Tag Archive for: culture

Chris Kolenda Leading with Dignity: Mandela's Lesson for Biden and Us All

Leading with Dignity: Mandela’s Lesson for Biden and Us All

Mandela’s leadership was about choosing dignity over power

I spent the past two weeks in South Africa, our final stop being the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on June 27th. Mandela’s wisdom and grace inspired me. He negotiated a peaceful transfer of power from the delegitimized apartheid government to one that represented all South Africans and launched the Truth and Reconciliation process that followed.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate occurred that evening. The contrast was striking. 

Unlike most developing world leaders who rewrite the rules to stay in control, Mandela stepped down after a single term. 

  1. Commitment to Democracy: Mandela believed sincerely in the principles of democracy and wanted to set a precedent for peaceful and democratic transitions of power in South Africa. By stepping down after one term, he reinforced the importance of constitutional democracy and term limits.
  2. Age and Health: Mandela was 80 years old when he stepped down. Significant factors were his age and desire to spend more time with his family after decades of political and personal struggles.
  3. Leadership Transition: Mandela was keen on ensuring a smooth transition of power. Thabo Mbeki, who had served as his Deputy President, was well-prepared to take over. Mandela supported Mbeki’s candidacy, ensuring continuity and stability for the nation.
  4. Continuing Legacy: After stepping down, Mandela remained active in various social and humanitarian causes. He focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and education through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

By stepping down, Nelson Mandela underscored his commitment to the principles he fought for and ensured that South Africa’s democracy would be robust and resilient in the years to come.

South Africa certainly has its issues today. The African National Congress has been running the country virtually unopposed since 1994 and has become disastrously corrupt. The problem is so bad that the ANC lost significant power in this year’s election, having to share power with the Democratic Alliance.

I’m grateful to President Biden. He visited my Afghanistan outpost in 2008, and in his speeches, he often refers to his visit to the Kunar River Valley. He even mentioned me and our unit in a 2010 speech at the VFW convention. 

Today, he’s stubbornly clinging to power. Aides and family members have systematically misled the public that everything’s fine and that we should not believe our own eyes that have watched the evident mental and physical decline. The debate showed a naked emperor.

He seems to have surrounded himself with people who will tell him what he wants to hear (you’re the only one who can save us) instead of what he needs to hear (it’s time to step down with a secure place in history and set up an appealing successor to win). 

Who benefits from egging him on?

What’s the upshot for you and me? You need trusted advisors who want what’s best for you and will tell you the truth, including when it’s time for another chapter

Departing the scene with dignity, whether by promotion, transfer, or retirement, while setting up your organization to thrive in your absence is among the most significant legacies you can bestow. 

Leaders like George Washington and Nelson Mandela show the way. 

Don’t let your leadership get to this point. Book a call with me so we can create a game plan.

Manager getting burned out at work

The Problem with “Servant Leadership”

There are many reasons for increased manager burnout. I want to call attention to a particularly pernicious problem: servant leadership.

Like many people, especially in the military, I regarded “servant” as the highest form of leadership [selfless service is one of the Army’s values.]. 

After all, leading includes service to a higher purpose, the organization, and the people in it. Seventy percent of Fortune 500 companies reportedly say they practice servant leadership.

Well, servant leadership burned me out. 

I was wrong to advance an unexamined piece of conventional wisdom, and I encourage you to rethink it and focus simply on being a good leader.

Do you worry about burnout? You are not alone. According to Harvard Business Review, over 50% of managers feel burned out. 

Burned-out managers exhibit behaviors that degrade their performance, well-being, and the overall health of their teams and organizations. These include:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased irritability
  • Poor decisions
  • Self-neglect
  • Lower creativity
  • Less appreciation of employee efforts
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Poor communication

According to Merriam-Webster, a servant is “a person in the employ and subject to the direction or control of an individual or company.” A servant lacks agency. The implications are significant.

Ripe for Abuse. Almost anything goes when “the cause” is the highest good. 

“I want you to stay until 10 pm tonight to work on this presentation.” 

“But it’s my anniversary, and I promised to go to dinner with my wife.”

“I’m sorry about the timing. I really need you to work on this. You are a servant leader in this company, so you have to sacrifice for the greater good.”

Reliance on selfless service and servant leadership is a common way to cover up poor planning, sloppy time management, bullying, and other dysfunctional behaviors.

No Boundaries. As a selflessly serving servant, you have to be “on” at all times. Responsiveness is vital. When your boss texts you at 11 pm on Saturday night, you had better reply within minutes.

Dinner with your family? Storytime with your kids? Softball game? You’d better have your phone ready to answer your boss’s call.

When one of your employees is stressed out, you take on their emotional burdens and workload. You’ll do anything to serve your people.

Constantly prioritizing the needs of others emotionally and physically drains you. That’s what your company demands when they tell you to be a servant leader.

Denial of Self. There can be no self for those who serve selflessly. As a servant leader, you are expected to neglect your own well-being because everyone and everything else comes first. You need to go everywhere, do everything, be everyone for everyone. 

I’ve lived this life, and it costs me and my loved ones. I thought it was the price of being a leader. I tried not to pass on this mentality to my direct reports, encouraging them to set boundaries and take care of themselves, but my personal example sent mixed messages.

Yes, serving is part of leading, but so are requirements like making tough decisions, enforcing standards, and firing people. It can be exhausting, and you need to be vigilant about your capacity and energy to lead the way your company and people deserve and to be the kind of parent, sibling, friend, etc., that your loved ones deserve. 

Here’s What to do instead

Be a leader; forget the label. Use your judgment. Focus on being a good leader who inspires people to contribute their best to your organization’s success. Sometimes, the good of the organization comes first; other times, the needs of the individuals rise to the top. As I note in Leadership: The Warrior’s Art, Be trustworthy, treat people with respect, and be a good steward of your company.

Encourage the Gas Mask Principle. When facing a drop in cabin pressure or a chemical attack, apply your mask before attempting to help others. Otherwise, you put yourself and the person you are trying to help at greater risk. Spend time with your loved ones, sleep, eat right, exercise, and do important things outside of work. Encourage your employees to do the same.

Co-create boundaries that you and your direct reports respect. My mentor, Michèle Flournoy, explained how she and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did this together and its impact on her and her family. Gates famously left the office by 5:30 pm daily because he knew that staying late encouraged others to do so, even if they had little to do but be seen. 

Provide Perspective. Most matters can wait until the next morning or next week. If you have to write that email tonight to get it off your mind, time it to send tomorrow morning. By sending it tonight, you encourage people to respond tonight. You won’t sprint your way to completing a marathon.

Manage Exceptions. There are rare times when you need that late night. When you respect boundaries and encourage people to take care of themselves and have a life outside their work, they will rise to the occasion when a crisis hits, and you need all hands on deck.


Your Culture Doesn’t Eat Anything for Breakfast

The saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” attributed to Peter Drucker, suggests culture is your top priority. 

You know culture is important to cultivate, but where should it rank among your priorities in leading your organization and strengthening its purpose and direction? 

I love taking on popular nonsense, and this one needs addressing. 

Culture doesn’t eat breakfast, and it certainly doesn’t eat strategy.

Culture and Strategy are peers alongside Leadership, and you need all three working together to succeed.

These factors are interdependent and create a framework that supports growth, resilience, and competitive advantage. 

Leadership is the driving force behind an organization’s mission and objectives. It influences the strategic direction, sets the tone for culture, and motivates employees to perform at their best.

Apple’s Steve Jobs’ clear vision was critical in driving innovation and maintaining a competitive edge.

At Wells Fargo, the creation of fake customer accounts by employees was a direct result of toxic leadership behavior that prioritized sales targets over ethical behavior, leading to widespread dissatisfaction and demotivation.

Uber experienced high turnover rates and public scandals, which highlighted a failure to address workplace harassment and discrimination.

Culture embodies the values, norms, and practices that dictate how employees interact and work together. A positive culture fosters engagement, loyalty, and productivity, ensuring the collaborative pursuit of strategic goals.

Google’s emphasis on innovation and employee well-being has enabled it to attract top talent, drive continuous innovation, and maintain high employee satisfaction.

Enron collapsed from a culture of secrecy and poor internal communication, where unethical practices were hidden from employees and stakeholders.

Blockbuster’s resistance to change and innovation prevented it from adapting to the digital streaming revolution, resulting in its downfall.

The strategy involves setting the organization’s purpose and direction and inspiring plans to achieve them so you can navigate the competitive landscape and adapt to market changes.

Amazon’s strategic focus on customer obsession, operational efficiency, and innovation has allowed it to expand rapidly and dominate various markets.

Toys “R” Us failed to address the rise of e-commerce and changing consumer preferences.

Xerox invested heavily in its PARC research center without effectively commercializing the innovations, which led to missed opportunities in the technology market.

Each element—leadership, culture, and strategy—plays a unique and essential role in an organization’s success. The absence of any one of these factors can lead to specific challenges, even if the other two elements are strong. Recognizing these indicators can help organizations identify and address their weaknesses, ensuring a more balanced and effective approach to achieving their goals.

Here’s how you can identify when one of these elements is missing.

Stagnation indicates inadequate leadership. Employees may feel directionless despite having a supportive culture and clear strategies. There is no one to inspire them toward achieving strategic goals, and no one makes bold decisions, resulting in missed opportunities.

Low Morale and High Turnover suggest you need to strengthen your culture. Even with strong leadership and a clear strategy, a toxic or weak culture can lead to employee dissatisfaction and disengagement. People will vote with their feet, and those who remain struggle with execution and performance.

A lack of focus and direction indicates that strategy is missing. Despite having inspiring leaders and a positive culture, the organization may struggle with setting and achieving long-term goals, resulting in drift, confusion, and waste.

Here’s what happens when you have all three working together. 

  • Alignment: Leadership ensures that the strategy supports the organization’s vision and that the culture advances strategic initiatives.
  • Execution: Culture drives how strategy is executed. A positive culture promotes collaboration, innovation, and commitment, which are vital for successful strategy implementation.
  • Sustainable Growth: Leadership and culture together ensure that strategic initiatives are sustainable over the long term, adapting to changes and overcoming challenges effectively.

An organization needs strong leadership to set a vision and inspire action, a positive culture to create a supportive and engaging work environment, and a clear strategy to provide direction and prioritize efforts. The absence of any one of these elements weakens the whole structure, making it difficult to achieve and sustain success. The interplay among leadership, culture, and strategy creates a synergistic effect that drives performance and ensures long-term viability.

Happy people at work with high standards and excellent workplace values

Turn Your Workplace Values into Standards

Transforming workplace values into actionable standards is more important than you think.

According to a 2024 DDI study, 57% of employees quit their jobs because of their boss, and 37% have considered leaving for this reason. These numbers are not isolated incidents. For example, 50% of employees in a 2022 Gallup study said they left their jobs to escape their manager. 

Turnover costs your company between 50 and 200 percent of the employee’s annual salary. To simplify the math, losing ten employees with a $100k average salary means you are throwing away $500k to $2m.

Managers want to do a good job, and people want to work where they feel appreciated and fit in. What accounts for the gaps?

Your values fail to set standards.

It’s a harsh reality that most company values statements are feel-good slogans that fail to shape behavior. 

What happens in the halls and video calls shines so brightly that your employees cannot see what’s written on the walls. You promote what you permit.

Standards, unlike slogans, clearly define what ‘right’ looks like and what’s unacceptable. They shape behavior, empowering you to create a productive, respectful, and supportive work environment that benefits your company and your employees. 

Here’s a simple example using the value of Respect, which a company might define as “We foster a positive work environment because we value our employees.”

There’s nothing wrong with the definition itself, but it provides little clarity on how you want people to behave and why.

Here’s what to do next

Turn the value into a standard using the “X so that Y” formula. 

We foster a positive work environment so that our employees feel valued, speak their minds, treat each other well, and cooperate. A respectful workplace environment encourages people to flag problems, offer fresh ideas, and try new things.

Next, add your standards.

The dance floor can help because it’s a visual that you can co-create with your employees to set clear standards for treating people with respect and defining unacceptable behaviors. Here’s a very simple version:

Finally, provide examples of employees living the values so that people can see themselves meeting the standards.

Susan and Mark had opposing views on building the sales team’s capacity. Susan wanted to boost employee training, while Mark wanted more investment in technology and AI. Instead of bickering, they agreed on a common goal: to improve the sales team’s performance by 20%. Once they created a shared goal, they could examine the best combination of training and technology to boost performance. They co-created options and determined the best way forward, boosting the sales team’s marginal contributions by over 30%.

Standards attract the right-fit prospects and inspire your top talent to stay because people who share the same standards feel like they fit in. 

Imagine what happens when people do not share the same standards. If Susan is an in-your-face “radical candor” enthusiast while Mark prefers agreeable disagreement, one will feel out of place and probably vote with their feet.

If you want your company to soar to new heights, co-create standards for your values and expectations.

Setting standards is part of my latest trademarked program, Building an Inspiring Culture®, which you can take on your own, or we can organize a live-led program for you and your team. 

The program gives you a repeatable, step-by-step process for Building an Inspiring Culture so that you can focus on strategy and growth because your employees meet your standards voluntarily without you having to micromanage. 

You get the practical tools and explicit processes to learn, teach, evaluate, and improve.

Here’s what the program looks like:

  1. Smart Start: Define your Organization’s Common Good
  2. Set Standards: Clarify your Expectations and Values
  3. Gain Buy-in so that people do what’s right voluntarily
  4. Accountability that improves future performance
  5. Build Cognitive Diversity so you make sound decisions and position people for success
  6. Create Psychological Confidence so people flag problems quickly and try new things
  7. How to Address Toxic Behavior so you walk the talk and retain your top talent.

Get the self-directed version here with lifetime access for $997, or hit reply to discuss if a live-led program is a good fit for you and your team.

Chris Kolenda: OMG Taylor Swift's dull album shows that you need candid advice

OMG Taylor Swift’s dull album shows that you need candid advice

I’m a die-hard Taylor Swift fan. 

My playlists are loaded with her songs. I love the beat, her depth, and the stories she tells. I’ve watched the Eras tour movie (my wife will go to her Warsaw concert), and I frequently insert her lyrics into stories and wisecracks. 

“This conference is like snow on the beach…” Swifties will know how to finish that sentence (comment and let me know). 

I have tunes like Archer, The Great War, and The Man on repeat. As someone bullied in high school, I find Mean a work of genius.

I wanted to love her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, so much, especially after hearing its first release, Fortnight.

Alas, it’s not to be.

The 31-song album has flashes of Taylor brilliance sandwiched between a lot of … well … dullness, a case of more is less.

As a fan, I’m not a musician, so I can only speak for my personal taste. But I’m curious: do you think Taylor is pivoting into Lana del Rey (whom I also admire), or was this album an experiment that cleared away loads of built-up clutter?

Coming off arguably the greatest music tour in history, it’s possible that Taylor got a little sloppy, fell in love with unworkable ideas, and had advisers egging her on instead of challenging her thinking. 

It can happen to any of us. Ancient Greek tragedy is full of stories about hubris (overweening pride) preceding a fall. Many leaders, at the height of success, surround themselves with sycophants and enjoy the smell of their own gas as they go hurtling into ruin.

Trusted advisers are your antidote to the Tortured Poets problem. A good trusted adviser wants what’s best for you, can build your capacity, and is willing to tell you the truth. 

When was the last time someone challenged your thinking, helped you see things from a valuable perspective you hadn’t considered, and provided you with compelling insights?

If you do not have these conversations and lightbulb moments daily, you’ve outgrown your current support network and need to upgrade.

Chris Kolenda: Is it time to dismantle your DEI and ERG programs

Is it time to dismantle your DEI and ERG programs

Are your DEI and ERG programs serving their purpose, or is it time for a radical reevaluation?

How to turn discomfort into growth.

Valuing Discomfort 

One of the most transformative experiences of my professional life was attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin as a U.S. Army captain before teaching at West Point. As the only active-duty officer in the student body, I was immersed in a very different environment than I’d experienced in the past. 

I grew up in a conservative household, attended West Point, and served in the mostly conservative military. Madison’s liberal faculty and student body took me outside my comfort zone, and initially, I felt like a fish out of water. 

One professor remarked, “We don’t teach military history,” as if I could not study anything else. 

Stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself among people who engaged in agreeable disagreements on various topics. This experience of embracing viewpoint diversity expanded my intellectual horizons and challenged me to reevaluate ideas I had previously held without much thought. 

Along the way, I developed the ability to listen without judgment to someone’s point of view and ask open-ended questions that helped me understand where they were coming from. 

Doing so develops your empathy skills, which, years later, helped our unit motivate a large insurgent group in Afghanistan to stop fighting and become allies. 

Those skills proved vital when I participated in unofficial meetings with Taliban representatives in 2017-8, resulting in the group writing an open letter to the American people requesting peace talks.

I wonder how differently I would have developed had I accepted loads of unsolicited career advice to avoid teaching at West Point and do what everyone else was doing.  

Taking off the Body Armor

I worry about the trend where people seek safety by bubble-wrapping themselves in their comfort zones. 

Like attracts like, and people naturally gravitate toward others who look, think, and act like them, creating comfort zones that can become exclusionary, even hostile, echo chambers.

Listening to new ideas and ones you disagree with takes courage; screaming at people from inside your comfort zone does not. 

Building bridges with people who look, act, and think differently than you do takes courage; fortifying your bubble wrap does not.

Joey Hutto, a captain during our 2007-8 deployment to Afghanistan, exemplified courage when he accepted a dinner invitation from village elders who’d been supporting the insurgents. Joey removed his helmet and body armor, handed his weapons over to his patrol, and walked with his interpreter into the home.

We were new to the area. The elders told Joey why ninety-five percent of the people were fighting us: years of civilian casualties and government corruption convinced them that the insurgents were the lesser of two evils. 

Joey listened to their point of view and asked follow-up questions so they knew he understood their message. “We cannot change the past,” he said. “But we can find ways to fix these problems and work together for a better future.” 

And they did.

Transcending Comfort

Strengthening your self-awareness and committing to growth are a good places to start if you want to become an ever-better version of yourself.

Knowing yourself, learning how others see you, and understanding what others need from you helps you approach people and situations with an open mind. This allows you to combat comfort zones that limit your exposure to new ideas and experiences. 

Chris Kolenda: Is it time to dismantle your DEI and ERG programs

Self-aware people recognize that growth requires entering their discomfort zones. Having guides (mentors, coaches, advisers, friends, etc.) to help you through vulnerability turns your discomfort into your growth zone. 

That successful journey leads to your transcendent zone, creating a new comfort zone for growing beyond.

Are you transcending or entrenching your comfort zone? 

  • When was the last time someone disagreed with you? 
  • How did you respond?

If your direct reports do not flag problems, offer new ideas, and try new things several times per week, you’re probably sending signals that you don’t brook disagreement. 

Employees may believe you lack of curiosity, react poorly when someone disagrees with you, or punish those who take a risk and fall short. Either way, people will self-censor, and you and your company won’t grow to new heights.

What discomfort zone are you entering next? Email me to let me know.

Chris Kolenda: Catch people doing something right.

Catch people doing something right.

Do you want to know the #1 secret to improve performance? Catch people doing something right.

I’ve led, been led, and helped leaders for over 35 years, and how to improve performance always leads to lively discussion. I began on the wrong side of it.

I used to think constructive criticism was a leader’s most crucial role. When you root out problems, you can solve them. Problems fester when you ignore them, and your organization will rot from within. Besides, why praise someone for doing their job and meeting standards when that’s what they get paid to do?

I focused my attention on identifying problems and providing corrective action. I started to notice fewer problems but more resentment. C’mon – you’re grown people. No one’s perfect. You should be able to take some criticism and drive on.

Then I met Sergent Cline. He was Europe’s heavyweight champion powerlifter and the gunner on one of our platoon’s tanks. We called him Tiny.

Tiny, did you check the engine and transmission fluids? I asked during an inspection.

Yes, sir!

Ok, let’s take a look. 

I jumped up on the tank’s back deck, pulled the plates, and checked the fluids. Good-to-go. No problems here. I was ready to move to the next item I wanted to inspect.

Sir, that’s pretty messed up. Tiny said.

What do you mean?

You asked me if I checked the fluids. I told you I did, and you then checked behind me. Either you think I’m lying to you or that I’m incompetent. 

I’m just doing my job inspecting the tank.

It’s not about the inspecting. We want you to do that. We love showing off how good we are. When you want to check something, just do it. Don’t ask me first if I checked it. 

I was inadvertently trying to catch somebody doing something wrong. It built resentment and undermined my relationships. That discussion happened in 1988, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. 

Searching for problems is lazy accountability. We’re hard-wired as humans to detect aberrations. It’s part of our amygdala’s fight-or-flight instinct. Problems stand out to us. 

Of course, you want to nip problems in the bud, like Sergent Cline did with me, or they become habits and much more challenging to correct. 

Avoid treating the problems you find as buried treasure. Simply ask, “How will you do it better next time?” Get the people responsible for correcting the problem involved in seeing it and developing ways to fix it. 

It’s also easy to acknowledge someone doing something extraordinary and essential to appreciate it. The challenge with only praising extraordinary performance is that most people won’t face the same circumstances or have the same capacity. As much as they’d like to repeat the behavior, they probably won’t be able to.

Acknowledging and appreciating to-standard performance is the most mentally challenging because we are hard-wired to gloss over it. You have to seek out good performance intentionally and admire it. 

One way to do this is to highlight a particular value or expectation and seek evidence for it. Note when someone’s actions exemplify your standards. “Way to go, Joe. You treated that customer’s complaint exactly right. You gave your full attention so she felt heard and used your judgment to fix the problem.”  

Catching people doing something right is your most potent behavior-shaping tool. When you acknowledge and appreciate someone’s behavior, they will repeat it and so will everyone else. 

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 people read my newsletter over 50% of the time? I’m thrilled that you get so much value out of it. 

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

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: What Baltimore’s Key Bridge Tragedy tells us about Risk Management

What Baltimore’s Key Bridge Tragedy tells us about Risk Management

My heart goes out to the families of the six killed and all people harmed by this terrible tragedy. The Singaporean-flagged ship, Dali, lost power on its way out of Baltimore’s harbor, crashing into a Key Bridge pylon and destroying the majestic bridge.

Similar to the 9/11 hijackings, the risk of this particular catastrophe is more evident in hindsight. As a leader, you don’t live history backward, though, and your livelihood depends on a lot of factors outside of your control, so you have to manage risk well.

Read on if you want a simple risk management process.

As author Alan Weiss suggests, risk is a function of probability and seriousness. Probability is the likelihood of a particular risk materializing, while seriousness is the extent of harm it causes.

Two variables make for a good risk management double-axis chart.

Chris Kolenda: Risk Management Char

When a risk has a high probability but low seriousness, you should move forward while monitoring and aiming to lower the likelihood. Minor equipment failures and small-scale supply delays are common examples. You can reduce the seriousness by making routine repairs and keeping appropriate stockage levels. Preventing these risks altogether can create massive opportunity costs. Swapping out major equipment each month might reduce the risk of failure, but the cost of such action would be prohibitive. 

Low probability, low seriousness risks are not worth stewing over. You should drive on and adjust as necessary. There’s a low probability, for example, that someone will object to this article and unsubscribe. It’s a free newsletter, so the seriousness is low, too.  

The Key Bridge disaster was a low-probability, high-seriousness risk. Your best choice here is to have contingencies, like insurance. There’s a tendency after such tragedies to try to lower the probability even further, but trying to prevent freak accidents is fraught.

Innovation is another contingency you can consider. To Sears, the probability of Amazon coming along was low even as the seriousness of such a competitor would be high. As digital technology permeated the workplace, Sears got complacent, and Amazon put them out of business. What’s your innovation plan for AI?

High-probability, high-seriousness scenarios require you to avoid them altogether or take action to mitigate one or both problems. Do ships like the Dali have chronic power problems? If so, another crash will be more likely. You can reduce the probability by having inspections in port, using tugs, and requiring redundant power systems.

Take fifteen minutes to identify your business risks in each quadrant and identify mitigation measures. Even better, involve your team members. They’ll understand the mitigation measures you’ll want to put in place, and will be more likely to identify and report problems quickly because they’ve thought about the consequences.

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 rest 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.