fbpx

Don’t Let Opportunity Steal Your Success

opportunity and success

Running a business can be hard. If you start out to turn a hobby or a special interest into a business, you will face a whole lot of challenges.

Even as you start to gain momentum and create success, there will be things that can derail your effort.

One of the biggest and most complex of these challenges is the need to properly evaluate “opportunity.”

Let’s face it. If a potential customer shows up and says “You do XYZ very well. I like what you’re doing there. But I need an ABC version.”

What will you do? Most hungry entrepreneurs respond by saying “Sure, let me see what I can do.”

Do this a few times and pretty soon you have too many plates spinning in the air. You’re off your core game. Resources get spread thin. Frustration can creep in. And worse still, you start losing money.

It’s a Tricky Balance

The hard part is knowing which opportunity to take and which ones to avoid. All too often the big opportunity with a large client turns out to be a train wreck that can take you way off your game.

How do I know? It happened to me.

In 2003 I created a business process outsourcing company that served the mortgage banking industry. My team created some technology that made us one of the first in the industry to offer document scanning at a large scale. Today that sounds ridiculous, but then it was a pretty big deal.

We didn’t just scan capture the hundreds of pages that went into a single mortgage loan file, but we automatically indexed the documents so an intelligent search could be made for specific content without paging through the whole blob of documents. Prior to this development, scanning was done but you got a really big file that was hard to review much less manipulate for intelligent access at the page level.

My company’s process allowed the images to be shared with secondary market trading partners who were buying the loans from the mortgage originators. By having the electronic version of the files available (we hosted the file storage too), purchase reviews and decisions could be made many days ahead of schedule thus expediting the whole loan sales process.

This created a significant financial gain for the companies originating the loans because sales would settle faster giving them more cash sooner to do more loans.

Plus by using my services, companies could eliminate large back-office operations. It was a win-win for all parties.

Playing The Momentum Game

My company had experienced steady growth for several years when a big whale landed on my doorstep. The owner of a mortgage company I knew pretty well showed up and told me he had this very special opportunity brewing.

Supposedly, he was talking to the Secretary of HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He alleged he had been promised (in writing) a lucrative lead on a national program HUD wanted to sponsor. One catch was that he had to demonstrate the ability to ramp quickly and make it big. He had roughly 90 days to prove that out.

He and I negotiated a deal, but in hindsight, it wasn’t a good deal for me. It relied exclusively on all the promised volume, sort of a contingency deal, with not even a single extra loan coming through the pipeline.

I bit. I met with my landlord and commissioned some adjacent space on the floor in the office building I occupied. The buildout began within days.

I was on the hook for an extra 3,000 sq ft of class A space without a single transaction to help pay for it.

You guessed it. The whole deal fell through for my client. He got nothing. I got nothing except a much bigger rent check each month.

The Aftermath

You might ask, why did I bite? Would you have taken the deal at face value? Well, the honest answer was several reasons.

First, I knew the guy who came to me. He was a credible and respected company owner. Secondly, a law firm we both did business with was involved and vouched for the deal (but didn’t commit resources).

Next, my company had been on a steady growth path but had not experienced a “home run.” I thought this could be it. You might say I was greedy, but I think of it as being confident in our process and my team. (Insert laugh track here).

Nonetheless, it really set me back. The momentum I had generated for the first few years in operation all washed away overnight. It was a tough pill to swallow.

You Can Do Better

My simple advice is to stay the course. Yes, you can make some leaps of faith along the way, but do much more than I did to evaluate the opportunity. Ask an advisor or the Board if you have one. Get outside opinions about the so-called opportunity.

Simply don’t be too greedy or eager to grab what sounds like a big deal just to make that leap forward. You might be taking many steps backward.

Leave a comment. This article first appeared at DougThorpe.com

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.

Leadership Effectiveness Can Improve Using Simple Triggers

executive leadership coaching

You can improve your leadership effectiveness with some simple triggers.

As much as I love all the science, academia, and psychology of leadership development, and believe me I follow a lot of it, I often find the biggest achievements come from simple steps. I call these triggers.

I had a client recently who was tasked with improving his executive presence. He had developed a reputation as having a somewhat short fuse when it came to interactions in the field.

In his defense, he works in a labor-intensive industry, with much of the workforce being trade skills and blue-collar. Nothing wrong with that picture other than you must understand confrontations can be ‘lively.’

My client had a tendency to meet his folks on their level whenever prompted by conflict.

As we worked through his options for changing his style and approach, we discussed specific instances and role-played the scenarios. After we had explored his options, I asked him “How do you think you will be able to affect this behavior once you’re back in the field?”

He was stumped for a moment. He really couldn’t think of ways to make it work.

The choice was simple. Either react the old way or respond with the new framework and mindset.

The Trigger

I suggested he think of a trigger. It was going to be easy to know when a confrontation was about to begin.

I asked him if he thought he could decide between two simple choices; either “on” or “off”. What I meant was, decide whether the employee reactions were “on”, as in, “I don’t like this instruction, but…. I can see why I need to do that.” That is an “on” position.

If the employee is totally opposed and becoming agitated, then the matter is “off”.

He agreed that would be easy to process.

By knowing whether the moment was on or off, he could choose to use his new methods for dealing with “off” situations.

The central theme we had landed upon was “an executive must act as he should, not as he feels.”

When circumstances were looking like they were in the “off” position, he needed to be extra diligent to be MORE executive about the situation, refrain from responding in kind, and become the peacemaker rather than another combatant.

By not forcing himself to have to think too deeply about the situation, he could rely on simple on/off logic to know which response was appropriate.

It worked very well.

Common Sense

After all my years of business and community leadership, I firmly believe there is a great deal you can accomplish as a leader with good common sense. That’s why I refer to much of my work as “Leadership Powered by Common Sense.”

Again, I love brain science, emotional intelligence, psychology, and all other facets of effective leadership study. Yet when you are in the heat of battle, you need simple, effective triggers to guide your response.

Question: What are some triggers you can use in your leadership to become a more effective leader? Leave a comment.

Also, if you are looking for ways to become a better manager, leader, or boss, check out my Best Boss Ever Challenge. I’ve pledged to connect with 10,000 business owners, managers, and leaders in 2022. Click the button below to learn more.

Rating and Ranking Employees – Yikes!

employee reviews

The month of January not only starts the new year, but it serves to end the old one. For many businesses, January sends HR folks and Managers into a frenzy trying to finalize employee reviews, ratings and rankings for the entire staff.

There are score sheets, narratives, interviews, and ‘coaching sessions’ done to inform employees how they did with the last twelve months of performance. Thousands of hours are dedicated to performing this daunting task. And to what end?

Anyone who has ever worked for a company with more than 50 employees has likely been subject to or responsible for the processing of this archaic ritual.

It’s a Littered Road

Let’s look at some history. The idea of doing such a process no doubt started with good intentions. Let’s face it, we all like some appreciation for the work we do. Furthermore, if we’ve been doing the work for a while, we feel the need to get a raise or bonus. It’s a risk/reward mindset. “I took the risk by dedicating my time and effort, so what is my reward.”

From the company’s viewpoint, if we’re going to permit merit raises for good performance, we need to be ‘fair’ in how we do that. If we have a larger population to administer, not all frontline raters will think the same, so we need layers to screen the outcomes. Hopefully (and I stress that word), the layered process can more evenly distribute the budget we allocated to the raises and bonuses.

Having said just this much, the system is already broken, right? I mean what about the individual contribution? Does it get melded and mashed into a corporate box ranked one thru ten? Or worse yet, rated one thru five? What’s the real difference between a seven and an eight, or a four and a five?

Compound this method by declaring the rankings need to be distributed on some bell curve, now you have a real mess that totally unmotivates even the best of performers. I’ve even seen “force-placed” ranking systems using scores one through 100. Managers are told you only get one person at 100 and somebody has to be the one.

From where I sit, with 40+ years of leadership experience, the rigid ranking and rating systems produce no positive outcome. It relegates your best people to ask simply, “What am I going to get paid?” Your lower performers likely already know they are slacking and the process only agitates an already bad attitude.

Throughout the year, bosses who may have thanked an employee for a good project outcome or praised them openly at a team meeting get ambushed at year-end when that employee is rated a three out of five and told “you met my expectations.” The boss rates them that way because, compared to the rest of the group, the middle of the pack is where they stand. Or, still bad news, the boss forgot about the good outcome from May when trying to rank the whole team at year-end. Yes, it happens.

A Story

Remember, I said the HR folks get hammered during these rating cycles? Here’s one for you. I got a call from an HR professional I’ve known for 20+ years. Her company had gone through major layoffs due to the COVID pandemic. The division she supports had suffered what amounted to a 33% cut in the team last year. Everything was wild and wooly for a while but seem to have settled down now.

employee review

They did their year-end performance appraisals and all the surviving people met their goals, according to the commercial software system they use for administering employee performance appraisals. The goals, by the way, were set by corporate, not by the local managers, and are lock-tight tracked and reported by the system. They apparently use a three-point system for assigning an overall score… ‘met goals’, ‘needs improvement’, or ‘move them out’. (How’s that for motivational messaging?)

Corporate called her to say that THE COMPLETED PROCESS was unacceptable. The results should have produced more of a bell curve with 2-3% of the highest-ranking at the top, and equal distributions below. By the way, it’s not clear what happened to the STANDARD bell curve with 20% at the top and bottom, 60% in the middle? She also reported she was totally confused why she wasn’t given these instructions at the beginning of the process.

So they are asking her and her managers to change the ratings after the entire process has been completed! She is about to lose her mind. All of this non-sense from a Fortune 500 that should know better. No wonder people hate HR.

In addition, you must ask yourself, what about the employees who have already been told about their standing?

That ‘Less Than’ Feeling

The whole artificial mess leaves employees with a ‘less-than’ feeling. ‘I am less than what the company wants.’ I feel ‘less than’ excited to work here.

I am convinced it is programs like this that are contributing to the Great Resignation. It’s exactly why good people are leaving what otherwise might be considered good jobs to start their own businesses or search for more employee-friendly environments. People are simply fed up with old systems, narrow mindsets, and poor evaluation systems.

Leaders at all levels must realize the need for better employee communication. Communication of expectations, clear goals, and priorities, plus fair accountability standards. It’s a huge challenge. But it can be done.

Join me in my 2022 Challenge to Be a Better Boss. Visit the challenge here.

As a bonus, here are several other articles I’ve written on this important subject.

The King of Leadership Fails – not recognizing good talent

Kill the Bell Curve – why the normalized bell curve doesn’t work in today’s market

Is Your HR Department Lying to You? – why we need to reform performance reviews

You Are NOT Your Job

If you lost your job today, what would that do to your sense of self-worth?

Would you be OK with it, or would you really suffer? Would you be worried about what your spouse, children, family, and friends think about you because you lost the job?

During the financial crisis of 2007-08 millions of American’s lost their jobs. Unemployment was at long-time highs. I know this time very well. You see, I too suffered loss because of the crisis. I had to close a company. A company my wife and I had labored to build.

We were almost to the five-year mark, then the crisis hit. Five years is significant because the Small Business Administration tells us that the odds of a small business surviving go off the chart if they make it through their first five years. We didn’t make that.

After losing my company, I started exploring what to do. I started joining large networking events that were happening all over Houston, my hometown. However, none of these events were being held near my house. I live on the outskirts of Houston. Driving to some of these meetings included a fifty-mile trip, one way. With gas at over $4.00 per gallon and me unemployed, this didn’t make sense.

The Main Event

So my entrepreneurial juices were activated. I started my own career transition organization called Jobs Ministry Southwest. We applied for and were given the 501c(3) non-profit status. We started organizing a weekly gathering known as “The Main Event”. Soon we had over 200 people attending our weekly workshops, hearing our speakers, and using our materials.

Career Transition Workshop

We had all of the usual things you would expect from a job assistance organization (resume writing, interviewing skills coaching, networking, social media, etc.). For me though, what I quickly figured out was the phenomenon of how people dealt with job loss.

First, there was a huge common split between men and women. Men looked at their jobs for their significance. When I asked a man to tell me something about himself, 99% of the time he went straight to talking about his job; title, role, reach, budget, team size, and so forth. I had not asked what he did for a living. I asked to know something about them.

Women, on the other hand, talked about a sense of security. The job gave them security. This usually translated into financial security, but often included the notion that at work they could be safe from whatever may be happening outside of work. Yes, this includes domestic violence, substance abuse, and other horrific things we see in the news.

Job Loss Can Be Devastating

Let’s see how this works. You can only imagine how losing the job caused devastation in either direction. Men would often express losing their actual identities over a job loss. “I am not an engineer anymore; I am going to have to become a fry cook.” (No disrespect to any type of position or work intended here). Women losing their jobs were emotionally wreaked for having lost their security; fear became the primary emotion.

While coaching hundreds of these folks individually, I found myself revisiting this common thread far too often. I spent a lot of time helping people re-center their core beliefs about who they were, what they were made of, and differentiating the job loss circumstance from their inner being. It was no small task.

When someone has interwoven these beliefs for decades, trying to untangle that mess was daunting. Sadly, not everyone made it through the mental shift. For those who did though, a whole new outlook drove them to seek new ideas, even new careers, to better align with what they discovered were their true values.

Separating the job from who you are is the key.

The Need

The need is to learn how to begin separating the job from the self. That’s pretty lousy grammar, but it gets to the point.

First, let’s talk about how we even get to this point in life. My wife and I are in the grandparents stage of our lives. Our kids are grown and married, having their own children. We have seven grandkids and counting.

As we celebrate the births and bring the new babies home, I have observed a few key thoughts. None of those babies left the hospital with a smartphone, a business card, a laptop, or an iPad. They weren’t waiting on the next call or rushing to the next appointment or shift change. Their only ‘job’ was to eat, sleep, and, well, you know what.

When did the identity thing start shifting away from what it was at birth to what it becomes for so many Americans? Where does this sense of work and vocation creep in and drive the definition of personal significance?

The Frog in the Pot

I like to refer to the story of the frog in the pot. The story says that you put a frog in cool water, in a pot on the stove. Then start turning up the heat slowly. Eventually, the water boils and the frog dies. If you boil the water first, then drop the frog in, he jumps right out.

So many situations in life are this way. We get into a scenario. Over time, the circumstances change, pressures build, attitudes shift, and eventually, we are at a whole new place.

Believe me, I know about competitive forces at work – the push to win the next promotion, get the right recognition, and get that next raise. All of it becomes a focus for anyone hoping to prosper in the workplace. As these things accumulate, our culture tends to honor the achievements.

We stand in awe of our corporate giants, people who have “climbed the ladder” as we say. It is easy to feel proud of those accomplishments. For each new rung on the ladder though, a bit of our true identity gets painted with a new brush. We start becoming the job.

Again though, the need here is to distance our definition of self from the job description we have.

Satisfaction of the Need

So how do we ever start making this happen? How can we separate our identity from the jobs we hold so dear?

What might be some of the hurdles to overcome? Well, here are the ones I have seen over the years in my business.

Poor self-esteem – This one might have been over done in years past. Yet it remains a key driver. Why?

When our individual understanding and belief about our sense of self has been damaged, we naturally look for a substitute. We look for something to latch on to that can fill that void deep inside us. It’s a kind of replacement thinking. The job is a huge part of our life, so why not let your new statement of what you are be about the job.

Well, the logic might not be bad, but the result is dangerous. Why? Because if the job opportunity evaporates as it did for so many in 2008, what do you have?

You get pushed right back into that sense of failure, inadequacy, and so forth.

This sounds too ethereal – “Everything you’re talking about Doug sounds bogus.” Really? All I can tell you is that I have firsthand experience with thousands of job seekers who needed to get this right before they could land their next gig.

When the economy is throwing lemons, a person needs a really centered belief system to avoid getting down on themselves about the situation. It can happen to anyone.

Bad tapes playing in your mind – Losing a job has a lot of unhealthy consequences. The biggest one is the risk that those old tapes in your brain start playing. You know what I am talking about.

The tape with the teacher telling you how bad you are. The one with the sibling riding you about something you did feel bad about but didn’t need to be reminded of.

And worst of all is the look in the mirror where you see a very poor image looking back. I know these bad tape topics can go on and on.

None of this kind of thinking is good for you. And frankly, I have yet to find a case study where the truth was anything close to being as bad as what the person claimed as their downside.

Visualization

By understanding this overall dynamic and the relationship between job and self, you can free yourself of the disappointment, guilt, fear, and uncertainty when your job is adversely impacted or lost.

When the job situation changes enough you no longer have to trigger all of those emotions.

By redefining your purpose and sense of self, you can more quickly focus your energy when the job situation changes.

The rollercoaster effect does not have to have such severe highs and lows. A job change is never easy, but by disconnecting your value system from the significance of the work, you reach a better, more realistic view of what the job should be and where it fits in the scheme of things.

Take Action

So how do you get there? Here are a few action items to consider.

Test yourself in advance. Ask the key question – will I be OK if I were to lose my job?

I mean really dive deep on that one. If the answer is “NO, I won’t be OK, emotionally I’ll be ruined”, then you might be dealing with this troubling idea that your self-worth is too closely bound to your job.

While I will grant you the obvious issues that arise from such a question, I am saying to set aside the financial impact.

Focus on the psychological and emotional things that are spun up when you entertain this question; things like fear, doubt, anger, hostility. Experts tell us these kinds of emotions are symptomatic of deeper root causes. I contend that having your job tied to your identity is a pretty big root.

Ask others – Ask your closest friends and confidants. Ask these folks what they think about your balance for work versus your sense of self.

Hint: a spouse is not always the best person to ask this question. This is true simply because they have too much vested and at stake.

Imagine going a whole new direction with work – If your opportunity to make money went a whole new way, would losing the former position or job impact your definition of yourself.

This can help determine how proud you are of the current situation. Pride is usually indicative of tying it to some sense of self-worth. If something is boosting some area of your mental image, you are often proud of it.

Try to define who and what you are without mentioning work – Try this one day. See if you like the statement you have. If not, take some time to work on that.

In closing, let me say this theme has been played out in many lives I know. It seems to be human nature to let our work become a definition of what we are.

I encourage you to do yourself a favor. If your identity and sense of self-worth is tied too closely to your job, start the process I’ve presented here. Work through the issues and create a new story for yourself.

I hope this has helped. If you want to learn more, follow my blog at DougThorpe.com.

As always, join in the community discussions by adding a comment on any of the posts or articles. I hope to hear from you soon.

BONUS SECTION – If you or someone you know is facing a career transition, I wrote a book about the program I created at Jobs Ministry Southwest. It is called “STRIVE.” The book includes the powerful and effective 6-step job search success program by the same name. Also in this book, I share an in-depth process to help you regain your sense of personal purpose.

Remember, you are NOT your job.

Through the Leadership Looking Glass

Or what lens are you seeing through?

Launching my 2022 campaign to help 10,000 managers and business owners become better bosses, I’ve already gotten some great responses. Over 1,400 have already acknowledged the need to improve and their pledge to do so. For more on my campaign, read below.

Yet the most common question so far is “where do I start?” To answer that, I turn to an old friend the Johari Window.

The Johari Window is that view that compares the known versus the unknown, the seen versus the unseen. It adds the dimension of you versus others. Here’s the diagram.

In this model, a leader can position themselves to evaluate exactly where they might stand.

Doing the Analysis

Looking at this diagram, ask yourself these questions.

What do I do well? These should be things not limited to what you think you do well (the Facade box), but things others acknowledge (the Arena box). Good bosses leverage the strengths and abilities they already possess while they work on the gaps they need to fill.

Do I have things in my “Unknown” box that should be worked on? An example here is the “Imposter Syndrome”. Many managers feel their situation is fake. They are so uncomfortable in the role, they are barely faking it to make it. Folks with this going on are afraid to open up about the uncertainty for fear of losing the job.

What are my blind spots? They’re called blind spots for a reason. You can’t see them by yourself. Who has ever seen the center of their own back? Not without a mirror. It takes an extra effort, device, or instrument to reveal the blind spots we have. Getting proper feedback from 360 reviews, special accountability partners, close confidants, or a coach is required to properly see a blind spot.

What are Blind Spots?

In her book, Fearless Leadership, Loretta Malandro, PhD., identified 10 behavioral blind spots that can derail leaders.

These 10 blind spots are:

  • Going it alone
  • Being insensitive to how your behavior impacts others
  • Having an “I know” attitude
  • Avoiding the difficult conversations
  • Blaming others or circumstances
  • Treating commitments casually
  • Conspiring against others
  • Withholding emotional commitment
  • Not taking a stand
  • Tolerating “good enough”

We each have these blind spots, with some being larger for us than others. Just like in a car, knowing your blind spots is important as you can make some extra effort to ensure that you see what you are doing. And just like in cars, if you don’t know your blind spots, you can get into big trouble.

The first step in avoiding these blind spots is to understand them and what they look like. It is easy to identify these in people we work with, but it is difficult to identify them ourselves (thus they are called blind spots). Here are some behaviors that describe each blind spot:

Going it alone: when you do things without asking others for their input. Examples of this behavior include:

  • not asking for help
  • not accepting help
  • not talking about the stress you are under
  • not including others in decisions
  • feeling like you need to get things done on your own

Going it alone is especially problematic for start-up entrepreneurs. When you begin a business, you think you know your idea the best. You’re not ready to let go and let others help build the dream. First-time business owners also may suffer from getting too deep into this syndrome. You’re just not ready or willing to open up to others.

Being insensitive to how your behavior impacts others: when you allow yourself to say or do most anything without sensitivity to the consequences or impact on others.

  • not noticing how body language impacts others
  • choosing words that can be mean or misunderstood provoking a negative response
  • not realizing how you’re devaluing others input or ideas

You rationalize these behaviors by thinking that people hurt by your words will “get over it.”

Having an “I know attitude“: when you think that you are always right and those who disagree with you are wrong.

  • not listening to others
  • always coming up with reasons others ideas won’t work
  • devaluing others ideas
  • arguing with anyone who disagrees with you
  • refusing to explore other options
  • making assumptions about others’ intent or their ideas

Avoiding difficult conversations: you avoid conflict and stressful situations – so you avoid those conversations where that happens.

  • not raising concerns or issues about other’s behavior
  • avoiding talking about negative information (bad sales, company layoffs, etc.)
  • softening tough messages and not talking about real concerns.

You only like to talk about surface issues.

Blaming others or circumstances: avoiding the need to take accountability or try to negate by shifting blame.

  • always having a reason
  • excuse or explanation for why something went wrong
  • “yeah, but…”
  • complaining about how it could have gone “if only”
  • leaving a project when you see it is not going to succeed.

I like to think of these as convenient excuses.

Treating commitments casually: when you make casual commitments that you don’t keep.

  • showing up late for meetings
  • not getting projects done on time
  • never making hard commitments in the first place
  • always having an escape hatch
  • using the “I’ll try” instead of “I will”

A leader’s ability to influence others is dependent on being able to make and keep commitments, regardless of how big or how small.

Conspiring against others: you engage in rumor mills and gossip or talk negatively behind people’s backs.

  • talking one-on-one with others about how you think a project won’t succeed
  • not talking in open project meetings
  • discrediting others ideas or accomplishments
  • displaying negative non-verbal cues such as rolling eyes or engaging in conspiracy theories

Withholding emotional commitments: you can agree intellectually, but withhold putting your heart and soul into a project.

  • just complying with a decision meeting the bare minimum requirements
  • resisting change, withholding support, going through the motions

Leadership requires genuine commitment. People around you can sense the false pretense of making the motion but not being committed.

Not taking a stand: sometimes when you know you should do something but you don’t because of how it could impact you.

not speaking up in a meeting when you disagree with the majority
failing to speak up when senior executives are around
getting people to work around a problem instead of addressing it head-on

Tolerating “good enough”: when you settle for getting things done just ok, but don’t push you or your teams for excellence.

  • not holding others accountable for their work
  • accepting incremental improvements
  • not willing to explore radical options
  • staying inside one’s comfort zone
  • not looking at what the future will require

The Process


Understanding the concept of having blind spots is the first step. Identifying our own blind spot is the harder part. To really get to the bottom of your own blind spot, you have to ask a few trusted confidants to work closely with you. They can better point out where they see your blind spots.

This is a hard exercise but one that is very beneficial. A review process called a 360 is also a useful tool. Many larger companies are using 360s on a regular basis as part of their leadership development programs.

None of us like to hear about our faults. Others don’t like to point them out. If you are open to growing and learning, then by identifying your own weaknesses, you can start the process of improvement and become a better leader and even a better person.

Making a commitment to exploring blond spots is your first step toward becoming a better boss.

Join me for the 2022 Challenge to Be a Better Boss. Take the Pledge. Jump in the LinkedIn Group.

Seen Any Red Flags Lately?

red flag warnings

The new year is always full of new possibilities. Yet sometimes we drag old situations into the new year. One big area where I see people struggle has to do with identifying and managing “red flags.”

What is it about red flags? You know, those subtle warning signs that a new situation is going to have problems.

Whether a new relationship, a new business arrangement, or just a new possibility in our life, the first signs of a red flag should give us pause. Yet too often they don’t. Why is that?

The answer lies in the gap between the “known” and the “unknown”. As you move toward anything new, you will be leaving the known factors and circumstances to move into the unknown. This transition is also why people have difficulty facing change. Change causes this same movement from known to unknown.

Dealing with Comfort Zones

Comfort zones come from the “known” parts of our life. Experiences from the past establish our sense of the known elements in our life. Some experiences are good, some are bad, but all are known.

With the unknown, we establish our own set of expectations. Perceptions about “what could be” start to look very appealing. That’s why we decide to make a change.

Red flags always appear in the “known”. Some fact point is presented right now, today, and it is easy to declare it a red flag. Here’s the rub.

The new red flag, although it is now a “known” item, is weighed against the perceived value of the new deal (the “unknown”). When you choose to ignore a red flag, you have decided the benefit of the unknown is greater than what you know to be true; right here, right now.

 

Relationship 101

Relationships are the easiest examples of dealing with red flags. Entering into a new relationship there is always the phase of getting to know the other person. You make a date, you go out, you spend time talking about each other, sharing experiences and values.

As time goes on, behavioral habits are displayed. Is the other person on time, do they dress well, do they treat other people kindly? The list of possibilities is long. As each item is demonstrated or expressed, you do a mental check off of whether each trait is good or bad. Are they appealing or appalling? The bad ones are red flags.

Sure, no one is perfect, so we allow a certain few red flags to remain. Why, because the potential (remember this is still perceived value) for a better relationship outweighs the red flag.

Occasionally, we look at red flags and think “Oh, we can fix that after we settle down.” Bad idea! My experience says red flags only get worse. They were at odds with one of your values when they were introduced, they will only get worse as time goes on.

Here’s how to burn red flags:

1. Be true to your own values –  Stay centered in your core beliefs and values. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed into a new line of thinking or a new standard of behavior, unless that new direction is a choice you make.

2. Recognize today’s reality –  Make decisions based on as much fact as you can possibly collect. A known, demonstrated behavior that is not acceptable must be rejected. That new life partner or business associate will not change the bad behavior. It might even get worse.

3. Check your perceptions –  The excitement of a new possibility is wonderful. However, if the steps leading up to the new relationship are littered with red flags, take caution.

4. Be assertive –  If you have standards that are going to be compromised by the red flag traits in the other person, stand your ground. Speak the truth. Try to talk it out, be firm. If it costs you the relationship, so be it.

5. Be confident, don’t settle –  Most of all, be confident that you do not have to settle for red flags. Just because that person is available today, if they come with a bag full of red flags, walk away. Search for a better deal.

Managing the red flag scenario is one of the toughest life choices we make. Usually, there are so many reasons to carry on thus ignoring the red flag. However, the red flag is a universal symbol of caution. Why wouldn’t you treat it the same in your personal life and at work? Establish a method to identify and deal with red flags. Your final outcomes will be far more rewarding.

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?