Don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the truth

I was attending a senior leadership team meeting of one of the key functions of a large global technology company. The function’s leader, in his attempt to improve the team’s alignment with, and in support of the business, leader undertook a significant organization structure change, in which he created new departments and made changes to existing ones.

The leaders were discussing the reorganization that had been announced and purpose of the conversation was to review the list of team members who were going to move from one team to another as part of the change. Needless to say, for many of the leaders, this was not an easy or comfortable conversation. Those who were losing team members felt somewhat upset and those receiving people felt somewhat guilty.

The function head was eager to drive the transition as fast as possible, but in his haste, he left some of his leaders behind. By that I mean, that quite a few of his leaders didn’t fully understand and buy into his change. The leaders who were not on board still moved forward with his plan but they dragged their feet in every decision and as a result, deadlines were not met and overall things moved slower than the function head had wanted.

The function head was frustrated and so were his leaders. In the meeting, he reiterated his plan and then he asked his leaders: “Do you get it and does all this make sense?” It was clear that what he really meant was: “What do I need to do to get you on board to start owning and driving the change?!

The question was a legitimate one, but even though the function head kept his cool everyone could sense the frustration behind his words.

There was an awkward silence at first, which was broken by one of the leaders who usually spoke up first reinforcing to the function head in a politically correct way, that everyone was on board. The meeting went on with the agenda.

It was painfully obvious to me – and I believe to everyone else in the meeting – that not everyone got it, not everyone agreed and not everyone felt it made sense. But, people didn’t say a word.

My question to you is:

When is the last time you heard a team member respond to the question from his or her boss “Do you get it and does it make sense?” with:

“No I don’t get it and no it doesn’t make sense. In fact, it is a bad and unnecessary idea!”

I have seen team members feel and think this way, but rarely to never have I seen them say it out loud.


Because justified or not, they fear retribution. Telling your boss that he/she is wrong; that they don’t get it and that their idea is dumb or unnecessary, is not something most people do at any level of any organization.

In most teams, there isn’t a safe enough space to have these types of authentic and courageous conversations. So, when the boss asks a bold and direct question, even if he or she means well, they will most likely always get the politically correct, diplomatic and cautious answer. People will say the right things, but they will most likely continue to find ways to pretend like they are on board while continuing to drag their feet and pay lip service to the change.

Unfortunately, I see too many leaders and managers who don’t seem to get this. As a result, they ask the same types of naïve blunt questions, they get the same politically correct answers and they leave these interactions feeling good about the outcome, even though in reality nothing really changed.

So, if you want something else to occur, either address the unsafe space and change it, or simply don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the truth.

Courage makes the world go around

W.H. Murray, the leader of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition that pioneered the path to the top of Mt. Everest, knew something about COURAGE.

He shared his experience in a known quote, which I really love:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

That, the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

As far as I can tell, from many years of experience working with people, as well as from my own life experience, if you want to generate a high level of success at work or in your personal life, courage is always going to be the single most critical ingredient for achieving that.

Courage comes in many forms, expressions and styles. Sometimes standing boldly for what you believe and fully expressing yourself with a loud voice is an act of courage. However, sometimes remaining thoughtful and calm in the face of turmoil or adversity is an act of courage. In other times allowing yourself to be vulnerable and/or to listen to other’s views with openness and generosity requires courage too.

Being ‘courageous‘ is very different than ‘being fearless’. The dictionary defines fearless as: ‘Lacking Fear’. But, if you are courageous it does not mean you lack fear. On the contrary, you need to be most courageous when you are most afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather embracing your fears, no matter how daunting, and behaving in a way that is true to your values and commitments anyways.

The good news is that we all have the innate ability to be courageous. We can bring forth courage and live courageously at any time, no matter what our circumstances are.

What we sometimes seem to forget, however, is just how powerful and magical courage really is. Perhaps that is why we don’t rely and bet on it as much as we could and should when we want to make big things happen.

Early in my career when I was struggling with achieving my sales goals, my mentor at the time told me something that stayed with me my entire life. He said,

“If you do the right thing for long enough you will eventually always get the outcome you want.”

I believed him and it worked. I became the most productive and successful sales leader in the company. I have experienced this principle time and time again in multiple areas of my professional and personal life and I have seen it work in the lives of others too.

If you are willing to be courageous, take a stand for what you want and then stay the course by living, acting and behaving consistently, sooner or later the circumstances will line up with your stance. As W.H. Murray put it in the 3rd paragraph of his quote: Providence will move too.

Yes, you need to believe in yourself and your ability; you need to have faith for this to work. If you stay cynical, negative or sarcastic, the circumstances will prove you right. You know how the saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for!”

When you avoid taking a stand you can easily feel lost, ineffective and uncertain about your direction or pursue, as well as less confident in your ability to achieve what you want. You can more easily fall into a waiting mode, hoping that someone else or something external will clarify things for you. People ask me all the time questions like: “What should I do?” as if there is a right answer. Or they compare themselves to others, looking to imitate or surpass others. Unfortunately, too often I see people pursing “should” goals and dreams that they don’t authentically feel passionate about.

So, if there is no right or wrong answer to the question: “What should I do?” and no one can predict the future, how can you know what direction and goals to pursue?

Alan Kay, ex-Apple fellow answered this question most clearly and powerfully, in my mind. He said:

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it!”

He meant, you just need to take a stand. Even if you only have a sense of what you want and are committed to, take a stand. Even if you are open to more than one direction and you are undecided, take a stand. Always take a stand, write it down and share it with others who are committed to you.

Taking a stand requires courage. It seems that most people who avoid it do so because they are afraid of the future, not because they have no idea of what they want. They simply question or doubt their ability or chance to achieve it.

Inaction can be deadly when it comes to success or having it all. In order to become confident in, and proficient at the game of courage, you need to practice on a regular basis. Eleanor Roosevelt gave very practical and powerful advice on this. She recommended to:

“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

Courage makes the world go round. It inspires, enables, pushes and reminds us to pursue our dreams and never give up. And, when we remain true to our self, we are always the happiest.

Are you having or avoiding the courageous conversations?

The senior leaders of a large and successful technology company I was working with wanted to improve their overall effectiveness as a team, including their communications and meeting productiveness.

The leaders acknowledged that their conversations and meetings were not effective and that included:

  1. The short-term fire-fighting always took over meeting’s agendas and the team never got to discuss the more strategic topics of opportunity and change
  2. When the leaders did get to the discussions the same few team members always dominated the conversation and other team members felt unable to contribute
  3. The team debated issues endlessly without reaching conclusions, alignment and decisions
  4. Important decisions that affected everyone were made behind the scenes with the same few inner circle team members, and
  5. When the leadership team did make a collective decision (especially change-related) leaders often didn’t comply, follow up and/or reinforce these.

The senior leaders were frustrated with their colleagues in the team. However, for the most part, they all blamed their boss, the CEO, for not making the meetings productive, and not empowering his senior leaders to make the key decisions.

Meanwhile, the CEO was even more frustrated. He expected his leaders to communicate, collaborate and work together behind the scenes between the meetings in order to address and resolve issues, align on strategies and plans, and hold each other to account for decisions that were made in prior meetings. Instead, the senior leaders were escalating all the tough issues to him, expecting him to resolve and make the tough decisions, even on issues the leaders were fully capable of and empowered to solve.

Because the leaders were not having the important and often tough conversations among themselves the leadership team’s meetings were unproductive because most of the time was spent reviewing and reacting to updates and reports, as well as confirming decisions and talking about other mundane topics that could have easily been handled between the leaders elsewhere. Needless to say, the leaders were complaining about these meetings too.

In short – The leaders were simply avoiding having the courageous conversations.

I see this dynamic at all levels of seniority in most (perhaps all) organizations. Leaders want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but they are not willing to step up and have the courageous conversations that come with the territory of higher responsibility and empowerment.

Yes, courageous conversations can often be messy, unpredictable and uncomfortable; they could cause tensions, conflicts and even deteriorate trust temporarily or permanently. But the cost of avoiding them – for the leaders – is not being able to provide leadership, make the difference and drive change. And, for the organization, the cost is not functioning on all cylinders.

So, how do you change this?

It starts with leaders owning up to their avoidance of the courageous conversations and perhaps also to their lack of courage. It takes authenticity and courageous to admit that you haven’t had courage. Most leaders won’t do this. Instead, they typically come up with circumstantial excuses and justifications such as “it wasn’t the right time for the conversation,” or “We were too busy to talk today” or “I need to get them in the right mindset”.

Admitting that you have been avoiding the courageous conversation is a courageous conversation in itself, so it is a great start for generating change. Honesty and ownership always bring about fresh beginnings, which afford us the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment. In this case, it is our commitment to being a courageous leader.

That may be enough to get you back on the horse. However, being a courageous leader is a new space for you, you should make a list of some practical actions and practices a courageous leader would carry out and then take on the commitment to start behaving accordingly, even if you have to “fake it till you make it” in the beginning.

The great thing about being a courageous leader is that it is completely within our reach; we have the entire wherewithal to step up to this standard. It is simply a matter of making the choice, taking the stand and getting into action consistently.

The four Es of making a difference with others

If you manage people or if you are simply trying to make a difference through coaching, mentoring or supporting someone you care about, I would like to share with you some thoughts about four distinctions you should focus on.  I refer to these as – The Four Es of Making a Difference


The dictionary defines enable as “To give someone the means to make something possible

So many people get resigned and give up too quickly when they face big challenges. They view their obstacles as bigger than them, so instead of staying the course to overcome their obstacles they quit or simply go through the motion, which is worst.

In fact, too many people fail because they give up, rather than because they give it their all and fail trying. If you want to make a difference, your job is to enable them to achieve the things they want to achieve but they don’t think they can.

As you listen to the person you are coaching, ask yourself the following questions in order to determine your input:

  1. “Do they trust themselves to get the job done – even if they don’t know how or they haven’t been successful in the past?
  2. “Do they trust themselves to overcome whatever challenges and obstacles come their way?”
  3. “Do they believe they are big enough – bigger than their challenges and circumstances, or are their challenges and circumstances bigger than them?”

Make sure your conversation with them leaves them bigger than their circumstances and challenges.


I didn’t know this word even existed in the English language until I checked the dictionary, which defines embolden as: “To give someone the courage and confidence to do something or behave in a certain way

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather acknowledging and embracing the fear and living up to your commitment anyways. You could say that fear is the pre-requisite for courage. No fear, no courage. Courage is often the most important ingredient in overcoming any challenge or adversity, pursuing any opportunity or achieving any success. Unfortunately, lack of courage is also one of the most frequent reasons for why people don’t have what they want. If you want to make a difference, your job is to empower them to be as courageous as they need to be in order to fulfill their commitments and dreams.

As you listen to the person you are coaching, ask yourself the following questions in order to determine your input:

  1. “Are they being courageous?”
  2. “Are they taking courageous actions?”
  3. “Are they willing to do whatever it takes to have what they want?”
  4. “What are they afraid of?”

Your job is to show the person you are making a difference with that (1) they are able to achieve their commitments, (2) they need the courage to do so and (3) they are completely able to be courageous, act courageously – to bring forth courage.


The dictionary defines energize as “To give vitality and enthusiasm”

Most people react to circumstances. If things go well, they are happy and energized. If things don’t go well they get discouraged and de-motivated. Most people expect the circumstances, including others to give them energy and excitement.

Winston Churchill said:

“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”

The most powerful people self-generate energy and positive attitude in the face of anything. Self-generating commitment, optimism and hope is real power.

As you listen to the person you are coaching, ask yourself the following questions in order to determine your input:

  1. “Are they self-generating positive energy, inspiration and motivation for themselves and others around them?”
  2. “Are they indulging in self-pity or victim mentality?”
  3. “Are they present to the cost of self-pity and victim mentality, and do they want to change that?”
  4. “Do they feel able to generate optimism, hope and commitment, even in the face of challenging circumstances?”

Your job is to inspire the person you are making a difference with to self-generate a different outlook of optimism and hope, as well as energy, passion and enthusiasm – unconditionally.

The best way to do that is to infect the person you are making a difference with, through your own energy, passion and optimism, in your interactions with them. Don’t merely speak about it, demonstrate it in your own behavior.


The dictionary defines empower as “To give someone the authority or power to do something”

Personal power is measured by how quickly someone can transform their vision into reality or achieve what they want. There is a science and art to creating a vision and strategy, as well as executing and achieving it. Most people fail in the science part – they lack the patience and rigor to articulate their vision, to create a robust plan or to do what they said effectively in order to execute and achieve it.

As you listen to the person you are coaching, ask yourself the following questions in order to determine your input:=

  1. “Are they clear enough on their vision and what they want?”
  2. “Do they have a robust enough plan and strategy to fulfill their vision?”
  3. “Are they taking sufficient action to turn their vision, possibilities and commitments into results and reality?”
  4. “Are they doing what is needed and what it takes?”

Your job is to empower the person you are making a difference with to do what it takes to create and achieve their vision and commitment.

Obviously, all the Es are interlinked and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. However, if you keep the four Es in front of you as you are communicating with, and trying to make a difference with someone you care about I am sure the conversation itself will present many opportunities to bring these distinctions to life.