Ambition Trumps Risk

I have served with many managers, leaders, supervisors, and commanders, some great, some not. The vast majority of them rely on positional power, few understood any power outside of legitimate power, but we all depend on the power given by those directly above us. Because we all don’t have referent power, this is where the real problems begin. How much room does your boss give you to take risk and make mistakes? How much do you avoid risk to make sure your boss thinks you don’t make mistakes?

It has been my experience that an overwhelmingly amount of bosses and managers are very much for risk avoidance. Leaders and managers everywhere speak about innovation, but the activities required to create a culture where innovation takes place are nonexistent. We are in love with innovation and risk taking on a surface level but fail to turn those ideas into action? Ambition is the reason!

Don’t get me wrong ambition is vital to progression. We don’t want to take away people’s ambition. But because people have ambition and want to get promoted or rewarded in some way, they are scared to take risk. What we want to do is change the mindset of the organization. We want organizations to stop judging our managers and supervisors by how few mistakes they make, but by a combination of their success and attempts to improve. I have seen many managers be considered successful and quality managers when they only kept their head above water and knew how to avoid risk expertly. Avoiding risk kills the spirit of innovation and gives managers a false sense of achievement.

Unfortunately, the only way this can change is from the top. The highest levels of the organization need to shift the way they think about risk. They must reassure those under them that they will understand and appreciate risk, that they don’t need to avoid risk at the cost of improvements. It is great to say you embrace change and innovation, but there must be action to show that you do. There needs to be constant communication to make the shift happen. Managers and supervisors need to trust that their boss is not just providing lip service. The trust will come after managers see the risks they take that end up in failures are not falsely attributed to their ability to manage or lead. Execution of the risk is a crucial factor in all of this. If the execution is poorly done then, managers need to go to great lengths to make sure they are specific in their feedback. They need to be careful to correct the execution mistakes and not discourage future attempts at improving.

The Introvert Extraction! Four Tactics to Help You Rise to Their Level

Do you have an introvert that rarely contributes to the conversation? You know they are smart and have good ideas because they bring these ideas to you on occasion. But when you look to them in your time of need, they don’t deliver. Perhaps it’s your approach? Maybe you have been indirectly taught through outwards displays of encouragement that extroverts are smarter, better leaders, but the real truth is that if the introverts of your organization are not contributing it is your failure as a manager. Here are four ways to help you rise to the occasion!

  1. Understand them. Introverts make up about one-third of the population, so there are introverts in your organization and most likely on your management team. Many managers make the mistake of thinking introverts are less confident than extroverts which is why they contribute less. The reality is, introverts just work differently. They like to take the time to think through many different scenarios. They don’t want to be rushed and pressured into coming up with the solution “right now.” Many times we expect an introvert to be more extroverted. We tell them to speak up or get involved in the conversation. This is often a pointless suggestion. It is like asking an extrovert to sit in during an important conversation and to expect them only to contribute when asked. That would be very frustrating for an extrovert. So the point is to understand the introvert and not expect them to change who they are just to make your job easier.
  2. Ask for their opinions. This tactic is the standard response when faced with an introvert. Most managers will simply ask them to contribute. It can get a little old and can be frustrating for a manager to have to do this all the time, but I have found it is usually worth the effort. More often than not, the input an introvert provides is thoughtful, and even if it isn’t the perfect response, it will usually spark other ideas.
  3. Give them time to think before calling on them. This is a tactic I try to use as much a possible and seems to give me the best results. An example of this is if you are having a meeting and need input; give them some warning by asking for input from three or four people before them. In the past, I have said to the group that I needed to hear their thoughts and would say “Jaxon (extrovert) you go first, then Christine (extrovert), then Eric (Introvert). Doing so gives Eric time to think of a way to express his idea without having to do it instantly. Although there will be some anxiety with this tactic, it will be better than the frustration they will experience due to their mind drawing a blank by being put on the spot.
  4. Empower them to lead. This last item is not always possible, but if you can apply this, it is very effective. When you put an introvert in charge of the meeting or project, you give them a natural way to work. The expectation will be for them to communicate and solicit input from others. I have found they have high emotional intelligence and can lead a team through the myriad of challenges very well.

Although there is no perfect way to manage or lead a group of people, following the above steps should help you avoid awkward meetings and frustrated employees. The big key is to have empathy and be deliberate in your approach.

New to the Organization? Five Tangible Steps to Organizational Management

Below are five steps to take to help start you off on the right foot when taking a management position in a new organization.

1. Observe the Organization. Take time to understand the processes and most importantly the people. When you are new to the organization or even a new position in the same organization, it is very tempting to start changing things to the way you like them or to how you think they will be better. A better thing to do is to observe how things run. Then change them if they are inefficient or if they are not working. Employees hate to change anything even if it is better just to please the new boss! People dislike change in general, so making the change about you is not a good idea.

2. Determine the Culture. This step is critical to understanding how to reinforce or alter the culture to align it with the strategic plans you will create in the next step. If you are lucky enough to walk into a new organization with an exemplary culture, then all you need to do is to figure out how to reinforce those behaviors that drive the current culture. If the culture is less than desirable, then you have work to do. Get your team together to decide the culture you desire. Set the example of the behaviors you know will affect the culture. Make sure all policies support the culture.

3. Align the Organization: Align your department or section’s goals with the organization’s vision and mission. If your organization does not have vision and mission statements and you are in a leadership position now is the time to create them. If you are not at that level of management, lobby your leaders to develop them. Vision and Mission statements are vital to ensuring the rest of the organization is working towards the same goals. If you can’t convince them to create them for the organization, then create them for the piece you have control over and move on. Hopefully, by doing so, you will inspire those above you to follow your lead. That is what leadership is all about.

4. Pick the Proper Metrics: Make sure the metrics you measure are the ones that contribute to the primary purpose of the organization. Perhaps make the tough decision to categorize the measurable activities to know what you have to do well with and what may be category four of the organization. Some things are vital, but not measurable. Morale and engagement are two examples. Although not measurable in the strict sense of the word, there are ways to get a pulse for them. Surveys, observation, and asking the employees will give you a good sense of the organization in that respect.

5. Deliberately Lead the Organization: Deliberately leading an organization means having a purpose in your daily activities. Being placed in a management position means you are trusted to make good decisions. Have plans to reach goals and share them with your subordinates. Seek their opinions and implement their ideas to help achieve the goals. Deliberately develop your employees. This step is crucial, even if the development is outside of your organization’s lane. See my article on Deliberate Leadership here.

If you follow these five steps, you will be in an excellent position to create success for your organization and the people that work for you!

What is Your Purpose? Here’s How to Find it!

Wake up in the morning, go to work, go to lunch, go home, watch TV, eat dinner, and go to bed. Repeat the process daily and pray for the weekend to come as fast as possible! Why is it that we are so much more willing to live in Groundhog’s Day instead of taking control and doing something different? Why do we live for the weekends? It seems like we are ready to sacrifice happiness for stability and security.

Our parents told us when were little that we could be anything, but as we moved into high school and college, we were told to find a good job and start our career. But now, we have been trained since we were young to minimize risk and do what is safe: to go to college and find a good job. Settle down at some point, marriage, maybe some promotions, kids, and do that until we can retire. The cost of doing this is great in many cases. I see people every day that are only happy on Saturday and Sunday.

Happiness is not found in the amount of money you make. It isn’t found in money alone, it isn’t found in family alone, it isn’t found in work alone. Happiness is found in purpose, and in the ability to master that purpose. We find happiness in being excited about the future.

One of the most exciting things we do is talk to people about the future! Eric Thomas, a very popular motivational speaker says, “You should want to succeed as much as you want to breathe.” What I take away from this statement is that when we can’t breathe, our focus is intense and singular. We put everything we have into breathing. So what could be accomplished if we put even half this intensity into our skills? What if we found our passion and what we loved to do? And put that singular intensity into making it our strongest skill. I think you could make real change in the world and at the very least you and the people you are close too would be happier!

The most difficult thing to figure out what your passion is and once you figure that out, how do you use it to live? Unfortunately, that question is very personal to each one of you. Only you can answer that question. Perhaps others who have a deep personal relationship with you can help guide your answer based on what they see in you. But 99% of the answer resides in you.

Take time to figure it out. Experiment a little. Use the time after you get off work and when you have finished family time to do things that interest you. Spend 2 hours each night on something you love. If you love beer, why not create your own? Or maybe you just love the taste and want to experience all the beers from around the world. Start a vlog of you sampling beers. If you find you are happy with this, then you win. There are millions of examples we could go through, but the bottom line is to go for it. Don’t wait for next week. Start now!

The Rent to Own Organization

I had a supervisor (Bob) that used to ask, “Are you a renter or an owner”? It seems like a crazy question in the context of organizational management, so I would usually say “I rent my house, but own my car!” After that, I would usually get his famous LOD (Look Of Disapproval). The look was meant to get everyone to be serious when we were off topic and not focused. Bob continued to ask if we treated the cars we own better than the cars we have rented. Nobody wanted to admit it, but it’s clear we treat the cars we own better than the ones we rent. There are many reasons we do this, but one of the biggest is that we will not be around to see or even care about the long-term effects our nonchalance has on the vehicle.

At this point, we could mostly see where he was going. But the question still stood. How do you get people in an organization to treat it as if they own it? How do you convince people that are only there for a few years at a time to treat everything as if they are going to be there for 20 or 30 years? I’ll admit, it’s not an easy question to answer and there is never a perfect solution. Below are three things you can do to get a start.

  1. Give ownership to your people. An excellent way to get people to be owners is to give them ownership within the organization. Give them responsibility for processes, people, operations, or equipment. Give them autonomy to work within the parameters you set and allow them to make mistakes, learn, and they will start down the ownership path.
  2. Deliberately guide the culture. Culture can go a long way to making employees feel like owners. Culture is created from the top down. The leaders of the organization are responsible for showing the rest of the organization what is important. To drive culture, bring all the leaders together and develop a clear path to the culture you desire. Make empowerment and ownership a focal point for the culture and let the team come up with ideas to help move it along.
  3. Put people first. The greatest and most important way to make your organization “world-class” is to show your people that the organization cares for them. Do things for them without agenda or expectation that the organization will get something in return. A great example is to encourage personal progression outside of the organization. Help your people make progress on their dreams. If this action is taken, you will decrease employee turnover rates and even when you help someone get become qualified in an area outside of your business, you will gain their loyalty. These people will advocate on your behalf to other potential employees.

Apply the above three steps in your organization, and you will be well on your way to converting renters into owners!

Perfection is Dumb

There was a speaker we were invited to listen to at my organization. The topic of his speech was perfection, namely, the pursuit of perfection. He believed and wrote a book with the premise that to achieve excellence we must use perfection as the goal. Anything less than aiming for perfection is acceptance of mediocrity. By accepting these lower standards, he believes the organization is going to be less effective when it could be much better. “Practice makes perfect!” was a common theme.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes progress. I wish I could credit the author of that statement, but where I heard it escapes me. There are times when the goal of perfection is appropriate. Perfection is necessary when there is an almost a singular focus, such as professional athletes and others in very narrow fields. An Olympic sprinter most certainly does not accept 99% as good enough. Golfers strive for the perfect swing, bread-makers aim for the perfect loaf of bread; the list goes on and on. But the vast majority of organizations have way too many tasks to worry about to expect perfection.

The reality that so many of us struggle with is where do we draw the line between perfection and greatness. In addition to this decision, we also must decide what task or core function of the business needs to be focused on to achieve greatness and what can be done “good enough.” The “good enough” tasks are so difficult for leaders and managers to allow or to even acknowledge their existence.

Leaders rarely want to admit “average” into their organizations. But the reality is there isn’t an organization in the world that is great at everything. This is where the leaders of the organization need to look at their core mission and identify all the tasks and processes that go into being great at their core mission. Everything else needs to be done well enough that is doesn’t detract from the greatness.

Take extra care to know how each process affects another. In my experience, many managers have approached training as a formality and only value hands-on training to educate their workforce. Because of this, they have made the argument that training should be a “good enough” task. This is not a good example of a “good enough” task. Training affects the performance of all duties in the organization and being truly great in this area builds a solid foundation for the employee.

The bottom line, decide and communicate the processes that you must be great at for the core purpose of the organization, then decide what level of performance is good enough for the other processes. Be disciplined enough to avoid improving a task or process from 90% to 91% at great effort. The juice is not worth the squeeze in this case; especially if the process isn’t a core process you have identified for greatness.

To Lie or Not to Lie


Should you lie to make your employees or subordinates think the management team all agrees on the decision? Is there a way to disagree with the decision but still support it or is it better to just pretend everyone thinks the solution is the best?
There is a theory with some managers in leadership positions that to “sell” a decision to the organization, leaders must all agree with the decision. They are expected to go back to people they manage and tell them the new direction as if they agree with it, regardless of whether they do or not. A higher-level manager has counseled me that I should not express my views on the decision with my subordinates. Because I am forthcoming with my viewpoint and wish to always understand decisions, managers with the “sell” mentality often find it frustrating to answer questions or listen to differing points of view.
If you have more than one person in an organization, you will have different opinions. A manager needs to know this. It is simple-minded to expect all members of the organization to believe everyone in a manager role has the same beliefs and always agrees with the decisions. Someone is paid to make a decision. All personnel below that person are there to advise them and suggest courses of action.
When a decision is made, and there is confusion about the decision, communication must clear it up. There are several reasons for this. The first is that managers will need to understand the problem and how the decision was made to properly explain it to their subordinates. As the reasons are being explained, it is a fact those subordinates will have their viewpoints and will come up with solutions they think are best. It is natural for people to do this and a positive sign for the organization. It means they care and have the expertise and knowledge to problem solve. At this point, the interaction becomes a teaching moment for the manager. The manager needs to take steps to ensure they understand the decision even if they disagree and explain why the decision was made. Nothing is worse than thinking the people who make decisions do not know why or can’t explain why they made a decision. Even worse is if they don’t feel like they shouldn’t have to explain their reasons. Walking your people through these decisions will help them grow. They will gain experience from these events and will use them in future efforts to base their decisions.

A manager with little confidence in their decision will attempt to convince people that telling others of your disagreement with a decision is insubordinate and will encourage open disrespect of the manager. They will say things like, “We need to present a united front” and “They don’t need to know we disagree.” The reality is, the leader decided and the team has no choice but to follow through. But they think they should lie and deceive the people they are in charge of for fear they will think less of the boss who made the decision.
The reality is if discussed openly and honestly, the opposite effect is most likely to happen. People appreciate honesty and recognize there are many different solutions to a problem. Once this has been discussed the questions will stop being about why the decision is made and will be about how we can best support this decision to make it successful. This is the real role of the leader. To influence people who disagree to accept the decision they did not want and to support it anyway. It’s as simple as that.