Stop focusing on lagging indicators!

I was supporting a technology company that was going through tremendous growth and change. They had ripped apart and restructured their entire business and they were working very hard on integrating the new pieces.

Even though they were going through all this change they were given no relief from achieving their bold sales numbers. What made things worse is that they had fallen short in their few previous quarters. Needless to say, the pressure and stress were very high. Everyone was focused on achieving the next quarter’s results.

But, a growing number of leaders were becoming frustrated. They felt that the short-term focus was part of the problem. They believed that the team’s single focus on the next thirty-day and ninety-day results was perpetuating the short-term challenges and problems that were causing the continuous shortfalls. The short-term focus was preventing the team from coming up with longer-term strategies that may not help in the near future but would lay the foundation for elevating the team out of its predicament in the longer run.

It was hard for this team to change its mindset.  Many leaders felt that if the team doesn’t make its short-term results the company won’t have a longer-term future.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Where your existing results were in jeopardy and even though you knew that reacting to the poor results in the short term would be a mistake you couldn’t help but do so.

I see this dynamic in organizations all the time.

Many leaders don’t seem to understand that their business results are lagging indicators, therefore focusing on them, or reacting to them is the wrong thing to do.

You don’t want to focus on the lagging indicator. You want to focus on their source.

Context is the source of results.  In organizations context manifests through the culture of the organization: how people at all levels, functions and locations behave and act, what people consider possible and impossible, achievable and unachievable, and the degree to which people feel that they matter, they can make a difference and they can affect and change things.

Leaders who understand this know that they have to focus on and nurture their people’s ownership, commitment, empowerment and motivation. Everything else falls out of that.

If your people are frustrated, they feel like the company is not doing the right things and they can’t speak up or influence and change that, they’ll leave or worse – they will stay as skeptical, cynical and resigned team members. You can be sure that if this happens the results will start stalling or declining – it’s not a matter of if, only when.

But, if your people feel genuinely excited and committed; that they matter and they can make a difference, they will own the objectives and they will go the extra mile to reach them. And, if the results are declining, they will work together in a very transparent and candid way to get to the source of the issues and turn things around.

Your people’s level of excitement, commitment and ownership, as well as their clarity of destination and sense of empowerment to make the difference in achieving it, is your leading indicator of success.

Strong results will dry up when the context is weak. On the other hand, a strong context will overcome any bad results! And, don’t get confused about the benchmark: you could be better than your competitors, even the best in your industry and still be much less than you could be.

If you and your team are clear about who you are, what you stand for, what you are committed to, and you have a plan, and then you and your team act and behave consistently with your commitments, values and plan, it is only a matter of when, not if you will achieve what you want.

The universe three tests rule – a Fable:

A team of professionals who were successful for many years in their craft decided to take their game to a new level. They took on a bold stand and aligned on a set of audacious objectives to leap themselves beyond anything they have ever done or achieved before.

The universe listened to their declaration and said skeptically: “I have heard so many empty declarations. What is different with this team?

To check them out, the universe threw at them a few small obstacles and challenges to make their new endeavor more challenging.

The professionals remained calm and collected, they stayed the course, overcame these small curveballs and moved on.

The universe took notice, but it wasn’t overly impressed. “Beginner’s luck,” it said as it released a bigger wave of issues and problems for the professionals to deal with.

These bigger obstacles definitely raffled the professional’s feathers. They scrambled and struggled to overcome the problems. Their partnership and trust were strained. However, eventually, they figured it out and continued forward with commitment and resolve.

OK, you have my attention!” the universe stated. “Now let’s see if you are truly for real.” The universe unleashed issues, challenges, problems and unfavorable circumstances bigger than the first two times combined.

The team scrambled and struggled. Their performance and results declined, some of their people gave up and left, and their own partnership, trust and belief in the future were significantly strained. But, at the end they endured, they figured it out and continued forward with commitment and resolve.

The universe, who was taking notice the whole time finally exclaimed: “Yes! You are for real!” and then everything began to change. Instead of issues, problems and obstacles, the universe started sending favorable incidents, meetings, material assistant and circumstances that the team couldn’t have anticipated would come their way. As a result, they started to gain momentum towards their desired change and eventually achieved it.

The End!

Most teams give up too quickly!

Their first mistake – they focus on the results, which are lagging indicators.

Their second mistake – they don’t focus on nurturing people’s commitment, ownership and empowerment, which are leading indicators.

Their third mistake – they don’t stay the course for long enough to pass the universe three tests and get to the other side, where they could reap the rewards.

Are you willing to go beyond your comfort zone for the good of the team?

I cannot tell you just how many times I have witnessed the following dynamic in organizations: Managers and employees sit around a meeting table, nodding in agreement as their leader explains the plan for a critical change initiative.  Once the meeting is over, people push back their chairs and drift back towards their desks.  As they congregate at the water cooler, they open up to each other: “What a pile of crap!”, “That’ll never happen!”, “I can hardly wait until the weekend!”.

Within hours (or less…) these mischievous comments go viral throughout the organization and cynicism, sarcasm and resignation become rampant. As a result, people start paying lip service to the organizational mandate.

Meanwhile, their unsuspecting leaders leave the same meeting believing they have done a great job of communicating their strategy and getting their people on board.

Have you ever experience this type of dynamic?

Nothing will undermine an important strategy, initiative or the culture of an organization more effectively than a lack of employee ownership and alignment.  If employees are expressing criticism and skepticism about their leaders and the initiative in “around the water cooler” conversations that is a sure sign that they are not on-board and not aligned with the company’s strategy.

So many leaders and managers simply don’t get it. They think that what people tell them to their face is what they really think. Sometimes that is the case. However, so many times it isn’t.

There are two types of conversations taking place in every organization at all times – one is spoken; what people say out loud. These are often the diplomatic and politically correct spins on the truth. The other is unspoken. It’s what people only say in private to those they really trust.

When leaders don’t create an environment that fosters genuine openness and honesty people go underground to converse.

Instead of addressing the important opportunities and challenges out in the open they cover their behinds, blame others for things that are not working well, or they simply become silently frustrated and resigned.  When they have to, they go along and pay lip service to the authorities. They say only what they believe to be politically correct and safe.

As a result, far too many leaders simply have no idea what their people are really thinking and saying. In fact, many mistake fear and compliance for commitment.

It takes courage – on both sides – to create an environment of blunt honesty.  Leaders must be willing to hear the undiluted truth, and employees must be prepared to express it.  It takes two to tango, however, this has to start and be encouraged and promoted from the top.

Leaders who learn to listen carefully and engage in blunt and meaningful dialogue with their people will find that the investment of time and effort is highly worthwhile.  Over time, people will rise to the occasion, abandon the back-channel conversations and start addressing challenges and opportunities head-on.

In fact, even if the strategy is not optimal, if managers and employees feel they can make a difference and their leaders really want to hear what they have to say, they will go out of their way to make sure it succeeds.

But, in order to succeed both leaders and employees have to go beyond their comfort zone for the good of the team.


Why is the why so important?

I was working with a team inside of a large technology company that was going through a lot of organizational change. In fact, for the previous three years or so every year they had another big leadership role shift and following that there was always a corresponding reorganization and some layoffs. I could tell that people were getting weary of it all. Every wave of change left people somewhat disoriented and many repeatedly felt like they had to start building things all over again, which was a disheartening feeling.

During my long-standing engagement with this team I had many opportunities to asked its leaders and managers to explain the reasoning behind, and purpose of the changes. These were very committed, loyal team members who were with the company for many years. In many previous change events, I got clear answers to my questions. However, this time was different. They couldn’t tell me why the current changes, which were shaking up and disrupting the company, were needed and what their purpose was. As I travelled across this global company I got similar responses of lack of clarity and confidence.

I have seen companies get away with significant corporate change, reorganization, disruption and turbulence, even repeatedly over several years, when leadership was able to clearly convey to its team members, mainly their leaders and managers, what their future destination and strategy is, and why the changes, that are making everyone’s life more difficult today, are necessary in order to achieve a better, greater desirable future for everyone.

But, in this case, the why wasn’t clear to people, and many, perhaps most seem to be more irritated, frustrated and disheartened by the change than before.

Have you ever experienced a major change in your company that affected your ability to fulfill your job, and you didn’t fully understand or agree with the need for this change?

With every change, there is the what, how and why.

What will the change look like?

How will it work and affect me?

Why are we doing it in the first place?

The what and how provide people with clarity on the process, timeline and what is expected of them. Think of it as clear marching orders. That is important in order to drive efficiency and effectiveness and avoid operational and implementation confusion and chaos.

However, the what and how do no generate personal buy-in, ownership and confidence. Only clarity regarding the reason and purpose can provide that. That is the why.

From my experience, buy-in and ownership are the most important things for change, and often the most difficult thing to universally achieve. In fact, the bigger, longer and more complex the change, the bigger the understanding, buy-in and ownership of the why need to be.

Context is a very powerful phenomenon. It gives people trust, faith and confidence, as well as patience, tolerance and sustaining power in the greatest challenges and toughest times. It doesn’t cost a penny to explain to people and enroll them in why the changes are necessary. It takes a powerful conversation.

If you want to drive change in your organization, make sure everyone at least understands and respects the why. If you want to drive the change in a high-performance manner, make sure people also believe and buy into the why.

Be careful what you wish for…

A wise man once told me that there are two things that make people upset – when they don’t get what they want and when they do get what they want.

Here are two real stories…

I was invited to help an organization that was struggling to survive. They had not made their revenue targets for more than two years. As a result, they had to undergo several cost-cutting initiatives, including letting people go. The lack of investment and reduced headcount meant that the remaining people had to do more work. As a result, people felt overworked, under pressure, anxious and stressed with a poor work/life balance. People were resigned and upset, and as you can imagine employee morale and confidence were low.

When I was introduced to the organization, I spent a few days interviewing people at all levels. Even though there was a general atmosphere of gloom and resignation everyone expressed a yearning for a better, more dynamic, active and exciting future of big change and growth.

Contrast that with the story of another smaller company that was doing well but wanted to grow and got to the next level. They were known in their market as a ‘Tier B player’ who can only sell and deliver smaller size projects. They wanted to change their predicament and reputation and become a ‘Tier A’ player with large-scale projects. They gathered their team, aligned everyone around a bold growth objective and started to pursue this new direction.

Through some bold courage and a lot of hard work, as well as a bit of luck too, they landed a huge project – the biggest in their history – which more than doubled their revenue overnight.

At first, everyone was elated. However, as the weeks and months passed and customer demands started to ramp up things started to change. They couldn’t hire new people, train them and make them productive fast enough.

Over the following months, things were deteriorating internally, as people couldn’t keep up with the workload. The company started to miss important deadlines, which made the customers increasingly frustrated. Some good people who couldn’t take it any longer even jumped ship.

When I came in to help this organization most people were also feeling overworked, under pressure, anxious and stressed with a poor work/life balance. They were wishing for a break, relief, sanity, and stability.

Bold and ambitious people always look for bold and ambitious opportunities, problems and challenges to solve. They wouldn’t have it any other way. If you are one of these people, ask yourself the question: If you had a 9-5 job in which everything worked in a completely smooth, effortless and eventless way, would you be excited about coming to work every day, or would you be bored out of your mind and go elsewhere?

While problems are problems and they are going to feel the same in your day-to-day experience – overwork, lack of life balance, pressure, anxiety, and stress – there is a significant difference between problems that stem from struggle or failure versus those that stem from growth and success.

But, for some reason, we tend to overlook this simple truth. We complain and suffer when things are broken/not working and we have to fix them. We also complain when things are so good that they require us to grow, expand and elevate our leadership and performance in order to keep it up.

So, if you are dealing with fixing an environment that isn’t working don’t think that when things get better you will have fewer problems. You will have different problems but not necessarily smaller ones.

On the other hand, if you are blessed with problems that are associated with growth and success count your blessing and don’t think that things are easier in a status quo environment.

The question is not ‘Will you have problems?’ and the challenge is not ‘How to avoid them’. The actual question is ‘What type of problems do you want to have?’

Stop using the “S” word!

If I’d received a dollar every time I heard someone say “We should do X…” or “We should stop doing Y…” I would be very rich!

And, if I received a dollar every time the person saying “We should do X…” actually did what they said should be done, I would be broke!

Every organization is filled with good and committed people who sincerely want to be part of, and make a difference in the corporate mission. They also want to be known and feel appreciated and valued for their efforts and contributions.

Let’s be honest, in most organizations, it can be hard to step up, take responsibility and make things better, especially in large complex organizations. As a result, corporations are filled with well-meaning individuals who are scarred from having tried to rise above the morass of politics, silos and turf wars in order to initiate new ideas and ways of doing things – in the service of doing the right thing – only to crash and burn due to management or other functions. It’s no wonder people use phrases like “Career limiting move… to excuse their lack of initiative and innovation. When is the last time you gave someone or received the wise advice of: “Pick your battles!“.

The English language invented a word that supports all the good intentioned employees and managers who care, who see what is needed but are too resigned and/or too afraid to take the risk of putting their behinds on the line for driving change. The word is – SHOULD.

The word SHOULD is one of the biggest scams in the English language!

It is a magical word that makes you feel like you are really taking ownership and accountability while you are actually doing the opposite. The word ‘should‘ keeps you safe and away from taking ownership and responsibility for a real outcome. This word even makes others around you feel that you are taking ownership and accountability… And, when you add the word “we” to the sentence – “We should do X…” it adds the appearance of looking out for the greater good of the company, which further advances your good feeling and brand. However, it also increases the delusion and deception.

The bottom line: Every time you hear someone say “We should do X…” or “We should stop doing Y…” you can bet everything you got that nothing will get done or change!

I know this may sound harsh, but it is not. I believe that most people who say: “We should…” have the good intentions of highlighting the problems and making things better. However, if you want to make a difference you should use powerful words that will help you, and not confuse them with weak words that undermine what you are attempting to achieve.

So, how could you change this predicament?

It’s actually quite simple: Stop using that word “should”.

To be more rigorous: Stop using that word if you want to drive change in something that is important to you.

Instead, if you want something to happen, say: “I will do X…” or “I will stop doing Y…” The word WILL has quite a different impact. It reflects a promise, and as such it actually evokes real ownership and accountability. You may not be able to control the outcomes you want. However, you sure can control your actions. When you promise to do something it is 100% in your control to do it.

Further, unlike the “should” examples above, you can only say “We will do X…” if everyone around you has explicitly promised to “do X” like you. Otherwise, you can only speak for yourself. If you want to enroll others in your commitment you could always invite them or make a request of them to also promise what you are promising. Promising is an individual action.

If jumping from “We should do X…” to “I will do X…” is too big of a leap for you, there is an interim step that may help you get there. You could start by saying: “I want to do X… or “I want to stop doing Y” You could even say “I want us to do X… or stop us doing Y…”

This is not as powerful as promising an action, however, it gives you the opportunity to generate initial ownership toward what you want. If you think this is too easy, think again. Saying “We should….” is super easy. However, saying “I want X…” is often much harder. Try it.

I hope you will take away at least two main things from this blog:

  • Start paying attention and catching yourself and other when you/they say “We should…” Don’t be blind and oblivious to these deceptive words…
  • Don’t let people who are committed to making a difference get away with using the “We should…” words. When they say it, stop them, politely of course, and invite them to promise something powerful.

Two frequent complaints I hear in so many organizations: “Meetings are a waste of time” and “the lack of ownership and accountability.” Well, a huge part of the problem is in how people think and talk. The use of ‘should‘ is a huge source of the letdown in both areas.

Stand for effective communication. Don’t tolerate inconsequential conversations around you. Promote and only use language that actually makes a difference in what you and others want. Finally, adopt the principle that if you can’t find it in yourself to speak effectively, don’t say anything at all!

Are your leaders all in?

Building a high-performance culture in an organization is a daunting undertaking. Anyone who has taken on such a commitment on would attest to that fact.

You are never going to get it perfectly right. You need nerves of steel and a combination of conviction and drive together with patience and tolerance for a messy process.

The main reason, of course, is that people are different, with diverse personalities, styles, and commitments. The likelihood of getting everyone in the organization to commit to the change, growth or success you are trying to implement is slim to none.

At the level of the employees, that’s OK. In fact, even with the managers, you don’t need to achieve 100% ownership and commitment to your goals. As long as you achieve a critical mass of buy-in and commitment with your managers you will have enough steam to succeed in your endeavor.

However, when it comes to your senior leadership team you must have 100% ownership, alignment, and commitment among 100% of your senior leaders toward the change, growth, and success you are trying to achieve.

If the head of the organization or team can’t completely enroll his/her leaders in his/her commitments, objectives and execution strategy you can bet that the effort won’t succeed.

A committed and determined leader will do his/her best to enroll, inspire, engage and even demand that his/her leaders own, lead and drive the new direction.

However, if the leader doesn’t succeed he/she must have the courage to make the tough decision to replace the leaders who won’t step up with ones who will. Nothing less than 100% ownership and commitment at the Leadership level will suffice to achieve a high-performance game!

Unfortunately, many organizations and leaders don’t seem to understand this simple nuance of total commitment. They underestimate how critical this point actually is, or they lack the courage to make the tough, uncomfortable, disruptive, unpopular decisions in order to achieve that 100%.

Many CEOs like their leaders on a personal level, which make these dilemmas even harder. In many cases, the CEO has been ‘in the trenches’ with his/her team members for a long time, so there is a bond and a sense of loyalty between them. That makes matters more difficult too. In other cases, certain people whether committed or not are a source of priceless knowledge, experience, and expertise. So, the idea of letting someone like that go or even upsetting them by merely changing their role in order to give way to someone more suited to the cause is understandably challenging. However, if a CEO wants to build a high-performance culture and game, he/she must be willing and able to make these calls in order to build a genuinely committed team around him/her.

Take as an example the struggles of the CEO of an up-and-coming technology company that was on a path of significant growth. He had just acquired a couple of companies in order to expand and strengthen his product and services platform. He was under tremendous pressure from his board to continue to manage the company’s aggressive growth, while at the same time integrate the companies he had acquired. The combination of significant growth and change was putting a lot of pressure and stress on everyone.

Needless to say, this was the time for his senior leaders to come together in the most unified and aligned way in order to lead and drive the opportunities and challenges of the change in the most cohesive, effective and rapid way, whilst continuing to unify and motivate the overworked and stressed out managers and employees.

However, this was not the case. Most of the senior leaders clearly understood the need for strong unification at the leadership team level, and they made attempts to bring the senior team together. However, a couple of the most senior leaders in the team who were also the CEO’s favorites, and who enjoyed the special attention and ‘privileges’ that relationship afforded them, were cynical about spending the time on teamwork, so they blocked these attempts to rally the leadership team.

Even when the pressure was mounting, as company performance was declining, the CEO did not take action to bring his senior team together, and/or coach and discipline the troublemakers.

He continued to interact with his senior leaders on an individual basis, which resulted in him working harder but his leaders working in silos. He talked about the need to increase scale and productivity, but his actions missed out on the opportunity to share the load with his leaders and elevate their individual and collective ownership, effectiveness and productivity at such a critical time.

Any organization is a reflection of its leadership team. The culture of your organization will only be as strong as the culture, behaviors, attitudes, and dynamics within your senior team. If you want to build a high-performance team in your organization start by modeling this behavior and dynamic with your senior leaders.

When it comes to ownership and commitment within the senior leadership team of your organization, don’t give your leaders discounts; the team is either all in or they are not in at all!


Don’t overlook the power of authentic conversations

I was participating in a meeting of the senior leadership team of a leading technology company. The leaders were discussing important strategic and operational topics that are critical to the future of their business.

At some point, I looked around the table and at least 50% of the leaders were looking down at their smartphones, probably responding to emails or something like that. In fact, throughout the entire meeting, this was pretty much the case. This is not an isolated dynamic for this team or company. It is pretty much the norm in most or all meetings of most teams and organizations.

From time to time the CEO would stop the flow of the conversation, put his foot down, and ask everyone to get off their phones in order to fully be present in the debate. At times he even expressed frustration with this people’s lack of attention to the conversation. However, nothing seemed to really change. The leaders would lift their heads up for a few moments, they would say something like: “I am listening and fully participating…” which, of course, was complete baloney because no one can be fully present in two important conversations simultaneously, only to go back to emails when the debate went on.

It was exactly the same in another larger meeting in another company with more than forty managers. However, every time one of the participants spoke in an authentic way, with passion from their heart, whether an authentic expression of frustration, fear or enthusiasm, it shifted the mood, spirit, and attentiveness of the entire room instantly. Everyone stopped all side activities, raised their eyes from their devices to the person speaking, and fully listened and were present to what was being said.

In one instant, when the group was discussing how to bring to market a new service, one of the managers who was an introvert yet highly respected stood up and expressed her frustration about the fact that for the longest time she had single-handedly handled this service without the support of her colleagues. In fact, she expressed her experience of “having felt alone for a long time…”. As she was speaking the room turned silent. Everyone was fully attentive in the moment in this rare and powerful conversation. After she completed and sat down others started to stand up and share their authentic feelings too. Her authentic expression gave others the courage to do the same and the meeting became much more authentic and powerful, with fewer distractions and focus on emails.

I have witnessed many similar examples of strong group attention and engagement in meetings and conversations when people showed the courage to share their genuine feelings about things like: “uncertainty about the future”, “fear of failing” and “excitement about a new direction”.

It is a known fact, that if you want to enroll, engage and/or mobilize people to any cause speaking from your heart in an authentic way makes a bigger difference than lecturing, preaching or scolding. I have learned this as a parent too.

In a corporate environment courage and authenticity are rare, but when they occur they transcend seniority and authority. In other words, even the most junior employee speaking the truth about a challenge or opportunity with courage and authenticity can make a bigger difference than a senior manager who says all the right corporate things. I have seen it many times.

So if you want your meetings to be more effective and powerful, and your people to be more present and engaged give people plenty of opportunities to express themselves, and most important – encourage, promote and recognize courageous, authentic expressions and conversations.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey toward your destination

I was coaching a senior executive who was not demonstrating the leadership that he had wanted and that people expected of him in his senior position. During our session, he shared his disappointment and frustration with the fact that he had recently turned 50 and he hadn’t reached the level of promotion that he had wanted. It seemed that his miss behavior was a reaction to his sudden realization and panic that “he was behind on achieving his life goals…”.

As ambitious members of a modern and demanding society, we have the tendency to go through life with the sense that we are “not quite there yet”. We set goals for ourselves and then along the journey we often forget that we are the ones who set these goals. We fall into the trap of feeling that we are behind and/or that only when we realize the goals we set we will have truly made it, and then we can truly relax and enjoy our life to its fullest.

The entire “retirement” concept is predicated on this premise – we work extremely hard throughout our life, often sacrificing and neglecting key areas like family, marriage, health and recreation, in order to achieve financial and professional goals that would allow us to get to that stage in life where we can retire and then “truly start doing what we love to do”.

I love and resonate with this quote from Fr. Alfred D’souza::

 “For a long time, it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life”.

We so often equate our material achievements and success with our self-worth. We get caught in the hamster wheel of jealousy and competitiveness, and even when we do reach certain milestones we don’t take the time to appreciate and celebrate what we have accomplished. Instead, we move right into the next goal and the rat race continues.

And let’s be honest, the dominance of social media doesn’t help at all! In fact, it only makes the pressure and stresses greater. Instead of only seeing our neighbor’s new car, we are now exposed to thousands of online “friends” who display their lives. No wonder we often feel like the grass is greener on the other side.

Throughout our prime years, as we are working our butts off, we feel like “when we get the next promotion… close the next deal… make the next million… buy the house or car of our dreams” or “get our children through college or married…” – “THEN life will truly be great”.  But then when we reach a certain age we start talking about our life in terms of “the good old days”.

So if throughout our life we feel that “someday” we will start living and then at the prime of our life we feel like “the good old days are behind us”.

When is it our time? When do we ever enjoy today… the moment???

If you understand and appreciate the strong tendency we all have to focus on our future goals and ambitions at the expense of living and enjoying the present you could develop some practices and habits that will change the scale. Here are some ideas:

  1. Keep reminding yourself that you are the one who created your objectives and expectations in the first place. As the author of your future, if you find your goals and timelines to be too daunting and/or stressful change them to ones that empower you.
  2. Acknowledge your accomplishments – every month, week and every day. Focus more on your progress and what you have accomplished, and less on your gaps, deficits and what you haven’t achieved.
  3. Make sure to set time in your busy life for activities that empower you… If you are a workaholic take time for great vacations. If you are married and/or have kids make sure to spend quality time with them on a regular basis… force yourself to do that….
  4. Anticipate now what you will regret in the future if you don’t do or say, and do it today!
  5. Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself and your life with others… or even worse, being jealous of others.

It’s now or never… literally!

Are you owning your personal power?

I was working with a senior leadership team of a successful technology company that was dealing with great change as a result of changes in their market and the way their customers wanted to partner with them to purchase and consume their offerings.

The stakes were high and the senior leaders had to make some big and bold decisions about how they will organize their company differently to accommodate this change.

The good news was that the company had a strong portfolio of offerings that was relevant and desired by their customers. The bad news is that this organization and leadership team had a long history of working in a particularly siloed way. While teams worked well together, each business and function had a lot of autonomy to do things the way they wanted, and overall the organization was quite siloed.

The future opportunities and challenges required a significant internal change both in mindset and structure and the leaders were in a meeting discussing this.

After presenting and summarizing the market changes that lead to the change, the leader asked people to state their views about how the organization should restructure its business and functions.

Through my one-on-one conversations prior to the meeting, I knew how individual leaders felt about the required change, including which groups should grow, which should shrink and which should be closed altogether in order to enable new groups to be formed.

However, in a typical diplomatic and politically correct fashion none of the leaders fully expressed their views. It wasn‘t that no one said anything of substance. It was more that most of the leaders danced around the topic a bit speaking in a conceptual and hypothetical manner instead of jumping straight to the heart of the matter with concrete ideas and proposals.

In fact, the one leaders who had a reputation for being blunt and disruptive did what he always does – he expresses a blunt view. However, because his colleagues already related to him as the “blunt” “disruptor” “controversial” and even “troublemaker”, his comments didn’t make the impact in terms of encouraging others to speak more courageously or actually shaping the direction and decisions.

I wasn’t surprised because unfortunately, I see this dynamic frequently in teams of all levels. People tend to water down their ideas, commitments, feedback and/or criticism when they talk to colleagues, boss or even subordinates.

Why does this happen?

I believe the main reason is that people don’t own and don’t take responsibility for their power to influence, shape the future, drive directions and make a difference.

If you don’t own your personal power, you are likely to hesitate to express your big ideas, negative feedback or bold requests of others.  You may speak freely in private, however, you will hold back in public.

Some people may push back and say something like: “It’s not that I don’t own what I have to say, I just don’t trust my teammates or our team environment to hear what I have to say in the right way…” Well, if you don’t trust your team or team environment and you do own your power to make a difference start with an honest conversation about the trust. It all boils down to the same thing.

This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out I find that it all boils down to courage. Having the courage to look inward and be clear about who you are, where you stand and what you want to drive, achieve and say, even if it may be scary or uncomfortable for you or the people receiving.

Many times, people talk before they are clear about what they want to say, so they tend to speak in circles or stumble on words. This is not because they are not smart, they don’t command the language or they are lazy. It stems from the same space of lack of ownership –  they haven’t taken the time to get clear about, and own their stand and position. Most of the time it doesn’t take a lot of time to make a choice and take a stand. It could, however, take a lot of courage

So, next time you find yourself uncertain or stuck in a conversation ask yourself:

  • Am I clear about my stance on this topic or conversation?
  • “Am I clear about what I want to say?” You can be clear about what you want to say but not yet sure about how you will say it… no issue there as long as you don’t use the latter as an excuse to sell out on the former.
  • Am I willing to own what I have to say with no compromise or excuses?” OR, “Am I willing to own my power and ability to make a difference?!”

This will help you move forward.

How to overcome being a narcissistic leader

I work with narcissistic leaders from time to time. While narcissistic leaders are often very ambitious, driven and successful, they do not empower, promote, recognize and elevate the people around them. Instead, they tend to take the credit, seek the limelight and remain the stars of the show under all circumstances.

Here are eight typical characteristics of narcissistic leaders:

  1. They always have to be “the star”. They don’t like to share the limelight, elevate others and overall enable others around them to become too powerful, influential or great. In fact, they seem to be threatened by others shining and they get quite upset when others play too much of a dominant role.
  2. They take the credit for successes and blame others and circumstances for failures. They love to namedrop and they often talk about team success as “their success”. On the flip side, they avoid talking about failures and they definitely don’t like to take responsibility for the negative impact of their behaviors on others.
  3. They don’t trust and empower others very effectively. When there are challenges, their first reaction is often to step in and take control, rather than trust and delegate. They tend to divide and conquer, rather than build a cohesive team to rely on.
  4. They don’t communicate clearly and directly, especially around uncomfortable topics. They shy away from conflict or having straight conversations. They don’t bring clarity and closure to issues. When they are frustrated with someone they tend to engage in back-channel talk, rather than face the issues head-on. And often, when they believe that they have communicated clearly and directly regarding an uncomfortable topic, those with whom they have communicated were left confused, uncertain and with a different message.
  5. They are erratic, inconsistent and unreliable in their reactions and behaviors. They are often late to meetings; people come on time and have to wait, sometime for hours. They constantly make last-minute unannounced changes to schedule and meetings with no apparent regard for the impact on others. And, they often make decisions that have a significant impact on others out of impulse and emotion, which they later regret and reverse.
  6. They don’t create a genuine and effective environment of accountability. They preach accountability, say all the right slogans but they don’t establish clear and specific objectives and expectations with their people. They also don’t manage and hold people to account for their commitments and deliverables.
  7. They know best and they are not very open to feedback, criticism, and coaching. They avoid conversation in which criticism could be given and they are defensive or get offended when criticism is given.
  8. They have low self-reflection abilities and self-awareness.  They come across as very tough and assertive. However, if you give them blunt negative feedback about their narcissistic nature they tend to get deeply hurt and offended.

Are you a narcissistic leader?

If you are not sure if you are a narcissistic leader, assess yourself against these eight characteristics. Even better, ask someone you trust who really knows you well and will be straight with you:

“How do people around me see and experience me?”

You may not have the most objective perspective about yourself. Other people may view you differently then you view yourself. Trying to understand their experience may be eye-opening and enlightening.

If you want to improve in this area and become a more empowering leader here are eight practical principles and tips that will help you:

  1. Be the bigger person – Give the credit to others when there are successes.
  2. Be responsible – Take the responsibility on yourself when there are failures.
  3. Be generous – Look for opportunities every day to recognize, acknowledge and praise people around you for small, medium and big things.
  4. Be respectful – Recognize people in public and criticize them in private.
  5. Be empowering– Make sure every conversation and interaction you have with others, no matter what the topic, leaves them more energized, focused and empowered.
  6. Be trusting – Make sure your people have clear objectives and expectations that they own and then let them implement their objectives in their own way.
  7. Be reliable – Keep your promises, commitments, and timelines, no matter how small or big, with no excuses, just like you expect others to do.
  8. Be a role model – Model everything you want others to do, and treat others exactly the way you want them to treat you.

Stop having objectives if you are not going to explicitly promise to fulfill them!

All teams have objectives or outcomes, which team members usually believe in, aspire to and want to deliver. However, not all teams have the same relationship with their objectives and outcomes.

Most leaders and teams seem to believe that if their objectives are well articulated and clear enough they have a greater chance of succeeding.

That is not necessarily true. Yes, it makes a difference that an objective or outcome is well articulated. However, I have seen many teams with well-articulated outcomes achieve mediocre traction against their outcomes. In contrast, I have seen teams with mediocre level outcomes achieve extraordinary traction and results against their outcomes.


Most leaders and teams seem to believe that when they articulate a set of objectives, inherent to them is a genuine relationship of ownership, responsibility and accountability toward them, by those who created them.

When teams set their objectives – at the end of the process they don’t typically have a conversation that goes like this: “So, is everyone in this room promising to fulfill these objectives?!” I venture to say that people would take offense to such a conversation, and what it implies or questions about their commitment.

However, if this conversation did take place I am sure most people would push back and say: “We can’t promise to fulfill the objectives… we can only promise to do our best… or carry out the actions we believe would/should fulfill our objectives…

I get this valid push back. There are no guarantees and no one can promise to fulfill any type of future. However, there is a nuance here that makes all the difference. It is between having a relationship with your objectives of “doing our best…” or “carrying out the actions…” and “explicitly promising to deliver the outcome itself…

The word “explicitly” is key. Leaders and teams seem to have a paradigm that objectives come with a built-in feature of a relationship of ownership and commitment toward them.

I know it sounds ludicrous when you read it on paper. However, if you judge by leaders’ reaction to lack of ownership and commitment you would realize that they expect it. They think that ownership and commitment are implied.

But, unfortunately, as we all know, nothing could be further from the truth. Ownership and commitment are never implied. If you don’t explicitly discuss, declare and create them, they do not exist.

To add insult to injury – there is no point in having outcomes at all if you are not going to promise them. Without an explicit promise, outcomes are like a sales boat sitting in the middle of the ocean without the necessary wind to drive them to their destination.

In order to promise an outcome, it has to be clear and measurable. Sometimes teams justify their lack of rigorous thinking with the excuse that certain areas simply can’t be measured. This is never true. You can measure anything that is important to you. You could use existing, new, objective or subjective metrics to do so. However, as long as you and your team members are aligned behind, and own the measurable outcomes you have chosen you are in good shape.

Metrics should never be an afterthought. A powerful outcome doesn’t have metrics associated with it… it actually is a promise of the metric. There are no outcomes independent of metric and there is no metric independent of outcomes.

Outcomes without metrics are general, ambiguous and at best they determine direction. Metrics alone merely explain how you intend to measure your outcomes, but they don’t stake any actual outcome, therefore they are interesting but useless.

In addition, metrics are past looking.

I worked with a team that felt strongly that in order to manage their services effectively it was important for them to track certain metrics. So they picked a few that were important and every quarter they would report out to their boss how they were faring against their metric. Some quarters their results were slightly up and other times it was slightly down. Tracking their metrics allowed them to compare the last quarter with past quarters and explain away why things were going up or down. After a few quarters of repeating this process, they also added to their presentation their prediction of how the next quarter should be, based on past performance.

This is a classic example. If you explain the past for long enough and you don’t promise a different future instead, your explained past will become your future outcome, by default.

When you promise an outcome, you are creating the future and staking yourself to it. The word and concept of promising make your objectives very personal. It doesn’t mean that you will always succeed. There are no guarantees.

However, would you rather have your team members coming to work each day with a relationship to their objectives as a set of outcomes or, as their outcomes, which they are promising to cause?

I think the answer is clear!

Why are people so afraid of bluntness?

What is wrong with being blunt?

Most people generally tend to avoid being too blunt. However, in many organizations bluntness is non existent and in most organizations Ambiguity and Vagueness are an epidemic.

I couldn’t count the number of times I have been in a meeting about an important topic and someone rambled on and on without getting to the point, or someone expressed their opinion and still no one understood what it is, or someone said they had the solution only to continue to highlight the problems, which everyone already understood to begin with.

People tend to talk a lot without saying much!

I see this behavior at every level of the organization, from the most senior executives to the lowest level employees. In fact, sometimes it seems that the higher you go in the corporate ladder more politically correct and vague the communications.

People seem to associate bluntness with negative qualities such as disrespect, carelessness and offensive and hurtful behaviors. I understand why people have these perceptions.

Most people tend to be blunter when they are upset, frustrated, resentful or fed up with something or someone. In these emotional moments, people tend to express themselves in a more compulsive, abrasive and less thoughtful way. We also tend to regret things we say or the way we say things more often when we are upset.

However, when you check the word blunt in the Thesaurus it gives you:
frank, honest, straight, candid, no-nonsense, forthright and straight-talking.

What is wrong with these synonyms? If we all had more of these qualities we would probably be much more effective; we would probably move things faster and waste less time on BS.

Bluntness is relative. Some cultures like Belgium and Australia for example, pride themselves with their bluntness. What is considered blunt in Asia is considered cautious and/or politically correct in the UK or the USA.

Also, even though generally speaking most corporate cultures don’t encourage or tolerate bluntness, different corporate cultures have different levels of tolerance.

I have seen teams that can address even the most sensitive challenges like peer reviews, budget and resource allocation and promotion decisions in the most open, honest, direct and blunt manner without anyone leaving the conversation feeling offended, upset or diminished. In contrast, I have seen more examples of manager and/or employee who mustered the courage to be blunt only to get criticized, sidelined and even fired for inappropriate behavior or not being team players.

The level of bluntness in a team depends on its leader; his or her personal courage and comfort level with frank, honest, straight, candid no-nonsense communication, as well as their ability to instil a safe and productive environment in which risk-averse, honest, straight, candid, no-nonsense communication is accepted and adopted by all.

Some leaders don’t have the courage to create a blunt environment because they are afraid that some of the bluntness may be pointed at their lack of leadership resolve, authenticity, transparency and/or effectiveness.

If the leader is blunt, but he or she doesn’t create a safe and productive environment around them, people will become afraid and behave in cautious and politically correct ways. Needless to say, team productivity, effectiveness and morale will deteriorate.

Alternatively, when team members want to be frank, honest, straight and candid but their leader is politically correct and risk-averse, there will be a greater likelihood of political, passive-aggressive behaviors and dynamics.

Whatever the culture, in order for frank, honest, straight, candid and no-nonsense communication to be productive and impactful, it has to be based on a genuine foundation of respect and trust.

When people feel that they are not judged by their bluntness, but rather they are viewed and respected based on their commitment, performance and results, they are less likely to experience blunt comments and interactions as a danger or threat.

When people trust that their leader and team members are in it together and they always have each other’s backs, not just when it is easy or things go their way, they will be excited to participate in and contribute to making their team environment more frank, honest, straight, candid and no-nonsense.

So, if you want to create a more frank, honest, straight and candid team environment, don’t shoot down or shut down blunt communications. Rather, create a greater team context of respect, trust and partnership among all team members. The stronger foundation you build the bolder your communications will be.

And, of course…. You will have to be courageous to do this!