Thursday, April 27, 2017


As I am cleaning up my house, preparing for a move I found a newspaper clipping I had saved with a poem on it. It appeared in Dear Abby on May 17, 1983. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Today, upon a bus, I saw a lovely maid with golden hair,
I envied her, she seemed so gay, and I wished I were as fair.
When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot, and used a crutch, but as she passed, she had a smile.
Oh, God forgive me when I whine; I have two feet, the world is mine.

And when I stopped to buy some sweets,
the lad who sold them had such charm. I talked with him, he said to me,
"It's nice to talk to men like you. You see," he said, "I'm blind."
Oh, God forgive me when I whine; I have two eyes, the world is mine.

Then, as I passed along the way, I saw a child with eyes of blue.
He stood and watched the others play; it seemed he knew not what to do.
I stopped for a moment; and then I said, "Why don't you join the others dear?"
He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear.
Oh, God forgive me when I whine; I have two ears, the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I'd go,
with eyes to see the sunsets glow,
with ears to hear what I would know,
I am blessed indeed.
The world is mine.
Oh, God forgive me if I whine.

Author Unknown

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Paradox of Letting Go

I continue to run into leaders with serious control issues. They work so hard to micro-manage every aspect of their business (including all the people in it) that they don't even realize the consequences it has on their overall results. No one wants to be caught by surprise and we all want the best possible outcomes from our decisions but how much control is too much?

Every leader struggles with trust; how much to delegate? How important should the tasks that are delegated be? How do we know when someone is "ready" for the next level of accountability? Is there a balance between micro-managing and complete autonomy?

This points to the differences between management and leadership. Consider, "the paradox of letting go" from Lao Tzu. This philosophy says, "when I let go of what I am I become what I might be."

We never intend to come across as controlling or distrusting, but when we insert ourselves in the middle of projects without being invited, it sends a message that, "the situation is clearly so out of control it deems my immediate attention". It forces people to take the defense, disrupts any momentum they may have, or causes them to check out completely and disengage from the project and from you. They think, "Why invest the time and energy if you are just going to take over and do it your way anyway?"

There is also some law of nature at play when it comes to control; sometimes the things you work the hardest to command just slip through your tightly grasped hands. Instead, the more relaxed and centered you are about outcomes the more positive energy is drawn to you. If you aren't getting the results you want, raise your self-awareness about the issues that you chronically attempt to control. Ask for feedback on the times when you get in the middle "trying to help". And trust in the people and process around you. You may find a calmer peace of mind to go with it. There is no greater self-imposed pressure than the need to control the entire universe around you.

Hint:    It isn't about you - let it go

There is a certain sense of serenity that comes with surrendering and accepting that unintended consequences aren't always terrible.

Think of the power of leadership over management:

  • When I give up trying to be in control (management), I have greater influence (leadership).

  • When I let go of my fear of failure (management), I am stronger (leadership).

  • When I stop dictating to my team (management), I allow them to show me their capabilities (leadership).

What I learn by trying to control others is that my team can follow instructions; what I never learn is the potential waiting inside them. Management is about power, leadership is about liberation. In the moments of greatest desire to control, consider letting go. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Optimizing Development Plans

The development planning process can be just another HR initiative that usurps precious time from your "business" activities. However, when you calculate the impact your employees have on the bottom line - both as an expense and a source of potential revenue - you can see the benefit of more strategically managing your one of your largest investments.

Consider this: A downturn in business presents an opportunity to retool and refocus your talent pool because when the market turns around you will be poised for dominance. Those who squander this chance to look inward risk lost revenue and market share as your competitors with better qualified talent surpass you. Therefore, as a part of your business planning process, you create a road map to refine your strengths, develop new skills or reach new markets, and mitigate your weaknesses.

Since company performance ultimately depends on the performance of each individual employee, you cannot afford for employee performance to remain stagnant year over year either.  This is where your development planning process plays an important role: the development plan is the business roadmap translated down to the employee level.

So how do you get started?

1) As a starting point, take your company and/or your team goals and have each employee identify 3-5 main objectives that align with those initiatives.
  •          Does the employee need to learn new skills to help them reach their objectives? Add that to the training plan.
  •          Does at least one of those objectives stretch and/or challenge the employee? If not, refine the list to include one.
  •          How will you know when the objective has been reached? Be sure to be specific enough that you can follow up on progress.

2) Additionally, choose at least one strength and evaluate how you as a supervisor can leverage that strength, while giving the employee more opportunities to stretch, grow, and refine.

3) Also, choose one development area and plan out how can the employee can improve. Think out of the box: shadowing, on the job training, formal training, research, mentoring, special project assignments.

4) Choose a time to discuss the plan with your employees. Remember this is a development discussion (proactive) not a corrective action discussion (reactive).

5) Write everything down. This ensures you have a visible reminder of your conversation.

6) Set a time to follow up. You might need to have formal monthly check-ins with the employee or informal conversations. Either is fine, but just remember to track progress and provide feedback regularly.

Remember, if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. Using a development road map helps ensure your employees and your company reach their maximum potential.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part II

Part I of this article can be found HERE.

Here are just a few ways to get started:

1. Developmental "play" - Take it apart and rebuild it

Some of the most effective developmental toys for children involve taking the toy completely apart so the child can learn to put it back together.  Many times there are several ways it can be done, allowing the freedom of experimentation without being restricted to one "right" way.

The beauty of applying this learning design to daily work is that every person will approach tasks in a new and different way. Because they have a unique vision of what they would do if they could completely reinvent something, this process of experimentation is rich with discovery. 

It is easy to find ourselves in a confidence rut because we live in a world of routine.  If you do things the same way every time, it is hard to feel the thrill of purposeful excitement that only comes from providing a unique contribution to a successful venture.

Leaders can encourage creativity, fearlessness, and independent thinking by assigning employees the task of taking apart certain routine procedures or projects and rebuilding it in a new way.  It may mean only a slight change, but giving them permission (and accountability) to rethink the familiar can have a big effect on their confidence and willingness to accept responsibility.  It can be fun too!

2. Make friends with your fear

The most courageous people are not immune to fear.  They just don't believe all its hype.  Contrary to popular belief, self-confidence is not the opposite of self-doubt.  They are, in fact, quite intertwined.

Genuine confidence is gained by having the courage to try something even when there is a risk of failure.  As Eleanor Roosevelt so aptly put it, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face....You must do the thing which you think you cannot do". 

Pay attention to possible areas of fear or insecurity in your employees (i.e. avoidance behavior) and engage them in dialogue about it.  It is important to remember that people also avoid what doesn't interest them, so be sure to probe whether it is more a matter of a lack of motivation for the particular task.  Strategic division of labor is a major factor in high performance teams but is often overlooked as a means of improving employee's performance.

Ask permission to partner with them in overcoming this perceived obstacle.  For example, a leader noticed an insecurity one of their employees had in dealing with numbers and financial data.  After exploration and discussion of the employee's needs, she provided them with an instructional DVD set for basic accounting and financials that they could study in the privacy of their home. 

Remember, it is in our nature to avoid what we fear.  Instead of focusing on only their strengths or wishing they'd just "get over it", spend time understanding what holds them back.  Find ways to give them safe (and not too public) opportunities to stretch into the areas where fear holds them back.

3. Highlight the most "successful failures"

The best way to make someone feel safe to take risks around you is to prove that you understand and appreciate the value of failure.  Successes are obviously worth our attention, but our failures are often better teachers.  Instead of just broadcasting the wins, make it a point to highlight the losses that resulted in big learning gains. 

Start with your own and the habit will catch on.  Work toward freeing your employees of their failure inhibition and you'll be blown away at what they are capable of. 
The bottom line is this: 

You will not reach your performance goals without a confident, accountable, motivated team.

You have the power to create the team you desire.

Your belief in others should be based on a genuine desire to see THEM succeed, not in your terms but their own.  This is the difference between helping them soar on your confidence and freedom or watching them sink from your pressure.

YOU don't have to take on everything yourself.  Create a team just as courageous as you and imagine the possibilities.

The Courageous Leader, Cautious Team Paradox Part I

Mary is a strong leader.  She approaches everything with confidence and determination.  She makes a point to lead by example by modeling a positive attitude and a zero tolerance for failure.  Mary's team sees that she has a high degree of self-esteem, enjoys being involved and thrives on taking risks and tackling challenges head on.

But Mary has a puzzling problem.  She is a courageous leader with a cautious team.  She struggles to make sense of their lack of enthusiasm and initiative.  How can she do anything more than what she is already doing by putting on display the kind of go-getter, confident achiever she expects them to be?

Mary is certainly not alone in this frustrating scenario.  An inability to rally their troops is a common complaint we hear from leaders.  They are dismayed at the amount of work they take on because their team appears to be asleep at the wheel, or rarely taking it out of first gear.

Mary wonders if the only solution is to lower her expectations and continue to rely only on herself to drive the team.  She is beginning to believe that stepping up when no one else will is what defines leadership. 

This line of self-questioning is a crucial crossroad for leaders.  The breakneck pace of business seems to imply that the path of quickest gain is the road best taken.  This flawed belief explains the widespread yet ineffective "done right, do it myself" leadership mentality.
These leaders are making a crucial mistake.

By merely expecting their own enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity to catch on via modeling, they've unwittingly done one of three things:

1) Enabled their team to become lazy and dependent by a lack of accountability.

2) Failed to get to the bottom of why their team lacks energy and purpose.  Often, we see talented employees languishing because they are assigned tasks within their skill level but outside their interests.  Just because we do something well doesn't mean we want to be doing it.

3) Sent an unspoken message to the team that they are a one man show and the rest of them are non-essential.  Team members begin to disengage simply because they cannot keep pace with their driving style or continually fail to measure up to unrealistic expectations. 

In their book, Primal Leadership, Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis defined this third leadership mistake as part of the downside of a "Pacesetting" leadership style.  "The phrase that best describes the operating mode of the pacesetting leader is "Do as I do, now."  One of the perks of the Pacesetting style is they are quick to get results.  On the other hand, they are just as quick to burn through people.

Employees are often overwhelmed by the speed and demands placed upon them, resulting in rapidly eroding morale.  "The pace under this leadership style is so quick that instructions may not even be clear. And to make matters worse, the leader has no patience for those that need to learn or are not picking up new work fast enough," says Goleman, McKee and Boyatzis.

While leading by example is indeed a crucial component of successful leadership, this method alone is not sufficient to ignite engagement or build the catalyst ingredients of star performance - CONFIDENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and MOTIVATION MATCHING.  We're going to focus on the confidence component.

Leaders often overlook the significant influence a sense of confidence has on the performance, or lack thereof, of their team members.  This cause and effect, confidence to performance relationship has been largely misunderstood.  Thought to be something yielded primarily from in born personality, observation or inspiration, leaders are often puzzled why their high drive and fearless attitude doesn't catch on. 

Paradoxically, some of the most hard-hitting, self-assured leaders produce the weakest teams.  They cast long shadows, a tempting place for their team to hide.  Certainly, confidence can be air-borne contagious, but merely being in the presence of a strong spirited leader produces only temporary esteem building effects.  Because at its core, self-assurance is a belief system, true confidence must be infused and internalized to have real, long lasting effects.  One cannot merely feel it, they must BELIEVE it. 

So what exactly is confidence?  Confidence is defined as self-assurance or a belief in one's ability to succeed.  A confident person is made, not born.  Our level of self-confidence is impacted daily by our actions and the response from those around us.  As such, it requires development and nourishment to realize its full potential.

Employees with a high degree of confidence demonstrate APPROACH instead of avoidance behavior with new tasks, consistently produce high quality work, and resist the urge to let failure define or restrict them.

Through a series of targeted, ongoing developmental exercises, leaders can build individual as well as team confidence.  You might just find yourself with a "new" team, without the hassle of costly staffing changes.

Continue Here

Friday, March 31, 2017

Month in a Minute

Steve and me at CHG in Salt Lake City
March came in with snow and is ending with snow, needless to say I am ready to say goodbye to March. Thankfully most of our work was local, except for a quick trip out to Salt Lake City.  We weren't able to escape the weather, but at least we didn't have to do much traveling in it.

Book update:  The manuscript is now finished, and we are printing a test copy this week. We anticipate a late May publishing date.  I will be presenting a free companion webinar on April 14.  There are only a few seats left so register here for your sneak peek of Choose Resilience.The website is nearly finished, stay tuned, we will share it with our loyal blog subscribers first!

House update:  No buyers yet. If you're looking for a great house in Bedford, NH please let me know. Or you can contact my realtor Cheryl, directly. I have also decided to move our office to ease the transitional burden of having to do it all, all at once.

We are gearing up for an extremely busy April and May.  I will be in Chicago on April 25th for the SHRM Global Talent Management Conference and ExpositionIf any of you are going to be there please be sure to stop and say hello to Steve and me.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Case of the Cursed Position

What can you do about a position that seems “cursed” with chronic turnover? Before you resign yourself to affixing a permanent “just visiting” sign over the desk, consider the following ideas.

If you go to the doctor’s office complaining of a chronic ailment they will typically walk you through an inventory of questions to uncover potential causes of the reoccurring symptoms. 

Once all common causes are considered, they continue to rule out each possibility in order to isolate the core issue.

So what exactly is a “cursed” position? The job with the revolving spot on your open positions list, the ad most frequently placed, the “how long do you give them?” wagers at the water cooler. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably time to stop ignoring the signs and wasting time with “cross your fingers” hiring. Now is the time to establish a strategy to fix the problem once and for all.

Let’s review the key areas to examine:

Job Description and Hiring Process

  • How accurate does the job description reflect the day-to-day work experience?
  • Does it include specific skills AND measurable behaviors? In other words, what does this person need to do with those skills in order to be successful? For example, an important skill might be Interpersonal Skills. The measurable behavior that will demonstrate this skill might be “to demonstrate good interpersonal skills by having a positive, team-oriented attitude”. This helps you hold them accountable and helps them avoid inconsistent interpretation of performance standards.
  • Are you conducting Motivation Matching to be sure you aren’t asking for a major league player in a little league role? (email us for the full article on MM)

Performance expectations / Goal prioritization

  • How clear is the scope and focus of this role?
  • Have you identified the top 3-5 goals for this position and assisted them in prioritizing through regular check-in meetings?
  • Are you consistent in reinforcing these priorities or do you give mixed messages by allowing crisis management to dictate daily/weekly goals?

Onboarding training 

  • Have you taken an inventory of their current skill base at the time of hire in order to plot out a comprehensive training calendar?
  • Was their experience as a new employee so positive that it reinforced their decision to join your company? Or did it drive them to keep interviewing elsewhere?

Availability of information/resources

  • Is it clear where to go to get the answers they need to perform their job effectively?
  • Are they dependent on others to get certain goals or tasks accomplished? How pleasant or painful is that process?
  • Are you enlisting the help of various subject matter experts to assist you in training your new hire and expand their network of resources?

Leadership contact

  • How often do you set aside quality time for the person in this role?
  • Do they really feel known by you? Not just as an employee but as a person?
  • Do they expect it must be bad news if they’re called into your office?

Performance feedback

  • Can they rely on you for clear, consistent, and candid feedback on their performance? Not at review time, but in the moment when it really matters?

Volume of work

  • Is the amount of work reasonable for the time allotted?
  • Do they go through spurts of chaos and periods of boredom?


  • Is the compensation realistic for the caliber of person you desire?
  • Have you laid out a clear path for career development and salary growth?

Atmosphere / Co-workers

  • Is there anyone poisoning the water cooler? Check for common denominators amongst the team. Those who have interacted with the people in this role and curiously outlived them all.
  • Do people genuinely enjoy their jobs? How does it show?

The Departed

  • Are you conducting thorough exit interviews to look for feedback patterns?

This is a thoughtful process that takes time. Too often we get so busy trying to fill the spot we don't stop and take the time to diagnose the real causes in order to break the pattern. As you go deeper and see the position through the eyes of those who have left it, you just might discover there was never a curse at all. Just questions unasked, truths untold, and ideas unimagined.