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.


18 11 2015

“Even if I have a good day, I am still aware of other people that are going through really hard, tumultuous things.  I don’t want to be the person who has a platform, and neglects the things I see in my life and experiences.” ~Christian Scott

On any given workday, you’ll have a team of people who are all over the emotional map. One of them might be super excited about something their kid did, and another might be grieving the loss of a family member or friend, or worried about finances.  In a group of any size, this diversity is going to be going on behind their professional demeanor.  For those on the down-side, a small bit of feedback or criticism might get them spun up, while the exact same comment to the person next to them will get a laugh, and a “my bad”.

Leaders, there’s so much of that emotional “iceberg” below the surface of your team and co-workers.  That’s why it’s always good to open with something like “How’s it going?” or “How was your weekend?”  If you don’t, and jump right into giving feedback, that iceberg might just sink your ship, or end up with a good employee who is having a bad day turning into an ex-employee.  Use visual cues, verbal questions, and your other “leadership tools” to get a feel for the situation before piling on to someone already having a bad day, and it will almost always come out better than just pulling the trigger on the conversation.

Speaking of platform…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

The sound of (leadership) silence.

9 09 2014

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘we did it ourselves’.” ~Lao Tzu

(Shhh…. This is me letting you barely know I exist – sometimes the quote is good enough that I can just shut up and let it speak for itself). 

OK – I just can’t help myself…  A good leader has to be a little louder than that, even if they’re only speaking up to ensure that the folks doing the heavy lifting (that’s you) have the resources you need to get the job done.  Then they can get out of your way, and let you do the real work of changing people’s lives.    

Speaking of knowing…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Listen For The Quiet Givers

4 09 2014

“My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don’t keep score.” ~ Harvey Mackay

There are givers and there are takers out there in the world.  You know the takers – they’re the ones who only call you when they need something, and aren’t there in return when you need a favor.  They ask to borrow things that they may never return, but never have a buck when you’re short for lunch.  The givers are harder to spot.  They quietly serve, and don’t take credit when it’s theirs for the taking.  They contribute selflessly and hold families and other social groups together.

As leaders, be wary not to miss the givers on your team just because they’re not asking for recognition.  The takers will easily fill your vision with their “what about me” requests for promotion, time off, recognition – even if they’re just taking credit for something someone else did.  While the quote says don’t keep score (and many givers don’t), be sure that you, as a leader, ARE keeping score, so that you can ensure that your best (and sometimes quietest) get the recognition they deserve. 

Speaking of Golden…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Don’t tap out – Victory is just around the bend

20 08 2014

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ~Helen Keller

I look back at the things that I’m most proud of, and they all were things that came at the tail end of “trial and suffering”.  Basic training had to come before my military service, 6 months of finger callouses and bad music came before I could play my first song correctly on the guitar. “Glory” on the high school football field was only allowed after a summer of wind-sprints up the hill of hell. 

Leadership stories are the same way.  Nobody brags about their leadership prowess and then points to the quiet employee that’s never been a problem (but is also doing the same job they did 10 years ago).  Leaders don’t look fondly back on their quiet stewardship of a team that hasn’t really done anything new, but hasn’t had any problems.  We look back at, for example, mergers that caused months-worth of hard work, drama and conflict, but ended up with a new, fabulous company that got through the “storm” in form, norm, storm and perform.  We have employees that we have to give tough love to, then a year later tell stories about the big turn-around.  We get certificates of appreciation on our wall not for “he did it like last year”, but for bringing new energy and talent into a tough situation, making the hard choices, and succeeding in the end.  So when you’ve had a tough day, and want to tap out, think about how close you might be to the championship belt, and hang in there one… more… day.  And tomorrow, one… more… day.  Eventually, you may look back on all those days with a smile, and a new framed certificate on your “I love me wall”. 

Speaking of Suffering…



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.

How much does a handshake cost?

7 08 2014

“I forgot to shake hands and be friendly.  It was an important lesson about leadership.” ~ Lee Iacocca

Even though you’re in a formal position to give orders, why would you demand when you can ask instead of tell?  You can say “When you get a chance, can you send me the TPS report?”, or “I need the TPS Report ASAP!”.  Both will get you the same technical result, but a different vibe.  The first is what a friendly leader would do, and the second is what a “boss” does.  Of course we all have deadlines, and sometimes you need to put a little more pressure on, but all else being equal, the soft approach will get you more than the bossy way. 

When you get what you’ve asked for, a “thank you” costs you nothing, and a hand-shake creates a connection that will pay dividends.   You know that you’re above your subordinates on the org chart, and they know it too.  There’s no need to point it out by giving orders and making demands, when  you can ask instead.  Creating a more friendly leadership dynamic will make it easier for your team when  you do, inevitably, have to give a short deadline, or call for all hands on deck for a big issue.  They’ll know you as a person, and understand the critical nature of whatever is creating the crisis at the time.  If everything is treated as a crisis, then the Chicken Little act will grow old quickly, and nobody will jump when you need them to move quickly. 

Speaking of shake… 


Rubes cartoons used with permission.