humor, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

You Want To Talk Leadership? Talk To The Hand.

I realize that I’m opening Pandora’s box here and as such as I write this not without a some anxiety.  But I’m so vexed by and tired of the iterative articles about leadership, management, developing a vision and motivating people who I’m going to take the risk.

Stop reading these books.  Stop looking for a blueprint that is going to provide you with the path towards the outstanding development of people.  And definitely move away from any books which offer you ‘ten steps’ to a better anything.  Ok, here’s the one caveat to this whole mini-rant – if you find all of  this redundancy interesting, have at it.  Just don’t expect it to add to your tool kit, complement your style and/or turn you into an outstanding leader. And you know what?  There’s really nothing all that new under the ‘how to’ sun.


“Hypocrite”, you say – and you’re right.  I offer consulting services about these very topics.  I speak to groups about leadership and team engagement (though I admit that I am not your run-of-the-mill consultant and build programs that are hardly boiler-plate and mildly irreverent).   I’ve read more books than Doan’s has back pills.  And I come away with a different perspective.  If you want to be a great leader of people, learn about yourself  and the people around you first.  Do the obvious – build trust – be consistent, do what you say you’re going to do, engage people in dialogue, watch what they’re doing every day and ask for input.  Provide feedback – informal, formal – whichever,  as long as it’s consistent and regular.  No excuses – find the time.  Give people work that is going to help them expand their minds and their abilities.  Trust that they will do it well and if they struggle,  jump into the gosh darn fray and help them figure it out!  Credit the efforts of others and learn to be generous.  Set the bar high and make sure you’re hitting regularly and owning it when you miss.  Share information – often.  Problem solve out loud and encourage your team to understand how you think.  Not that much is confidential and the more you consider too ‘sensitive’ for others, the narrower the views you offer of the organization’s direction, which further compromises peoples’ understanding and ownership of their jobs.  Get over yourself and get into your people.  Reward accountability with more substantive responsibility.  Praise in a way that matters to the person.  Counsel in private.

And – if you’re going to be in charge of a department, a company, a branch office, etc, find yourself a leader you admire in your organization and ask them to actively mentor you.  Tell them you want him/her to call you on your mistakes, help you exceed the basic criteria and guide you in the nuance and delicacy of effective communication.  Role-play tough conversations; have someone read your draft performance reviews to make sure they’re substantive and meaningful.  And if you want to read a book – do so!!  Read biographies of the outstanding leaders in history (preferable those written by great writers so you don’t nod off), read poetry and essays about the human condition.  Read articles from futurists and pragmatists.  Read humor – it keeps us humble.  Expand your world view.  It’s bigger than your organization.  Practice being true to yourself and those around you.  Fall down.  Get up.  Ask for a hand.


To me these are the real lessons.

And the real lesson is for the C-level folks who are putting people into managerial positions and giving them how-to seminars to attend or provide in-house training and consider their jobs well done by doing so.  You’re not going to groom anyone for anything that way.  I left the firm as the culture I adored began to erode.  Whatever it now is, it is not something  for which I would evangelize.  Word is that there are vestiges of its value system, but time is moving the organization forward into a bureaucratic behemoth that is sacrificing much of its identity for newer, slicker and more expedient.  Times change, companies do what they need to do.  So it goes.  But what doesn’t change is the need for outstanding leadership and we have got to stop thinking that a ‘how to’ book or a lecture is the ultimate answer.  Get busy with the practice and doing and trying.  Organizations need to make effective mentorship a yearly objective for which executives will be reviewed and compensated.  That’s how you deepen the bench.  That’s how you strengthen your team.  You won’t find it on page 128.


56 thoughts on “You Want To Talk Leadership? Talk To The Hand.”

  1. Could not agree more. Every year, before the annual National Sales Meeting, the husband would receive, like clockwork, a ‘new and exciting’ piece of drivel to read for ‘homework’…to be discussed in the midst of 5,000 souls crammed into an auditorium. All being told this is the ‘key’ to building quality leaders, this is the ‘answer’ to developing talent. HA! The most anyone got from those happy how to books was the knowledge that the company they work for pays some other company waaaaaay too much money to come up with that junk.

  2. You are right on target! And with all that, the word “culture” still gets thrown around as if it still exists. Meetings with dialog no longer exist, they have turned into presentations. I hear this the norm at many big firms; they have become quite cooker-cutter with a broken mold.
    You made a difference for so many people for many years. It’s wonderful that you are out there spreading the word and truth about good leadership. Any company would be extremely fortunate to have you on their leadership team. Thank you, Mimi; keep it coming.

    1. I’ll keep it comin’ though I can’t write about this too often, for there are no palliatives that really soothe. At the end of the day, organizations morph and change all the time – and sometimes the idea of working leadership everyday gets forgotten in the midst of a lot of other things which may not be as important..Take good care ok? 🙂

  3. The *best* boss I ever had was as you describe, Mimi. She was open, approachable, always gave credit where credit was due, never hung her people out to dry, explained where she was coming from, admitted when she was wrong, asked for feedback (and gave it) and had one hell of a sense of humor. I didn’t particularly love the job, but I adored my boss, and we both cried when I left. I haven’t spent a great deal of time in the corporate arena (thank goodness), but the time I did spend was largely disheartening and “soul diminishing” for all the reasons you cite. All I can say is that ‘any group who has the benefit of your guidance and insights is lucky indeed.’. 🙂 We need more folks like you — in so very many ways…..

  4. Thanks for your biased love Lori – 🙂 I’m sure there are some for whom I wasn’t seen as a good boss at all. I don’t think that’s the majority – but certainly not everyone loves the same thing. It was a great career and it’s a topic I care about deeply. I just get tired of the cliches that are repeated in any number of ways in these trite management books that offer nothing new…I’m thrilled that you had such a great boss – I had one like that too – and now we’re just plain old friends (though he’s still way smarter than me). That’s a gift. Hmm…come to think of it – so are you! xoxo

  5. A+. 10 out of 10. Not much to add to this manifesto which about sums it up. I might add one point. If you are a learning leader and push yourself to grow and your team as well, you will acquire fervent followers.

  6. We always here that children learn from example (good or bad), but we rarely hear this reference when we talk about adults and it certainly applies. Personally, your skillful advice would be better served in front of a younger audience, especially today when things like effective communication seem to be foreign to most teenagers. This generation emerging to be our potential leaders some day are so overly virtually connected that they are disconnected to humanity. They are slowly loosing the ability to emotionally connect, therefore how could they ever be productive leaders.
    I could see your talents making a high difference in a school setting…just a thought.

      1. My daughter went to a Friends school and they were ALWAYS looking for quests to come and enlighten their students. Actually, many of the teachers worked in the private sector for years before actually teaching. Personally, I think that is the best way to teach.

  7. Ouch! I am a reader. What I find interesting is the different perspectives people have around this topic. Having said that, reading all the books in the world is not going to do a bit of good if there is no application, if there is no asking for help or guidance from people who’ve been there, done that. It is keeping an open mind, finding the funny, trying, falling down, letting others fall and then helping them up that builds leadership skills, not books or articles.

    1. No ouch intended!! I’m a reader too – I just find that the best learning is by doing, and the most valuable lessons have been taught to me by those I admire. I think all leaders must be inclined and committed to learning all the time…

  8. Such a informative, spot on, inspiring and well written post. All the books and theories about leadership do not measure up to what you have written. I have read quite many theories and have written stuff at uni. about this. As you wrote so well, it is about you the leader (knowing yourself) and knowing the people. Trust. Respect. The truth is you can not apply any theories on people, they will feel that the leader is “trying” to lead them by another fancy theory or a book. If it is not REAL (genuine), it will not work. I think people can quickly judge if the leader is genuine or not.Somehow I am drawn to authenthic leadership style…..leader being who he/she actually is. I agree, no leadership or managment book can teach that. Pls, keep it coming. Really enjoyed this post. Thumbs up Mimi! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much!! A little afield of what I’ve been posting lately, but it’s been gnawing in the back of my mind for quite a while..:-)

  9. Mimi great post, just remember to duck when all those self help gurus show up 🙂
    One word from the Buddha’s teachings did more for changing my life, and making me happier than the hundreds of self help books, seminars I had wasted money on. “Mindfulness”, concentrate on what you are doing, you’ll do a better job of it, get it done quicker, and not suffer the anxiety of doubt.. As usual you have done a great job, giving us tools we can use. May you always be my teacher.

  10. Once again – out of the park. Easy to understand your successful career and a standing ovation is in order that you chose your exit on your terms. You are my hero – for oh so many reasons. Today’s blog has just been added to the long list.

    1. Thank you so much!! I was lucky to be able to leave on my own terms, and I know that. And I had a great career. But there’s a lot more to learn and do in this life and that’s pretty exciting!

  11. Well it looks as if I am the one to throw the curve-ball today. I am an owner / manager of a small business of 16 staff members and I have sometimes found that the effort and time required to do all that you say needs to be done in order to be a great leader as being exhausting and personally deflating. As a leader one must ” – build trust – be consistent – engage people in dialogue – watch what they’re doing every day – ask for input – Provide feedback – No excuses – find the time – give people work to help them expand their minds and their abilities – if they struggle jump in and help them figure it out -Credit the efforts of others and learn to be generous – Share information – often – Problem solve out loud – encourage your team to understand how you think – Get over yourself and get into your people – Reward accountability with more substantive responsibility – Praise in a way that matters to the person – encourage your team to understand how you think – ” And when you do all that – consistently – and they are still back in the tea-room bitching and gossiping instead of getting on with things and helping each other out, then what do you do? You engage a professional to come in – at great cost – to give them all a mini-seminar about personal responsibility and taking ownership of their own behaviour in order for your then amended ‘behaviour policy’ (that has taken you personally days to write) to be laid down in an ‘independent’ manner so it does not look as if you are taking sides in a staff member -to-staff member personality clash that is feeding a dark pronounced negative gloom over the whole atmosphere of what was once an extremely happy place to work. Where does one find the time to do all this exhausting staff engagement? Where does one find the time to do one’s own managerial planning, budgeting and engagement in client care when one is so busy with the staff? Sometimes, just sometimes, I feel that the staff need to take responsibility for their own place in the workplace, for their own roles, for their own behaviour, for their own work-place happiness. Sometimes they need to step back and look at what their leader IS actually doing for them, and be grateful. Sometimes it would be great if the employee actually gave the the leader a little bit of positive feed-back as well. There is great merit in the quote from JFK “Don’t ask what your country (organization / leader) can do for you, ask what you can do for your country (organization / leader)”

    1. I’ve been on both sides of this equation, so I can appreciate the frustration of employees who take little to no responsibility for their actions and enjoyment of their work. It sounds like you’re spread as thin as one can possibly be and focusing on all that is required of you is humanly impossible. That’s one problem in and of itself. How do we know when to cry ‘uncle’ and re-structure our role so that we can do that which we want and must do?
      Employee disengagement is a massive problem – and again, I am not suggesting that employers mollycoddle, pet or pamper employees. And yes – some positive feedback to the leader would be nice. I just am not a believer in telling people how they’re supposed to behave – If someone is not adding value to your company, and you’ve communicated their need for improvement, perhaps it is time for them to try and be successful elsewhere. Self-reliance is a critical performance criteria that each person should be responsible for.
      At the end of the day though, it is the leader who sets the tone, the visionary who knows what kind of company/mission/product s/he wants, develops the synergy and often works with the least amount of positive feedback.
      Anyway. I hear you – and I don’t want to minimize or diminish any of your comments. They are deserving of a point on point response – for please know there are many places where we agree!! 🙂

      1. Hmmm. You have mentioned a point I find most difficult “If someone is not adding value to your company, and you’ve communicated their need for improvement” – that last bit – actually telling someone there is a problem with THEM. It is an unfortunate byproduct of being a manager of sometimes needing to be tough when the child inside you wants to be ‘friends’ with everyone. That is something that I do not do well and shy away from. Yet sometimes, saying what must be said is the right thing to do for everyone else and for the morale of the whole workplace.

      2. You’re right – it’s an awful conversation to have – and it still is one that has to occur for the good of team…Good luck!!!

  12. HUGE sigh – I could not agree more Mimi – I cannot say too much in response…I am living with the antithesis to your post – at work, of course. I have had the experience of what you describe, or close to it, so I have tasted the nectar, and I miss it, terribly. I ask myself so often, why it has to be so rare to find this kind of leader; it seems so much more rewarding, satisfying, to go about business the way you so superbly put it, but sadly it seems to be the exception more than the norm. I am glad you posted this, it’s so validating and reassuring. xo

    1. I have begun to think that if anyone experiences the kind of culture and leadership that we have, we can consider ourselves very lucky for having had the experience. I don’t know why it can’t be a more frequent occurrence in the workplace – but I think we are part of a lucky minority to have seen it in action. xox

      1. That’s a really good point – to see it as having been lucky to have had that experience. I’ve had two really great bosses – both named Richard [ funny coincidence ] and I have learned so much from both of them, and you are right, I am lucky to have seen them in action, and it was just who they were, through and through, no books required! 🙂 xo

    1. Our professional paths were similar and I really believe that so many people miss the boat when it comes to understanding how leaders emerge…Thanks Russ! 🙂

  13. Leadership comes down to two things: vision and respect. A lot of what you write about has to do with treating people and workers as humans not merely resources. I wish more people understood this basic concept.

  14. The more I learn about myself the more I realize that I may not be the best leader and do not have the drive for it the way others do. Lead by example maybe and problem solving are my thing. Maybe it is the management part that gets me. Maybe I recognize the Peter Principle in my life 8)
    Now I am having déjà vu or have made a similar comment before-weird.

    1. I think leading by example and problem solving are two laudable characteristics that you shouldn’t minimize when thinking about your abilities as a leader. And if people are inspired to follow you, then I think perhaps you are doubting yourself a bit too much!!

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