’re managing a crisis, finding who is at fault isn’t profitable. But the critical thing is to refrain from the reason why we assign blame altogether – to feel better about ourselves. Perhaps to deflect any responsibility from ourselves. Lots of reasons why we behave so poorly. We have to resist being so selfish. 

Grace is unmerited favor yet we’re all prone to say that somebody doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or compassion, or consideration. But that’s precisely the point. To give such consideration to people no matter what – that’s the true mark of high-level leadership. 

You can fix any problem without fixating on who’s to blame. Remedy “the person responsible” in a way that won’t disrupt the group safety. Besides, consider the valuable (or invaluable) lesson learned if somebody did actually make an error. Think they’ll do it again? Not likely. We’ve all done some boneheaded things. Think about how it can negatively impact the individuals and the group for you to call out or barbeque a person – even if they are responsible. Now think about how the individual and group will respond when the problem is addressed and you’re not absorbed by convicting somebody (or a group of people) for having caused the problem. 

Third, be strategic and think long-term.

It makes all of this behavior easier because we see the value. When you’re playing a longer game it changes these perspectives from knee-jerk reactions in the moment to considerations about how this might impact us next week, next month, next year – and moving forward.

Last night I went to one of my grandson’s football games – 7th grade. They came into the game having lost both their games so far, but they had high hopes they might win this one. They got off to a good start, but pretty soon it was apparent that they lacked the speed and tackling ability to match their opponent. The longer the game went, the more success the opponent had. The more my grandson’s team failed. At some point, the coach of my kiddo’s team grew openly frustrated. He started yelling at the timekeeper. He was yelling at the officials. At some point he even spiked a football in his hands he was so outraged. His team’s performance declined as his demeanor declined. Negative influence at its worst. Influencing a group of 12-year-olds not to perform at their best, but maybe at their worst. 

The same things happen to us at work. We have moments or extended periods of time where we’re stuck thinking at the moment. It brings out our worst. We react and suddenly all safety is forfeited. Now people shut down. Grow increasingly less engaged. Shut their mouths. Keep their insights and ideas to themselves. And we all suffer because of it. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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