A Simple Way to Improve How Your Work Gets Done

There’s a lot of information out there about the importance of creating workflows and documenting processes. Process outlines and checklists are incredibly important for cross training, consistent and accurate service, reducing error, and continuous improvement. A lot of smart folks are giving great advice on the subject, but it can also be intimidating. For many situations the methods they provide for documentation is overkill. You don’t have to be a Six Sigma Black Belt to articulate a process or create a useful checklist. Here’s a really easy way to at least get you started.

  1. Write out the triggering event — This is the thing that starts the whole process rolling—a customer orders an item, the boss requests a report, a client walks in the door, etc.
  2. Write out the final successful outcome — The end of the process when you can call it complete—a customer receives the order, the boss gets the report, the client walks into her appointment, etc.
  3. Write out the first thing that must be done after the triggering event — The very first thing you have to do after the triggering event to get the process rolling.
  4. Write out the last thing that has to be done before the successful outcome — Your final action before the process is complete.
  5. Fill in two to six actions that must be done in between —  You’ll need to spend some time thinking about these. These are the broad strokes. The things that are critical to the process, but not all the granular stuff that might or could happen.

You will be able to completely document every single process conceivable in this way.

Just kidding. Of course you won’t. Don’t be ridiculous. But it will help a lot of people get what they do out of their heads so they can check their effectiveness, let their boss and coworkers know how they do their job, and create a record for succession planning. The hardest part is figuring out those broad middle steps.

This is not one of those complex flow charts with scores of if-then scenarios. If you need to do one of those later, this will help you get there, but this isn’t that. This is great for creating checklists or simplified workflows. Here are some examples of where it will help:

  • When you’re out of the office, someone else can step in to take over
  • When you’re first learning a process and you need to remember the critical steps
  • When it’s imperative to get the process right every single time

Atul Gawande’s book Checklist Manifesto shows just how powerful creating checklists can be. It can save money, improve engagement, and save lives. It’s a big return for just a little investment.

Try it. It could have a tremendous positive impact on how you get things done.


The Rise of Horseshit Leaders

What the hell is happening? We can look back at centuries of what makes good and bad leadership. Our culture is rife with leadership programs, courses, and institutes. Books on leadership rain from the sky. We are obsessed with leadership.

And yet in virtually every industry and institution today we can find numerous examples of absolute horseshit leaders and they only seem to be multiplying. Harassment, abuse, negligence, corruption, and incompetence are commonplace everywhere from Silicon Valley and Wall Street to higher education and government. We can’t shake it. It’s gotten so bad that the current “leader” of the free world exemplifies every one of those problems mentioned above and so, so many more. He is, in fact, a paradigm of a horrible leader. Of course it’s not just the Oval Office. The word “kakistocracy” is becoming a normal part of our lexicon.

How did we get here? 2 big reasons.

1. Plutocracy

Good and ethical leaders want to contribute in a positive way to their community and society. In a plutocracy people in positions of power are self-serving. They have no interest or motivation to help others.

Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money details the rise of an extremist political ideology that greatly advantages the grotesquely wealthy elites. Money buys power, a malignant brand of power that serves no greater good. It’s end goal is only to acquire more power.

While plutocracy refers to a government run by the wealthy elite, it stems directly from a corrupt relationship with the private sector. Quarterly myopia and the race to the bottom shows us just where some corporate leaders’ motives lie—not in long-term progress, stability, and service to community, but in quick accumulation of wealth and power.

Wall Street was once a financial service industry. That is, the financial industry’s mission was to serve the public in order to maintain sustainable growth and productivity. Now it is purely self-serving. The People serve Wall Street so that the industry can accumulate wealth and power at an unimaginable level.

Qualifications, experience, ability, or moral obligation be damned. The name of the game is money, and that means getting people with money in positions of power so that they can acquire more money and power. Again, malignant power, which is a zero-sum game. Someone has got to lose. In this case it’s the general public.

When this happens, the people in positions of power are thieves. They have no incentive to be sound leaders. And because anyone they might report to are of the same mind, there is no accountability. It makes for a highly hospitable environment for horseshit leaders to thrive and multiply.

2. Cronysim

Sound leaders want to develop other leaders and they seek out potential leaders based on merit. Cronyism cares nothing about who would make a sound leader. It’s all about people in positions of power wanting their own kind around them.

Cronyism goes hand-in-hand with a plutocracy (crony capitalism is plutocracy’s key ingredient), but it can be more insidious. It’s not just macro-cronyism where entire industries like Silicon Valley and Big Pharma grease each other’s palms to strengthen their domination. It’s the cronyism that happens on a smaller scale that is perpetuating bad leadership. Horseshit leaders hire and promote horseshit leaders. Because they are often narcissists, they see what they think is the right stuff in people who resemble themselves, and this results in propagation of lousy leaders.

This is rampant in higher education where people are put in powerful positions with no experience or qualifications for leadership whatsoever. Instead they are deemed leaders based on their academic pedigree and how much they resemble their faculty peers. And once they land in those lofty administrative positions, they are virtually untouchable barring some criminal act.

In all kinds of industries, people regularly get hired into powerful positions and given ungodly amounts of money from VCs to lead new ventures based on things like their association with people in positions of power. (Why in God’s name would anyone in their right mind give money to someone like Jared Kushner?)

If you’ve held a job for more than a couple years, you know how this works. Someone in a leadership position likes the cut of some schmuck’s jib and they’re advanced to the C-suite. Out of cronyism or sheer laziness the people who have no business being leaders become just that. They say, the devil you know is better then the one you don’t, but the problem is he’s still the goddamn devil.

This glut of poor leadership is not unprecedented. Not by long shot. (The early- to mid-20th Century was pretty tough period, for instance.) And there are in fact some inspiring leaders out there today. Knowing that we do sometimes actually learn from history and that good and ethical leaders are more powerful than their lesser counterparts, let’s all hope that the tide will turn. Let’s do more than hope, actually. Let’s work tirelessly to hire, promote, and advance good leaders into powerful roles, expelling horeshit leaders to the margins where they belong.


Introverts, Extroverts, and Being Out of Your Comfort Zone

I loved the movie The Omega Man when I was a kid. Charlton Heston is seemingly the only man left in the world. He spends his days scavenging the city for goods (sometimes really good goods), and every night he barricades himself inside his fancy house to protect himself from the apocalyptic mutants known as The Family that ravage the Earth. He’s safe outside in the daytime because the mutants cannot tolerate bright light, and at night he lights up his urban castle with klieg lights to keep them away.

I felt like that was a pretty sweet deal. Sure the homicidal monsters outside the fortress walls were a nuisance, but it seemed like a small price to pay to not have to ever deal with other people. It was the ultimate version of locking yourself in your bedroom and putting on headphones when your relatives or parents’ friends came over.

During breakfast, I used to build a less robust fortress around me made out of cereal boxes to block out anyone who might dare try interacting with me during the most miserable meal of the day.

I know what you’re thinking: Sounds like you were a real loser as a kid. But I can assure you, I still am.

I felt the same way about Tom Hanks in Castaway many years later, when I was ostensibly a grown-up. It just goes to show you, I thought, even after a horrible tragedy like that plane crash, something good can happen like being stranded on a deserted island. And your sole companion, Wilson, is so refreshingly unencumbered by speech.

Some people have a hard time interacting with other people and prefer being alone with their thoughts. They are often referred to as introverts when their backs are not turned. Lately they have been getting a fair amount of favorable attention partly, I think, because of the popular book Quiet, and also because of the Internet. (It’s a lovely medium for introverts. You can just scream into the ether then run away and hide.) And while I am all for people extolling the virtues of my people, one should be cautious about excusing away one’s behavior with “That’s just the way I am.” Yes, find the strength in who you are, but beware of complacency.

Growth is hard. It comes from forcing yourself to be uncomfortable. This is true if you want to be really good at math, writing, painting, or making small-talk at a cocktail party. Some people may have an earlier head start with certain disciplines, so it seems to come easily to them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop it because it doesn’t come naturally to you. If you want (or need) to be good at something, you have got to put in the time and effort. You’ve got to work at it and build up the skill. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi teaches us, as your skill increases with highly challenging activities, your anxiety decreases and arousal and even joy (or “flow”) increases.

Building a coalition, creating a supportive social network, meeting likeminded and not-likeminded people, even casual interactions are incredibly important not only for professional growth but the human experience in general. It’s comforting behind those cereal boxes, but sometimes being comfortable is not the best thing for us. Believe it or not, generally we all feel better when we’ve had some level of social interaction. It’s important to make the effort to have an exchange of ideas or present your own thoughts and discoveries for the same reason it’s important to grow in other disciplines that will help you make a positive impact and have a fuller life.

The same holds true for extroverts. Although some may not see their aversion to introversion as a shortcoming, it certainly can be. An introvert’s opportunities to develop social acuity are abundant and painfully clear. Extraversion, on the other hand, is often assumed to be everyone’s aspiration. Introversion is perceived as lacking something while extroversion is an abundance of that same thing. What is there to develop when you are what everyone else wants to become? But of course one can just as easily rely too heavily on extraversion: flitting from one meeting to the next, booking lunches every day, constantly being on the phone with someone, and never taking a beat to just stop and think (or not think) on one’s own. There is power and goodness in solitude.

For a kid growing up in Minnesota with dozens of cousins who were talented performers and gregarious (shall we say) orators anxious to bring me into the fold, The Family in The Omega Man resonated with me. After a few decades of perspective, I can see now that while I still may not want to be one of the mutants, there is good in them and putting up barriers (made out of klieg lights and razor wire, cereal boxes and books, or iPhones and video games) is not productive. Reach out. Talk to other people who are not like you. There is life out there to live (on your own and with others).


7 Things Bartending Taught me About Leadership

For several years (a lifetime ago), I tended bar in Madison, Wisconsin. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but I worked with some of the best people I’ve known and learned some important lessons about life. Many of those lessons have to do with leadership. The tales you collect working in a bar are long and varied, but I recollect just a few below that helped forge what I know about leadership today.

  1. Sometimes you have to clean the poop out of the sink — Early one evening, a couple of new drinkers (recently turned 21) came into the bar. They ordered some drinks, played some pool, used the restroom, and promptly left. When I checked the restroom, I found that one of them had defecated in one of the sinks. Why would anyone do such a thing? I have no idea. People are weird. Just as I made the discovery, the bouncers arrived. I showed them what had happened, described the violators, and told them to keep an eye out for them. The bouncers then started rolling up their sleeves, getting ready to clean up the mess. I told them that I would clean it up because it happened on my watch. They didn’t argue much. Now this is tricky because as a leader you need to be able to delegate and let go of the operational stuff. Doing so creates capacity and allows you to focus on leading. However, as the leader, once in a while, you need to be the one who cleans the poop out of the sink. Getting your hands dirty and taking on the really hard stuff establishes you as a leader who is also part of the team, and someone to emulate. You earn respect, not demand it. That means doing the hard stuff. Those young men who left that little present in the restroom actually came back that same evening, by the way. But that’s a story for another time.
  2. It’s the ones you can’t seeing coming that you need to worry about — The funny thing about breaking up fights is that it’s usually really, really easy. A 200-pound, ostensibly enraged man lunging toward his adversary rarely provides much resistance. Why is this so, you ask. Because when people are adept at fighting—when they really want to do some damage—you don’t see them coming. Remember this as a leader. If someone is broadcasting how tough or intimidating they can be, they are likely full of shit. They will buckle with the breeze. Know what you’re talking about, stand your ground, and blowhards will crumble before you. However, there are people out there who will want to take you down, who are willing to do so, and who are fully capable of doing it. I recall a patron who I considered a decent fellow̉—charming demeanor, good tipper̉—smash a rocks glass in another man’s face. That’s the guy you need to be aware of, and it’s going to be your team who saves your ass.
  3. Wash the fruit — Health code inspectors never made sure that the outside of the lemons, limes, and oranges were washed properly. I guess because you don’t eat the peel. Whole fruit wedges do, however, get dropped into drinks where Lord only knows what kind of disgustingness could get washed off into the drinks. But why wash the fruit if no one’s checking? Because a leader doesn’t do the right thing because someone’s watching or to check it off a list. And here’s the other thing about doing the right thing: when you do, the rest of your team notices. It’s what I now call demonstrating the values of the organization. Washing the fruit sets the tone. It lets the team know what kind of place they’re working in and then they rise to that standard. Leaders have tremendous power in articulating values and it is incumbent upon leaders to apply those values every day in a way that is challenging and undeniable to the team.
  4. Risk madness now to make things right later — Weekend nights are a non-stop frenzy when you bartend. There is no time for a breather or pausing to reflect. That means a bump can send you and your team reeling. And a series of bumps can be disastrous. One night a glass broke in the ice bin. This is no small thing. In fact, for a bartender on a busy night, it’s the kind of thing nightmares are made of. I had two options. Option one was to close down the station for the remainder of the night, and keep the bartenders focused on helping the customers as best they could. This would have meant bartenders standing around taking turns at other stations and customers piling up, getting angry, and leaving. Option two was to close down the station temporarily while a team meticulously cleaned out the ice bin. And I mean meticulously. This would mean a bartender and a bouncer taken off essential duties for an indeterminate amount of time. Glasses would be piling up throughout the bar. Customers would grow increasingly impatient. The bartenders who were kept on serving drinks would get run raged. What if a fight broke out? A lot could go wrong very quickly. But I chose to clean out the bin. As a leader you have to take the risk that comes along with fixing the problem. Yes, you will likely take on additional burden while key resources focus on the fix, but the alternative is worse. The alternative is that the rest of your team can’t do the jobs they were hired to do, everyone is working with a dysfunctional system, and all your customers see is a bunch of nitwits standing around not doing their job.
  5. Leadership is a team sport and a long-game OR: It’s all fun and games until someone sprays mace into the ventilation system  — When you are on a great team, everyone is a leader. But when things get really bad—and they will—the team inevitably needs to look to one person for the answers. The night someone sprayed mace into the ventilation system was going great up until that point. Everyone was doing what they needed to be doing, having a great time, and taking charge. The mace crept up on us slowly. It was just an odd sensation at the back of our throats. Then the coughing started and kept growing until we realized something was very wrong. We got wet bar rags over everyone’s faces and ushered everyone out ASAP with just a few staying put to make sure the place didn’t get looted. There is no protocol for some things. You just have to figure it out on the fly. Yes, the people working there could have come up with solutions of their own, but there needed to be one person to call the shots because everyone needed to be on the same page. When that happens—when people are looking for someone to provide unified direction—it needs to be clear who that person is and that person damn well better be present. That works right when leadership is played as a long game. Meaning, a leader establishes herself as the go-to person early and often. When the mace hits the fan, your team needs to know instinctively where to look.
  6. Don’t hit the cash register — Frustrations can run high bartending. Drunk people are not always the kindest or most rational customers. There are also a lot of uncontrollable variables. Freezers break, tap lines get finicky, pool tables get jammed, air conditioning goes out, and so on. One night one of our tills kept jamming for no apparent reason. It started earlier in the night, but I could not figure out why it randomly refused to open. One thing after another kept me distracted from fixing it once and for all, and now, at the peak of Saturday night, as customers were screaming all around us, it seemed to jam for good. I lost my cool and gave that son-of-a-bitch a solid whack with the butt of my right hand. It bit back, opening up a massive gash at the base of my thumb. As you can imagine, an open wound in the service industry will not do, which meant I had to bench myself until I got the situation under control. Which in turn meant the rest of the team had to pick up my slack while I was out. All because I didn’t keep it together. A leader must keep a cool head. Succumbing to frustration will only make matters much worse for the very people who are depending on you. I still have the scar today to remind me of this lesson.
  7. Assemble the A-team — This one above all else. It is fundamental to leadership. Get your team right, and treat them right, or get out all together. And here’s what you look for in the right team: Aptitude, attitude, adaptability. Experience is nice, but what you really need in a solid team are people with a growth mindset, who switch to a new challenge on a dime, and laugh about it while it’s happening. The bar business is dirty, gross, annoying, difficult, dangerous, and exhausting. Yet, we laughed easily, would step in harm’s way to protect one-another without a second thought, and worked as a highly efficient team. That doesn’t mean people didn’t screw up or have personal problems. But you hire the right people and let them know how much you value them, and the unforeseeable is manageable. Loyalty and camaraderie flourishes when there is a common goal and a shared struggle. As a leader, it’s up to you to make this clear and rewarding to your team.

The Leadership Scorecard

Developing as a leader is important business. You have to focus on the present and the future while taking care of people (including yourself) and systems. Doing that properly means continuously strengthening core competencies.

This is daunting and there’s no getting around it. However, there is a way to provide some structure. Whether you’re helping someone else develop as a leader, or developing as a leader yourself, getting a handle on the fact that there are simple areas of focus can bring clarity to the development process.

Below is the Leadership Scorecard. It organizes 20 core leadership competences into four categories. In doing so, it helps the developing leader see where she can focus. Is she spending enough time considering the future or is she too preoccupied with the now? Or is it the opposite? Is she doing a great job looking to the future, but only in terms of the organization as a whole and not when it comes to individual people?

You can make these scorecards yourself or get a stack of them here.

The Leadership Scorecard is a great way to contain an otherwise unwieldy (and ongoing) process. 360 assessments are useful tools, but they are often cumbersome and require significant time investment from the subject’s associates. So much time, in fact, that people are often reluctant to ask them for the favor of completing the assessment once much less multiple times. Moreover, results of 360 assessments are aggregated and—generally speaking—people are not that great at assessing other people’s leadership. That means the more evaluators you have the more misleading the data may be. It’s important to who gave them specific feedback so they can better understand the perspective and just how meaningful their evaluation is. This makes monitoring growth through a traditional 360 difficult.

The Leadership Scorecard is a new approach takes some of the sting out of the process and provides powerful information for the subject of the assessment. It’s simple, un-intimidating, and personalized. It can be used in a coaching or mentoring relationship, for an alternative 360 assessment approach, or in ad hoc situations.

To help evaluators understand the meaning of each competency, below are some questions they can ask about the subject. I recommend giving the evaluators this list with the scorecard. Here’s a printable PDF.

Present State Leadership Competencies

Working with Others

Communication & Listening: How well does the subject get his/her point across? Does he/she take the time to listen during conversations and understand the person he/she is speaking with? Does he/she remain calm during stressful conversations?

Delegating: Is the subject proactive giving clear direction and instruction? Does he/she share his/her workload, and provide learning opportunities to others, and develop their skills by letting them work through difficult assignment? Does he/she provide guidance when needed while at the same time allow others their independence and ownership of projects and assignments?

Mindfulness: Is the subject present in the moment, paying close attention to details and the people around them? Is he/she consciously aware of his/her surrounding, including how people are feeling and behaving? Does he/she stay focused on the situation at hand rather than getting distracted with other matters? Is he/she aware of his/her own strengths and weakness?

Integrity & Ethics: Is the subject honest and trustworthy? Can you depend on him/her to do the right and just thing? Does he/she have a strong sense of right and wrong? Does he/she treat all people with respect and decency? Do his/her actions reflect his/her values?

Team Management: Does the subject attract and retain high performers? Does he/she effectively coordinate tasks and assignments within any given group? Does he/she collaborate well with others?

Dealing with Organizations and Systems

Decision-making: Is the subject deliberate about the process of evaluation? Does he/she carefully think through all options and considerations before taking decisive action?

Self-control: Does the subject stay cool under pressure? How does he/she deal with stressful situations? Does he/she refrain from raising her voice in moments of anger? Is he/she emotionally stable?

Producing Results: Does the subject finish was he/she starts? Is he/she able to realize goals and see projects through to fruition? How well does he/she follow through with a plan and ensure that things get done?

Process & System Management: How well does the subject develop and understand workflow? Does he/she have the aptitude for identifying dysfunction and correcting it? When systems or processes fail, is he/she able to ensure that objectives are still achieved?

Managing Priorities: Is the subject able to balance competing demands? Does he/she carefully consider how to manage resources so they will have the greatest long-term impact? Does he/she keep the big picture in mind while determining which action to take next?


Future State Leadership Competencies

Working with Others

Developing Others: Does the subject encourage other people to develop themselves professionally? Does he/she acknowledge and promote other people’s strengths? Does he/she ensure that other people have capacity in their workload to take advantage of growth opportunities? Does he/she provide resources such as funding to help others take advantage of learning opportunities?

Self-development: Is the subject aware of where he/she has room to grow professionally? Does he/she understand the importance of continuous professional development? Does he/she make the time to learn and grow professionally?

Goal Setting: How well does the subject help others define clear, achievable objectives? Does he/she create goals that help people grow and improve performance? Does he/she appropriately assess people skills and abilities when setting goals? Does he/she set both short-term and long-term goals with a bigger picture in mind?

Political Savvy:  Is the subject good at creating and fostering relationships? Is he/she able to see the ramifications of his/her actions that could affect other people, systems, or organizations? Does he/she calculate all the variables in play before acting? Does he/she know the importance of networking, and understand how specific people could aid or stand in the way of the path to success? Does he/she capitalize on other people’s subject matter expertise and connections, while being sure to give credit where credit is due?

Influence & Persuasion: How well does the subject help others commit to his/her ideas or acquire allies in any given endeavor? Does he/she share his/her vision in such a way that others feel strongly about supporting that vision and contributing?


Dealing with Organizations and Systems

Strategic Planning: Does the subject develop detailed plans for how to the future of the organization? Does he/she work with others to determine the best way forward? Are his/her strategies for moving forward both challenging and realistic? Do other people understand the plans for the future and feel committed to those plans?

Continuous Improvement: Is the subject always looking for ways to improve quality? Does he/she understand the importance of positive change? Does he/she dedicate time and resources for exploring ways to improve services and processes? Is he/she knowledgeable about process improvement methods, tools, and techniques?

Visioning: Does the subject have a creative outlook for the future? Is he/she innovative and eager to explore new ideas? Does he/she create an environment where people can comfortably share bold ideas in a compelling and enlightening way?

Change Management: Does the subject effectively communicate the reason for change and keep stakeholders apprised of progress? Does he/she help stakeholders navigate obstacles to success. is he/she aware of the unique struggles that may affect different people? Does he/she keep the process of change organized and structured as much as possible?

Risk Management: Does the subject accept certain levels of failure as essential to learning and growth? Does he/she understand the strategies for transferring, accepting, mitigating, and eliminating risk?


You can get Leadership Scorecards here.


Use Your Values

Can you guess the three prominent U.S. organizations that these values belong to?

Organization One

  • Communication
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Excellence

Organization Two

  • Integrity
  • Commitment
  • Advocacy
  • Respect
  • Excellence

Organization Three

  • People as a competitive advantage
  • Ethics
  • What’s right for customers
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Leadership


  • Organization One: Enron
  • Organization Two: Veterans Affairs (under Eric K. Shinseki)
  • Organization Three: Wells Fargo (under John G. Stumpf)

Yes, the stated core values of organizations are sometimes bullshit. Companies at times make the mistake of thinking of values as just marketing—something to woo shareholders, customers, and investors.

It’s true that values can help the outside world know about your organization (or who you purport to be), but they should be about much more than that. When your team works hard to come up with company values, it’s not just so you can put the values on your website and keep telling everyone that you believe in integrity, excellence, and diversity.

You use values, and you do so regularly. You deliberately apply them to how you do the job, how you do business, how you make decisions. Big decisions like hiring, evaluating performance, taking on new projects and clients, or creating your strategic plan, are weighed against your values. For instance, if one of your values is innovation and someone suggests an extraordinary project, but it’s dismissed as too experimental, you might want to reevaluate those values. Perhaps innovation isn’t actually something you’re willing to live up to. Or if you’re deliberating between buying back shares of your stock to prop of value for shareholders versus increasing wages for support staff, a value like team respect may give you guidance.

Your values should also have a balance.  If all of your values are focused on creating a progressive and welcoming workplace, you will be at a loss when you need to make strategic financial decisions. Your values should reflect how your organization functions as a whole (like the balanced scorecard). By doing so, you are setting yourself and your team up for a healthy decision-making process and being realistic about how a business should be run.

It’s not easy. As Greg Satell of Forbes points out, “Values cost something.” When you actually check your actions against your values you will have to sacrifice something else. That can be challenging and could even trigger some soul-searching. But values, when applied, do help you remember your intentions and can keep you from making arbitrary decisions or decisions that are contrary to your character or the best interest of your organization.

As you develop core values, you should be thinking through how you will actually apply your values on a day-to-day basis. Values will help you articulate those issues that are needling you. Consider, for instance, that person who puts in long hours but no one gets along with. It bothers you, but you’re not sure why and and you’re wondering if you should just let it go.

If one of your values is collaboration, however, now you can point to why it is a real issue. You can have a conversation around what that person needs to work on and why. Or better yet, the conversation may not even have been necessary because the values were already understood and practiced by the team.

Values are not easy. They should be hard to come up with and hard to live up to. Organization values challenge everyone and that means constantly pushing everyone to do better and be better. And if they can’t live up to them, either the people are not right for the organization or the values are not right for the organization.

Don’t dismiss values as just a branding or marketing tool. They are powerful and can make all the difference on the kind of institution, company, department, or person you are.


Here’s How Big Organizations Up Their Game

Often the best candidate for a job is someone from within the organization. Internal candidates know the culture, know the systems and processes, know the players and performers, know the policies and procedures, know the political landmines, and they know how to steer clear of roadblocks and quagmires. Generally, they just know the best way to get shit done.

This can be such an advantage when hiring that large organizations (5,000+) can make a major positive impact when they create a position dedicated to scouting and brokering talent within the organization. In other words, appoint an internal headhunter. This person should be someone who has a longterm relationship with the organization, and who can watch talent grow. An internal headhunter can develop an intimate knowledge of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; and help people and units work together to find the right fit.

There will be resistance. Expect cries of poaching and protests about other units stealing away their top talent. When this happens, here are the questions to ask those who are resisting and complaining:

  1. Do you believe the labor market should be a free market?
  2. Do you believe people should be paid what they’re worth?
  3. Do you believe the talent of top performers should not be wasted?
  4. Do you want your organization as a whole to be the best it can be?
  5. Do you believe top talent should go where they can make the biggest impact?

When anyone answers no to any one of those questions, you’ve identified a weak link in your organization. And when someone answers yes to all of the questions, they should be able to conclude that an internal headhunter is a good thing.

But they may still resist, and here’s why: progress is hard.

When some leaders know they have to fight to retain their top talent, they don’t like it. It means they have to up their game. It’s no longer a one-way relationship in which staff are grateful they just have a job. Instead it’s actually a healthy partnership in which both parties put effort into the relationship—working to make the other party is happy and engaged. To be blunt, a relation where one party constantly exerts power over the other party to keep them in place (rather than helping them grow and thrive) is an abusive relationship.

Some units within the organization will complain that the unit with more money than the others will always end up with the best people. Moreover the unit that does not generate their own revenue will end up with high turnover and low performers.

While it’s true wages are a significant factor in why people take a certain job or stay in their current jobs, it’s not the only factor. Other factors like professional development opportunities, personal and professional growth, making progress, healthy professional relationships, innovative strategies, and great bosses to name just a few, all play into what makes a place to work a great place to work. And when there is competition for the best talent, all units will have to pull out all the stops if they want to attract and retain the highest performers.

Constraints can be a good thing and often are. If a department can’t compete with another unit on wages, it will force them to figure out how they can compete. This is how competition and progress work. It may be uncomfortable, but getting outside of our comfort zone is how we grow. It’s how we get better.


Kissing While Texting: Why You Should Think About How You’re Thinking

How you think in any given situation can determine how successful you are at solving problems, making decisions, and even getting to a satisfying place in your life. Going with your gut response is acceptable in some situations, but if that’s how you consistently operate, you are likely making things more difficult for yourself and the people around you. The same is true for over-analyzing or trying to clobber a thought or idea into existence before it has time to incubate.

Thinking is like kissing. One must use the appropriate approach according to the occasion. There are times when a quick peck simply won’t due.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that System 1 thinking, that impulsive, gut-reaction way of thinking, is an unavoidable part of our thought process. Problems can arise, however, when a situation warrants deeper thought but the thinker doesn’t proceed to a more considered and deliberative thought mode, System 2.

The reason why many people avoid System 2 thinking is because it’s hard work.  As Kahneman puts it, “[A]ctivities that impose high demands on System 2 require self-control, and the exertion of self-control is depleting and unpleasant.”

Just think of it: thinking actually causes electrical activity to emanate from our brains. When we are alert and focused, our brains are producing beta waves ranging from 15 to 40 cycles per second. System 2 takes energy, which is why you hear people say things like, “I just like to go with my gut,” and why many of those same people suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They don’t put in the time and effort to evaluate a decision or its effects, resulting in a false assumption that they are doing are fantastic job.

Another reason someone might be a chronic System 1 thinker is because she just doesn’t see the point of System 2. She believes that intelligence cannot be changed and therefore avoids challenges where she might otherwise undergo a transformative learning experience or substantially improve her understanding of a situation or problem. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, yearn to learn. They understand that sometimes great effort is necessary for true understanding. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who introduced the world to the growth mindset concept, explains that people with a growth mindset “believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.” They are therefore less likely to shy away from System 2 thinking because they understand that it is an opportunity for growth.

There are times, of course when the zealous, passionate kiss doesn’t have the desired effects either. In such cases it’s important to remember that there is such a thing as trying too hard. What’s more, when it’s not working, and you’re getting exhausted, sometimes trying even harder is only going to make it worse. Know when to throttle down.

Focused thinking can be exhausting, especially if there are a lot of distractions vying of your attention. Directed attention fatigue is common in our society. It happens at home, work, school and everywhere in between. We spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to maintain focus on whatever it is we’re doing and not fully appreciating the fact that the energy we’re spending is limited. As we lose that energy our ability to focus decreases and our attention becomes involuntary—the distractions win. This results in bad ideas, bad decisions, and bad attitudes. Thinking when your mental resources are depleted is like kissing while texting. Technically you may be going through the process, but despite what you may think, you’re making a mess of it and you’re clearly missing the point.

One way to avoid this ineffective way of thinking is to engage in a diffuse mode of thinking, letting your brainwave activity slowdown to 9 to 14 cycles per second. Think of diffuse thinking like a serene, lingering kiss. Author and Professor of Engineering Barbara Oakely explains diffuse mode like this:

Diffuse-mode thinking is what happens when you relax your attention and just let your mind wander. It is what allows us to suddenly gain a new insight on a problem we’ve been struggling with, and is associated with “big picture” perspectives.

Sometimes you have to ease up, clear your head and stop trying to force it. Attention restoration theory holds that one of the best ways to replenish your mental resources is to get out and experience nature.

Diffuse thinking is not to be confused with mindfulness. Diffuse thinking is letting your mind wander and reflect on your topic without strain, but you are still thinking as a means to reach some future outcome. In that way it is strategic. Mindfulness is most decidedly not that. It is intentionally observing the present moment.

If mindfulness were a kiss it would be the long anticipated kiss when you think to yourself, This is happening, this is really happening!

Mindfulness and meditation are great exercises for thinking. They train you to be aware and present, which is important when you’re a serious thinker. Understanding your behavior and what’s going on with your mind and body can help you adjust accordingly to react and think in the most effective way.

Just remember, the kiss needs to fit the occasion and if you’re serious about it, a lifetime of practice is required.


When Your Position isn’t Giving You the Power to Lead

Have you ever had the sudden realization that your promotion didn’t magically provide you with the gravitas you need to get people to listen to what you have to say? How about when you know more about your job and even the business than your boss, but you can get her to take your advice or even take you seriously? Maybe you’ve been given the responsibility to manage a team, but none of the people report to you.

The list goes on. There are a lot of scenarios where we need to step up and be the leader, but our position doesn’t afford us the power we need to get the job done. But the truth is when it comes to individual leadership, positional power is inferior to personal power. Effective leadership with lasting results comes from strengthening your personal power, evaluating circumstances, and applying the appropriate influence.

1. Strengthen your personal power

There are a few different kinds of power, and we sometimes give positional power too much credit. While there is a place for positional power, it is personal power you need to concentrate on when you want to be a leader with conviction, whether you are in a position of power or not. Positional power is good for an institution and compliance. Personal power gets people committed and lasting results.

Here are four qualities you should exercise (i.e., continuously develop) to strengthen your personal power:

  • Authority
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Courage
  • Likability
2. Assess the Circumstances

Do your reconnaissance. When you’re trying to lead or gain influence in a group dynamic figure out what kind of network your dealing with. Kathleen L. McGinn and Elizabeth Long Lingo at Harvard Business School identify the centrality and density of networks as important factors in how you gain influence. If the network has many connections it may be easier to get through to the entire group by influencing just one actor, but it may be difficult to penetrate that tight-knit team if they are guarded and insular. The opposite may be true of less dense groups.

You will also need to understand the reporting structure (if any), the overall culture of the group, and finally investigate what drives certain individuals. Get to know what their ambitions are and if they are more likely to make decisions based on logic and reason or emotion and intuition.

3. Use the appropriate influence

This is the heart of the matter. You have to understand strategies, principles, and styles of influence. In Developing Management Skills, Whetton and Cameron point to these three influencing strategies:

  • Retribution—Forcing others to do what you want
  • Reason—Showing others that it makes sense for them to do what you want
  • Reciprocity—Helping others to want to do what you want them to do

Retribution is really the only strategy, if you can call it that, available for positional power. Reason and reciprocity are the domain of personal power.

Understanding which strategies to employee will help you know which principles and styles will be most effective. The chart below will be useful for those of you who are already familiar with principles and styles or who would like to dive deeper into the subject.

Without Positional Power Handout

Bottom line, true leadership takes hard work. It doesn’t just fall into your lap. Don’t envy or strive to find leadership from a promotion or title. Effective and lasting influence is the fruit of personal power.


A Public Speaker Comes Clean

Two days ago I would have told you that I do not get nervous about public speaking. I do it for a living. I am used to it and have a certain confidence about my ability to convey a message to an audience. I am so confident, in fact, that I coach other people on how they can be better public speakers.

But, two days ago, I was making introductory remarks for a series of presentations on a variety of topics and I froze. I forgot what I was going to say. It left me. I blathered for a few seconds and then found my footing (sort of) and finished it out. It was particularly humbling because the upper echelon of the institution were in attendance, and I had just spent the last several months training the presenters on the fundamentals of public speaking, which included how to keep your cool and not panic.

And yet, there I was panicking like a rookie. It was awful.

The actual presenters did well and afterward everyone was gracious and complimentary about the event. I however, was a wreck, and I still am a bit.

Here’s what I did about it, and what I’m doing about.

That evening I had a glass of wine… OK, two glasses of wine. Four glasses of wine. I had four glasses of wine. But they were those ridiculously tiny Solo wine cups you get at open bars, so really it was like one at-home glass of wine.

Anyway, afterward, I talked to my wife, hugged the kids (and my wife), and we all went to bed early. The next day, I got up, went to the park, put on some classic rock, and ran that shit off.

Not a prescription for everyone, but whatever. It took some of the sting out of it. Now I’m calling it out—looking at what the hell happened and being honest with myself in terms of where I failed. And yes, I failed. Admitting that is the first step, which is oddly difficult even when (maybe especially when) it’s obvious.

If I’m making excuses, there was the fact that this was a highly unusual situation in which there was a lot at stake for many people. There were also an unusually high number of variables that were not in my control that I was keenly aware of while I was busy taking care of administering and hosting the event and taking control of all the variables that were in my control.

Never sacrifice authentic in the pursuit of better.

But if I’m going to be brutally honest, my ego got in the way. I was in charge and I have the skills and experience to run an event like that without breaking a sweat (me being brutally honest). I tried to manage everything in my head and when I got up to speak, I acted like I was beyond the fundamentals.

No one is beyond the fundamentals, least of all me. Eventually you may be able to break the rules, but you always have to have the fundamentals in the back of your mind.

What should I have done? Let go of all that stuff that was not in my control, gotten help with the stuff that was in my control, and presented in an authentic and organic way. Instead I was forcing it; trying to be the model of the ideal public speaker; an example for all who were to follow.

To that end, I had practiced the same lines over and over again, blocking my performance to a T, and reciting my speech in my head whenever I had a spare moment. Yet, when the time came for me to deliver, I had way more on my mind than those damned lines, and some cosmic hiccup nudged me ever so slightly off course and I was a goner. I could feel myself start to lose my footing and instead of taking a beat to get my bearings, I tried to play it off and leap over to some other foothold only to find that there was nothing there for me to grab hold of. I was left floundering in mid air.

So, where do you go from here—after you have tripped over your own ego and landed on your face?

You recognize it as a learning experience, analyze how it happened, and figure out how you can keep it from happening again. For me part of the answer is never again to try to recite. Remember my points, but get the message out naturally.

But the bigger lesson is to stay humble. There are hotshots out there, yes, who are supremely confident and can pound their message into an audience. Kudos to them. Serious. It’s a gift. But that ain’t me. What’s more, I don’t want it to be me.

The number one fundamental rule in public speaking (as in life) is be yourself. Never sacrifice authentic in the pursuit of better. Sometimes, that takes great courage. Usually, it takes great courage. Which is why people so often are eager to forget it. Sometimes we forget who we really are.  When that happens, the universe has a way of giving you a swift kick in the ass to remind you to be you.

Which brings me to the one true lesson of this whole post: Listen to the universe. She’s the only one who really knows what she’s doing.


Trying Out Strategic Planning

Performing strategically can be daunting. Your operational and functional work will always take priority unless you carve out specific time for the strategic stuff. Strategic effort is particularly frustrating when you’re in the weeds and tensions are running high. The irony, of course, is that is when you need strategy the most.

Getting started can feel like the hardest part. Ideally you want a professional to come in and assess the situation and facilitate the development and planning. When it comes to strategic planning it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that can sink you.

But maybe you just want to explore strategic planning a bit first. Maybe you want to have a better understanding of how it works before you reach out to a professional.

The diagram below is one way to help understand how to pull your thoughts together and figure out what actions you need to take in order to realize a strategic vision. Your first step is to create a statement that articulates what your strategic vision is. What do you want your organization to look like? How do you want to be performing? Where do you want to be relative to your competitors?

From there you identify 1 to 3 major goals. They need to be ambitious, achievable, and measurable. Remember that the purpose of these goals is to realize you strategic initiative. They will set the tone for how you and your team perform throughout a specified time period. Everything you do will be in service to these goals.

Once you have defined those key goals, develop your feeder or anterior goals. These strategic goals are in service to the key goals. They act as milestones for the larger goals. They are victories on their own, but they also move you close to that strategic vision. These goals are more manageable conceptually and may be specific to certain sectors or departments within a larger organization.

The rest of your strategic development is figuring out what your projects (and their associated tasks) will be that will to accomplish those feeder goals.

There is a lot of work and re-working involved with this process. Don’t be discouraged when you have to go back and make changes. Also, don’t do this on your own. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to develop a strategic plan in isolation and then deliver it via proclamation. Strategic planning is a team effort.


The Control Funnel: Focusing Your Efforts Where They Count

There are events and issues in life that can be destabilizing. Filtering out what is not in your direct control can provide direction and even peace of mind. Take a moment to examine what’s on your mind and run it through the control funnel.

  1. Is it something that no one can control?
  2. Is it something that someone else (other that you) can control?
  3. Is it something that you can influence or empower someone else to control?
  4. Is it something that is within your control?

If no one has control or could ever have control of what’s bothering you, like the weather, you must put it behind you. But be careful here. If the issue that’s plaguing you is happening on a massive scale, for example homelessness in the U.S., don’t dismiss it as something you have no control over just because of its size. Dig into it by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is the issue something that someone can have some control over?
  • Are there things that you can do that could make an impact (even in a small way) on this issue?
  • Are there elected officials or other highly influential people you could urge to address this issue?
  • What could you do to empower or influence other people to make a difference?
  • How could you educate yourself or acquire powerful skills so that you assume some level of control over this issue?
  • Who can you learn from to better understand this issue and how to affect it?

Consider issues at work where you are overburdened with tasks that are not your responsibility. Where does this problem fall in the control funnel? You might be able to train the person whose responsibility it is to perform those tasks—empowering someone else with control. When you are able to empower someone else with control, you not only give that other person the power she deserve, you also free up your capacity so you can focus on those issues that you do have control over. Certainly there may be political obstacles or difficulty finding the time to do the training, but in each of those cases you must again determine the proper layer of control. Run it through the funnel to determine what exactly is in your control, so you can take effective action.

Situations where we do have control are deceptively problematic if we don’t take the time to realize what exactly is within our control.  If we don’t articulate what we can control, we can become consumed with frustration even though we hold all the power to fix it. It could be a job that we don’t like or a toxic relationship. Maybe it’s just a messy home. Whatever the case, it’s essential that you stop and own that situation. Take control.

It’s just as important to explicitly recognize those situations where no one has control over a situation. When we do this we are able to let go—at least to some degree—so that we can refocus our attention where it will have some effect.

Understanding where control lies is a filtering process. That’s not to say it’s easy. Far from it. Nor is filtering control the answer to solving all your problems, but understanding this practice will help you focus your efforts where they count.