Why Do Bad Bosses Always Win?

confused minds say no

Doesn’t it seem like the bad guys frequently get the promotions and advancements at work? Have you ever wondered why or how that happens?

First let’s clear out one issue. Just because I don’t like my boss, that doesn’t mean he.she is bad. It takes a wide range of experience and observation to declare a boss bad. But some of them make the decision so easy.

OK, so yes, there are often bad bosses at work. They keep getting promoted. But why?

Authority Rules

As much as we hate to admit it, we still operate most business in a hierarchical structure. Somebody has to have ht final say in what gets done. So we build org charts to describe who has what power.

The power of the position is never a replacement for good leadership. Too often the person who gets to sit in a particular box on the org chart is not worthy of the power that comes with the position.

Authority is often given a “free ride”. We feel stuck or even powerless to confront bad management. We wait for the process to take them down, but seldom does that happen.

Bullying and Intimidation

If you have a boss that is just the adult version of the neighborhood bully, you have a big problem.

Yet just like that mean kid on the playground, boss bullies carefully pick targets for bullying, knowing full well that the targets are unlikely to retaliate, and bystanders will not intervene because they fear becoming the next target.

overwhelmed

Poor Organizational Process

Companies with a large number of bad bosses have very poor systems in place to manage people. If the rating process for managers does not accurately and effectively get stakeholder feedback, then bad behaviors can survive.

If there is no accountability for employee satisfaction and turnover, then poor managers get to keep doing the bad things they do.

Bad Bosses Don’t Have to Violate Employee Rights

Someone can be a bad boss by just failing to create an environment for people to grow. Their actions do not have to be obvious attacks on character, gender, or ethnicity.

I’ve known a few really bad bosses who were not racist nor sexist. They were just bad. They made poor decisions, didn’t hear people, and generally failed at inspiring anyone.

I once had a boss who never rated his people any higher than he was rated. He didn’t get rated very well. Let’s call it a C+. Working for him meant you’d get a C+ if you were lucky.

I and two of my peers were in the same boat. It took us the first year of rating to figure him out. All three of us were producing record high returns, metrics and deliverables, yet we could never get past a C+. We did what most people do, we tried harder the next year and delivered yet again, but got the same poor ranking.

That impacted raises and bonuses. It was a terrible two years in my career until he got moved elsewhere. He was just bad. Actually, a nice guy, but a terrible boss.

Speaking Truth to Power

We all know how hard it can be to try to speak up, especially when it is ‘up the organization.’ There is a concept called “Speaking Truth to Power.” There are studies around the subject. See “Emperor Has No Clothes.

In September 2015 the leadership team at Volkswagen was shamed by an issue regarding emissions that was known about by some employees, but not spoken up about (or listened to) effectively.

The previous month an animated Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, announced that he did ‘not recognize’ the ‘bruising culture’ and the consequent accusations voiced against his organization by employees and reported in a New York Times article.

In the July 2016 report by the UK Financial Reporting Council, ‘Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards’, the following observations and recommendations were made that directly address the issue of speaking truth to power:

“Good governance means a focus on how [openness and accountability at every level] takes place throughout the company… A healthy ‘speak up’ culture breaks down the barriers that can often exist between the workforce and the board… A key ingredient of a healthy culture is a willingness on the part of senior management to listen to their employees… Employees usually want their organization to succeed, and have good ideas about how to make this happen… A culture of engagement and ‘permission’ is required for employees to feel able to voice their ideas and concerns.”

Leadership development programs focus on developing specific skills to address conversational situations experienced as problematic, for instance training for ‘difficult conversations’. They train leaders to be ‘impactful’ in what they say, valiantly attempting to introduce coaching skills to executives who have paradoxically been promoted based on their individual capacity to ‘know answers’.

Whistle Blowing

Meanwhile the issue of challenging authority is increasingly addressed through whistle blowing procedures, part of continuing attempts to control certain conversations through formal processes.

Yet it would be far more productive if companies didn’t have to wait on whistle blowers, but relied instead on their employees to speak openly and candidly.

The Entrepreneur’s Plight

In small business, the egocentric owner can be a stumbling block for truth at work. After all, it is their idea and their company, so how can anyone confront the owner?

Usually this is nothing more than inflated ego getting in the way of good management and leadership.

What Can You Do?

When you want to confront a bad boss or speak truth to power, several key questions come up.

  • What happens in the moment of choice of whether to speak up or stay silent?
  • How does an appreciation of the complexities of this moment inform effective leadership?
  • How might individuals make more informed choices regarding speaking up?

Here are some key principles to think about if you are the one needing to speak up.

Conviction – How strongly you believe in the value of your opinion. Pick your battles.

Risk Awareness – Do you have a realistic grasp of the consequences of speaking up. In a healthy environment, these risks are low, always.

Political Awareness – Do you understand the political games being played inside your company? Can you navigate that swamp?

Social Awareness – Understanding of how to work within the social climate around you so that people will listen.

Judgement – Some call is discernment. Knowing what to say, who to say it to, and when.

We Live in a BLURT World

The rise of social media has created a BLURT World. What is that? You just blurt something out whenever you feel like it without regard to any of the key principles above.

When you blurt, there is no consideration for your real conviction on the topic. Likely no assessment of the risks included with the comment.

Definitely, there is no social awareness (Ironic isn’t it that lack of social awareness happens on ‘social’ media.)

The habits we create for our behaviors on social media will spill over into the workplace. It’s unavoidable.

Conclusion

Sure, we all have bad bosses. To help solve the problem, employees at all levels need to be able to be heard.

However, there is a catch. To enable a positive and productive conversation or to be heard at all, there are principles that need to be followed.

The next time you hear someone shouting about injustice or fair treatment, see if any of these principles are being followed.

By the way, in my coaching, every time my client has trouble in the workplace with the bad boss, I never forget to remind them, they can leave. It’s true in domestic violence, it’s true at work.

If you firmly believe the system is severely flawed, you just may need to leave.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Ron Riggio for reminding me of this need to address bad bosses. Also, thanks to the good folks at Hult Research, specifically Megan Reitz and John Higgins for their amazing study on the ability to speak truth to power. Lastly, my good friend George Head at LHH for keeping me inspired to help others with this important topic.

Please! Keep Your Pants On

america, keep your pants on

It was inevitable. People would start writing posts about the mask requirements to protect against Corona-virus.

I’ve been amused at several I’ve seen pop up that start something like this.

I don’t like wearing pants.

I keep my pants off at home.

When I go outside, I put my pants on to avoid making others uncomfortable.

I don’t like wearing masks.

I never wear a mask at home.

When I go outside….

You get the idea. Clearly for many, mask wearing is no big deal. Just do it so you can be a good citizen, help yourself while helping others. (Your Mamma raised you right.)

However, for others mask wearing is violating some kind of rights. We have the video posts of people absolutely loosing their minds at a store when the greeter reminds them to wear a mask. I’ve seen a young Mom dumping a full shopping cart. I’ve seen a 60-something grandpa almost crush a greeter.

It seems we’ve all lost our collective minds.

Oh No!

Yes, I get it that the unknown of all this COVID-19 has caused grief and suffering for so many. Those emotions are real.

We’ve had an unprecedented outcry over social injustice, which, granted, could use a lot of work. This alone has caused a backlash of anger and hostility in people who are otherwise pretty calm neighbors.

People seem just angry and upset; about EVERYTHING.

What’s the deal people? Keep your pants ON!

What happened to being able to have a civilized discussion about the problems? What does taking a nice neighborhood and burning it to the ground do for the cause? What about the shop owners and small business people who worked their whole life to build something only to have it torched in the wake of a ruthless crowd who has lost all respect for their fellow humans?

Aw crap. Nobody wants to hear me talk about this. Sorry. My soapbox was close by and I couldn’t help myself.

Sadly, there is no talking with some. For whatever reason, we have a generation of new thinkers getting airtime, raising hostilities, and demanding change in a system they haven’t even studied.

I do not believe they represent the wishes of the larger population. Yet for the sake of sensationalism they get the visibility. They get to speak for the masses when there are millions of hard working ethnic groups just going to work. Perhaps even a second job. But these choose to work hard to make the difference they desire. They won’t burn anything or tear anything down. They’re too busy going to work.

The Commitment

My commitment to you, my readers, is to find objective nuggets in the common sense life we share. Nuggets that can help you be better managers and leaders at work. In today’s crazy world, my simple common sense idea is this….

Keep your pants on.

Keep your head on straight. Do what you can right where you are. Be a person who can stand up for solid principles without encroaching on the rights of others. Find a balance for diversity and inclusion.

Take comfort in knowing that not every one of your neighbors agree with what you hear on the news. I’ve turned off my news. It’s unreliable and inflammatory.

Stay away from those who only want to get you worked up. I saw a great post this week that said “Why would I pay attention to anyone who I wouldn’t otherwise ask for advice?”

I’ll close with this. One of the best words of advice I ever heard was to “Harness your mind’s attention with your heart’s affection.”

minds attention hearts affection

Take the passions you have in your heart and align them with the power of your brain. Or conversely, be sure the capabilities you have for thinking critically and problem solving can be used for the good that may be in your heart.

We will always have outliers in our lives. There will always be those who cannot or will not accept authority. But for the larger majority who do, be a leader who gives them something to respect and aspire to. Keep your mind and heart aligned for a greater good. Never lose sight of the prize.

Keep our pants on.

How Ping Pong Can Save Your Relationships

ping pong to save your relationship

You could be nicer and help-out a little more around the house, but your wife has been such a pain lately. She just doesn’t seem very happy– about anything.

She complains about where you park at the grocery store, ALWAYS has a better idea, and your sex life seems like a distant memory. She also doesn’t seem to appreciate the pressures you are under at work and you are starting to wonder,

“Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

This is not an uncommon situation.

Picture each of your daily interactions with your spouse as a game of table tennis—you know, ping-pong, like the table you had set-up in the garage as a kid. Here’s how ping pong can save your relationships.

Visualize each thing you say to your spouse as a serve. You comment; your wife volleys back a response; you respond, and so on. Easy, right?

Now ask yourself. What kind of things are you saying in your serves and volleys? Are they positive, complimentary, helpful, and loving or are they rocket-like slams designed to burn the corners of the table, defeating your competition?

It’s a vicious cycle you know… trying to win every point, even when you are “right” and justified in your beliefs (“I park this far out to try and prevent door dings to your new car, lady!”).

Quality of Moments

Indulge my ping-pong analogy one more step, please. Visualize the quality of the comments made during the serve and volley, over time, as either positive and uplifting, raising the level of the game; or as negative, harming the relationship, lowering the level of the table.

The danger of lowering the game, of course, is that the table can become so low that one or both you simply decide it is no longer worth their time and energy to play. Remember that the opposite of love is not always hate. It can be fatigue induced indifference.

So you serve up something sincere (that’s important) and positive like, “Hey, you really look nice today,” and she returns that serve with something less than positive,

“Oh really? My hair is a mess, I haven’t had my nails done in three months, and I am wearing a shirt that’s older than our first child!”

Don’t take the bait. Regardless of how she might respond, volley with a positive, something like, “Well I don’t exactly know how you are pulling it off. I just want you to know that you look great to me!” Then walk away quickly and live to serve and volley another day.

Make this a habitual practice. Stop reacting negatively when she slams a spinning forehand to the far corner and, instead, craft a positive volley.

Try your best to make everything you say helpful, complimentary, and sincere. She will notice and when she finally asks you about your change in behavior, you can share a printed copy of this post with her, inviting her to join you in raising the game.

Same Is True at Work

The same can be said for your interactions at work, especially if you have management responsibility.

Your serve at work holds even more power over the employees. Just by default, the power that comes with your position puts a little extra sting on your first serves, whether intended or not.

You have to be careful about being too casual with your comments.

business leaders

I’ve known some very smart executives who have fun with spirited jabs as responses to worker’s questions. While they truly don’t mean anything negative by it, it can become very off-putting.

In one case, members of the team needed to work there quite a while to understand the boss’s brand of humor. Eventually, you get past it, but I’ve known a few new members of the team who struggled to find the meaning.

My coaching to that leader was to tone it down a bit, especially with his newest staffers. Get to know them first and them know you before you introduce your version of levity and ‘smartness’. Then be intentional about using that approach.

Eventually he agreed he should stop altogether. The dry wit was better saved for closest friends and people outside of work.

He changed his ‘serve.’

Conclusion

Never forget, that raising the game is your responsibility. It is not only a matter of basic leadership but also the most pragmatic approach.

After all, at the end of the day, the only thing you can truly control is YOUR serves and volleys. Viewing this from the ping-pong
perspective may be a better alternative than trying to change your spouse.

Change yourself instead.

Note: The inspiration for this word picture came from friend and colleague, Roger Ferguson. Thanks, Roger for a juicy idea to hit home.

Missing Your Old Meetings?

People everywhere are struggling with the extended shutdowns from COVID-19. All the Type-A personalities are going absolutely crazy not being able to interact face to face or in small groups.

If you rated ‘extrovert’ on your personality assessment, you are hurting right about now. The introverts are enjoying the calm. However, none of us can stay separated for long.

This is why virtual meeting tools like Zoom have skyrocketed. ‘Zoom’ is now a noun, verb and adjective all in one.

Aren’t you missing that 90-minute weekly staff meeting with your boss? OK, maybe I’m kidding on that one. What about the water cooler chat with colleagues?

There is just something special about that sense of belonging when we can stand or sit together and talk.

Why is that?

Seth Goden spoke about it in his seminal book “Tribes”. Since the dawning of mankind, we have been tribal in nature. We naturally gravitate together.

The caveman did it for survival. There was survival in numbers. Yet I see that same tribal mindset today.

Let’s face it, we all live in or belong to some kind of tribe today. Perhaps it’s your neighborhood. You want the kids going to a certain school. How tribal is that?

You pick your friends based on common interests and values.

Or maybe you attend a certain church, mosque or synagogue based of course on your religious preferences. Maybe you don’t go to church at all because you belong to a golf group or a fishing/boating club.

Tribes get formed by many different standards. I’m certainly not judging any of them, I’m just making the point that tribal desire exists.

The tribal mindset can go wrong of course. Think of the real Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Ideaology is fine if it serves a common good, but taken to extremes, whole populations can be impacted, as we clearly saw then.

As soon as tribal thinking begins to not only exclude others, but demean, oppress and hurt others, it’s gone too far.

Not Me

You may argue you’ve never been part of a ‘tribe’. Maybe that word alone is offensive to you. It’s not meant to be.

Do you own a iPhone or Mac? You’re in a tribe.

Do you only buy certain clothes? Tribe.

Do you only support one school? Tribe.

Do you only drive certain cars? Tribe.

Do you work for a certain company and never think of others in your industry? Tribe.

Do you only wear certain watches? Tribe.

Do you only follow certain public figures? Tribe.

Do you vote by single lever pull? Tribe.

Do you think contrary of others because they don’t look/act like you? Tribe.

The days of needing a tribe for survival should be gone, but they’re not. People begin to assemble a tribe when they feel ‘less than’ others. They seek strength in numbers when systems and policies leave them out.

Those motivated to band together in this way hope that the combined voice will be louder than what they alone can shout.

It happens in business. It is happening on our streets.

What Can We Do? What Can I Do?

First, look around at the tribes to which you already belong. Are they really OK? When others know about your tribe, can they accept what it stands for? They don’t have to agree with or support the specific values, but can they accept there are reasonable differences and good reasons that you joined?

business leaders

Many will say it’s nobody’s business what I do. On many levels that’s true. Yet when it comes to expressing or demonstrably exercising action that offend others, your tribe needs adjustment.

‘Communication’ is a word I’ve heard much about lately. Sure we need to talk about our differences. But that is a slippery slope. When does a conversation turn into an argument?

The popular thinking these days is to try to convince the other person that the values you believe in or represent are the only right ones. NO they’re not. Stop doing that.

As business leaders we must create an environment that can allow open exchange. If it is discovered that a person, policy or practice somehow makes others feel ‘less than’, then it needs to get fixed.

What employees and any member of any tribe must understand is that the gathering happened for a reason. If you joined, but later discover there is something you don’t like, YOU made a bad choice. Find another tribe. Change jobs.

If enough businesses lose good talent over bad practices, they will change.

I help business owners and executives make change happen all the time. Good leaders are open for change. They genuinely want to listen better and make adjustments to the tribe they manage. Sometimes the system and the legacy is too big to change quickly, but it can change.

If you want to talk about ways to make the change you need in your tribe, I am here.

Disorienting Situations – The Leader’s Response

As someone who works with business leaders in many different sectors, I’ve paused to reflect on exactly how I feel about the current state of affairs around us. Now, I feel it is important to share the outcome of this reflective pause.

A colleague shared the word “disorienting”. Recent events are very disorienting to everyone. Between COVID lock-downs, economic conditions, and now, civil unrest and rage over the death of George Floyd.

On one hand, the past several weeks have shown us that we have an intense undercurrent in the fabric of our country. That is an understatement. Leaders in many sectors have tried to speak up, taking a stand on the matter, only to be told that somehow, someway they were still wrong.

As strongly as some feel about “Black Lives Matter” anyone who whispers ‘all lives matter’ gets ridiculed for “being insensitive and not getting it.”

I hear business leaders saying we need to have more conversations. Haven’t the conversations been going on for decades? My Black colleagues agree, yes that’s the point. The conversations haven’t fixed anything.

The easy answer is to say our leaders have failed us. The U.S. political system has grown more and more galvanized over the past 20 years. We select candidates and elect ‘leaders’ who have the best story to tell us. I stopped being a ‘political party’ member a long time ago. I decided to do my research and place my votes for the person who, to me demonstrated the best, real leadership possibilities. Sadly, I am routinely disappointed. I don’t have a good answer for that.

I am deeply saddened by the senseless death of George Floyd. It was just plain wrong. Our system says even suspected criminals have rights. His rights were ignored and were fatally taken away. That is wrong. Just simply wrong.

However, did a flawed system kill him? I think not. A rouge, overzealous cop did it. One man perpetrating hatred and rage against another.

Sadly this same rage happens night after night in all of our cities. I don’t mean just cop versus citizen, black versus white. I mean one bad person raging against another unsuspecting human. An individual who wants something someone else has. This happens without regard to race and gender.

Leadership Duties

With everything being disoriented around us, what can a leader do?

Clearly the leader must first look inwardly. Do YOU harbor any hatred, bias, or ‘less than’ thinking about the people around you? You may think you have good reason to think as you do, but you must correct that thinking if you ever want to come anywhere close to inclusivity in the workplace.

One way or another, your own biases will be revealed. As a leader that cannot happen.

Unfortunately, the process by which we choose to deal with each other is full of natural bias. It is by no means limited to the color of one’s skin. Every time someone does something that runs either in favor of or opposite of the other person, a checkmark gets put on the list we all have in our brain.

The next time there is an encounter, that checklist gets reviewed and we sit waiting for the other person to ‘prove themselves’ as the friend or foe we expect them to be. That is no way to run effective conversations, clouded with bias.

By the way, as you read this you’re already judging me for what I am saying, right or wrong. It just proves my point.

Sensitivity

Strong leadership requires a keen ability to apply sensitivity. What do I mean by that? For me, it means being aware of the plight and condition of those around you.

I’ve spoken before about the ways every person who shows up for work has a personal process going on similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They move up and down that hierarchy on a daily basis. If they feel threatened at home or in the community where they live, they come to work feeling tired of the situation. They may even be afraid of you as the leader because you represent ‘power’ they may not want to see.

Where’s the Goal Post?

I am not yet convinced anyone has defined where the goal post may be. In terms of the COVID-19, many say we need the vaccine and then things will be safe again. But efforts are already underway to get back to business so that the economic conditions can stabilize. While basic business function can return, may of the activities we all counted as normal will likely not return for quite some time.

As an example, before COVID-19 did you go to a regular, recurring networking meeting? While all of those have tried going virtual, it just doesn’t have the same result. Yet we may not return to the full, in-person gathering like that for a long time.

The more important question is where is the goal post for answering the cries of Black Lives Matter? I don’t say that lightly. I am sympathetic. I can honestly say to my Black friends, I don’t yet know what I can do.

Unfunding police and funding a reparation program doesn’t make any sense because that is a one-time bandaid. When that money runs out, and it will, what do we do? We will have new generations of Black children growing up to what?

I am very willing to work on the exact ‘what’ question that can move us to better harmony.

Even when we get closer to equality, there will still be human nature to recognize we are all different. In my world, I love that diversity. That is what keeps things interesting and exciting.

PS – A good friend, West Point Grad, and fellow Veteran sent me this link, commemorating D-Day, which by the way was June 6. Nobody said much about that. If you still believe in America, this is worth the watch.

Leaders: Are You a Pretender or a Contender?

If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.

However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.

After many years working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers and leaders who are pretenders versus contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.

Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.

In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.

BELIEFS

Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.

If a string of circumstance has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunity through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunity with a more optimistic mindset.

BEHAVIORS

Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.

If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.

RELATIONSHIPS

Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.

If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.

RESULTS

Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.

When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.

On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”

The Remedy

The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.

Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.

Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.

When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.

team building via trust

I’ve coached hundreds of business people helping them develop more effective leadership skills. Whether you own the business or you’re climbing the ladder in a larger corporate setting, you can benefit from finding a close, confidential advisor to help you develop the extra skills that make a difference. Use the contact forms here to reach out. Let me introduce you to my proven programs for leadership growth.

Leaders: What Holds You Back?

It’s the Leader’s responsibility to make the big decisions. Yet there are times when leaders freeze. They can’t make the call. They can’t pull the trigger. What holds them back?

In my early career I was a banker. We had a saying. “There are old bankers and there are bold bankers, But there are no old bold bankers.”

Bankers were supposed to be the pillars of strength in the community. Seldom was the banker looked upon as the guy on the leading edge. Being bold and daring was typically something no one did.

Taking Risk

The issue at the center of the matter is risk. Take the risk or not take the risk, that is the question.

The same holds true for decision making in general. Every choice has its consequences. We teach that to our kids. You make a choice and something is going to happen; good or bad.

In business, the choices might make or break the company. Should we expand? Could we relocate? Should we sell or merge? Add staff or cut back? Hold firm or change?

The list goes on.

But what holds us back?

Here are the main reasons decision can be so darn hard.

Fear of failure or being an outlier – not everyone is a natural risk taker. The self-talk going on inside our brains keep us from being bold. The messages may even go all the way back to childhood, when you were told ‘you’re too slow, not smart enough, not good enough.’

Maybe you were brought up being told ‘you should never bring attention to yourself’.

Making the big decision may do just that; bring a lot of attention.

Fear of reputational risk, internally and externally – Businesses of all sizes have something called ‘reputational risk’. You work hard to build brand identity or at least you should be working on that. Having a solid brand identity is your reputation as a company. Taking a departure from that identity can hurt your reputation.

Think about 2010 and British Petroleum’s Texas Gulf rig fire Horizon. It brought severe reputational risk and brand damage to BP.

Lack of resources (human and capital) – This is possibly the biggest reason decisions get stalled. Whether fact or fiction, the sense that resources are lacking causes many delays and misses when it comes to key decisions.

reviewing numbers

Fixed way of thinking (mental schemas) – Companies with a tradition or legacy get lulled into one way of thinking. As an example, having a large fixed asset base does not guarantee you will make money by simply ‘not screwing it up.”

Competitive decisions must be made daily to keep your winning edge. As the times change, so must your ways of thinking and guiding the organization.

Defining “Bold” – The meaning may vary according to the individual. When a leader senses it is time for a ‘bold’ decision, the level of boldness may be limited to just his or her mindset.

Sharing the idea with your team may reveal the idea is not so bold after all. It’s just a necessary choice about next steps.

Groupthink can lead to complacency – This too is a big derailer for great decisions. If you are a leader committed to team empowerment, you want the whole team to weigh in. That is a noble idea most of the time. But habitual development of a group-think mindset can lead to a false sense of security.

The Leader is still on the hook for the final decision.

groupthink

Lastly, being bold would not be received well by the organization (or the Board). You might possibly even get penalized for stepping out there. This is a simple reality about leadership. You ARE on point. You were put there to make decisions.

Not all of your choices will be applauded. That is your risk of being the leader.

Take Inventory

I challenge my executive coaching clients to periodically re-calibrate by reviewing their decision making patterns. The question is whether the recent decisions have been consistent with the picture of the leader they want to be, not the leader they’ve been before.

Staying true to the leader you want to be should drive your decision-making process. You can still incorporate all of the team dynamics you want, but the final choice rests squarely on your shoulders.

That’s why they pay you the big bucks! (OK, that’s funny for many of us.)

The Perfect Tool in an Imperfect World

Managers are worried about their remote workers. If you’ve never had anyone work away from the office before, it can be unnerving. How can they trust what is going on? Are hours being used wisely? How can I make everyone more accountable?

On the flip side, employees who work remotely worry they are not going to be given credit for the effort they spend and the work they produce.

Having this air of uncertainty doesn’t help anyone feel productive. I’ve heard of talk about upping your communication. What does that mean? More zoom?

Leaders providing clarity of purpose, assignment, and mission must have ways to drive accountability. Simply talking more won’t get there.

It’s not a perfect system.

How can the two sides connect to provide clarity of expectations and certainty of delivery? Well, you can have daily zoom calls, but who wants to do that forever?

You could build a giant database but who needs that burden piled on top of the already difficult process?

There is actually a very simple yet elegant system I’ve used for years. Calling it a system may scare some people away already. Maybe process or habit is better.

Explaining the Solution

The process is called Big 5. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time I’ve written about this before.

But now is an especially significant change in workforce activity.

Big 5 can be the missing link for all you leaders who are worried about productivity and workers who wonder whether the boss knows your value.

Here’s how it works.

On a regular basis, every employee (managers included) writes out five goals or expectations they have for the upcoming month. These would be your ‘big rock’ priorities or ‘must wins’.

Next you write down your five biggest achievements for the past month.

Neither of these sections is long text in paragraphs. No, it’s simply bullet listed items.

You can add some comments about resource needs, constraints, etc. But focus first on goals and accomplishments.

Then send it to your boss.

gratitude smile

The boss can review and give feedback. It becomes a flash moment of coaching between manager and employee.

“I like your goals 1 thru 4, but let’s talk more about number 5.”

“Wow, I had no idea you got so much done last month. Thank you for such a big contribution.” Or…

“Sam I like what you can do for us. However I see you’ve been struggling with this remote working environment. Let’s talk about ways I can help you.”

When the next period rolls around, the things you said were goals should become accomplishments. Now, you update the goals.

Take really big, longer term goals and break them down into those bite size tasks.

Frequency of Reporting

Usually, when I teach Big 5, we start with monthly check-ins. However, with the massive change in the workplace, like what we have right now, you might ask for weekly updates.

I once ran a large project with very high velocity, rapid-fire activity. A weekly check-in made more sense. I was providing my client with a status report every Monday, so I had my team do a weekly Big 5.

When they left on Friday, they dropped me their individual reports. I could compile them into a summary picture I gave the client on Monday.

It was powerful, productive, and very effective. Huge goals were achieved, deliverables were met, and the client was very happy with the results.

What About Me?

You might be saying I don’t have a team, but I do have a boss.

Ok, write your Big 5 and give it to the boss. When he/she says “What’s this?” Explain it to them. Say you want to create more clarity and you believe this can help.

That is exactly how I was introduced to Big 5. The colleague who created it actually worked for me many years ago. We were going through tumultuous times in our industry and days flew by.

Finally, one day he dropped a printed copy of his report on my desk. Sure enough, I said, “What’s this?” He explained. We had a brief discussion about the content. He left with perfect clarity of my expectations for him and his team.

Next month he was back again with an update.

And we thrived after that with better clarity, alignment, and a sense of achievement. Sure, we had meetings in between, but the big objectives were being conquered.

Fill the Gap

If you are worried about the productivity of your team, introduce the Big 5 process. If you don’t think your boss understands what you do, give them a Big 5 report. Rinse and repeat.

I’ve added a special online course to my curriculum just for Big 5. If you are interested in learning more, click here. I am offering a special 40% discount for readers of this blog. Yes, regularly $47 now just $27 while this article is in circulation until June 15, 2020. Again, click here to take advantage of this exclusive offer.

Big 5 has even replaced employee ranking and annual assessment tools. If you’re doing Big 5 monthly, when the annual review comes around, you have 60 data points to discuss. That, my friend, is powerful.

It’s by far not a perfect work world right now. Why not use a more perfect tool to manage the crisis?

Big 5 Performance is created by Roger Ferguson of ISIHRConsulting. Big 5 has an app to automate the process. It even manages the reporting with the next level up managers. If the app is something you want for you, your team or your company click here.

Important Versus Urgent, or Both?

increase your productivity

We live in a crazy, busy world. That won’t be a surprise to anyone. The at-home quarantine for COVID-19 have even increased the load on workers and families everywhere.

Your day gets crammed with to-do list items that feel overwhelming. What can you do?

If you’re like most people I know, (myself included) you want to get it ALL done. But how do you decide what gets done first and what can wait?

In the face of this global crisis, turning to some old-school thinking just might help you.

Prior to becoming the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower served as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during WWII. As a general officer, Eisenhower was faced with daunting decisions concerning the tasks he needed to focus on every day. This led him to create a principle that can help us priorities our tasks by looking at whether something is urgent and important.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower uses four squares to define various stages. Stephen R. Covey in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People further popularized Eisenhower’s concept.

Here is how the four boxes work:

Box 1: Do First

I like to call these things that are both important and urgent your “big rocks”. These are the must win items to get done.

Many of my clients admit that the big rocks can get pushed aside in favor of clearing out a bunch of smaller things. There’s a flaw in that idea though. Fill your day with a bunch of little things like those 135 emails, and your day will be gone before anything got done on the big rock.

The things you know you need to do first can be put aside because of perfectionist tendencies. The thinking sounds like this, “I know this is big. I am not prepared to make it perfect, so I am going to wait.”

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Get busy on those Big Rocks, now!

Box 2: Decide When

Box 2 items are important but not urgent. So what they need is a decision about when.

Items placed in box 2 can have life changing impact; remember they ARE important. Yet you have time to decide when they get done.

Here’s where we need to talk about urgent versus important. People often associate urgent matters with being important, which is not always true.

There are many examples of Box 2 items. Getting another degree can be very important to your career advancement, but does it have to be done right now? Exercising is important for health, but you can schedule the right amount of exercise.

Staying productive

Box 3: Delegate It

Have you ever spent time doing something you thought was so urgent and important, but when it was done you realized it was not?

If so, congrats. You are in great company.

For Box 3 it is important to learn when and how to delegate things. If you lead a team, you have resources. You can salvage your time in favor of letting others do these particular tasks.

If you are in the middle of working on a big rock (Box #1) and the phone rings. You don’t have to answer it. If you see who called, ask a team member to return the call and find out what is happening.

Box 4: Delete It

You want to avoid much of Box 4 items. Examples are playing video games, watching old TV shows. Any mndless web browsing may be a Box 4 item.

You need time to invest in working boxes 1 and 2. The more time you free up by simply deleting things, the more productive you will become.

OK, yes, we need “downtime” to unwind and relax. Take that time. But watch yourself for wasted time doing very unnecessary things. That junk email doesn’t even need to be opened. Just delete it.

Procrastination and the Eisenhower Grid

As I mentioned earlier, procrastination can get you confused about this grid. Sometimes it’s easy to make distinctions between your tasks, other times not so much.

Everything you have in front of you does not fit in one of the boxes. The reality is that all things do fit somewhere, just not in the same box.

Picking up that gallon of milk has to wait while you find your car keys. There is a logical order to things.

For procrastinators, while you wrestle with box 1 and 2 things, you fill your day acting on things in boxes 3 and 4. Ultimately, you feel a sense of missed opportunity.

Here’s How to Use the Grid to See If YOU are Procrastinating

To see if you are spending the bulk of your time in the first two quadrants, do a one-week assessment. To do this, make six copies of a blank grid, and use one grid per day, listing the tasks you accomplished or the activities you did, and the time spent on each thing.

When all of the grids are full, combine the Monday-Friday data onto your sixth summary grid and calculate how much time you spent in each grid, then break those numbers down into percentages.

Evaluate how effectively you spent your time and whether your process needs to be reorganized.

6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.