Tag Archive for: mid-level leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Kolenda: Optimism vs Wishful Thinkful diagram.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Kolenda: 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: 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: 13 Behaviours Draining Your Energy: The Michelangelo Principle Can Help Your Leadership Improve

13 Behaviors Draining Your Energy: The Michelangelo Principle Can Help Your Leadership Improve

Are you a leader tired of people telling you to pile more stuff – goals, reading, workshops, conferences, journaling, activities, etc. – onto your overloaded life? 


The individual ideas sound great, but who has the time for it all? It feels like the good intentions on the road to hell. 

If you are like most leaders experiencing good idea overload, you pass on capacity-building activities as nice-to-dos. 

I’ll get to it when I’m not so busy.

You leave opportunities on the table for becoming ever-better, and the delays rob you of development’s compounding interest effect.

If you’re experiencing this tension, I’ve got something that will help you create more space in your rucksack, and it’s not another failed productivity hack. 

Take away your time and energy vampires by following the Michelangelo Principle.

When someone asked Michelangelo how he created David, the sculptor replied that he simply took away everything that was not David. 

The Michelangelo Mindset is a term I first heard from Dr. Mark Goulston about the importance of removing the obstacles in your way. 

For this article, the Michelangelo Principle states that you must take away what’s holding you back to become an ever-better version of yourself. 

Imagine someone piling more “good stuff” onto the marble containing David, making Michelangelo’s job harder. We might never have this work of genius.

The principle is the same for you. In this case, you want to prune away behaviors that create needless friction. 

Behaviors – how you apply your standards to the people around you – separate elite leaders from everyone else. At a certain point, your skills and experiences no longer differential you. Your behaviors set you apart.

Below are fourteen behaviors that drain your time and energy. Most leaders have two or three of these behaviors. Prune these away, and you’ll save hours each week in no longer correcting miscommunication and misaligned work or having to pick up the slack that didn’t need to happen.

  1. Adding unnecessary value. When you improve someone’s idea by 5%, you reduce their commitment by 50%. Your employees perform far better with an 80% solution that they own than with a 100% solution you provide. You waste time and energy because you must make up for lost employee commitment.
  1. Offering unsolicited advice. Your good intentions create resentment by saying, “I’m better than you.” You waste time and energy by creating needless friction. Your employee is worse off, and you must pick up the slack. Ask, instead, what support you can provide to help them succeed faster. 
  1. Winning every argument. When you insist on winning every argument, you drag out meetings, create unnecessary conflict, and undermine goodwill. Gaining people’s buy-in is more important. Once you’ve got that, shut up and move out. 
  1. Butting in. Nothing matters before the But. The same goes for However and No. You create resentment with these words that say, “You make a good point, but my point is better than yours.” You waste time with needless input and micromanaging compliance with your mouse-turd caveats.
  1. Providing Constructive Criticism. Criticism builds defensiveness, which impedes progress. You waste time and energy relitigating the past, and your employee is less likely to innovate and try new things. Stop dwelling on history and start framing a better future by feeding forward: “How will you do it better next time?” 
  1. Justifying your actions after requesting feedback. You asked for feedback on what you can do better. Your employee tells you something you do that bothers them. When you justify your actions, you imply someone other than you is at fault. They feel they stuck their neck out, wasted their time, and gained your resentment. When you ask for advice and get it, say, “Thank you.” 
  1. Not Listening. Instead of focusing on your employee, you try to multitask. Your employee thinks they are unimportant to you, and you get only a fraction of what they said. Other times, you listen to respond (see winning every argument), so you miss their more essential points. You waste time and energy on misunderstandings and rework. Focus 100 percent of your attention on listening without passing judgment. Seek first to understand. 
  1. Speaking (or typing) when Angry. You are guaranteed to worsen the situation by creating resentment, putting your foot in your mouth, and piling on problems. Step away from the keyboard, go for a walk, and ask, “What can I do to improve the situation?” 
  1. Negativity fixation. You want to show how smart you are by explaining why every new idea will fail, so you stifle initiative, undermine ownership, and stay mired in a failing status quo. Ask instead, “How will you address this challenge?”
  1. Feeding someone’s negativity fixation. You’ll waste hours arguing back and forth with a know-it-all who’s stuck in their ways. Ask instead, “If it were possible, how would you do it?
  1. Letting Perfectionism impede progress. Moving from an 80 to 90 percent solution can be prohibitive in time, money, and opportunity cost, so stop waiting for perfection. Go with the 80 percent solution and adapt as needed. You’ll save time, energy, and resources while seizing opportunities that grow your business.
  1. Obsessive fault-finding. Some leaders treat finding an error like discovering a buried treasure. You spend so much time looking for what’s wrong that you miss seeing and recognizing what’s right. You spend time correcting faults, large and small, but fail to reinforce productive behavior, so unnecessary problems keep piling up.
  1. Finger-pointing. Leaders who obsess over faults tend to fixate on blame. This tendency creates predictable backlash as people try to defend themselves, cover their backsides, and re-litigate the past. While you waste all this time and energy, the problem’s cause remains. Focus on the cause, not blame, address it, and move on.
  1. Being the Hero. When you parachute to solve everyone’s problems and answer their questions, you become a crutch for your employees. Instead of building self-reliance, you create dependency. You rob yourself of the time to do your job, and rob your employer of the value you are supposed to provide. Instead of solving the problem for them, ask, “How would you do it?” 

Are you ready to slay your time and energy vampires to become an ever-better you? I can help you zero in on the behaviors to chip away and give you the action steps you need to reveal your own David. Schedule a call here and let’s get started.

3 questions the best leaders use to make tough decisions

3 questions the best leaders use to make tough decisions

Leaders reach out to experts and specialists when they face challenging situations. You need generalists, too, so you ask the right questions and avoid the ten words that lead to bad choices: 

Follow the Data! Obey the SCIENCE! Listen to the Experts! 

Data is not wisdom, and data-driven decision-making can leave companies worse off. Here’s how.

The best leaders listen to people who know what they are talking about and make decisions that best serve the company.

That seems simple enough, but implementation can be challenging. 

Experts provide valuable insight on specific topics, but narrow perspectives create myopic advice.   

Take COVID, for example. Medical experts provided data that projected death tolls and made recommendations like lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Partisans egged on leaders with the ten words. Over time their associated advice led to higher death tolls, substantial economic dislocation, greater social polarization, damaged mental health, and massive learning loss.

The problem was not the data or advice, necessarily, but the question. Asking experts “How to stop the spread” created answers different than the more holistic “How to best support my constituents during this pandemic?” The latter question required leaders to determine the best balance between reducing the virus’s threat and promoting the general welfare.

The experts, of course, could not answer the latter question because they lacked the perspective. Leaders who unquestioningly obeyed the experts had demonstrably worse outcomes that those who took the broader perspective. 

I was asked recently to provide a testimony to Congress on the Afghanistan debacle. One House Member was trying to make a point that President Biden ignored the advice of the generals and asked me what I thought of that.

Thank goodness Abraham Lincoln didn’t listen to General McClellan, I replied, and noted that FDR disregarded General Marshall’s advice on how to take the fight to the Nazis in 1942, and Truman disagreed with General MacArthur’s advice to use atomic bombs on Chinese cities. 

My view on Afghanistan was that leaving was the right thing to do, but the timing and execution were badly botched.

Leaders should avoid the other extreme of trying to do the experts’ jobs for them. Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to select bombing targets in Vietnam is a classic example of getting trapped in the weeds and ignoring the bigger picture.

Leaders should listen to trusted experts, but make decisions based on advancing the common good.

Instead of asking narrow questions about how to optimize a particular silo or function, the best leaders keep their focus wider.

“What must be true for this option to work?” is a great way to uncover assumptions. You can then determine the indicators of validity and orient your data analysis accordingly.

“What’s the best way to advance our organization’s common good in this situation?” keeps your the focus on the blogger picture.

“What information do I need to make this decision?” helps you avoid wag-the-dog problems with siloed data.

You’ll benefit from trusted advisors who are generalists because their perspectives are broader and they’ll help you orient on the big picture. 

P.S. Do your employees have the psychological confidence to bring you bad news, identify problems, take risks, and offer new ideas? Email me if you’d like to discuss psychological confidence and ways to improve it. 

Fixing Bad Breath Leadership

Fixing Bad Breath Leadership

Bad leadership is like bad breath – everyone except you knows you’ve got it.

I give a lot of leadership seminars. During the top takeaways discussions, someone invariably says, “This seminar was a reminder of things I learned about good leadership …” 

The problem is that the person needs to practice better leadership. They know what good leaders should do but aren’t implementing the behaviors. 

It’s the bad breath problem. You know you should have non-repulsive breath, but you don’t. That’s called unconscious incompetence.

You might have the finest ideas, but no one’s listening because they can’t get past your breath (metaphorically).

Leadership off-sites and workshops help the open-minded move toward conscious incompetence. You recognize that your behaviors impede rather than inspire people to contribute their best to your organization’s success.

It’s like putting your hand in front of your mouth for the first time.

Oh my … it’s no wonder these behaviors aren’t working.

Leadership training, if done well, helps you build conscious competence. You know better behaviors, and you consciously work to put them into practice.

The shortfall with conscious competence is that you spend so much energy concentrating on the behaviors that you can lose sight of your objectives.

It’s like the batter who concentrates so hard on every element of their swing – stand in this way, keep your hands here, put your elbow this high, etc. – that you miss the pitch or mess up your swing. You have too many details running through your head while you try to do your job.

You’ve spent some much time worrying about your breath that you stumble over the message.

You must move to unconscious competence, where the behaviors become second nature. In the military, we call it muscle memory. You’ve developed good habits that bring out the best in people, and those behaviors are now so ingrained that you don’t have to think about them.

The unconscious competence stage comes about through practice, feedback, and accountability. You practice the behaviors so they work for you and your employees and get the outcomes you desire. The fastest way to achieve success is with the right coaching.

Here’s a process you can follow to build successful leadership habits.

  1. Knowledge transfer through leadership books, seminars, talks, and candid assessments, helps you become conscious of incompetencies. 
  2. Immersion in successful habits at off-sites and programs builds conscious competence.
  3. Implementation and accountability with the right coaching help you develop unconscious competence.

You unconsciously practice becoming an ever-better leader so your employees can focus on your goals.

Are you ready to take your organization to new heights? I can help you develop unconscious leadership competence throughout your organization. Schedule a call or send me an email to get started.

What CEOs are getting wrong about office work

CEOs are struggling with their return-to-office policies. Employees “who are least engaged,” WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani told The Wall Street Journal, “are very comfortable working from home.”

Cathy Merrill, the chief executive of Washingtonian Media, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post warning employees about the risks of not returning to the office. “The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.” Her employees staged a work stoppage.

A friend who works in the high-tech industry stated that their company will use a 75-25 rule: employees need to spend 75 percent of their time in the office and work from anywhere for the remainder.

Leaders can do better than use proximity to make judgments about value, issue veiled threats, and devise arbitrary rules that will waste time and energy in monitoring.

Here’s a more productive way.

Plenty of jobs are done mostly in isolation, such as research-oriented work. Other jobs, like manufacturing, need to be performed in person.

Companies also have roles in which employees perform recurring tasks: assembly-line work, IT monitoring, coordinating activities, etc. You also have roles to handle non-recurring requirements, including innovation, crisis management, and product development.

When you put these variables together in a double-axis chart, you get a better way to organize your return-to-office requirements.

Recurring work employees working in isolation are prime candidates for very liberal work-from-home arrangements. Contract attorneys, paralegals, insurance adjusters, and accountants are potential examples.

Non-recurring work that employees can perform in isolation should have permissive arrangements, too, but less so than the former because the free exchange of ideas improves quality and reduces the risk of science projects taking on their own lives. Many individual contributor roles fit this situation.

By contrast, non-recurring roles requiring substantial collaboration should be performed more at the office than elsewhere. A program manager, for example, should be primarily on-site but can work remotely as needed.

Recurring roles requiring collaboration, like being on a production line, often require the highest in-office frequency.

You can explain the why behind a commonsense method like this, and you’ll boost productivity, retain your top talent, and make intelligent choices about office space.

Is it time to build a new strategy? My 5-D Strategy Process® is simple, thorough, helps you gain buy-in, and costs a fraction of what you pay fancy firms. 

Say no to massive, expensive documents that nobody reads and are impossible to implement. Schedule a call with Chris Kolenda to get started. 

Do you have 360 awareness?

360 external awareness occurs when you know what people think and feel about you and their workplace. The key stakeholders include your bosses, peers, and the employees you lead. The latter is the trickiest, and Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired for neglecting this responsibility.

I remember watching Pat Fitzgerald play football at Northwestern in the mid-1990s and cheered him on as he became the head coach who turned around a lacklustre program.

The allegations of serial hazing on the team are disheartening. The stories of cruelty and mistreatment keep materializing.

Fitzgerald should be fired as the head coach, whether he knew about the hazing and condoned it or did not know such activities were happening on his watch. 

Leaders must discover what’s happening in their organizations, particularly regarding their most vulnerable employees. 

Knowing what your bosses and peers think about you and your organization is normally straightforward. 

Figuring out what your employees think and feel about your workplace is trickier. 

A camouflage net obscures your view from above. You only see what you want to see, the bits that emerge into plain sight, and what people are willing to reveal to you. The net conceals everything else.

The best leaders develop ways to get underneath the net to see things as they are, identify problems, spot talent, and gain fresh ideas.

Here are some ways I help leaders do that.

  1. Feedback loops. Use a combination of short questionnaires, focus groups, and individual interviews to get ground truth. Identify the issues you want to address, tell your employees, follow through, and follow up.
  2. Trusted Advisers challenge your assumptions and help you see what’s hidden in plain sight. Your biases do not inhibit them, so they’ll notice and report issues and opportunities as they find them. 
  3. Off-sites get people out of their comfort zones and open minds to new ideas. These adventures increase trust, strengthen relationships, and improve communication. People report problems and offer fresh ideas when they trust the people around them. Taking people to powerful places like national parks and historic venues creates experiences that last a lifetime and pay massive dividends for your organization.

It’s too bad Pat Fitzgerald did not find ways to peer underneath the camouflage net to see things as they are. 

He’s not alone, of course. Many good people have fallen from grace because they fooled themselves into thinking they could see everything from up high.  

Would an adventure off-site improve trust in your organization? View our programs and schedule a call with Chris to see if it could be a good fit. 

What Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain tells us about Buy-in

Buy-in occurs when your employees provide voluntary support. 

A significant leadership challenge is gaining buy-in for a new initiative or one people previously opposed. 

Buy-in explains the vital difference between high and low-performing organizations.

Without buy-in, leaders must focus on compliance, dispute resolution, and corrective action, which robs them of time and energy for strategy and growth. This disengagement tax is a hidden cost that drains revenue and undermines your business. 

With buy-in, people do the right things in the right ways voluntarily, which frees leaders to focus on the future. 

Joshua Chamberlain’s ability to gain buy-in saved the Union’s Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, marking the beginning of the Confederacy’s end.

Two days before the battle, Chamberlain was ordered to guard 120 prisoners accused of desertion. They hailed from the 2nd Maine regiment. The accused believed they had signed two-year enlistments like others in the regiment, instead of three years, and wanted to return home with their comrades.

Chamberlain was given the authority to shoot them if necessary. He’d never be able to return home if he did. Guarding them would reduce his fighting force.

Chamberlain thought differently about the situation: what if they agreed to fight in our ranks for this massive battle?

Chamberlain’s regiment was down to about 250 soldiers. Adding 120 veteran fighters would strengthen his unit significantly.

Chamberlain focused on the three elements of buy-in: clarity on the mission and expectations for the upcoming battle, appeal to their self-interests of dignity, care, honor, and possibility of parole, and providing confidence in the way forward. 

117 of the 120 deserters agreed to pick up their rifles and make the intrepid stand at Little Round Top. Without them, the 20th Maine would have been overrun, opening the entire flank of the Union army.

People buy in when they are clear about the expectations, believe they will be better off by adopting them, and are confident that the initiative or game plan will work.

People might be clear about an expectation and believe it may help them be better off, but won’t buy in without confidence that it will work. Mask fatigue during COVID is a recent example. Companies might believe that a new communications platform will help them be better off, but they won’t adopt it if they lack confidence in the technology or customer service.

By contrast, people can have clarity about a new idea and confidence it will work but won’t buy in if they believe they’ll be worse off. COVID vaccine resistance is a typical example. In your company, people who believe they are on the losing end will resist change. I find this to be the most common buy-in problem. The leaders are convinced everyone’s better off, but employees often find the talking points unconvincing. CNN’s recent employee revolt shows the perils of making changes that people believe leave them worse off.

Finally, employees can believe a particular change makes them better off and have confidence it will work, but will only buy-in for the common good if they are clear about the rationale and the details. Poor clarity results in silos or fiefdoms, where people adopt something good for them but detrimental to the company overall. 

COVID protocols again offer a clear example of confusion, as medical expertise grew politicized and people believed only those who fit their pre-conceived beliefs. A client had challenges getting reports on time because employees did not understand the rationale. Once they gained clarity on that and how lateness was screwing other people, the reports arrived on time, regularly.  

What are your biggest buy-in successes and challenges? 

With so many businesses using flexible work locations, bringing people together for a substantive event that boosts cohesion and strengthens your foundation for growth is more important than ever. 

A company off-site at a historical venue or national park allows you to create an experience that pays dividends for decades. 

Let’s discuss some ideas if you want to do something special for your company.

schedule a call with chris