humor · leadership · life lessons · management · motivation · work life

B-B-B-Bad To The Bone

There’s something to be said for being bad – and there are many who have become quite successful for their complete lack of ability (presuming of course that one is represented by some tremendous PR people).  The examples come quickly to mind – any Kardashian, reality tv (I’m sorry, I know many of you love it – I just think watching people reduced to tears because of their appearance, love life, swapped spouse or horrific fashion sense is just not, well…good), shock jocks, Paris Hilton, etc.. I get it – there’s a lot to be gained by being talentless – fame, money, one’s own personal posse, Louis Vuitton doggie carriers, an interview with Dr. Phil…

So I’m here to help in the only way I can – I can provide you with some very clear guidance on being a lousy, really bad boss (without violating any federal or state labor laws).  Please, please – no need to thank me.  If this is what you’ve been searching for all along, I share your surprise at the dearth of information than can help you be a terrible supervisor.  Perhaps some of this has been obvious to you all along, yet with all the emphasis on self-improvement, professional development, challenging one’s self to embrace excellence, I can see how the simple steps one needs to take to reach farther down can get lost in all of this positive, ‘you-can-do-it’ energy.  Sit back and relax dear friends – let me offer some basic actions that you can apply today in your quest to hit new lows in lousy leadership.  I promise – you too can make your company’s “Worst Supervisors” list and begin your descent into infamy.

– Don’t give a hoot about the people for whom you have responsibility.  This can be done in any number of ways – ratchet back your feedback to the barely relevant;  assure you’ll get back to someone asap and don’t do it; provide conflicting information about a project’s requirements.

– Say ‘no’ as often as possible.  Leave any affirmative responses for times when you are under untenable duress and see no other alternatives.

– Gossip as much as you can – ideally about people within your department.  If you can manage to engage in these conversations with others on your team, all the better.

– Complain – a lot.  Don’t feel that it is your responsibility to make the workplace a collegial, energized, collaborative environment.  Put that on someone else and then find fault in whatever efforts s/he makes.

– Own as little of your job as possible, and demand that your people take full ownership of theirs.

– Play favorites if you can, though I caution you that you may begin a slippery slide down the path of discriminatory practice.  I’m not looking to help you become a defendant here.

– Take everything personally and react as defensively as possible.  After all, isn’t it all about you?

– Keep your people in tall, separate silos – the less they know what is going on around them, the better.

– Try to understand as little as possible about what your people are doing – there’s nothing more demoralizing than having a boss who has no clue what the hell you do everyday.

– Maintain an opaque quality to your communications.  God knows what could happen if you sought the maximum amount of transparency – people may get ideas, offer their thoughts about a given objective, feel part of a bigger whole, etc.  Ix-nay on the communication, ok?

– Don’t commit to doing what you assure people you’re going to do.

– Keep your door closed, don’t walk around and whatever you do – try not to smile – even to those who may acknowledge you warmly.  The good news is that if you keep doing these things, you will quickly not have to concern yourself with anyone greeting you at all.

– And finally, I would tell people that all that matters is results, though I wouldn’t disclose what those measures are.

See?  I told you this wouldn’t be tough.  I am confident that if you follow these simple guidelines, you too can be really bad at what you do.  Of course, if you are one of those people who responds to reverse psychology, I apologize in advance.  You may end up responding in the exact opposite manner than that which is outlined above – and we all know where that gets you.  You’ll become one of those people who is driven by the challenge of making a positive difference in your day and the days of the people with whom you work – ugh!.

humor · leadership · management · motivation · work life

The Wizard And I

“The Wizard Of Oz” – not to be confused with The Wizard Of Menlo Park of course.  After all, one was a movie musical with a series of limited but determine characters in not-so-subtle costuming, the other referenced Thomas Edison, thought by many to be one of the greatest Americans of all time.  Given that scores and scores of books have been written about Edison, I think it is my duty to address the brilliant management and leadership lessons that one can learn from following a yellow brick road.

1 – There’s something to be said for being ‘the man behind the curtain’.  The strongest leaders do not need to advertise their power, rather they advertise the talents of those around them.

2 – Mentors typically don’t make themselves known by descending from the sky in a transparent globe, holding a wand and wearing a crown.  But they’re out there.  Mentors can be people within your organization who have successfully navigated its twisty, winding paths, know where the flying monkeys lurk, who have the magnetism and talent that people gravitate towards and/or have the technical expertise from which you can learn.  They also may not be looking for you, so it would behoove you to seek them out.  And parenthetically, it’s probably better if they don’t sing soprano with an insufferable vibrato.

3 – Some days you’re the house, other days the house falls on you.  Either way, neither state is forever (unless you happen to be a wicked witch – and if you are, there’s probably better reading for you out there).

4 – The best teams are comprised of people with markedly different talents.  It’s best not to duplicate areas of expertise, rather seek those who’s abilities will be complementary.  Chances of effective project completion are highly increased, everyone emerges stronger and more well-versed than when they began and you can maintain a shared vision of the goal without introducing individual competitiveness.

5 – It’s good to carry a bottle of water around with you at all times.  At the least, you’ll stay hydrated.

6 – The easiest way to achieve insurrection is encouraging people to follow you by dicta rather than by choice.  Rest assured that your people will leave your side at the earliest opportunity if their contributions aren’t valued, their input ignored and their chances for professional exploration limited to a narrow, controlled orbit.

7 – Help your  people realize their professional goals.  Not only is it your job, it will enhance the talent stream, engender loyalty and infuse the work place with energy.

8 – Courage means different things to different people, but supporting your people as they break out of their comfort zones is an enriching experience for you and a thrilling new beginning for them.

9 – Show your heart – it only makes you appear stronger, more authentic and relatable.  It will not diminish your authority at all.

10 – Work and home are inter-connected.  They don’t exist in separate silos.  It is impossible to separate the two when there are issues or concerns involving one or the other.  It is far better to recognize this and determine the best way to reconcile the two rather than having them at war within you.

And finally, if you really feel you need to, invest in a pair of ruby slippers.  They aren’t going to help you get anywhere, but they should appreciate greatly over time.

life lessons · mindfulness · motivation

Basic Inspiration

“Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness.  If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most.  It is not complicated but it takes courage.  It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.” – Pablo Casals

You can probably tell by now that Machiavelli and I wouldn’t get along.  I have a very firm belief in the fundamental goodness of people.  For the most part, I don’t believe people intend to be hurtful, mean spirited or relish opportunities to display their most unpleasant qualities.  This in no way runs counter to my earlier post about the abhorrent (and aberrant) bullying behavior that is evident in schoolyards and offices.  On the contrary, I believe that such aggressiveness is more environmental than innate, more learned than inherited (with a nod to the studies that support a heritability factor associated with aggressiveness).

What I love about Casals’ quote is the implication that honoring one’s goodness takes courage.  Doing the right thing isn’t easy.  Opening one’s eyes to the wonder that passes throughout the course of a single day requires a conscious shift in focus from all that we rarely notice – or worse still – all that we see that disappoints us.  So I introduce you now to one of my constant sources of inspiration – Archie.  This picture captures him in a moment of brief repose – or exhaustion – resulting from his relentless pursuit of happiness.  Archie approaches our driveway and yard as a constant source of amazement and surprise regardless of his thousands of explorations.  Today, the cherry blossoms are falling from the trees, and Archie pursues each falling blossom with limitless unbridled excitement and delight.  Of course, the wind blows them into multiple directions and he loses them before they hit the ground.  Nonetheless, he forgets any other reasons why he’s out there – he is on a mission fueled by sheer joy  (and a sizeable absence of grey matter, but none of our dogs have ever ranked high on the intelligence scale – except for Bubba the Wonder Dog – a story for another day).  Archie makes me pause and look around – I stop and notice that the buds on the Japanese maple are beginning to slowly swell under the warmth of the sun, hear the neighbors’ kids laughing hysterically as they try and double jump on their trampoline.  I sit on the porch realizing that I’ve been touched by more good karma than one person could ever take for granted.  I sip my tea and giggle as Archie is outpaced by his older, smaller and more dignified partner-in-crime Teddy (he didn’t want his picture taken today).  And in this moment, I am inspired to find the time in each day to pause and look around me.  To consider it an honor to be able to share my ideas with an increasing number of fantastically gifted people.  To make a conscious effort to make one person’s day a little better through word or deed (I have no illusions of heroics here –  just take the time to be slightly kinder than the day before).  Now Archie, Teddy and I are going to take a walk and see how many of their friends we can track down, kibbitz, sniff and play with, see how many blooms are opening on the magnolias and pause for a moment to experience the indescribable  inspiration that begins with gratitude.

leadership · life lessons · management · work life

Written From The Bully Pulpit


The new documentary dealing with bullying of school age children is getting a lot of well-deserved press.  The excerpts I have seen and heard evoke my tears, rage and yes, personal memories.  Nothing can justify what these children endure on a daily basis.  There is no rationale, explanation, excuse or defiant bluster that can in any way mitigate the pain – both physical and psychic – to which these kids are subjected.  In these situations there is no such thing as ‘toughening up’ in order to take it.  The only acceptable response to such behavior is that it stop.

The reality is, bullying doesn’t stop with adulthood.  There are bullies in the workplace – different from those who harass others within the context of federal and state EEO and Sexual Harassment Prevention statutes.  There’s time enough to write about the latter; my passion this morning is directed to the leaders and managers who are aware of the bullying that occurs on their watch.  While I agree that education and zero tolerance must begin with and for our youngest children, the fact that such behavior is deeply affecting adults in the workplace suggests that perhaps we need a bifurcated approach.  In more basic terms – we should not condone any hostile or aggressive behavior in our offices – hard stop.

“In a prevalence study of U.S. workers, 41.4% of respondents reported experiencing psychological aggression at work in the past year representing 47 million U.S. workers (Schat, Frone & Kelloway, 2006).  The research found that 13% or nearly 13 million workers experienced psychological aggression on a weekly basis”.  This is inconceivable to me – and I hope you are as enraged as I am.

When I started working at the firm, we had an unwritten (but enforced) ‘no asshole’ rule.  I found this to be part of the firm’s value system that I respected the most.  The vetting process was almost absurdly extensive – potential associates and partners traveled to as many offices as possible, meeting as many people as possible to learn about the firm and vice versa.  Believe it or not there were some pretty impressive business producers who were not pursued after this exercise – they couldn’t pass the ‘no asshole’ rule.  Was the firm replete with only genuine, engaged, gracious, respectful people?  Of course not – sometimes somebody made it through.  Parenthetically, none of these people were put into positions of power; their sphere of influence was limited as much as possible and of greatest importance – they were told why their contribution would continue to be valued in money, but never in leadership roles.

That was then, this is now and I’m not there anymore.  Further comments about whether or not such a philosophy is still in practice is specious and of no value to this dialogue.  But I will always applaud the organization for uncompromisingly articulating its abhorrence of bullying and those responsible for its horrible consequences.

Aggressive behavior in the workplace can range from subtle to overt.  Being the frequent recipient of invalid hostile criticism, receiving continuous unwarranted and/or fictitious blame, being sworn at, experiencing social and professional isolation and/or exclusion are examples of bullying.  I ask that you apply a ‘reasonable person standard’ to this description, for I am aware that an occasional misguided comment or decision doesn’t meet any threshold that is being discussed here.

As a current or future leader, you must be acutely aware of the ramifications of such toxicity.  If you consider the impact purely from an economic perspective, you will find decreased performance, higher turnover, distorted information flow and high levels of distrust.  Bummer for your profitability.  As a compassionate leader, the consequences are equally dire – disaffected employees, higher incidences of medical leaves, depression, misdirected frustration and criticism, dysfunctional collaboration,etc.  Bummer for morale.

To me, the larger issue is the need for us to address this with unrelenting, unwavering commitment in our schools and in our companies.  It is not enough to say that we are anti-bullying – we need to step up and be as unequivocal in our actions as we are in our words.  I realize I do not sound like a compassionate therapist here – the workplace is not the backdrop for working through the long standing issues that plague most bullies.  The bully is hurting your people, diluting any humanistic value system that your organization holds dear and eroding your profitability and reputation.  Zero tolerance policies are truly that – without caveat, rationalization and multiple do-overs.  Your people are entitled to be led by the best you have to offer – and that includes establishing and invoking a ‘no asshole’ rule.Image

humor · leadership · management · motivation · Uncategorized · work life

Back To Basics – Part 2

I feel a little vindicated.  An article in Forbes recently appeared that dealt with the overabundance of email and its impact on the development of quality professional relationships.  The author offered a solution you may have already read on this site – the idea of having a ‘no email’ day – invoking a day where people have the choice of getting up and talking with each other or at the least getting on the phone.  Please don’t burst my happy little bubble by delicately suggesting that this is hardly a new idea.  I know – but it sure felt good to see it in a more legitimate, well read format.  As my babelicious nephew would say – “True dat, Mimi”.

So I’m intrepidly going out on a limb, despite my fear of heights, and offering some other basic principles which I think could bring your employees greater professional satisfaction, enhance the quality of your leadership and perhaps, just perhaps improve your results.  At the least it may give you something to think about.  And as always, if it can provoke a smile, all the better.

1 – You can never learn anything while you’re talking.

2 –  You can have a happily-ever-after work experience – especially if you look at is day by day.

3 – Presenting yourself as one who knows it all, doesn’t inspire confidence or make you a great boss.  It makes you insufferable and impossible to work for (or live with for that matter).

4 – Try congratulating the person who owns up to making a mistake.  I’m serious – I used to do it all the time.  To me it was reflective of the individual’s willingness to take responsibility for the work under his/her jurisdiction and greatly increased the likelihood that such an error wouldn’t occur again.  What I never did was let them take the fall in public – I took the hit.  When all was said and done, I’d ask the employee what the ‘takeaway’ was and was never disappointed by the thoughtfulness of the response.

5 – If you’re going to take professional risks – and we all should – put your faith in those with whom you work.  Let them know that you’re willing to back them and show your trust in them in deed.

6 – I used to have regular meetings with my team.  Twice a year though we engaged in an exercise called “Building BHAGs (big, hairy, ambitious goals).  The rules were few – the goals had to be a little scary, strategically important for the firm, and require that they be achieved collaboratively.  Timelines were established with the knowledge that they could be somewhat fluid and each person tracked their contributions on a SharePoint site.  Eventually they asked me not to come to the first meetings because they wanted to do it themselves, showing me their final recommendations.  They were amazing.  In other words – you don’t have to put your mark on every piece of paper, idea and/or project.  If you’ve developed your people well, give them every chance to shine.

7 – “I’m sorry” are two of the most under-utilized words in the workplace.

8 – “Any new venture goes through the following stages:  enthusiasm, complication, disillusionment, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent and decoration of those who did nothing – Anon”.  If you are in a position of responsibility, you can change this outcome with a modicum of effort and close attention to the rhythm of the work that is being done, the tenor of the conversations that are taking place and the quality of the activities that will drive the result.  Oh yeah – that’s your job too.

9 – Always, always hire people who are smarter than you and then give them the substantive work that will make them thrive.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but I promise you will not be hiring yourself out of a job – rather making room for you to take on more signficant projects of your own.

10 – Mike Ditka was right – failure isn’t fatal.  The corollary of course is that success doesn’t last forever either.  Learn to accept the ebb and flow of the realities of work.

Finally, think about your professional legacy.  Do you want to be known for something other than showing up?  I’m convinced most of you do. Identify the values and leadership style for which you will want to be associated even when you have moved on to new adventures.  Try one thing differently every week – big or small – and see if there is more you can do to ensure you will be remembered in a way that will satisfy and please you.  And Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone – may each day hold at least one four leaf clover for you.