We’ve been brainwashed

Twenty five managers in one of my recent courses did a yeoman’s job of reciting the steps for delivering tough messages.  So well, in fact, that they missed the point, the boat and the forest for the trees.

We’ve come a long way from the “command and control” of the early industrial revolution.  We managers have been coached to within an inch of our lives on participative management techniques, politically correct communication and the gentle respect of constructive feedback. But in the midst of pursuing “best place to work” status we are eroding our ability to drive, inspire and produce powerful results.

I recently wrote about the Six C’s of Strong and Flexible Management.  The twenty five managers in my course were split into four teams and each team was assigned a case study.  The instructions were to develop a response to their assigned case using four C’s: Clarity, Courage, Connection and Communication.

Each team, working separately, produced almost exactly the same response.  A well-thought out communication strategy to deal with the case at hand.  Whether the case had to do with the company having to freeze pay, invest in growth or change strategic direction, the teams’ recommended responses consisted of communicating the news.

As managers, we can do better.  Yes, there is always news to be communicated from on high, but how will you drive, inspire and produce powerful results? You do it by taking purposeful command of your precious and powerful team.

Clarity: What powerful impact can your team have given the business context?  Be clear about what great things your team can create, produce, facilitate…

Courage: What changes would you make in your team to produce powerful results given the business context.  Do you need to replace talent? Do you need to change roles? Do you need to make a case to upper management for new or different resources?

Connection: What talent resides in your team that you can leverage in this new or changing business context?  What do your team members want to do more or or less of that you can help weave into their work experience?  What ideas do they have for stepping up the game, being more collaborative, introducing new or more efficient processes? How can they contribute?

Communication: How can you best convey all of the above?  Your clarity of purpose, your tough decisions, your connection with them and their connection to the organization?

If you settle for simply delivering corporate news.  You’ve missed a very cool boat.



It’s 3am. Do you know who your team is?

If I woke you in the middle of the night and asked you to name your team members, could you?

If I then woke those people and asked them to name their team members, would they name the same group?

Would each of those people (after waking up just a bit more) be able to clearly articulate each person’s role and contribution to the objective you are all working so hard to achieve?

The following are a few True Stories:

Story 1: CEO and newly hired VP discuss a change in corporate strategy which significantly alters another VP’s role.  They consider not telling the other VP.

Story 2: Your organization is struggling with expense management.  The HR Director keeps offering to help investigate the problem but is dismissed as helpful but unqualified.  The management team does not know she has a background in finance and is a current CPA.

Story 3: As the leader of a senior team, you’ve hired a consultant to facilitate a team development process.  Six of the seven members of the group express puzzlement and surprise that the group is being referred to as a team.  They report that they don’t all work together.


1. Know your objective

2. Know your team, the people on the team and the skills and qualities they each have to offer

3. Gather your team together in person and come up with a shared definition of success (This is an excellent opportunity to introduce the concept that they ARE a team.  See #3 above.)

4. Hold every team member accountable for measurable results in support of the team’s work toward the objective.

5. Respect the team and each member with open, straightforward and transparent communication.










Managing Expectation (Notice there is no “s”)

I was having a conversation with my friend Barry (an astute observer of social and interpersonal relationships) last Saturday night about the perils of misaligned expectations.  We were reminiscing about the time that he and my husband Rick had gone ocean kayaking and come back much (much, much) later than Barry’s wife had expected.

He recounted the tale of the two of them making their way to shore after four (four!) hours of playing in surf and, as they approached the beach, seeing the dark and stormy clouds on the horizon.  It wasn’t weather.  It was Amy.  His wife.  And she was – understandably – madder (and more worried) than a wet hen.   Did I mention it was during a hurricane and there were 15 foot swells?

Long story short: she expected a “couple” of hours and the guys interpreted that as…well…they probably didn’t really interpret it as anything.

I chuckled knowingly (having been there, done that, gotten the t-shirt) and said sagely: “It’s all about managing expections”.

“No!”, Barry said. “That’s the problem.  It’s about managing expectaTION.  Singular.  There shouldn’t be more than one expectation.  That’s when the trouble starts.”

He’s right.

The better we are as individuals, teams and organizations at coming to agreement on a shared definition of success, the more likely we are to succeed.

Tangled Necklaces

Behold: the hopelessly tangled necklace – the thin and delicate chain somehow snarling itself into a tiny unyielding ball of fused metal; relegated to the back of the jewelry box to languish in the vain hope that someday, someone will have the patience to unleash it from its sad tight bonds.

I must have a specific strain of OCD that compels me to take on the tangled necklace.  I can’t let it be.  I can’t let it go.   I WILL unknot that knot.  I WILL unsnarl that snarl.

How to unsnarl a tangled necklace:

1. Find a clean, clear, white table or counter with lots of light as a workspace. Place the necklace on the work surface.

2. Using the ball of your fingertip, roll the snarl around gently to take stock of your challenge and to begin to loosen the bonds

3. Using your fingernail, tap gently on the snarl until the chain begins to loosen.

4. Using your two pointer fingers/finger nails, continue to tap and spread the chain as it begins to loosen.  Do not attempt to unsnarl the chain yet.

5. Continuing to spread the loops of chain out on the work surface and begin to notice how the chain is twisted around itself.  If there is a clear twist, carefully untwist that one loop careful not to disturb the other loops. CAUTION: Though you may feel relief and excitement as a result of this small progress, do not pick up the necklace and do not attempt complex untwisting.

6. Continue to gently tap the knots and spread the loops until you expand the mess to the ends of the necklace.  At this point it may become clear that the ends of the necklace can now be drawn over/under/through the loops.  Take care to address one loop at a time and keep the necklace on the work surface so as to avoid screwing it up. (Note: “screwing it up” is a technical term in untangling)

Untangling a necklace takes time and patience.  More importantly, it takes will.  Many of us live with sad tight snarls in our work and in our lives and relegate these important parts of ourselves to the back of the jewelry box. Over time, we no longer have the resources to get new necklaces or to unsnarl the ones we have.

(Are you responsible for motivating and engaging others?  Do you need a new way to move individuals and teams tangibly forward? Find out more.)

Can a team change its stripes?

Can a person, a team, or an organization TRULY change its stripes?  These folks think so.  How about you?

On getting along: ” We saw immediate progress with interpersonal relationships and working as a team.”; “We broke through long standing assumptions and conflicts that were detracting from the goal.”

Teams are people too, right?  I mean, we all come to work with our “stuff”: our peeves, our problems, our personalities.  We come to work patient or we come at the end of our tether.  And then, no matter how we come to work, we have to deal with everyone else’s peeves, problems and personalities.  The better we are at managing the impact of our own stuff, the better we are at managing the stuff others dish out.  And, by the way, there’s a pretty aggressive business goal to be met and being fussy with each other isn’t going to help reach it any faster.

On being strategic: “We moved our discussions away from being so reactive and task-oriented to being more strategic”

Finding problems is easy.  Finding solutions can be hard.  Finding solutions is a lot harder when everyone is busy finding problems.  Shift the focus to the goal and strategy and then let the good strong brains of the team do their good strong work.

On management: “Management time is less spent on unproductive exchanges, organizational conflicts and silos and is more focused on work.”

Managers most often become managers because they are good at solving the technical problems of their field.  Hopefully they are also chosen because of their relatively good rapport with people.  Unfortunately, to be a great manager one MUST NOT SOLVE a lot of those problems. “What!?”, you ask with incredulity.  Yes, a great manager guides others to solve those problems for themselves thereby freeing up management time for creating goals and maintaining an environment that supports and stretches those people to solve even more.

On learning how: “I have to say this entire process is the first thing I’ve seen in 20 years that’s new and different and positive, and that gets at the root cause of the things that suck the life out of an organization.”

When you can get at the root cause of things that suck the life out of an organization, there’s more room for better things to grow.

On finding out more:

Visit the website to learn how to bring these programs into your organization or practice and, if you are a change agent responsible for moving individuals, teams or organizations forward, register here.

PS: Click here for a fast and easy way for managers to STOP SOLVING PROBLEMS they shouldn’t be solving

Happy Firing

There should be absolutely, positively no reason for someone to be surprised upon being fired.  Ever.

Now, I’m not saying there won’t be a measure of shock.  But the fact that the two of you have arrived at this point should not under any circumstance be a complete surprise.

Here’s the four step continuum of progressive discipline with which every manager should be acquainted:

1. Suggest: “You might try this next time…”

2. Direct:  “I’d like you to handle it this way next time…”

3. Alert:  “It’s important that you remember to…”

4. Notify:  “We’ve talked about this several times.  If this isn’t corrected, your employment could be affected.”

These four steps happen BEFORE any mention of losing one’s job.

What’s Working?

The “What’s working?” question is a corollary to the constructive venting I talked about in an earlier post.

The organizational development approach of Appreciative Inquiry posits that identifying and leveraging the good stuff is as or even more effective than finding and fixing the bad stuff.

I’m not quite as idealistic as the hard core AI’ers so I like to start with a spirited and invigorating bitch session (for lack of a more delightfully appropriate phrase) followed by the “baby out with bathwater” question.

Spent from the exertion of spewing venom about one’s circumstances (ie: management-doesn’t-support-the-goals-we-don’t-have-the-resources-to-do-our-job-leadership-is-inconsistent-I’m-not-paid-enough-for-this-s$#t-why-does-XYZ-department-get-flex-schedules-and-we-don’t?-…) folks are ready for it.

Wow.  There’s A Lot Wrong

A team in the throes of improvement needs to hear some acknowledgement: “Wow.  There’s a lot wrong.  Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”  The thing is, if your team thinks there’s a lot wrong, then there is.  Until your team feels like things are going reasonably swimmingly, you will continue to peer through from the sorry-end of the knothole.  So you might as well acknowledge it so that they can move to the next stage.

Baby Out with the Bathwater

Once we’ve vented and once we’ve acknowledged the monumental problems that need to be addressed, we wonder: “Is there anything working well that we should take care to preserve?”  Afterall, we wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

If you give the venting enough genuine space and time to breathe, then when you ask this next question, you are likely to hear about some pretty important (and leveragable) aspects of your organization that can help you get to goal.

Tell Me More

Oh, how I love this phrase.  It has unearthed hidden diamonds of insight, helped avoid certain disaster, calmed raging emotions and has forged more meaningful relationships.

Try it.  The next time someone offers an opinion, an emotion, an idea, a problem to solve.

Addressing the Ball

In Ireland last year I had the privilege and pleasure of playing at Bantry Bay Golf Course in County Cork in the company of an accomplished golfer.  I am eternally grateful that he was also a respectful and patient instructor.

I learned about belt buckles, V formations and coiling the spring – all of which markedly improved my nascent golf game.  I also learned that the “Hail Mary” – though a particular favorite of mine when learning new sports – is not a strategy that transfers appropriately to golf.  And neither should it apply so often to management.

We find ourselves too busy or too overwhelmed or too burnt out or too harangued to take the time necessary to quiet the course, site the goal, survey the conditions, and align our efforts before charging forward and making the play.

You may still end up throwing a Hail Mary.   But it will look and land better for having taken the time to respectfully and patiently address the ball.

The Manager’s Magic Potion

Almost as easy as waving a magic wand, the Potion is a practice that can save you time, develop staff capability and increase innovation. As if that weren’t enough, with these five easy inquiries you can more easily delegate, manage performance and reward your stars. In short, you can run a more productive and motivated organization. Find out more here.