Category Archives: communication

5 Principles for Building Highly Effective Teams…Lessons from the Snowbirds

I love the Snowbirds, no, not the ones that migrate in their RVs every winter to warmer climes, but the The Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

I love them because apart from putting on a pretty spectacular show, they offer a clear demonstration of what can happen when you get collaboration and teamwork right.   The truth is, they have to get it right. Lives depend on it.

In most organizations, the necessity for getting it right is less dire.  However, the extent to which we work effectively together usually dictates our capacity and potential for success. And so, I think there is something to be learned from precision flying teams like the Snowbirds.

While I have only had the opportunity to observe them in action at an air show, these observations put me in mind of some principles that might very well apply to all highly functioning and effective teams.  So here they are:

Principle #1: Choosing team members carefully is vital to team success

In order to achieve optimal team performance, choosing the right participants is critical to getting the team off the ground. To do that, those decisions need to include very precise specifications around skill, experience, values, behaviour and potential. Poor choices can lead to some disappointing results at the very least.  Indeed, a poor choice made for the Snowbird Squadron has the capacity for a disastrous result.

Principle #2: Each team member must be clear about the team purpose and his or her purpose within the team.

It is the job of the leader to ensure that each team member knows why the team exists; what the team must achieve; and his or her role within the team.  Lack of clarity creates confusion and places team members out of alignment with each other and with their overall purpose.

Principle #3: Those on the ground are as important as those in the air

In most organizations there are those who are more visible than others.  These are the stars, the ones who are highly skilled in one particular area of the team’s work.   It is easy to assume that these people are the team.  However, those in the air can only be there if they have the benefit of the skill and knowledge provided by those on the ground.  For instance, there are nine CT-114 Tutor jets in the Snowbird fleet.  Each plane has its own dedicated technician who ensures his/her plane will fly safely and optimally for the pilot.   In other words, nine pilots in the air cannot do their jobs safely or well without the support of the rest of the team no matter how skilled they may be.

Principle #4: The team is always evolving

In any team, team members come and go.  Every time a new member joins the team, its dynamic changes and those who remain are charged with responsibility of supporting, training and integrating those who join.

A Snowbird pilot is assigned to the squadron for three years.  After that he is typically reassigned.  The turnover is planned in such a way that the more experienced pilots play a role in the indoctrination and training of the new ones.  In this way, the team continues to grow in depth and maturity while keeping the experience fresh for everyone.

Principle #5: Trust is the glue that binds highly effective teams together

I would suggest that in a team such as the Snowbirds, the absence of trust would keep them all grounded.  This is also true of other teams in other organizations and that makes building trust among team members a very big deal.

After all, no one would be able to fly like this without it:

That’s what I think anyway.  What do  you think?

*Originally published in October, 2011

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Filed under communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams, Organizational Effectiveness

*Leadership ~ Four Ways to Keep It Real

Authenticity in leadership is a hot topic these days.  In fact, we read about it so often and hear it expressed in other media so much that I fear it is in danger of becoming one of those dreaded buzzwords.

To me though, authentic is something we strive to be.  There is no piece of software or manual that gives instructions on how to become an authentic leader.  It’s a personal thing.  And, somewhere along the way, we have to figure out how we turn the being of it into the doing.

The question is, in a world full of complexity, politics, big ideas and yes, even skullduggery, what can we do to ensure that we keep it real?

Here are some thoughts on that.

Stay grounded by making the work more important than ourselves

The ego, while an important and oft maligned part of the human psyche, has a propensity to grow to outlandish proportions with only the slightest encouragement if not tempered by a measure of humility.  Staying grounded is about remembering our core purpose; focusing on the work and on the people who must carry it out.  Ego trips can be personally satisfying but they are extravagances that most leaders can no longer afford.

Represent our values honestly. Practice them. Reinforce them.

Most organizations have stated values.  Values outline what is important.  They form part of the organizational culture.  Authenticity demands that those values are not only talked about but also enacted… every day. However, I think we can agree that talking about values is a great deal easier than living them.

For example  IBMAT&T and Exxon Mobil all sponsored the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta Georgia in 2012.  The Augusta National Golf club is a particularly prestigious one. It is also a place where some pretty powerful CEOs conduct business so membership is not just about golf.  Also, in 2012, women were prohibited from membership in this club.

This presented something of a dilemma in the size and shape of Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM.  At Augusta National it is tradition to present the CEO of a Masters tournament sponsor with membership to the club.   In Ms Rometty’s case no such offering was made.  From the perspective of the golf club, this conformed to their organizational values, whether we agree with them or not.  But, their decision to exclude the CEO of IBM would seem to fly in the face of the diversity that the sponsoring companies purport to value in their respective organizations.

This might have been a prime opportunity to act in alignment with a value they each say they espouse. And yet, they said nothing and did nothing.  To me, that puts the authenticity of their value of diversity into question. Simply put, if we choose to say one thing and do another, we are going to come up short in the keeping it real department.

Be mindful of the assumptions we make

We all make assumptions.  Sometimes we make decisions based on them with no adverse consequences.  Sometimes we assume certain things about people and we are right.  However, there are many more times when our assumptions are totally wrong.   When that happens and we take action based on what we think we know, that’s when reality can easily get away from us.  Keeping it real means that we stop from time to time and question the assumptions we are working from.

Make clarity and accuracy in communication a priority

Part of keeping it real is ensuring that the information we share with one another is useful and accurate.  Lots of things get in the way of that.  For instance, the flow of information can easily get snagged on grapevines where it becomes distorted and no longer reliable.  Some people too, believe that information is a commodity reserved for only a certain few.  While this may be true of some things, in the main, shared knowledge helps people do their jobs better, fuels new ideas and ensures that people are acting on something real.   Here’s an example of how failing to provide clear and accurate information can actually take you way off course.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*This is a refreshed version of an April 2012 post 

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

* Putting the “Constructive” into Criticism

Winston Churchill once said; “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

I really think this is a good way to look at it regardless of whether you are the criticism giver or receiver.  But, there is criticism… and then there is criticism.

Most leaders like to preface the word ‘criticism’ with the word ‘constructive’.  That makes its aim one of building rather than tearing down.  However, not all carry out the ‘constructive’ part well, which usually means the ‘criticism’ part is prone to cause an already “unhealthy state of things” to deteriorate even further.

So how do we make sure the criticism we deliver is going to be worthwhile for those on the receiving end to hear and consider?

Well, I think before we proceed to offer criticism, we must first put ourselves under some scrutiny by addressing our intent. For instance:

Why do I feel the need to criticize? ~ Criticizing constructively must carry with it an equally constructive purpose.  If, for instance, my criticism of you comes out of anger, frustration or another negative emotion then I’m using it to vent not to make things better.  So, first I must determine how my criticism might serve you in some way.

What, or who, am I concerned about? ~Similarly, if my criticism of you will make me feel better, then I’m probably doing it for the wrong reason.   Caring about people you lead often includes pointing out things to them that they cannot see for themselves.  In other words the focus of criticism needs to be on enlightenment not on wielding power over another.

Am I prepared to listen? ~ When we offer criticism it is usually because we have a concern about someone’s behaviour, performance, or both.  We draw conclusions based on what we observe, what we experience, and what others tell us.  However, to make criticism useful to people on the receiving end, they have to know that we are willing to hear from them too.  Otherwise the information on which we base our judgment will be incomplete and in danger of being wrong, misconstrued, rationalized away or ignored.

Once we are satisfied that our criticism carries with it a constructive intent, I also think it important to remember this:

Criticizing another person’s behaviour or performance is not a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ proposition ~ There are many ways to offer constructive criticism.  Some people recommend beginning with something positive; moving on to the negative; and then finishing with something else positive (popularly known as the crap sandwich). I’m not a big fan of that because, even with the best of intent, using a prescribed method of delivery can come across as contrived, even condescending.

For me, sincerity is the only thing that matters, even if the delivery is a little rough.

Abraham Lincoln said, “ He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help

To me, that says it all.  What do you think?

*Originally published, October 14, 2012


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development

* 6 Ideas About Creating Organizations That Value Ideas

John Cage once said, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.  I’m frightened of the old ones”

This notion kind of struck me while I was watching a movie about Charles Darwin who had, and developed, one of the world’s biggest ideas, one that, even now, creates much spirited conversation.  I suppose in that context (and in those times) there may have been much to fear.  After all, Darwin’s big idea was one that challenged people to rethink their whole existence.  Nonetheless, it was important to human growth and understanding to entertain it because without the exploration that comes from new ideas, I suspect we would simply all fade to black eventually… or die of boredom.

I think this is also true of business organizations.  Now, more than ever, businesses are having to rethink their product and how they deliver to market.  A number of longstanding companies who failed to do that are now either out of business or in some serious bother because, either in whole or in part, they have found themselves being outpaced by technology and consumer demand for ever evolving applications.

So, the question, (or at least one of them) is, how do we build organizations that actively value idea creation and development?

Some companies will say they have processes in place that encourage people to offer their ideas.  I would argue that creating mechanisms through which to feed ideas is not enough, no matter how sophisticated the process.

To really engage people in sharing and developing new ideas, I rather think we have to create cultures that will support it.  That’s a bit trickier.

So how might this be accomplished?  Well, I’m sure you have some thoughts about that.  Just to be going on with though, here are some of mine:

Give people the opportunity to deeply understand the purpose and vision of your organization.  ~ People who have a clear grasp of why their organizations are in business and what they hope to achieve in the future will tend to set their brains in that direction when searching for solutions to existing problems or anticipating future ones.  Perhaps too, they will be more likely to use their creative juices to pre-empt organizational issues before they arise.

Build a Safe Environment for Idea sharing ~ putting forth a new, possibly even bizarre idea takes a lot of courage.  People have to see the risk as one worth taking and operate in the knowledge that they will not be judged, derided or punished in any way for sharing their ideas.  Not all ideas are going to be good  but among them, there are bound to be some great ones that might not have surfaced if the working environment is such that it values censorship over creativity.

Learn to encourage and value diverse opinion ~ People look at things based on their own experiences and biases.   If we all thought alike or hired only people who thought like us, we would no doubt miss a great deal.  To generate ideas that are future oriented we must invite diversity into our conversations.  That means letting go of the reins of our own strongly held opinions long enough to listen to the possibility that there might be a better way.

Challenge ideas not people ~ While this is part of building a safe environment for ideas to be shared, in the heat of a moment, it is easy to slide criticism away from the idea and onto the one who brought it up so I think it bears repeating.

Acknowledge, Acknowledge and Acknowledge some more ~ Acknowledgement is integral to building an organization that values idea generation and development.  I think we all know that.  I’m just not sure how many of us provide it. It really doesn’t have to come in the form of fancy recognition programs.  It just has to be sincere and timely in its delivery.

Shift the perspective of knowledge as power~   We have become used to the notion that  knowledge is power so we’d better hang onto it.  So many of us are reluctant to share what we know because we fear loss of leverage of some kind.  In this new century though, the power comes from the collective.  Business success lies in our ability to collaborate, not hoard.   That means building organizations flexible enough, daring enough, strong enough and, perhaps even Darwinian enough to invite people to rethink their whole corporate existence and use the ideas that come from it to move them confidently into the future.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

* Originally posted in November 2012



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Filed under communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

Four Leadership Reminders from Nuisance the Cat

It’s been a year since I wrote this post about Nuisance, my cat.  She has proven to be a lovely addition to our household (apart from the occasional lapse in toilet etiquette).  On the outside, she looks like any ordinary black cat, but over the time she has been with us, she has displayed nuances in her personality that are unique to her and have become special to me.  In the workplace, it is easy to look at people as ‘just ordinary’ too, but like Nuisance, each will bring something unique to the collective effort that is worth looking and listening for.


Her name is Nuisance.  She just turned up one day at our window, a little black cat with bowlegs and signs of the stress that spending too long outside alone can bring.

When I first caught sight of her through the window, I thought she must belong to someone but as the days went by and she spent even the rainy ones sleeping on the gravel under the eaves of our condo, I realized she was a lost little soul who needed some help.  Even the “found cat” note I posted went unanswered

So I began to feed her.

Some nodded knowingly when I admitted to doing that.  “You’re stuck with her now”, they suggested.

“She’ll keep coming back and then what will you do?”

To be honest, I didn’t really know.  My experience with cats had been limited to a time when I was eleven years old and that was, well okay, about a century ago.

But she kept coming back and I kept feeding her.

And then I began to feel responsible for her.  She was all right outside in the summer sun and warmth but winter was coming.  What then?

So, after several failed attempts to coax her inside, one day she simply jumped in the open window and claimed me as her guardian.

We have been quite happily learning about each other ever since.

So what has this got to do with leadership or people?  You may well ask.  It may be a bit too much of a stretch but perhaps there are some parallels worth exploring.  Let’s give it a try anyway.

When I think about it, Nuisance has reminded me that:

Engagement is a two-way street ~ We can talk all we like about employee engagement but my experience with Nuisance suggests that no manner of coaxing or demanding can make others respond well, if what you want is not what they want.  Also, had I grabbed for Nuisance and pulled her inside the window without her permission, I would have destroyed any trust she was beginning to place in me. And, I would have been left, if not broken, certainly bloodied from the experience.

Engagement, after all, is not about leaders turning themselves inside out to get peoples’ attention, blinding them with science or forcing them to pay attention.  It is more about leader and follower doing a dance of sorts, one that includes conversation, inquiry and patience.  And it’s about each taking responsibility for their part in the connection, taking some steps forward together to serve a mutually beneficial purpose.

Effective communication involves all of the senses ~ It’s taking a while for me to anticipate her wants and needs, but Nuisance and I are learning to read each other.  We don’t speak the same language of course but she is trying hard, through her actions, to let me know what works for her and what doesn’t.  I’m doing my best to convey my own wants and expectations.   It’s a mutual effort borne out of respect for each other.

In most workplaces, we have the advantage of speaking a common language.  That should make communication much easier.  In some ways though, common language is not necessarily an advantage.  It can make us lazy and less willing to go beyond what is being said to understand more deeply what is not being said and the real feeling or need that comes from that.

Consistency & Continuity are important ~ Nuisance is a typical cat. She likes to eat, sleep, prowl and play at a certain time in the day.  She does not like me to interfere with her regular routine.  It upsets her and makes her feel unsafe.   Many people are like this too.

But we all know by now that change  is an ongoing, relentless and often necessary thing.  So, along with change must also come a large measure of consistency in  leadership.  That means, showing up and conveying a constant message about the future.  And it means providing the opportunity to take a little of what is already working into that future.   In short, consistency and continuity are two things that bring a measure of reassurance and allow people, (and cats) to be open to, and eventually embrace, change.

Love rules ~ Whether we are talking about animals or people, no matter how conscientious or skilled we are, our progress will always be impeded if we fail to care.  Love makes the work worth the effort.  And, it is a powerful motivator.

That’s what think anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

Attention Leaders: Five Attitudes to Take to work in 2014

I wrote this post last year in contemplation of the beginning of 2013.  I’m posting it again because well, I think it continues to be relevant in 2014.  However, if you have something that would make the workplace of 2014 much better, attitude-wise, I encourage you to share it.  I expect the coming year would be the richer for it. Thank you.


Attitude is a big deal.  The way we look at things and the beliefs we hold about them influence what we choose to do and how we choose to behave when we’re doing it.  That’s why I think it’s always a good idea, especially for those who lead, to conduct something of an attitude inventory from time to time.  And, what better time to do it than at the beginning of a New Year?

So, with that in mind, here are five attitudes that I think will be necessary for business leaders to take, in achieving success in 2014 and beyond:

Attitude # 1: Diversity is not a black and white subject   ~ There are a myriad of distinctions between human beings. Leaders who believe that diversity is limited to cultural, ethnic and gender differences must go deeper and wider to make optimal use of the richness in knowledge, thought and experience that exists in their organizations.

For example, today’s organizations include people from three generations, each with their own set of experiences and expectations.  Leaders who don’t seek to understand both the benefits this promises and the tension it creates, will be disadvantaged.  More importantly, if they fail to constructively accommodate these differences, they will also fail to create an environment in which people from each generation are willing to do their best work.

The Upshot:  If you look at building a diverse workforce as a nice to do initiative, you are missing the point…and the boat. Making optimal use of available talent brings optimal results and will keep you in the game. That makes valuing diversity a business imperative.

Attitude #2: Communication is only effective if it results in understanding ~ Communication is a huge topic in most organizations.  It, or lack of it, is often pinpointed as the culprit when things go wrong. And yet, so many cling to the idea that because they understand the message they are sending, it is reasonable to assume that those on the receiving end will understand it in the same way.

The Upshot: If you view communication as something that creates understanding, you may also see the wisdom in seeking out and engaging a wider range of communication tools.  And, there are a great many about thanks to the wonders of technology.   This attitude can help to reduce the confusion that comes from  unclear messages and increase potential for greater overall productivity.

Attitude #3: Learning and Training are not synonymous ~ Opportunities to learn are everywhere and yet some leaders continue to believe that if they have a wide array of training programs in their organizations and encourage, or even require, people to attend them, their job is done.  While it would be nice to think that, the truth is, learning doesn’t really happen in a classroom, on a webinar or from a book.  Learning happens when training is applied in real life circumstances. To create learning, you also have to create the culture and environment that welcomes it.

Lots of people who attend classes will come away with new ideas and yet have no place to apply them.  When this happens, the ideas, no matter how good, drift off into the ether.  Also, when people try something new and fail, the response to that failure becomes critical to the learning process.  Too many organizations make punishment the reward for honest mistakes.  When that happens, learning takes a back seat to survival.

The Upshot: If you want people to learn, grow and increase their value to your organization, create a whole learning environment that includes opportunity for application of new skill; a balanced attitude toward failure; genuine recognition of accomplishment and; a well constructed framework for individual accountability.

Attitude #4:  Collaboration is the watchword of the 21st Century ~ In successful organizations, there’s no such thing as a one-man (or woman) band. There’s just far too much going on for a single person to manage successfully. And yet, there are still those who try to keep tight control over everything that goes on around them.

The Upshot:  Taking a collaborative perspective and putting it into practice is hard. It means making the work more important than you.  But, doing so most often reaps better results.  That is reason enough to take a collaborative attitude.

Attitude #5: Vision, values and purpose matter more than rules and policies ~ In every organization, there have to be boundaries.  For instance, legal and ethical boundaries are permanent fixtures in any reputable company and must be strongly enforced.  However, beyond that, encouraging people to contribute their best work relies on the strength of their understanding of, and belief in, your organizational purpose, vision of the future and the values you espouse.

The Upshot:  Leading from vision, values and purpose requires greater focus and discipline than enforcing a set of rules.  However, those who do it successfully create workplaces that attract talented, enthusiastic and committed people. In a world where competition for the best is fierce, that has to be a good thing.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?


Filed under communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

Communication… Two Good Things About Yesterday.

This is  the time of year when many of us are lucky enough to be able to take a break from the normal hectic pace of life and spend a little time reminiscing about times that have gone before.   While we know that spending too much time dwelling on the past is not particularly productive,  sometimes it serves us well to remember some of the good things about it, things that might continue to be helpful as we move toward the future.  For instance, this post, from 2010, highlights two communication skills that, in my view anyway, continue to be worth preserving.


I was thinking the other day that there are things we just don’t do anymore.  Take elocution lessons for example.

When I was seven years old in England, elocution was actually part of our school curriculum.  Of course that might have been because most of us in the class had a dreadful habit of dropping our “haiches” and committing other such crimes against the English language.  But the point is that in school, someone in his or her wisdom decided that we should learn to speak so that we could also be understood.

Enter Miss Frost, a woman whose demeanour befitted her name, small, grey and wizened with the ability to freeze one to the core with one look.  Miss Frost had us all standing at attention on many an occasion repeating after her,“How now, Brown Cow”, shaping our little mouths, like baby birds, as roundly as we could so the sounds would come out to her satisfaction.

I suspect that we did not, for the most part, satisfy Miss Frost, as her temper never seemed to improve and nor did our penchant for “haiche” dropping.  Nonetheless, I did come to know that words, when pronounced with care, tend to convey a clearer meaning than when we allow them to carelessly careen off the end of our tongues and get hopelessly enmeshed in jargon, saliva and each other.

And then there is Penmanship.  There was a time when the only source of written communication was pen and paper.  In school we learned how to shape our letters and write in straight lines and when we received gifts from relatives and friends at Christmas and other important occasions, it was obligatory to sit down and write carefully crafted notes of thanks. When one is small, it is a painful exercise but it taught us the importance of acknowledgement and that maintaining good relationships with others relied on making an effort to be appreciative and gracious.

Now, it is much easier to sit at a computer and send e-mails, or text, or tweet. In fact, the number of ways that we can communicate with each other without putting pen to paper is now amazingly diverse. I approve wholeheartedly of anything that helps us keep our relationships alive.  After all, the current pace of life rarely allows the opportunity to sit down and write letters any more.  On the other hand, I can’t help but think that something has been lost, something that speaks to the art of communication.

Wally Bock  once wrote a post called Once Upon a Time. In it, he talks about the changes that have taken place over the years  in not only the way we do things but also in the tools available to us to do them.

Initially having lived through the times he described,  I thought there was not much that I really missed about them.   But, on further reflection,  I’m thinking that the ability to speak clearly and add a personal touch to our gratitude by actually writing a legible note of appreciation occasionally are leadership tools that continue to have great value.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?


Filed under communication

A Case for Being a “Nice” Boss

‘Nice’ is not a word that is often used to describe successful leaders. But, it’s really all about how you look at it.  This post, from 2012 attempts to shift the perspective about ‘nice’ from one of weakness to one of strength.


My uncle, now deceased, used to have a little wooden plaque hanging on the wall of his den.  It read, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice”

I was reminded of this the one day when I caught myself being not nice to a young man who was conducting telephone surveys for an insurance company.  Specifically, I allowed my disdain for unsolicited telephone surveys to affect the way I spoke to him.  That wasn’t fair.  And it definitely wasn’t nice.  So I apologized and then did my best to separate my dislike for the survey from my empathy for someone doing an honest and thankless job.

It occurred to me then that nice, at least in corporate settings, is often the victim of our contempt and in fact frequently equated with weakness.  The perspective is that people who are nice are pushovers. They lack character. They are spineless, maybe even incompetent.  When we ask people to describe a leader, they invariably say things like, strongdecisive, visionary, and courageous.  Rarely are they characterized as ‘nice’.  Indeed in some organizations we even expect our leaders to bring with them a measure of unpleasantness.  It goes with the territory.  After all, they are busy people. ‘Nice’ doesn’t get the job done.

But to me, ‘Nice’ gets a bad rap.  In fact, it has an important role to play in organizational success.  It could also use some repositioning in terms of the way we think about it.

So let’s try it.

What if we decided to equate ‘nice’ with strength instead of weakness?  What would it look like?  Well, here’s what I’m thinking about that:

When “nice” = “strength”…

It would look like Kindness  ~ We’ve all heard it.  “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” It’s an old American proverb with an enduring ring of truth.  And really, it takes just as much time to be mean as it does to be kind.

It would look like Truthfulness ~ Here’s where ‘nice’ grows teeth. Sometimes engaging in difficult conversations and telling people what they need to hear to make better choices is much nicer than avoiding or misleading them.  Often, taking the easy way out is very far from being nice.

It would look like Respect  ~ To me, respect asks us to behave like adults and treat others like adults too.  There is no room for condescension or patronizing behaviour in my definition.  It’s simply not nice.

It would look like Generosity ~ Generosity is often about letting go of something we’d rather keep for ourselves.  It is a demonstration of regard and a vote of confidence.  It takes strength.  And, it’s a nice habit to adopt because generosity can be catching.

It would look like Clarity ~ Being clear about what we need and what we expect is part of the package, especially if we intend to use those expectations as a benchmark for performance appraisal at some point.  Otherwise, it’s not fair and especially not nice.

It would look like Empathy ~ Seeking to understand how things are for others is a primary role of the leader.  It’s the way s/he “tunes in” to the work environment and engages people, not only in conversation but also in playing a willing part in fulfilling the organizational purpose.

It would look like Civility ~ Good manners are certainly part of being nice.  We may think we don’t have time for this. We are too busy.  I assert, however, that for workplaces to be ‘livable’ they must include courteousness.  People work better together when they treat each other well.  It’s as simple as that.

The truth about being “nice” is, it really doesn’t matter what you call it.  It’s not about the word.  It’s about the behaviour that the word suggests.  If we choose to look at being nice as a weakness, we will continue to discount its value in the workplace.  We will cling to the notion that “nice ‘guys’ finish last” and  keep on accepting objectionable behaviour from leaders who believe it.

So let’s remember those words from the American Playwright, Wilson Mizner, ~ “Be nice to the people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down”

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Uncategorized

Getting the Questions Right

This post, from September, 2011 examines the power of questioning as an effective leadership tool.


My brain is all clogged up.  I’m trying to write a blog post and it’s coming out like the Sermon on the Mount. I hate when that happens.  Sermons have their place but am not ordained to deliver them.  Besides, to me, one well-placed question is worth a hundred sermons.  In fact, one well-place question can be just the lubricant a clogged brain needs for the wheels to get going again.

So maybe I’m onto something here.  Maybe it is that leaders who feel they must have all the answers would be better off if they focused on the getting the questions right instead.

What are the right questions?  Well, that’s a good question in itself isn’t it?

I’m thinking that the right questions are those that do two powerful things:

They stimulate curiosity and exploration ~ Not all questions are going to do that.  Some simply call for answers that are already known by someone.  The really good questions are those that have everyone scratching their heads, thinking about possibilities and going into explore mode.

They get to the heart of the matter ~ I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in meetings where people get royally bogged down in discussions that go absolutely nowhere.  Sometimes, in those situations one simple question can turn the tide, stop the noise and bring about an “oh, yeah” moment that puts the meeting back into production.

What does it take to get good at getting the questions right?  Here’s what I think:

We have to be interested in what is being said.  That’s kind of an obvious one; otherwise, what’s the point?

We have to learn to suspend judgment, be willing to listen more and talk less.

We have to practice.   Asking a powerful question is an art.  Like any other art it takes work.  We’re not always going to get it right so practice, (while not always making perfect), will certainly move us closer to the highly competent arena.

Finally, what are these questions?  Well, let’s start with what they aren’t

They aren’t complex.  Sometimes we can get all bound up in making our questions sound authoritative, profound or deeply intellectual.  In my experience, a question like this usually comes out like, blah, blah, blah with a question mark at the end of it. If no one understands the question, it’s not likely that people will find it appropriately stimulating.

They aren’t necessarily perfect ~ If a question comes from a place of curiosity, even if it is only partially formed, it can spark conversation and get juices flowing enough for others to complete it and move on to explore something that they may not have otherwise considered.

So, just to get you started, here are some sample questions that I think are pretty powerful:

How will we know when we have it right?

What are we not saying? (Aka the elephant in the room question)

Who must we involve?

What is more important?

What do we really want?

What are we really saying?

What would happen if we did X instead of Y?

These are just a few questions.  And yes, they are the kind that coaches ask of their clients.  If you are a leader, you are also a coach.  Trust me, you are.  And if you don’t think so, think again.

So now I’m curious.  When people are stuck how do you help them to move on? What questions do you use to get the conversation going?  Do you have a favourite question? What is it? What does it do?


Filed under communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

Customer Service and a Tale of Woe

Many of us who write a business-oriented blog speak from our experience and employ whatever expertise we may have to promote good leadership and good business practices. The customer experience is often a measure of how well these elements are being carried out. This week’s post is about me and about my experience as a beleaguered customer of a certain company.  It’s a bit long but I hope you hang in there with me.


Once upon a time there was a woman.  She was an ordinary woman and one who, like many others, had her share of challenges.  Lately her challenge was helping her husband find his way back from a major stroke, one that had left him unable to properly use his body.

The stroke had changed both of their lives in a significant way and the woman wanted her husband to regain some of his independence, for both their sakes.  So she started looking for a mobility scooter for him, one that was light enough for her to lift into the back of their car and also allow her husband to travel around the neighbourhood by himself if he should have the inclination.

She looked locally, but initially thought perhaps the scooters she saw were going to be too heavy for her to lift.  So she looked on the Internet…as you do.

She found Summit Mobility Products, a company located in Center Line Michigan.  Their scooters seemed to hold the possibility of being useful to him and manageable for her.  And so, at the cost of US$1,598.00 plus $160 for shipping, less $45 “instant rebate” she ordered one

It arrived promptly, on or about July 25, 2012, a shiny new Lexis Light scooter.

The woman and her husband were both excited about it and the independence it promised but when the she removed it from the box and assembled it, it proved not to meet their needs.  It folded up as promised but felt awkward and the battery was too small for the scooter to effectively cope with the hilly neighbourhood.  So, they decided to send it back.

The next day, the woman phoned the company and spoke to a very pleasant young lady who said she would be happy to receive the scooter and refund its cost but could offer no suggestion as to how the woman might get the scooter back into the original package and no mechanism to help her facilitate the return shipping.

Feeling somewhat abandoned but undeterred, the woman arranged for a local shipping company to repack the scooter professionally and send it on its way back from Vancouver, Canada to Michigan. The cost for this was more than double the amount charged to ship it to the woman in the first place but she had other priorities and so was anxious to deal with the matter expeditiously.

The scooter made its way to the U.S. border during the first full week in August 2012. The woman waited for word of its arrival in Michigan.  No word came.  She phoned the shipping company who advised her that unfortunately “they” (meaning an entity other than themselves) had lost the paperwork required for the scooter to cross the border.  The paperwork had to be re-submitted.  The woman waited some more.  When she called the shipping company again she was advised that US Customs had refused the package because it required a medical device listing number.  Efforts were made both by the shipping company and the woman to provide such a number. Summit Mobility advised that the scooter was not a medical device and therefore would not have such a number.  Much wrangling between the woman, the shipping company and Summit Mobility ensued.  In the meantime the scooter, (nicely re-packaged and ready to go), went nowhere… for seven months.

Eventually, the shipping company and Summit Mobility successfully identified the much searched for Medical Device Listing Number and it appeared that the light was finally green for the scooter to go on its way…for an additional cost of course.

By now it was March 2013 and the woman, concerned about the long delay in getting the scooter back to Michigan, called Summit Mobility and talked to a Manager there.  She reminded him of her story and asked him to confirm that if she undertook the additional cost to send it would he receive it and refund the money she had paid for it?  His response was positive.

On the strength of his assurances, the woman gave the shipping company permission to proceed.  This time the package passed through the US border without incident and arrived at Summit Mobility on March 26, 2013.

The company confirmed receipt of the scooter in good order and indicated their promised intention to refund its cost (less shipping costs of course).

To date, in spite of copious phone calls and e-mails, the company has failed to reimburse the woman.  Further, they have not returned any of her phone calls.  From time to time she does catch the Manager at his desk.  Each time he confirms her home address and assures her that “the cheque is in the mail” or the Visa Account will be credited.  Nothing.

On occasion, she will call and a pleasant person will transfer her to the manager.  On those instances she is often sent to voice mail instead.  Each time, she leaves a message.   She makes it a point to be polite.  At no time does she receive a return call.   On another occasion, the manager referred her to someone in the accounting department. But the accounting department does not return her calls or respond to her e-mails either.

Might she have done something differently? Of course she might.  She might have chosen to save the costs of shipping the scooter back to Michigan by selling it locally.   In light of the events that took place, she would most certainly have been better off financially had she done that. However, her choice in this instance is not the point.   She sent the scooter back after assurances from the company that she would receive a refund for its cost.  They have confirmed its receipt and yet have failed to send her the money she is owed.


Of course I’m the woman in question.   And having sent the company a final e-mail summarizing my experience with them and outlining my expectations one more time without a response, I’m ready to try something different.

So, if this story resonates with you in any way, I’m  asking you to send a copy of this blog post to Summit Mobility Products via e-mail.  If you feel inclined to add your own short message as well, I would be most grateful.  I only ask that you do so with the utmost of courtesy.

The company’s e-mail address is  The Manager I spoke with is Mike Flosky.  His email address is

The truth is I feel  more than a bit foolish about my decision to stubbornly send the scooter back to the company in spite of the difficulty and additional cost involved. But,  I rather think this story reflects more badly on Summit Mobility Products ‘ integrity than it does on my lapse in judgment.  I’d like to find a way to send that message to them loud and clear in the hope that it will encourage them to do the right thing.  Care to join me?


An Update ~ October 23, 2013:  For those of you who have been gracious enough to read, and empathize with my tale of woe, I’m very pleased to tell you that I have now received the refund I have so long sought.  This is, in no small part, due to so many of you who took the time to comment on the post; e-mail the company; and in some cases do both.  It appears that my words alone were simply not enough.  Your words, together with mine made a powerful difference.  Thank you for your time and your generosity.   It will be long remembered. 




Filed under communication, Customer Service, Leadership