Jeff Marquez supports government senior executives, those serving our country and protecting our way of life, who want to bring out the best in the people and teams.

Leading in the Middle: Assessing your Team

Imagine the candid conversations you can have where you focus on the employee, and the team.

Okay, leaders, you are wrapping another year. It was a challenging year filled with hybrid work adaptation, vaccinate or not, economic uncertainty, the great resignation, and the continued fight for social justice. With that backdrop, how do you feel? How does your Team feel? Was it a successful year for you, for your Team?

This is a common time for periodic or annual counseling. What do you have to say to your individual Team members? Is it the same old stuff about how they performed against company attributes? A few lines about their potential? When you look in the mirror, what do you say to you? Are your affinities and skills aligned? Christopher Kolenda, Ph.D., and Strategic Leaders Academy created a simple yet powerful way to look at your employees and yourself and so that you can raise the level of those important conversations.

As the quad chart shows, you have affinity on the north-south axis and skills on the east-west axis.

The resultant quads tell you and the employee where they are on affinity/skills alignment. During their counseling session, use this quad chart to show your employee how you view their performance. Then ask them how they feel and watch the realization set in. 

– Mismatch (Low skills, low affinity) – those in this quad may be in the wrong job. The chances are that they are struggling with the work, and if you ask them, they do not enjoy the work. Ask them difficult questions about how they feel.

– Burnout (High skills, low affinity) – high performers who do great work but are not happy. They can make things work for a short period but know that they are likely looking for something else. If you don’t address misalignment, disruptive behavior can manifest itself. Job and company satisfaction is waning.

– Growth (High affinity, low skills) – great attitude, enjoys the work but needs more experience. You can see and feel their excitement about their work. They will do what it takes to get the job done. Focus on their growth and development. 

– Empowered (High affinity, high skills) – great attitude, enjoys the work, and good at what they do. Has the experience and enjoys the confidence of others. The alignment of affinity and skills taps into their superpowers.

On two recent occasions, leaders I know used this approach to help them begin the difficult conversation of reorienting employees to other career choices. While difficult at first, the employees felt a burden was lifted, and they eventually appreciated their new direction and the leader’s honesty. The opposite is also true where you can boost an employee’s confidence and commitment as you discuss their good work and great potential.

Imagine the candid conversations you can have where you focus on the employee. Your self-assessment may be quite revealing too. Are you ready? 

2021: A Challenging Year in Reflection

Leading the Middle -2021 – A year in Reflection

Thank you for connecting, sharing your perspectives, thoughts, and experiences. I learned more about leadership, people, and myself than I ever expected. I am filled with gratitude because of you and the experience. I am especially grateful to my friend Aaron who passed earlier this year. I will treasure the lessons from the Bloody Knuckles Garage, his humanness, and grace. As I wrap up the year, I am sharing a few of my favorite words, phrases, and ideas that you gifted to me.

Be more elephant and less hippo

The Mid-Leader Six
As goes the middle, so goes the organization.
Would you follow you?
The Unknowing Mentor
What did your habits do for you today? LEADER
Seek first to understand before being understood.
Tap into the superpowers of your Team.
Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.
People are not on the Team; they are the Team.
They follow you not because they have to but because they want to.
So That…
Create that Friday feeling.
Wisdom is doing now what you will be happy with later.
Like weeds, you have to manage or prune away toxic behaviors.
Talking at the speed of trust.
Find your gratitude.
The power of the pause.
People are your purpose.

Page through my posts if you would like a refresher on any or reach out to me. What was your favorite? Feel free to print and post the word art. Take care of people and take care of yourself.

Leading the Middle: Actionable Values

Values misalignment can be one of the costliest mistakes, both financially and emotionally.

On a recent Monday, I had one of the most energizing discussions with my mastermind group. The topic was values. When was the last time you had an honest discussion about your Team or business values, about your values? Are you able to put your values into practice? How do you apply values when talking to potential clients, or do you even consider them? How do you engage and discuss values with your employees? How do values weave into your world of work?

Values misalignment can be one of the costliest mistakes, both financially and emotionally. They are rarely discussed except in one-way conversations when the boss shares their values, and we see them plastered on the walls. You can do better.

Christopher Kolenda, Ph.D. and Strategic Leaders Academy developed a short questionnaire to help you determine your “What/Values” archetype to help you define the moral and ethical values most important to you so that you can hire, partner with, and support the right people. It is a pairwise comparison based on the Stoics’ four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline. The six archetypes are:

– The Executive (Self-discipline and Wisdom) – best known for keen discernment and quiet competence. They tend to emphasize sound decision-making, persistence, and keen stewardship of resources.

– The Decision-Maker (Wisdom and Courage) – best known for keen discernment and willingness to take sensible risks. They tend to look for and seize upon key opportunities that others miss.

– The Protector (Courage and Justice) – best known for their willingness to take a risk for the safety and well-being of others. They tend to seek roles that emphasize service and protection of vulnerable people or causes.

– The Entrepreneur (Courage and Self-Discipline) – best known for their willingness to take risks to create something of new and important social or economic impact. They tend to seek roles that enable them to create and innovate ideas, products, or causes that benefit others.

– The Advocate (Self-Discipline and Justice) – best known for their persistence in fairness and respect for others and important causes. They tend to fight over the long haul for rights in the face of complex challenges.

– The Campaigner (Justice and Wisdom) – best known for their sound judgment and fairness. They tend to seek equitable and moral solutions to complex challenges.

While there are many approaches out there, this one is accessible, ancient, and secular. Take the quiz at , have your Team members take it, think, engage, and let the growth begin! Thank you, Chris, and the FOCUS Mastermind Group.


Leading the Middle: The Unknowing Mentor – Someone is always Learning from your Leadership

Someone is always watching, listening, and learning from your leadership. 

“Why, Sir?” I asked. “I thought it would be easier to give it to you instead,” said the Operations Officer, who outranked me. I was a commander in Germany. I was at the senior level of my unit but a Mid-Leader at the next higher echelon. I do not remember the mission or task we talked about, but I’ll never forget the leadership in action that day. I responded, “Sir, it may be easier for you and the staff, but not for my Soldiers and me who have to execute.” As he looked at me, it was as if I could see the realization come across his face. We talked about it a bit more. I gave it the good fight, saluted, and left his office.

At the end of the day, I hear my Charge of Quarters calling the unit to attention. The Operations Officer walks into my office. We exchanged greetings, and the conversation went something like this, “Jeff, I changed it back, I thought about it, and you were right. You know, sometimes we, at the next level, forget what it takes to execute. We also have to remember that the staff exists to support commanders and line units.”  

The leadership in action? Not that I pushed back. Not that I influenced the decision. It was about this senior officer coming to my office and taking the time to share his thoughts with me face-to-face. He could have easily told me over the phone, but that was not good enough for him. That day he unknowingly mentored me in empathy, respect, trust, humility, courage, and professionalism in one exchange. He rightly rose through the ranks, retired, and continues to lead today. He gets it.

Someone is always watching, listening, and learning from your leadership. 

What did your Habits do for you Today?

You wake up, go through the morning routine, and off to work you go; habits abound. When do you exercise and focus on your health? Do you read in the morning? You arrive at the office, log on, get your coffee, and do you. In your first meeting or phone call, you repeat the familiar opening words. Same place, same people. Do you always run the meeting?
Do you engage others, say good morning or hello? Is your door open or closed? Are your curtains open? Is your camera on? Can others see you, and is that what you prefer? Habits.
Are you happy with the Team’s productivity, or could it use a boost? Are your habits improving productivity, or could they use a boost?
Some habits help us. Other habits may be dragging us down, restricting our motivation, thinking, leading, and fun. Here is a word reminder to help you check on your habits:
𝗟isten, learn, laugh every day; listen to understand first, learn something new about yourself or your Team, and have some fun, laugh
𝗘xperience something new and help your Team do the same
𝗔ccountability of yourself and others, acknowledge others for their efforts
𝗗evelop or help someone every day; it may very well be the most important and satisfying thing you do 
𝗘mpathize to broaden your understanding of other perspectives
𝗥ead every day; whether it is a book, devotional, or Stoic, to help you grow
Take five minutes and jot down your LEADER habits for the day and reflect on your growth. The experts say it takes anywhere from 21-60 days to form a new habit. You should see a boost in productivity in about that same time. That is the power of habits. 

Taking Care of Your Mid-Leaders

Jeff Marquez authored his latest piece for helping your Mid-Level Leaders be the best versions of themselves. You can read the article here.

How Are You…

Jeff Marquez recently authored this piece on LinkedIn.

Message from the Middle Whether you are a CEO, president, owner, or Mid-Leader, the answers to these three questions reveal a lot about your leadership and organization. Unless you are the CEO, president, or owner, you are a Mid-Leader at some level. The answers reveal how you are taking care of your Mid-Leaders and how your boss is taking care of you.

Trust is Bonding

Jeff Marquez posted this article on Trust on LinkedIn.

While looking at the spaghetti of wires under the dash of my friend Aaron’s car, I remember asking myself, what the heck was I thinking? What was Aaron thinking allowing me to touch his classic car? Well, I am installing the fourth and most difficult wiring harness now. I know why he allowed me to touch his classic car–trust.

I think back to our previous work situations where we both would shake our heads at what we faced—often like spaghetti wires. We would discuss the mission or task, what right looked like, discuss with the Team to get their input, decide, and execute. Our expectations of each other matched our behaviors and that feeling cut across our Team.

Trust cuts across all levels of people from CEOs, senior executives, Mid-Leaders to early-career professionals, and everyone in between including personal relationships. Whether you are a CEO wanting to cultivate trust with your Mid-Leaders or a Mid-Leader wanting to strengthen your Team, here are a few ways to make trust bonding for your Team.

1. Inspire trust by being open, transparent, and clear about challenges. Most people want the Team and others to do well. But they can’t help if they don’t know so share challenges, and wins too! And remember, the best ideas do not always come from the top. 

2. Lead by example with candor, honesty, and vulnerability. Be the person you want your Team to be. As you share, they will share. As you innovate, let them surprise with their views and talents. 

3. Make your expectations clear and make trust part of your Team’s everyday conversations. My friend and trust expert, John O’Grady, describes having high trust relationships that start with “you have my trust, and it can only be eroded or lost” rather than a “trust must be earned” mentality. Talk with employees about how their demonstrated behavior aligns with your expectations. And when you think there may be a trust issue arising, approach it from a position of authentic curiosity instead of being accusatory. Find the underlying reasons for the issue and collaboratively address them. Maintain trust behaviors and a trusted environment before it becomes broken. Be proactive.

Trust creates a sense of psychological safety and can be an incredible inoculant when bad things happen to good people and good organizations. Think about your past year but more importantly, think about the year before you. Trust can make you feel in the most positive and profound ways. It fosters confidence, commitment, and teamwork. Who does not want that? Start trust bonding now.

The Mid-Leader Multiplier aka Genius Maker

Jeff Marquez recently authored this piece for mid-level leaders on LinkedIn.

I have advised CEOs, owners, and senior executives that if you want to get the pulse on your organization, ask the mid-leaders—the heart and soul, the core of the company, business, or agency. They straddle the strategic and tactical levels of an organization, oscillate their thinking to increase value and impact up, down, and across, manage a finite set of resources, and are responsible for day-to-day operations more than any other manager or leader. More importantly, they are the critical link to employee recruiting and retention and, ultimately, to mission or project success. 

Mid-Leaders shoulder a lot of responsibility. How do you get it all done? It is because of your Team. You know you cannot do it alone. But are you leveraging the full intelligence of your Team? In her book, “Multipliers,” Liz Wiseman describes how two types of leaders leverage intelligence: 

Diminishers: Some leaders seemed to drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone else. We’ve all worked with these black holes. They create a vortex that sucks energy out of everyone and everything around them. When they walk into a room, the shared IQ drops and the length of the meeting doubles. In countless settings these leaders were idea killers and energy destroyers. Other people’s ideas suffocated and died in their presence and the flow of intelligence came to an abrupt halt around them. Around these leaders, intelligence flowed only one way: from them to others.

Multipliers: “Other leaders used their intelligence in a fundamentally different way. They applied their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capability of people around them. People got smarter and better in their presence. Ideas grew; challenges were surmounted; hard problems were solved. When these leaders walked into a room, light bulbs started going off over people’s heads. Ideas flew so fast that you had to replay the meeting in slow motion just to see what was going on. Meetings with them were idea mash-up sessions. These leaders seemed to make everyone around them better and more capable. These leaders weren’t just intelligent themselves–they were intelligence Multipliers.

Perhaps these leaders understood that the person sitting at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is the genius maker, not the genius.

Are you a diminisher or a multiplier? You used to be the one doing “it.” You might have been the smartest one in the room on “it,” but now your job is to be the genius maker of others. How do you do that? How do you inspire others to contribute their ideas, their intelligence? How do you become a multiplier? Wiseman offers five disciplines:

1. Attract and optimize talent – you are a talent magnet because you attract and deploy talent to its fullest regardless of who owns the resource.

2. Create intensity that requires the best thinking – you create a space where everyone has permission to think and do their best work; a comfortable, safe, and intense climate. 

3. Extend challenges – plants seeds for opportunity by challenging others, stretching the organization.

4. Debate decisions – you drive decisions by engaging people in debate upfront, leading to decisions that they understand and can execute efficiently. 

5. Instill ownership and accountability – transfer ownership, allowing your Team to own their work and expect complete work.  

Add these two habits to accompany your multiplier discipline: 

1. Ask great questions. Make them broad and open, so your Team will tap into and share their intelligence. 

2. Listen more and learn to appreciate the intelligence and genius of your Team. 

Be a multiplier. I often say the best ideas do not always come from the top. Carving out time and space for you to engage your Team’s genius is a low-cost, secure investment with a high payoff. 

Message from the Middle – Dealing with Toxic and Difficult People

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on LinkedIn.

Do you have a jerk, bully, or slacker among you? Like weeds, you have to manage or prune away their behaviors. Chances are the face of a person is coming to mind. What feelings does this person evoke–stress, negativity, anxiety, or anger? Their toxic behavior is harmful to your Team. So how do you deal with difficult or toxic people? Step one is to determine the observable actions and behavior of such an individual and the effects on your organization. Then what?

My colleague and friend Chris Kolenda teamed up with executive coach, international best-selling author, and former FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer Mark Goulston, M.D., to share ways to deal with toxic behavior. It was pure gold.

Mark described a typical approach of a toxic person. They charm, frustrate, anger, and outrage you in that order. They use innuendos, and when you respond to it, they got you. Instead, look them in the eye and listen for a question. Then and only then do you respond. He says, “expect difficult people to be difficult, expect them to push or prod.” When they do, he advises holding a little bit of yourself back. They often do not have substance because they rely on provocation.

I have had the unfortunate experience of a toxic boss, and Mark described their behavior to a tee. Now, here you are in the throes of chaos, in the moment, face to face with the toxic one. What do you? Mark says pause and say to yourself, “opportunity for poise,” and do the following three steps:

1. Do not act on the first thought that comes to mind because it is your defense.

2. Do not act on the second thought that comes to mind because it is your attack or retaliation mode.

3. Act on the third because it is getting closer to solution mode.

I reflected on my experience and how I thought that the boss was just having a bad day. That day turned into weeks, then months. Toxic behavior can cause tremendous damage ranging from losing employees, decreased productivity, losing sleep, and impacts on family and loved ones. To prevent or minimize the damage, Mark offered the following ways to deal with a toxic or difficult boss, employee, or peer.

The Boss – If you have a difficult boss, use what Mark calls assertive humility. The tone is important, so a bit of emotion might be necessary.

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something that is affecting my results. When would be a good time to talk?” He or she is likely geared toward results, so they will be curious.

2. At the time, find something positive, flatter them. “Do you know how smart you are in ______ (goal setting, vision…pick something they do well)?” They will become disarmed.

3. Tell them you are bringing that up because you do not want them to distract others from the potential that the specific skill or talent can bring to the organization. In other words, their toxic or difficult behavior is distracting and preventing employees from seeing the boss’s skills and talent.

4. If necessary, follow up with, “You have a little control of what you say and how you say it, but you have no control of how it is heard. I and others have observed that you are triggering flashbacks in people. Those flashbacks are not always positive like an angry parent, and they can be tough for people to work around. Try to trigger flashbacks that are positive and remind others of a positive parent, coach, or mentor.” 

5. Finish it with, “You have no idea what kind of productivity you can get from people who, when you trigger them, either want to kill themselves or kill you. And you turn them into people who want to kill for you. It will blow your mind!”

Employee – If you have a difficult employee, again, use assertive humility with the appropriate tone. 

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something.”

2. Then say, “I’m really getting close to rooting against you, and it pains me. In fact, I do not want to work with anyone in this company I do not root for. The reason I’m getting close to rooting against you is because…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Let them know that you do not believe that is the person they really are, that they are better than that. “Let’s consider this a wake-up call conversation that could lead to another one because if I get to a point where I am rooting against you, we will have to make changes.”

Peer – If you have a difficult peer or colleague, use assertive humility with tone.

1. Tell them, “I am getting really close to avoiding you. And I do not want to avoid you. It is bad for our Team and for our cooperation.”

2. Say, “The reason I am close to wanting to avoid you, why I am having this conversation is…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them know that you do not believe that is who they are or that something must be triggering them. “Instead of taking on the behavior of avoiding you, and I am not the only one, I am bringing it to your attention.”

Finally, Mark has a formula worthy of remembering: aggression + principle=conviction and aggression – principle=hostility. “Conviction makes you strong; hostility makes you wild.” If you have toxic or difficult people among you, manage or prune away the behavior. Let these tactics help you confront them, and get you back to focusing on your powerful Team and sustainable success.