Leaders Don’t Kick the Can and Check the Box

Busy-ness is all around us. You hear complaints about how tired and frustrated people can be because of all the work they have going on.

Once upon a time, having work was a blessing, not a curse. Yet many workers in all walks and in all roles complain of just how busy they are.

Kicking the can and checking the boxes

If you lead a work team, there is a great pressure to kick the can down the road and tick a box. Box checking is our way of feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Ah Ha, the task is done!

Not so fast!

There’s no doubt we need to see progress toward a goal; projects need completing, deadlines must be met, and so on.

However, if the way you measure success has anything to do with the number of boxes checked, you might need to stop.

The more important question is whether the activity that is being checked off has a meaningful contribution towards desired performance.

ticking boxes off a list

As a leader, you need a system for tracking progress toward your desired goals.

The vision you see before you must be broken down into chunks that can be clearly communicated to the team.

Each person on the team must have clarity for the work they are supposed to be doing.

So what can a Leader do?

Keeping your focus about tracking meaningful contribution toward goal achievement can be realized by implementing a very simple method. The method/system is called “Big 5 Performance Management.”

With the Big 5 system, managers ask their direct reports to prepare a simple monthly report.

The report has only two parts. The first part is the top five individual accomplishments for the month. The other part is the top five priorities for the next month.

Accomplishments and priorities are tied to the individual responsibilities assigned.

Logically, what you entered as priorities last month should be accomplishments this month. If not, then address the matters that got in the way of achieving your stated objectives for the month.

This report is prepared within the first five days of the new month (keeping the Big 5 theme). Managers can review the reports with all the directs.

Going over the Big 5 report gives the manager and the employee the opportunity for a coaching moment.

coaching moment

Proper recognition for achievement can be shared as well as alignment on priorities. Any variances can be explored, evaluated, aligned and set in motion.

With a rigorous and faithful implementation of this Big 5 discipline, the bigger goals can be cumulatively achieved by the Leader’s group.

Simple elegance

The listing of each of the top five things is a simple bulleted list, not a long narrative. Save the lengthy discussion for the one on one coaching time.

In fact, this Big 5 Report can be accomplished in a single email from each party. (However, there is a cloud-based app for this if you are interested).

If this sounds too simple to make a difference, think again. I’ve had personal experience using Big 5 in several leadership roles from my past.

Each time it was used, my teams achieved more with less, hit higher performance marks, and achieved greater results. Why?

We did these things because the whole team literally ‘stayed on the same page.’ Forces from outside that may have otherwise robbed us of time and attention were identified early and dealt with properly.

We even found ourselves with extra time to look at creative opportunities that came up along the way, thus improving margin and total revenue.

When you feel overwhelmed by the Busy-ness of your work, think Big 5. Don’t just kick the can and check the box.

PS –

For a team to operate at its best, each member of the team must answer six key questions about the team before they feel a sense of trust and have a willingness to commit their “discretionary effort” toward goal completion.

(For more on these critical six questions, visit my Team Trust Model here.)

Change and Progress, Are They Twins?

In today’s complex business world, change is hard. Companies venturing through major culture shifts, mergers or other forms of change often struggle to make it to the end.

The idea that people hate change is a phenomenon that is taught, coached and wrestled with in many ways, shapes, and forms. Regardless of your mindset about CHANGE, there is one vital aspect you should explore.

PROGRESS is what you should be focused on. Change for the sake of change is meaningless. However, progress toward a new goal or achievement is more vital and more valuable to your organization.

Dean Lindsay, America’s premier authority on Progress, writes:

All progress is change, but not all change is progress.

Lindsay uses an illustration. If you wake up in the morning with a stomach ache, you want to change. You want it to go away.

If you tell a friend and they punch you in the nose, you got a change. But it wasn’t progress toward curing your stomach ache.

The Rhetoric

There are voices in the media demanding change. The word has been worn out. Again, change for the sake of change is not progress.

When you sense the need for change or you design an intentional change in the way your business operates, be sure you are designing progress toward a new goal.

I know companies who have launched major change initiatives (they call it that) with the intent to become more profitable, increase margin, find efficiencies, or become more competitive.

Those are great objectives.

Yet what they are really saying is we need progress forward to be better situated for growth and survival in our industry.

Too often the well-intended change that is initiated gets bogged down in all the adoption and adaptation process. As soon as the change feels hard and resistance begins to mount, plans are adjusted.

Many times the shift is pulled back or canceled in the face of resistance.

Living Through the Curve

Roxanne Chugg writes: “The fact is that most change initiatives are done “to” employees, not implemented “with” them or “by” them. Although leaders are pushing behavior change from the top and expecting it to cascade through the formal structure, an informal culture left to instinct and chance will likely dig in its heels and resist or even hijack the change.”

There is a popular model that describes the change cycle. Dr. Virginia Satir first introduced this model when explaining emotional life-change events in family therapy. However, it has been widely adopted in change management circles to help businesses plan for and implement change.

The “S” shape of this curve helps us see the complexity of making a change. When applied to a work team, each member of the team will experience their own progression through the curve, each moving at their own pace.

The key matter here is that everyone in the organization faces their own emotional curve when forced into change. Acceptance or adoption of the change is dependent upon the progress one can make moving through the curve.

If plotted together on a single graph you could see the lag points where the manager/leader may be further along the curve than his people. If the leader is not sensitive to this lag factor, then the message from the top might be skewed.

The leader could be thinking “Come on people, don’t you get this? Why aren’t we further along?”

In reality, the team may be lagging the leader’s position moving along the curve. A little bit of lag is normal. However, the leader must decide how much lag is tolerable.

Back to Progress

Given the tremendous effort and disruption a change may cause at work, leaders must be mindful of the progress being made.

Leaders need to ask: “Is the company moving ahead because of this change or are we merely spinning our wheels, burning out the staff, and creating very little value?”

Question: What change initiative has your company gone through recently? Or were you the one directing it?

Managers, How Do You Show Up?

As you go about your day to day activity, how do you show up?

Whether you are the boss or just one of the team, you have choices every minute of every day. The way you decide to show up in the moment can be the single greatest factor in measuring your effectiveness and success.

Domino Effect

It’s interesting to realize that one bad start early in the day can shape the rest of the day. But I’ll save that idea for another message.

Today we’re going to talk about three key opportunities where showing up matters most.

Showing Up One-on-One

No experience at work or at home matters more than the minute when you are one-on-one with someone. You’re alone together.

There are no distractions, no one else is competing for time and attention.

What are you going to do? How will you show up? Or more importantly, how can you change the way you usually show up.

Building strong, meaningful relationships happens best in the privacy of the one-on-one.

Showing up requires your attention. You must not let other things distract you from the discussion you are about to have. Ringing telephones or random interruptions leave the other person with the impression they are not important.

Your listening matters here too. Your ability to express the right amount of empathy allows a more freely flowing exchange. Proving to the other person that you are attentive and engaged is best done with feedback based on what the other person said.

one on one meeting

Being transparent matters here too. By being open, honest, and even vulnerable to the person with whom you are having the one-on-one allows the trust to build. The more you can do to achieve high levels of trust, the better your outcome will be.

Managers Engaging the Team

Management duties often involve team oriented situations. Having routine staff/team meetings creates the perfect opportunity to show up big or fail miserably. Which do you choose?

Showing up is not about dominating the room. Instead, it involves much the same as one-on-one with one big addition.

showing up at the team meeting

Keep an eye on the whole team. Watch body language and subtle hints about your team’s engagement.

Doing this requires showing up fully ready to engage yourself. Be prepared.

Also, think about intentional messages you need to deliver or consensus you hope to build. Know in advance what you hope to get from the team meeting. Respect other’s time. Use it wisely.

Be decisive if asked for decisions. If you’re really not ready to make a decision on the spot, again, be transparent. Say so.

Managers Showing Up in the Organization

Showing up also impacts your success with those above you or to whom your report. Even CEOs have boards or investors for accountability.

managing up the organization

When you must report up, show up. Likely you were selected or elected for the role, so someone had a belief you can do the job. Remember that.

Use it to strengthen your approach and confidence.

Here Are 10 Ways You can Show Up

  1. Be prepared – try not to let any interpersonal opportunities go by without some degree of preparation
  2. Be in the moment – as new encounters unfold, put aside all other distractions
  3. Listen empathetically – assure the others) you are hearing what they are saying
  4. Listen more than speak – two ears, one tongue is sage advice
  5. Be transparent – whenever possible be completely open and transparent and yes there are plenty of opportunities to be this way).
  6. Don’t judge – be fair in your dealings
  7. Model the right behaviors – know what your situation calls for in the way you present yourself
  8. Be genuine – be yourself. Trying to be something or someone else doesn’t work
  9. Be confident – work on this if you have to, but be secure in what you are talking about
  10. State the things you heard – recap the moment to achieve the best clarity for the communication

If you can do these things with each and every opportunity to show up, your reputation and effectiveness as a leader will grow.

Leave a comment or share any other experiences you have had “showing up” as a manager or a leader.

Making Behavior Change Stick

Have you ever tried breaking an old habit to replace it with some new behavior?

Of course you have. Whether it’s a diet, exercising more, reading more, less device time, or other lifestyle changes, adopting a new behavior can be tough.

Working on changes in your leadership style can be hard.

Just like any life changing decisions, your effort to become a better leader requires change on your part.

Without exception, my coaching clients decide on a path to making behavior changes. Regardless of the issue or the topic that first brings us together, once I start coaching with someone, we find ourselves landing on the need for a behavioral change.

The change can transform executive presence, influence, and effectiveness. It might involve communication or delegation. Maybe the change is about interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

One way or another, the change someone desires always requires a behavior change.

Why Change Can Be Hard

If you’ve tried any of the changes I’ve mentioned above, you know change can be hard. Why is that?

First, there is our comfort zone. Habits and behaviors get comfortable for us. We do things mindlessly ignoring other things or people.

Breaking away from that comfort zone is felt physically and emotionally. We sense the change and prefer to revert to a more customary approach or reaction.

Then there is fear. Most of us fear change. It’s the great unknown. We ask ourselves what if this doesn’t work?

Lastly, it takes effort. If we’re going to break some chains, it requires effort. Sometimes we’re just too busy or tired to make the change.

Here’s How to Make Behavior Change Stick

I found there are 4 things that can help facilitate a change of behavior that sticks. My friend and colleague, Cheryl S. Bryan has also written about these in her blog.

Purpose – Lock in on your purpose and the reason for the expected change of behavior. Let the reason you choose to change become a beacon for the effort. Don’t lose sight of your purpose.

Plan – Make a plan for the change. Plot a course for the beginning, middle, and end. Set your path for change. Decide on details. Get stakeholder feedback along the way. Measure yourself. Learn from setbacks.

servant leader

Patience – Be patient. You will experience missteps. Give yourself some grace as you attempt the change. It won’t all be perfect. If you slip up (and you will), pause, reassess and keep moving.

Practice – The only way a new behavior gets established is to practice it over and over again until it becomes more natural.

Go For It!

If you can follow these 4 P’s for making behavior change stick, you will achieve far greater success.

Use these when mentoring and coaching your team. Encourage others to embrace the change they need by observing these key principles.

If you would like to know more about making change stick, click on the links below. I’ll be happy to arrange a call.

More About Building Better Teams Thru Trust

Are you responsible for a team at work? Is it performing at the highest level you can imagine?

elevating team performance

I’ve been writing about the impact that trust can have on your team. But why does trust matter?

Trust is not merely a soft, social virtue; rather, trust is a pragmatic, hard-edged, economic, and actionable asset that you can create. There is a compelling case for trust. Teams and organizations that operate with high trust significantly outperform teams and organizations with low trust—this has been proven in dozens of studies, across a multitude of industries and sectors.

Stephen M.R.Covey

In my last article, I introduced a powerful and proven model that defines the stages for building trust on your team. (You can see it here).

The model explains the interrelationships between six sets of key questions that team members ask themselves about the team they are on. Leaders are responsible for influencing each team member’s answers to these six questions.

You, as the leader, must evaluate each team member’s progress in positively answering the questions. If you sense someone is stuck on one of the stages, it’s your duty to help them get unstuck.

Team Trust

Trust in Action

In this post, I want to share with you some of the examples of ways this model performs “in the real world.”

There is not enough time or space in this post to cover all of the possibilities. However, I can share some powerful insights that are actual examples of questions and stories I hear when I coach on this topic.


Step #1 is the key question “Do I even want to be here?”

Each individual member of a team must ask and resolve this fundamental question. The answer needs to be positive or else the remaining questions may be moot.

Clients of mine have stated “Everyone in the company has traveled unique paths to get where they are. Therefore, the definition of reality may be completely impacted by their personal perception of the business environment from which they came. i.e. there is little room for newness or change in the situation.”

This observation is not unique. The statement could be true for most employees everywhere. We all, in some way or another, look at new situations with a biased eye based on our experiences of the past.

The statement actually fits squarely with the meaning of step #1 in the model. Again, each person on the team must answer the basic question “Do I even want to be here?”

The model makes no attempt to qualify the answer(s). Your experiences do drive your perception and reality. The question becomes “what about now?”

Side note: If someone’s initial answer to #1 is negative, they can be swayed by learning and understanding the remaining questions. More on that later.


Step #2 is about purpose. “Do I understand the purpose for this team and can I buy-in?”

At this step, the leader must provide clarity and simplicity.

All too often, the original purpose for creating the team gets lost along the way. New teams get the benefit of having at least some idea of their stated purpose to begin with. But as time goes on, that purpose can get confused or clouded. It’s the leader’s responsibility to keep the purpose focused, simple, and clear.

Without the clarity it is hard to get commitment. Click To Tweet

If the team starts to veer off course from the primary purpose, there needs to be a discussion specifically about reconnecting on the purpose.

Employees cannot give their all to a cause that is uncertain or unclear. Clarity elevates commitment.

Trust Comes from Relationships

When my model first hit the LinkedIn circuit, it went viral. I received comments reminding me about the power of relationships for building trust.

I couldn’t agree more. Leaders must build relationships with their team to establish a climate that allows trust to grow.

The leader must set the tone for the team to be able to establish trust. If you are responsible for a team, YOU have to set the course for whether or not trust might grow.

There are rare occasions when the team establsihes its own level of trust yet ignores the leader.

In my early career, I worked for an executive who was not worthy of respect and trust. My colleagues (his team) and I banded together to create an alliance against him. We didn’t do it maliciously. We did it for survival against his horrible leadership and management style.

We trusted each other explicitly. But we didn’t trust our boss further than we could throw him.

He had failed to build an environment that favored trust as a complete unit.

Thinking in terms of the six-step model, we were working among ourselves to find positive answers to make things work even though our boss was unable to guide and direct. We honored the position he occupied, but had no respect for him as a manager.

Wrapping It Up

These are just a few of the practical ways the team trust model works. I’ll be sharing more in weeks to come. In the meantime, if you have your own observations, comments or questions, leave them here in the comment section below.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

If you enjoyed reading this article, please recommend and share it to help others find it!

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6 Steps to Build Better Teams

elevating team performance

Do you think your work team is just average? Have you ever thought about ways to make it better?

What if you had a highly effective and productive team?

Being a leader at work, at home, or in your community suggests just that. Your team has to be hitting the right marks to make you feel like your leadership is going somewhere.

When I start working with my executive coaching clients, we usually start out with very personal thoughts and ideas. They usually are looking for ways to improve something (or several somethings) about their ability to lead.

Yet upon reflection, the issues they frame as personal matters inevitably manifest as team-level issues. On one hand they are saying “If I did more of ‘X’ I believe I would become a better leader.” What is really happening is them saying “My team would operate at a higher level if I could help them with (blank)….”

It makes good sense that leaders should seek ways to influence their followers.

If you think you’re leading and no one is following, you’re just walking around.

John Maxwell

The Study

In a recent study published by Google, they revealed the findings from a two-year deep dive into the makings of their highest performing teams. The effort was named Project Aristotle.

While they uncovered several key aspects that contributed to making a great team, there was one that stood out. In the study, they discovered the number one attribute present in all the best teams was something called “psychological safety.”

Read the whole section on this idea and you learn they are talking about trust.

Team Trust

So you get it. Trust is the right stuff to make a great team. How does a leader build trust?

I’ve uncovered six key questions employees ask themselves about the teams they are on.

Each questions builds on the previous one(s). If leaders fail to provide clear and meaningful answers to these questions, employees either are not clear about the mission or not committed to the cause.

Fail on too many questions and the team is downright dysfunctional. Get them right though, our team will be unstoppable.

Here We Go

These are the six questions to know and understand.

Team Trust
Team Trust

People – Do I even want to be here? Each team member asks this fundamental question. Each member of the team must satisfy this basic question before any other work can be achieved.

Purpose – Do I understand why we exist as a team? Is there clarity around our mission? Each member of the team must satisfy this next question to gain clarity before commitment.

Plan – How is this going to be done? I understand the purpose but tell me more about how we’re going to do this. What is the plan that will be followed to get things done?

Process – What drives the way we will do things? This is the practice step or execution. What works and what does not? If we discover something is not working, how will we change that? There should not be any artificial roadblocks in the way of team success.

Performance – How will we measure success? Will it be a fair assessment? Fair and equitable standards and tools for performance evaluation and measurement are required. Old, stale ways of waiting for annual reviews must be eliminated. Today’s workforce demands better feedback and coaching from their leaders.

Payoff – What is the payoff for accomplishing everything we set out to do? Are the rewards worth the effort? Rewards are not limited to monetary compensation. Think about recognition, pride, self-esteem, and other measures of achievement.

To learn more, visit the page I have dedicated to the team Trust Model.

Dream Small

gratitude smile

The world around us tells us to Dream Big! Go for it! Reach for the stars! Be fast! Be bold, be brave. “Go big or go home!”

If you ever hear someone say “dream small” that sounds terrible, right? Totally counter-cultural.

The first time I heard it, I certainly thought so. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I thought.

At first, the idea of dreaming small made no sense. For sure, it ran totally against all my coaching fibers.

Then it happened. The friend who was sharing this spent 45 minutes helping me understand the concept. Along the way I found myself aligning numerous principles I’ve always believed, yet never considered them as “dreaming small.”

Big Business Mindset

Even though I often work with entrepreneurs and smaller companies hoping to go big, my roots are in large global enterprises. Starting with the U.S. Army and moving into banking at JP Morgan Chase, I’ve spent many years walking the halls of some pretty big corporate giants.

Clients today include some of the largest global brands you can imagine.

Ironically, as I coach key executives and top-of-house leaders within these giants, I routinely get the individuals to focus on the smaller moments in their day.

Despite budgets that start in “Bs” (as in $ billions), we spend most of our time talking about the finer points of influencing teams, motivating individuals, and leading culture changes; dreaming small.

The opportunities for the biggest impact come down to small moments. You could argue it truly is dreaming small.

As my friend put it in perspective, I was reminded of many ways that leaders can and should dream small rather than focus on the big picture so much.

Remember the Bible story of David and Goliath. It was a small smooth stone that knocked out Goliath. David could have asked for a big sword. Instead he focused on finding the small stone. He dreamed small to accomplish great things.

Leaders Start Here

Dreaming small is really about taking advantage of key moments; not long term master plans, but simple moments. The moments you spend with your staff, your peers, and the key people elsewhere in your life.

You may have three minutes before a meeting, standing in the hallway as others gather. If an employee or peer is present, use the moment to connect. Whether officially or personally, you can make great strides in building trusted relationships by leveraging the short moments that are all around, every day.

In sports, we see this all the time. Baseball is particularly keen on key moments. Each time a batter stands up to bat, the whole game is simplified down to the duel between the pitcher and the batter. It even comes down to one pitch.

The right pitch, perfectly thrown can confuse and bewilder a batter. Yet a batter with focus and determination, plus a little discipline in the moment can avoid being fooled by a pitch. Instead, when the right pitch comes, he can clobber the ball out of the park.

These are small moment things that turn into big results. Dream small my friends.

Leader’s ABCs

business team meeting

What is your most valuable leadership skill? Is your team achieving all you wish they would?

Love him or hate him, Alec Baldwin made the ABC catchphrase famous. “ABC, always be closing.” Later it was parodied on SNL with a bunch of Christmas elves who were scolded by Baldwin to “Always be Cobbling”.

With highly effective leadership another ABC applies; Always Be Coaching.

A leader’s influence on the people they serve is best demonstrated with perpetual coaching and mentoring. Above all, sharing insights and giving your team honest feedback helps build a legacy of powerful leadership.

In this crazy busy world in which we live, it’s easy for a manager to feel the need to just get by; get your own things done and call it quits at a reasonable hour each day.

Yet when you spend the time to coach your team, one by one, you get amazing dividends. In other words, rewards that are returned to you in higher performance, greater trust, and even better efficiency.

What is Coaching

Coaching is a different approach to developing employees’ potential. With coaching, you provide your staff with the opportunity to grow and achieve optimal performance through consistent feedback, counseling and mentoring.

Rather than relying solely on a review schedule, you can support employees along the path to meeting their goals. Done in the right way, coaching is perceived as a roadmap for success and a benefit. Done incorrectly and employees may feel berated, unappreciated, even punished.

This requires the skill of reacting and expanding. You should acknowledge the employee’s suggestion, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the suggestion, ask for and offer additional suggestions, and ask the employee to explain how to resolve the issue under discussion.

These seven steps, when followed, can help create a positive environment for providing feedback.

Step 1: Build a Relationship of Trust

The foundation of any coaching relationship is rooted in the manager’s day-to-day relationship with the employee. Without some degree of trust, conducting an effective coaching meeting is impossible.

Step 2: Get Agreement

Probably the most critical step in any coaching process is getting the employee to agree verbally that they are open to your coaching.

Step 3: Communicating Clearly During the Open

If you choose to schedule a coaching session, in opening the meeting, it’s important for the leader to clarify, in a nonaccusatory way, the specific reason the meeting was arranged.

The key to this step is to restate — in a friendly, nonjudgmental manner — the meeting purpose that was first set when the appointment was scheduled.

Step 4: If Performance is Really at Risk

Overlooking or avoiding the performance issue because you assume the employee understands its significance is a typical mistake of managers.

To persuade an employee a performance issue exists, a manager must be able to define the nature of the issue and get the employee to recognize the consequences of not changing his or her behavior. To do this, you must specify the behavior and clarify the consequences.

Step 4: Explore Alternatives

The best coaching happens in the moment. For example, if you are walking the floor and hear or see behavior from an employee that needs adjusting, don’t be afraid to get the employee’s attention.

Remind them of the vision and values your unit operates under. Show them the connection between their action and that vision.

Be specific in the coaching moment.

In doing this you must be certain to have your discussion in a manner that does not demean or degrade the employee, but rather helps to build them up, showing the better way.

Next, explore ways the issue can be improved or corrected by encouraging the employee to identify alternative solutions.

Step 5: Get a Commitment to Act

The next step is to help the employee choose an alternative. Don’t make the choice for the employee.

To accomplish this step, the manager must be sure to get a verbal commitment from the employee regarding what action will be taken and when it will be taken. Be sure to support the employee’s choice and offer praise.

Step 6: Handle Excuses

Employee excuses may occur at any point during the coaching process. To handle excuses, rephrase the point by taking a comment or statement that was perceived by the employee to be blaming or accusatory and recast it as an encouragement for the employee to examine his or her behavior.

Respond empathetically to show support for the employee’s situation and communicate an understanding of both the content and feeling of the employee’s comment.

Step 7: Provide Feedback

Effective coaches understand the value and importance of giving continual feedback to their people, both positive and corrective.

There are a few critical things to remember when giving feedback to others. Feedback should:

  • Be timely. It should occur as soon as practical after the interaction, completion of the deliverable, or observation is made.
  • Be specific. Statements like “You did a great job” or “You didn’t take care of the clients’ concerns very well” are too vague and don’t give enough insight into the behavior you would like to see repeated or changed.
  • Focus on the “what,” not the “why.” Avoid making the feedback seem as if it is a judgment. Begin with “I have observed…” or “I have seen…” and then refer to the behavior. Focus on behavior and not the person. Describe what you heard and saw and how those behaviors impact the team, client, etc.
  • Use a sincere tone of voice. Avoid a tone that exhibits anger, frustration, disappointment or sarcasm.

Positive feedback strengthens performance. People will naturally go the extra mile when they feel recognized and appreciated.

Remember Your ABCs

Always Be Coaching. These are the ABCs of real, effective leadership.

Lastly, if you’re still not sure what coaching can do for your team, ask a coach. Engage someone who coaches for a living to share the methods and principles they use for effective coaching.

Can You Accept Perfect Imperfection?

Nobody is perfect, right? At least that is what you often hear.

Yet Madison Avenue and Hollywood would have us think otherwise. Perfect style, perfect skin, perfect smile, perfect hair. The list is endless.

Psychologists can make a career out of helping people who feel inadequate under such conditions and falsehoods. The truth is we all suffer some imperfection.

Standards at Work

Do you work in an environment where perfection is the measure of your performance? Maybe a score of 100% is the goal but seldom do any of us reach such perfection.

As a leader, how do you really view those around you; the people who work for and with you?

Enter Psychological Safety

The good folks at Google underwent a two-year study known as Project Oxygen to explore what made up high performing teams. The number 1 finding was something they called psychological security.

empathy at work

We’ve all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. I get it. It’s unnerving to feel like you’re in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope.

But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That’s psychological safety.

Google found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.

The Leader’s Role

First, lofty goals and great expectations aside, I see leaders dealing with grace when employees come up short.

Trust among employees begins when the Leader makes the effort to “have their back”. The way you do this may vary depending upon the environment you manage.

Here are five other ways to consider.

Demonstrate engagement by being present at meetings and during one-on-one sessions. (Hint: close the laptop)

Show understanding by recapping what you’ve heard. This accrues to becoming an empathetic listener.

Be inclusive in an interpersonal setting by sharing or revealing your own thoughts and values. Step up when one team member turns negative on another team member.

Expand your decision making by including your team. Invite the input, exchange the input and acknowledge the input.

Lastly, you can show confidence and conviction in decisions without becoming arrogant. Speak in your team’s ‘one voice’. Show the team that their contributions matter once the decision has been made. Explain the differences, but encourage the further effort to keep building team consensus.

Perfect Imperfection again

All of these thoughts bring us back to the idea of dealing with perfect imperfection at work, at home or with others around us. Becoming a leader who recognizes the need for dealing with this common situation will set you apart from others.

Question: What do you do to embrace perfect imperfection?

Want Amazing Results from Your Team? Get in the Pool

whirlpool effect

Summer is not far away. Where I live, we look forward to summer because you can enjoy the backyard swimming pool. My grand kids are already asking “how much longer?”

Fun in the pool comes in many ways.

Claire Chandler, a senior HR professional in my tribe writes:

The greatest enjoyment as a kid in the neighbor’s pool came when one of us would suddenly yell, “Whirlpool!”

To us, the term “Whirlpool” was universally understood. It meant we would immediately start following each other, trotting in a circle, for several rotations. Until the magic happened.

We could pick up our feet and be carried along with the circular current our collective effort had created.

Enter the whirlpool effect

Creating the whirlpool effect with our friends was one of the simplest, purest joys of our childhood. As soon as we heard that one word, we enthusiastically got to work.

That, my friends, is exactly how true leadership works too.

If that statement feels like someone just garden-hosed icy cold water into your pool, I apologize. But stay with me here.

If you’re a Leader and your people aren’t enthusiastically behind you… you’re doing it wrong.

Let me explain.

Here’s why one word—“Whirlpool”—leads to such a magical result.

It’s a simple message that everyone clearly understands.

Are you overcomplicating your message? Get out of your own way.

Seriously. The clearer your message, the more likely your people will actually do what you need them to do.

Or you can keep conveying inconsistent, confusing corporate babble, and remain disappointed that your people are underperforming.

It communicates a mission that everyone can visualize and get behind.

Do you know the #1 reason why most leaders fail or at least underperform? They don’t know WHY they’re leading.

Do you even have a mission? Look beyond the bullets on your job description.

Do you truly, deeply understand why your team and YOUR role exist? Until you do, your people won’t either.

It inspires everyone to contribute and collaborate enthusiastically to making the mission a reality.

Do your employees buy into your team’s mission?

Have you asked your people if they understand the mission, relate to it, AND see how their individual role contributes to it? Do you have full buy-in?

If you answered “No,” “Sort of,” or “Meh” to any of those questions, don’t plan on achieving your mission any time soon.

The result is something that everyone takes part in celebrating because they all benefit from achieving it.

Will you know what success looks like when you achieve it? Do you celebrate the milestones along the way?

Do you recognize the individual efforts of the people who helped get you there? Recognition is a performance accelerator—and it makes the ultimate victory that much sweeter for everyone.

Creating the whirlpool effect is not only rewarding for your team; it creates value in your business.


Organizations under the whirlpool effect experience higher productivity, greater innovation, increased revenues, fewer employee conflicts and lower employee turnover.

And believe it or not, when you inspire the whirlpool effect, you will find leading easier and more fun. 

One word. Whirlpool. That’s all it takes to create magical results.