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.

Chris Kolenda: 3 Ways AI will transform the construction and manufacturing industries

3 Ways AI will transform the construction and manufacturing industries

The New York Times says that articles on AI are among 2023’s most popular. It’s no wonder – this revolutionary capability will transform business and life. Are you wondering how AI will affect your business? If you’re like most leaders I’ve been talking to, you want to get ahead of the curve, not left behind.

I have several construction and manufacturing clients, so I asked my Chatbot to help me identify some of the most important ways artificial intelligence will affect them. These three stood out to me.

  1. Predictive Maintenance: Why wait for the wheel to break? AI-powered sensors can alert you before a machine or component fails, reducing downtime and saving costs.

Preventative maintenance will remain essential in prolonging the life of components. Combined with AI-powered predictive maintenance, you can avoid the massive costs of corrective and remedial action

  1. Supply Chain Simplification: AI can streamline your supply chain, making it transparent and efficient while uncovering hidden costs.

Complicated, hyper-efficient, cheap supply chains were the gold standard until the fragile system crashed. Many CEOs still complain about supply chain disruptions, clinging to a system that no longer works. 

The wise ones are simplifying their supply chains to reduce the system’s friction. Fewer transactions mean less opportunity for things to go wrong. AI can help you build resilience by reducing complexity.

I just finished visiting with a CEO who simplified their supply chain. Their business grew 38% in the past two years by acquiring new business from competitors who couldn’t deliver. 

  1. 3D Visualization, Testing, and Building: Expect 3D printed structures designed by AI, reducing cost and time.

The most successful companies will rethink what ‘building’ and manufacturing means when machines weave structures and components “like spiders spin webs” (Chatbot).

AI will load-test your products and structures before you build them. How well will that building stand up to a hurricane? How long can you expect these components to last under adverse conditions? What are the likely risks of harm to people, animals, and the environment, and what are the most effective ways to reduce the probability of problems arising and their seriousness?

Much of the AI conversation centers on the potential risks of rogue bots. These discussions are vital, and policymakers need to develop sensible safety protocols. 

Closer to home, AI will have a transformative effect on your business. Daniel Burrus calls it a Hard Trend – something that will happen (like the sun rising tomorrow). Will you ride the crest of the wave or get pulled under it?

Here’s a massive implication that transcends industries. Workplace trust will rise in importance as AI reshapes and replaces traditional roles. Higher trust leads to stronger innovation, lower anxiety, and better teamwork and productivity. Low-trust environments, by contrast, arouse suspicion, heighten dysfunctional stress, impede innovation, and damage performance. 

Will AI strengthen trust in your company or diminish it? The answer is 100% up to you.

You face a dynamic hybrid workplace that includes disruptive advances like AI, four generations of employees, varied viewpoints within a polarized polity, and unprecedented social pressures. 

My newest program, Building an Inspiring Culture®, is ideal for companies who want to strengthen how their leaders build trust, gain buy-in, and create productive accountability. You need a strong foundation to build a tall building.

Schedule a call to learn more about the program and see if it’s a good fit.  

Chris Kolenda: Here’s how the most respected leaders simplify.

Here’s how the most respected leaders simplify.

Do you find that getting everyone in your company on the same page is a struggle, especially in a hybrid work environment?

The benefits of everyone rowing in the right direction and cadence reduces anxiety and distress, increases cooperation and innovation, and avoids wasting time in misunderstandings.

The challenge, of course, is that our businesses are both complicated and complex. 

Complicated means you have many connected elements: step-by-step processes to follow so things work properly. A car engine is complicated – the engine, transmission, steering, brakes, etc. must integrate for the car to function. 

Your business is also complex, meaning interwoven. You have multiple dependencies outside your control, such as suppliers, partners, regulations, laws, competitors, technology, social changes, etc. These variables are constantly interacting, often creating novel situations and arrangements.

Inside your head, your business starts to look like this:

Imagine trying to explain this picture to your employees. Your complexifying would be incoherent. People would take away what they wanted and discard the rest. The result: employees are on different pages, pulling in different directions, and your business wastes time and money in misunderstandings, relitigating decisions, and heightened distress.

The likelihood that you are complexifying is worse than you imagine.

I asked my Chatbot to draw a picture of complexity arising from the interaction of only two variables over time. 

One of the examples of this picture the Chatbot provided was the interaction between Market Demand and Supply Chain Efficiency:

An increase in consumer demand can lead to complexities in the supply chain, especially if the supply chain isn’t agile enough to adapt. This scenario can result in stock shortages, delayed deliveries, or increased costs. Conversely, an efficient supply chain facing low demand can lead to overproduction and excess inventory.

Instead of trying to explain the picture above, you could simplify the matter using a double-axis chart like this:

You can plot where you are on the chart and take actions that move you to the upper right quadrant. Everyone can visualize the situation and actions that lead to the desired result.

Simplifying does not mean dumbing down. 

Simplifying makes complex information accessible while retaining its integrity. Simplification is a skillful art of communication that preserves content quality and improves understanding. Doing so respects your audience. 

Dumbing down, on the other hand, alters or diminishes the value of the information, removing important content and context and patronizing or misleading your co-workers.

I tend to get complex descriptions when asking CEOs about their business strategy. I’ll query their direct reports and mostly get different answers. As you can imagine, the deviations increase as you ripple from the center to the periphery. 

The explanations make perfect sense to you but leave everyone mystified and confused. They do what they think is right, leading to people rowing hard in different directions at different cadences. 

Can simplifying improve your outcomes? I’ll help you see where you are complexifying and identify ways you can simplify without becoming simplistic.


Schedule a call with me or email me to begin your simplifying process.

Chris Kolenda: The Harvard, MIT, and Penn Presidents show the Cost of Hypocrisy.

The Harvard, MIT, and Penn Presidents show the Cost of Hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the destroyer of trust. 

Only 21 percent of people trust leadership at work (Gallup), and do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do practices are at the heart of it. If you want to improve places in your organization that experience challenges with buy-in, accountability, and employee turnover, addressing hypocrisy is an excellent place to start.

Only a rare person, like Roman Roy in Succession, is genuine in their hypocrisy. The vast majority rationalize their inconsistencies and say-do gaps. 

This problem was on powerful display as the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn quibbled and prevaricated about whether on-campus calls for the genocide of Jews were ok. 

If you listened to the Ivy League presidents’ responses in isolation, you might believe that they used the First Amendment to guide their responses.

The problem, of course, is hypocrisy.

The same presidents who enforce ideological speech codes, embrace woke racism (as John McWhorter terms it), use DEI officials as thought police, and whose institutions rank at the bottom for freedom of expression suddenly became First Amendment defenders when it came to antisemitism.

They probably did not intend to be hypocritical; they just were. They’ve spent so much time inhaling their own gas inside air-tight thought bubbles that they could not see the inconsistencies or imagined people were too blinkered to notice the double standards. 

Do you think it can’t happen at your company?

Most workplace examples are more subtle but have the same toxic effect. Managers who:

  • selectively enforce rules and personally flaunt them, 
  • take credit for their employees’ work but throw them under the bus when they make a mistake and 
  • ask their employees to “go the extra mile” but not do the same in return 

These are common reasons your employees do not trust their supervisors.

In each case, the manager has made some rationalization to excuse the hypocrisy. Their direct reports and teammates see a pattern of behavior that damages trust.

To build trust and avoid hypocrisy, encourage your subordinates to follow the principle of reciprocity. 

  • Do I sanction myself for violating the rule? Change the rule if it’s bad, or correct the inconsistency. Everyone sees when you don’t walk the talk, and believing otherwise assumes that your employees are morons. Yes, they see that, too.
  • Would I want my boss to treat me the same way? Start passing the credit and absorbing the blame. Give your boss some credit for recognizing that a positive environment boosts performance and that decent leaders take the hit when shortcomings occur. They won’t replace you with an employee you’ve bragged about. 
  • Do I go the extra mile for my employees? Do your employees believe that? How do you know? 

Machiavelli said that no one knows the prince like the people. They don’t believe what they hear or read from you, only what they see. They see you – warts and all – more thoroughly than you imagine. They know when the emperor has no clothes.

Getting employees’ candid views is challenging because people fear retribution. The best way to elicit their sentiments is a combination of confidential questionnaires, focus groups, and individual interviews. 

Then, you’ve got to let them know the action you plan to take, take it, and follow up.

Do you want to understand better how your workforce sees their managers? I can help you identify the say-do gaps that undermine trust and impede performance and implement practical actions that strengthen your company. Send me an email or schedule a call with me today 

If you think investing in leaders is expensive, try paying the price of hypocrisy.

Chris Kolenda: What an Offsite should do for your leadership team

What an offsite should do for your leadership team

Are you looking for ways to strengthen how well your leadership team works together?

You are not alone. Remote and hybrid work reduce in-person contact time and place a premium on building trust, communicating clearly, and strengthening buy-in.

Relationships are vital to successful leadership teams; you must make every in-person opportunity count.

Many leaders use offsites as a team-building tool and often come away disappointed.

If done poorly, the offsite becomes a forgettable boondoggle as people nod off in the conference center, breathing stale air, staring outside at the pool, and wondering when the pain will end.

You wonder if the juice was worth the squeeze.

It does not have to be that way.

If done well, an off-site can boost your relationships, strengthening trust, buy-in, and communication. You get people out of their comfort zones, doing something interesting that brings new perspectives and energy to your business.

You should gain new tools that get results and shorten the path to success. The experience should get everyone on the same page and pointed in the right direction and create a shared language and stories that speed up trust and understanding. You come away with a durable commitment to the leadership team you aspire to be.

Your #1s will draw on that experience for years, using it to overcome obstacles and seize new opportunities. People remember the best offsites for the rest of their lives.

Creating unforgettable, high-value experiences is vital to your team’s growth and health, so my events occur at national parks and powerful historical venues.

Here’s how the process works. 

  1. We discuss your focus areas and select a location and game plan.
  2. You get adventure, thought leadership customized to your needs, tools that improve performance and decision-making, and time to address your most essential issues.
  3. We conclude with a workshop, creating action steps that get results.

Are you ready to forget the hotel “bored-room” offsites and go for something extraordinary that will pay dividends for years?

Here’s what CEO Lisa Larter said about our recent trip to Antietam & Gettysburg

Our leadership team recently attended an exclusive leadership experience with Chris in Antietam and Gettysburg. We spent three days immersed in conversations that were specific to our team and the aspirations and challenges we are currently facing as leaders.

Chris used lessons from the battles at Antietam and Gettysburg to help us see our leadership skills in a whole new way. He provided us with tools and models that we can use for a lifetime.

What was great about this experience was the level of customization Chris provided for us in conjunction with being outdoors in beautiful and historic places. This was not a traditional talking head leadership experience. Chris is thoughtful in terms of how he is able to get every member of the team to participate.

His use of intentional questions not only allowed us to get to know each other better but also gave us the opportunity to share openly and honestly, which strengthened trust between all of us.

Chris fosters an environment where he models what he is teaching and inspires everyone to really use critical thinking in all aspects of how we lead.

He is a master facilitator and guide, providing us with a life-changing and transformational leadership experience. If you have a team of 5 or more leaders and you want to improve your culture and communication, I can’t recommend this event enough.

Some of what we discussed included:

  • How to make courageous decisions and become brave leaders
  • How to get over imposter syndrome and the importance of caring about others
  • How to move out of your comfort zone and navigate chaos
  • The competitive advantage of clarity, speed, and disruption
  • How to create a high-performing organization
  • The importance of defining acceptable versus awesome to eradicate perfectionism
  • Why feedback is useless and feedforward is the only way
  • How to cultivate initiative within a team
  • How to inspire accountability and get people to anticipate outcomes
  • How to disagree agreeably

This is what we covered in one day…

My notebook overflows with value from the time we spent with Chris. If you need a leadership expert who walks his talk and delivers value, Chris Kolenda is definitely that person.

Let’s discuss what an outdoor offsite could look like for you and your organization.

P.S. I’m thinking about hosting an innovative thought leadership event in May at the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields. The objective is to help you develop new thought leadership that simplifies complexity for your clients and employees, provide tools that improve clarity, accountability, buy-in, and decision-making, and arm you with new stories to convey ideas and inspire buy-in. 

Sharing these ideas and experiences will build your relationships with other top leaders and consultants. Magic always happens when terrific people with an abundance mentality help each other grow. 

The investment in this program is $5500 if you pay before December 31st, 2023 or $4500 if you confirm and pay by Friday, December 15th, 2023.

Interested? Send me an email.

Chris Kolenda: 3 Steps to Take Instead of Complaining about Gen Z’s Fragile Mental Health.

3 Steps to Take Instead of Complaining about Gen Z’s Fragile Mental Health.

Do you have Gen Z employees (most of your twenty-somethings) whose mental health is fragile? 

They want feedback but only the positive kind; they’re frequently taking mental health sick days and have difficulty recovering from setbacks. The result is lower productivity, increased workplace drama, and more stress for everyone else.

I hear leaders complaining about Gen Z’s poor resilience and work ethic. You might be correct, but that’s irrelevant.

Here’s the deal: if you cannot inspire your Gen Z employees to contribute their best to your company’s success, the fault is in the mirror.

You can have the best processes and plans in the world, but if you cannot gain the buy-in of the people in front of you, then all you have are interesting theories and ideas that don’t work.

When I worked with the Cleveland Browns a few years ago, the tight ends coach told me he coached at Army in the 1980s under legendary coach Jim Young. I was a cadet then and remembered we were 2-9 my freshman year. It was ugly.

The coach said after the season that Young got them together and said, “This was our fault.” They brought their winning system from the University of Arizona to West Point and expected it to work fine there, too.

Army could not field quarterbacks with cannons for their arms, grow 300+lb linemen who could hold blocks, or receivers who could outrun opposing cornerbacks. 

It was a great system at Arizona but an epic fail at West Point.

Instead of complaining about the talent they didn’t have, Young and his staff examined the talent in front of them. They were smaller than their opponents but quick, agile, disciplined, and made good decisions. 

The best offense for Army’s talent was the so-called wishbone. It amplified their strengths and masked their limitations. Army went 8-3-1 the following year, tying Tennessee in Knoxville and winning a bowl game. 

Your Gen Z employees grew up with the toxic effects of social media, online bullying, and snowplow parenting (where parents violently blast away any obstacles in their children’s lives so they never encounter any difficulties). Mental health challenges among teens skyrocketed after 2012.

You handle social media and online bullying okay because you’ve built life experience and resilience beforehand. Many in Gen Z never had that opportunity.

It’s not their fault.

If you cannot adapt your practices to the talent in front of you, it’s your fault, not theirs.

Here are some things you can do:

  1. Feeding Forward. Most employees get defensive when you rake them over the coals for mistakes. Many Gen Zs shut down. Instead of harping on past mistakes, focus on improving future performance. Ask these questions:
    1. What went well that you want to sustain? (This discussion focuses on the behaviors you want them to repeat in the future).
    2. In what ways did you improve over the last time? (This discussion helps them visualize their improvement, so they keep doing it.)
    3. What would you like to improve for next time? (This discussion gets them to focus on how to improve instead of what they did wrong).
    4. What does ideal support from me look like? (This question elicits a specific response and lets them know you want to support them).
  2. Weekly 1-1 check-ins. Spend 15 minutes one-on-one with each direct report, setting them up for success. Hit reply if you’d like a copy of the format I recommend.
  3. 90-day Updates. Spend an hour once per quarter with each direct report, discussing how they’ve improved and want to improve over the next 90 days. It’s also an opportunity to update their Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Yes, I have a format for this one, too, that I’m happy to share.

These three simple practices will help your Gen Z (and other employees) contribute their best while reducing sick days and workplace anxiety. 

For a copy of my resources or for more discussion on leading your Gen Z employees, send me an email or schedule a call. 

Chris Kolenda: You cannot afford to waste a single brain when it comes to your company’s success.

You cannot afford to waste a single brain when it comes to your company’s success.

What would happen if all your employees were engaged and committed to your company’s success?

What would change if two-thirds or more of your employees were committed to your company’s success?

Many leaders rely on a few all-stars, hoping the rest can pull some of the load. According to Gallup, barely one out of every three employees reports being engaged at work. With one-third or fewer pulling the load, you are burning the candle at both ends.

I met someone this morning at a global affairs conference in Washington, DC, who shared her story of burnout and walkout. Her employer was content to waste the talents of the unengaged and ride the workhorses until they broke.

No leader intends to waste the brains and talents of their employees, but most don’t know how to move them from unengaged to engaged without micromanagement. Who has the time for that?

What if you could get more people pulling the load? Your all-stars would still be in their zones of genius, stay with you longer, and contribute better, because the unengaged are pulling on the oars in the right direction and cadence.

Everyone has unique gifts– natural strengths or superpowers – that too often get overlooked in the hunt to hire people with the right skills.

You need to put people in roles where they use their natural talents and exploit them with their skills.

When you put people in roles that don’t engage their natural talents or skills, they will fail and drop out.

A more common occurrence is putting people in roles that match their skills but not their natural talents. It’s like putting a big-ideas person into a role that requires them to pore over Excel spreadsheet details. High-functioning big-ideas people will perform the job well but burn more energy than a details person will. This problem is what happened to the person I met in DC.

The upper left quadrant occurs when someone is in a role matching their talents, but they do not yet have the skills to exploit them. Steve Jobs, for example, was in this quadrant during his first stint at Apple. His people skills were so terrible that he got fired from the company he founded.

Jobs grew from the experience and developed enough people skills to avoid being radioactive. He moved into this zone of genius.

How can you help people find their zone of genius? I’ve created the PROM Archetypes® quiz to give you a broad frame. PROM stands for the four types of people you find in the workplace: Pioneers, Reconcilers, Operators, and Mavericks. They each make distinct contributions when in their zones of genius. 

Once you have their PROM Archetype® and identify their zone of genius, you can more precisely define the skills they need to exploit them. You can also use this tool to check your company’s cognitive diversity.

When you know people’s natural talents and skills, you can put them in zone-of-genius roles where they will thrive.

There’s no reason to waste people’s talents.

Would you like to discuss ways to use the PROM Archetypes® to strengthen your company and help everyone get good at getting better? Schedule a call. There’s no cost, obligation, or BS.

Chris Kolenda: Boosting Psychological Confidence

Boosting Psychological Confidence

Psychological confidence arises when people are willing to speak up without fear of retribution; they do so respectfully and are confident they’ll be heard.

I prefer this term over psychological safety because safety-ism has created an expectation that employees should be free from accountability. Psychological confidence is about the courage to speak up and listen with an open mind, not about trigger warnings, safe spaces, and microaggressions.

People with psychological confidence report problems immediately, offer you fresh ideas that improve your business, and responsibly try new things that make your people, processes, and products work better. 

You don’t get innovation without psychological confidence.

According to an Accenture study that cites Gartner, HBR, and Gallup, companies with high psychological safety (confidence) experience:

27% lower turnover

76% higher engagement

50% more productivity

Your employees experience:

74% less stress

67% willingness to try new things

29% more life satisfaction

All three elements are vital for psychological confidence. Employees who fear retribution for disagreeing with their boss will keep problems and ideas to themselves, just like the co-pilot on the ill-fated Air France flight 447. 

The inability to disagree agreeably promotes gaslighting – employees will stay silent to avoid being blasted by a colleague. Such self-censoring is rampant on college campuses. 

Finally, no one will waste the effort to speak up if they don’t believe you’ll take them seriously; exhibit A is FTX’s collapse.

Magic happens when all three elements are working together. The willingness to speak up and disagree agreeably creates open-mindedness. Speaking up and believing you’ll be taken seriously creates confidence, and agreeing disagreeably while knowing you’ll be taken seriously builds trust.

Open-mindedness, confidence, and trust are the heartbeat of psychological confidence, creating the abundance mentality to share wisdom and co-create, leading to innovation.

To help you assess the degree of psychological confidence in your organization, Dr. Mark Goulston and I developed a survey that produces your Net Psychological Confidence Score.  

You can take it here as an individual to gauge your personal level of confidence. We can also create a version customized for your organization.

You’ll gain:

  • Your organization’s Net Psychological Confidence score, which you can use as a baseline for gauging progress.
  • Knowledge on what factors are playing the most significant role in your score.
  • Follow-up videos and action steps you can use immediately to strengthen your organization’s psychological confidence.
  • Greater trust, more innovation, lower turnover, and less stress as you implement these steps. 

Check out the survey here, and email me or schedule a call if you’d like to see if your Net Psychological Confidence Score is a good fit for your organization.