Sunday, 25th February 2018

US Government: A in Politics, F in Leadership

Posted on 02. Oct, 2013 by in Blogs


As we enter day two of the first government shutdown in 18 years, I can’t help but think we need to fire most of the members of Congress. I’m not saying that the President doesn’t also play a role, but term limits mean that his influence will wane in the relative short-term. A root problem underlying the shutdown: Black and white thinking.

I’m right. You’re wrong.

The type of “stalemate thinking” and political posturing we’re seeing now brings families, organizations, and yes, governments to their knees. According to CNN, we can attribute the shutdown to a dislike—or is that disdain— for Obamacare. This particular law does not have a line item on the Federal budget, so really, it has no purpose in today’s debate about how to fund basic operations.

I ask you. Is this political posturing worth the hardship the government has forced upon 800,000 workers… and frankly all U.S. citizens? It’s not just the economic impact of these families losing paychecks for an undetermined length of time and wondering how they’ll pay the rent and put food on the table. The shutdown impacts every single taxpayer through:

  • The trickle down effect
  • General economic uncertainty
  • A burden caused by the added expenses associated with startup and shutdown

We have no way to predict the actual cost of this self-imposed crisis. Eighteen years ago, direct costs topped $2 billion in today’s dollars as people were reimbursed for their furloughs, uncollected fines, and taxes.

If I remember correctly, President Obama’s platform was one of change. I’ll say. Congressmen and women have become so entrenched in their personal stances they’d rather punish the American people than do their jobs. Meanwhile, the rest of the world laughs at our “superpower” status.

IMHO, it’s time to tighten up the requirements for becoming an elected official. Leadership, compassion, and open-mindedness are qualities required to effectively run any organization well. Why don’t we apply the same standard to the country’s leaders? Oh, and BTW, you don’t deserve your paychecks during the 2013 government shutdown. Not while others might be going hungry during a false crisis that you created.


You Can’t Fire Family

Posted on 03. Jul, 2013 by in Blogs

You Can’t Fire Family

Well, actually, you can. The problem is that when family causes workplace dysfunction, most people in management positions either don’t recognize the dysfunction comes from nepotism or can’t find it in themselves to take action.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes family members (or good friends for that matter) are the best people for the job. In those instances, open communication, a collaborative environment, and respect for the chain of command if you disagree about issues guide relationships.

If a family member or BFF turns out to be the right person for the job, then avoiding a double standard is the the only way to prevent the formation of a toxic work environment. Employees resent a company when things smack of unfairness… like when ‘pets’ get extra time off, a lighter workload, a higher pay rate, or aren’t held accountable to the same degree as everyone else. Guaranteed that if employees perceive double standards in the workplace, a toxic work environment will quickly permeate the organization and bad attitude will embed itself in the culture. Performance will nosedive and not return until you address nepotism-related issues appropriately.

If you’re reading this and thinking, yeah, this fits our company, then you might want to check out Does Someone Have to Go? Fox has aired six episodes of this new, unscripted reality show that puts employees in charge of identifying and determining the fate of the three biggest problem employees within a 48-hour period.

Frankly, upon watching the pilot I was mortified that companies had begun to make decisions about employee’s livelihood in this manner. After streaming the first five episodes, I’m still opposed to dealing with people in this manner. In addition to underscoring a severe lack of leadership, it puts the entire staff through a couple days of hellish turmoil. And takes dignity completely off the table for poor performers.

Despite my objections to the approach, it’s interesting to watch the interpersonal dynamics across all aspects of the organization. The employees consistently make sound decisions. In the end, it appears as if the act of going through the process forges strong, healthy relationships for those employees that remain. And no, not everyone gets fired…

I’m still opposed to this method because every employee has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Moreover, there’s no reason to allow or perpetuate toxic work environments. Unfortunately, a lot of companies (large and small) have more dysfunction than they should tolerate. So, if I have piqued your interest about how to transform your culture through tough love, then take a peek at the show and share your thoughts below. Thumbs up or thumbs down?

The Truth about Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation

Posted on 11. Jun, 2013 by in Blogs

Red  River Valley

Image of the Red River Valley Flatland

The will to do things outside of our comfort zone can happen in all aspects of our lives. As noted recently, a few friends and I have recently begun using the Jawbone UP as a means to transition into healthier lifestyles. The social networking aspect has made a huge difference in level of commitment to diet and exercise.

Along a related line, a number of us have begun to run and use the Couch-to-5K app to ease into this new form of exercise. In a way, these systems provide examples of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We participate because we each want to be healthier. We stick to it because of peer pressure and accountability, at least in part.

This week I’m visiting family on the prairie and am committed to keep the personal exercise program going. In the process, I’ve learned a bit more about motivation. At home, I prefer to run inside. My treadmill has four benefits you don’t get from running outside:

  1. A fan
  2. A flat surface
  3. Speakers (The Couch-to-5K program keeps me chugging along at a good pace)
  4. Two cup holders

People constantly tell me that running outside is less boring than logging time on the treadmill. Given my experience this morning, I would say they are correct. I got up and headed out (kind of) early. Running in the Red River Valley is almost as good as running on the treadmill. Here’s why:

  1. The wind never ceases so the “fan” runs all day and night
  2. Flat surface—check
  3. The iPhone with earbuds works just fine when you’re out on the road

Unfortunately, there was a major fail with respect to the cup holders. Talk about dying of thirst while on the road! To balance that, running on the prairie brings a BIG, unexpected bonus! When you get tired, a bit of extrinsic motivation comes along. When my pace slowed, the cloud of mosquitoes following me caught up and started drawing blood. Guess who picked up the pace? And kept it up. I logged 4 miles today in record time. And then bought mosquito repellent so I can run at a comfortable pace tomorrow.

Leaders who understand (and care about) the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation tend to build exceptional teams because they take the time to figure out how to engage their workforces in a positive way. If you find yourself constantly hovering over employees or preparing to draw blood, you’re “leading” in the wrong mode. You can be sure your staff will find management-repellant to use against you.

The Coach-Approach Model for Leaders

Posted on 19. Dec, 2012 by in Blogs


When someone comes to your door with a problem, what do you typically do? Hear them out or interrupt with an ‘obvious’ solution? Managers tend to slip into fix-it mode, resulting in problems that linger because root-cause issues go undiagnosed and therefore, unresolved.

Dr. Steve Gladis has developed the Coach-Approach Model for Leaders, a problem-solving methodology that enables managers break the fix-it habit. Following this model helps the people who work with these leaders gain confidence and the ability to excel by discovering their own solutions. Coaching naturally occurs as you lead a discussion through the following four-stage process:

  1. Issue – identify what’s really going on
  2. Impact – of the present situation
  3. Ideal – describe what the perfect outcome looks like
  4. Intention – set a course of action (with commitments)

When someone steps through the boss’ door with an issue, they typically ID the symptoms as the problem. Using the Coach-Approach helps the manager probe deeper until the employee recognizes the real issue. Ask “who” “what” or “how” questions during phase one. Open ended questions such as, “Can you give me an example?” or “What do you mean by that?” are also fair game. However, asking “Why?” is off limits because it puts others on the defensive and transitions the coach into judgement mode.

During the Impact phase, Dr. Gladis recommends asking, “Where would you put this on a scale of 1-10?” The metric will give insight into how much pain the other person feels if the problem goes unresolved.

Actual problem solving occurs in phase three when the person you’re coaching can begin to imagine the Ideal state. It may take some prompting, such as “Imagine if…” or “If you could wave a magic wand, what would it look like?” If the other person gets stuck, you can ask if they’d like help brainstorming some ideas. The point here is to ask permission before making a suggestion. Each time.

An action plan unfolds during the model’s final stage. To help break the plan down into something that feels doable, ask, “What are the one or two things you could do right away that would help?” You can gain commitment and establish accountability by asking, “How will I know when you’ve got it done?”

According to Dr. Gladis, the five biggest challenges new coaches face include:

  • Asking too many yes/no questions
  • Asking leading questions
  • Trying to give advice
  • Becoming impatient
  • Lacking trust that the other person will figure “it” out

Dr. Gladis (@SteveGladis) teaches leadership and communication courses through the Office of Continuing Professional Education at George Mason University. He is also founder of Steve Gladis Leadership Partners, a leadership development firm that helps executives and their teams achieve success and significance through executive coaching, leadership development, and motivational speaking.

If you want to learn more about the model described above, The Coach-Approach Leader: Questions, Not Answers, Make Great Leaders is available on

Lessons from the Teaching World

Posted on 16. Oct, 2012 by in Blogs

Lessons from the Teaching World

My mother and two of my children are teachers, and they are wary of the movement to assess teacher performance and to base pay and employment on the ratings that result.  Yet I work in the business world where such assessments and rewards are routine, and considered the only logical way to operate.  This dichotomy used to perplex me.

More recently I’ve come to understand that good teachers object not to being measured, but to poorly designed measurement systems.  So I was pleased to hear an expert predict that the over-reliance on standardized tests and other numeric measures will fade over time, and that in fact it is already being de-emphasized in some places.  In its place, principals are being allowed more discretion to rate teachers based on their own judgment and experience.

This is clearly the right answer, albeit an imperfect one.   Leadership is all about making judgments, including judgments about people, that are only partially backed by data, and often not a whole lot of data.  To those who object that such judgments can be political or unfair, the answer is that of course they can, but we live in the real world.  As Churchill said about American democracy, if meritocracy by subjective judgment is a flawed way to manage people, then, it is less flawed than all the other ways.

This also means, by extension, that supervisors will have to up their game in selecting principals.  But the stakes are high, and the effort is well worth it.  And it’s worth it in your business, too.

What Makes a Great Leader?

Posted on 02. Oct, 2012 by in Blogs


The stereotype we often have of great leadership is of the brilliant and glib charmer whom people can’t resist following. Those pied pipers do come along from time to time, but they’re rare, and even when they do show up they often flame out relatively quickly, with their followers disillusioned.

You don’t need to be supremely charismatic, or great with one-liners, to be a strong and valuable leader. What you do need is:

• Solid and compelling business logic behind what you’re trying to do

• Candor and honesty

• Open, frequent, unambiguous and consistent communication

• The willingness to be make difficult decisions and to be selective — about investments, and about people

• The resolve to stick to these principles in the face of myriad, never-ending opportunities to be de-railed

The good news is that many more people can achieve this list than can develop extraordinary charm or charisma. And you can train yourself to do it.

Go for it.

You Can Only Achieve Milestones by Jumping In And Doing

Posted on 11. Jul, 2012 by in Blogs


When I answered Hulya’s call for bloggers in April 2011, I had no idea where this journey would go. Monday marked the 200th post published under my byline on Modern DC Business. A very heartfelt thank you to our readers for sharing what has turned into an extraordinary adventure. And an enlightening experience. If you’re thinking about blogging, perhaps the following tips will help you take the plunge.

Blogging Is Always about Other People

You have to say something people care about. (Well, duh.) But, in the process of finding things to write about you meet a lot of cool people doing really interesting things. You wind up building a new network that:

  • Helps people learn about cool companies or ideas
  • Enables you to introduce people who run in completely different circles—and really need to meet
  • Establishes friendships with people (doing really cool things)

A number of companies use blogging as a primary vehicle for establishing a position of thought leadership. This strategy works, but only if you have a unique point of view. The search for new knowledge and thought leadership will force you out of your comfort zone, and is well worth the effort. And that’s what helps you keep readers’ attention.

Learn to Fly without A Safety Net

The day I decided to write about whatever happened to be in the news each day was frightening… and also one of the best decisions I’ve made. Scanning the news forces you to build a knowledge base, which turns into discovering connections and new ideas before other people. Writing about these connections keeps content fresh (and hopefully) thought provoking for readers.

The ability to build on others’ ideas or challenge conventional wisdom also sharpens critical thinking skills. The need to write every day hones writing skills. Both provide an opportunity for growth.

It takes courage to speak your mind in a public forum. I know a lot of intelligent people who have something important to say, yet let fear stand in their way of having a public voice. The fear doesn’t go away until you dive in and learn that you actually can swim. (The same goes for all forms of social media.)


If you don’t have something different to say, then it’s time to dig deeper. Saying the same thing as everyone else is a waste of your time and it won’t be long before readers find something else to do with theirs. Digging deeper takes more discipline than you might think. Yet, it’s the only way to develop a voice that stands out from the crowd.

Achievement happens when you actively pursue results. It takes time to gain traction and it may seem as if you’re talking into a vacuum at first. Have patience. Ask for feedback. Measure results. And don’t give up.

Stay focused. (Okay, that’s what other people will tell you.) As a blogger for Modern DC Business, I have the pleasure to write about a lot of different things. So, while other people would say lack of focus works against a writer, I say there’s nothing wrong with writing about a wide range of interests as long as you have a forum that supports that type of curiosity. Personally, I cannot wait to see how the next 200 posts on local events, business, education, leadership, government, funding, consumer apps, marketing and social media unfold.

Okay, I admit to wanting some of the focus referenced above. I have an insatiable passion for two things in the business world:

  1. Helping people build high performing companies from the ground up
  2. Transforming toxic environments into workplaces of excellence

This fascination with leadership and organizational behavior spurred me to launch a personal blog the end of May. Please take a moment to stop by and submit topics you’d like to see addressed in either forum.

Loyalty Builds Community

Posted on 25. May, 2012 by in Blogs


I was mortified to read that “many companies have grown to look at their employees as “short-term disposable assets” in yesterday’s CEO Briefing. If true, this statement says that corporate “leaders” have completely lost their way. We cannot hope to build and grow successful companies with an attitude that undermines the very nature of what establishes healthy organizations.

Trust, loyalty, and respect are bi-directional emotions that create a sense of belonging we all need. The strength of these feelings among people in the workplace impact the quality of work performed—especially when it comes to creating the customer experience. So, if you’ve gotten to thinking that being loyal no longer has a place in your leadership style, think again. Your people reflect the very qualities you demonstrate. Employee loyalty and customer loyalty lead to the same place.

How to Differentiate on Business Philosophy Alone

Posted on 15. May, 2012 by in Blogs


Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman’s Family of Businesses, unveiled the secrets required to build a $40 million enterprise with 600 employees—without any proprietary products or services at Friday’s DO GOOD SUMMIT. The company’s outstanding success hinges on a business philosophy that enables people to tap into and grow their talents in an honest, open, and supportive environment.

Zingerman’s offers a prime example of how powerful an authentic company can be. It starts with vision. In fact, Saginaw had the audience salivating as he described the vision he and his partner, Ari Weinzweig, created before opening Zingerman’s in 1982.

Imagine the finest artisan food products from around the world presented in a setting so friendly and accessible that customers would feel comfortable asking questions. Combine that with a busy, bustling sandwich shop and sandwiches filled with tasty condiments that would drip down your chin from the first bite and so large they’d take two hands to hold.

Add to that picture a company that would create meaningful work based on dignity, a sense of community, and democratic values. Everyone who would work at Zingerman’s would not only have a voice, they’d have the power to make decisions. The founders wanted to establish a workplace that decoupled decision-making from titles. They wanted every employee to feel personally responsible for the business’ success.

The vision worked. Zingerman’s became an exceptional workplace… the kind you read about in books like First, Break all the Rules and Primal Leadership. Mind you, Saginaw and Weinzweig did this long before published research demonstrated their approach would build a business that would outperform and outlast competitors.

When it comes to the competition, Saginaw says he doesn’t worry about it. Zingerman’s stays on path by adhering to what he calls the natural laws of business. Zingerman’s has successfully developed a strong identity by embedding a sense of purpose in everything it does. Vision, operating principles, systems that support those operating principles (including wholly open books), culture, and servant leadership produce extraordinary results.

Saginaw noted that operating principles set the standards by which all actions are recognized and rewarded. They guide decision-making to keep culture and systems aligned. By adhering to its principles, the company creates a level of trust generally unheard of in any industry. And this trust allows people to do extraordinary things. This is the magic that enables Saginaw to operate without worry for what competitors have up their sleeves.

Saginaw will also tell you that principles aren’t principles unless they cost you something. When someone is out of integrity you have do address the issue head on—even if that means you have to ask a partner to leave.

About 10 years into operations the founders noted that Zingerman’s had lost its specialness. A leadership team that had been brought on board to manage the company held more traditional business philosophies than the founders. A top down management style, title-based decision-making, and risk aversion had crept into the business.

Saginaw and Weinzweig recognized the root cause. Zingerman’s had strayed from its founding vision. They re-evaluated purpose and decided to grow the company in a way that stayed true to their original vision. Call it a cultural reboot.

Zingerman’s fosters growth by growing its people. Employees can extend the brand by opening new, food related businesses in the county as long as the new businesses bring quality improvements and align with established vision, culture, and operating principles. Today 18 different ventures comprise Zingerman’s Family of Businesses within a single county in Michigan.

That’s right. Zingerman’s Family of Businesses operate in a single county and function as a community within the larger community. This community-minded strategy has helped build a strong local economy. In fact, Zingerman’s current vision seeks to mirror demographics in the county with diversity in the workforce. Think Local First DC, sponsors of the DO GOOD SUMMIT, invited Saginaw to give the keynote as a way to inspire local businesses to adopt Zingerman’s model for building healthy, local communities.

At the end, Saginaw will tell you that that one of the most important lessons he has learned has to do with humanity. Whenever he has the choice between being right and being kind, he chooses to be kind.

“When you don’t care who gets the credit, you can achieve some extraordinary things,” claims Saginaw. Like deliberately building a thriving community. Adhering to the basics the way Zingerman’s has requires clarity, courage, and discipline. It’s nice to see how well contemporary leadership practices (put into place before the research backed them up) have worked. Now that’s truly visionary.

Genuine Leadership

Posted on 20. Mar, 2012 by in Blogs


“Sincerity is the key.  Once you learn to fake that, you’re golden.”

Such is the creed of many a salesman, and many a leader.

There’s just one problem with that approach:  It doesn’t work.  You spend too much time with your employees, your partners, your customers, and for that matter your friends to successfully fake sincerity for very long.  Sooner or later, they see you for who you really are, not for who you are pretending to be.

That’s not to say you can’t learn to be sincere.  I’ve observed leaders who learn the hard way to genuinely care as they mature, when the other approach either fails or leaves too bitter an aftertaste.  They’re motivated both by good intentions and the desire to succeed, because they learn that the two truly are mutually reinforcing over the long haul.  So if you suspect that your insincerity is well known (and it probably is), take heart:  You can actually become the leader you are pretending to be, if you’re willing to be introspective and are willing to change.

All leaders need to motivate the people around them.  In fact, if you want to achieve great success, you need to motivate them to do extraordinary things.  And all businesspeople, one way or the other, need to sell.  To do either successfully and consistently, you need to be genuine.  If instead you’re faking it, perhaps it’s time for some soul-searching, and some self-improvement.