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Ever Hear of the Tall Poppy Syndrome?

tall poppy

The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is something that has been spoken of for centuries. The picture is of a field of poppies. As you look out, there will be a few poppies growing inches above the others.

In society, we have tall poppies sprout up in every generation. These are the innovators, the visionaries, and the leaders who take big risks. Currently, think of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Formerly it was Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Individual industries have tall poppies too.

Enter the Cutter

Yet for all the disruption and success a tall poppy leader may build, there is an undercurrent. There are forces wanting to cut down the tall poppy. For ease of discussion, let’s call these forces the “cutters.”

When you dive deep into the story of a specific tall poppy there will always be cutters who appear. The cutter cannot condone the seeming success of the tall poppy, so they cause distractions, challenges, and outright accusations of wrongdoing so that the poppy is undermined.

Cutters are often driven by fear of change. They may not understand the direction the tall poppy is going so they doubt the vision. They begin working hard to be sure the plan fails. The more the tall poppy leader tries to explain the direction, the more the cutter digs in to cause a failure.

I’d venture a guess that if you are reading this and can identify a moment in your leadership journey where you became the tall poppy, you likely had cutters surprise you. Someone you thought was a peer and friend changes once you got that next promotion. Or a neighbor who you enjoyed spending time with suddenly turns on you when you describe a newfound success with your business.

What Can Leaders Do?

If you assert yourself into a significant role and become the tall poppy, beware of TPS. Cutters will emerge. It always happens. There is something in the human psyche that just snaps. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen with everyone, but it does happen with some.

As said above, cutters often operate from fear. Fear of change, fear of being left behind, or fear of being overcome and shut out in the end. Leaders need to identify those who may be showing signs of fear or pushback. Explore the situation. Ask good questions so the person who may be showing the objections can express their doubts.

Let the Haters Hate

Diving straight to the bottom line, I use a blunt but meaningful phrase; let the haters hate. If you stand into a leadership role, there will always be cutters; those who want you to fail. You have to let them do whatever they choose to do. Good leaders stand by their vision, convictions, and values. If those are solid, you can’t worry about the people who want to undermine your effort. Deal with it with grace, patience, and resolve. Let the rest know you are not wavering.

Attribution

I was introduced to this TPS concept by Doug Garland, M.D., a retired orthopedic surgeon from California. You can read more about him here www.DougGarland.com. He will be a guest on my podcast in the coming weeks.

podcast title page

You’re On Mute

It’s a familiar phrase that has rapidly risen to the top of our vocabulary while we attempt to engage and conduct business remotely. Zoom, Teams, Google Spaces, and Slack have risen to the top of the heap for connecting these days.

Yet often as the session opens up, someone has that little red “X” showing the mic off. They start talking. All others see are lips moving but no sound. People start yelling “You’re on mute” like the volume of their message can get thru the silence. It’s comical but ever-present.

I was thinking about this idea and landed on a few deeper thoughts we should consider.

“You’re on mute” can mean several other things in our fast-paced, all too busy world of commerce.

Cancel Culture

The emergence of cancel culture has placed many on mute. Not by their own action but by the action of others declaring a person should no longer be listened to. I don’t know how that happened, what with the freedom of speech and all, but it has.

I agree there has been a shift in the freedom people feel entitled to use to say just about anything., Perhaps it is true that the rise of social media is not really all that social. Users blast opinions and beliefs without regard to who might be listening.

Call me old school, but just because you have the freedom to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. With freedom comes responsibility, or at least that’s what I was taught many years ago.

The Boss’s Role

Anyone in management should take a serious look at their mindset about who, when, and how team members should be heard. Placing a “you’re on mute” button on every worker’s desk implies “I don’t trust you” or worse yet, “you’re not valued here.”

The Great Resignation is teaching us that the cultures we thought we had in our companies are not that great. Workers are voting with their feet to walk away from toxic environments. If you are scratching your head wondering why so many people have resigned from your company, you should take a hard look in the mirror first.

Have you either intentionally or accidentally put people on mute? The modern, post-pandemic worker is not going to suffer that any longer. There has to be a change.

Think about the Story

If you feel like others have put you on mute, think about the stories you are telling. Is your story old and tired, down and out, or upbeat and energizing?

On my podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense”, I interviewed Kurian M. Tharakan, the author of “The 7 Essential Stories Charismatic Leaders Tell.” He defines seven basic stories that help build a message. These stories apply to companies and brands in general, but they also apply to leaders who are set on motivating and inspiring those who follow them.

Without the right story, your message may just be noise in the minds of others. Stop the noise, offer clarity and purpose, then you’ll get taken off mute real fast.

Check out my Podcast “Leadership Powered by Common Sense” available on all major outlets.

Who Lights Your Fire?

This quote from W.B. Yeats is a great reminder for those of us in leadership roles. Let me repeat it :

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. ~W.B. Yeats

When we try to train our team or build a new product or service, education surrounding the details is not the ultimate “win.” No, our focus as leaders should be inspiring those we lead to take a personal vested interest in the success of what we set out to do.

You can teach, preach and educate all day long, but until you impress someone to buy in to the project, it really doesn’t matter how much they know about the subject.

There’s another saying “Harness the power of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection.” That sums it up.

When was the last time that you, as a leader, were properly focused on this kind of impact? Do you light people’s fire in their hearts and minds or do you simply teach them something new?

There is a big difference. In today’s high-tech world, information flows in an instant. Instead of competing with information at the fingertips, why not think about ways to inspire your team?

Here are a few powerful ideas you might try.

Show Them Why the Outcome Matters.

I once took responsibility for a new team. I decided to visit each person’s area, asking them a bit about what they did. At one desk, a lady who had been with the company for years sat quietly pushing paper from one stack to the next.

I watched this a few moments then asked, “Where does it go when you’re done?” She said “I’m not sure. So and so picks it up then I never see it again.”

I asked, “Where did the first pile come from?” She again said I don’t know.

So I made some notes then started doing my own research.

Know Your People

When you spend time with your employees, make it matter. Don’t just expect your time and title to inspire them. Employees want a leader that pays attention and genuinely cares about them.

Great leaders take the time to know the ingredients before they can create the best recipe for success. Employees are most inspired when a leader takes the time to know them and show that they have their best interests at heart.

Learning is Still Important

Employees do appreciate the opportunity to learn. Teaching new skills or sharing new information helps them feel appreciated and valued. However, the delivery of that information is important.

Don’t just lecture, but share. Create a space for open dialogue about new material you want to spread. Adults learn best when they have a chance to engage in a feedback cycle where they state in their own words what they just heard. This is your opportunity to fine-tune and/or affirm the message has been received.

There’s a Fine Line Between Success and Significance

We all want to feel significant about what we do and who we are. Jobs can actually provide that IF the boss allows it to happen. If the boss is too concerned about his own reputation and doesn’t care about the people on the team, no one gets any significance from the job. Heck, they even get very little sense of success.

However, if you as the enabled leader decide to share the significance with each team member, you can win much greater employee trust.

Ownership, Not Just Accountability

Enforcing accountability is a key component to sustaining performance momentum. However, when you can give your employees “ownership” in the process of defining how accountability is enforced – you inspire trust and a desire to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Giving your employees ownership means that you have shared and entrusted them with your authority. You are now allowing your employees to “call the shots” based on what they believe is in the best interest of the team and the organization.

For example, create a special project and allow an employee to take ownership of it. Outline your expectations for the end result, but allow him or her to take charge of the project. Agree to meet once a week and observe the change in attitude and desire to perform.

Respect, Not Just Recognition

Beyond appreciation and praise, show your respect and admiration for the work of your employees. While people want to know they are respected, you must establish the ground rules for how respect is earned.

There are too many recognition addicts in the workplace. In a world of fierce competition, we have come to believe we are our own best allies. We believe we must rely only on ourselves. We believe we can sell ourselves better than anyone else. But this attitude puts our long-term careers in danger.

Unfortunately, too many people want recognition because they forgot the significantly greater value of earning respect. Re-train your employees about the importance of respect and lead them in how to earn it. When they see the greater impact respect delivers, they will be inspired by your example.

Bold Leader Moves in the Current Market

bold leadership

What do you think is a bold move nowadays? How do you look at employee engagement? With the turmoil in the job market, what has your company or organization done to secure the team you have and attract new talent when the need arises?

On occasion, doing something bold is not limited to something NEW. Instead, you just might be surprised about ways to engage with and retain your talent team.

The current job market is simply too frenzied to allow your best people to walk out the door because YOU failed to do something you could have easily done to keep them happy and engaged.

Ezra’s Findings

For the past two years, I’ve had the good fortune to partner with the Ezra Coaching team. Ezra is a coaching platform that is exclusively virtual. Interestingly, it was conceived and under development long before the COVID pandemic hit. Ezra provides coaching on-demand, virtually.

Ezra is a global solution that, since its inception, has coached over 15,000 clients during the past two years. In addition to delivering world-class executive leadership development, Ezra tracks emerging trends in the employment environment.

In a recent survey. Ezra captured these five ideas about keeping top talent. The data was accumulated using a poll of the client companies Ezra supports.

A word in advance. Like I said previously, something bold does not have to be something new.

1. Listen to them

2. Encourage open communication

3. Work in ways that suit THEIR life

4. Invest in L&D (coaching is a great place to start)!

5. Prioritize their wellbeing

Task #1, Listen to Them

This is something leaders and managers have struggled with for decades (so do husbands and wives, but I digress). The art of effectively and engagingly listening is lost on the pace of business these days. I’ve talked to too many managers who say they simply don’t have time.

At the same time, I routinely hear from leaders that they feel frustrated because their bosses are not listening to them.

How do you respond? The popular phrase is “empathetic listening.” It involves truly listening to the employee without formulating your next statement. Give feedback like “So what I am hearing is…” Let the other person either agree or clarify.

Some might argue it’s a common courtesy to properly listen to someone else when spoken to. But again, the pace of business has adversely influenced the way managers and staff connect via listening.

Bold leaders in today’s work world are stepping up and changing the way they listen.

Task #2, Encourage Open Communication

Communication is actually a very complicated exchange requiring much more intentional effort than most organizations provide. For a leader to create truly open communication, there has to be a framework and accountability.

The framework needs to define methods, practices, and formats that contribute to communication. Thinking about this at the team level, Patrick Lencioni in his “Five Habits if Dysfunctional Teams” describes the need to develop a team charter and a team contract.

The charter defines who and why the team exists. It becomes the foundation of thinking and understanding about the team.

The contract applies a bit of structure. I’ve seen powerful team contracts that go so far as to explain how to reel in a team member in an open meeting who has run away with the agenda. I’ve written before about one approach called “ELMO” which is an acronym for ‘enough, let’s move on.’

The accountability part is where the manager or leader takes responsibility for dealing with bullies on the team or personalities who derail the team effort. Team members allowed to get away with belittling others’ opinions do too much damage to good communication.

Task #3, Work in Ways That Suit THEIR Life

This may be the one truly new, bold idea. It applies to finding ways to receive employee input about their lifestyle and expectations for work-life harmony (not balance, but harmony).

The ramifications of the pandemic lockdowns have reshaped everyone’s views of how to work. With only a few exceptions requiring ‘boots on the ground’ work situations (e.g. manufacturing, assembly lines, and heavy construction), many workers have reshaped their ideas about what makes a good job.

The old 9:00 to 5:00 is obsolete. The standard 40 hours in the office will not survive either. Studies tell us workers are asking for a hybrid office at the least or at best, fully remote.

Companies of all sizes are going to need to do some soul searching about the best way to respond to these expectations.

Task #4, Invest in L&D

Learning and development have historically fallen by the wayside when budgets get tightened. It’s often the first HR program to get slashed. Ironically, it’s the exact place companies should be focused.

Taking people off the street and getting them coached and trained to be ideal employees inside your company is a valuable commodity. You can try as you might to find perfect fits for every job, but usually, a good fit only gets you just so far. You still have to develop your people.

Providing ongoing development opportunities keeps people engaged and inspired. If they can see some kind of opportunity forward, they are more likely to stay with you.

Task #5 Prioritize Their Wellbeing

This is an all-encompassing idea. First, you must decide what ‘wellbeing’ involves. It’s no longer limited to compensation and benefits. Companies are having to do much more to answer questions about things like environmental, social, and governmental stands (ESG) or diversion and inclusion.

Recent news has highlighted cases, where 100-year brands have failed with certain ESG initiatives and the workforce, is not happy about it.

No doubt the new pressures on leadership teams continue to rise. In many cases 30 and 40-year veterans are simply choosing to retire rather than redirect their traditional methods of leadership. New, emerging leaders are making names for themselves by boldly taking on these challenges and guiding companies to new horizons.

The Last Question

The real question is, where do you, as a leader, stand? Are you even aware of what it might take to keep high performers satisfied? Do you care?

The management style of “My way or the highway” may be officially DEAD! I certainly hope so.

Ukraine Invaded by Madman Leader

A Leadership Fail

This past week, the world witnessed the senseless invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces led by madman Vladimir Putin. His deranged vision for seizing control of Ukraine was met with harsh criticism and strong tactical resistance. Global allies rallied to rebuke his moves.

The whole tragic affair, whose outcome is yet decided, highlights the extremes of leadership gone bad. Since this publication is never a political rant but a thesis on leadership, I’d like to break down the issues surrounding Putin’s latest colossal misstep of epic proportions.

First, let me say this. What Putin has chosen to do in the past several months has proven his shift from governmental chieftain to insane lunatic, neither of which deserves the mention of ‘leadership’ in the description.

Sidebar

Frequently, I see discussions and commentary on various social media channels that ask questions about dictators and oligarchs having leadership traits. I routinely respond to those saying “NO.” You can’t be what they really are and qualify as a leader.

Everything I have ever learned and experienced under true leaders results in people being lifted up, not beaten down. A leader builds consensus and collaboration. They find the “win-win.” The leader supports doing the right thing regardless of how difficult it may be. There is never any notion of being swayed by popular opinion.

What has been evidenced in the past few weeks coming from Putin himself, suggests none of the above. Rather, it screams spoiled child throwing a supreme tantrum. One that will cause fatal outcomes to hundreds if not thousands of lives, both on the Ukrainian side as well as his own Russian troops. The assault will destroy infrastructure, making conditions in Ukraine unlivable for generations to come. Senseless it is.

Rising to Power

The first step contributing to this situation is a rise to power. In any organization with a diagram explaining “who’s on top,” there are some boxes that indicate one person with authority over others. It is true in business and government. With the designated position comes a certain power. I call it simply the ‘Power of the Position.’

People get promoted, assigned, or elected to these positions. Anyone sitting in the role, who should be exercising true leadership, will have access to this positional power at all times. However, the use of that power should be limited for use as a last resort.

Example – I am your boss. We have exhausted all effort to get you to be a better employee. Now I must resort to giving you notice, you are fired.

Hiring and firing is a classic example of the Power of Position.

In the case of dictators and madmen, they manipulate systems to gain this power. They then use this power as their first choice. It is their sole purpose, to press this power onto the people they have under control. They rule with fear and intimidation.

Anyone opposing the head is treated with severe consequences. ‘Do as I say or go to jail or be executed.’

Putin is not without his own allegations of such cruel intimidation. Now he is putting it on display for the whole world to see.

His actions have already been called lunacy. Statesmen who have dealt with Putin in the past are admitting his recent behavior is way beyond his ‘usual self.’

How did we get here?

A common question I’ve heard about this growing problem is ‘how did we get here?’

I refer to my ‘Frog in the Pot’ analogy. The story says you put a frog in a pot of water, then slowly turn up the heat. Eventually, he boils to death. Yet if you boil the water, then drop him in, he jumps out immediately.

Authorities inside the Kremlin have no doubt been suffering the plight of the frog in the pot. Over the past decade, Putin has slowly amplified his rants and views of the West. The circle of governmental authorities elsewhere in the org chart have taken these orders and proceeded with compliance.

In my humble opinion, the key question right now is “Will anyone in Russian government circles be willing to challenge Putin?” Will the protests inside of Russia persuade him to stop?

Or has his ego gotten so big that, in his mind, there is no way to save face other than to destroy all of the Ukrainian countrysides?

While I certainly hope and pray that is not the case, it is seeming unlikely that such a coup is likely.

Will sanctions actually work?

Next, we turn to the possibility that government sanctions can deter or turn around the Russian attacks. The basic problem with sanctions is that the world’s economy is so tightly intertwined, taking one country out of the loop has unintended consequences for others.

Unlike the world’s economy of pre-war WWII, we now have complex networks of interdependent events, obligations, and currency swaps that drive the whole world. It’s the ultimate domino chain of events. COuntries and continents rely on energy and commerce to fuel currencies and sustain valuations across the globe. Once we start tinkering with bits and pieces, we may well adversely impact a wider segment of the world’s economy, not just Russia.

Leaders on all sides are carefully measuring the impact on their own countries. As they should.

Leadership Contrasts

The contrast between leadership examples is extreme. Inside Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been solid, resolute, and outright inspiring.

His now-famous response to President Biden’s appeal to help him evacuate shows exactly where Zelenskyy stands. “I don’t want a ride, I want ammunition.” was his response. That, my friend, is powerful, motivational leadership.

Putin on the other hand, issues daily rants and tweets about this and that, none of which is very coherent. Citizens inside their own country are protesting and questioning the initiatives.

Again, I’d argue that Putin’s action has done nothing to demonstrate real leadership. Rather, he’s shown himself a cruel dictator with no regard for human life. Zelenskyy rallies his people, delivering empowering messages, touching the hearts of the whole world.

The Outcome

The final outcome for this horrific siege will be resolved by solid leadership. Plain and simple. Whether it comes from a coalition of allies forcing Putin’s hand to stand down or from within the governmental org chart that is Communist Russia, we need leadership to prevail.

It is my prayer that the latter rises up and creates a more peaceful shut down of the invasion. And I hope it happens soon.

Smart Ways to Nurture Trust at Work

nurturing trust at work

Leaders understand the need for having better trust in their organization. It impacts companies of all sizes. However, just knowing you need trust and wanting to build trust does not make it happen. Nurturing trust at work is the leader’s job.

Trust is a very basic need to form healthy relationships whether at work, at home, or in the community around us. We all know the saying “you do business with someone you know, like, and trust.”

Nurturing trust is not something that can happen by accident. It takes direct, intentional effort to get there.

Recent studies, principally the “Project Aristotle” published by Google in 2016 highlight the key role that trust or ‘psychological safety’ can play in producing high-performing work teams.

Since then I have had the opportunity to share something I call the “Team Trust Model” which is a simple-to-follow framework for ways leaders can do more to build trust at work. The model has been used at large global brands like Coca-Cola and UPS as well as my smaller privately owned client companies. It works.

Recent Updates

Not long ago, I had an opportunity to present and record a workshop with the Growth10 community of coaches. Growth10 serves entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to grow. The growth might be measured in terms of company performance, but it also includes individual growth as leaders.

Those who join Growth10 enter a national community of like-minded business leaders. In addition to receiving one-on-one mentorship and participating in a mastermind group, members are part of the G10 Community. You have an opportunity to network with hundreds of high-performers, engage in expert workshops each week, access on-demand micro-lessons on key topics, receive a member briefing every Thursday morning, listen to weekly podcasts and participate in a peer learning community. You’ll get the answers you need from your peers and our expert content providers.

In my workshop for G10, I presented my Team Trust Model(c). Here is the replay of the workshop.

A recorded session with Tom Healy and Joe Buzello at Growth10.

More to Follow

If you are interested in learning more about Team Trust, visit https://dougthorpe.com/teamtrust or buy the Book.

nurturing trust can be accomplished by using this simple guide

And, if you would like to know more about the groups I facilitate, visit my peer-to-peer group page.

Leaders: Setting a New Standard

best boss

Be a Better Boss

Welcome to 2022. Yes, we have entered a new year. Like many of you, I have reviewed my accomplishments and plotted a course for this new trip around the sun.

As for me, I have chosen a noble task.

I want to help 10,000 business leaders and company owners become Better Bosses. Let’s start with WHY.

For a long time, there has been a saying among HR professionals. “People join companies but quit bosses.”

Have you ever felt that way? I know I have.

The individuals who get promoted into management jobs and/or start businesses rely on chance and circumstance for ways to figure out how to lead a team. Experience tells me that most fail in some way or another.

I think it’s time we seriously focus on making our bosses be accountable for better behavior.

It’s Tradition

First, let’s be real. In western commerce and so-called ‘big business’, we have this strange tradition of promoting the brightest bulb on the string to be a supervisor when a spot comes open. The logic goes something like this.

“Sally is our best producer. She would be the best one to lead this team.”

WRONG! Instead, we usually end up ruining the best producer and frustrating the team because Sally doesn’t do well leading people. (No knock on Sally. It could be a Bill or a George here too.)

In the case of the entrepreneur, this person has an idea for a product or service. So they start a company. The idea takes off. Pretty soon the owner knows they need a bigger team to keep things going. Hiring begins and the fun starts.

Like the promoted high-performer, most small business founders seldom know how to manage people.

In both cases, you can hope for a collection of positive experiences with prior bosses to model good habits, but guess what? Those folks had their own journey arriving where they were. So did you really get a good lesson?

Nature or Nurture?

Then there is another thought. In the halls of most business schools, you can find a raging debate among academicians about whether leadership is born or bred, nature vs nurture.

I’m not going to rehash the whole debate here. Instead, I will say this. I have met and worked with clients who clearly have more natural talent to be a leader. They have a sixth sense of reading people and making decisions. They are comfortable at the podium speaking to a team or a whole organization.

These individuals do shine in positions of leadership, running companies. And, like professional athletes, they get better with coaching to help them refine the natural-born skills they seem to have.

I wanted to play sports in school. But growing quickly to six feet tall before any notion of hand-eye coordination kicked in limited my future in athletics. Obviously, I was NOT a natural-born athlete. The few things I’ve tried since then, like golf or tennis, have required hard work.

On the other hand, I have worked with clients who did not start with “natural” leadership ability. Instead, they embraced the need to be a leader. They worked hard to learn concepts, principles, and values they could use to become better leaders and, hence, better bosses.

Therefore, my observation is simply this. Some people may be born to be leaders and get better with training. Others can learn to be better leaders with the right coaching, hard work, and commitment.

Back to Human Resources

I knew a global HR professional who boldly led a charge to redesign his company’s entire HR role. His premiss said, “If we trained better managers, our people problems would go away.”

While the company didn’t accept the theory outright, they did permit him to test it with a large global project he was assigned to support. The results were never empirically proven, but the overall success was positive based on exit reviews and employee feedback.

The idea is solid. Better bosses can make a difference in the way work teams view the company. More importantly, it impacts the quality and quantity of work contributed by employees.

Today’s Situation

Add to the above factors the rapidly changing world of work today in the face of COVID lockdowns, remote working, and workforce change.

Studies are beginning to emerge wherein labor pools are voicing one common theme. People are tired of toxic cultures created by bad bosses. Here are a few of these studies:

Management teams who have historically ignored employee feedback are being systemically voted out of office. No, I don’t mean literally, because there is no such vote. But symbolically, they are receiving a “no confidence” vote from people walking off the job. The “Great Resignation” it is being called.

In essence, the modern workforce is saying “Enough!”

Should You Be Surprised?

If you are in a management position, now is the time to take action. There is always time to review what you do with your team. You can make a change.

Want to be a better boss? Here are a few tips to help get the journey started.

First, disconnect from the tradition and legacy of your company’s “less than” culture. Take a serious inventory of the standards enforced by tradition. Does the culture rely on command and control leadership styles?

More specifically, does the culture rely on any aspect of interaction that serves to diminish an employee’s status? Is it customary to always talk down to the people below you by job grade?

When an employee brings bad news, are they subjected to ridicule and admonishment?

Break that chain. Treat people with respect. No one deserves to be subjected to harsh emotional lashings for trying to do their job.

Next, decide on an intentional change in the way you look at your responsibilities.

Shift your thinking. Can you do more to represent your team? Are there better ways to show your support for them?

Then, upgrade your communication ability. Are you the best communicator you can be?

Step outside your own box for a moment and get a read on the way your messaging lands. Ask for some 360 feedback about your communication style and effectiveness.

Just because you say it, doesn’t mean people get it.

Make your communication a true two-way exchange. State your issues, then ask for feedback on the spot. You can start with a simple ask from your people, “Please tell me what I said, in your own words.”

Communication is King

Also, don’t rehearse tragedies.

This is a line I picked up from the hit TV show “Blue Bloods.” It means don’t dwell on the bad stuff going on. If something fails, make a one-time review of why, learn from it, then move on. Don’t keep dredging up the negativity.

With this also, never use a team or individual fail to justify a ‘public execution.’ Good people fundamentally know if they made an error. You as the boss, don’t have to keep reminding them of it.

Finally, learn how to read the room.

Pay attention to what is going on around you. If people seem on edge about a problem that is in front of them, you have to handle the problem first. Then you can announce a new piece of guidance or instruction. You can’t teach a sailor to tie a knot when the ship is sinking.

The New Year

Turning the page on the calendar is a great way to reset your own focus. Please take a moment to think about how you manage and lead your team.

Can you be a Better Boss? We all can do something to up our leadership game. Why not join me in making 2022 the year of the Better Boss?

Positivity vs Negativity

As I sit down at my trusty old PC to write some thoughts on this, the week before Christmas, I was tempted to “mail it in” by digging into my archive and dusting off an oldie but goodie.

Yet as I pondered what to do, I started thinking about the early Christmas we just finished celebrating in my family. The wife and I like to alternate Christmas day each year to allow our married kids to swap with the in-laws. Spreading the wealth if you will. Not hogging ‘the day’, but rather willing to be flexible in alternating years.

So this was the year for early Christmas. The whole clan gathered for the day to meet, eat, swap gifts, and let the grandkids get the maximum benefit from our brand of family Christmas. It was simply great.

Thorpe family Christmas

The jolly crew is pictured above. BTW we do ‘themed’ celebrations. This year was a Camo-Christmas.

Anyway, one of the gifts the grandkids got (the boys, that is) was a set of building pieces based on a little STEM learning. The kits were to teach the basics of electronics. The parts would snap together to complete a circuit. There were buzzers, bells, motors, and gadgets to plug in-line to feed off a battery pack. The successful accomplishment was realized by a whole range of noises, beeps, buzzes, and whirrs.

I coached my 8-year-old on the principles. In no time, he was building pretty amazing layouts. The first, most basic concept he mastered was to follow the flow of the circuit, starting with the positive side of the batteries, winding thru the model, and ending on the negative side. Positive and negative.

There it is – the Muse for this Message

Thinking about the positive and negative made me start thinking about the world around my little family unit. Today, there is so much negativity. Seldom do we focus on the positives.

Speak with any colleague or friend and it won’t be long before something negative comes up. Maybe I’m writing an indictment on my circle of friends. However, I really don’t think so. Too many good people are getting beaten down by the negative rhetoric and the cynicism in the daily news.

I decided to take a quick poll, just within my own head. Here are the scientific results I just made up.

There is good in the world

My neighborhood goes all out decorating for Christmas. Yards are strung with all manner of “exterior illumination” man can buy (thank you Clark Griswald). Then beginning right after Thanksgiving, hayrides begin cruising the streets taking large groups on tours. It’s a fun, enjoyable human experience.

Last year my street started hosting what we call Candy Cane Lane. Our cul de sac turns into a unified theme park adorned with large 6′ lit candy canes. Every night, Santa appears in person along with several elf helpers to hand out candy canes to the hayrides. OK – yes, it’s taking things up a big notch, but the neighbors on our street love doing it.

Yes, that’s me and Susan, my wife

Being on the front line, looking at humanity from behind a fake Santa’s beard can be very cathartic. You should try it sometime. The little kids stare in amazement. Even the adults melt into memories of childhoods long ago. Times when things were not so complex or demanding. It’s easy to see.

It offers a brief break from the otherwise crazed world we live in. And people LOVE it.

By doing something positive, our little group is restoring joy and harmony.

Volunteerism is alive

I have the joy of working with several non-profits. The spirit of giving and serving is alive.

It’s not easy, nor are the finances bountiful, but dedicated souls to can identify with causes they love are still coming out in droves to help, serve, and give.

We all can make a difference

You’ve likely heard the story of the boy and the starfish. A small boy was walking on the beach. The high tide had washed hundreds of starfish onto the sand. An old man saw the boy bending over, picking up a starfish, and then throwing it into the sea.

As the man came up to the boy, he said “Young boy, what are you doing?”

The lad said, “I am saving the starfish.”

The old man said, “You’ll never make much difference.”

The young boy looked down at the starfish in his hand and said “I’ll make a difference for this one.”

We can spread positivity one person at a time.

Just show up

I thank a fellow coach, Mike Van Hoozer, for helping me learn the concept of focus in the moment. Every human endeavor is not really about the long journey, but rather the way we show up in the moment. Our legacies and reputations are built on moments not big projects or programs.

As an example, professional baseball players build careers after a long run of moments. Moments when they come to bat. Bottom of the 9th, ballgame tied, two outs, and two strikes. One pitch, one swing can make the moment. Strikeout, you might be forgotten. Hit a home run and you will forever be remembered.

The same is true for good managers and great leaders. You build the reputation as a good boss by the moment by moment steps that happen every day.

Good people show up in the moment. When your moment happens, you can choose to be positive or negative. Choose positive.

Please join me

For 2022, please join me in choosing to be positive. Let’s drown out negativity. Sure there can be differing opinions. But when it comes down to it, why not decide to be positive?

Lift people up, don’t tear them down. Even your so-called enemies. How hard will it be to at least hear them out?

Right now I am thinking of a few people I know who have sunk so low into the muck that it will be hard for them to read this. Heck, they’ve probably already scrolled past. That’s ok. But if I can get hold of them, I’m going to do all I can to be positive, encouraging, and helpful toward them.

There is a better way. Please join me in spreading a little positivity. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous New Year. Leave a comment or share with your tribe.

Best Boss at Christmas

As we run screaming into the end of the year 2021 (where has this one gone?), it’s always a good time to reflect, regroup, and renew our thinking for the year that is just around the corner. The best bosses I have known use this time to make reflections.

There are those among us that do very little reflective work. What I mean is, they seldom stop to look at their own impact and effectiveness. Instead, they meander through life doing what they want to do, choosing what they choose, and paying very little attention to the consequences.

In my mind, I am fortunate to never work with that kind of client. Why? First, because they never call for coaching. Remember, they are NOT reflective. More importantly, they wouldn’t be a good coaching client. I’d likely get blamed for producing no results. So to that end, I am happy they never call.

The Good Guys

However, it is my good fortune to work with clients who want to make a difference. They want to become better bosses. These heroes are willing to stop and ask the tough questions like:

How did I do as a leader?

What could be better?

Which things worked well, what didn’t?

What should I do more of?

And what should I STOP doing?

It is by allowing these reflections that one can achieve growth. Change is inevitable. So why not be intentional with the changes? Build a plan for mastering your skills as a leader. You can’t do it all in one giant leap forward.

Rather, you have to decide on specific behaviors or skills you want to use to become the leader you want to be. Decide on a few key things that can make the most difference right now. Then get help understanding the details about what you can change.

It’s in the Bag

When asked about leadership, I like the analogy of the golfer. In the bag is a set of clubs, 14 by regulation. Each club is designed for a specific purpose like hitting long or hitting short with finesse. Good golfers know how to use each club with varying degrees. The golfer will ‘bend’ or ‘shape’ shots depending on the course in front of them. Choosing the right club and the right swing in the moment is what differentiates good golfers from great golfers. Or in my case, pretty mediocre weekend golfers.

Building a leadership skill set is like the golfer. You can add tools to your leadership bag. But one size does not fit all. You have to practice to learn how to shape the moment with the tool you’ve chosen.

As an example, communication can be one of those leadership tools. Your communication can be very direct if you must make some form of announcement to the group. On the other hand, if you are coaching an employee, your communication may be very warm and empathetic.

Examples

Other examples of leadership tools (or clubs – no not lethal weapons) used by the best bosses are delegating, accountability, decision making, motivation, listening, speaking, planning, giving feedback, nurturing, coaching, character, integrity, etc.

The list can be long. You need to decide the elements and attributes that you want to define your leadership style and substance. The longer the list, the more work you will do to improve your skill at applying these behaviors in the moment.

This is why you simply cannot work to develop all of the skills in one big push. You have to work with them throughout your career. In my experience, you will have whole seasons of work where certain skills will dominate the situation. A select few of your leadership skills will be needed to win the day. You won’t ignore or forget your other leadership skills, you just won’t call on them as often.

Year-End Tune-Up

The calendar year-end is always a convenient time to remember the need to look back, evaluate, and make new plans.

I’m not talking about funky new year resolutions. Instead, I mean valuable reviews of what has happened before and a focus on what can lie ahead.

The best bosses include just such a look at their own ability to lead. Having the self-discipline to sit down and prepare a year-end review is a great start to making next year your best year ever for the best boss ever, YOU!

PS

Let me also wish Happy Holidays to all my friends and colleagues who do not observe Christmas time celebrations. Blessings to you and your families!

How to Get What You Want: Negotiate Your Way to Success

team negotiating

Do you ever encounter situations when you feel very strongly about how you believe a project should be planned, carried out, or completed? Do you sometimes feel annoyed that the others involved don’t see the situation the same as you do? Here’s where good negotiation skills come in handy.

Regardless of the career you’ve chosen, there will be times you’ll find negotiation necessary. Learning this critical skill will also improve your personal relationships.

Review these tips for negotiating a situation to get the results you want:

Know your material. Avoid in-depth discussions about topics and situations that you’re not yet educated about. In advance of conversations or projects you know are coming, ensure that you understand the ins and outs of the situation at hand. Preparation is your friend in negotiation!

Listen. Keep an open mind to what the other person has to say. We’ve all had the experience of rushing in and insisting on what we want, only to discover later that it’s actually quite similar to what the other person wants (we just didn’t know that because we weren’t listening).

Find areas of agreement. With a little luck, you’ll only disagree on one or two minor points. Make a list of where you’re in concurrence and where you’re split. This will concretely illustrate how much negotiating will actually be necessary and how much you really do agree.

Talk about the issue at hand first. Avoid trying to discuss solutions until you both see the problem similarly. You’ve got to be on the same page about the issue before you can possibly be on the same page for the solution.

Keep your emotions out of it. Consider the situation as business. Remain objective at all times. Keep your cool.

Avoid intimidating behaviors and manipulative comments. If you fall back on these unsavory methods just to get your way, you lose credibility with the person with whom you’re negotiating. Then they stop being willing to listen to you.

Be honest and use integrity. If you misunderstand an element of the challenge or their proposed solution and suddenly realize it, say so. Keep your word. Respect the other person.

Ask for the other person’s ideas. Solicit suggestions from them on how to resolve the situation. Listen carefully, and be willing to implement some or all of what you hear.

Remind yourself that you’re on same side. After all, you both want to resolve the issue. If you focus on finding common threads, that will help.

State your ideas for a solution. Make your case, too; tell them why you believe it’s the way to go. For example, you could say something like, “Rather than make in-person follow-up visits once per week to new customers, I think it’s a better idea to do them monthly and use the off-weeks to follow up by phone.”

• To make your case in this example, you may follow up by saying, “This way, we’ve got time during the off-weeks to develop new customers. We’ll be widening our customer base while keeping contacts with customers we already have.”

Show flexibility. You’re two separate people with two separate sets of ideas and perspectives about the issue at hand. Avoid expecting to get your way 100%.

Learning to use effective negotiation skills will help you in accomplishing any goals you have that involve others. Skillfully listen, remain non-emotional, discover points of agreement, honestly state your ideas, and show flexibility when interfacing with others. Get what you want by putting these excellent negotiation skills to work for you!

trust at work