Pinpointing the Leadership Blind Spot

Dear Reader,

What’s your leadership blind spot? Everyone has one, except the leaders who have specifically found it and compensated for it. Those are the leaders with the key support people whose gifts and abilities complement their strong suits.

Why does this matter? It’s the yin and the yang of it all, wholeness, balance. If you’re really good at what you naturally do, you could be way more effective if you complemented your natural strengths with the opposite attributes. Constant drive needs down time to not burn out, aka rhythm. Big ideas need attention to detail, right to the very end to come to fruition to be billable. Attention to detail needs awareness of the big picture to discern focus and allocation of resources to be most profitable. Conformity and group think need creativity and a unique selling proposition to stand out in the crowd. Unique and special require the stability of structure and company culture to ensure longevity. The list goes on.

How do you see what you are blind too? Carefully and deliberately.

Big Picture: What do all of the people who left the organization in the last two years have in common? If you, or your HR director, were to go back through their personnel files and list the attributes that best describe their character and style, where are there consistencies? In very large companies look at the people who left by department or by tier to calculate a missing link.

Close Up & Personal: Most companies do reviews top down. Reversing that would take an enormous amount of trust and humility for subordinates to feel they could be really honest without fear of losing their job or other backlash. Do not go near that without legal counsel or professional human resources support. However, if that’s the case, you most definitely have a blind spot. One that could be costing you serious limits to profit, growth or even staying in business.

Recruiting feedback from three to five or your best customers and vendors keeps the lines of communication open. You also gain insights into their immediate needs without setting off bells and whistles for your people. Let them know you value their opinion and hope to use their feedback to improve customer satisfaction and grow your customer base. Ask directly what do they like best about working with you and if there was one place you could improve or alter, what would that be. People in general love to be helpful, seen as knowledgeable and have their opinions valued.

Ideally this is set up over the phone as a thank you / quality improvement lunch. Ask them then what you’re looking for and if they could jot down their thoughts beforehand. Talk about them over lunch for further detail and clarification. If you don’t take notes during lunch (recommended), write everything down before you pull away after. You are talking about their business; they won’t mind your writing things down. Follow up with an email if you feel it warrants but paying for lunch should be plenty.

Word of Caution

Take nothing personal. You’ve asked for their opinion and that’s what you got. Asking in person gives you the chance to gage their mood and have the benefit of voice and body language to assess tone but it can put some people in an uncomfortable position. Sending a well written email can get to the point but may not be taken as seriously. Catching them on a bad day can invoke a tone that’s not really for you.

Be careful who you ask. Some people are more blunt, more critical or negative than others. Not everyone is good at feedback, especially written (if you’re asking by email). These are people you are already in relationship with, choose deliberately.

You have to go into this curious and interested in building your relationships and your own professional development. If you’re just fishing for complements and hoping for them to not have any room for improvement feedback, don’t even ask. At best you’ll get your feelings hurt, worst lose a client, customer or friend.

When All Is Said & Done

Leadership is still about inspiring those who follow you. Do your attitudes, behavior and company culture move them to do their best because they’re excited about the work you are all doing or are they just showing up? If it is really one or two individuals that are the problem, how can you help motivate them? If there is a pattern or general frustration of a department or companywide issue, it’s often systemic. With systemic issues the problem starts at a higher level within the organization but becomes visible further down.


The Watering Hole in Your Workplace

Dear Reader,

The watering hole has been a basis of human interaction and socialization since before the advent of civilization. Different pictures come to mind: kids swinging from ropes into natural pools, the favorite tavern to catch up with friends, exotic clay pots balanced on the heads of villagers, the spot in the office to catch up on weekend events or the perfect place to commiserate on how much work there is to do!

In its best form, the office water cooler is the place to stop for physical refreshment and social connectedness. We are social creatures and work is where many of us spend most of our waking hours. When friendships in the workplace develop we are able to care for and nurture each other in professionally appropriate ways. Connectedness builds loyalty, security and trust among co-workers and extends to customers. A place to check in and make lunch plans for deeper discussions later, the water cooler can be one of the most fundamental yet overlooked tools to your success (this post was not sponsored or endorsed by any cooler company).

At its worst, the water cooler is the place people spread gossip, bully or sabotage co-workers, the higher-ups and even customers. There was one water cooler I would pass on a regular basis that always made me think, “If they spent the time on their work rather than complaining about their workload they wouldn’t have to be staying late to finish it.” Just saying.

Stop. Before you go out to change the conversation I have a much better idea. Keep it as a measuring stick of the bigger picture, the overall health of your organization. You don’t have to hear what’s being said but pay attention to how long people hang out and their posture when they walk away. It’s even okay if they spend a little longer than you’d like if when they get back to their work they do so with enthusiasm they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Start some conversations of your own. As boss, manager, human resources director, shop steward, staff member, etc. you watch, and then you listen. Are there systems that need upgrading? Is a member of your organization being treated unfairly but feels they cannot come forward without losing their job or making matters worse? Are there some innovative ideas floating around that could be expanded upon to blow the competition out of the water?!

Just by connecting with your people you are showing they matter to you above the work they do. People pay that back in loyalty, hard work and they talk about it, or post about it. Just saying.

Practice Plan B

Dear Reader,

Just like the commercial says, “Life comes at you fast.” It never fails that all good intensions go right out the window when we are over extended, hungry, irritated or are feeling alone. We might have been eating well for weeks but blow it at a fast food drive through once the big project gets done, derailing for a few days. Then there’s getting hit with delay after delay and at the end of the day dumping the pent up frustration on the next person that walks through the door, “Honey, I’m home!” Or, how often do you end up taking a pile of files home because the day often gets away from you? Add your poison here: ______.

So what are the things that jam us up, said triggers?

  • No time to prioritize and make a plan for the day before the interruptions or chaos starts
  • Showing up to restaurants, the grocery store or your own kitchen ravenous and drained
  • Getting hit with family stuff before you’ve had a chance to shake off work at the end of the day
  • Repeatedly forgetting to – grab an umbrella, defrost dinner, turn on the garden hose, again – insert yours here: _______.

Step one is recognizing the point of frustration, that point you would do differently had you been in a better state of mind or if you could get a do over. Step two is to identify what that do over would be if you could, your Plan B – had the 10 minutes to prioritize, sat in the driveway for 5 minutes to collect yourself or take a walk around the block to clear your head, etc.

Step three is to simply practice Plan B while not under duress. Eat at a fast yet healthy restaurant or deli take out at the grocery store once a week for a couple of weeks, then just often enough to have it as a ‘go to’ stop. Pick a place between work and home to stop and stretch or take a short walk at the end of the work day (letting the family know you’ll be a little later than normal of course). Get a couple of small, cheap umbrellas to keep in the car, drawer at work, carry all bag, set reminder timers on your phone for the garden, defrosting the night before , . . .

For over twenty years I have had a spiritual practice that has been a combination of meditation and volunteer work for the big picture stuff, too. Both have adjusted with the changes in my life, ebbed and flowed, waned, intensified, deepened, and grown but always a constant over the long haul. One of the most important things I have learned along the way is that if you don’t have a spiritual practice when times are good, you will not have one to fall back on when life hits the fan. And if you live long enough, it most certainly will.

Leading Real People

Dear Reader,

Change is hard enough to through, it can be even more nerve wracking on those along for the ride with us: staff, spouse, close friends, kids.

Change in the workplace may be a new system, new co-worker or boss, technical upgrade or that much needed cultural shift. On the personal side big changes can take the form of a mid-life crisis, career change, divorce, illness or loss of a loved one.

It’s all about you, but it’s not just all about you.

You are the leader; it’s your neck on the line. You are the parent, you have everything under control, or not. Yes you are feeling better but it takes a long time to feel normal again after all of that.

The more irritating people behave, the more anxious they are – and vice versa (goes both ways too). If the impact on you is big, the people closest to you will also experience changes they most likely have even less control over.


The self awareness of recognizing when you’re feeling confident or stressed out is first and foremost. Recognizing the impact on them shifts everything. When you see they’re behavior as a response to the unknown – one, it’s not personal, two, addressing it unleashes much of the built up pressure.


We can all get caught up in the anxiety of things not going the way we’re used to, the way we know, what we’ve been comfortable with. Reassurance that we won’t be removed or replaced can mean everything to the person not in the control seat.

Real Responses

• “I don’t know what the outcome will be but we’ll get there together.”

• “You’re doing great, is there anything I can do to help you?”

• “Whoa, this must be really hard for you too. What’s going on?”

Reset or Redirect

Once each of you have had a chance to recognize the challenge at hand you can regroup and go forward appreciating that sometimes taking things too seriously is the result of really caring.

Friendly Reminder, Will You?

Dear Reader,

Here in the northeast Memorial Day weekend has marked the unofficial start to summer: vacations, summer hours, road trips, time spent in the great outdoors . . . So totally out of the blue I’m going to ask have you made or updated your will? This is kind of a rant, something I get a little adamant about – one you may want to forward to someone you know? Go ahead, show you care.

Major life events are often the catalyst for such things. We got ours when we were pregnant with our second son, our first was almost a year old and it just seemed like something we should do. So here we are, half way between Mother’s Day & Father’s Day – Are you up to date?

First Timers
Just make the appointment. If you don’t have an attorney, call a couple people and ask who they worked with, why and just pick one. Before Father’s Day call and set up a meeting. There they will go over some of the basics – what documents you will be needing, the questions you’ll want to mull over before any decisions are made, how any Plan B might work, poke a little into your circumstances to make sure all your bases are covered, etc. There are things they know you can’t expect Google to tell you.

Before you leave the first appointment, set up the next one. That’s where you’ll put together the draft having gone over the ins and outs, confirmed with friends or family members that they will fulfill the roles you all hope never come to pass, but could. The attorney will mail you a draft to proof read and set up the time to sign.

Are your own parents facing end of life decisions? There will never be a time when these concerns will be more relevant yet far enough off in your own lifetime to deal with as reasonably. Have your circumstances or that of one or more people in your most recent will changed in a way they couldn’t or you wouldn’t want them to fulfill the commitment? Have your own views on things changed over the years that no longer fit the original documentation?

Why Now?
If you don’t and something happens then the State makes the decisions. Can you trust them to do right by you, your family or your assets? Family members already in crisis will have to step in and take care of things. Do you really see that going well for you, your children, and your grieving relatives?

If for nothing else, this is one of those back burner nagging things that can really be a bummer if you never got around to it. Or if the loved one you forwarded this post to never got around to it. We have home owners insurance in the event our house might burn down. We have auto insurance in case we ever get into a car accident. Whatever those odds are for you, they are still lower than the 100% mortality rate.

So, if you’re looking for a good self-imposed deadline or a Father’s Day gift that will really matter yet most people won’t think of for that first time dad in your life – I give you June 21, 2015. The hardest part is setting up that first appointment, the rest just unfolds. I hope the relief you experience adds to the relaxation, sunshine and easy afternoons of summer for you this year.

Move a Muscle, Change a Thought

Dear Reader,

Have you ever found a really good self improvement book, video or blog that you just knew would change your life, only to come across it six months later wondering if you or the book were inherently flawed? Most of us start out with ideas of who we want to be, how we want to look or what kind of life we want for ourselves then try to make them happen. What if the flaw in the plan was only in the order?

When our thoughts or beliefs are in conflict with our actions, we change our minds. Social psychologists call this cognitive dissonance theory(1). Rather than thought (I wish/want/should) to behavior (finished projects, eat well & exercise regularly, arrive on time) to feeling (happy, healthy, confident, content) to intentionally change our behavior, reverse the thought and action.

For example, suppose you have a tendency to arrive late to meetings at work or gatherings with friends out and about. You see yourself as a respectful, professional person but you’re late often and you feel really bad. One could blame traffic or the call you took just before you left the office but there were still choices there and frankly, it happens more then not.

The action would be to leave 5, 10, 15 minutes earlier than normal, whenever matches your usual transgression. You won’t be there to answer the phone, you have wiggle room for traffic and hopefully time to park. Now there’s no rushing, no excuses, no hard feelings to backtrack on.

I came up against this hard after my kids were born. It wasn’t until I figured out that it took up to an extra 15 minutes to get two in diapers, with diaper bag, to the car and buckled in that I knew what action needed to change. Once I planned for the getting into the car in the travel time harmony was achieved.

1 David G. Myers Exploring Social Psychology, Sixth Edition. McGraw-Hill, NY. 2012 Page 105

The Container

Dear Reader,

Just the other day I had “The Container Conversation” with a client of mine. For people to be creative, responsible and loyal, they need to feel safe, respected and appreciated. Does The Container you provide best serve your aspirations?

Your people – who look up to you as leader, who depend on you to make good decisions, who support and run your business – are people first, business second.

The Container for Leadership

Spacious – your people are included in knowing what the long-term goals of the organization are and know how they contribute to those ends. They are encouraged to take risks as long as they are well calculated. They are rewarded for the attempts and for the successes. Time and credit are given to ideas and actions that support long-term company interests. You trust their judgment, respect their abilities, and appreciate their contribution.

Supportive – your people know their responsibilities and are aware of the limits. They can trust you to hold them accountable and hear out new ideas or concerns (really, not just because you think they do). You invest in their success and know them as individuals. Your actions and words harmoniously reflect that they are your people and are integral to the overall success of your organization. You are consistent, reliable, invested and are trusted to back them up.

Dynamic – Imagine the timeline of the hire dates of each person who joined your organization. Each one joined an inherently different company as shifts were taking place in the economy, the competition, even by the impact of the most recent hire. As each of the aforementioned has changed, each person becomes more masterful at their responsibilities, builds relationships from the perspective of that position and assimilates into the company culture.

Spot Check Your Container

Below are some helpful questions to ask yourself, but first, how do you know the answers?

Do your people brag about where they work?
Does your company culture truly support innovation?
Is everyone treated with respect from above and below?
Is it safe to bring up even difficult concerns? What about for those whom it does not come easily for?
In what different ways do you show your appreciation to individuals or departments?
Are you approachable?
Is everyone’s future seen as an investment?

If your turnover is very low and your people love Mondays then your container is most likely in great shape. Congratulations.

For the back story on this, go back one blog post to The Container Back-Story.