Remote Work and Leadership

June 25, 2024

The debate over remote work continues because for some it is a net positive while for others it is not. Many employees reportedly love the flexibility and freedom while managers dislike the lack of control and oversight. But how does remote work impact overall leadership?

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics finding in February 2024, seventy-seven percent of people do not telework at all. Twelve percent of people teleworked some hours and only 11 percent worked from home every day.

A lot of the research on remote work has been done on sales positions, call center representatives and software engineers because it can be easier to measure their productivity. Yet this can be much more difficult to quantify in other occupations.

Measuring overall productivity requires looking beyond those of individual contributors because so much of workplace success is about collaboration, influence, relationship building, and other aspects involved in leadership. And, although those who sell remote working tools and technologies would love to argue that these things are possible, the data has yet to bear this out.

As outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article, remote workers are missing out on mentorship and promotions. While this is not necessarily the case for those working a hybrid model, fully remote workers are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to career advancement opportunities.  This especially impacts women, who choose to work remotely at higher rates than men.

It may come down to the individual’s age as those who are earlier in their careers can benefit most from more time in the workplace while those who are more established won’t benefit as much. Unfortunately, it is young people who most desire to work remotely.

There is a great deal of teaching and learning that occurs more frequently when we are together in the same physical place. People early in their careers need to be in the workplace to receive this mentorship and those who are more established in their careers may need to be there to deliver it.

And in-person interactions make a difference when it comes to professional relationships that can help or hinder advancement opportunities. This is because so much of working together well has to do with respect, trust, and other “soft skills” that are far more difficult to demonstrate in a virtual environment.

“One of the things that’s pretty interesting is that we find that even when you’re in a building with colleagues who are not on your team, we still find a bump in the mentorship and the feedback that one gets,” according to Natalia Emanuel, a labor economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “And it’s not from your teammates, then, of course. It’s from the non-teammates. But there still is an element of enhanced mentorship, feedback, collaboration simply by being around people.”

Ultimately, as a leader you need to mentor and grow your direct reports so they can become leaders themselves. As an employee early in your career, you need to seek out mentorship and learning opportunities from more senior colleagues. And doing this in person is much easier than remotely.

While remote work and the hybrid model are likely to remain, it’s important for leaders as well as aspiring leaders to recognize the challenges of being fully remote. To mentor others or to learn from others in a remote environment requires much more intention on both sides and, whenever possible, find ways to come together in person and make the most of these interactions.

Transforming Conflict

April 28, 2024

Too often conflict is due to an inability to remain open and to rethink our position. This is true in both our personal and our professional lives. And conflict can escalate when it’s based on an intractable position that prevents resolution.

Perhaps we should adopt what Stanford professor and technology forecaster Paul Saffo calls, strong positions weakly held. With this mindset we can confidently assert our opinion while remaining open and influenceable—not to eliminate conflict but to help transform it.

Strong opinions weakly held is about taking a stand based on your knowledge and experience, however, when new information comes along, you can remain flexible to adjusting your position as necessary.

“Instead of trying to resolve conflict and reach agreement, can we aim for something more realistic and more sustainable than resolution?” asks William Ury, author of Possible: How we survive (and thrive) in an age of conflict. “What if we were to focus on transforming conflict?”

This is about changing the form of conflict from destructive fighting into productive conflict and constructive negotiation.

“The more we react to conflict, the bigger conflict grows,” writes Ury. “Conflicts turn destructive because each side reacts in an escalating back-and-forth that all too often ends with everyone losing.”

Interests versus Positions

“In the language of negotiation, to zoom in means to focus on the interests that lie underneath our positions,”writes Ury. “Positions are the things we say we want. Interests are our underlying motivations—our desires, aspirations, concerns, fears, and needs. Whereas positions are what we say we want, interests are why we want what we want.”

What if we were to inquire beyond positions and into interests? By seeking to understand the interests, you are better able to move from stuck to unstuck.

Braver Angels

This reminds me of the work Braver Angels is doing to bring Americans together by bridging the political divide and strengthen our democratic republic. Founded directly after the 2016 Presidential Election, Braver Angels focuses on facilitating workshops to help individuals fully listening to those with a different position to better understand.

The goal of Braver Angels is not to change minds, but to better appreciate our differences and help ensure the American Experiment survives and thrives.

With 100 alliances spread across Red and Blue states with more than 33,000 participants equally representing those who identify as Republican and Democrat, Braver Angels seeks to engage people in a dialogue based on commonality rather than division. It’s meant to get beyond mere positions to better appreciate and respect each other’s interests.

Transforming conflict requires reminding us of our compatible needs instead of focusing on our opposing positions. This means viewing conflict as an opportunity to strengthen the commonality rather than the differences between us. It requires working together cooperatively rather than competitively. If we are able to do this, we are more likely to ensure that we can move forward together and tackle our most challenging problems.

Really Knowing Others at Work

February 27, 2024

The ability to deeply see other people is important to develop and sustain relationships. This is beneficial in your personal life in order to live a long and happy one, but it is also important in the workplace if you want to successfully collaborate and lead others.

A vast amount of research has determined that the secret to a long, healthy, and happy life has to do with the quality of our relationships. This has been found to be more important than diet, exercise, genetics, wealth, education, and other factors.

Perhaps most famously, the Grant Study—a longitudinal study begun in 1938 that followed 268 Harvard sophomores—found that close relationships and social connections are crucial for our well-being as we age. That’s because supportive relationships help us cope with stress and protects our overall health. This finding proved true across the board not only among men in the Harvard study, but also participants studied from the inner-city.

In the workplace we may diminish the importance of how we relate to each other. Some may think it should only be about the work and that if we simply focus on the task at hand, the messiness of people won’t complicate matters. The problem with this perspective is that we are all emotional human beings and cannot simply show up as logic-minded, “Spock-like” characters in the workplace.

David Brooks, author of How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, says this ability to really know another person is all too rare.

“There is one skill that lies at the heart of any healthy person, family, school, community organization, or society,” writes Brooks. “The ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood.”

Brooks goes on to describe some people as Diminishers, who make others feel small and unseen; things to be used, not as persons to be befriended. Diminishers use stereotypes and ignore other people because they are so involved with themselves. Qualities of these Diminishers include egotism, anxiety, objectivism, and a static mindset.

On the other hand, Brooks highlights Illuminators as those with a persistent curiosity about others, knowing what to look for and how to ask the right questions at the right time. “They shine the brightness of their care on people and make them feel bigger, deeper, respected, lit up.” The qualities of Illuminators include tenderness, receptivity, active curiosity, affection, and generosity.

Do you recognize Diminishers or Illuminators in your workplace? If you’re fortunate, you work for an Illuminator who really sees you and supports your growth. They are the ones you should strive to work for and follow.

Diminishers are those who may be holding you back from being your best self at work. They are more interested in themselves than those around them. These people may be in leadership positions, but they are not true leaders. You should shun Diminishers whenever possible.

What about you? Do you show up in work relationships in a curious, attentive, and empathetic manner or do you show up in a manner that is more transactional, competitive, and self-focused?

True collaboration and teamwork require more of the Illuminator qualities. And leaders who embrace these qualities are more likely to build solid teams and organizations that are based on psychological safety, trust, rapport, and productivity.

Until artificial intelligence replaces us in the workplace, we will need to get along by recognizing our own emotions and those of the people we interact with. This requires elements of emotional intelligence to really know others in a way that helps them feel seen and to help others to really see ourselves. Seek to be an Illuminator in all your relationships so that you live a long and happy life, and you are more effective in the workplace.

Leadership: Decisive or Divisive?

February 15, 2024

Among the many important traits of the best leaders include motivating people toward achieving a common goal, continually delivering results, and making tough decisions with incomplete information. Being decisive rather than divisive.

The decisive leader is one who can determine the best course of action when no perfect solution is readily available. They decide what to do when complete information is unavailable. They accept that a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment is difficult to navigate yet courageously lean in and move forward.

A decisive leader demonstrates confidence in their ability to make a choice while acknowledging it may prove to be wrong with the passage of time and/or more information. It means accepting that not making a decision can be worse than making the wrong decision.

Divisive leaders, on the other hand, are those who often create chaos, which can lead to polarization and instability. They may build silos, withhold resources or information, and generally compete with coworkers in order to consolidate power or influence. These are leaders in name only.

The divisive leader is one who can easily point out the problems and assign blame but fail to offer help formulate solutions. They move people away rather than bring them together.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 Leaders are those who look out the window when things are going well and into the mirror when things are going wrong: Looking out the window to give credit to others and looking in the mirror to take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. Divisive leaders may very well do the opposite.

Clearly, there are many examples of divisive leaders in both our businesses and our politics. Why they are successful could be that they’re personality, bravado, or deceit is able to mask their true nature. Narcissism can show up as confidence. Boisterous can be perceived as bold. Denials may be seen as persistence or never backing down.

Though it may be difficult to determine which leaders are divisive, once you know, it’s important to get away from them. They might be successful in the short term, but divisive leaders won’t be for long if we refuse to follow or support them. This takes courage to accept that perhaps you made a mistake in working for or voting for them in the first place.  

We live at a very divisive time and this is causing real harm to our workplaces and our country. Perhaps the best way to reduce the divisions is to ensure our own behavior doesn’t contribute to this divisiveness.

Think twice before you tweet, retweet, like, or share something on social media and determine whether it’s contributing to the problem or not. Before you speak ill of someone, ask yourself if this is going to be helpful. When others make a disparaging comment about another person, defend that person if you think the comment is unfair.

Choose to be a decisive leader who is able to make hard decisions with incomplete information. Be courageous in accepting that VUCA is the new normal and therefore you often don’t have the luxury of delaying exactly how to best move forward. And refrain from following divisive leadership, wherever you find it.

Reform Necessary to Remain Informed

October 31, 2023

Maintaining a democracy requires citizens who are engaged in contributing to the health and vitality of the country. At a minimum, this means following the news to best understand the issues and concerns, and then voting in federal, state, and local elections.

Although participation soared in the U.S. 2020 election—nearly 63% of voting age people cast ballots—this democracy is far behind many others. According to Pew Research Center, compared with turnout among voting-age population in 49 other countries, the U.S. was 31st.

Perhaps low participation in voting is at least partially due to the challenge of being well informed. Newspapers are struggling to remain viable as people are often choosing to learn about the issues of the day from the internet or social media.

The internet, of course, makes it possible to find “evidence” for just about anything you want to believe. This is why I have so much trouble when I hear people with conspiracy theories say they don’t trust the media and do their own research. This “research” is often collected from unreliable sources and not based on verifiable facts, but on opinions that are backed by random and often disparate supportive information.

Social media was identified as a primary source for news for as many as half of Americans. This is obviously alarming: whether it’s climate change, Covid vaccines, wars in Ukraine or Gaza, you can’t rely on social media platforms for the truth. But as news is slowly disaggregated from companies like Meta and Google, the question becomes where will people go to stay informed?

Perhaps the workplace is a new place where we can learn civics. In Germany, companies are launching seminars on civics and democratic principles—the importance of voting and recognizing the dangers of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech—as a way to ensure healthier relationships at work as well as society as a whole.

These Business Council for Democracy workshops are hoping to fill the gaps in employees’ knowledge of the democratic system, including digital civic culture. The programs hope to help people recognize and question conspiracy theories and disinformation, and also reinforce personal responsibility and resilience.

Twitter was once a beacon of great hope for citizen journalists to report on events as they happened. The Arab Spring uprising was a pivotal moment for the platform. Now Elon Musk has run afoul of the European Union’s Digital Services Act that requires social media platforms to restrict misinformation and other violative content within the union’s 27 nations.

The value of X is now less than half of what it was when Musk acquired it as it’s lost both users and advertisers. In its new incarnation, Elon Musk now wants to make X into an everything app.

What if instead of relying on “everything apps” there were more dedicated social media apps we could actually trust and rely on for specific information? Rather than companies seeking to profit merely from eyeballs and stickiness, there could be a financial model built upon either ads, subscriptions, or some combination.

  • Imagine opening your news app and finding strictly verifiable facts in context that helps you understand events of the day? Or at least provide a useful filter such as Snopes or FactCheck to immediately check on what you read or hear. USA Facts app?  
  • Sports fanatics are currently X’s most loyal users representing 42 percent of the X audience, according to the platform. What if there was an app strictly designed for athletes and fans that would enable focus and community. The Athletic are you listening?
  • A pop culture app could dominate all things celebrated in the entertainment world and be designed to follow artists, musicians, actors, etc.

This should not be exclusively tied to apps, but could include podcasts, blogs, vlogs, and other emerging technologies to keep us informed without the deceit and bile. Certainly, we need to beware of artificial intelligence and all that can go wrong.

I suspect there are many reasons why what I’m suggesting won’t work, but there’s got to be an opportunity to reform the way we stay informed. This country depends on all citizens being knowledgeable about current events and engaged in voting so that our democracy remains.

The Value of Values

June 22, 2023

My teenage daughter recently spoke to me about an ethical dilemma she was facing—reconciling the fact that a musical artist, whose songs she greatly enjoys has been accused of sexual misconduct. Can she still listen to his music (although not purchasing “merch” and attending concerts) while still holding true to her values?

This is increasingly becoming a concern for all consumers as we can often choose products and services from companies that align with our values and avoid those that don’t. But where do we draw the line, and can we count on what companies reveal to us?

Companies throughout the country are attempting to demonstrate their ability to maintain profitability while aligning their values with those of their customers and employees. Many companies have taken on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives yet find it challenging to make this more than simply checking a box and adding new words to their website.

As I wrote about in a previous blog post, organizational values need to be consistent between what is outward facing to customers and what is practiced internally by employees. These are the core values an organization currently holds as opposed to aspirational values that it is seeking to reach.

Just shy of 90 years after the USA declared independence with the promise that all men are created equal, the last enslaved Black Americans were informed that they are free. It would be another 156 years before Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday as this recent development coincided with nationwide protests following the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Companies today are attempting to deal with many social concerns very differently. Oil companies find they can no longer stand on the sidelines denying our climate crisis. But many are simply  “greenwashing” to appear like they are acting in the best interests of the planet when it’s clear that they are not. Greenwashing is not new as it started in the 1960s when hotels asked their guests to reuse towels to help save the environment. Clearly these hotels were saving money on laundry costs yet never passed this savings on to their guests.

Both Target and Bud Light have faced boycotts over their marketing efforts toward the LGBTQ community. Last month Bud Light’s sales were down 23% and Target’s share price dropped 20%, although this may be partially due to concerns over inflation. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines and Lego are also facing heat for their advertising and promotions of Pride events. Clearly, customers have an impact.

To what extent should we as consumers, employees and shareholders hold corporations responsible for matching our core values? That is, of course, an individual’s decision, but our decisions can collectively have a huge influence on how corporations conduct themselves.

If these organizational values are important to where you shop, work, and invest, then it’s important to determine whether the values they publish are core values versus merely aspirational ones. It’s also important to understand whether what they preach squares with what they practice.

While it’s difficult for companies to thread the needle regarding maximizing profits with societal concerns, I believe it is exactly what we should demand from them.

Even Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote that “. . . there is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”

It is our responsibility to hold companies accountable when in their efforts to increase profits they break rules, build a monopoly, or seek to deceive us. If we choose not to hold them accountable for this and our government does not regulate them, it is our collective peril.

Trusted Leadership

May 12, 2023

Leaders are those who can be trusted. Sounds obvious but there are far too many examples of leaders in business and politics who fabricate, deceive, omit, obfuscate, or otherwise stretch fact into fiction.

As someone who thoroughly appreciates fiction in the form of novels, short stories, movies and so many streaming series, I know that verisimilitude is essential. Verisimilitude basically means “similarity to the truth,” and writers and filmmakers use a form of verisimilitude to give stories the appearance of truth to keep the reader or viewer engaged.

That’s because verisimilitude is necessary to suspend our belief and follow a character in his or her world. It is vital for the story to appear believable. Cultural verisimilitude shows up in the context of reality in the real world. For example, novels can accurately describe the real world—regardless of historical time and place.

Writers and filmmakers can make us laugh, cry, smile, or frown because of verisimilitude. We willingly except this because we want to be entertained.

When the appearance of truth is used to deceive, confuse, and otherwise manipulate us to act or vote in a particular way, it can be highly destructive. Whether it’s former President Donald Trump claiming “fake news” regarding any number of the many transgressions and lies he’s committed throughout his life or Howard Schultz, the ex-CEO of Starbucks, claiming falsely that the company has never once broken labor laws during its anti-union campaign, they are seeking to deceive us.

While public relations officers, media consultants, cable news pundits, social media commenters, and other spin doctors seek to further the deception, it’s up to each of us to seek out the truth—no matter how difficult it can be.

I consider myself a very trusting person in that I go into most situations where I trust what I’m reading, seeing, or hearing. However, when I learn that a person, organization, or entity is guilty of deception, they lose credibility for me and need to regain my trust before I’ll take them at their word again.

According to the EY Global Integrity Report 2022, there is a widening gap between higher levels of integrity awareness and lowering standards, as well as between the confidence in integrity standards displayed by companies’ leadership ranks and their employees. Yet 97% of respondents say they agree that integrity is important.

Why do we say integrity is important, yet we allow ourselves to be manipulated by people who are clearly not being honest?

Social media no doubt contributes greatly to a lack of trust. (I removed myself from both Facebook and Twitter long ago for this reason as well as others.) Social media certainly didn’t succeed in creating community and perhaps is only contributing to a nationwide loneliness epidemic. If someone you know is primarily getting their news from social media, there’s a good reason to be dubious in what they then tell you to be true.

If we are truly a nation of laws where someone is innocent until proven guilty, then we must also demand justice when someone is found guilty by a jury of his or her peers. Verisimilitude should be used for entertainment, but not for leading organizations or people. We should demand that our leaders are trustworthy. And we should hold them accountable for their actions and we should no longer support them when they lie to us. Perhaps most importantly, we should demand justice when they commit a crime

Multiplying Upwards

April 23, 2023

The best bosses raise the leadership capacity of those around them. They motivate direct reports to deliver more than they thought possible and help them grow to be more effective doing so. These multipliers also work up and across the organization to spread their impact.

On the flip side, there are bosses who diminish others’ contributions and reduce their commitment and engagement. These leaders drain intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them. They always need to be the smartest ones in the room, according to Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, who calls these people diminishers as they diminish talent and commitment.

While diminishers say “People will never figure this out without me,” multipliers say “People are smart and can figure it out.”

Apple’s co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs may have been speaking of multipliers when he stated: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 

If you are fortunate to work for a multiplier, count yourself lucky and do what you can to continually nurture this relationship. These people amplify the intelligence and capabilities of others and inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results surpassing expectations. Multipliers multiply their impact on others. You would be wise to follow their example.

Even if you don’t report directly to a diminisher, you probably know some inside your organization. They are likely more interested in building an empire than building the talent in others. Rather than attract talented people and use them to their fullest capacity, diminishers make big promises, but underutilize and reduce their engagement.

Working for a diminisher can be difficult but it doesn’t have to diminish your career. You just need a plan for how to work with them.

According to Wiseman, diminishers want to be valued for their intelligence and ideas. Many are desperate for it. In many ways, diminishers need multipliers to help them be successful. When diminishers feel smart, valued, heard, included, and trusted, they are more likely to trust in return.

Wiseman suggest the following ways to help move your contribution forward with those otherwise good people who fail at being a good boss. When you work for a diminisher, you can multiply up.

  1. Exploit your boss’s strengths. Instead of trying to change your boss, focus on trying to utilize his or her knowledge and skills in service of the work you’re doing. Don’t give up ownership but use his or her capabilities at key milestones and in ways they can be helpful.
  2. Give them a user’s guide. Broadcast your capabilities and help your colleagues pick up the signal. Or you can simply tell people what you are good at and how you can be best used. If you want to work at your highest point of contribution, you need to let people know your value.
  3. Listen to learn. Diminishers want to be heard and remember you can learn something from anyone. Look for common ground and ask questions that help your boss weigh both the upsides and downsides of his or her ideas.
  4. Admit your mistakes. Talk frankly about mistakes and what you’ve learned from them. This demonstrates accountability, which can bring greater trust.
  5. Sign up for a stretch. Let your boss know when you’re ready and able to take on a new challenge above and beyond the scope of your role. Or ask your manager what work you can take off his or her plate.
  6. Invite them to the party. Invite your diminisher boss to your team meetings to witness your brilliance as well as to contribute while not allowing them to take control of the meeting.

Rather than continually battle with your diminisher boss, seek ways to improve the relationship so that it works better. This is about exercising your multiplier behavior by multiplying upwards.

Leading Your Boss

April 11, 2023

If you’re like most people, you have a boss who greatly influences your job satisfaction, learning and development, career advancement and overall well-being in the workplace. And it is your responsibility to lead your boss to make this relationship work best.

Your boss is very likely the gatekeeper for continued growth and promotion opportunities. In fact, according to a McKinsey study, the relationship with your boss is two times more critical for career success than any other workplace relationship. No one has greater direct impact over your career other than you.

In the same way you shouldn’t leave your health up to your doctor, don’t leave job satisfaction and career advancement entirely up to your boss. Accepting this means doing what you can to make this a solid and successful partnership.

Working from home during the pandemic likely shifted how you interact with your colleagues and direct supervisor. With a return to the office at least part of the time, you should choose to make the most of in-person one-on-one time with your boss.

Managing upward is not about sucking up or simply doing what you are told. It is not about being totally deferential nor is it about resisting all the time. Leading your boss means building a solid partnership to benefit them, yourself, and the organization.

“Being held in high regard by your boss is one of the most powerful forms of influence and visibility you can wield,” writes Scott Mautz in his book Leading from the Middle: A playbook for managers to influence up, down, and across the organization. Mautz provides a step-by-step method proven with over 30 years of research and experience on how to build a solid partnership with your boss. These steps include:

  1. Nature Before Nurture – This is about understanding that this relationship is interdependent between the two of you. Your boss needs you and you need your boss.
  2. Understand the Asks – What does success look like?  What goals are important and why? What should I start, stop, and continue doing to succeed? Are my priorities consistent with yours?
  3. Style Awareness – You are responsible for adjusting your style to your boss. Things such as decision-making, conflict, formality, behavior, and others need to be evaluated on how well yours align with your boss.
  4. Get Personal – Express interest in them by seeking to understand their motivations, pressures, aspirations, superpowers, pet peeves, etc. to build rapport, and then reward their candor with discretion to build and maintain trust.
  5. Your House in Order – Manage yourself well by ensuring that you are managing your team and your work well. This includes delivering results, knowing the business, and ensure you’re bringing the attitude you want reciprocated.
  6. Purposeful Support – “The support you offer should be intentional about the why and how to make your spirit of servitude more meaningful,” says Mautz. These include providing information, capacity, decision-making, problem solving and advocating to foster a strong partnership with your boss.

Each of these steps is essential and shouldn’t be glossed over as they are integral to making yourself a true thought partner and confidant with your boss. The stronger this partnership, the greater will be your influence and opportunities to grow and thrive.  

Team Advantage of Strategic Offsites

December 8, 2022

On the cusp of a new year many organizations are currently scheduling offsites for senior executives to review strategic goals and devise execution plans for the coming year. Healthy organizations who encourage their leaders to embrace each other as vital teammates will be the most successful.

All too often offsites fail to deliver solid results because leaders bring forth plans that are focused on individuals and their departments. This can inadvertently reward silo building and allow for competition of resources that ultimately undermines company-wide success. Rather than building a unified team and doing what’s right for the organization, individual egos, reputations, and ambitions become the primary focus.

Any successful strategic offsite should begin with ensuring everyone feels psychologically safe to speak freely. Each person should trust that they can do the right thing for the right reasons. And all participants ought to feel like they are an important component of a highly functional team, and that the organization will succeed only with everyone working effectively together.

Before beginning any offsite, ensure that there is a foundation of trust and rapport. If this needs to be established or strengthened, this should be the number one priority. Though it takes time and energy, and some may see it as unnecessary, nothing is more important. Without trust, there can be little progress.

Vulnerability should also be encouraged and modeled by the most senior leader so others can show up more fully and authentically. This will set the tone for how everyone shows up.

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, author Patrick Lencioni recommends a Team Effectiveness Exercise that can be especially helpful.

“Do this at the end of an off-site meeting once there is a decent foundation of trust,” writes Lencioni. “If team members aren’t capable of being vulnerable with one another, there is no point in doing it.”

Team Effectiveness Exercise

  1. Have each person write down one thing that each of the other team members does that makes the team better. It should be the biggest strength as it pertains to the impact on the group. Not technical skills but the way they behave when the team is together that makes the team stronger.

  2. Do the same thing except this time focus on one aspect of each person that sometimes hurts the team. Provide 10 to 15 minutes for this.

  3. Beginning with the leader, go around the room asking everyone to report on the person’s one positive characteristic. Let the person respond after everyone has finished. Now go around again offering the one characteristic that the person needs to work on. Allow for a reaction after everyone has gone. Then do this for the next person until everyone is complete. Should take only about 10 minutes per person.

This type of exercise requires trust and psychological safety to execute well. It can dramatically strengthen a team by making each member feel more supported by and accountable to the others on the team.

“The greatest impact is the realization on the part of leadership team members that holding one another accountable is a survivable and productive activity, and it will make them likely to continue doing it going forward,” continues Lencioni.

Lencioni does an excellent job of illustrating this in his earlier book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which I highly recommend.

Plan on making your next strategic offsite meeting one that is focused on the team. The whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts, but requires ensuring there is psychological safety, trust, and rapport. And it means the courage to be vulnerable with each other for the sake of strengthening your relationships and team performance.

New Boss = New Opportunity

October 14, 2022

The pandemic led many people to change jobs, get promoted or otherwise been assigned a new boss. Regardless, if this was the case for you, it’s important to quickly get aligned and make the most of the opportunity with this new relationship.  

Perhaps what’s most important with a new boss is to be proactive in understanding their perspective, how they like to communicate and how you can be successful with them. As quickly as possible, strive to establish trust and build rapport. Don’t simply allow for the work to speak for itself, but instead begin building a solid reputation of who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what you’re capable of doing.

Remote work certainly altered how we interact with a new boss, but if you are returning to the office—even in a hybrid fashion—it’s important to re-establish rapport and interact face-to-face as much as possible to ensure you are aligned.

Focusing on the fundamentals is critical in building a productive relationship with your new boss, according to Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  

When it comes to working with a new boss, Watkins suggests not doing these things:

  • Don’t stay away – Get on your boss’s calendar regularly and ensure you are in close communication.
  • Don’t surprise your boss – Ensure your boss knows problems well in advance with regular updates so they gain confidence in your ability to deliver results.
  • Don’t approach your boss only with problems – Give some thought to potential solutions so your boss has something to react to rather than resolve on his or her own.
  • Don’t run down your checklist – Assume your boss wants to focus on the most important things you’re trying to do and how he or she can help.
  • Don’t expect your boss to change – It’s your responsibility to adapt to your boss’s style: regardless of how you interacted with your previous boss.

Watkins recommends doing the following with your new boss:

  • Clarify expectations early and often – Don’t make assumptions based on what your prior boss wanted but make it clear what he or she is expecting from you.
  • Take 100 percent responsibility for making the relationship work – Don’t wait for your boss to adjust to you, but instead adjust to him or her.
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and action planning – Ensure that you are aligned on milestones and key delivery dates.
  • Aim for early wins in areas important to the boss – Make your impact quickly so you can earn your boss’s confidence in your ability.
  • Pursue good marks from those who opinions your boss respects – This means shoring up your reputation with other leaders who influence your boss.

These reminders can go a long way towards building a solid relationship with the person most influential with accelerating or decelerating your career opportunities. This is an investment that will pay huge dividends and shouldn’t be minimized.

Further, think of how you can establish a relationship where you’re treated as a thought partner. That means thinking about the challenges your boss is facing and how you can best support him or her.

Every time you get a new boss, think of this as a new opportunity for you to grow in your leadership and in your career. Take a proactive approach and take responsibility for it. You’ll likely enjoy your job more and make greater progress.  

Trust Before Progress

September 28, 2022

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”  – Albert Einstein

In my work as a coach and organization development consultant, a common concern I encounter with my clients is a lack of trust among colleagues. This includes team members, peers, and even senior executives. A lack of trust means little progress can be made.

Author Patrick Lencioni discusses the absence of trust as a foundational aspect in any well-functioning team in his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Without trust, there can be no progress as this serves as the basis for the psychological safety necessary for any group of people to collaborate well.  

The previous President of this country reportedly told more than 30,000 false or misleading claims while in office. He was defeated when running for re-election, yet because of his continued lies as well as the misinformation of his backers, 70% of Republicans still don’t believe Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election.

When our Facebook and Twitter feeds contain false information, rumors presented as facts, and clear lies, we need to question the value of social media. When talking heads on cable TV spout misinformation simply to spike viewership, we should turn the channel. And when politicians lie, they need to be held accountable and voted out of office. If we normalize this lack of trust in the people we follow, tune in to, or vote for, we are doomed to be continually misinformed, misled, and swindled.

For some reason the search for truth no longer seems foundational in forming our own opinion. Have we gotten lazy and given up on the notion of thinking for ourselves?

This lack of trust is due to many factors, but perhaps began when we stopped paying for subscriptions to trusted news sources and allowed social media, cable news shows, and talk radio to tell us what we should and should not believe. We can certainly find confirming data on any given conspiracy theory on the internet. That doesn’t make the information true.

In our work lives as well as in our personal lives, it’s vital that we build and maintain trust in those around us. This is about integrity, and it is becoming all too rare.

To restore and build trust in our lives, we must begin by examining ourselves and see what sort of example we are showing to others:

Behaviors that Diminish Trust:

  • Stating your opinion as if it’s a fact
  • Accepting others’ opinions as fact
  • Failing to evaluate your news source as reliable for honesty and fairness
  • Retweeting unvetted things on social media

Behaviors that Build Trust:

  • Walking your talk: Do what you say and say what you will do
  • Being accountable and holding others accountable
  • Questioning the reliability of what you see, hear, and read
  • Choosing to be accurately informed and allowing to rethink what you believe

I choose to enter all my interactions both personal and professional with a trusting attitude. By extending trust first I know I could be taken advantage of, but I do so regardless because I want to expand rather than contract my world. And, in my experience, I have not been swindled often.

However, while I choose to trust first, this doesn’t mean I trust always. When someone proves to be untrustworthy by being unreliable, dishonest, or misinformed, I adjust my trust meter to no longer take them at their word. Their trust then needs to be restored.

I take this approach with people in my personal and professional life as well as those I don’t know but follow and look up to. This includes politicians, public officials, athletes, celebrities, and others in the media. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

We need to restore and build trust in order to make progress in our workplace as well as in our democracy. Nothing is more important than trust.

Imagine a Four-Day Workweek

July 13, 2022

The pandemic has forever changed how we think about what it means to go to work. And though the hybrid approach is rapidly becoming the predominant model in many white-collar workplaces, perhaps we should consider a more radical change to the 40-hour, five-day workweek. Is it now time for the four-day workweek?

Instead of simply providing more flexibility on when employees get in their 40+ hours of work, why not give them the opportunity to trim the fat by cutting out wasted time, push back on non-essential meetings, and find ways to do the work more quickly and efficiently to achieve the same results so they can spend more time away from work?

This is ultimately about giving workers more autonomy and agency for getting work completed.

In 2018 the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian introduced a four-day, 32-hour workweek as a pilot program and told employees that if productivity didn’t suffer, they would make it permanent. After eight weeks, they discovered not only did job performance not suffer, but there was an increase in employee engagement and work-life balance.

As a result of the pilot program, Perpetual Guardian found that:

  • Levels of engagement, teamwork, and stimulation went up between 30% to 40%   
  • Time spent on social media fell by 35%
  • Stress levels were down by 15%
  • People stated they slept more, rested more, read more, and relaxed more
  • After the two-month trial, the four-day workweek became permanent

“It’s not just having a day off a week,” says Perpetual Guardian founder and author Andrew Barnes. “It’s about delivering productivity, meeting customer service standards, meeting personal and team business goals and objectives.”

4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit established by Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart that provides a platform for like-minded people interested in supporting the idea of the four-day workweek.

Research suggests that alternative work arrangements such as the four-day workweek are particularly beneficial for working mothers and low-income employees because these they tend to be marginalized from high-paying jobs or promotions and are often labelled as “failed” employees because household and caretaking responsibilities prevent them from working long hours or unexpected business travel. The four-day workweek could help level the playing field for marginalized workers.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which I wrote about back in 2010, seems especially relevant today. ROWE gives workers the freedom to do their jobs how and when they see fit, so long as they produce the stated results on specified deadlines.

While ROWE may not be suitable in every work environment, it can work well with workers who are experienced, conscientious, and professional. That’s why workplaces such as IBM, JL Buchanan, WATT Global Media, GitHub, Trello, Toggl, DataStax and many others see the benefits to both their employees and the bottom line.

While ROWE can result in happier, more engaged, and productive employees, communication can be compromised if regular meetings or check-ins are not established and held firm. Not all employees are capable of being successful with such autonomy, and, of course, many workplaces simply don’t provide that much flexibility where established hours are required.

Nevertheless, where ROWE can be implemented, it can result in attracting and retaining top talent, lower real estate costs, and a company culture that values work-life balance.

I’ve learned that while employees love the hybrid work model, managers are not so enamored with the idea. Many claim it is too hard to successfully monitor and manage others. But perhaps this points to the problem. We need a new way to measure productivity that doesn’t involve watching over someone’s shoulder. This means providing greater autonomy for how the work gets done.

Whether the four-day workweek becomes a reality anytime soon, perhaps implementing the ROWE model is a step in that direction. Trust employees and give them the agency and autonomy to get the work done. Don’t simply fill five days with tasks, but provide the goals and objectives then get out of the way as employees deliver results. And be open to this being accomplished in just four days.

Build Back a Better Workplace

June 9, 2021

With any crisis comes opportunity. The crisis of COVID-19 provides the opportunity to take what we’ve learned and make appropriate changes to build back a better workplace. A way to do this is by becoming more focused on tasks, strengthening our work relationships, and embracing a work ethic based on results.

Companies—large and small—around the world were challenged during the past 16 months in order to stay afloat. Many, especially in retail and hospitality, were unable to make it and had to shut down either temporarily or for good. Others were able to utilize technology and many were able to work remotely alongside children, who were learning remotely.

Regardless, while productivity may have been relatively stable for many of these companies, in the long run, we’ll need to find a way to come together again in the same physical space—at least occasionally. That’s because things like creativity, innovation and a sense of belonging are vital and more likely to occur when we are together in the same room.

The workplace may have been forever changed by this pandemic. In many industries, it may no longer be necessary to come into the office every day. Employers may therefore require less office space while employees may need a home office. Once children are back in school again, parents may be much more effective working from home than when they were sharing space and bandwidth with others.

When we do return to the same physical space, it will be important to incorporate the good that came from those who were able to work effectively from home. Here are some things to consider.

Focus on task at hand

One of the first things employers discovered was that many employees actually became more productive while working from home. Though the initial transition may have been challenging to some, others were able to find focus without the disruption that can be so rampant in the office. It may have taken awhile before back-to-back meetings and continual interruptions interrupted our workday again. Though family members, pets and other interruptions may have replaced them, many may have found a way to better focus such as:

  • Maintain control over your time. Strategic thinking, completing a complex assignment, researching a new methodology, learning a new technology and many other things require focus. Take control of your schedule to guard your time.
  • Cut down on task switching. When you allow emails, text messages, Slack, news alerts, phone calls, etc. to interrupt what you’re doing, they greatly impact your ability to focus. Reject multitasking as it is completely counter to effectively focusing.

Strengthen relationships

When we become slaves to our technologies rather than simply treat them as tools, we became more disengaged from each other. No matter what social media companies say, when you choose to spend time interacting with a screen instead of a person, you are creating distance. When you can safely return to the office, do what you can to strengthen your real time relationships with co-workers.

  • Talk in person whenever possible. Rather than message someone down the hall, deliberately choose to interact face-to-face. This will build trust and rapport much better than any electronic substitute.
  • Help make your team more effective. Things like psychological safety, trust and a shared sense of purpose and belonging are critical to high performing teams. Do your part to optimize your teamwork.

Embracing ROWE

In many cases remote work meant managers could no longer micro-manage their workers. Overly oppressive bosses needed to let go of controlling how the work got done. While this could have been taken advantage of, many workers demonstrated just how effective they were in completing the work while unencumbered by an overly watchful eye. Results Only Work Ethic (ROWE) is all about what you deliver and not necessarily how or where you do it. To maintain agency over how and when you do the work, keep in mind the following:

  • Complete what you say you’ll do. It’s quite simple that when you can be trusted to complete your work on time and accurately, others will likely provide more latitude for how and where the work gets done. Do your part to follow through on tasks.
  • Allow your results to dictate your performance. Don’t look for excuses or others to blame when you are unable to complete your work. Take responsibility for what is yours and focus on achieving results that demonstrate your value.

Going back to the office can be a source of renewed engagement. It can bring about changes that enhance your experience. See if you can adapt how you show up so you contribute to building back a better place to work.   

The Peril of a Post-Truth Society

January 13, 2021

The January 6, 2021 attack on our nation’s Capitol should be a wake-up call to all those who fail to realize the severity of accepting and encouraging the post-truth world we’re now living in. Regardless of political affiliation, when we no longer trust reputable news sources for presenting factual information, we are doomed to lose our freedom and our democracy.

When alternative facts are taken seriously, they undermine our ability to discern fact from fiction. The notion of “fake news” is not new, yet it is extremely dangerous to our country.

As an undergraduate student, I studied journalism and learned that although complete objectivity was unattainable, we should nevertheless continually pursue it. Also, the so-called Fourth Estate is essential for holding truth to power.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our great founding fathers, wrote about the importance of a free press keeping government in check. He concluded that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Just as important, in his very next sentence: “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.” Perhaps therein lies our biggest challenge: Reputable news sources require investment in investigative reporting and verifiable fact-checking. If citizens are not interested in paying for this service, we are subject to the misinformation so prevalent in the conspiracy theories and proliferation of lies that are somehow defended as “free speech.”

In his book, Head in the Cloud, author William Poundstone found that people who get their news from social networks are less informed than audiences for other media. He conducted a simple survey that included a general knowledge quiz with questions such as:

  • Which came first, Judaism or Christianity?
  • Find South Carolina on an unlabeled U.S. map.
  • Name at least one of your state’s U.S. Senators

Average score for those who said they got some of their news from Facebook was 60 percent. This was 10 points less than the average scores for those who listed NPRThe New York Times, or even The Daily Show as news sources. Scores were lower for Twitter (58 percent) and Tumblr (55 percent).

The point is that a reliance on social media to keep you informed will only lead you to be fooled and subject to misinformation that results in your relying on someone else’s opinions rather than facts to fully understand. And others’ opinions often have malicious intent.

Choosing not to pay for news and information means you are left with unreliable sources that are not vetted and validated. The result is misinformation often compiled as clickbait that undermines your ability to function as a well-informed citizen. When you no longer trust the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or CNN, then people can take whatever they see on Facebook, Breitbart and QAnon as equally or perhaps somehow more reputable. 

Despite the internet’s ability to provide us with more content from different points of view around the globe, it’s difficult to discern what to believe. We should continually ask: Is it true or is it false? Is this source credible? Just because something has gone viral doesn’t mean it is accurate. As Mark Twain reportedly once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Perhaps having a Politifact or Snopes filter overlaying your newsfeed might help, and maybe this is what some enterprising company should develop. Without that, each of us has to be our own editor to filter the unregulated information coming in. This is an important and vital responsibility if we want to be informed citizens who can maintain our freedom and democracy.  

Empathy in Leadership

May 1, 2020

Leaders who demonstrate empathy are more effective than those who don’t. This is because empathy can help leaders raise engagement, increase loyalty, and ultimately convey their humanity, which makes them more approachable and able to be influenced.

Empathy helps convey that you are able to identify the feeling another has, touch that feeling yourself, and offer to help the other person deal with that feeling or situation. Empathy enables connection like nothing else because it provides the receiver of this empathetic response to feel truly heard.

Unlike sympathy, which is about sharing the feelings of another, empathy is about being able imagine what it might be like to have those feelings. It is about understanding and putting oneself into the other’s position. This helps people connect far more than sympathy.

In politics we’ve witnessed many examples of previous Presidents expressing empathy. For example, President Reagan capture the emotions of the country with his eulogy to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger after it exploded. President Clinton channeled the country’s grief after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President G. W. Bush shed tears and hugs with families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama openly wept after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s hard to think of an example for President Trump, who I have yet to witness demonstrate empathy.

In business there is great opportunity for leaders to demonstrate empathy during this Covid-19 pandemic. It can be done by finding creative ways to serve customers more compassionately. It can be demonstrated through the shared sacrifice a company chooses in reducing the number of layoffs by cutting back salaries for senior executives and removing some benefits for every employee. It can be done in the way they conduct their business to employees, customers, shareholders and the surrounding community.  

Business leaders who demonstrate empathy:

  • Enable people to feel safe with failures as they are not simply blamed for them
  • Look to understand the root cause behind poor performance
  • Help struggling employees improve themselves
  • Enable the opportunity to influence and be influenced by others
  • Build and develop relationships with those they lead

Empathy should also be viewed as a data gathering tool to help you understand the human environment in which you operate your business. This data can then enable you to make better predictions, determine appropriate tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.

It can play a powerful role in how well you are able to influence others. This begins with warmth you project in your interactions as a way to help build rapport and trust. Empathy means you choose to actively listen, so others feel heard based on the behavior they see you demonstrate. And the compassion you convey through your empathy brings about a deep and lasting connection. Embracing and demonstrating empathy towards others greatly enhances your ability to influence them effectively. And this is absolutely necessary in order to lead others.

The best leaders are those who lead with empathy. This is needed more than ever during this pandemic and in the challenging months ahead.

Civility and Leadership Fundamentals

February 9, 2019

Despite the lack of civil discourse in these partisan times, we all have a choice as to how we show up in our communities and workplaces. We can either accept that this incivility is the new normal and that there’s nothing to be done, or we can actively behave in a more conciliatory and compassionate manner.

Leading with principals such as integrity, honesty, compassion, courage, accountability and vulnerability is unfortunately absent in many of our current leaders in both business and politics.

But this doesn’t mean we have to follow their example. Instead, we can choose to model the behaviors we expect in them and hold them accountable to follow our lead. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, be the change you wish to see in others.

Regardless of where you’re situated in the org chart of your organization, you can demonstrate leadership fundamentals. This has nothing to do with the number of people reporting to you or the number of followers you have. Leaders are found throughout our communities and workplaces, though they may not appear so on the surface.

Real leaders are the people who bring about the best in others. They motivate and inspire others. They bring about positive change. They hold themselves accountable. And they grow other leaders.

When you model these leadership fundamentals in your community or workplace, you will be seen as someone who is respected and can be relied upon. You will be seen as a real leader and not someone who was merely hired, promoted or voted into such a position. Real leadership is not appointed but earned.

You can also choose to hold accountable those leaders who have been hired, promoted or voted into such a position. This means deliberately choosing to work only for leaders you admire and respect. It means actively supporting and promoting the real leaders into acknowledged positions of authority. And it means actively supporting and voting for only the candidates who demonstrate the leadership fundamentals that you believe in.

Sitting on the sidelines, playing the victim, or remaining apathetic is not acceptable. If you are unhappy with your situation in your community or workplace, it is up to you to do something about it. A passive approach results in the status quo.

If you could only take one step today, I urge you to learn to be kinder and more compassionate to other people. It takes very little to do this, and you will be part of the change I suspect you wish to see in the world. This can be as little as:

  • Use a turn signal well before you reach the intersection where you intend to turn.
  • Hold the door open for the person behind you when entering a building.
  • Have a meaningful face-to-face conversation rather than merely a text exchange.
  • Assume the best when you receive an email message that could be perceived otherwise.
  • Look up from your phone, take out your earbuds, and make eye contact.
  • Listen to others with your full and undivided attention in order to be fully present.

These small steps will slowly help return civility to our society and will reflect well on you. I suspect you also begin to feel better about yourself as you become more active in helping to bring about the positive change you want to see in others.

When you model respectful civil discourse and leadership fundamentals in your own behavior, you are more likely to encourage others to do so. You are more likely be respected and seen as a real leader. And you will be a part of the solution rather than a continuation of the problem.

Psychological Safety in Workgroups & Teams

October 25, 2018

Most of the important things accomplished in the workplace as well as society are done not by individuals but by groups of people. Workgroups and teams at their best are able to accomplish far more than a collection of individuals on their own. Effective collaboration is essential and this begins with psychological safety.

Feeling psychologically safe in our environment is a basic requirement, yet all too often we may take this for granted. Think about the last time you joined a new team or workgroup. How long before you felt comfortable speaking up, challenging assumptions, and making mistakes? Maybe you still feel uncomfortable doing so.

When you feel unsafe due to negative or disrespectful behaviors in the group, you are unlikely to contribute effectively. On the other hand, when you do feel safe and comfortable to deliver your best self in a group setting, you are more likely to make contributions that benefit the group as a whole.

Group Norms Determine Performance

As I wrote about previously, researchers from Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were key to improving Google teams. They determined that the right norms can raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms can hobble a team—even if all the individual members are exceptionally bright.

Specifically, the researchers at Google found that group norms of 1) taking turns speaking and 2) listening with empathy were the most important factors for improving team outcomes.

Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Teaming, Amy Edmondson, found that when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other—what she terms psychological safety—this was by far the most important of five dynamics that set successful teams apart.

“Psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth,” says Edmondson. “In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize or think less of them for it.”

Psychologically Safe in Your Workgroup or Team

To determine the level of psychological safety in workgroups or teams in your workplace, look for signs of judgment, unsolicited advice giving, interrupting, or sharing outside the meetings. These things get in the way of psychological safety, according to researcher and author Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead.

To counteract those behaviors and provide psychological safety, Brown suggests initiating and modeling behaviors that include listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidences. Then and only then will all members of the group feel confident to speak up, offer new ideas, and challenge potential groupthink.

Highly effective workgroups and teams require trust, respect, cooperation and commitment. When people are able to take turns speaking and listening to each other with empathy, these group norms can bring about greater outcomes. First establishing psychological safety as a foundation to build upon is critical. Think safety first.

Knowing What You Know

September 14, 2018

In the workplace as in life, accurate information enables you to make good decisions. We collect and analyze data like never before in order to determine when and who to hire, what to sell, where to invest, how to allocate resources, and many other business decisions.

However, when we take opinions as facts or make assumptions rather than A/B test assumptions, we are more apt to make bad decisions.

It’s astounding with all the information available to us, we are so often misled into believing false information. The internet is a great tool, but when it is used merely to reinforce our assumptions, we are using it ineffectively.

Someone should develop an app that would instantly fact check our statements as we make them, so we could—at least in theory—immediately correct ourselves. This would certainly keep inaccurate information from remaining in our heads and spreading to others.

In Factfulness, global health professor Hans Rosling presents 13 multiple choice fact-based questions about our world that, on average, chimpanzees score more accurately than most people around the world. This includes teachers, eminent scientists, investment bankers, corporate executives, journalists and senior political decision makers.

Rosling discovered that chimpanzees are not smarter than educated humans, but that “actively wrong knowledge” make us score so poorly. He determined that people simply have a worldview that is outdated and yet persists. His book lists ten instincts that distort our perspective, one of which is in the way we consume media—where fear currently rules.

“If it bleeds it leads,” was the mantra back when I studied journalism years ago. That notion is still relevant today as the news is primarily negative and therefore we rarely learn when things are improving or generally positive. This may also explain why so many Americans believe violent crime is higher than ever before when, in fact, though there’s been a slight uptick recently, on average it’s been dropping for the past 30 years.

And fear is extremely powerful: it sells newspapers, encourages us to click on links, buy things we may not need, and elect politicians to high office.

The state of journalism in the internet age is focused on being fast rather than accurate, on click-worthy and titillating rather than thoughtful and reflective, and on providing raw data rather than knowledgeable content. With so many pundits presenting alternative facts, politicians claiming fake news, and many media outlets providing opinion masquerading as news, we owe it to ourselves to be more careful and selective on what we choose to trust.

“If we want to be able to tell what’s real and what’s not, we must learn to see through the haze of virtual unreality that’s settling around us, says Charles Seife, in his book Virtual Unreality. He makes a strong case for why we need to be ever vigilant for how we understand the world around us. “We must change our relationship with information, becoming more skeptical and more cynical, and arm ourselves with powerful tools to allow us to interrogate dubious facts. And we have to be willing to spend the time to do it.”

In the workplace this requires challenging those assumptions we regularly rely upon to make big decisions. It means checking multiple sources before taking action. And it means scrutinizing from where and who is providing the information.

“As our information sources tailor themselves to our prejudices, this means eschewing the chatter that reinforces our preexisting beliefs and seeking out ones that challenge us,” writes Seife. “And above all, it means that we must accept that the rules are changing, and learn how to see the world differently than we did just a few years ago.”

In order to rise above the level of chimpanzees in our decision-making, we need to take greater responsibility and resist the impulse to take information as fact. We should question our assumptions and not be afraid to change those assumptions as needed. And we must be skeptical and cautious in order to make the right business decisions.

Leadership and the To-Don’t List

May 9, 2018

At some point in our careers we have to face the fact that it may not be our lack of skills, experience or overall accomplishments, but specific behaviors that may prevent us from getting promoted to a higher position.

What often defines those who are able to rise to the ranks of leadership is the self-awareness to recognize how certain behaviors are holding them back and the courage to do something about them. Though these behaviors may have helped you get to where you are, they may be the very things holding you back from going further.

It’s not so much what you do, but what you need to stop doing, according to leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith.

“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” according to Goldsmith and Mark Reiter in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “The higher you go, the more your issues are behavioral.”

And changing one’s behavior is extremely difficult. Consider new year’s resolutions, exercise commitments and diets that don’t lead to successful outcomes.

As a leadership coach, I work with those in—or hoping to reach—leadership positions, and most often it is not a lack of business or technical skills, but certain behaviors that are holding them back. And often it is not so much things they aren’t doing, but things they need to stop doing.

The great management consultant and author Peter Drucker said: We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend nearly enough time teaching them what to stop.

In every performance review, employees should learn what they are seen as doing well and should continue doing; what they are not yet doing and should begin doing; and finally what they are doing, but should stop doing. For whatever reason, this last one often gets left off unless the behaviors are especially egregious.

This gets us to the To Don’t list. Unlike the To-Do list, the To Don’t list should include behaviors you need to stop doing as they are undermining your performance and your ability to grow in your leadership potential. This list should certainly contain items brought up in your performance review because they are the most obvious to your supervisor. But they may not be as obvious to your supervisor or called out in a way that can be helpful to you.

One way to compile this To Don’t list would be to review feedback from performance reviews, 360 assessments, and other ways you have been evaluated. Look for themes and consider not simply dismissing those items that you don’t consider important to change.

Take for example sarcasm. This is a trait that can come across to many as funny and perhaps lighten the mood in certain situations. Sarcasm is actually a passive-aggressive form of communication that can undermine trust. If your identity is associated with sarcasm, you might consider how this may undermine your ability to be seen as a leader.

Though you may claim that sarcasm or another behavior is just who you are and can’t be that bad if it’s gotten you this far. Consider that certain traits that may not have been a problem in getting to this point are actually preventing you from rising higher because leadership has different demands and requires different behaviors.

This can be things like speaking instead of listening, commanding instead of inspiring, making excuses instead of owning up, or clinging to the past rather than letting go that prevent would-be leaders from rising to the C-suite.

It’s worth taking the time to make your To Don’t list and treat it as importantly as you do your To Do list. First identify and write down those behaviors you wish to change. Then focus on changing them. And in the same way you are more likely succeed with your exercise or diet, enlist others to provide encouragement, support and hold you accountable.

When Saying No Gets You to Yes

April 17, 2018

Recently I helped my daughter choose an elective class for high school and when I suggested drawing, she said that although she likes to draw, she’s not very good at it. The fact that my 13-year-old is already doubting her creative abilities is disheartening enough, but it got me thinking about how important it is to say yes to things that may intimidate or scare us, especially when we are young. Read more

The Need for Moral Leadership

March 30, 2018

Every leader faces crossroad moments where he or she must choose between the most expedient, popular and/or profitable versus what can only be labeled as the morally correct choice. Far too often, however, leaders choose the former.

Take for example Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company recently admitted that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that worked on behalf of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, misused Facebook users’ personal information gathered to target U.S. voters.

When Zuckerberg first learned of the data breach and was told Cambridge Analytica deleted the information of these 50 million users, why did he simply accept this on faith rather than verify with a thorough audit?

Facebook has seen a barrage of criticism for its failure to protect user data, the #DeleteFacebook movement continues to grow and their stock plunged 18 percent this week.

Instead of doing the right thing when he first learned third party companies were misusing user information, Zuckerberg said little and left the public wondering if Facebook’s growth-at-all-costs mentality means his company should no longer be trusted.

WIRED magazine’s Jessi Hempel recently wrote: “If Zuckerberg wants us to believe now that his company is not vulnerable, he must shore up trust in himself as an individual. It’s his only way forward.”

However, as the saying goes, trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. Why would Zuckerberg or the leader of any organization risk a breach of trust?

Doing the morally correct thing requires looking beyond the expedient, popular or profitable when those are in contrast with what is considered the right thing to do. This requires putting people before profits. It requires putting customers before shareholders. It requires working in the best interest of those you serve. And it requires courage.

Ultimately, a moral leader is someone who leads to serve. What distinguishes moral leaders from ordinary leaders is that these leaders prioritize other peoples’ needs.

Yet leaders often find it hard to exercise moral agency due to the often ambiguous and conflicting expectations of the stakeholders to whom they answer.

Corporate leaders are too often judged primarily on quarterly earnings rather than the long term viability of the company. This hyper-focus on the near term to satisfy Wall Street is often at odds with building a sustainable corporation that delivers customer value and a desirable workplace.

Even non-profit leaders can get sidetracked if their mission is no longer in sync with the people they serve. Executive Directors are expected to provide greater outcomes with fewer resources, while board members challenge them to cut corners further.

And due to minimal regulation on money in politics, our representatives in government cannot be counted on to serve in our best interests when those with a louder voice (i.e., more financial contributions) will always have their interests served first.

It used to be that when leaders were caught lying there was a huge outcry resulting in severe consequences. Maybe due to the fact that the current President of the United States tells on average 5.5 lies every single day we have become immune to or at least more accepting of liars. The President has even convinced his followers that they should no longer believe anything because it’s all fake news.

Perhaps there’s reason for hope: At Harvard Business School, professor Sandra Sucher teaches a course that draws on the inspiration of literary and historical figures such as Machiavelli, Conrad, Shackleton and Achebe in order to encourage greater empathy and understanding. The novels, plays and biographies students read and discuss provide rich examples of moral dilemmas with a larger context than business case studies can provide.

Tylenol Extra-Strength cyanide-laced capsules resulted in the deaths of seven people in the Chicago-area back in 1982.  Johnson & Johnson chairman, James Burke, immediately formed a seven-member strategy team and his guidance on the strategy was first, “How do we protect the people?” and second “How do we save this product?” The order of these priorities was paramount to the successful future of the product and company.

People before product. People before profits. Moral leadership is about keeping these things in the right order.

Medium Makes the Message Meaningful

January 26, 2018

The popularity of texting and social media has enabled quicker and wider distribution of our thoughts and ideas, but at what cost? When these methods become the default medium for how we interact with others, receivers may make false assumptions, misunderstand our intent and become less rather than more clear on the message.

This is because so much is lost when we remove the opportunity for the receiver to look into the eyes of the sender, hear the tone of their voice, and feel a physical presence that is either congruent or incongruent with what is being stated. All of these elements are vital to clear communication, yet missing when reduced to text and emoticons.

When we email, text, tweet or post we are choosing asynchronous communication. This electronically mediated form of communication occurs when participants are not necessarily interacting concurrently. One person can send a message and receivers can reply when they choose. This can be especially valuable in some situations and extremely problematic in others.

The trouble is these asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others. And this is creating a crisis in our communication.

One of the reasons for this is that we all instinctively need warmth to convey difficult truths, and this warmth won’t happen if you can’t see the other person’s face or hear the inflection in that person’s voice.

Communicating face-to-face or even via video (Skype, Slack, FaceTime, etc.) is much better suited in most cases. This synchronous communication is how we first learned to interact with other humans and became vital to our survival. In synchronous communication, you say something to another person and you receive immediate feedback both from what he or she says and from the extremely valuable non-verbal messages conveyed.

When conveying any message, it is important to choose the appropriate medium rather than simply default to one alone. With that I offer the following suggestions.

Email

Using email is a great way to convey information to others, but it’s not great in every case. Here are some suggestions regarding email guidelines:

  • Include a clear and direct Subject line.
  • Think twice before hitting “Reply All.”
  • Be cautious regarding humor.
  • Reply to your emails—even those sent to you by mistake.
  • Proofread your message before hitting Send.
  • Keep tabs on your tone to ensure the message won’t be misinterpreted.
  • If message may require back and forth discussion, choose face-to-face or phone call instead.

Text

Here’s a subset from a list from the Emily Post Institute regarding texting guidelines that I think are appropriate:

  • Don’t text to inform someone of sad news or to end a relationship.
  • Keep your message brief. If it runs on and on, make a phone call instead.
  • Don’t text anything confidential, private or potentially embarrassing.
  • Don’t be upset if your text doesn’t get an immediate response—you can’t know for sure when the recipient will read the message.
  • Just as you shouldn’t answer your phone during a conversation, you shouldn’t text when you’re engaged with someone else. If you are with someone who won’t stop texting during your conversation, feel free to excuse yourself until they have concluded their messaging.
  • Don’t text and drive.

In an article in Psychology Today, Douglas Van Praet recommends the following to improve all text-based communication:

  1. Play it straight. Strive for being clear over being clever. Less will be lost in the translation between what is written and what is read.
  2. Close the loop. Acknowledging a message is as simple as nodding your head or saying “uh-huh” when you are face-to-face. With text-based communications, you can be courteous with a quick return message to acknowledge receipt.
  3. Respond quickly. It is much more difficult to build and maintain trust without face-to-face interactions. Based on research, a general rule of thumb indicates that a quick response will lead to greater respect, even when the answer may not be what they want.
  4. Move the conversation offline. Bottom line: If the conversation is important, do it in person or at least via video where you can see each other.

Tweet

Twitter’s Terms of Service make it extremely clear and simple regarding proper etiquette: Be genuine and non-deceptive and provide value. Other things to keep in mind:

  • Like all social media, remember it is a public forum.
  • It is meant for engagement, so prepare to genuinely engage with your followers.
  • Be polite.
  • For every promotional link regarding you or your business, send out at least five tweets that inform, engage and converse.

Face-to-face is usually the most effective way to convey information to another person, especially with a sensitive or difficult message and where there is a need for back and forth questions and answers.

It seems that building and maintaining trust, perhaps more than anything else, is when it is most important to communicate face-to-face. Therefore, if you have any concern regarding trust with whomever you are trying to communicate, engage directly rather than digitally.

Breaking the Silence on Complicity

December 7, 2017

On the one hand we’ve seen the recent rise in naming complicit behavior, and on the other hand the rising response that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. Yet many of our leaders remain sitting on the sidelines. Why?

The word “complicit” was recently chosen as the word of the year by Dictionary.com citing the term’s renewed relevance in U.S. culture and politics. They also noted that a refusal to be complicit has also been “a grounding force of 2017.”

Their website defines complicit as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.” According to Thesaurus.com, the opposite of complicit is clear, forthright and honest.

Two recent examples include an SNL skit involving Ivanka Trump, and outgoing Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor where he told fellow Republicans regarding the President, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

Complicity was found not only in the political realm, but also in society’s role for contributing to climate change, normalizing of hate speech and supremacist groups, and the tacit enabling of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Time magazine’s person of the year in 2017 is “The Silence Breakers,” referring to those women who have courageously spoken out against perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the global conversation they have started. Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, said in an interview on the “Today” show recently that the #MeToo movement represented the “fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by women and some men too.”

Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” movement many years ago, but it didn’t go viral until actress Alyssa Milano urged those following her on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo if they had experiences of sexual harassment.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning that it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Burke said in the same Today episode. “I think now the work really begins. The hashtag is a declaration. But now we’re poised to really stand up and do the work.”

The rise in the usage of the word “complicit” and American women’s courageous response in speaking out after acts of sexual harassment can serve as a catalyst towards positive change. We may one day look back at this time as a pivotal moment when leaders’ abhorrent behavior was no longer tolerated, and when powerful men across entertainment, media, politics and business were finally being held accountable.

So what are our leaders doing? Are they sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what the voters or customers decide? Are they following the advice of their crisis management consultants who tell them to hold off to see if this blows over before “getting ahead of the story.” Are they putting more pressure on their lawyers to ensure that their financial settlements hold up against future accusations?

Great leaders have integrity. They do not commit nor do they tacitly condone illegal acts and inappropriate behavior. And they speak out when they see wrong doing and stand up to their colleagues, coworkers, partners, friends and others to prevent such acts.

When others lie, deceive, cheat, mistreat women, or disparage innocent people, we must hold them accountable. This includes our bosses, colleagues, coworkers, friends and our elected officials not only for the acts themselves, but also for their complicity. And we must hold ourselves accountable as well.

Because that’s what leaders do. And whether we ourselves are leaders, want to become leaders, or just choose to follow other leaders, we must not be complicit in bad behavior.