Leadership: Weathering the Storm


The U.S. has been experiencing some storms of epic proportions. Rain, snow, wind, hail, and tornadoes have whipped the country for weeks and months. Property damage in the millions and, sadly, lives have been lost.


For anyone in a leadership position, you too will see storms happening from time to time. While waiting on the weather to change is something we all must do, there are leadership storms that require a different response.

First let’s look at the the nature of the storms that hit us as leaders. Just like temperatures and other atmospheric conditions drive the weather outside, there are factors that create storms in our professional lives.

1. Market Conditions – The work you do is impacted by changes in the markets. I use the term “markets” in the broadest sense. For this discussion, think of markets as the target population or audience you are serving. If you sell a product or service, you have a target customer base; those who might buy and use your work. Attitudes in your market may change over time. Your target base may be persuaded to go another route by someone else’s newest offering.

When this happens, you experience a kind of storm. When the market begins a significant shift away from you, you have a storm brewing that may be there a while. The economics of your situation drive the storm.

2. Your Tribe –  Turmoil within your own tribe can cause storms. If fractures begin to split the team apart, you have to act quickly to resolve the issue(s). Find the root cause and deal with it.

Festering, boiling division within a work team can cause tremendous stress for everyone involved. As the leader, you have to handle the matter. Find the reason and bring the key team members together who may be driving the rift.

3. Personal Upheaval –  You’re human. Life gets tough. As a leader, you have to find ways to balance what is going on inside YOU with what is going on around you. The best leaders know the difference.

Personal issues stay separated from team issues. It’s not easy, but that is why you are where you are.

4. The Change Around You –  The world around you has its own way of moving ahead with or without you. As things change, be ready to embrace the change. Reluctance to change causes storms for those who object, dig their heels in, and fight change.

Be open to change. Better still is to be the catalyst for the change. Drive it yourself. Don’t wait for others.

Your Response

When these storms hit, and they will, you have to be a first responder. Your organization is looking to you as their leader for direction. Regardless of how severe the impact of the storm may be, you have to dig deeper than those around you. You have to find resilience and resolve to be able to make decisions, and steer the team through the change in circumstance.

This strength may seem like it is super-human. In reality, it can be nothing more than a focus; a keen sense of purpose. Stay centered on what you know to be true, what you have come to believe is right, and rally around those core values to find the way through the storm.

Being in the midst of a storm is never time to change ships. You have to ride out the turbulence. If damage is found, yo have to make repairs immediately. Again, you must center on the core principles that drive your leadership.

If you are still in a tenuous position as a newer leader of the team, reach out to your support network for extra help, guidance, and support.

[callout]Looking for ideas to expand your influence, or increase your team’s performance? Click the link below to arrange a FREE consultation for ways I can help.[/callout]

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Building Trust – Why It Matters

Team Trust

In any relationship, trust is a key element. Without it, things don’t last very long. With trust you can withstand most anything. Managers at every level of an organization must seek first to build a foundation of trust within their circle of influence.

The world is craving a new story about leadership and business, one that underscores the way people trust and contribute to each other. Without trust, the chances for a long-term success are diminished. Those who recognize the importance of building business and leadership foundation on trust are likely to find themselves doing what is right and what is good for stakeholders in the long run. ~Lolly Daskal

In business, trust operates at many levels. A company’s customers or clients must obtain a level of trust in the product or serve before agreeing to buy. Achieving this dynamic can work in either of two ways. First, the prospective customer gets to know the representatives of the company. If they learn to like these people, over time, a trust builds. Once that trust is established, the decision to buy is easier (not automatic, just easier).

On the other hand, a product or service gets a reputation for reliability and performance. Trust grows, clients consume. Sometimes the public never really knows the people behind the product, they just know they trust the brand. Think about Google or Apple. Most of us never get to know an individual Googler or an Apple genius in person, right? Yet we trust the brand to bring us the service we crave.

Team Work

We all know it takes teams to build a brand. Within those teams, the highest performing ones have their own levels of trust. Therefore, while we may never know the people behind the product we like and trust, they make it happen nonetheless.

That brings us to the leadership that drives those teams. There is a six part model that clearly does a breakdown of the primary elements for building high trust team who will perform at higher levels that team without such trust.

Team Trust
Team Trust

Following this process, you can find ways to build trust within your team, growing the depth of the trust relationship. Once trust is established, there is no limit on the things your team can produce.

Here are the 6 steps to building trust within your team

1. The People –  Trust begins with each employee answering their own key question “Do I even want to be on this team?” Jim Collins in “Good to Great” calls it getting the right people on the bus. Clearly your hiring decisions impact the potential for a positive answer to this question. If you hired the wrong person, they may quickly question whether they even want to be on the team. Yet even with the best hiring decisions you can make, the individual must answer this question for themselves once they land. After orientation, there is a buy-in period that is inevitable. Trust cannot begin until everyone on the team is positive that “yes, I want to be here”.

2. The Purpose –  Team trust requires agreement with what the team is trying to accomplish. In “Tribes”, Seth Godin talks about the nature of a tribe as being aligned with a central purpose. Every work team is its own tribe. The purpose must be aligned.

Businesses build operating units for a purpose. Teams within those units operate as a contributor to the overall success of the organization. Trust grows from the alignment with team purpose, and, again, individual understanding of that purpose. A leader has to build understanding. If the purpose is not clearly articulated to everyone, then trust lags.

3. The Plan –  How will the team get this done? Many of us are planners, others are followers. Either way, knowing about the existence of the plan makes the way forward more achievable. Belief in the plan also builds trust.

Even when employee buy-in (#1) happens and a clear purpose is understood (#2), the plan is critical for establishing trust. The plan helps the team understand steps, goals, and means to get their work accomplished.

4. The Practice –  Is what we are going to do consistent with the plan. Are skills sets accounted for? Are resources made available? Said another way, have we eliminated any notion of being set-up to fail?

Policies, procedures, and practice makes the way clear for high trust performance. If rules and regulations become a hindrance, the trust erodes. The confidence for being able to perform is put in doubt.

5. The Performance –  Once we begin working, is our performance going to be measured in ways that are accurate, meaningful, and valuable. Measuring performance offers proper feedback for fine tuning the purpose, plan, and practice. Therefore, adequate performance measurement is vital.

Employees who never receive coaching about their performance cannot be expected to give trust and higher performance. This is why more modern tools like Big 5 Performance Management make such a big difference. Rather than waiting on tired and untimely reports like the old fashioned annual reviews, Big 5 offers real-time feedback that can be communicated and coached every month.

6. The Payoff – Success begets success. Momentum is like the big flywheel. It takes time to start turning, but once it is in motion, it is hard to stop. Teams who celebrate success can taste it. Realizing that all of the effort used for steps 1 thru 5 result in success builds higher trust within the team. The payoff instills a desire for more effort and more momentum.

Trust Reward

The end result is a high trust team environment. Once the tribe establishes this bond of trust, there are few things that can deter their ongoing success.

The manager/leader who sets the tone for building this kind of trust will themselves reap the rewards for higher performance from the team.

In upcoming articles, I will dive deeper into each step. In addition, I will be offering practical tools the leader can use to perfect each step.

[reminder]If you have an experience operating within a high trust team environment, please share your story here.[/reminder]

Or, if you want to start NOW with improving your team’s level of trust, call me for speaking, coaching, or facilitation of a team exercise.

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Leadership Playlist Built by Experience

Great Play List

I like a good play list as much as the next guy. Tunes I pay attention to are ones that have grown in my heart and mind over the years. Artists who hit a particular chord with me stay on my list a long time. I don’t shuffle all that often. However, I am open to new songs from young, aspiring artists.

Great Play List
Great Play List

Just like a good play list, the tapestry of leadership has been woven from experience shared with mentors, old bosses, and sometimes, younger, aspiring leaders too.

I like to look back at the influences that are now colorful threads in my own tapestry of life. I find it helpful to do a look back on a regular basis. By looking back, I get a fresh renewal of ideas and values.

Who Made You Be You?

Think back on your own story. Who contributed to getting you where you are today? More importantly, who made you who you are today?

No doubt there are experiences and little bits of perspective sprinkled all across the weaving. Good and bad, do’s and don’ts, to be versus not to be.

It is the wise who can take a bad experience and learn from it. Lessons like “OK, that’s NOT something I ever want to do again” are just as valuable as the good experiences.

If you are blessed, you will have a series of people who made great contributions to shaping you to be you. Perhaps they shaped values and principles for you. Or maybe they taught valuable lessons with tangible results. Some likely helped you set personal boundaries. Was there anyone who told you about the power in YES and NO!

Revisiting the Milestones

I firmly believe there is value in revisiting the milestones in your life. Take a moment to reflect on the mentors and their lessons. Recall the details of what they were teaching you.

Renew and refresh your own understanding of those key teaching points. Remind yourself of the golden truth you may have once learned.

We get beat up in day to day living. We forget things. Or more likely, things get fuzzy in our minds. We forget the distinct edges of the key principles we once learned.

Values get compromised and worn down.

This is why taking time to reflect and renew your core beliefs and strengths is so important.

We’re a Product of our Environment

There is little denying the fact that we are the sum of our parts. Whether good or bad, the experiences from the earlier chapters of life shape us and make us become what we are today.

You can reject the bad things that happen. That is fine. Going through a particularly bad chapter in life will make you stronger if you choose to learn from that experience. Take away a lesson. Let it simmer and ruminate into a contributing element of growth.

You can choose to be bitter, but that is very counterproductive. Rather, choose to take the best possible outcome. Even if the lesson is “I never want to be that way”, it is  a lesson that can mean something significant for your own growth as a person and as a leader.

Stroll Down Memory Lane

Allow yourself to recall the best parts of the learning you’ve experienced through life. Don’t get caught up in  a pity party of lost opportunity or bad choices. Instead reflect on the things you chose to keep. The ones that made you grow. By properly aligning the right experiences, you will see a beautiful path of stepping stones.

Look at the outcome. Celebrate a win. Rejoice in victory. Use that energy to push you forward today. Let it power you through a tough time you may be experiencing right now. Realize that the sun really does come up tomorrow.

Use the best from your life’s tapestry to mold and shape your future from here forward. Hit the replay button on that play list of greatest hits. Love it, use it.

Making Things Bigger Than They Really Are

Chicken Little courtesy Disney Corp

Do you sometimes make things bigger than they really are? Managers and leaders need to be on watch for overstating what is going on. More importantly, they need to throttle their internal reaction to the things around them.

The great social activist Chicken Little was quoted as saying “The sky is falling” when he had merely been struck in the head by a falling acorn.

Chicken Little courtesy Disney Corp
Chicken Little courtesy Disney Corp

Blowing things out of proportion can be a problem if you are the one in charge. Yes, that would be a challenge if you do it on a regular basis.

One of my clients introduced me to a new term – “catastrophizing”. This means making a situation far greater than it really is. The way we entered this discussion was talking about limiting thoughts. I had asked the client to give me some examples of limiting thoughts they suffer. While a few of the answers were the usual, this one surprised me.


As an executive, you are confronted with problems almost daily. Things happen; often not as planned. You have to field questions, hear news, and make decisions.

What if everything you were given was turned into something far more tragic? What if something someone failed to do was declared a disaster when, in fact, it is was just a setback or a simple honest mistake?

Think about the energy both emotional and physical you would spend dealing with such catastrophes.

If you act like Chicken Little you will get yourself worked into a panic. You will be running around in a frenzy, stirring up others to join your panic party. Even if you leave others out of it, your own waste of energy and emotional can conflict and confuse the situation.

[shareable cite=”Mark Twain”]There has been much tragedy in my life; at least half of it actually happened.[/shareable]

Why do people do this?

I don’t practice psychology, so I cannot even venture a technical argument as to why some are prone to act this way. However, I can share observation from years of experience on the job.

People who catastrophize often do so for several reasons.

  1. A Sense of Dread –  They are convinced life has been mean to them. The proverbial cup is half empty all the time. Therefore, any new event that arises must be bad. They are blinded to any possibility of a favorable outcome.
  2. Lack of Trust –  People who lose trust in mankind look at problems as people problems, all the time. Their way of thinking says the other person is the reason these things are bad.
  3. No Hope –  Theirs is a world of doom and gloom. They are convinced things are hopeless. In their minds, blue skies are really just a funny shade of gray.

Sadly, I have run into these kinds of co-workers and professionals most of my career. Thank goodness they are not everywhere, nor are they in leadership very often. But when they are, look out.

The biggest problem I see with catastrophizing is the waste of energy and resources. Whether the energy is emotional or physical, the expenditure of energy trying to avoid the catastrophe is great.

The Solution

One of the wisest words I ever heard was the phrase “The problem is not the problem.” Think about that. Whenever you are confronted with what seems like a problem, check first see if what you are being told is a problem is really the problem. Here’s an example.

Missed deadlines are usually a problem anywhere. Unless that deadline is a life or death situation, most missed deadlines are bad, but not the end of the world. Having a missed deadline, though it seems big and real, may not be the problem at all. Rather, the real problem may be with process, procedure, or people. Are the deadlines even reasonable considering the mix of the above elements? Or has someone failed at their task?

Being able to properly discern the root cause of an issue is preferable to simply catastrophizing and running around like Chicken Little.

The sky is not falling. It’s just an acorn.

The Margins in Life

Life Margin - Changing Lives

Do you think about margins in life like a business thinks about profit margins?

For business, the different between its total/gross revenue (income) and its expenses is its margin. Without margin, you can never grow. Clearly a negative margin means you are going backwards, headed to bankruptcy or liquidation.

Life Margin - Changing Lives
Life Margin – Changing Lives

Life follows a similar paradigm. While few of us think about margins in life, the dynamic is still present.

Life margins give us a better sense of balance between work, life and faith. Rather than seeking the elusive notion of life balance as its own end game, you can seek margins and a sense balance becomes a pleasant reward.

In his excellent book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson, M.D. describes margin like this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life pre-scheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.

When we run at full speed all the time, we burn out. Our tanks get empty. We suffer mental and emotional breakdowns. I’m not trying to over-dramatize this issue, but talking about these extremes gets us to a better understanding.

Here’s an example. I am overwhelmed at the number of young people who, when asked “how are you doing?”, respond “I am so tired!” Is that you? I ask tired over what?

Yes, maybe you have filled your time with countless obligations to do things, running here and there. Young, growing families feel the tug of this tiredness for having chased little kids all day long. I get that (been there, done it).

Creating margin starts with better management of obligations. The first key is to say “NO” on a regular basis. Just stop taking on all the commitments that others may place on you.

Here’s why this is important

Being a man of faith, I submit to the idea that we are all here for a bigger purpose; a divine appointment. We need to be good stewards of the things God has given us. This includes not just money, but time, relationships, knowledge, and wisdom and so much more.

We all have the mandatory commitments; job, family, and perhaps church. On top of those demands, if our days are consumed with less than meaningful trivia, we are not being good stewards. Saying no to certain people and events gives us margin to use for the greater good, which, ironically, often involves other people and events.

Therefore, having margin means we still have something to give to the greater good; our family, our friends, or our communities.

When we give in this way (again, it’s not all about money) we receive the blessing of knowing others have been helped. Getting outside of ourselves and sharing life with others brings the sense of balance. It rewards you with a new found energy for life.

I was fortunate to live this path in 2008. During the U.S. financial crisis and recession, I had to close a company I had worked for 5 years to build. It was brutal both emotionally and financially. At the bottom of the trough, I chose to create a non-profit for job seekers, called Jobs Ministry Southwest (JMS). We were a non-denominational, faith based ministry. While I could have been overcome with grief about losing my company, I chose to adjust my margins. I made an intentional decision to get out of myself and do something for others.

JMS opened in September of that year. Then, over the next several years, we served over 2,500 professionals who were in transition. They had suffered life altering job loss. JMS helped them through those changes.

Creating more margin involves making some tough choices. When those choices are made for the right reasons, not selfish ones, you will be blessed by the outcome.

Have Zombies Attacked Your Organization? Part II

Zombies in Your Organization?

About a year ago I wrote this catchy headline for an article in CIO Magazine. Sure enough it generated one of my highest rated blog posts.

Zombies in Your Organization?
Zombies in Your Organization?

The article centered on behaviors that can undermine work teams. The principles I explained then still apply today with perhaps even more vigor.

Here’s a recap:

For quite some time, I have advocated and observed that among most work teams with any size, there will be a distribution of talent that looks something like this:

  1. The top 20 percent – the folks you can always count on, and the ones you tend to turn to most often. These are your top performers.

  2. The bottom 20 percent – employees who have developed behavior patterns that are repeated regularly and for whom there is some form of disciplinary action pending or being written as we speak. If they are just short of disciplinary action, at least you know their performance will be the same most of the time. It’s low performance, but nonetheless the same.

  1. The middle 60 percent – these people can be scary. This is where the zombies first appear. Performance within this group is generally stable. However, one day Joe or Jill is just fine, then tomorrow they come to work with serious attitude problems or something that looks like a “quit and stay” mindset.

From my experience this last group, and arguably your middle tier, is the toughest to manage. If we apply a bell curve to just this 60 percent of your team, you will have high-end and low-end performers there too. The trouble though is knowing who will fall where on that curve on any given day. Oh yes, many dedicated souls in this group hit a “stride” and produce well enough day after day, but the trouble is the ones who seem fine one day then just show up way off the chart the next.

Once someone in this group adopts the bad behaviors, they become the zombies in your organization.

Letting these zombies stroll through your work area day after day can disrupt otherwise good team chemistry. Colleagues who one day seemed to be working well together start arguing over trivial matters like who failed to fill the copy paper last or who cooked fish in the microwave (both true stories).

The zombie walk has its physical evidence too. Slow, lethargic behavior starts to emerge. Energy seems zapped. This condition is very contagious. Strong dedicated workers like those in group one do not easily influence the zombie. Rather, the zombie makes the good person think of the questions, “Why me? Why should I keep busting my you-know-what while Z-Man gets by with everything, doing nothing?”

Managing the zombie population can consume brain power (yes, pun intended). Managers get distracted dealing with problems this crew can create. Making adjustments, settling arguments, and exploring ‘what happened’ are all indicators you are dealing with zombies.


The reason I suggest things may still be slipping is that the ever-increasing reliance upon technology limits the otherwise human interaction in the workplace. Why text me if I am right next door to you?

Or, show up for a meeting a few minutes early and bury your heads in a smart phone when you could be having meaningful discussion with a co-worker, your boss, or someone you supervise; something like “Hi Ted. I heard your Mom was sick. How’s she doing?”

Technology can make us all act like zombies. Don’t agree? Just look at the hundreds of videos of smart people walking into objects outside their buildings. You may need to look in the mirror and be sure YOU haven’t turned into a workplace zombie.

Managing “Up” the Organization

Toxic people at work

Managing up the organization is a great catch phrase. It gives comfort to those who feel their boss is less than a good one. I’ve seldom heard this concept used in relation to having a good boss.

Managing Up the Organization
Managing Up the Organization

Working for a good boss, you merely do your job. You hope your effort is rewarded appropriately (which it likely will be since you believe the person to be a good boss).

The “managing up” concept frequently appears when the immediate manager is not so good. I find a serious conundrum when trying to coach these principles to a junior executive who is having trouble with their boss.

The better idea may be to forget “managing” your boss since that really will never happen. There are reasons he/she is your boss, whether you can accept them or not. The organization has made a choice to align the structure the way it is with the people who are there for the moment. It is unlikely this person will respond in any way other than hostile to any attempt you make to manage them. Your effort may actually backfire, causing you to be tagged as a rebel or malcontent.

I submit that the better concept is to manage yourself; get hold of your own expectations and values. Then begin crafting a strategy to build the relationship with this challenging boss. It’s often an all-hands on deck call to action. By that I mean you must muster all of the skills and abilities you possess to build the bridge and get to the other side.

As Mike Myatt writes in his column:

“Here’s the thing – the best way to be looked upon favorably by those you report to is not through various charades and other forms of skulduggery, but by simply doing your job and serving them well.

Good leaders want you to succeed. They welcome a sincere challenge of their instruction so long as the question comes in the form of finding ways to make a better team. They get that.

Bad managers take offense at the occasional question. They see such action as a threat to their role. While they may never respond directly, they simmer and boil over your effort to “one up them”. Regardless of how well intended your message may be, they may still see it as a threat. There is no good way for you to know the difference.

When it comes to dealing with a boss you feel needs to be managed, here are some suggestions.

  1. Engage –  Be present in the moment. Do not let prior disappointments cloud today’s topics. Soldier on! Keep doing what you believe is the right thing.
  2. Be open –  Take your shots at sharing the plan, vision, practice, and standard you have set for your own team. Seek ways to align those things with the values the boss is laying out. If the boss has failed to share such information, then yes, you have a bad boss, but you must lead the effort to find alignment. Leading is far different from managing. Exert your own brand of leadership for the moment when alignment is missing.
  3. Show loyalty – Never let the boss have a reason to believe you are not loyal. Reinforce the ways you support the goals of the department. You should never be a ‘suck up’ about this, but you can be clear in your communication. If the trust you are giving is violated too many times, then you have no choice but to seek another role or another job elsewhere.
  4. Give advice –  Ask for permission to offer another opinion before doing so. If your input is rejected on a routine basis, then see #3 above.

The most common theme in worker/boss relationships where the employee feels a need to manage up is the absence of meaningful communication; solid, two-way flow of information and understanding.

Yes, bad managers fail with communication regularly. As the person reporting to such a boss, I go back to the gold standard: do your job. This is why I love the Big Five Performance system. As an employee, Big 5 gives you a regular monthly method for focusing on the 5 things you plan to accomplish in the new month and the 5 things you achieved last month. Give this simple, one page (sometimes half page), bulleted list report to your boss. Ask them for feedback.

If the boss aligns/agrees with what you submit, then you have some degree of harmony. If they don’t agree, then hopefully it creates a moment to connect, coach, and discuss the matters that are out of alignment. If the manager won’t respond at all, then refer again to #3 above.

Using a simple tool like Big 5 creates the catalyst for open, nonthreatening communication about what is going on. Plus it provides the added benefit of documenting what you have been doing. If there is ever a question of performance, you have a collection of actionable items that were either agreed or endorsed before you began them.

[offer-box href=”https://dougthorpe.com/call” linktext=”For more information about Big 5 Performance – Click Here” securecheckout=”false”]

As communication improves, trust grows. As trust grows, you begin to see the imperfections melt away. I’m not being naive about this. I have worked it this way myself with several of those to whom I have had to report. Most situations worked out quite nicely. Yet there was the reality that I chose door number three (above) on a couple of occasions.

While you may never really manage up the organization, you can do things to build a better relationship with the superior who may need such handling.


The Ultimate In Leadership Is Coaching Your Team

Learning Styles Debunked

The best leaders are coaches for their followers. Leaders who have amassed big followings impact their people by providing inspiration through coaching.

Yes, there is the charismatic leader who mobilizes huge crowds, but the leaders who really make a difference are those who coach their followers to great achievement. They invest time and energy in helping others grow and prosper.

One aspect of how to coach your team is about understanding their learning style. For decades there have been educational theories floated about that say people learn by three primary ways:

Auditory –  hearing what is said, something conducive to lecture-type learning

Tactile –  touching, feeling or experiencing their way through the subject matter

Visual –  pictures and diagrams to teach the information

Learning Styles Debunked
Learning Styles Debunked

While these three methods have been prevalent learning modes taught to aspiring teachers and educators, there is new science that suggests they are simply not true. Here is a video presented by Dr. Tesia Marshik where she explains the reasons to debunk the traditional three learning styles. According to Dr. Marshik,

“When something is so pervasive it doesn’t even occur to people to challenge it. We need to be willing to critically reflect on beliefs even if they are commonly believed. Another reason why this persists is quite frankly: The idea of learning styles is sexy. It sounds good. It feels good. Saying that people have different learning styles is another way of acknowledging that people are different, and differences are important, especially when it comes to the classroom. But me saying that learning styles don’t exist is not saying people are the same. People do differ in many important ways; learning styles just isn’t one of them, and just because some ideas sound really good, just because we really want something to be true, doesn’t make it so….

As she points out, there are two key reasons why these myths should be busted.

Waste of Time

They are a colossal waste of valuable resources placed on learning systems, leaders, and coaches i.e. if you have to figure out what style each of your students uses, then you are wasting time when you could be doing something far more productive for those whom you have been charged with coaching/teaching.

The whole fact that learning styles doesn’t matter, to some extent should be a relief. Because it is one less thing that leaders have to worry about. At the very least, we can’t afford to be wasting our time and resources trying to promote learning styles when there is no evidence that it actually helps learning. Especially when there are research-supported strategies, things that we know we can do, that actually do impact learning.

Placing Labels

Learning styles label people in ways that create limiting thoughts. If someone has been programmed to believe they are a visual learner (or any of the three), they immediately tune out an instructor who may not be presenting that way. The label becomes a convenient excuse as in “I don’t learn that way.” Labeling yourself as a (specific type of) learner or labeling an employee as a learner can not only be misleading, but it can be dangerous. If you as a leader think that you have a particular learning style and that you only learn in one way, that might prevent you from trying other strategies that could otherwise help you learn the information better.

Likewise if you as a student believe that you have a particular learning style, that could cause you to shut down or lose interest when a coach isn’t coaching in a way that is consistent with your preferred style. That might actually perpetuate your failure but it’s not because you couldn’t learn that way; it’s because you gave up and you stopped trying. This whole idea that learning styles don’t exist in many ways should be further good news. It means all of us are capable of learning in a variety of ways. We are not as limited as sometimes we think we are.

Given that I am big proponent of eliminating labels within work teams, I like the idea that we can get rid of this body of work that says people learn in only one of three ways.

Need a coach

Group Think

Work teams are too diverse. Investing effort in grouping employees by learning styles would cramp any leaders effort to grow his team. No, the better alternative is to individually get to know those with whom you are working. Offer various experiences with learning; mix it up. Keeping things fresh and energized is a far better way to keep everyone’s attention.

[reminder]How do you handle the traditional view of learning styles when trying to coach your teams?[/reminder]

Citation: Various quotes and content quoted from Dr. Marshik’s writings found here.

Super Bowl Goes Business School

This year’s 51st installment of the NFL Super Bowl (American football) was a spectacular case study of principles you should/could learn in the best business schools.

Please indulge me this moment to explore what I mean. I accept that there are some of you out there who hate sports analogies. To those, my apologies, but this one is too big to ignore.

Super Duo at Super Bowl
Super Duo at Super Bowl

The New England Patriots took on the Atlanta Falcons. Each team’s back story is compelling in it’s own right, but I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say the headline here was whether Patriots duo of Bill Belichick (coach) and Tom Brady (quarterback) could pull off a record setting 5th Super Bowl win.

As the game began, it was clear the Falcons had upset in mind. They came out on fire. It seemed nothing was beyond their reach. The Patriots on the other hand, looked flat and confused. Despite their tenured experience being on this stage, they were the ones who first looked like amateurs. Then the tide turned.

Belichick and the Patriots erased a 25-point deficit in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time Sunday night, for the fifth title in the legendary head coach’s New England tenure.

Read more at: http://nesn.com/2017/02/even-bill-belichick-had-to-make-sure-patriots-super-bowl-win-wasnt-a-dream/

Belichick and the Patriots erased a 25-point deficit in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time Sunday night, for the fifth title in the legendary head coach’s New England tenure.

Read more at: http://nesn.com/2017/02/even-bill-belichick-had-to-make-sure-patriots-super-bowl-win-wasnt-a-dream/

Belichick and the Patriots erased a 25-point deficit in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time Sunday night, for the fifth title in the legendary head coach’s New England tenure.

Read more at: http://nesn.com/2017/02/even-bill-belichick-had-to-make-sure-patriots-super-bowl-win-wasnt-a-dream/

Belichick and the Patriots erased a 25-point deficit in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time Sunday night, for the fifth title in the legendary head coach’s New England tenure.

Read more at: http://nesn.com/2017/02/even-bill-belichick-had-to-make-sure-patriots-super-bowl-win-wasnt-a-dream/

Belichick and the Patriots erased a 25-point deficit in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time Sunday night, for the fifth title in the legendary head coach’s New England tenure.

Read more at: http://nesn.com/2017/02/even-bill-belichick-had-to-make-sure-patriots-super-bowl-win-wasnt-a-dream/

Belichick and the Patriots erased a 25–point deficit in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time, for the 5th  title in the legendary head coach’s New England tenure.

Business School Principles

Here are the key things that should be taken from this lesson is business management, leadership, and execution. Then I’ll discuss the details.

  • Planning
  • Preparation
  • People
  • Coaching
  • Execution
  • Heart


Every great business effort includes planning. You make start-up plans, annual plans, quarterly plans, project plans and plans of all kinds. Whether you have a particular method of planning, the presence of the planning discipline is critical.

[shareable]Failing to plan is planning to fail[/shareable]

The Falcons had their plan that relied upon the league leading scoring team’s ability to score at will. They knew they could run and pass with great confidence. They began with a mix of those tools being implemented to start the game.

The Patriots had their plan which usually involves key ways to attack whatever weaknesses Belichick believed he saw in the opponents abilities.

As the game opened, the first quarter was scoreless, with both teams looking more like prize fighters than football players. Then the game exploded with the avalanche of points scored by Atlanta, 21 to be exact before New England was able to put points on the board.

Clearly something was wrong with the Patriot’s plan. As reality set in, there was a need to adjust the plan in mid-course. This is where Belichick does his best work. More on this in the execution section below.


In football preparation is broken into two fundamental parts.

First, there is the basic training and practicing where conditioning, blocking and tackling get done. Players and coaches work on strengths and abilities to fine tune an athlete’s preparation individually. As a team, the squads break up and work on their play calling and execution.

Practice allows plays to be run time and time again until all the players know exactly what they should be doing on each play. They learn each other’s roles so they can harmonize on the team, supporting each other, whether blocking on one play or handling the ball on another play.

There preparation is about repetition so that much of what has to be done is conditioned into the person’s mind and body.

The second part is game preparation. Depending upon the master plan that has been developed for the actual game, the preparation gets tuned to rehearse how that game plan will be used. It might be as simple as some plays are deemed vital to the plan so they get run time and time again in preparation for that week’s game. Other plays are not practiced quite as much.

Just by virtue of making it to the Super Bowl, it can be said both of these teams knew how to prepare for performance at a high level.


The magnitude of organizational effectiveness as demonstrated by Super Bowl contenders is amazing. Front office, coaches, players, and support staff all carry huge weight in making a franchise achieve Super bowl sized greatness.

Yet when the the whistle blows and play begins, the spotlight is on the players and the coaches. The guys actually running the plays on the field make the difference. Having the right person in the right position, running the right play according to the right plan all comes down to the selection of talent.


No one has proven an ability to plug-and-play better than Bill Belichick. Players get hurt. Players come and go. Yet Belichick has developed his own system for player evaluation and selection that is unmatched. The names on the backs of the jerseys change each year, but the success of the organization does not.

Belichick didn’t wait for halftime to begin coaching and making adjustments when he saw the original game plan was not working. He was quickly moving around the sidelines, talking to players, drawing diagrams, and talking to his assistants. He knew changes had to be made and he was making them without waiting for the break.

Time was critical and he didn’t want to wait for the intermission to make his moves.


Both teams were trying to execute their schemes and plans. Players were playing hard, coaches were coaching. Yet one team (the Patriots) was able to execute just a little more perfectly the whole time period of the 60 minute game and into overtime. The other team (Atlanta) suffered a few mental mistakes in the final stages that allowed New England to tie the game, sending it to overtime.

When New England won the coin toss to start overtime, the final outcome could be sudden death if they could score a touchdown.

Here, their mental and physical toughness shined through. They never quit trying. I’m not saying the Falcons quit, because they didn’t, but their effort fell just a few steps short of New England.


For all the technical knowledge about management and leadership, I find heart still wins the day. Heart is not something they usually teach in business school, I know they didn’t at mine. Heart is something you figure out along the way or you get shown how it works by those around you. People who do all of the things above and yet lose heart usually don’t prevail.

The people that stay true to their core, believe in themselves and one another are able to overcome insurmountable odds (like a 25 point football deficit) to win. Julian Edelman, a receiver with the Patriots, made an amazing catch that required intense concentration while arms and legs were flying all around him.

His own training, preparation, skill, and focus combined with his totally committed heart to win allowed him to make that play. It was a critical moment in the game when the Patriots needed to sustain momentum to tie the game before pushing it into overtime. If Edelman had missed that catch, there is no way to know if the Patriots could have kept their drive alive.

Edelman Catch

In 1995 the Houston Rockets were another sports team who overcame improbable odds to win its second NBA championship. When the best of seven series was over and the Rockets had won, their coach Rudy Tomjanovich famously said:

[shareable]Never underestimate the heart of a champion.[/shareable]

Need a coachSummary

You can love or hate sports metaphors. But this year’s Super Bowl is one of the best business schools I’ve heard from in a long time. It was crammed full of meaningful lessons and examples that business titans everywhere can embrace.

You may not win a big fat championship ring or get a bonus check for your athletic skill, but applying some of these lessons will get you over whatever your next goal line may look like.

The King of Leadership Fails

Executives, managers and entrepreneurs fail for many reasons, but there is one undisputed King of Fails; the Boss who cannot recognize the key talent on his/her own team.

Littered across the job change landscape are thousands of very sharp and gifted people who were basically ignored by their boss. These disheartened souls choose to find a new job, hoping the next boss will at least appreciate how hard they work and what they can do.

The Problem

I have had my own experience producing quality work ($90 million worth) for a business owner who later professed “I don’t know what Doug can do.” OK, some may argue I failed to explain what I did for this guy. However, when the big paydays are coming in and he is attending a lot of the executive planning sessions around the project I was leading, you’d think he’d observe and figure a few things out, right? Not so much.

There is a whole body of thought for workers who feel their contributions are going unnoticed. I will save that discussion for another time.

Today I want to challenge managers and owners to take notice. Look at your best people. What do you do to keep them engaged, inspired, and loyal?

You’ll notice I said managers and owners. I didn’t say leaders. If you fail to effectively engage your best workers, you are not being a leader. You are merely hitting the numbers, pushing work, and banking the $$. If this is you, you have no scalable, sustainable business model. You will fail. It’s not a question of if, but when.

The Solution

Your best workers need to be recognized both personally and corporately for their effort. They are not glory hounds nor are they some kind of needy basket cases. They just want to feel their work means something and is valued by the boss.

In a study published by Harvard Business Review, Karie Willyerd said:

… my colleagues and I at SAP conducted a study with Oxford Economics across 27 countries to find out what the future workforce wants. We led twin studies of executives and employees and asked the employees how they were rated on their most recent performance appraisal rating. Of the 2,872 employees, their responses were spread with about 40% being high performers, 40% average, and about 20% below average.

As you would expect, high performers as compared to low performers are more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave their jobs in the next six months. But in looking deeply into high performers specifically, you’ll see that the numbers aren’t as comforting as we’d hoped. As you can see in the figures below, one in five high performers are likely to leave in the next six months (versus one in four of employees overall who are likely to leave in the near term), and less than half are satisfied with their jobs.

A [big] contributing factor to job satisfaction was feedback: How often do your managers sit down with employees to discuss their performance? Chances are, not enough. Fifty percent of high performers say they expect at least a monthly sit down with their managers, but only 53% say their manager delivers on their feedback expectations. If you are relying on annual or semi-annual performance reviews as the primary feedback mechanism with your employees, your high performers are likely to need a more frequent boost and will begin to show signs of under-appreciation.

Within any work team is a bell curve of talent and motivation. If you are not familiar with bell curves, here’s what one looks like.

Bell curve
Bell curve

On each end you have outliers. In this case, one end is the lower producers/poor performers. The opposite end is the high achievers. In the middle (the bulge/bump in the curve) are the masses; the bulk of your team who do ok on a regular basis.

While you want to be pro-active in handling the development of the low end employees, you sometimes have to face the music and let them go because they are just not a fit for your organization.

The middle group gets things done and can be relied upon for routine production and performance.

The higher end population are the super stars; the ones who excel at what they do. These are the ones who are easy to forget. They give you comfort in what they can do, so you subconsciously don’t want to bother them; certainly not with micro managing. Ironically, giving these guys wide berth often makes them feel neglected or ignored.

The noblest intent of the manager to honor the performance of the superstar by leaving them alone can be the very factor that drives the high performer away.

No one likes to feel that they have been taken for granted. The manager may be thinking “Gee, Joe (or Jill) is great. I need to leave them alone and focus on Jim and Sally. They need coaching and help.” There is a delicate balance of attention versus ignoring. Yes, you never want to interrupt the high achiever’s great work by constantly bugging them. By the same token, you shouldn’t take them for granted just because the work they do is superior to many others.

Don’t let the superstars feel under-appreciated. Find new and creative ways to acknowledge their work and the value of their contributions to your team’s (and your) success. Share the glory!