Category Archives: Leadership

A Brief Fitness Checkup

I heard Stephen Covey speak at the Wal-Mart headquarters in 1992 shortly after his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, became popular.  I was new to the for-profit business sector, so I paid close attention.   He made it very clear how important it is to begin with the end in mind.  He asked us to write a clear vision for how we want our lives to turn out when we are 75 years old.  Let me share with you a brief vignette of my personal vision:

My wife and I are sitting on the front porch of our home, which overlooks a body of water.  Just off the porch are all our kids, grandkids and possibly great grandchildren.  The kids speak up and say, “Come on Papa, let’s go play!”  So, I jump up off the porch and run with them to play.

Before you read on, let me ask you, what are the implications you see in this brief vignette?

  • My wife and I are still married. We are on year 43 now, but 75 years old is still a ways off, so I plan to keep on nurturing my marriage so she will still be there, and be happy several years from now.
  • We have a home overlooking a body of water. When I wrote this, I had no idea how that could ever be a reality.  But I did know that if it were ever going to be possible I was going to have to be financially responsible, live on less than I make, stay out of debt, and make wise financial decisions.
  • I am surrounded by family. I didn’t grow up in a family where that was a pleasant experience, so I knew how important it would be to nurture relationships with my three children, if for no other reason, than so they would bring the grandchildren around, which, by the way, are as much fun as everyone says.  Though they live from here in Arkansas, to Colorado, to Uganda, we stay involved in their lives, share common interests and work hard make our home an inviting place to them and their new families.
  • When the kids ask me to come go play, I jump up and go. I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of 75 year old’s who could never do that.  So, as much as it depends on me, I intend to be ready and able to do this as frequently as they ask.  So, what do I do?  I eat right.  I exercise 3 to 4 days each week.  We began this years ago as a family and now have a Wall of Pain in our house that depicts all kinds of running races, bike races and triathlons, including my son’s five ironman races.  The entire family has several pictures on the wall, including the in-laws who have joined the fun.  I actually think they believed it was a prerequisite to entry.

My full vision includes physical fitness, relational fitness, mental fitness, nutritional fitness, financial fitness, and social fitness.  Each of these take disciplined focus.  I don’t let up on them.  It seems like I am hearing of more and more friends and associates who are missing out on so much of life, health, and joy because they don’t or didn’t have a clear vision, and the right motivation to keep them focused on the disciplines to do all they could to ensure their vision became a reality.  So my encouragement to you, is to clarify your vision, and GET FIT in all the areas of life that are important to you.

Dealing With Your Team’s Problem Child

You may have one of them on your team. Or several. The symptoms vary. Maybe they’re unproductive or unmotivated. Maybe they stir up issues on your team. Maybe they’re the center of office drama. Maybe they’re entitled, demanding or rude. Maybe they’re missing critical details and failing to meet commitments. Or maybe they’re just unaware. You feel like a teacher must have felt when dealing with a unruly student. You’re frustrated, tired of beating your head against a wall and your efforts don’t seem to be working. Yes, this is a full-grown adult on your team and the thought running through your head is, “I’ve got a problem child”.

When mentioning a problem child, you likely know the type. Whether the issue is personality, performance, attitude or disruptive behavior they leave quite the wake behind them in the organization. They’re tolerated by team members, disruptive or avoided all together. And they’re oblivious to it, or worse, indifferent to it. Their numbers or your passivity have kept them around, but their personality is weighing on the organization. It’s time to do something. For the good of the team and for the good of this individual change must take place.

I’ve not yet met anyone who truly wants to be the problem child. Sure, some are brash and love the idea of being disruptive or a maverick, but that’s different than being a problem. While they may be oblivious to their impact on the organization or indifferent to others, the health of the team needs you to take action. You need to take action for your own leadership development and to protect and grow a healthy organization. Every day that goes by with a problem child wreaking havoc in the organization the more ingrained the precedent is being set in your organization. I can’t promise that it will go well. That’s not always in the cards. Sometimes the problem child is just that, a problem. They may make a lot of noise and try to sway others in resistance to the feedback you’ve delivered. If that’s the case, they’ve only reinforced your concerns. Regardless, you must level up and have the conversation.

If you take issue with a team member’s personality, performance, attitude or behavior and you do nothing about it, you carry responsibility for their impact on the organization. You have a responsibility to level up and have the hard conversation.

So, what do you do? You can let them go (transition, fire, layoff, or whatever P.C. term you prefer). You can reprimand them and demand change. You can put them on a self-managed development plan. You can hire a coach and do a deep dive with them giving them every chance to succeed.

Whatever your course, you need to do these three things:

  1. Be honest and be crystal clear. Are you at your limit with this individual? Is this a put up or shut up moment for you? Are you wanting them to get their act together or get off the bus? If that’s the case, be honest. Be honest with yourself and be honest with them. It’s the right thing to do. Problematic personnel don’t come around to change via subtle messaging. Many need a wake-up call to make change. It’s your job to give them that wake-up call. Don’t shroud it in “development” when it’s really a do or die situation for this person’s career. Sit down with them and let them know the reality of the situation. They’re an adult and so are you. Be candid, be respectful and be very clear with expectations. If their job is on the line, let them know that. If a promotion is in jeopardy then be clear. If they’re going to be removed from a team then be forthcoming with that information. You’re not respecting the individual by dancing around the topic. Nor are you doing so by avoiding it. Leave nothing to ambiguity.
  1. Assess willingness to engage. You won’t be able to gauge willingness if you don’t take a direct approach. If you position a process as leadership development when it’s really meant as a correctional process you’re misleading the individual and crippling yourself in the process. You must give yourself the opportunity to truly assess their willingness to participate. To do that, see how they respond. Be prepared to give them the night or the weekend to consider their commitment to a change process. Let them stew with it and come back with a thoughtful response so you can assess their position outside of the raw emotion of the initial conversation. You’ll let them know their progress will be measured, you’ll be engaged in the process and the expectation is they’ll show evidence of change in the way they show up in the organization. Some will commit heartily. Others will commit with hesitation. Some will blow smoke to buy time to find another job or rally a resistance. And others will refuse immediately and opt for an exit. You can easily work with the heartily committed and the hesitantly willing. Even those who refuse and opt to quit offer you a clear path. The difficulty comes with those who want to buy time to line something else up or engage a passive resistance. You must follow up to gauge whether someone is wholly committed to the process. Evidence of a person’s willingness is shown through tangible change efforts and adhering to the agreed upon plan.
  1. Decide on a course of action and measurement. Outline specific areas of improvement, how it will be measured, and who will be measuring it. Make the timeline and measurement very clear as well as the consequences. “If you make these changes you will retain your position, grow in the company, be in good standing, etc. If you do not make these changes then you’ll be asked to leave immediately or be removed from a specific team or responsibility”. Write it out. Sign it yourself, have them sign it, and hand them a copy. Refer back to the measurements in your follow up conversations. Set your follow up meetings immediately. If you’re managing the entire process set a standing weekly meeting for the entirety of the process. If you have a coach working with the individual, introduce them within 24 hours and ensure their first interaction is scheduled.

If they have committed to the change process, then embrace their commitment, support them and prepare them for the hard work that is to come. It’s not an easy journey and they need to know you’re going to walk through their development with them to the extent you’re able. What change do you need to see by what date to show evidence of progress? The initial steps can be extremely simple (show up to meetings on time, leave your laptop, phone or tablet off in meetings, learn a certain task in the business, apologize to your peers for xyz, meet with a coach weekly, etc). You’re looking for measurable progress. As you see measurable progress, even in the small things, you have a great foundation on which to build. 360 feedback assessment, other reputationally based profiles and coaching offer great resources to support an individual through this process.

If the person with whom you’re working expresses an unwillingness to step into change then follow through on the consequences. It’s their choice to change or not. So, it’s their choice to stay with the company, in the role, on a particular team, etc. If you need to see change to retain the individual and they refuse to step into the change process then they have chosen their path. Frame it as their choice and help them on their way. They do have agency over their decisions.

Sometimes you’ll find the problem child isn’t as much of a problem as you thought. You’ve had them mislabeled all along. They’ve just been allowed to go their own way with little feedback. You may find that you, your team and the organization have played a part in creating the circumstances and all that is needed is some guidance. You need to step up and lead, mentor, encourage and to show the way to success.

Great Leaders Shape the Conversation in their Organizations


This subject is especially pertinent in light of recent events concerning Black Lives Matter and the cold blooded murders of police officers around the country.   One incident, even if it is an anomaly, in the hands of people with an intention to agitate, can stir listeners into riots in the streets.

A smaller version of this happens in your company all the time. One employee feels, or actually is betrayed, mistreated or taken advantage of in some way and word spreads like wildfire throughout the company and is even publicized on social media. Then there are the agitators in your company who simply hold on to the belief that all companies are out to take advantage of its employees who are ready to pounce on the slightest misstep. These incidents can actually throw an entire company into crisis mode as its leaders attempt to get a handle on what happened and what they can do to right the ship and change the conversation to align with their heart and intent. Good companies spend literally billions of dollars each year in time, money and human resources managing misunderstandings and unintended mistakes.

Throughout my career as a leader and as a consultant I have worked with a lot of great companies and leaders, none of whom ever had anything but the best intentions for their company’s health and the well being of their employees. Even as good as they are, they have been, or could easily become the target of these negative accusations and conversations.

But effective leaders work diligently to stay ahead of things and shape the conversations of their stakeholders.

So the question is, what can you do to shape the conversation in your company in a positive direction? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Keep doing all the things you are doing to ensure your employees have a great place to work, i.e. competitive compensation and vacation programs, healthcare and insurance coverage, 401K programs, tuition reimbursement, training and development for growth and advancement, company picnics, newsletters, health and safety initiatives, community involvement, etc., etc., etc.
    • Don’t forget to let your employees know how these things stack up against other companies in your region.
  • Understand that people (all of us) buy with their emotions and justify with facts. Right or wrong, we tend to look for facts that justify how we feel.
    • Give them as few reasons to find “facts” that justify negative emotions.
    • Weed out those who cannot resist their tendency to behave inconsistently with your values and expectations.
    • Establish onboarding programs that shape the initial conversations of new employees, and that ensures that they partner with the people that you want to influence their early thoughts and perceptions of your company.
    • Keep listening to your employees, and train your frontline managers how to do the same, with empathy, support and without being defensive.
    • Act on as many of their ideas as you can, so that they will know that you have been listening.
  • Understand that people (all of us) learn to believe what we hear ourselves say; which, by the way, shapes our emotions.
    • Become a story telling organization, telling the stories that are consistent with the good you want to have your employees focus on.
    • Solicit the same types of stories from them every chance you get. Get them to tell them to you in meetings of all sizes, so that the conversation is being shaped by these positive stories.
  • Finally, be honest, transparent and frequent with your communications.
    • People don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do need to know what’s going on, and to see you owning your mistakes.




Employee Engagement Surveys

I am often asked to come in to help organizations move the needle on employee engagement. This usually happens shortly after their annual employee engagement survey, or some type of feedback from Associates.

My typical approach is to interview the executives, review the survey scores and then interview a random sample of the Associates.

What I continue to learn from this process:

  1. There is a lot of value in the insights that employee engagement surveys provide.
    • Leaders at various levels can learn what is working well and what needs attention.
  2. Engagement scores usually say a lot more about individual managers than they do about “the company” in general.
  3. Engagement surveys without strong follow up and action plans are pretty useless and will likely produce results counter to their intended purpose.
  4. Engagement scores without accountability for action will seldom produce the kinds of improvement most companies hope for.
  5. Accountability for action means that insistence on action is tied to something meaningful to the manager, usually their bonus or merit increase, simply because they have too many things on their plates to shift their priorities without solid justification or motivation.
    • This tells the manager that we believe in the truth of point #2 and ask that they do something about their scores.
  6. Engagement surveys implemented without training managers how to respond to them are a recipe for disaster.
    • Too often managers don’t know how to receive the survey feedback and become too defensive in their discussions with their employees to turn this into a positive experience.
  7. Employee surveys are one-dimensional and can create an unintended sense of entitlement where employees feel free to complain and ask the company for more without giving any thought to their own commitment to engagement.
    • By the way, it is actually possible to administer a reverse survey that steps up employee ownership for their engagement, commitment, attitudes and actions.
  8. Employees tend to be much more engaged than the surveys indicate.
    • Most indicate that they will still be with their company a year from now.
    • Most are thrilled they have a job in their company.
    • Most are still inviting their friends and families to work along side them.
    • Most are ready and willing, if asked, to offer suggestions for how the company can improve. However, most employees don’t feel that their manager will ask for their suggestions, or welcome their honesty of they do ask.

Before your next engagement survey, think about how you can use the information to truly move the needle on leadership development and employee engagement within your organization.

She wanted to change the world!


She dreamed of changing the world. After considerable thought she decided to focus on healthcare. Rather than becoming a physician she chose to pursue a track that would allow her to lead teams of people in hospital operations and administration.

She went to school. She completed her master’s degree with honors. She was smart and confident. She had all the answers. The test scores said so. She was ready to take what she learned and bring it to an organization that could benefit from her expertise.   She hired on in an internship program that was certain to open the door for her to lead her own hospital. She learned pretty quickly that having all the answers was not sufficient.

Many perceived her as overconfident. Others dismissed her as simply arrogant. Her career quickly hit the wall. But, she didn’t give up. She engaged an executive coach who helped her discover pretty quickly that with all the information available at the touch of button, and with all the experience imbedded within the long term employees of the hospital, that having all the answers was not going to help her to become an effective CEO.

Through the coaching process she learned that the right questions are often more important than the right answers. As she began leading with questions, she was able to draw from team members the answers that lay deeply within them. By tapping into the competencies, creativity, and energy through asking right questions, she grew confident in their abilities, released them to perform their jobs, witnessed their increased engagement, and watched their performance soar. She began to get great satisfaction from helping people discover their capabilities and challenging them to achieve more than they dreamed possible.

By the way, she also started to realize her dream as she began to see how she could change her small corner of the world in more ways than she initially envisioned!