35 episodes

Leaders aren't born, they're made. This is the audio journal of Dave Stachowiak, host of Coaching for Leaders, a top-ranked business podcast downloaded 10 million times. Each entry is less than five minutes and captures an insight or reflection for leaders. Activate your FREE membership to access full transcripts and discover the entire episode library at CoachingforLeaders.com.

Dave's Journal Innovate Learning

    • Careers

Leaders aren't born, they're made. This is the audio journal of Dave Stachowiak, host of Coaching for Leaders, a top-ranked business podcast downloaded 10 million times. Each entry is less than five minutes and captures an insight or reflection for leaders. Activate your FREE membership to access full transcripts and discover the entire episode library at CoachingforLeaders.com.

    Jumping In

    Jumping In

    A client told me recently that his manager was concerned about a behavior he’d observed in customer meetings:

    You’re not jumping in fast enough.

    My client agreed with the feedback. He even offered to me that he’s noticed the awkward silence in some meetings when people look to him, expecting his input.

    As we started discussing what he might do, I couldn’t help but emphasize with the situation. Early in my career, I noticed that same awkward silence in some meetings when people would turn to me.

    Like my client, it was an annoyance early in my career, but become a more apparent issue after a few promotions. At the management level, it’s important to be able to jump in. At the executive level, it’s essential.

    Sadly, the unstated assumption that’s sometimes made in western business culture when someone doesn’t speak up is either that they aren’t sharp — or they aren’t engaged.

    Ironically, sometimes those of us who are naturally quieter in meetings are the ones thinking most deeply about the issue at hand. Then, when we’re suddenly turned to for a recommendation or decision, we’re caught off guard. I’ve come away from a handful of meetings in my professional life feeling like I just got punished for thinking too much.

    Years ago, I stumbled on this tactic:

    Always have a question ready.

    Whenever I didn’t know what to say next, I’d immediately ask a clarifying question. This resulted in three benefits:

    First, the perception that I wasn’t engaged or thinking quickly enough started to change. In fact, after doing this awhile, some stakeholders actually started asking me for my questions, since they often helped us achieve better outcomes.

    Second, it gave me time to think. I realized that one of the reasons I previously hesitated to give input was because I didn’t have all the information. Being curious yield more information, making recommendations and decisions easier.

    And finally, it got me used to jumping in. Now as a learned skill, I ironically have the opposite challenge of sometimes jumping in too quickly.

    If this is a struggle for you too, I invite you to always have a question ready. If you do, it’s lot easier to jump in when it matters most.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 2 min
    The Cheshire Cat

    The Cheshire Cat

    My son and I are reading the original Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This exchange appears in the book:

    Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”

    The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”

    “I don’t know,” Alice answered.

    “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

    I’m often asked for advice on what to do next in complex situations. The question I find myself asking is:

    What’s the outcome you want?

    The most common response to that question is:


    Often followed with, “Good question,” or “I probably should have more clarity on that,” or “I hadn’t thought much about it until this moment.”

    Like most animals, we are good at seeing what’s right in front of us. Unlike most animals, we have a capacity to envision a different future.

    There’s nothing wrong with walking around aimlessly. In fact, we should all be doing more of it. David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, says:

    Not only do you need to spend time thinking, you need to spend time not thinking – absolutely daydreaming.

    So, daydream away.

    And then, when the time comes to make an intentional turn, decide first where you’re going. If you do, it’s easier to see which road to take.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 1 min
    Did You Notice What I Didn’t Say?

    Did You Notice What I Didn’t Say?

    One of our Academy members reached out to me awhile back. He was handling a delicate situation in his organization, requiring him to navigate tons of internal politics.

    He needed to suddenly give a lot of people a company line he didn’t exactly agree with. He didn’t have ethical objections to the change, but it noticeably didn’t align with the path he’d been cultivating for his team.

    He knew people would officially accept it, but also that some of his most trusted employees would ask him questions in private.

    The complex politics of the moment were such that it simply wasn’t appropriate for him to say anything in the short-term, even in private, that deviated from the official message. He was part of a large bureaucracy and playing the long-game.

    His question to me:

    How do I say something when I shouldn’t say anything?

    It reminded me about a discussion I had years ago with a former boss. I was making a courtesy request for something that I thought was a formality. Instead of the “yes” I was used to, I got an uncharacteristically quick denial, followed by silence.

    Surprised, I asked for a bit more explanation, only to get basically the same response, worded in a slightly different way. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, since I had a great relationship with my boss and he regularly shared his thinking behind almost every decision.

    Before I determined how to proceed with the conversation, he offered this:

    Maybe you noticed what I didn’t say.

    I instantly understood: I see you, I’m with you, but I can’t touch this politically right now.

    I am an optimist who believes in transparency and trust in organizations.

    And I’m a realist too. As much as I’d love to convince myself that every leader, customer, and organization is ready for full transparency, sometimes the moment isn’t right, and may do more harm than good.

    Use this sparingly with the right people. However, when you’re playing the long-game, sometimes it’s helpful to acknowledge what wasn’t said.

    Like that country song goes, occasionally you say it best, when you say nothing at all.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 2 min
    A Drop of Honey

    A Drop of Honey

    This past weekend, I had to do something I’ve been dreading for awhile. It’s been looming over me. It’s been staring at me (literally) for years.

    The old paint cans needed to go.

    Several painting projects over the years had littered our garage with half full cans of paint. And, since I’d placed it on my 90-day personal plan, I begrudgingly decided to do something about it.

    I had our children help me move the cans out of the garage (curiously, they were also not excited about this project). I cataloged each color by photographing all the cans. And then, loaded them all up into the back of our vehicle to take to our designated hazardous waste disposal site.

    When I arrived there, I was sore, tired, and resentful that this had already taken more of my Saturday that I originally planned. After all, I had committed to doing this, but I had not committed to being happy about it.

    The employee at the drop-off site took one look at me and said:

    You’re not supposed to be transporting that much paint at one time.

    He immediately went onto tell me that the rules only allowed him to accept about a third of what I’d brought. To drop off the rest, I’d need to make return trips, since there’s a daily drop-off limit.

    In retrospect, I should have known there would be a limit, but it didn’t occur to me to look it up before I got on the road.

    These limits are smart and sensible. Without them, there would be all kinds of carelessness and attempts to dump industrial waste or otherwise abuse the system.

    In my specific case, this sensible rule didn’t seem to make much sense. Either way, the paint was going to end up at this site — but under the rules, I’d be coming back over three days, burning more gas to harm the environment more and opening up additional chances that the paint would spill in transport. Plus, taking more of everybody’s time and paperwork.

    So, the well-intended rule was, at least in this case, counter-productive.

    I hesitate a bit to share a story like this, because on its face, it’s completely inconsequential. I had to make a few extra trips to the landfill to rid myself of too many paint cans from our beautifully painted home. Talk about a first world problem.

    But the exact same kind of thing happens everyday in organizations all over the place. The well-intended policy or procedure doesn’t make sense (or actually causes harm) in a specific situation.

    Since no rule can address every possible situation, wisdom is needed. One of the many definitions Merriem-Webster has for wisdom is a bit of “good judgement.”

    On more occasions than I’d care to admit, I’ve expressed anger about well-intended rules to people who didn’t make the rules, but are being paid to enforce them. Most of us have lost our cool with a customer service representative who, like many of us, is simply attempting to do a good days work, handle the next situation, and follow the guidelines of their organization.

    So when the opportunity comes for a bit of good judgement, we get to make the choice. Do we lead with an attack — or do we lead with kindness? Abraham Lincoln is believed to have said:

    A drop of honey gathers more flies than a gallon of gall.

    Easy to say. Hard to remember when you’re sore, tired, and feeling resentful.

    After getting my lecture about bringing too much paint and the details on when I’d need to come back, I had the conscious thought of all the Dale Carnegie courses I’d taught over the years. So, I started with this:

    Wow. Thanks for telling me. So sorry — I wasn’t aware what the limit was. I’ll plan to come back on Monday.

    And I added:

    How’s your day going?

    This started a conversation that ended with this a few minutes later:

    We’re closing in 15 minutes.

    • 4 min
    Say Less

    Say Less

    Mark Twain once received this telegram from a publisher:


    He sent this response back:


    Twain’s point is as important for leaders as it is for writers. Being concise takes discipline and, ironically, time.

    All of us put ideas together in different ways. Some leaders like to just write it all out. Others think best by talking things through out loud. Some of us do our best idea generation while out on a long run.

    Regardless of how you do your thinking, make a clear distinction between thinking and messaging. The burden is on you to parse out what’s most important in your communications. Don’t leave that effort and interpretation to others.

    Start by discovering the length of your communications right now. Go back and do a word count on the last staff email you sent, or check the total time on your last voice message. Maybe even have somebody track how much you talk in a few, critical meetings.

    Once you know where you land, set a boundary that encourages you to be concise. For example, my own boundry for the audio of these journal entries is five minutes.

    If you are willing to take the burden off others to parse your message, they’ll be much more likely to hear what you’ve said and act in alignment with your intentions.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 1 min
    Say Something

    Say Something

    About fifteen years ago, I was sitting in the lobby of a building at a client site, waiting for an appointment.

    An employee walked into the lobby and started a conversation with the security guard. It seemed they knew each other well and the she either didn’t notice me or have any care about her conversation being overheard.

    They exchanged a few pleasantries and then she said this:

    When I got my job here, I was so excited.

    She went onto describe that she had worked really hard to land the position and did her best to make an amazing impression in her first year. She continued:

    At the end of the year, I received my performance review: meets expectations.

    She told the guard that while she was disappointed she hadn’t gotten a higher overall rating, she recognized that perhaps there was more she could have done.

    So the second year, I busted my butt.

    She went onto describe how she volunteered for assignments, took tons of initiative, worked late hours — and several other key factors that aligned with getting an “exceed expectations” on the next review.

    The second year’s rating:

    Meets expectations.

    I could hear the pain in her voice as she recounted what a difficult blow that was for her at the time. Not only did the review come back the same, but apparently there wasn’t any acknowledgment that she had done anything different.

    After I worked through the anger, I decided on a different tactic.

    She went onto describe that in the third year, she basically gave up.

    I came in late some days. I left early more than I should have. I stopped volunteering to help. Basically, I just did what I had to do — and nothing else.

    The third year’s rating?

    Meets expectations.

    It became apparent from the context of the dialogue that this had been years ago. She continued:

    So that’s when I realized that I could basically just show up here and do the bare minimum. I’ve got three years to do until I’m fully vested in the pension — and then I’m out of here.

    I never saw the woman again and have no idea if she made it the last three years.

    I went onto do work with the organization and, without revealing any identifying details (it was a large enterprise), later shared this story in some of the training I facilitated for managers. The reaction from most people was similar:

    What an awful attitude to show up with for your entire career.

    I agree. That was also the reaction I had the day I heard the conversation.

    But I think it misses the leadership lesson.

    There are always two sides to every story. I have no doubt that if we tracked down the manager who gave those early reviews, we’d hear a lot more detail that would change the narrative.

    Yet, while perhaps an extreme example, the story lined up pretty well with what I heard from other employees in the organization at that time. Regardless of the work quality, there were many examples of people who felt they were ignored.

    If we take her story at face value, she didn’t start her career with such a negative attitude. Apparently, she came in wanting to perform, but the culture there eventually taught her otherwise.

    As we’ve discussed on Coaching for Leaders many times, the best managers balance a care for people with coaching that helps highlight what people do well and helps them get better when they fall short.

    Less effective are the managers who only give praise — but are fearful to be candid.

    And even the managers who only criticize — well, at least they are paying attention. I had a manager once when I was working a part-time job who only criticized. And I still learned lot from him — mostly in an effort to avoid getting criticized.

    All those things are better than the worst possible way to ...

    • 4 min

Customer Reviews

esscomm ,

Precious gems from Dave

As a long-time fan of Dave's "Coaching for Leaders" podcast, this new contribution is a treat. Instead of Dave being the interviewer, here we get to hear him share his personal experiences and explain how he makes sense of the world of work. Thanks for adding this to your body of work, Dave. It's a pleasure to listen to!

Sandra_reasonablediet.com ,

Good advice in bite size doses

Thanks for getting right to the point as you are sharing what is obviously years of experience. Appreciated.

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