Leaders: Are You Wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It is about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, untrained, or incompetent.

In reality, the tailors make no new clothes at all. Instead, they make everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades naked before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him.

They fear that they will be seen as incompetent. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Leaders need to be cautious about getting too caught up in the excitement of something new. Moving ahead on excitement alone can leave you exposed, just like the Emperor in the fable.

Pride, maybe even arrogance, can contribute to a mindset of denial. So too can fear. Fear of what is ahead can cause a manager to block out vital information.

Another Story, Second Verse

I once worked with an executive who lived in this “New Clothes” mode. This person wasn’t just occasionally vulnerable but lived a daily routine of walking about fully exposed and refusing to hear any news to the contrary. 

Going to a staff meeting with this leader was a painful process for anyone who felt obligated to share “bad news”. The reaction was brutal and downright embarrassing at times. “How can that be?” “What are you doing? Clearly, you must be wrong.”

These were the responses when an issue was raised. Eventually, the other executives stopped talking about the truth during the meeting, instead choosing to just go about the day dealing with and fixing the things that came up.

We had our own meetings on the side to actually get things done. Obviously a very sad situation.

Going Forward

New projects or new initiatives bring their own set of leadership challenges. Things never go perfectly as planned. There are shifts, changes, and surprises along the way.

A good leader knows these things will happen before even starting down a new path. Effective leaders take input from the team to address these issues. Decisions get made about ways to resolve problems, mitigate risks, and maximize performance.

Often the culture suffers from the ability of direct reports being able to “speak truth to power.”

I live by creed in the workplace. “I can handle any news. Just don’t let me get surprised by bad news.”

Said another way, feel free to tell me the truth about what is happening out there. There have been numerous colleagues who have told me how much they appreciate knowing that mindset is real.

Poor leaders make a plan and hope for the best, never wanting to accept bad news about things not working out as hoped.

Why will Leaders Get Blinded?

There are many reasons a leader gets stuck in the “New Clothes” mode. Here are the top three I’ve seen happen.

PRIDE

Yes, pride gets in the way. When you are absolutely sold out to an idea or approach, you just don’t want to hear bad news. It’s closely akin to someone telling you your baby is ugly.

Pride has to get checked at the door. Good leaders never come close to operating in a spirit of pride. Yes, you can have a strong opinion about how good an idea or a team may be, but letting pride overcome objective reasoning is a recipe for disaster.

When things happen that don’t meet expectations, it’s your job to adjust. Review the details and make an informed decision about where, when or how to make a change.

FEAR

Fear is a powerful emotion in any phase of life. As a leader, you have to overcome whatever fear you might have about the mission or the role.  Fear causes us to live in the fight or flight mode. How very unproductive that can be.

Thoughtful guy sitting at a laptop

If the leader is fearful, imagine what the team feels. Fear is an emotion that erodes credibility and confidence. Without either of those, your strength as a leader is undermined. Your foundation crumbles.

HEAD IN THE SAND

The last principle is somewhat a catch-all. Sometimes a person just chooses to ignore the bad news.  It becomes more comfortable to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. (OK this is an old saying, not a scientific fact.)

The point is, you choose to ignore the details. Blinded by your own sense of reality, you let important details go by, never attempting to resolve the issues.

Don’t Fall for the Ruse

The emperor’s new clothes was a ruse perpetrated by some bad people. Yet the ruler fell for it.

Don’t let any of these three choices impact your ability to be an effective leader. Be open to all the information; good or bad. Make informed choices about the changes around you.

Remember, becoming an effective leader is less about writing the perfect plan, but more about solving imperfect problems.

PS – Have a Happy New Tear! I hope 2020 brings you only the best! But you have to get out there and make it happen.

A Holiday Leadership Bonus: Using Grace to Enhance Your Influence with Others

The Holiday season brings out many things for many people. Mostly, people turn to thoughts of family and friends to take a short break, share some good food, and express a little sentiment together.

For my gift to you, I wanted to dig back in the archives and reprint a post that got a lot of response from leaders everywhere. Here you go.


A client reported to me attending a seminar and hearing a very experienced COO make a presentation about “grace management”; adding grace to your management and leadership repertoire.

This topic seldom gets mentioned in any Top 10 list of attributes for managers.

Yet, I love the idea of coaching and teaching about applying grace in the business world.

It has powerful and lasting efects for those who give it and those to whom it is given.

GRACE is not a person or a thing. Rather, in my humble opinion, grace is a state of mind. We can’t earn it. Many feel they don’t deserve it. So, I believe that is why I have yet to find the topic of grace being spoken about in any of the management and leadership books I follow. Could there be a movement brewing? Let’s start one!

Maybe you first heard about grace from a Pastor, Priest, or Rabbi. No, this will NOT be a Bible study article. I simply want to tell you about adding grace to several parts of your life.

What is Grace?

Please allow me to explain my thoughts about grace, then we will apply them to your situation.

First, I said grace is a mindset. It lives halfway between our head and our heart. We can over-think it, thus killing the spirit of it. Or, we can over-give it, thus defying the logic of what we might need to be doing with it. It is a delicate balance of thought, logic, emotion, and self-worth.

Next, it does include a dose of forgiveness. Forgiveness not just for a moment, then later to be revoked, but permanent. Wiped clean, wiped off, wiped out.

Further, in modern terms, grace gives us the break in ‘give me a break’. It cuts you some slack. It soothes the hurt. It takes away the sting. It is the essence of ‘let it go’. My eldest son suggests the idea to ‘breathe’.

There is so much more to grace, but I will leave it at this for now. So with these ideas in mind, how should you and I apply grace? I have several recommendations.

Courtesy 123rf.com / racorn

Where Does Grace Need to Be Applied?

First and foremost, apply it to your own life. No one ever grades us harder than we grade ourselves. Grace allows you to add a curve to the grading. It gives you bonus points.

Giving yourself grace for the things that have not worked out helps to eliminate negative forces that can cripple our effort to move forward.

When you look back at your life, are you haunted by things not done or the ‘wrong’ things you DID do? Do you lament decisions you made? Do you beat yourself up over relationships that went wrong or business deals that did not work out?

If you said YES to any of those, you need some grace in your life. Decide when, where, and how you will give yourself some grace so that the New Year can get going without hurdles.

Managing People

Next, if you manage people, what grace do you give them? We all know there are boundaries and standards that must be applied at work. But your co-workers are human. You need to extend some grace.

It is a certainty that someone somewhere in your circle will fall short of a goal. Once the required administration of the situation is complete, do you offer grace? You can demonstrate grace by establishing a work environment where the employee feels the slate is truly wiped clean once any offense is addressed.

Sidebar –  Yes, I know managers must deal with disciplinary matters that set up probationary periods. So there will be a cloud over the employee while that period is in force. While this is happening, will you treat all other aspects of the person’s work effort with grace?

Family

The other area in your life where grace is vitally needed is family; starting with your spouse (if married), then your children. Have these people committed some offense for which you have yet to forgive? Have you thought about giving them grace?

Relationships need grace. No two people can be perfect all of the time; things happen, disappointments occur. Being a beacon for the light of grace in your own household can set a very positive environment for everyone in the family.

Being a better leader requires the ability to give grace.

Here are 5 key questions about grace.

  • When was the last time you visited the topic of grace? Do you have a good understanding of grace? You must have a concept of the total scope of grace before you can use it or give it.
  • Has grace been given to you lately? When was the last time someone showed you grace?
  • Do you owe yourself some grace? Living in constant darkness about failures, fears, and false values limit what you can be. Giving yourself some grace goes a long way to eliminating these crippling mindsets.
  • Who do you know that needs you to give them grace? I believe we need to give grace to those around us. Decide about someone in your immediate circle and move to give them grace today.
  • Will you add grace to your leadership toolkit? True leadership inspires rather than controls. Giving grace provides a meaningful way to redeem someone on your team who had faltered or failed on a task. Why wouldn’t this be an important consideration for ways to lead people?

I hope this message sinks in. It’s the perfect time of year to add a big dose of grace for the people in our lives. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.

Stuck Right Now? Here’s How to Get 3 Levels Beyond

Are you feeling stuck? It’s like walking in quicksand. You can’t make any forward progress.

We’ve all been there before. This feeling is a common event in most people’s lives. As the chapters of life unfold, there are moments when everything seems to just get stuck and you start to lose the vision of the way ahead. Some may think of this as drifting through life.

The future vision is missing, lost, or forgotten. You just want to make it through another day. You, my friend, need to know there is more waiting for you. Here are three steps to get past feeling stuck.

The Shift

First, you need to make a shift. There needs to be a disruptive force or series of events that can shake things up. Mostly this is a shift that needs to happen in your mind; the way you are thinking needs to change.

I see so many people every day who are stuck in their mindset. Their head is filled with negative, limiting thoughts. “I can’t do that”, “I am too weak”, “I don’t have that skill”, “I don’t know that subject”.

You may also need to shift the people who are around you, especially if they serve to enforce those negative thoughts. If you speak a limiting thought and they agree with you, they are not being any help. Find some new friends.

Start growing away from old, bad thoughts. Read new books, watch some TED talk videos, open your mind to new ideas. Get a refresh!

By engaging a shift mindset, you can begin to pull out of the muck where you are stuck.

The Lift

As the shift builds momentum, you will get a feeling of lift. Just like the wind passing over the wings of a bird or an airplane, there is lift. The whole body rises into flight.

Pressure and stress will ease. Old burdens will fall away and you will feel a growing energy.

Lift creates a move to new direction. You sense a freedom of thought, action, and purpose. You are renewed.

The Gift

As you rise above the old state of mind, you achieve a newness; a renewed sense of purpose. You get a fresh look at the world ahead. Empowered by the new energy you will become a gift to those around you.

As a manager and leader, your fresh view of things can become contagious. Your smile and energy will impact others. You can help them begin their own shift out of ‘stuckness’.

If you need help embarking on a life change like this, I’d be happy to explain my coaching programs. I’ve helped hundreds of seasoned professionals get unstuck.

How to Find Perspective in Your Own Leadership Ability

gaining perspective

Having the right perspective in life is vitally important, but it has special meaning for people in leadership positions.

Maintaining the right perspective is sometimes hard to do.

During a recent trip to Las Vegas to speak during the AWS re:Invent conference, I had the chance to take a side trip out to the Grand Canyon. More specifically, I flew in a helicopter hovering just above the rim of the canyon.

gaining perspective in the Grand Canyon

We were flying at 5,000 feet but it looked like (and felt like) we were almost touching the rocks beneath us. Yet even from the rim, the drop to the canyon floor was huge. The perspective was hard to judge at first.

We had been cruising around the rim for a few minutes when we approached the Skywalk observation deck on the west end. The whole compound looked like a dot on the landscape. Yet that visitor center cycles thousands of visitors around the Skywalk every day.

It proved just how magnificent the Grand Canyon truly is. The Skywalk was a mere speck on the horizon and our helicopter was even smaller compared to the canyon itself.

When you as a leader look around your situation at work, at home, or in your community, you have to find the correct perspective to gain the most from the self-reflection process.

Using Assessment Tools

I often work with companies that use the Hogan Personality Assessment tools. Hogan has been around for decades. Their process uses predictive analysis to look at a leader’s personality, giving you a look forward at who and what you might be to those around you.

Hogan provides a multi-dimensional personality profile analysis. Among many positive indicators it tracks, it also includes one very critical analysis called “derailers”. These are personality attributes that can undermine your effectiveness as a leader if used to an extreme.

Like my view of the Grand Canyon from a seat in the helicopter, you have to get the right perspective when looking at the derailers in your personality.

If you take the feedback too lightly, you may miss the significance of the meaning. Absorb them too harshly (i.e. judging yourself too strictly) and you over-correct.

Finding a healthy way to receive any feedback you get and then apply it to your leadership style is the best way to grow as a leader.

Easier Said Than Done

However, that is much easier said than done. So how can you find the right perspective from derailers and apply good corrective measures to achieve more?

First, look at the input. Using highly developed tools like a Hogan assessment is one way to get reliable data. I’m highlighting Hogan here, but there are many others.

One free tool you can self-administer is from 16 Personalities. I have found their results to be compelling and similar to the results you get from many of the higher-priced tools.

Getting good data is better than simply spending a weekend meditating about things you think you need to look at. Using comprehensive analysis tools will uncover blind spots.

Next, take the results from your profiling and share it with a trusted advisor/friend. Ask them to verify what the report tells you. They too can add color to the findings. More importantly, they can help you gauge just how extreme a trait might be.

trusted advisor

Lastly, find a mentor/coach to help you map a plan for implementing the right dose of corrective measures to grow as a leader. A coach can be your guide on the journey to improving and growing as a leader.

Footnote and Disclaimer: Mention of Hogan Assessments and 16Personalities does not represent a personal gain from either of those companies. I share information about tools and tips I have used myself and find helpful.

Here’s a shot just before takeoff.

Leaders Build Stepping Stones

What do you think of when someone says something about a stepping stone? The origin comes from placement of stones across a stream so that a pedestrian can walk across the flow of the water without getting wet.

Courtesy 123rf.com

Often the stones are placed by hikers trying to make a crossing in a river. The stones can be randomly placed or symmetrical.

I like to picture these stones when I think of key people who have been major influencers in my life. Likely, you too have had mentors or significant personalities that have played a role as a stepping stone in your life.

The Back Story

When someone stands up or stands in to provide support, they become a stepping stone. For me, I grew up the only child of a single Mom. My Father passed away when I was only 2 years old. Mom was determined to provide me with significant male role models to aid in my development as a man.

As a result, my stepping stones evolved thanks to the contributions of at least 6 of these caring and giving men. The time they spent teaching me things like baseball, golf, fishing, tennis, woodworking, and camping, taught me much more than the basics. Yes, I learned how to hit a fastball, bait a hook, fly a plane, light a good fire, and varnish a mahogany cabinet, but more importantly, I learned about hard work, seeking wisdom, and living by faith.

The other interesting aspect of this mentoring experience is that these men were not rock stars. They were neither Titans of business nor famous celebrity motivators like a Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy or John Maxwell. They were regular guys who lived life day-by-day, attempting as best they could to do the right thing.

Ladies, I do not want to forget you. What I am saying here applies to women as well. I have known plenty of young ladies who likewise received counsel from a mentor. Everything I am suggesting about this principle applies to both genders.

If you have been blessed by someone, a stepping stone, I hope you now have a desire to mentor. You don’t have to achieve some big celebrity status or have a big footprint in the media. You can make a huge difference in some young person’s life.

Here are the basic parts of being a mentor (in no particular order).

1. Availability –  Just showing up is a good place to start. Whatever the strength or skill set, whatever the core values you possess, making yourself available is key to setting the stage and the environment for mentoring.

2. Trust –  Earning the trust of your mentee is so necessary in order to make the sharing work. It will not matter how wise or helpful your experience may be if the person does not trust you.

3. Reliability –  Once a trust expectation begins to develop, your reliability to engage and respond is critical. Nothing does a young heart more harm than an unmet promise. Promises like “I’ll be there at 3:00” then no-show.

4. Patience –  Young students will do dumb things. Roll with it. Yes, you can assert some form of discipline, but gauge your student and apply the firmness wisely.

5. Candor –  Being open to share who and what you are is important. That is the ultimate teaching tool. Mentoring is about giving the mentee someone to emulate. If they don’t know YOU, then the best is not coming out.

6. Honesty –  Don’t make stuff up. If your candidate asks something you don’t know, admit it. Guide the person in exploring together where and how to find the answer.

7. Giving –  Be able to give. This is not about money. It requires all of the attributes above. A giving, servant’s heart and open mind is what makes you a good mentor.

One last note. I believe mentoring is different from coaching. Coaches can be good mentors, but a mentor can be effective without the more stern and disciplined aspects of what a coach should be doing for you. Mentors have a special passion about their gift. The way they give to others and inspire those around them to grow, is the center of a great mentorship experience.

Accountable

The point is, there are very effective mentoring opportunities that do not require coaching skills. So do not hold back when a situation comes up where you could be a mentor to a young person. You, too, can be a stepping stone for someone’s greatness.

In closing, I will tell you it has been over 40 years since I last saw some of the men I mentioned above. Yet almost every day some small aspect of my life reminds me of something they taught me or showed me. Their work and their gifts became a part of my actual psyche and emotional intelligence. The stepping stones they laid in my life remain strong.

If you are wondering about leaving a legacy, become a mentor to those around you.

Hear the podcast associated with this article.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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Tags: mentoring, management, leadership, mindset

Happy Thanksgiving

happy thanksgiving

In this edition, I have no new material to share. In honor of the Thanksgiving Holiday, I simply want to say THANK YOU to the many who have chosen to follow my blog, podcasts, and videos.

It is you, the reader/listener/viewer who bless me with your interest and comments.

The date we call Thanksgiving is a United States thing, I get that. Yet the concept is global and should be important to think about.

What if we all said “thank you” a little more? Say it to the ones we love. Say it to those who perform acts of kindness or service along our journey each day. Maybe it’s the barista at Starbucks or the clerk at the dry cleaners. Maybe it’s your child’s teacher or coach.

There are dozens of people each one of us will contact each day. If we offered a simple thank you to so many more, think how much friendlier our world might be.

It doesn’t take heroic acts to bless others. Sometimes a simple gesture like “Thanks” is enough.

So again, THANK YOU, be blessed.

For more thoughts on being grateful click here

Leaders: If you Confuse, You Lose

There’s an old saying in the sales world. “The confused mind says NO.” Clearly that has big implications when trying to sell a product or service.

A prospect who gets confused by your sales pitch will revert to a NO answer all the time. On the other hand, a clear, concise explanation of the thing you are trying to sell will help close the deal.

The same is true of leadership responsibility. A confused mind says NO. If you confuse the people around you, the overall performance will be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

An employee’s willingness to perform is centered on their ability to clearly understand expectations and directions.

Clarity may be your best secret weapon to achieve better team performance.

It’s a Complicated World

There’s no denying the increased complexity in business these days. Whether you blame the exponential growth of technology or just the deeper understanding of things around us, it’s much harder to operate a business today than it once was.

Confused minds say NO

However, operating a highly specialized or technical business should not distract you from trying to make things simple for your team to comprehend.

Military people learned the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid. When giving orders, it is the leader’s duty to make the instructions as simple to comprehend as possible. In combat, confused minds get people killed.

In business, the smartest guy in the room shouldn’t be rubbing that in, especially if they are the boss. Rather, if you think you truly are the smartest guy at the table, then you should be able to figure out ways to make directions and instructions easier to understand.

What To Do

Sometimes in figuring out what to do to make things more clear for your team, it is valuable to talk about what NOT to do. Here are a few big ideas to follow.

First, don’t be vague about directives. Masking your meaning immediately leads to confusion. The odds of your people going off in the wrong direction are far greater when you are unclear about your own expectations.

Think of 360 degrees on a compass (in a circle). The direction you need people to take is likely on one of a few degrees on that compass. If you are vague, your team has a minimum of 350+ other directions to go.

If you’re not exactly sure about the direction you want to take, invest the time and energy in getting your own clarity first.

Next, watch your communication style. In times of high stress and urgent deadlines, lookout for accelerating your own reactions to things going on around you. Create more measured responses.

Don’t react, respond instead. There is a big difference.

Lastly, remember the acronym FAST to increase your leadership effectiveness.

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach the desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around them.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Eliminate Confusion

Eliminating confusion can bring greater results. Remember, the confused mind says “NO” every time.

Question: When was the last time you experienced being confused by what the boss said? Were YOU the boss creating confusion?

The Great Leadership Debate: Nature vs Nurture

Visit the best business schools on the planet and you are likely to hear a robust debate about the virtues of leadership. The central question is whether great leaders are born or bred; nature versus nurture.

One theory argues that true leadership is an inborn trait that few possess. The other popular and prevailing thought is that leaders can be developed. 

While certain natural talents afford some leaders with an innate sense of leadership, you certainly can train people to become better leaders.

The military does it on a regular and reliable basis. Whether you look at the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or commissioned officer corps, the development of leadership talent is a business for the military.

People who exhibit good leadership talent are promoted to progressively more significant leadership roles until their capabilities are maximized.

As an example, few officers make it to the rank of general. Typically, officers are promoted several times in their career before their maximum efficiency as a leader is determined and the promotion train stops. The same holds true in corporate circles.

Some call this phenomenon the law of maximum incompetence. John Maxwell calls it simply “The Law of the Lid”.

Everyone who aspires to become a leader has a lid on their ability to lead. You can start a career with some natural talent (i.e. born with it) and you can work toward increasing your leadership capacity by training and coaching.

Yet according to Maxwell, you still hit a personal lid that limits the level of influence you achieve as a leader.

It is not hard to see this concept in real life. Not everyone who tries their hand at business leadership becomes the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. In fact very few do it.

What to Do

So what is the mainstream business executive or company owner supposed to do with his or her current leadership capacity? Have you ever thought of yourself as a Leader?

Looking at blind spots

Seek valid and reliable feedback about your blind spots. This immediate and valuable insight that can vault your effort above what it is today. Knowing what you don’t know or can see is vital information with which you can make changes and grow.

Here’s a diagram that outlines the ways we see (or don’t see) our blind spots.

Hire a coach. Coaching for executives is growing in acceptance and popularity. People have used coaches at the gym and for special hobbies and interests for quite some time.

Why not use the same approach when seeking to increase your leadership influence?

An effective executive coach will help you design a growth plan; personal growth. There should be measurable and tangible outcomes expected.

Improve your circle of peers. Be open to networking with mastermind groups and coaching groups where you can work with peers to gain insight for best practices and have a personal board of directors to whom you report.

Read – it seems so simple, but the power of reading has been proven time and time again. Take recommendations from leaders you admire. Read their selections of books. Consume what they consume and you will begin to grow.

Every leader I have ever admired has his/her own list. As soon as I asked about their favorites, they would gladly share. Of course, some titles get repeated, but that just serves as proof of the impact of that book.

Leadership growth is possible.

The best and greatest leaders claim a rigorous routine of seeking knowledge and information about ways to grow as leaders.

Stephen R. Covey called it “sharpening the saw”. As you move through the phases of your career and life, things change. You can get worn down. There must be an ever-present desire to stay sharp and grow.

Building Team Trust When Some Don’t Trust Anyone

Dan was recognized as a strong and effective leader. He had earned the respect from the CEO and other senior leaders at his company.

In his newest assignment, he had been working hard to establish the framework of trust that he knew would be vital to the team’s success.

From the very first day as the new division head, he was speaking with his direct reports one-on-one and in small groups, using his best practices to tear down walls and create the right harmony he knew he needed.

Yet he could sense total pushback from two of his longest-tenured technical people. Sandy and Ted were not buying it.

Dan decided to take his concerns directly to both Ted and Sandy. One by one he called them in for a private chat.

He opened with acknowledging how important he thought their roles were to the team’s success. They each agreed with that. Then he asked a fairly pointed question.

co-workers not trusting

Ted Went First

Dan started “I’ve been watching the development of this leadership team. We’ve been working to understand the clarity of our purpose and align our resources for the best outcomes toward our goals. Yet I sense a reluctance from you. I’d really like to understand what it is that is blocking things for you.”

Ted was pretty quick to respond. He said “Dan, I haven’t been honest with you. I’ve been at this company for a long time. This latest change is too much for me. I’m eligible to retire and I think now is the right time to do that.”

Dan was not surprised, that made perfect sense. He responded “Ted, I’d sure hate to lose you, but I respect everything you’ve done here. Is there anything that might help you change your mind?”

Ted smiled a wry grin. “Thanks, but no. It’s time. This has nothing to do with you or the company. I just need to get serious with my own situation and quit holding you guys back. It’s been a good run. I want to leave a good legacy.”

Dan said “Thank you for that honesty. If there’s anything I can do while you get situated, let me know.”

On the Other Hand

Sandy’s talk didn’t go so well. Dan opened the same way but got a totally different reaction.

Sandy shook her head and replied “I just don’t trust these people. I’ve worked with a few of them before and know what they do behind people’s backs.”

Dan thought about how contrary this sounded based on his own history with the team from prior assignments. He knew about their performance elsewhere and the accolades they had gotten from others, both above and below them in the organization.

He simply said to Sandy, “Tell me more.”

“Well…..” and her list began. Interesting to Dan was the level of petty complaints he heard. He was shocked at just how petty many of these grievances sounded when compared to the duties Sandy had on her plate.

He had not known Sandy that well from before, but had always relied on her technical delivery of work product and was pleased. Yet hearing her voiced concerns about others made him realize one big thing about Sandy.

She really didn’t trust anyone.

The Leader’s Boundaries

In the effort to be an effective leader, there are many things you must do but there are some you cannot do.

Becoming a therapist for an employee who exhibits behaviors that are not conducive to good teamwork is just not something you should delve into.

We’ve all been there before, realizing you have an employee who has some psycho-emotional baggage that will not allow open and reliable cooperation on the team.

So what do you do?

First, don’t let it get personal. Stick to team outcomes when describing expectations. Make those expectations very clear.

Shifting the Spotlight

Watch for tell-tale signs of behavioral problems. An untrusting soul may often try to shift the spotlight away from themselves onto others.

anger at work

Examples include placing blame for minor matters and accusing others of “failing” to deliver properly. They somehow think that constantly churning the team around them will keep the focus away from their own issues.

Someone who is more trusting will accept responsibility and become vulnerable to things needing more attention.

I’ve seen situations where the highest performer on the team was actually the least trusting individual. Despite adding significant value to the team, they cause so much confusion and disruption, their actual worth starts to be questionable.

This latter situation may be the leader’s biggest challenge. If you’ve ever been frustrated by someone’s behavior yet asked yourself something like this “Can I afford to lose them?”, you should start the process to do just that.

Keeping a team member who will never trust the rest of the team will derail everything you may try to accomplish. It happens every time.

Question: When was a time that you had someone on your team who couldn’t trust others? Leave a comment.

Bubble-Wrapped Leaders?

If you sit in an executive seat whether CEO, owner or manager, are YOU bubble-wrapped? What is a bubble -wrapped leader?

For starters, they are not very good leaders. Bubble-wrapping insulates from all the things going on around us. I’ve seen key executives isolate themselves by layers of policy, procedure, and occasionally people.

There is one company I’ve worked with that is so traditional in their hierarchy that various levels are not encouraged to talk more than one level up without being accompanied by someone from the level in between.

In an age of fast-moving decisions demanding such a structure creates huge roadblocks and inefficiency.

However, there are more subtle ways we find ourselves bubble wrapped as leaders.

Here are a few to think about.

The Intentional

First, the very intentional. Like the antiquated hierarchy I mentioned above, some leaders consciously choose to build walls to keep others away.

If you’re in sales you know about the “gatekeepers” who defend the castle around the big boss/decision-maker.

While this kind of defense might make sense from outside the company, why should you allow it inside?

The Cerebral

Next, there are the more cerebral ways to get bubble wrapped.

Tangling yourself in technical jargon and complexity can bubble wrap you and isolate you from others.

I’ve worked with some pretty smart people in my day. Being truly the smartest guy in the room can have an effect of separating you from others around you.

The Policy

Then there is the leader who immerses him or herself in dogmatic policy, practice or tradition. As soon as someone brings an idea that runs counter to the main way of thinking, the leader quickly rejects the person and the idea.

I see this often with companies that have long-standing legacies. If the company is more than 20 years old, likely you will find practices and traditions that insulate the leader’s thinking.

In companies like this, I frequently hear emerging managers complain that their chief instruction when taking on new duties was “don’t screw it up.”

The Fix

Have you created any of the above situations that insulate and isolate your thinking, like bubble wrap protects delicate packages?

Leaders need fresh ideas to compete and stay relevant in changing markets.

In addition, changing trends in workforce management require constant vigil for workable new ideas.

The best way to avoid isolation is to actively encourage discussion within your team. Surrounding yourself with talented people is great, but you need to be sure the right things are being discussed.

Walking around the floor, shop, or workroom helps too. Engaging with employees at all levels keeps your sensitivity to the real truth of what is going on sharp and tuned in.

Lastly, you might want to check your attitude. One of the biggest hurdles the average entrepreneur faces is pride. If your little idea takes flight and becomes something successful you might deserve feeling good about it.

There’s is, however, a big difference between a healthy appreciation for what you have and a huge ego.

I’ve seen far too many owners get themselves in big trouble by living behind their ego.

You can also listen to this message on my podcast channel here.