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.

Can your team handle tough conversations?

If you want to know how powerful your team is, just see how team members deal with sensitive and tough topics.

Sensitive and tough topics are any subjects that require the leaders and team members to put their own personal feelings, egos, and agendas aside for the greater good of their company or team.

It could be anything as big as deciding which team to invest in, which team member to promote or re-allocating people and budgets from one leader’s team to another. It could be something as trivial as giving honest feedback to colleagues, your boss or subordinates about poor performance.

When it comes to sensitive and tough conversations the line between big and small topics becomes blurry because people often tend to take even the most insignificant topics personally, which leads to out of proportion reactions and behaviors.

In powerful teams, members never lose sight of the bigger picture. They put their team and company first and they always strive to do the right and the best thing for the collective cause.

In powerful teams, people don’t hold back their punches when it comes to discussing and debating the tough and sensitive topics. Teammates may fully ‘go at it’, push back and disagree with other team members, but they continue to listen to each other, consider each other’s views and they never cross the line of interacting in a disrespectful way.

At the end of the conversation or meeting when the team or their boss makes a decision all team members genuinely align, own and support the verdict, whether in their personal favor or not. When they go back to their respective teams they represent the decision as their own in a united front with their colleagues.

I have seen some great teams that exemplify this behavior. However, I have also seen many teams that don’t. I think it would be safe to say that most teams don’t do a great job in dealing with tough and sensitive topics.

Take for example the senior leadership team of a large technology company. The company experienced serious growing pains after achieving the best performance year in their entire history. As a result of their sudden surge of business, they simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. They were not set up for the next level of service and support.

Instead of coming together to find a solution and make the necessary changes to accommodate the growth the senior leaders blamed each other for the crisis. Finger pointing led to defensiveness and the hostility grew. There was even a traumatic screaming match in one of the leadership team meetings, which resulted in some leaders outright stopping to speak with other team members.

It took the leaders a long time to turn things around, and the process left internal and external scars. Key customers felt frustrated by the fact that the company didn’t deliver its obligations on time, and managers and employees felt frustrated about the petty and immature manner in which their leaders handled the crisis.

In a completely different example, the senior leadership team of the HR function of a large global company was having an honest discussion about the state of morale of their wider team, including how to motivate their staff after several rounds of company layoffs. The leaders invited a few next level managers to the meeting in order to describe the state of affairs, especially to their boss who they felt wasn’t as connected to the reality of her organization.

The managers were blunt. They painted a dire picture of HR managers and employees who felt uncared for, demoralized and disconnected from headquarter and the senior team.

The leader thanked the managers for their honest feedback, but when they left the room she turned to her leaders and scolded them for allowing their managers to feel and express such negative feelings and views. It was apparent to all that the head of HR took everything the managers said personally. Needless to say, the level of fear increased exponentially from that day on, and the ability of this senior team to discuss and address the real tough and sensitive issues decreased.

Let’s be honest, addressing the tough and sensitive issues in a productive, constructive and respectful manner (no matter what), takes leadership maturity and courage.

Unfortunately, too often there isn’t enough of these qualities even in the most senior teams.


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!

Are you staying on top of your communications?

Recently I wanted to get some additional phone and TV services from my cable provider, so I called them up and after being passed along from one agent to another I finally asked to speak with a supervisor. 

After hearing my frustrations and needs the supervisor apologized and promised to take care of all my needs quickly and effectively. There was one item that he couldn’t get for me in our call so he gave me his personal email address and again he pledged to get back to me ASAP with the resolution.

Several days passed and I didn’t hear from him so I emailed him a few times and eventually he responded, again apologizing for the delay and re-promising to get back to me soon. When I asked him “Why didn’t you get back to me?” he respond with “I didn’t have anything to report…”.

How many times have you been in a situation in which someone promised you to get back to you about something important and they didn’t or they took too much time to get back to you…. OR you left someone a message or email to call you back regarding a matter that was important to you, and they simply didn’t call or email or only did so after a very long time?

People don’t seem to get it. Responding to communications, getting back in a timely manner and overall being in communication is not merely about providing information. It is about establishing and strengthening your brand – especially your commitment, care, reliability, credibility and integrity. It is about building trust and partnership with others for whatever you are dealing with now, but also for future interactions and opportunities.

I frequently hear parents tell their kids “Please get off your device!” My wife and I do it too. I have a dear friend who is a very successful real estate broker. When we go out to dinner together he is constantly on his phone dealing with some deal or another. We constantly ask him to get off his phone and be present.

It has never been easier to communicate, yet the degree of lack of communication all around is astonishing.

In his book Fifth Generation Management, Charles M. Savage described this paradox in the following way:

Although people are able to communicate across the hall or around the world at the speed of light with computers networks, human distrust slows real communication to a snail’s pace”

Why are people generally so bad at being in communication?

Here are some likely reasons:

  1. If you are on top of all your communications you may gain a reputation for being an effective, reliable and accountable leader. As a result, people may have higher expectations of you and even ask you to do more things for them.
  2. If you manage all your communications in a timely and impeccable manner you will create clarity around you about what you stand for and what you will and won’t do. This may make some people happy but disappoint others. It takes courage to be straight about who you are and what you can and can’t be counted on.
  3. If you manage your communications clearly and effectively more of your focus and time will be spent in a committed mode – on delivering what you promised to yourself and others. You may feel as if you have less commitment-free time or control over your own personal priorities and schedule.
  4. Being in communication often leads to deeper intimacy and trust with others. As rewarding as this may be, intimacy is not always comfortable.

If you want to hide or stay smaller, you will probably continue to not be effective at staying on top of your communications. However, if you want to be a powerful leader and someone who is known for keeping his or her word as well as getting things done, being in communication will be your natural mode. In fact, you won’t be able to sleep at night when you are not on top of your communications and relationships.

By the way, let me make it clear – I am not talking about being perfect at it. No one is perfect and perfection is not even a worthwhile benchmark (a topic for another blog…)

If you are that person here are a few principles to follow:

  1. In your communications always make clear promises, write them down and circle back on them with the people you committed to, or the people who are expecting your commitments to be delivered.
  2. Promise when you will get back to people and get back to them on time, even if you haven’t finished the task or you don’t have much to report.
  3. If you haven’t been in communication with someone that is important to you for a while, be in communication with them every so often, even just to say hello and see how they are doing. Always keep the channels of communication open and current with people who have been, are now and/or will be important for you personally and professionally.
  4. If you promised to get back to someone on a certain date or you know or suspect they may be expecting that, communicate with them even just to tell them that you haven’t forgotten and you will get back to them by a new specific time.

Be in communication and stay in communication. If you screw up, don’t beat yourself up, just be in communication about the fact that you haven’t been in communication, apologize and promise to do better in the future…. And then live up to that.


Does your team have heart?

As human beings, we need a heart and a brain in order to live. We need most of our other organs too, but our heart and brain seem to represent the two main engines that fuel and shape our survival and health. You could view these as the ‘Yin and Yang’ of our well-being.

We could continue to exist without a heart or a brain but it wouldn’t be much of a life.

Well, it is the same when it comes to the well-being of any team or organization. In order to be vibrant, strong and healthy a team must have a heart and a brain.


The heart of the team is reflected in people’s passion, commitment and sense of ownership toward the game and the future. You develop the heart by aligning team members around a compelling purpose and inspiring vision and/or strategic objectives that they can identify with, rally around and work together toward.

When the heart of the team is in great shape people are energized, they feel that they ‘are in it together’, they trust each other and the company, and they collaborate and go the extra mile to execute on their shared goals.

When people lose touch with their higher purpose; with why they love to come to work; why they work so hard and why they are willing to put up with corporate obstacles and challenges, you could say the heart of the team is broken or unhealthy. In fact, we often describe a team without spirit as ‘a team that has no heart‘.


The brain of the team is reflected in the strategies, processes and execution plans of the team. You develop the brain by establishing clear and effective processes, metrics, ground rules and tracking mechanisms to ensure the team is, in fact, hitting its targeted milestones and results.

The heart is all about the spirit and motivation of the team, while the brain is all about team effectiveness and efficiency. The brain wants to know “What do we need to do, by when and who will do it?” The heart wants to know “Why are we doing this… for what reason and purpose?

In our human body if our heart or brain is unwell, or if there is a lack of balance between these two key engines, it will have a negative effect on our ability to function, our livelihood and our productivity. It is the same with any team or organization.

In addition, if the brain wants to push us to a higher performance and results it better make sure that the heart is healthy enough to sustain it. Athletes are very clear about that. They know that the more they want to push their performance the more they have to make sure their heart can endure and support their goals. It is the same with any team or organization.

Any organization or team is always a reflection of its leaders. The leaders determine and shape the culture and mindset of their organization. If the leaders bring heart to the game the team will have a lot of spirit and heart. I refer to this leadership style as: “Leadership informed by some accounting.”

However, some leaders only bring a cold analytical number-driven perspective to their leadership. Their leadership approach is one of “Accounting informed by some leadership”.

Unfortunately, I see teams that have no heart all the time. All their leaders care about is hitting the bottom line at any and all cost. They are quick to cut expenses, fire people and take harsh measures in order to make their financial results look good in the short term while weakening and deteriorating the long term.

This approach is very common with Venture Capitalists who purchase sub-optimal organizations only to slash costs and take advantage of people’s sense of survival and loyalty in order to gain quick returns, without regard for longevity or long-term health.

But, I see it also in regular companies who bring in professional CEOs with no long-term commitment or regard, only a short-term focus to turn performance around, show higher numbers and leave with a big payout.

I also see organizations and teams that have a lot of heart. Their leaders genuinely care about building a strong business and brand that will transcend their tenure. Leaders who bring heart to the game care about people. They truly understand and believe that their people are their most important asset, so they go out of their way to invest in inspiring, motivating and developing their teams.

Leaders who only care about the bottom line see their people and resources as merely the means to their personal agenda and end. Their legacy is to make sure their personal brand and resume are stronger and they are richer than they were when they arrived, even at the expense of a poorer organization.

Leaders who care about the longevity and well-being of their organization see themselves as responsible for, and the means to the success of their people. Their legacy is to leave the organization with a stronger brand, capability and prosperity than the one they inherited when they took the helm.

If you want your team to be at its most healthy and prepared to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the present, as well as those of the future, make sure you manage the balance between the heart and brain of your team; build strong practices and rituals that focus your people on both critical aspects of organizational well-being.

In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces that are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent give rise to each other and form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

You can’t and don’t need to do it all yourself. You have team members around you who are naturally more oriented around (and skilled at) the aspects of the heart to balance the brain of the team. You need to bring all sides together to create the best harmony and balance for your team.

Are you making THE difference?

People genuinely want to work together in a more authentic, courageous and effective way.

However, even good, well-meaning people often find it challenging to do the right things and behave and act in ways that promote a productive environment. They know what works and what doesn’t work, but knowing and doing are two different things.

For example:

  1. People know that gossiping doesn’t work; ‘trashing’ coworkers and ‘throwing them under the bus’ is hurtful and it undermines trust and productivity, but they still do it.
  2. People know that paying lip service to commitments doesn’t work, but they still do it.
  3. People know that blaming other teams and people doesn’t fix the problem, in fact, it makes it worse, but they still do it.

So why is it so hard for us to do what we know is right and effective?

The collective culture shapes and promotes individual behavior.

If you come to work every day to an organizational culture in which victim mentality, blame, siloed dynamics, lack of accountability and politically incorrect communication are tolerated and perhaps even promoted, you will find yourself behaving accordingly.

The culture teaches you very quickly to get in line in order to get along. Any deviation from status quo could be detrimental. You could think of it this way: In ancient Roman time, an overly enthusiastic and eager slave rowing in a ship’s galley probably did not make it alive through the night.

Frederick Taylor, who in 1909 wrote a book called the Scientific Method of Management and pioneered time-and-motion studies, spent his career perfecting the hierarchical model of the workplace.  He said:

“Hardly a competent worker can be found who does not devote a considerable amount of time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace.  Under our system, a worker is told just what he is to do and how he is to do it.  Any improvement he makes upon the orders given to him is fatal to his success.”

Don’t get too excited. You are not off the hook. The other side of the equation is that:

Individual behaviors can change the collective culture.

In fact, the only thing that can change the collective culture is when individuals take responsibility and start changing the dialogue, rhetoric, beliefs, and mindsets of their colleagues around them.

They change “We can’t” to “Yes we can!” They encourage people to move from “It will never work” to “Let’s try!” And they take action to turn “Nothing will change” to “Let’s start changing things together!

Declarations and commitments turn into new actions and behaviors. New actions and behaviors reinforce the new collective culture you are creating.

Margaret Mead (Scientists, author) said it well: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has

Individuals really do make THE difference. YOU make THE difference. You just need to own up to that and not hide in the shadows.

You have a choice whether to be right or be wise. Not choosing is the worst form of choice. It’s choosing without taking responsibility.

Choose to make THE difference:

  1. Refuse to participate or engage in gossip, negative and backchannel conversations.
  2. Always have a positive outlook.
  3. Address issues openly, directly and completely and not let issues fester.
  4. Take responsibility for challenges and failures.
  5. Communicate and share information even when you feel vulnerable.
  6. Call people to the carpet when they are not doing what they said.
  7. Do what you say or let people know you won’t do it.

Making THE difference means doing the right thing, doing what you know works and always staying true to your principles, values and higher self.

It does not mean being perfect. If you take on making THE difference, you will make mistakes, screw up, stumble and fall. But, every time you falter don’t dwell in self-pity, blame or guilt. Quickly return to your commitment and become stronger for it.

Taking on the role of making THE difference, definitely requires courage.

However, if that choice is an expression of who you are it will greatly empower and energize you. Try and see.

Stay real and don’t be blinded by slogans and buzzwords…

The use of catchy slogans internally across organizations and even within individual functions is becoming ever more prevalent.  Slogans like: “Winning Together”, “New ideas. Better HR”, “We deliver results” and the like, are slogans we will all recognize.

Similarly, buzzwords like “Empowerment”, “Accountability” and “Collaboration” also get liberally used, often without substance.

Slogans and buzzwords in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, most of these represent healthy characteristics and direction. I understand the reasoning behind them. Everyone is overworked and under-resourced so leaders who want to energize, motivate and inspire their people are constantly looking for the latest fads; new messages, slogans and ways to infuse renewed energy and hope to the troops. That is a commendable endeavor.

However, the problem begins when slogans and buzzwords limit leaders’ ability to see straight, face reality and own the issues and gaps they have around them.

I was working with a finance division of a global technology company. Team members were very good at what they did but the different departments within the larger division worked as fragmented silos with little collaboration, communication and sharing. It was actually worse, there was internal competition between departments which often caused major issues in the overall ability of the department to provide excellent support to its clients.

The head of the division decided to put an end to the dysfunctionality and turn his division into a cohesive team. He took his managers to an offsite session where he laid down the new law. All managers, some reluctantly, committed to the change. To commemorate their watershed meeting the managers decided to brand their effort and its purpose: “We are One Finance”.

At first, people made an effort to better behave consistently with the new slogan. However, after a while, things started to slip and deteriorate again. No one really paid attention to the deterioration because everyone was still captivated by, and referencing the team slogan “We are One Finance”. The dissonance between the slogan and reality got wider. It took a long time for the team to confront their reality of things being bad again.

Take another example in a different organization. I was sitting in a meeting in which the team members were reviewing their strategic initiatives. They had ten initiatives, which they clustered into three groups. Each initiative had a junior manager leading them, and each cluster had a senior manager leading them.

While creating the clusters made sense from an efficiency standpoint, as there were fewer clusters than initiatives, and while the senior managers kept stressing that this model enabled “Strategic Alignment”, “Business Collaboration” and “Scale” between initiatives, many of the junior managers running the initiatives didn’t buy it. They were frustrated because they felt that this structure added no value to the initiatives themselves, only to the status of the senior managers running them.

At some point in the meeting there was a heated exchange between one of the cluster leads and one of the initiative leads, in which the initiative leader again challenged the value of the cluster model. The cluster lead insisted that there was significant strategic and business value to the model because, as he claimed the initiative leads under him were strategizing and collaborating among themselves.

I looked around the room and the body language was deafening. People were rolling their eyes, whispering to each, texting other and passing notes.


Because everyone in the room knew that what the junior manager was claiming was in fact true – there was no strategic alignment, business collaboration or scale taking place between the initiatives. Each initiative lead ran his or her own initiative in isolation and the only time there was any exchange between them was when they had to give the senior cluster manager their PowerPoint slide for his quarterly reviews.

This is a common example of leaders being so consumed with their own slogans and buzzwords that they can’t see the reality around them.

The slogans and buzzwords are not the problem, it’s how leaders relate to them.

So, don’t be hypnotized by any slogan or buzzword, no matter how powerful or relevant they may be. Keep your eyes and mind open and stay real! Otherwise, you will stop seeing objectively what is working and what is not around you. You will check your mental box and believe that everything is going well regardless of the facts.

Don’t swing to the other side either and be one of these people who is always cynical and sarcastic about any slogan or buzzword. That attitude produces a negative environment too.

And, if you happen to fall into oblivion, don’t get defensive or passive-aggressive if people around you try to wake you up. If you do, you could have a worse situation on your hands – an issue with no one feeling safe enough to address it. We all know how that story ends.

Be careful of the two-headed monster!

Accountability is one of these corporate concepts that could make a great difference in almost every aspect of any company’s culture, performance and business results. Unfortunately, in most organizations and teams ‘accountability’ is simply not practiced or effectively promoted and nurtured.

In fact, in most organizations, there seems to be awkwardness when dealing with accountability.

In some organizations accountability is not a big topic. People don’t bring it up and they don’t even expect it. This is simply because they don’t know how to approach it or bring it about.

However, in most modern organizations people do bring up the topic of accountability on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the fact that the concept is being talked about doesn’t mean it is present as a behavior. In fact, in most organizations accountability lives as talk and no action.

People talk about accountability mainly when they want to criticise, complain, blame others or just blow steam when they are frustrated about the fact that things are not moving or changing fast or effective enough, and when they feel that no one is doing anything about it.

Contrary to what leaders often say, they seem to be ok with the lack of clarity and enforcement of accountability. But, at the same time, they also seem to feel personally attached to and identified with their titles and what they are allegedly accountable for.

Because of that, calling people to the carpet and holding people to account, especially when they didn’t do what they promised, is often not an easy or comfortable conversation to have. In fact, even assigning accountability or enrolling people to take it in the first place requires a level of commitment to high performance, clarity, and courage that to be honest even senior leaders often don’t have.

Sometimes when organizations don’t want to confront the topic of who should be accountable for specific activities they come up with a compromise of assigning two leaders to be accountable for the same team, project or task. In most organizations, this model of accountability is typically referred to as ‘two-in-a-box‘.

In most cases, the ‘two-in-a-box accountability’ model is a sellout; the wrong answer for the wrong reasons. More importantly, it doesn’t work!

I was working with the marketing function of a large global technology company. When it came to managing and storing their own data, as well as their customer’s collateral, they had a fragmented model in place, where multiple teams were responsible for managing different parts of the information. Needless to say, this was not efficient, people were confused both internally and externally about roles and responsibilities, and these dynamics caused tensions between team members.

The leader of the organization decided to make a change, so he gathered his senior leadership to discuss who should be accountable for this area. To be fair, managing and sorting this volume of information and data is a complex and challenging task so the discussion wasn’t an easy one and it took time. However, the fact that different leaders had personal agendas about how this should go, only made things more difficult.

The team didn’t reach a conclusion and the senior leader, who didn’t want to dictate a resolution, instead created a two-in-a-box model by assigning the accountability to the two leaders whose jobs were closest this field. These were also the two leaders who competed for the role.

Things only deteriorated from there. Instead of trying to work together the two-in-a-box leaders continued to work in silos without much sharing and collaboration. As a result, the lack of clarity about roles and responsibility only deepened, team members and customers didn’t know who to go to for different information and solutions, resentments grew, and productivity plunged.

Trust me, this is not a one-off scenario.

No matter what rationale senior leaders come up with to explain and justify their compromise, when you strip it down, the reason is typically avoiding the tough conversations and tough decisions, which may upset one leader when you give him/her the accountability and/or upset another leader when you take away his/her accountability.

After all, if there is 100% clarity and transparency, and everyone knows that you are or are not accountable for a certain area, this could have implications on your perceived status and importance in the organization.

So, contrary to what they often publically declare, leaders opt for generalization and vagueness rather than clarity and transparency.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this lack of clarity are dear, including politics, stagnation, and erosion of trust and confidence in senior leadership.

Do you think that if leaders truly confronted and owned the consequences of their lack of decisiveness and clarity they would change their ways?

Are you leading with power or force?

In my work with organizations, I meet many effective managers and executives who have a wide variety of leadership styles and personalities. 

Some drive progress in a proactive way and others are more reactive. Some make things happen directly, while others talk a good game but only play it through others. Some are self-centered and selfish in their pursuit of results, while others are generous and kind. Some promote politics and fear around them when they get things done, while others get results by inspiring and motivating others to do their best.

When it comes to driving results and making things happen there is a difference between leaders who lead with force and those who lead with power.

Take for example the following three leaders (real stories, fictional names):

  • George was a very tough and rough (prickly) leader. However, he was a very effective one too. He drove his team hard, but because he himself worked even harder, and also because he sincerely cared about his people, he had a very strong level of loyalty and trust in his organization. However, when it came to interacting with other groups the picture was not as pretty. He cared about the company, not just his own area, but when it came to navigating through internal corporate politics, he lacked patience and finesse, therefore he had a tendency to behave like a bull in a china shop. He was abrupt and often instructed his people to do things that affected their colleagues, without coordination or communication. There was no middle ground with George, people either loved him or hated him, but, everyone feared him.
  • Diane was one of the most senior female leader in her organization, which made things more challenging for her. Even though her role required a close interaction with the CEO, and she probably had his ear more than some of her peers, she always felt a bit of an outsider in the senior management team. She was effective in achieving results. However, perhaps because she felt disrespected or inferior she had a tendency to wave her title around and assert her authority whenever she needed to get things done. Needless to say, this rubbed people the wrong way, which only hurt her respect in the wider organization. Her own team members felt embarrassed by and frustrated by her behavior and reputation. But, because they didn’t trust her enough they didn’t feel comfortable telling her how they felt.
  • In contrast with George and Diane, everyone respected and trusted Michael in his company. This was a good thing as he had a cross-functional role that affected everyone. Even though he had a higher rank in his company then George and Diane did in theirs, he didn’t seem to care much about status. He did care, however about driving collaboration and results. In fact, he was passionate and adamant about it, and everyone knew it. He wasn’t afraid to compel, even demand of people to communicate and collaborate for the good of the whole. While he frequently pushed people way beyond their comfort level, no one seemed to take it personally or be threatened by him. In fact, even people who didn’t report to him listened to him and allowed him to informally guide and coach their views and behaviors. In many cases, he made a bigger difference in motivating and inspiring employees and managers than their direct bosses.

As a leader, you can be effective and get the job done in many different styles and approaches. However, there are different consequences to different styles.

Leaders who use force or authority may achieve the results they want. In fact, they may even get things done quicker than those who don’t. However, they often leave behind them a wake of corporate casualties, including colleagues who feel upset, left out, used, taken advantage of, disrespected and/or demeaned.

Leaders who use force or authority also tend to have a negative reputation in the organization. They typically say all the right corporate slogans, however, people don’t see them as authentic. In fact, they tend to be viewed as political, agenda driven and self-serving. People avoid partnering with them, and because team members usually fear them, there tends to be a lot of gossip about them but not a lot of open, honest and direct communication and feedback with them.

In contrast, leaders who use power inspire trust, loyalty, and collaboration. They may go slower and take more time to achieve the results. However, they do so in order to include and align all the key stakeholders, and at the end of the day not only did they achieve the outcomes, but they have built a strong and authentic coalition of committed team members who fully own the future.

Leaders who use power don’t care about organizational borders and silos. They also don’t care about status. They truly wear two equal hats every day – the responsibility for their own organization, as well as the greater good of the whole. And, they are not afraid to hold their colleagues to account, communicate openly and honestly and volunteer for greater corporate assignments beyond their day job. Their personal commitment, example, and courage inspire others throughout the organization to do the same.

What type of a leader are you?



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.

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.

Is your team evolving by default or are you shaping it by design?

I was coaching the senior members of a new leadership team of a mid-size technology company on developing themselves a strong leadership team. We were in a collective discussion about “What is your role as a leadership team?” and people were expressing their views. At some point in the conversation, I shared some of my own thoughts and recommendations about what the role of a strong leadership team could be.

I included things like:

Ensure that the strategic commitments and objectives of your organization are alive and meeting their results

Ensure that your people are in great shape from a professional, productivity, development and motivation standpoint” and

Ensure that you, yourselves are operating and being viewed as a highly effective leadership team.”

One of the team members responded by saying: “But, aren’t all of these role definitions basic expectations of any leadership team, so these go without saying?

He was right. There are some fundamental commitments and accountabilities that any leadership team should naturally be in charge of.

The problem, however, is that in so many cases – perhaps in most cases – there is a significant gap between expectations and ‘shoulds’, and the reality. Simply said, most leadership teams don’t adhere to these basic expectations.

For example:
In so many organizations when the strategic objectives are being paid lip service to, behind expectations or not met, the leadership members avoid calling it out or they simply engage in blame and excuse conversations as much as anyone else.

So many times when the organization goes through significant changes, like restructuring or downsizing and people are startled and traumatized by these events, the leadership team members are too busy looking out for themselves and the people that are close to them, rather than ensuring that all their people are in great shape.

And, in many organizations, the leadership team is not considered a ‘highly effective leadership team’, in fact in most places, people point to the leadership team as the team with most dysfunctionality.

So much for expectations!

Why is this the case?

Because most leadership teams evolve by default.

Most leaders approach evolving their team, consistent with what the management books say. They bring their team members together once or twice a year to engage in a ‘team building exercise’.  As many of these exercises are really good, the leaders leave them feeling energized.

However, the fierce reality and circumstances set in very quickly and in most cases the team building event at best remains as a remote memory in the rearview mirror.

Most leaders relate to building their team as an event rather than a process that requires as much ongoing focus, commitment, priority and investment of time, energy and funds, as any other mission-critical business process. Most leaders bring their people together frequently to react to tactical challenges. However, they relate to spending strategic and development time with their team as a ‘nice to have’ and ‘luxury’ to undertake if and when time, resources and circumstances are favorable. But, not as a necessity for maintaining and growing the entire competitive culture, performance and forward view of their organization.

If you want to build a powerful team you can’t bet your success on expectations and hope. You have to shape and build your team by design.

This means team members need to come together and agree on the exact type of team they want to be. There isn’t such a thing as “it goes without saying”. They have to articulate their role explicitly. Furthermore, their role must reflect the reality they are committing to deliver and cause. And, yes, they need to promise it.

Articulating your role as a leadership team through the language of “Ensuring” is very powerful. As a team, simply ask yourself “What future are we promising to ensure together?”, it orientates you around results not activities and it shapes a relationship of ownership with these results.

If you are promising to ensure a set of outcomes, that means:

  • You are accountable for these outcomes
  • You give up the right to have excuses, and
  • You are all in this together to bring about the outcomes you promised.

When it comes to powerful teams, you can’t beat that!