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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

    • Karriär

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.

    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
    How to Prevent Micromanagement

    How to Prevent Micromanagement

    Most of us have had that manager that annoyed us to all ends with micromanagement. They were in our face every three hours about a task because we weren’t quite doing it right and it had to be done their way.

    As a result, it’s been my experience that most managers have some level of healthy concern about not becoming that person. That’s a good place to be.

    Until it’s not.

    I actually find the opposite problem more often the issue. Out of concern to not become a micromanager, people tack completely to the other extreme and don’t manage much at all.

    Occasionally, a superstar employee comes back constantly with amazing work. More often, people miss the mark — especially those who don’t have as much experience.

    Yet, we’re hesitant to step in, even if it means we’ve got to pick up the pieces ourselves later. After all, we’re supposed to empower people to take ownership over their work and have autonomy and all those things Daniel Pink taught us* about how to motivate people, right?

    This is where a distinction is critical. There’s a difference between autonomy and independence.

    Independence means we hand off something and do little to nothing to connect with people before they complete the work.

    Independence is a wonderful place to get to. It’s awesome to be able to deputize an employee to do great work and then get back a result that’s way better than anything you would have done.

    However, that’s not the place start a working relationship. And it’s certainly not the place most of us are with with many of the people we lead.

    Autonomy, in contrast, gives a person the right level of ownership over their work. I also allows for active coaching and management as they learn new skills, make mistakes, and come up short.

    Micromanagement is bad, sure. What’s worse? The other extreme. Little management at all.

    I have worked for micromanagers and I have worked for people who have not engaged much. The first is more uncomfortable, but having done both, I’m sure which is worse. At least with a micromanager, you learn something and know where you stand, annoying as it may be.

    Effective managers give people the right amount of autonomy and are there along the way to help them stay on track and support them.

    This begs the question:

    Alight, but how do I determine the right level of autonomy?

    That’s different in every situation. These two variables will help you decide what makes sense:

    First, consider experience. How successfully has this person executed this work before? If they’ve never done anything close to what you are asking them to do, both they and you should expect that you’ll check in a lot more often.

    Of course you can provide autonomy in these situations, it’s just less autonomy than if they had done the work a dozen times before. That’s because this is the point where they want (and probably expect) more time and direction from you.

    The second variable is to consider the visibility or importance of the work. If the work is for an internal customer that is less sensitive about it being done perfectly, that lends itself to more autonomy. If the work is central to a deliverable for a top client, that lends itself to less autonomy.

    These two variables change with every task or project. Even if you have a very experienced employee who normally you don’t check in with often, you’re going to define less autonomy up front if they are working on the most important deliverable for the organization’s #1 client.

    The key is that you as the manager discuss up front, before the work even starts, how much autonomy they have in the context of their experience and the visibility of the work.

    Micromanagement happens when people don’t expect it....

    • 4 min
    Appeal to the Nobler Motive

    Appeal to the Nobler Motive

    I began my career working in a neighborhood education center. Early on in my new job, a parent called one day to inform us that her daughter, who was struggling with math, would not be continuing in our program.

    I spent a minute or two chatting with the mom. It wasn’t about the money. The child just wasn’t motivated to do the work and she didn’t see the point in continuing to take everybody’s time.

    Later that day, my boss (who knew way more about the girl’s struggles with math than I did) heard about the call and took me aside. When she discovered that I hadn’t done much to advocate for the child, she didn’t pulled any punches.

    She took a step towards me, waved her finger in my face, and raised her voice:

    You call her back now and you tell her she’s wrong.

    The demand was so blunt that I thought she was kidding.

    She wasn’t.

    Of course, she didn’t literally expect me to say those words, but she did expect me to advocate for the child - and she wasn’t going to let me off the hook until I did it. My boss knew from experience that if this girl stopped now, they’d likely never get serious about math.

    Feeling like I had little choice, I made the call.

    Twenty years later, I remember little about the conversation except that I went in with the intention to advocate for the child. Somehow, I convinced the mom to keep going until the child’s confidence in math improved.

    I would not recommend this style of management. My boss got away with it because she was a top performer, but also because she did something amazingly well that Dale Carnegie taught in How to Win Friends and Influence People*:

    Appeal to the nobler motive.

    Once it was clear I had turned the situation around, it was like her demand never happened. She made it a win for the child — and me.

    You did that. You changed that child’s life.

    Incidents like that happened again and again in the year I worked for her.

    She pushed my colleague and I super hard, every day. When we performed well, she was the first to tell us. When we screwed up, she was in our face with tons of observation and coaching, until we got better.

    And when we had a big win, she’d broadcast it far and wide. She’d talk about the kids lives we changed and helped us build our brands within the company. Both of us got fast-tracked for promotion, because of it.

    The first week I worked for this boss, I didn’t want to come back. By the time I came under a new boss a year later, I immediately missed her. I had quickly learned that she would fight tooth and nail for any employee who was making a big difference for kids.

    Lots of people give feedback. Some do it gracefully; some don’t. But few tie it to the nobler motive — the bigger, larger reason behind the numbers. Be the kind of leader who appeals to what really matters and, even when the feedback is tough, reminds people why they’re really there.

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

    • 3 min
    You’re Not Helping

    You’re Not Helping

    A client reached out to me recently and shared a struggle he’s been having.

    His organization is going through a difficult time — for reasons that have nothing to do with him, his team, or his part of the organization. Strong headwinds are at play for the entire industry that will likely take several years to play out.

    He mentioned that in the recent past, a few higher level leaders have swooped in for site visits and promised resources and changes to help his team better weather the storm. However, these espoused resources never seem to materialize.

    Of course, this has only made the problem worse. Members of this person’s team, already struggling to find motivation during a difficult time, get quickly aggravated by promises of help — only to later discover that the promises are empty.

    I couldn’t help but empathize with this leader, since I’ve seen this happen before. A usually well-meaning, senior leader comes out for a site visit and make promises to help with something.

    And then nothing happens.

    I also find myself empathizing a bit with the senior person, too. I’m sure there’s a least a few times in my career when I, hopefully well-meaning, promised things I didn’t deliver on.

    When you are visiting a team or site that you don’t see everyday and are surprised about a resource they don’t have, there’s the tendency for a lot of us to want to be the hero and deliver something that helps severybody out.

    Sometimes we don’t follow through as senior leaders — and sometimes, we do follow though, only to discover that the situation is, of course, a bit more complicated that we first thought. Good intentions and effort aside, the complexity sometimes requires us to put things on the back burner.

    Yet another reminder of these wise words from the book Difficult Conversations*:

    Intent does not equal impact.

    Our conversation ended up surfacing two actions this leader could take to minimize this issue, going forward.

    First, we decided that when a senior leader comes for a site visit, making a simple request in advance could help. The invitation might sound something like this either over the phone or privately, at the start of the visit:

    You’ll likely hear some frustrations from my team today, since it’s a difficult time for all of us. I know you want to help support us in the best way possible. If you see a way to help and you’re certain it’s something you can do immediately, we’re really grateful for that. If, however, you see a place to help and the resources/budget aren’t available today, it will help me immensely if we can chat offline first. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking and then find the right way to roll it out, once the resources are in place.

    Some senior leaders will get that message loud and clear. Some won’t. That can’t be controlled — but you can still make the request.

    Second, in the spirit of teaching people how to help you, some people simply don’t know what to do if they can’t swoop in to save the day. Rather than just telling people what they shouldn’t do, it’s often useful to also be directive on exactly how they can help.

    An invitation like this can go a long way:

    Thank you for being here to support us. Here’s the way you can help my team the most during this visit. Spend time asking questions about their work. You’re going to hear frustrations. Listen to them. Don’t try to solve them. Once you’ve listened, even if it’s unclear what you can provide right now to help, show them they’ve been heard. They need that right now — and it will also help me a lot in the coming weeks.

    I’ve rarely seen a senior person push back on an invitation like this. They may not execute it well, but they’ll likely do better than if you said nothing.

    It’s a lot easier to get irritated with the “You’re...

    • 4 min

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