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.


Up or out, the art and curse of tough love

22 12 2015

“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” ~Alice Roosevelt Longworth

While the quote made me laugh, it’s definitely NOT a leadership lesson.  When you’re in charge, you need to do your best to speak about the larger goals of the team, and the strengths they bring.  Keep your criticism to yourself, or take up any issues with the person you’re criticizing.  Often, they don’t know that whatever it is about them that bothers you is a problem, and they will often work hard to fix it.  (Manage them up – even if they don’t work for you).

On the other hand, when someone’s issues loom so large that they are being a diversion to the task at hand, you’ve got to lead them out if they can’t remedy it.  When that happens, do it privately, with as much respect as you can, but the mission comes first, so don’t delay.  Bad news doesn’t get better with age.  (When all else fails, manage them out).

Speaking of sit…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Imagine the possibilities…

28 08 2014

“Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~Albert Einstein

Some days, the right leadership call is contrary to logic.  You may have an employee that needs a little extra help, and conventional wisdom will tell you to move in one direction (i.e. progressive discipline).  However, if you do a deeper dive and spend a little time talking to them about what’s at the root of their problem, you may find that the presenting symptom is not what’s really creating their poor performance.  Maybe it’s a cry for help, or a form of protest, and you can make all the difference in their world if you use a little imagination and do a little digging. 

Dealing with people in a position of power is another way that logic may hurt more than imagination.  You’ll get nowhere going to a foundation if you demand that they pay you because you believe that your product/service is worthy.  You need to imagine what it is they’re looking for, and put the appropriate spin on your funding request for the best result.  That happens by nibbling around the edges, and asking probing questions before trying to make your pitch.  The better what you do fits what they need, the more likelihood you’ll have of getting what you want. 

Speaking of imagination…


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.

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.

Dead fish usually stink

30 07 2014

“The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity.  Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” ~Jim Hightower  (corollary: “and dead fish usually stink” ~Jim Craig)

You’ve read my (OK, Colin Powell’s) thoughts on “yes-men” (i.e. they’re redundant).  While this quote says the same thing, it goes a step beyond.  Sometimes it takes a good bit of courage to go to your leader, or someone else in a position of authority, and tell them you think they’re wrong.  Rest assured that almost every day one of my direct reports (or, even better, a leader further down the chain of command!) pushes back on some idea that I have, or wants me to explain why I have a certain opinion.  I can’t tell you how many times a manager has challenged a theory in one of these daily comics.  That tells me that I’ve built the right team, and that we’re moving in the right direction culturally.  THANK YOU ALL!

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you need to call someone out, it’s about time to discipline someone, or give that “tough love”?  Many people will come up with any excuse to postpone the conversation, because it can be uncomfortable to point out an unpopular or counter-consensus view.  When you’re in that place, remember how GOOD it feels AFTER you’ve moved beyond the conversation, and everyone knows where the other stands.  It’s a liberating breath of fresh air.  When I know it’s time to have that tough talk, I get excited, because the conversation will be followed by resolution, or at least all parties involved know where I’m coming from (sometimes you just agree to disagree – but at least it’s on the table).  So, when you have that weight on your shoulders, shrug it off ASAP.  Life’s too short to carry burdens like that for long. 

Speaking of fish…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Are you as good as you think you are?

21 07 2014

“I had several different bosses during the early years of ‘Dilbert’.  They were all pretty sure I was mocking someone else.” ~Scott Adams

I spent part of the weekend hanging out with a distant cousin who is spending about a month in Atlanta in training for his new job.  I mentioned that I do this leadership comic & blog, and he started telling me about all of the bad bosses that he’s had over the last several years of his relatively young work life (he’s 27).  He talked about the micromanager, the clueless “what are you working on today” boss, the “throw a roadblock in front of any progress you are making, so you don’t look better than me” manager, and the list went on and on. Today’s cartoon inspired me to talk a bit more about it.

I came to realize that, especially at the front line level, there are probably more bad managers out there than good leaders.  These “bosses” are probably going home every night thinking about what a great job they’re doing, when at the same time, their team are going home and griping about how much they suck – or even writing comics mocking them.  How do any of us know if we’re really doing a good job, or if we’re one of “those guys”?  I’d say that it starts and ends with communication.  That means informal 360 degree evaluations early and often.  The 3 main coaching questions, asked up, down and sideways are a good start (1. What am I doing that I need to stop doing. 2. What am I not doing that I need to start doing. 3. What resources do you need to get the job done).  While those 3 questions aren’t the silver bullet, if you’re afraid to ask your team what you’re doing wrong (or not doing), then they’re very likely afraid to tell you. 

Speaking of mocking… 


Rubes cartoons used with permission.