Your One and Only True Business Offering as a Leader

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

A friend of mine owns a business providing a vital service. Without it, his customers would not only lose money, they would likely die. 

His business? Water. 

Specifically, anything and everything associated with drawing water out of the ground and distributing it to those in need. Someone else drills the hole; he does the rest. Among a multitude of charlatans and hacks, he is the genuine article, a fact his customers know well. 

His business is not my focus here. Rather, my focus is on his employees, many of whom provide manual labor with some degree of technical skill. Leadership skills are not necessary for fulfilling their roles; he directs what needs to be done, and they do it.  

Regardless, each year my friend takes his employees to a three-day leadership conference. He gives them paid time-off for the event, all while covering their expenses. Although this yearly conference is stuffed with innovative ideas regarding leadership, few, if any, of these ideas are directly applicable to his employee’s roles in his business. 

Why does he do this? 

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Changing Your Organizational Culture? Find a Catalyst.

Transforming an organizational culture is not like a pre-packaged meal, cooked in the microwave and served to your followers. Many consultancy-driven initiatives approach culture in this way. Many fail.

Instead, it is a handcrafted recipe, deliberately prepared utilizing the unique flavors already present in the organization, marinated before cooking slowly over a low heat. 

Not only does this require following Drucker’s advice and working with what you have, it also requires patience and courage in addition to people-centered leadership. 

It also requires a key ingredient to begin the marination: a catalyst. 

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The Two Prerequisites for Transforming a Culture

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

Peter Drucker once said that “company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” 

And what have we got? The research studies tell us the same thing every year: people love what they do, but hate where they do it (eighty-six and sixty-six percent respectively, last I heard). If employers could listen in on their employees around the water cooler or during happy hour, they wouldn’t need statistics. 

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Three Principles for all Successful Relationships

Estimated read time: 12 minutes

Better culture needs better communication. 

Everyone agrees with this, but not everyone understands the factors involved with better communication. It’s not just about skills; it’s also about the character of those communicating, specifically how they view each other. If I hate you, your communication skills are not going to matter very much.

I consistently teach and model three principles, no matter where I am or who I am with, principles that I have found to be consistently true no matter where I am. These principles work wonders for improving organizational culture. When internalized by a group of people, conflict disappears. In its place arises constructive communication, better work relationships and, most importantly, teamwork.

These principles exist in every healthy culture, just as they exist in every healthy relationship. I come back to these principles time and again throughout my writing. Here I summarize them.

So, without further ado… 

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A Foolproof Approach to Handling People

Reading time: 5 minutes

You don’t need to be an expert in communication strategies to know when someone is listening to you.

Think back to the last conversation you had with someone who loves you. It was a pleasant conversation, wasn’t it? They asked questions to clarify what you were saying. They summarized you after you were finished (“so, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying…”) They validated your opinions and feelings, whether they agreed or not. If they did disagree, they didn’t allow the disagreement to get in the way of the relationship. 

And you likely returned the favor. You do love each other, after all. Truth is, almost everyone knows and practices good communication skills. 

So why do so many feel they are not being heard? 

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Why you need an MSW (and why you don’t)

(Estimated reading time: 22 minutes)

It starts with one factor which may have prevented you from reading this today.

How many emails did you get today? How many texts? Maybe you haven’t noticed the exponential increase anymore; you’re too busy trying to keep up. If you told an earlier version of yourself just how many emails and texts you would handle each day, your younger self would likely be scared. If not, telling s/he about the prevalence of social media in your life might do the trick. Isn’t it funny how some things intended to make our lives easier have instead made it more complicated? 

This may not apply to you. Some of us have a knack for juggling asynchronous communication (the younger the better, it seems). But I’m sure I could find something else, because digital communication is just one example of what we are all struggling with: change

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Whose Garden are you Growing?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those previous employers who once treated me poorly. 

I’m not being facetious. I am truly grateful to them for providing environments in which I grew in patience, resilience, empathy and understanding, all while learning from both their and my mistakes. It took me a while to recognize that they were growing me for the benefit of others they would never know. Truly, I wouldn’t be who I am today without these people.  

Truth is, every employer is growing a garden. The only question is whose garden are you growing?

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How to handle a disgruntled employee (and why you should welcome the chance)

In too many places, I have seen the same pattern bear out. 

An employee lodges a complaint with leadership. Leadership thanks the employee for bringing the issue to their attention, which is the polite response. Underneath the polite response, the reaction is anything but polite. The reaction? Resentment. 

The reason is simple: nobody likes criticism. Think of the last time someone was critical of you. Even if they were right, it still hurt. Even healthy criticism can leave a bruise on our ego, make us question our competence, and/or present a (new) problem we would rather not focus upon, much less know. Resentment is our knee-jerk response to such feedback. 

Instead of acknowledging and addressing this reaction at the moment it happens, many managers allow their resentment to grow like yeast, even while denying its existence. This resentment unconsciously poisons the relationship, seen through rising criticism, questioning decisions and standards that were once acceptable, and putting the employee’s performance under a microscope. The intensity of negative attention eventually becomes unbearable, and another valuable employee is lost.  

Why are they valuable? Because an employee with the courage to speak up is the kind of employee you want.

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Why your employees don’t care about you or their job

(Estimated reading time: 3 minutes)

I liked the guy, but I could tell the feeling was not mutual.

He was my boss and we were on good terms. We saw each other mostly in passing, often greeting each other with witty banter. Occasionally we would strike up a conversation centered on random interests: sports, movies, music or past work experiences. On the surface an observer might have believed we were friends.

We weren’t and I knew it. How? He never asked me any questions about my personal life.

Everyone knows when someone is interested in them or not because they ask questions, whether about themselves, their passions, their interests, and so on. The questions are not forced or perfunctory, but represent a genuine interest and passion in knowing the person beyond their name tag or resume. When you don’t ask these questions about someone else, it sends a clear signal: I don’t care about you.

Why don’t your employees care about you or their job? It may be as simple as a failure to ask the right questions.

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Snapping Pictures for Quality Assurance

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The pictures you acquire from an ethnographic study of cultures are worth more than a thousand words. Sometimes, they’re worth millions of dollars too. 

Years ago, I was a quality-control project manager, tasked with identifying hardware and software errors for a prominent cell-phone manufacturer. The phones in this project were a cheap alternative to the flip-phones that were popular before the smartphone (iPhone would soon appear on the horizon). 

One day, a quality-control tester on my team noticed a peculiar error: the phones did not always receive multimedia messages, especially if those messages contained a picture. Although there were more pressing tests to be run, I instructed the engineer to put aside these other tests and work towards isolating the problem. When he presented the results, I felt ill. 

I immediately contacted my liaison at the parent company, informing her that we identified a catastrophic error. The liaison, who had already come to trust my insights and instincts, gave me the benefit of the doubt concerning “catastrophic” and met with me that afternoon. After I carefully laid out the threat, she also felt ill. We immediately set up a meeting with two senior developers, both of whom were much more skeptical. After a couple of hours, they had the same illness.

What was this catastrophic error? 

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How to Lose a Customer with a Single Word

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

I once had a gig-job delivering pizzas (who doesn’t nowadays?) I’m not going to name the franchise, but I would say I enjoyed working for them – the values of quality and service matched who I am. 

Yet, there was a word we were supposed to use whenever we made a delivery, a word that was blatantly manipulative. That word was “only.” Pull up to the customer’s residence, bring the order to the door, knock, introduce yourself, summarize the order for quality control, and then punctuate the summary with “Your total comes to only,” followed by the amount. 

In an era when everyone says “saved”, the use of the word replaced what had become cliche (even though “save” is still strangely effective with many people). This was precisely the rationale given in the training material: the driver was subconsciously suggesting a lower than expected cost for higher than expected quality. 

Yet, stress-testing this word revealed unintended consequences. 

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