Tag Archives: Building Relationships

A Leader?

Many years ago, I found this poem. It is one that impressed me and continues to speak to me now. To the best of my knowledge its author continues to be anonymous. Here it is. Enjoy

A Leader?

I went on a search to become a leader

I searched high and low. I spoke with authority, people listened but alas, there

Was one who was wiser than I and they followed him

I sought to inspire confidence but the crowd responded.

“Why should we trust you?”

I postured and I assumed the look of leadership with a countenance that glowed

with confidence and pride.

But many passed me by and never noticed my air of elegance.

I ran ahead of others, pointing the way to new heights.

I demonstrated that I knew the route to greatness.

And then I looked back and I was alone.

And I sat me down and I pondered long.

And then I listened to the voices around me.

And I heard what the group was trying to accomplish

I rolled up my sleeves and joined in the work.

As we worked, I asked,

“Are we all together in what we want to do and how to get the job done?”

And we thought together and we fought together

And we struggled towards our goal.

I found myself encouraging the fainthearted

I sought ideas of those too shy to speak out.

I taught those who had little skill.

I praised those who worked hard.

When our task was completed, one of the groups turned to me and said, “This would not have been done but for your leadership.”

At first, I said, “I didn’t lead, I just worked with the rest.”

And then I understood, leadership is not a goal.

It’s a way of reaching a goal.

I lead best when I help others to use themselves creatively.

I lead best when I forget about myself as leader and focus on my group, their needs and their goals.

To lead is to serve, to give, to achieve



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


Filed under Leadership

Collaboration and the Value of the Dissenting Voice

dissent_SSAlthough the word collaboration can conjure up images of people working happily together, I rather think we would get closer to reality if we included a few arguments, some eye-rolling and some exasperated over-emoted sighs to round out the picture. Mostly this kind of friction happens because, as individuals, we differ from each other in culture, experience and skill. The perspectives we hold come from those things. And, as human beings, we can cling to them stubbornly, shutting out the possibility that there may be another way.

But, if we want to truly extract the best ideas and create the best outcomes, we must be prepared to include the likelihood that our view is not always going to be the best. That means making room for the friction and the dissenting voices of those who look at things through a different lens and have the courage to share what they see.

Here’s a quick and entertaining example from the great comedy team of Abbott and Costello:

I don’t know about you, but at times, I have discounted the opinions of others because their logic sounded wrong or what they were saying had, in my view, no bearing on the matter at hand. In those situations, I wonder what might have happened had I spent just a few more minutes listening and trying to understand. Of course, there was always the possibility that what was being said was complete drivel. But, it was equally possible there was something there of great value that was lost because I failed to take the time to really listen.

In a World where time is at a premium, I don’t suppose the behaviour I describe is unique. So many of us spend our days striving to get to the end, or accomplish a goal and yet sacrifice the quality of what we produce by ignoring the voices that don’t seem to have a place on our personal radar screens.

I think there are lessons here regardless of whether we need to make room for the dissenting voice or we are the dissenting voice.

For instance, to make room for the dissenting voice I think it helps to:

Develop a discipline of drawing out those who may be reluctant to speak

Some people can feel overpowered by the common opinion. In fact, they may believe their own view to be less important because it is different. And so they stay quiet so as not to rock the boat. Drawing them into the conversation can make it more real and provide the opportunity for a wider variety of ideas to be shared.

Provide enough time for reflection, curiosity and discussion

Of course if you make room for the dissenting voice, you also must make time for people to ask questions, explore, challenge and think about what is being said. It may take longer but the conversation will be enriched because of it.

Give the ‘Dissenting Voice’ a place at the table

That means, when you come together to discuss some aspect of your work together, assign a virtual place for the ‘Dissenting Voice’. Over the course of your discussion, stop from time to time, and invite people to place themselves in a perspective, they may not currently hold. Sometimes this will give rise to a new idea that may not have otherwise surfaced. And, It will encourage those who really do think differently to become part of the conversation.

Conversely, if you differ in experience, perspective or opinion from the rest, I think it helps to:

Find the courage to stand up and speak

While it can be nerve-wracking to stand up and share an opposing view, it can also be very liberating. Little is accomplished by waiting until a meeting is over to voice an adverse opinion, to no one in particular. If you want to be counted in, stand up and be counted. It matters.

Ask questions that provoke thought

Sometimes a well-placed question can slow the momentum of a meeting long enough to allow thoughts to take a much needed detour. Questions that begin with “what would happen if….?” Or “How might ‘X’ apply to this situation?” can spark ideas not yet explored.

Explain the relevance of your view to the subject at hand

If your view represents a big departure from the prevailing thinking, you stand a better chance of having it heard if you explain how it connects with the subject under discussion and the value it brings to realizing a successful outcome.

Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “ It is the man who does not want to express an opinion whose opinion I want”

From that I surmise that Mr. Lincoln was keen to be informed on many levels, to solve the right problems and to make good decisions more often than bad ones.

When it comes to working collaboratively, I expect that’s what we all want.

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


* Please note the Clip shown from Abbott and Costello is for learning purposes only and not meant as an infringement on copyright.

** This post was originally published in July, 2012

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development

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

…And I’ll Follow You Anywhere

What would it take for you to follow someone anywhere?  This is a question I put to myself one day when in idle contemplation.  This post, from 2011, is what I came up with.


I’ll follow you anywhere if you…

Paint a picture of the future that includes me

If I can see where I fit and what I might contribute to bringing the picture out of the frame and into reality, I’m in.

Give me direction when I need it and freedom when I’ve earned it

Sometimes I need you to tell me what to do.  But, when I know what I’m doing and have all I need to do the work, let me get on with it and I will make you proud.

Help me learn new things and be better than I was before

I want to learn and grow.  I have dreams too. Give me what I need to build skill and have experiences that will help me learn.  That way, I can be at my best now, when you need me, and in the future, when you won’t.

Ask for my opinion and then really listen when I give it

When I know you are truly interested in what I have to say, I will spend more time thinking about things that are important to both of us.  You don’t always have to agree with me.  Just listen; show me that you hear me; and understand where I’m coming from.

Expect more from me that I expect from myself

Hey, I’m human.  I don’t always see what you see when you talk to me or watch me work.  And, I’m not always that sure about my own capabilities.  If you encourage and challenge me to stretch beyond what I think I can do and support me as I give it my best shot, my loyalty is yours.

Trust me first…

I know it’s tough. I’m going to make mistakes and that’s always worrying. But, if I know you are willing to trust me to do my best, I will work toward making you glad you did.

Laugh at yourself and with me

Simply put, if we can make each other laugh from time to time and take ourselves less seriously than the work, I will always enjoy working with you.  Really.

Give me the straight goods about how I’m doing…

There are going to be times when I need you to tell something I might not want to hear.  Please tell me anyway. If you do, I might be upset at first but will know where I stand. If you don’t, it won’t go away and more than likely will come back to bite me at a most inconvenient time. Put it to me honestly and with good intention and I will receive it with grace.

Live by the rules you set for me…

For the most part, I’m okay with rules.  Ask me to follow them and I will, if you follow them too.  Allow me to challenge them when they are getting in the way of my doing my job.  Be open to changing them when necessary.  If they can’t be changed, help me to understand why. Do that and I will respect and trust you.

Help me to celebrate my successes…

Acknowledgement of my accomplishments will always be appreciated.  Enough said.

Help me to learn from my failures…

When I fail, believe me, I will punish myself enough for both of us.  If, instead of punishment or blame, you offer me a chance to examine what went wrong and what I can do better the next time, my failure will have value.  I will appreciate that.

Show me your courage and your confidence…

There is a certain feeling of reassurance when I see you stand up for your beliefs, values and the people who follow you, (especially when you stand up for me).  When you do that, it makes me proud to be associated with you.

Show me your humanity…

I know you’re human too.  I don’t expect you to be a super hero.  If, from time to time, you show me that you too have doubts and moments of anxiety or fear, I will respect that and do my best to give you my support.

What have I left out?  What does your boss have to do to gain, or keep, your loyalty?  If you are a boss, what do you do to earn loyalty?


Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style

Trying Too Hard & 5 Ways to Get Over It

This post, from 2011, is full of things I know intellectually but must continue to work on in practice…sort of an easier-said-than-done post, at least for me.  If it is the same for you, it’s  probably worth repeating. So here it is


I started this post a number of times, but was dissatisfied with it.   I was trying too hard.  I was trying to be clever.  I was trying to be deeply intellectual.   Guess what.  It didn’t work.

It’s not that I’m not capable of being clever or even deeply intellectual…on a good day.  But, I think today, I was just trying too hard to force myself to be those things.  It happens.

When I think about this notion of trying too hard in a leadership context, a number of things come to mind.  For instance, some leaders try too hard:

To be Popular

I think everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, likes to be liked.  But, trying too hard to be popular gets in the way of our ability to make tough decisions and to lead in a judicious way.  In my experience, people respect and respond well to those leaders who are fair much more than those who focus on being popular.

To be Perfect

Those who strive for perfection can also have a tendency to micro-manage everything to death to avoid making any mistakes.  Of course the trouble is that, in so doing, they manage to annoy most everyone who works with them, or for them.  While it is admirable to want to do things well, it is not possible to get everything right all of the time.  It’s just not.

To be All-Knowing & All-wise

Leadership does not come with all the answers.  It’s too bad, but there it is.  If we try too hard to create the impression that we are the font of all knowledge, we are bound to disappoint.

To be Strong

To some people, a leader should always be strong and impervious to the problems and worries that afflict other mortals.  While it is true that leadership asks us to bring our courage to work, it does not mean that we cannot share our concerns with others.  As individuals, trying too hard to be strong, places a great and unnecessary burden on us.  As leaders, it also excludes the possibility that others are willing and quite capable of helping.

So, how do we avoid the problem of trying too hard?  Well, here are some thoughts about that:

1.    Know and Accept ourselves, warts ‘n all

I think having a good handle on what we’re good at and what we’re not good at, is a place to start.  It doesn’t mean that we should stop learning, growing and improving…not at all.  But having a certain confidence about who and how we are, somehow gives us permission to take the focus off ourselves and onto others without having to try so hard.

2.    Embrace the Imperfect

I struggle with this one all the time but I keep working on it because when I strive for perfection, I invariably achieve only frustration.

3.    Look and Listen More… Talk Less

I think, when we try too hard, there is a tendency to talk far too much.  Whatever the reason for this, while we are doing it, we are undoubtedly missing the opportunity to observe and listen to others. Incorporating the thoughts and ideas of others takes the pressure off us to have the right answers all of the time.

4.    Dare to be Vulnerable

This is about allowing our humanness to come through and striving to place more value on the giving and receiving of empathy.  I think human beings are stronger when they allow each other a glimpse into what matters to them. Trying too hard to be strong and stand apart from the rest leads not to strength but to isolation

5.    Lighten Up

Sometimes you just have to laugh.  When we’re trying too hard, it’s entirely possible that we’re also being way too serious about it all. Laughing at ourselves can take the pressure and worry out of most situations.  So, wherever you go, take your sense of humour with you.  It will serve you well.

So, that’s what I think about trying too hard.  What do you think?


Filed under Building Relationships, Leadership, Leadership Development

360 Survey On the Wall…I Hardly See Myself at All

This post, from January 2012, challenges the 360 degree feedback process first popularized in the 1990s. Too often, rather than use such a  process as a springboard to having important conversations, we make the process itself the focal point thus diminishing its usefulness. 


I’m not a big fan of surveys.  That includes, (dare I say it?), the 360 degree performance assessment type survey.  I know, they are meant to be a useful tool but to me, no matter how carefully put together they are, the result is rather like a distorted mirror in the Fun House, not very clear and not particularly accurate.

On the face of it, 360-degree assessments present as simple processes; something like the one Bob here is undertaking. (The clip is 62 seconds)

The trouble is, there are often a number of factors at play that skew the results one way or another.  Here are only a few examples of what I mean.

  • When Bob’s boss asks him to complete a survey at a time when Bob is not best pleased with him, his objectivity flies out of the window and his responses are coloured by the way he’s feeling at that moment in time.
  • Bob would like his colleagues to complete their survey about him favourably so he completes their surveys favourably too.  It’s kind of a quid pro quo thing. You know?
  • The questions all ask Bob to respond by choosing from a range of ratings from poor to outstanding.  While he has a pretty good idea what each rating means to him, he has no idea what they mean to others and what standards they work from when they complete the survey.
  • Even though there may be room for Bob to explain his ratings, usually he doesn’t, because frankly he doesn’t have time.  He still has more surveys to complete for several more of his colleagues. So he just ticks the boxes and hopes that will be enough to satisfy the process.

So, while I agree that “good information helps Bob make better decisions”, the information gathered from a formal 360 process runs risk of being inaccurate and therefore, not really that useful.

The question is, what is Bob to do?  How will he find out how he’s doing if there is no formal process to tell him?

To me, the answer lies in his willingness and ability to consistently focus on three things:

How he talks to people and how he listens ~ If the communication between Bob and his Boss; Bob and his colleagues and; Bob and his team is honest, clear and empathetic, there will be enough trust among them for him to simply ask how he’s doing without having to go through a formal and anonymous process.

How he builds relationships ~ in my mind, the health of any business relies on its ability to build relationships.   This requires people like Bob to work well with those around him; to understand their challenges; help them; and solicit their help too.  Building relationships ensures that the quid pro quo among colleagues has meaning that goes beyond the notion of “I’ll tick your’ like’ box if you’ll tick mine”.

How much he cares about helping others to learn and grow ~ In my book, people who spend time coaching and providing learning opportunities so that others can be and do better usually know when they are doing well.  For them, great performance comes from their ability to help others deliver great performance too.  If Bob were to do this, he would have no need of a formal feedback structure.  He would be giving it and getting it.  Every day.

So okay, maybe I’m being a bit Utopian.  I know there are still many organizations that struggle with all three of these things.  It is not an ideal world.  I’d like to think though that rather than relying on complicated and expensive 360-degree performance processes to guide them, more workplaces will spend their time talking, listening and simply building relationships well enough to make them unnecessary.

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


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Human Resources, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and Straight Talk

This post is from June, 2011


I happened across a movie the other day called Straight Talk.  It’s about a young woman who was accidently hired by a radio station to be an Agony Aunt.  This young woman, (played by Dolly Parton), was delightfully guileless and dished out her unadorned advice with clarity and good humour.   For example, her counsel to one caller who was obviously playing the martyrdom card went something like this: “Get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!

It made me smile.  And, it also made me think about how important straight talk is in leadership.

Straight talk in organizations, when delivered with sincerity, tends to achieve understanding quickly. It brings clarity to confusion.  It allows for quicker problem solving. It values truth.  It builds trust. It grows integrity.

And yet, in so many organizations, we are incredibly bad at it.

There are probably a lot of reasons for this.  I suspect most of them have something to do with internal politics, bureaucracy, or perhaps a belief that the more complicated or obscure the language, the more important the message.

Whatever the reason, to me, creating an environment that values candid and respectful discussion is a leadership imperative and a key to building sustainable organizations.

So how might we go about establishing this straight talk environment?  Well, it could begin with establishing some principles, not unlike these:

Principle # 1: Talk to the Organ Grinder, not the Monkey

When we talk to the wrong person (or people) about something, we often do it to gain support or sympathy for our position.  It doesn’t usually solve anything and can create ill feeling and unnecessary speculation.

Principle #2: This organization is a jargon-free zone

I’m a fan of simple language. Business jargon (or any kind of jargon for that matter), may sound more intelligent or important but it has this tendency to get in the way of understanding.

Principle #3: Feedback goes stale. Serve while fresh. The longer we take to share information with each other, the less value it will have for us.  Ask permission… then deliver it when it’s fresh.  For one thing, it’ll be easier to remember and that usually makes it more useful.

Principle #4: People are not punished for speaking their minds

Often people are reticent to speak up for fear of ridicule or some other subtle form of punishment.  Taking the hammer out of the communication toolbox allows for more open and meaningful conversation.

Principle #5: Everyone has something important to say.

Adherence to this principle makes a promise to those who may be reticent to speak up, that their opinions count.

Principle #6: Listen first…talk later.

Listening is part of having respectful and candid conversations.  It allows for good questions.  Good questions invite thoughtful answers, which in turn, increase the quality of conversations.

Principle #7: R-E-S-P-E-C-T in this organization is an important noun and verb

This principle (otherwise known as the Aretha Franklin principle) pretty much speaks for itself.  Without it, the chances of establishing a culture of straight talk are pretty dim.

What do you think?  What would principles would you add?  How do you achieve straight talk in your organization?


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational culture