Chris Kolenda: What Golf’s Masters Tournament Tells Leaders About Hiring

What Golf’s Masters Tournament Tells Leaders About Hiring

You’ve told me that attracting and retaining talent is at the top of your concerns. The economy is in full employment, and people are less willing to job-hop, so gaining new talent is challenging. 

Widening the applicant pool by reducing your standards is tempting, but what invariably happens is that you get more wrong-fit employees, which creates friction and leads to more turnover. The U.S. Army relearns this lesson every generation.

You should do the opposite and strengthen them. The Masters shows why.

I confess that I’m not a golfer or fan of the sport. I calculate the value of a golf game in strokes per dollar (I get a great ROI) and believe in testing myself in the most challenging situations. My balls invariably end up in the rough, the sand, the ditch, the lake, and behind the largest trees. Watching the sport on TV is like watching paint dry.

Golf has strict rules, which the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, takes to new heights. You cannot bring your mobile phone or a camera onto the course. You can bring a chair to reserve your spot and not remove another person’s chair. Those chairs cannot have arms or be large folding chairs.

There is no running, no jeans, and no attire with logos. You must consume alcohol in designated areas, but you can puff on a cigar anywhere.

These types of rules are standards: something that anyone can live up to.

Arbitrary rules that deny membership based on race, sex, gender, etc., by contrast, are discriminatory. The Augusta National Golf Club has removed its discriminatory policies, allowing people of all races in 1990 and accepting women in 2012.

30,000 to 40,000 people attend the Masters tournament daily. Their standards attract and retain people willing to buy into them and repel people who won’t. 

People like working and playing with people who share the same standards, so if you want to attract and retain your best-fit talent you should strengthen rather than relax your standards.

Here are three action steps you can take:

1. State your standards using the X so that Y formula. X is the standard. “So that” is a prompt to ensure you cover Y: the result or outcome you intend by doing X. For the Masters the Y is “maintaining decorum.”

2. Use the pressure gauge to make them more explicit. This tool helps you define what is acceptable and what behaviors are out of bounds. Co-create them with your employees to gain greater buy-in.

3. Provide employee examples of the standards in action. Real-life examples help people see themselves in the story and clarify your company’s expectations.

Straightforward, sensible standards that obviously benefit your company’s common good attract and retain the best-fit people.

Standards are vital to your company’s common good, which is at the heart of my trademarked program, Building an Inspiring Culture®. You can review the contents here

CEOs use this program to get their key leaders on the same page. In the live-led version, I coach and facilitate your team so that you get results faster. Email me to discuss what a live-led version would look like for your company.

Chris Kolenda: A tool for Recruiting and Retaining the Right Talent

A tool for Recruiting and Retaining the Right Talent

Thank you for your replies on the topics you want me to address. The most popular thing on your mind is recruiting and retaining your top talent, so I’ll give you a powerful tool to help you do that.

The Great Resignation (or Great Escape) has receded, so fewer people are job-hopping, which means that quiet quitting and disengagement are rising. 

I recently spoke with a CEO, who we will call Fred. He is facing a staggering sixty percent turnover rate among recent hires, which suggests they are attracting wrong-fit candidates.

Fred has very high standards because his employees do grueling and dangerous work. His hiring process focuses on the nature of the work so people know what they are getting into. What they don’t know in advance are the strict standards that drive them away.

Fred’s not about to change his standards; his safety record is terrific. He needs to be more explicit about his expectations in the hiring process.

The pressure gauge is an excellent tool for spotting right-fit talent because it helps people see themselves relative to your essential standards.

State your standard in the X so that Y format, so people know what behavior you expect and the WHY – the results and outcomes – the standards promote.

For example, ACME expects employees to show up on time, in the proper uniform, with their equipment ready (the WHAT) so that they can respond immediately to calls and not waste time getting their act together or placing themselves or others at unnecessary risk (the WHY).

The pressure gauge, see the visual below, prompts you to outline what awful and acceptable looks like so prospective employees can determine whether to opt in or out, and you strengthen accountability among your workforce.

The green area represents acceptable: on time (8 am, clear head, proper uniform, ready equipment).

The yellow area denotes lackluster: showing up at 8:01 or later, missing uniform or equipment items, or unserviceable equipment, for example.

The red area symbolizes excessive pressure that damages the team: bullying, belittling, or abusive behavior, stealing or sabotaging equipment, showing up drunk or high, etc.

Chris Kolenda: Pressure Gauge Diagram

Fred now has a clear visual representation of his standards and what behaviors are unacceptable. Prospective employees can discuss where they see themselves, and Fred can ask questions to determine their willingness to buy-in. The clear visual also helps his current employees stay on track and ensures Fred provides the resources and support people need to succeed.

Create a pressure gauge for your standards. Better yet, ask your employees to co-create it so they have even more buy-in. Accountability is much easier when people voluntarily promote standards. Your retention improves because people value being around those who share common standards.

How’s this process working for you? Email me to let me know.

This tool and other visuals give you a conscious process you can teach, assess, and improve. 

Most leaders use unconscious processes that work to varying degrees. You cannot teach, evaluate, or improve an unconscious process, so people get frustrated and leave. 

What would be the impact if you had more tools like this one? The best places to find them are in my trademarked programs Becoming a WHY Leader® and Building an Inspiring Culture®. 

Becoming a WHY Leader® is a video-based program that moves you from being a “Hands-On” to an “Eyes-on, Hands-Off” leader, which is necessary if you want to lead multi-unit organizations and inspire people to contribute their best to your team’s success. 

Do you want to create a culture where people voluntarily meet your standards and expectations? Building an Inspiring Culture® is a video-based program that outlines the process for doing so. 

You can engage in these self-directed programs at your own pace and order. Do you want to improve your self-awareness or strengthen buy-in? Go directly to the module you want, watch a short video, and apply the process visual to get results immediately.

Each program retails for $997 or $1450 for both. 

For the month of April 2024, I am offering lifetime access to you for $297 each or $397 for both.

You can enroll in one or both of them using these links:

Becoming a WHY Leader®: https://sla.circle.so/checkout/becoming-a-why-leader

Building an Inspiring Culture®: https://sla.circle.so/checkout/building-an-inspiring-culture

Bundle It! Get both programs for just $397: https://sla.circle.so/checkout/why-leader-and-inspiring-culture

Do you want to license these programs for your organization? Email me, and we’ll set up a time to discuss.

Chris Kolenda: How to help your employees build resilience and improve their mental health: One size does not fit all

How to help your employees build resilience and improve their mental health: One size does not fit all

Mental health is finally a workplace topic of conversation, and it’s a welcome change. 

No one deserves to be put through psychological abuse such as belittling, bullying, and gaslighting, and leaders have an obligation to handle those who use such tactics. 

Life outside work also creates emotional taxes that people may carry into the workplace. The result can include adverse reactions to triggers that damage relationships. Wouldn’t everyone be better off if someone feeling extreme duress took a mental health day instead?

At the same time, employees in chronic mental health crises exhaust their co-workers, and leaders with fragile mental health may shut down or become abusive. 

There’s an excellent chance that you are not a trained therapist, and you might be wondering what you can do when one of your employees struggles on the job to cope with setbacks or uncertainty.

The key is to provide the proper scaffolding so they can move forward.

The chart below can help you provide actionable support for people in duress. The vertical axis represents their locus of control. Some people have an internal locus of control: they believe their actions are primarily responsible for the outcomes they experience. Those with an external locus of control believe that factors outside their control are responsible principally for outcomes.

The horizontal axis depicts flexibility: constant versus adaptable. Constant people tend to have deep convictions that guide them through the world, whereas adaptable people roll with the punches regarding matters beyond their control. A constant person may attribute the weather to divine intervention, while the adaptable person says there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Constant people with an internal locus of control take responsibility and maintain their convictions through difficulties. On the downside, they can drift into Master of the Universe mode and have unrealistic expectations about their ability to control outcomes. They can beat themselves up and demoralize their teams when things don’t work out. Help them see that they cannot control outcomes, but they can control their inputs and processes. COVID, global supply disruptions, inflation, AI, and other externalities drastically affected outcomes. Those with sound processes rode the waves successfully.

Constant people with an external locus of control often go with the flow, believing fate controls their destiny. This can calm them in the face of uncertainty. However, they can shatter when something goes awry because they think luck, karma, and divine guidance are against them. You can support them by identifying small action steps they can take to move forward and gain momentum.

Adaptable people with an external locus of control are great at contingency planning. They can see the risks and opportunities from outside forces and create Plans B, C, and D to mitigate the downsides and seize opportunities. In the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, they can dither in paralysis by analysis. You can help them move forward using a simple, effective decision-making process (and here, too).  

Adaptable people with an internal locus of control tend to show resilience in the face of challenges because they believe they can problem-solve and innovate to make the best of any situation. However, they can heighten others’ anxiety by ruminating out loud or spitting out new ideas at a machine gun rate of fire. Get them to explain their priorities and describe their game plan, and encourage them to stick to the new idea long enough to see it through. 

This process also works for managing up, so you can help your boss get unstuck and back into action.

What topics do you most want me to write about? Send me an email or comment and let me know.

Chris Kolenda: How I learned to gain buy-in

How I learned to gain buy-in

For most of my military career, gaining buy-in for change was pretty easy.

I had an excellent system for acquiring feedback, so I learned what frustrated my troopers and took action to address the problems. They readily helped me implement the changes. I presumed it was because they had confidence the game plan would work.

Afghanistan changed all of that.

In addition to clarity and confidence, people buy-in when they believe doing so leaves them better off. You can’t lecture people into that belief. They need to see it for themselves.

We were fighting for our lives against an enemy that seemed to get stronger even as we inflicted significant casualties. We believed people wanted us to attack the enemy and support the Afghan government officials. We were flat wrong. About 95% of the people we thought we were helping were actually trying to kill us, which is why their numbers swelled.

Three of our troopers were killed in those first sixty days of a 450-day deployment. More of the same was the safer choice regarding what the military expected, but it would not improve the situation. 

I’m a voracious reader and feedback consumer, so I looked to history, trusted advice, inputs from paratroopers and elders, and behavioral sciences for answers.   

To succeed, we had to build relationships with Afghans, especially those close to the insurgents. The challenges included getting our troopers to take risks in reaching out and convincing Afghans (many of whom were angry at international forces and the Afghan government) to reciprocate.

Asking troopers to go against years of training and Afghans to let go of decades of hatred toward foreign forces required clarity, confidence, and belief that change would make them better off. 

Chris Kolenda Drawing: 3 Elements of Buy-In

First, we had to clearly express what we wanted our troopers to do and the benefits of doing so. “X so that Y” is your formula for expressing clear guidance. We wanted to build relationships so that Afghans would see us as partners in their success, which would reduce incentives towards violence. 

Improving relationships with Afghans required trust-building. “Afghans hear with their eyes,” one elder told me—they believe what they see. We started with small measures and built from there.   

Our troopers and Afghans were confident the approach would work, provided the other side lived up to their commitments. Trust-building was essential for reinforcing confidence.

Inspiring belief was the biggest challenge. People have to believe they will be better off for making the change. Otherwise, they will undermine the initiative. Military tactics that seemed to improve safety, such as maintaining a threatening posture, aggressive driving, etc. actually increased hostilities thus heightening risk of injury or death. 

Small, incremental wins increased belief, which led to more significant measures in a virtuous cycle. Our troopers saw that stronger relationships reduced violence and improved security. Afghans saw that working together on mutually-agreed measures that they chose strengthened local governance and improved quality of life. Eventually, the top insurgent group in the area stopped fighting and switched sides.

You cannot force people to believe that they’re better off, they have to come to the conclusion for themselves. Discussing the potential change and asking your employees how they will be affected can reveal areas of opportunity. Giving people the agency to strengthen the positives and mitigate the negatives increases their sense of ownership and belief in the new policy or initiative.

How well is this process working for you? Email me to let me know. I love cheering your success and helping you get over obstacles.

Did you know that you read my newsletter over 50% of the time? I’m thrilled that there is so much value out in it.  

One of the ways you increase your value to others is by sharing what helps you grow. Whether it’s this blog or my newsletter or another, share and encourage your colleagues to experience what’s valuable to you. Sharing wisdom is like a rising tide lifting all boats.

Chris Kolenda: Optimism versus Wishful Thinking? Here’s what you need to know.

Optimism versus Wishful Thinking? Here’s what you need to know.

I was so sure that leaders would jump at the opportunity for leadership seminars at historical battlefields that I hired a digital marketing company, made excellent videos, created sales funnels, and poured thousands into Facebook ads. 

It was an epic fail. 2 million views, over 250,000 likes, not a single buyer. I was right that leaders value off-sites at historic venues, but the marketing strategy was flawed. Wishful thinking costs me tens of thousands of dollars. I fixed the value proposition and marketing and it’s now among my most successful and impactful programs. 

Are you optimistic or a wishful thinker? Do you sometimes struggle to decide whether to stay or change the course? You are not alone. 

Having the courage of your convictions can help you weather inevitable ups and downs, keep naysayers at bay, and provide the patience you need to see innovations succeed. You can easily cross into wishful thinking, hurtling eyes wide shut into bankruptcy.

At the same time, a lack of conviction can lead to hyperactivity as you swing from one idea to another, shift courses constantly, and perpetually change your mind. 

Leaders need optimism; no one will follow you if you don’t believe in success. You also need guardrails against ostrich-like wishful thinking that can ruin your business or get people hurt. For example, wishful thinking was in plentiful supply until the bitter end in Afghanistan.

You need the right balance between conviction and open-mindedness – a prudent optimism. It’s not easy.

According to The Wall Street Journal, 23andMe, a DNA-testing company, has seen its valuation plunge to nearly zero today from $6bn in 2021 as it tried to pivot into becoming a small biotech. Meta, meanwhile, reportedly loses $3bn to $4bn per quarter on Metaverse. Autonomous vehicle companies are struggling to meet safety concerns and avoid liability issues in the event of a crash or injury. Electric vehicles aren’t selling well despite generous government subsidies. Since FTX’s fall, crypto seems even more of a gamble. A lot of money seems to be circling the drain. 


Should these companies press on and risk bleeding cash until bankruptcy, like Blockbuster, or miss out on a massive breakthrough, as Kodak, which invented the digital camera and ditched it in favor of film?

This chart can help you determine whether you are optimistic or inhaling your own gas.

Chris Kolenda: Optimism vs Wishful Thinkful diagram.

The critical difference between optimism and wishful thinking is the willingness to try new things. Here are some indicators that you might be on the wrong side of the line.

  • You believe information that confirms your pre-existing views and discount contrary ones (confirmation bias).
  • You create a higher bar for new ideas to prove their worth than you do for the existing approach (status quo bias).
  • You emphasize the effort and investment you’ve already made to justify staying the course (sunk cost paradox).
  • You point to a single anecdote instead of assessing a more comprehensive array of evidence (availability bias).
  • You sideline critics and surround yourself with people who agree with you (sycophancy bias).
  • You treat tough questions as personal attacks (thin-kin syndrome).

Here are strategies to keep hope alive without self-delusion.

  • Have two or three trusted advisors who 1) want what’s best for you, 2) are willing to tell you the truth, and 3) can build your capacity. These confidants will alert you to the traps above.
  • Identify and assess your assumptions about the product or idea. Ask, “What must be true for [x] to work?” Your answers are your assumptions. If the assumption proves untrue, it’s time to modify your approach.
  • Compare alternative strategies using a level playing field. AI can be a superb tool for reducing some of the biases above. AI has its own biases and limitations, but it will give you logical responses that will help you ask tough questions.
  • Gain perspective through history and the experiences of others. You’re not the first one to face challenging situations or tough decisions. Learning how others created proper firewalls between optimism and wishful thinking will help you develop a system that works for you.

Providing you with the tools to sustain prudent optimism is one of the outcomes you’ll get when you join me on a battlefield leadership experience like Antietam & Gettysburg. These and other historical venues are perfect for off-sites because you get everyone out of their comfort zones into the fresh air and gain tools that help you manage your business’s most vital elements.   

Send me an email or schedule a call if you’d like to discuss an off-site for your company.

Chris Kolenda: Boosting your Self-Awareness

Boosting your self-awareness

He lacks self-awareness! She’s totally un-self-aware. Leaders need more self-awareness.

Have you heard descriptions like these at work? If you are like most people, you get the importance of self-awareness, but you have few tools to put it into practice. If you’d like to improve your self-awareness, you’ll want to read on.

What’s the big deal about self-awareness? According to Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, self-aware people tend to be happier, have better relationships, and be more effective leaders. Who doesn’t want that?

Self-awareness might seem like a new management buzzword, but the idea has been around since the ancient Greeks. Travelers to see the oracle at Delphi saw the words “Know Thyself and Seek Mortal Thoughts” as they made their way to the temple. 

Know Thyself means your purpose, motivations, values, natural talents, and blindspots; Seek Mortal Thoughts implores you to be humble and avoid what the ancients called hubris or overweening pride. Ancient Greek literature is full of cautionary tales of pride preceding faceplant.

How, exactly, can you know yourself? The earlier discussions of purpose, of course, are vital for self-awareness. You also need to know your natural talents and values. Here are two tools to help you. 

First, get to know your PROM Archetype®, which helps you identify your natural talents. PROM stands for Pioneers, Operators, Reconcilers, and Mavericks, which denotes how people contribute when in their zone of genius. I developed a quiz that you can use to determine your PROM Archetype®

Next, pinpoint the values that are most important to you. I based this quiz on the four cardinal virtues of ancient Greece and Rome: Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Moderation. Based on your responses, you get a list of supporting values.

Internal self-awareness, as Eurch points out, is not enough. You also need external self-awareness. I like to break down the latter into knowing how others see you and what others need from you (I’m indebted to Lisa Larter for helping me with this formulation).

Knowing how others see you helps you learn if your actions and behaviors are consistent with your sense of yourself. Let’s say you view your purpose as a spouse or parent as a top priority and encourage others to do the same, but you spend late nights at the office, which prompts your employees to stay after hours, too. They are likely to see your family-time emphasis as empty and hypocritical. 

In this case, you can do what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did: leave the office daily at 5:30 pm. Take some work home if you need to. When you leave the office at a reasonable time, so will your employees. 

Combining knowing yourself and how others see you creates authenticity. 

Knowing what others need from you helps you to use your talents to inspire others to be their best. You might be upset that your child’s team lost the game, for example, but what the kids need from you now is to model resilience and grace. When you do, your actions are aligned with your purpose of helping young athletes become good adults.

You have integrity when you know yourself and what others need from you. Knowing how others see you and what they need from you shows empathy.

Do you want to discuss your self-awareness or your PROM Archetype® results? Schedule a call with me or send me an email.  

Chris Kolenda: Daisy showed us what gratitude looks like

Daisy showed us what gratitude looks like

Do you have people and companions in your life that inspire gratitude? 

My wife, Nicole, and I are grateful for our dog, Daisy, who blessed our lives for six years before dying on February 1st last year from cancer. 

She showed us the meaning of gratitude in her love and affection (and the strange way she would shake her butt at us when she was ready for a walk!).

How do you show gratitude for the people (and companions) in your life and work who matter most? The 3 As can help.

Acknowledge: people want to be seen and heard. When someone’s talking to you, do you listen to understand, or are you multitasking (a.k.a. fake listening) or thinking about your response to an earlier point (listening to respond)? Acknowledge people by giving them your undivided attention.

Appreciate: Notice what people in your life do and how well they do it. Be specific when you compliment. Instead of saying, “You’re awesome” (empty praise), say, “I love how you gave that customer your full attention, understood their concerns, and used your resources to solve their problem and make them feel that they were the most important people in the world to you at that moment.”

Anticipate: Know their aspirations well enough that you can anticipate ways to help them grow personally and professionally and set them up for success as they face more significant challenges and levels of responsibility.

Daisy was found several years ago on the side of the road in Virginia and taken to a shelter and then a foster family. She found us on the internet. We think she was in an abusive household because she would often growl at men when we first got her.

The nearly six years we were together brought joy to our lives. Daisy loved chasing her ball, following Nicole obsessively, and treasuring her five daily walks. She was a dear friend and excellent companion, and we are grateful for our time together.

Rest in Peace, sweet girl. 

P.S. I help you combine your unique genius with simplicity and practical wisdom by turning your patterns and ideas into conscious processes you can teach, evaluate, and improve. Your genius creates an inspiring belief in the future. Simplicity creates a shared understanding, and practical wisdom generates coordinated action. 

Hit reply to this message or schedule a call to discuss ways process visuals can accelerate your growth and success.

Chris Kolenda: It’s what you’re hearing, Listen. You don’t have to suck at listening.

It’s what you’re hearing, Listen. You don’t have to suck at listening.

Do you find yourself repeating yourself or asking others to repeat themselves? Is miscommunication a challenge at your company? This could be a result of common listening errors.

“It’s not what you heard; it’s what you’re hearing, listen.” The immortal words of deceased rap star DMX tell us, “It’s what you’re hearing, listen.”

The trouble with hearing is that it can be hard to listen. According to a 2022 Harris poll, the average company loses eight hours of productivity per week per employee due to miscommunication. That’s one day per week and 400 hours per year down the drain. At a $50 per hour wage, that’s an annual $20,000 loss. In a company with 100 employees at that average wage, you are out $2 million. As DMX might say, “Errrrrr.”

If listening skills could improve at your workplace, you definitely want to read on.

Two common listening errors are distracted listening and listening to respond. 

Distracted listening occurs when you try multitasking when someone is speaking to you. Your mind pulls in two directions. You try tapping out a coherent sentence on the keyboard or phone while Jane is telling you about a problem in marketing. You’re probably looking at your screen instead of Jane. You’re hearing, but you are not listening.

Two things happen. First, your performance at each task is terrible. Your sentence is awful, and you get a fraction of Jane’s message. You waste time rewriting the sentence and asking Jane to repeat herself or acting on an erroneous understanding. Some studies suggest that your performance while multitasking is the equivalent of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Second, Jane thinks you don’t care. You may have your back to her or your eyes glued to the screen, making comments like, “I’m listening … oh, that’s awful … I’ll get on it … thanks for telling me.” Jane knows you only caught part of her message, and your lack of eye contact and reflective listening is insulting. 

How do you feel when you try to talk to someone in distracted listening mode? Jane feels the same way you do.

Listening to respond is a more subtle problem I suffered for years until I learned how it affected my ability to communicate.  

Listening to respond means hearing something that triggers you, and your mind drifts into crafting your response instead of listening to the entire conversation. You might be making eye contact, but your mind is focused on what you will say instead of what the other person says.

In meetings, I would play with various arguments in my head about how to counter or support a person’s point and miss the rest of their message. When I gave my response, it was often out of step with the flow of the discussion. They moved forward; I was stuck in the past because I wanted to deliver the perfect response to something someone said ten minutes ago. I was hearing but not listening.

Listening to understand is the way to go, saving you time and boosting your credibility. When you listen to understand, you give the person speaking your undivided attention, and you ask follow-up questions to make sure what they meant and what you understood are in sync.

Most people err on the side of brevity, so you’re only getting part of the message anyway, and you need them to amplify their main points. Some great open-ended questions include:

  • Tell me more about X.
  • When Y happened, how did you feel about that?
  • Describe in more detail what you observed.
  • Help me to understand your point of view on Z.
  • Talk me through your thought process on this.

As they answer your questions, you want to make sure you understand their message (and to be sure they know you understand it), so put their point in your own words, beginning with statements or questions like Help me to know if I understand you correctlyMay I summarize what I think are your key points on this matter before we move on? [The latter question works particularly well when someone is overexplaining or moving to a new point.]

When they say, “Yes, that’s exactly right,” you have mutual understanding and can co-create a way forward. [Check out my video on using RAVEN to encourage the psychological confidence of people to disagree agreeably.]

How well is listening to understand working for you? Send me an email and let me know!

Chris Kolenda: What we're getting wrong about “Command and Control” and why you need it to succeed.

What we’re getting wrong about “Command and Control” and why you need it to succeed.

Have you heard leadership and management gurus rubbishing military-style command and control leadership practices?

The military has a field order paragraph called Command and Control. The gurus presume command and control means someone barking orders (command) and micromanaging compliance (control).

If you’ve ever been in a good military unit, you probably scratch your head at what they mean by the term versus what you’ve seen with your own eyes.

Only the worst leaders in the U.S. military try to lead that way.

The only ones who’ve been successful using that approach fought even bigger idiots who barked orders while no one listened to them (or, even worse, did listen to them).

When you look at what the terms actually mean, you’ll notice that command and control is precisely what good leaders have done across time and cultures. 

Command means to be clear about responsibility and accountability: the authority to make decisions, set priorities, and enforce standards, while exemplifying the behaviors expected of everyone in the organization. 

You make decisions. You have the authority to do so unilaterally, but only the most benighted and ineffective make it a habit. Sure, there are times in combat when you need to do so. As a matter of normal practice, wise commanders take the time to co-create so they gain buy-in among the ranks. Doing so creates trust. Good leaders draw from that well of trust only when absolutely necessary. 

Command creates clear accountability. You are answerable to your boss (or board), your employees, and your peers and partners for your mission and desired outcomes.

You must exemplify the values they expect of every team member. In the U.S. Civil War, for example, commanders rode on horseback so they could see and be seen. The message was simple: I’m the most vulnerable person on this team; everyone is shooting at me. If I can do my job, so can everyone else.

The highest casualty rates in the Civil War were colonels and brigadier generals. Their examples of courage inspired their unit’s performance.

The good news for business leaders: no one is shooting at you. 

Control identifies the scope of the person’s responsibility, which includes communication and cooperation. 

Effective delegation includes identifying the mission and desired outcomes along with the boundaries of your direct report’s decision-making authority. The boundaries may include territory, resources, legal and regulatory restrictions and the like. You have your direct reports let you know when they get close to the boundary to coordinate and preserve your decision-making space.  

Control delineates your expectations about cooperation between your direct reports. You cannot afford the silo-effect where people operate in fiefdoms and don’t cooperate for the common good. You know you have a silo challenge when everyone reports progress but the overall situation is going downhill. 

Creating objectives that rely on the cooperation of your direct reports yields a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts effect.

Are you ready to use command and control properly?

  1. Set clear objectives by identifying the task you want someone to do and the outcomes you want them to achieve. X so that Y is your winning formula.
  2. Use co-creation to gain buy-in for decisions and changes – it makes accountability much easier.
  3. Model the behaviors you want from your employees. You lose trust with a do as I say, not as I do approach.
  4. Set up your direct reports for success when you delegate by giving them the X so that Y, co-creating boundaries, and asking “what does ideal support from me look like?”
  5. Identify lead and supporting actors for each company objective, so your direct reports are clear on their roles and cooperation responsibilities.

Practice command and control like this, and you’ll find your company improves trust, communication, cooperation, and performance.

Are you interested in a company offsite that will make a positive impact for many years? Battlefields, historical venues, and national parks are terrific venues for adventure experiences that build trust and capacity. 

Send me an email or schedule a call to discuss if a leadership off-site like this is right for you. 

Chris Kolenda: Xenophon shows how to improve employee performance

Xenophon shows how to improve employee performance

Do you have inconsistent employee performance? Like most leaders, you have stellar performers, average ones, and some employees who don’t seem to get it.

The question is where to put your emphasis. Do you focus on getting below-average performers up to snuff, praising your top talent, or boosting the average?

It’s a timeless question that’s vexed leaders throughout history. The ancient Greek philosopher, military leader, and entrepreneur Xenophon discusses the challenge in his book Anabasis, or Retreat of the Ten Thousand.

After their military expedition to Persia failed, the leaderless Greeks needed to get home. First, they chose a Spartan who treated people severely to gain compliance. Leading by fear created a revolt in the ranks.

The next commander took the opposite approach, wanting to be loved. He heaped praise on good performance and believed that withholding praise was sufficient for people to self-correct. The army fell into chaos.

The army asked Xenophon to take over. He began by exemplifying the standards he expected of everyone and explaining the “why” behind them. He led primarily by persuasion, gaining the army’s buy-in. 

He praised excellent performance because he recognized that positive reinforcement was the best way to show people what right looked like. He corrected subpar work and indiscipline while showing people how to do it better next time.

The expedition returned home intact, eluding a larger enemy force for over a thousand miles.

Xenophon shows that buy-in makes accountability easier. When people are clear on the standards and expectations and accept the rationale behind them, they are more likely to follow them voluntarily because they believe that they are better off by doing the right thing.

  1. Make your standards clear using the” X so that Y” formula: X is your value or expectation, and Y is your desired results or outcomes. 
  2. Co-create these standards with your employees because buy-in improves accountability.
  3. Walk the talk. You have to model the standards or no one will take them seriously.
  4. Use positive reinforcement to illustrate what right looks like. People can more easily replicate what they’ve seen or done.
  5. Correct sub-par performance by focusing on “how to do it better next time” instead of just fixating on what went wrong. 

This approach sets the foundation for “disciplined initiative,” where people do what’s right without micromanagement and innovate for the common good.

To read more about Xenophon and disciplined initiative, see my chapter “Discipline: Creating the Foundation for an Initiative-Based Organization” in Leadership: The Warrior’s Art.

How’s this approach working for you? Email me to let me know.