Rocking the boat can get you thrown to the sharks

29 11 2016

“The only guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

You’ve been there.  You and your group are in a crunch-time situation (for example, our current business pilot, and the pressure to hit our numbers), and almost everyone on the team has their head down, rowing aggressively (or in this case, smiling & dialing  🙂 ).  At the same time, someone on the team is checking their selfies on the phone, or shopping for holiday gifts.  They’re basically rocking the boat, by making you work harder than them in order for the team to succeed.

Leaders… Those among you who have a leadership title, or just you line workers who have the respect and admiration of your team.  THIS is the time to step up, and confront the person who is rocking the boat instead of rowing with the rest of the team.   Basically, make it more uncomfortable for them to NOT work than for them to work their butt off.  When they do turn around, don’t forget to praise them.  Positive reinforcement and optimism can be a force multiplier, allowing 10 people to accomplish the work of 15!

Speaking of guys…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.


You ARE the Boss of You!

1 08 2016

“At the end of the day, if you’re a professional athlete in track and field, you are the CEO of your company.” ~ Carl Lewis

I just read a Sports Illustrated article about Usain Bolt, comparing his success to that of Carl Lewis.  Then today’s comic talked about track and field.  What’s going on, am I missing something?  Oh yeah, the Summer Olympics opens this Friday!!!  Time to cheer for our team(s) and to pull together for a few weeks of water cooler talk about the amazing things to come.  Did you know that the vast majority of those athletes actually struggle to pull together the money to compete?  They actually often PAY to do their job, not the other way around.  How’s that for dedication to a cause?

I often ask people on my team, “If this were your company, and you were investing your money in it, how would YOU solve this problem?”  If we all had that view when problems came up, our actions might be a little different than “I’m getting paid to be here, it doesn’t affect me.”  I’m not saying that’s our default attitude, but we may occasionally find ourselves in a situation where we can do the easy thing, or we can do the hard thing (i.e. what we’d do if it was our money/company/future).  Whatever you can do to motivate your team to think along the lines of door #2 will only help the company, and, in the end, your own bank account, too.  Remember, it’s not just about us, it’s about the tens of thousands of people calling us for help every year.

Speaking of track stars…

Track star

Rubes cartoons used with permission.

17 11 2015

“Fertilizer does no good in a heap, but a little spread around works miracles all over.” ~Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Most leaders have several leadership tools in their tool belt.  They have tough love, accountability, coaching skills, listening skills, the devil’s advocate tool and the compassionate one.  Finding the right tool for the project is one of those things that come with experience.  When to be compassionate and when to put your foot down are decisions that come easier with experience.

If you only use one tool every time, then, frankly, you’ve going to be standing in a big pile of fertilizer.  The flexibility to have many tools in your tool belt will ensure that you don’t treat every problem the same way, and will not only give you a more motivated group in the end, but a group that continues to fill their own tool bags with a variety of tools.

Speaking of Fertilizer…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Put me in, Coach. I’m ready to lead!

27 08 2014

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ~Milton Berle

There are a lot of people who spend their careers waiting for their leader to ask them to take the next step.  They believe that simply doing a good job, and staying out of trouble will get them promoted.  While it’s possible to advance your career meekly, it will take a lot longer than it could if you are bold enough to ask for extra responsibility, and you toot your own horn, as long as it’s not too over-the-top.

Assuming that your leader understands the amount of work you put into a project might be a bad assumption.  They may not know that you spent hours analyzing data to make a great recommendation.  As far as they’re concerned, you may have just “flipped a coin”.  Talk about your effort, and be sure that when an opportunity for promotion presents itself, you’re at the front of the line saying “I’m ready for this, give me a shot.”

Speaking of knock…

knock knock

Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Leave it at the office!

18 08 2014

“One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything, every night before you go to bed.” ~Bernard Baruch

I wish I could say that I do this every day in my personal life, but I can say that I TRY to do it every day in business.  There’s no need to bring people home who got under your skin during the workday.  Why bring all that stress home, and then share it with your family?  Not only is it unhealthy for your home life, it’s going to make you less of a leader at work. 

If employee X made a mistake today, talk to them about it today, do any progressive discipline that you have to do if it’s that bad, and then leave it.  If you keep the issue festering in your mind, you risk an error.  Carrying any angst about an individual can make you look at 2 staff members exhibiting the same behavior, and only punishing the one who messed up yesterday.  That can lead to accusations of favoritism or prejudice.  Avoid that risk, and let it go when you get in the car to drive home tonight, and every night. 

Speaking of Fruitful…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Leadership Humility & Servitude

13 08 2014

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very un-dramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” ~ Arthur Ashe 

Many of us chose the nonprofit world (either right out of college, or after years of serving on the “dark side”) out of an urge to “do some good” – or some similar altruistic motives.  Why, then, wouldn’t we bring that same urge to serve the communities that we help to leading our subordinates?  Servant leadership should begin during regular coaching sessions with your team.  Asking questions like “What should I start/stop doing?” and “What resources can I provide to you in order to get the job done?” open the doors for discussion, and even criticism of your leadership.

When you get criticism from a subordinate or teammate, you’ve reached a very exciting point in both your relationship with them AND in your own leadership development.  Giving criticism is a very brave thing for someone to do.  It means both that they care, and that they are right on the edge of trusting you with the truth.  Can you handle the truth?!?!  This is where you decide that you want to be a real servant leader, or you want to wield your power.  You can say “suck it up, buttercup, I’m the boss”, or you can find some humility, accept the criticism, apologize, and thank them for their bravery and honesty.  I recall the first few instances of “tough love” from my team.  My instinct was to make excuses, or lay blame/accountability elsewhere.  I had to work hard to hold my tongue, listen, and apologize.  I look back at these times as turning points in my leadership style.  Thank you (you all know who you are). 


-Your occasionally humble servant

 Speaking of Servant…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Celebrate that insecurity!

12 08 2014

“Virtue has a veil, Vice a mask.” ~Victor Hugo

This quote speaks to the difference between the “Anonymous donor” and the over-the-top braggart.  On the first side, you have someone who is comfortable enough in their own skin to quietly give (charity, credit for a good job at work, time, love) with no need for recognition.  The other side is usually born from insecurity.  In this camp you have people who take credit for other’s work, give blame or make excuses when things go wrong, or loudly proclaim their success while quietly covering up failure.  

Insecurity happens, and when it does, leaders should do their best to loudly encourage, while quietly coaching around the mistakes. Keep in mind that insecurity usually happens when people are stepping out of their comfort zone.  This might mean right after promotion to a new position, taking on challenging tasks, or otherwise attempting stretch goals.  So have patience with these folks who are feeling insecure.  Understand that mistakes will happen.  Many others avoid that insecurity by never daring anything.  Who’d you rather have on your team?  So, do your best to support those who might be insecure.  In other words, praise publicly, correct privately. 

Speaking of a mask…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.