Leadership Lessons from a Racist Rant

Everyone has covered the story of the Technical Sergeant at Nellis Air Force Base that went off on a racist fueled rant about her black subordinates.  This is a popular story, and the official response from the base was to not only look at the individual but to take a more in-depth look into the base and its subcultures to see if this type of thinking is common.  I don’t know the typical behavior on Nellis, so we are going to look at the lessons a leader can learn from her behavior.

A good leader can look past the things that most racists, sexists, and bigots cannot.  The young women the Sergeant referenced could very well have bad attitudes, and they may not be behaving per the core values the Air Force champions.  A good leader will realize that it is not because they are black; there are other reasons for it.

The first thing we must address is ourselves.  So, is this attitude she experienced caused by her? Perhaps her approach is off.  Maybe she is projecting her personal biases on others and anticipating a disrespectful behavior.  If a leader takes this approach, you are sure to get that reaction.  Judging by the video, it does not seem like she is taking a soft or empathetic approach with her subordinates. Nobody likes to be treated like they are less than others.  Even when they know they are subordinates in the organizational structure, they don’t like to be treated like minions.  A positive and understanding approach is most likely to garner the best results.

Perhaps it is the subordinates.  In this sentence, I do not mean to say “black women” are a problem.  What I do mean is, people will gather based on their similarities; negative attitudes bring people together like moths to a streetlight.  And once they have come together they start to build an internal group culture that has nothing to do with race or sex, and everything to do with leadership.  They continue to reinforce each other’s poor attitudes and behavior until they believe they are doing the right thing.  It takes someone with a very developed set of leadership skills to help them see the truth in their actions.  This was clearly not the case in this issue.

The video was bad, but the fact that she believes this is an issue with black women is much worse.  What kind of culture can she be capable of creating as a leader if she harbors such small-minded beliefs? The Air Force will be wise to understand how it failed to equip her with the leadership skills necessary to deal with conflict and how she could harbor these types of hidden biases even after seeing the value of diversity in our military.  If they take the time to study her behavior, we can then begin to eradicate it from the Air Force.

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Government Shutdown & the Organizational Leadership Lessons

I don’t believe anyone considers our government is the proper model to structure our organizations after.  But there are valuable lessons in the failures of our government and the continued political grandstanding that rips the branches of our government to shreds.  I’m currently awaiting news to see if I’ll be paid, but with the help of some DoD leaders and other great organizations like USAA, we will be taking care of.  To say we need change is grossly understated. But, I digress, here are some lesson you can watch out for in your organization.

Allegiances to Subordinate Teams

A massive problem with our government is the loyalty to their party and not to the good of the most significant and more important team.  In this case, the house and senate are loyal to their political party and are looking to push their agenda even at the cost of the people.  This is made clear by the 95% vote of “yea” by Republicans and a 5% vote of “yea” by Democrats for a recent proposal to keep the government open.  Clearly, the allegiances are to their party…

Each department or section in the organization can’t only be concerned for their own success.  Different departments will naturally lobby for what they need, and all organizations have a finite level of resources, but each department should know and be aware of the needs of the others.  They should be equally concerned about their success.  When the marketing department dominates resources and prevents the HR department from having all the tools they need to be successful, the organization will fail.  What do you need great marketing for if you have a failing HR department?

No Direction

Our legislative branch of the government has no direction.  Each major and minor political party have fractured the legislative branch to the point that I’m shocked they can get anything done. The problem with this divisive organization is they lack a unified and overall direction.

A successful organization brings each department together to create synergy.  They are not just the sum of the parts; they are more than that. The prevailing direction brings the departments together, they are no longer selfish but work out problems together.  Manager’s ambitions do not outweigh their appetite for reasonable, calculated risk.

Competing Priorities

This is probably the most significant reason for the failures of our government.  They have competing priorities.  The Democrats are looking to push the Democrat’s agenda, and the Republicans will push their agenda.  These agendas come at the cost of the legislative branch as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong; there needs to be debate, their needs to be conflict, negotiation, and compromise.  But this is not it.  Their priorities are to their party, not to the country or its people.

In your organization, you must ensure the organizational priorities are aligned.  Each department should work with the others to make the team prosper.  There must be a willingness to sacrifice your department to ensure another department is successful.


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Band-Aid Fixes are Bad

Does it take too long to complete your processes?  Do your supervisors fail to follow the procedures?  Do you feel like you have a never-ending list of problems to address?  Many managers face these issues and believe they have no choice but to work the problems as they occur and try to keep their heads above water.

One would probably guess this article is about time-management or strategic planning, but this article is really about finding full spectrum solutions for your organization.  This is also not about root causes.  Root causes are essential and are a part of full spectrum solutions, but the critical difference is that a root cause does not always affect other processes, but a full spectrum solution does.  These solutions will enable and eventually empower your people to solve the other issues that arise, leaving you time to dedicate to more strategic issues.

We all get caught up in the most recent issue.  The most recent problem is the “most important” issue because it is fresh.  A good manager will not automatically react to every problem as if it must be fixed right away.  A good manager will know there are many problems and just because this problem happened now, does not mean it is the more important problem to direct the focus.  This is reactive problem-solving.  It is not always a bad approach, but it is not usually the best.

How does one identify a full spectrum solution?  Mostly by what will happen if the solution is found and implemented.  For example, if there is a problem with a report not being completed correctly, but you have already provided training, and they just don’t seem to get it.  The initial solution would be to hold more training and perhaps start writing people up for accountability purposes.  But a full spectrum solution that will help with this problem would be to invest in the supervisors and help develop them into problem solvers.  This solution takes much more time and will require patience from the manager and their boss.

Another issue we must face is the expectation for instant results.  Most solutions take time, and nothing will ever be perfect.  So, guard against working only for short-term and immediate results.  This is called making a band-aid fix.  The problem with this kind of fix is the actual issue is never addressed.  A band-aid is placed on it for short-term success but the issue will continue to come back.

Here are a few places that are typically associated with full spectrum solutions:

Training programs

Supervisory development (leadership & management)

Equipment upgrades

Look for solutions that will have 2nd and 3rd order of effects


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Why is the foosball table killing your start-up?

Start-ups are well known in the world, however, what are they precisely? We can describe them as small organizations which are just starting their journey. Most of them don’t have their particular investment. However, they are financed by people who have. Due to that, we can often see a start-up without a genuine item, which means it is only beginning to develop.

The main issue with start-ups is that they need to start from the scratch. They have made a study, they have tried the market and they trust that their product or service has its place under the sun. The only word we have to focus on the last sentence is “trust”. It is the most important feeling in every person connected to the start-up.

Looking for the best people for the job

Upon taking the first step, developers need to start with looking for the best individuals for the group. Before that, they design the office and they get lost in it. The majority of them adore the possibility of a perfect office loaded with cool things which will help them bring the best people for the business. And that is a mistake. If you hire a person who came to you just because you have a cool office, then a “foosball table” will definitely kill your start-up.

What most developers don’t understand is the fact that new businesses are a just starting a battle for their place on the market. That is the reason you must be cautious when you are picking the people for the group. One individual might be a specialist in his field, yet that doesn’t mean he will be the best for the team and the start-up.

What this has to do with a foosball table?

In the most recent decade, Google has opened its way to the best office on the planet. That office is a mix of work and play. Individuals there can play foosball, eat as much as they prefer, sleep and do other things besides the ordinary work stuff. That makes Google a good example for organizations everywhere around the globe.

Google has the ideal workspace

Each organization wants to resemble Google, and they begin that by planning workplaces like Google. What they don’t think about is that they aren’t at a similar stage where Google is. Google can have all cool stuff, and it won’t matter because people will work hard to stay in Google. No matter how the office looks.

Start-ups can pull in wrong workers with cool office design, and that can be very bad for the business. What start-ups need are people who believe in their product or service? Those people will stay late at work if they have to, they will work for less money, and they won’t mind because they believe those people know that a little sacrifice can work a long way in the future of the company. By working hard now, they are investing in their future, and that is not so uncommon for workers who believe.

Workers who come in your organization because you have a foosball table or cool office should leave immediately because they won’t give their best and they will probably play foosball more than work. Your task is to discover persons who will work hard like you, so you can together build up an organization where a foosball table is an award and not a reason to work there. Try not to utilize a foosball table as the fascination apparatus; use it as a reward for your team. That way, the foosball table won’t stand in the way of your success.

Author bio:

The post is composed by Mark, who is a blogger and a wild foosball fan. He writes a blog about foosball to show to the general population that foosball is a standout amongst other game tables. He adores sharing his opinion about foosball, and he does that by being a part of the Foosball Zone. You can check out his work on this link: http://www.foosballzone.com/harvard-foosball-table/


What Comes First?

You are a Manager/Leader of Lies and Lip service and your employees know it! Just take a look at your structure and the lines of effort that come out of that structure.

Many organizations have a structure that supports the development of professional or technical skills. Most of the time this takes place upon initially hiring an employee and is sustained by on-the-job training and measured by supervisors. They also have a Human resources department that takes care of the mundane tasks of who is where what needs to be tracked and when John will hit retirement age. They also track and take care of specific training requirements, such as who needs and has completed Human Relations training. Maybe some will have a Talent Management division who endeavor to put the right people in the right place at the right time or delve into recruitment, but after the placement or replacement is complete, it is up to work centers to deal with the employee.

Human resources? Human Capital? Human Beings! People, Your People…

How much time do you spend on your processes? How much time do you spend on production meetings, operations, how high, how far or whatever your business is? I’ll call them functional competencies.

How much time do you spend on your people? People/Human competencies. What do you measure as a leader? How would you know if your organization was successful in this area? What do you expect your first line supervisors to do as it relates to People competencies? Know their names, birthdays, personal goals and desires?

You will do what is important to you, not what you say!

In the military, many organizations have a phrase that tries to keep leaders in remembrance of this balance between the function and people. “Mission First, People Always!” or sometimes it is said in reverse. For the most part, it is a good phrase, but I have found in my experience that in most organizations there is almost zero focus on the People. I have been in fantastic organizations where we spent a lot of time on the people, and the Mission of the unit (function) excelled. I would state the phrase this way “People First to First Achieve Mission Success. A lot can be learned from this.

As Senior Managers and leaders in an organization, we have to begin to understand that our best asset is our Human resource. We should strive to create a desire within our people to want to please their first line supervisors by their duty performance. I want my people to want to work for me, not because I am the boss, but because they know I care about them and their development as people. I have a desire to help them achieve their personal goals, even if those goals take them away from my company! Leaders at each level of the organization need to spend time developing functional competencies and human competencies. In most cases, each organization has programs that pretend to get after the task of human competencies. They may even write policies, hold seminars or conduct development courses but it rarely resonates with the majority of employees. Most of them will view the Senior Manager/Leader as a blowhard that is only focused on production, money or your board of directors.

We need to measure our leaders in our organization with two sticks:

How good are they at function production?
– If they are bad at their jobs, it matters.
How good are they at people production?
– If they don’t have measurable factors here, they have no business leading/managing, anyone. Let them go! It is better to have a mediocre function producer and a high people producer than the reverse.

I will state it again: You will do what is important to you, not what you say! Your people will know it, and it will impact their performance. It will affect your bottom line.

Develop lines of effort to directly get after each member of your organization. Get to know them as people, what makes each one tick. Know their kids’ names. Give them a day off for their spouse’s birthday and consider it an investment to your bottom line. They matter and without them, your functional competencies will only get you so far.


Simplify Poor Performance

My team is in trouble!  Poor performance in almost every measurable category.  Poor performance in the unmeasurable categories as well.  Many, (actually all) organizations and teams struggle with poor performance.  Mostly, there is an up and down tempo that varies in frequency depending on many factors.  The problem with my team is lack of experience at the first-line supervisor level.  Again, there are many factors at play; some are good in their supervisory capacity but weak in the operational and technical functions.  Some are the opposite.  Others are poor in both supervisory and operational tasks.  If I could fire a few of them, I would.  So, without the ability to fire the low performers, I have to move forward with the personnel group I have.  How do I get them to perform?

Simplify.  Over the course of the past six months, I have thrown much at these supervisors.  Increased responsibility, higher standards and expectations, a new work schedule, a revamped training program, new projects and initiatives, and a complete culture overhaul. It is too much for them to handle.  Many have and will criticize the amount of work I put on them and questions my leadership, but I am a deliberate leader, and from the start, I have been testing the waters.  Finding their strengths, their weaknesses, how hard can I push them, where do they naturally excel?  All of these questions have answers now, and I have to adjust my strategy.

I will still hold high standards, but the team needs to have a chance to succeed.  Right now, they are just keeping their heads above water (barely), as I continue to push for high-quality work.  Now, I have to slow the game down.  Bring them together and work collectively on what is important to them and me.  Once we have determined priorities and agreed on the expectations, we can focus on them.  Innovation must be put on the back burner; extra activities will join innovation. The focus is placed on the core competencies of the organization and the primary responsibilities of the supervisors and other managers.

I never expect perfection.  To do so is an exercise in insanity.  But I will continue to expect high-quality work and a great product or service.  Our customers demand and deserve our best.  So, we will slow it down and simplify the tasks; rebuild the foundation and then start adding bricks as we become experts in those areas so we can continue to improve.  Eventually, we will pull the extra activities and innovation off the back burner and focus in those areas, but for now, the team needs simplicity.

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Is Changing Your Mind Good Or Bad?

It’s Good.  That’s the answer.  There are always circumstances that will dictate whether there has been a positive or negative effect from changing your mind, but let’s look at this question from the general position of, should one be open to changing their mind.  And from this perspective, the answer is unequivocally yes!

In politics, this is called flip-flopping.  A term flung around like it’s a disease.  In real life, being open to the possibility that your initial position is wrong, takes much more strength than stubbornly grasping to that position.  Not to say this is an easy task.  Our decisions are based on many things that we don’t always understand, outside of some experts in the field.  Personally, I struggle with this as much as anyone, although as of late I have been making a deliberate attempt to get better at it.

What positive effect does changing your mind have?  The first thing it tells them is that you are willing to listen.  This is a vital skill for a leader.  The ability to listen to the people you lead and the humility to let them change your mind cannot be understated.  I’ve experienced situations from both sides of this problem and can tell you that feeling like your leaders are listening to you gives you a great sense of belonging, says you have a voice and encourages engagement from the team members.

Changing one’s mind must be tempered to ensure you don’t actually become a leader that can’t stick to a decision.  Going back and forth is detrimental any organization.  There should be a point that a decision has been made and the group moves on.  Then the decision can be readdressed later if the situation changes or the results of the last decision were not positive.

What negative effect does changing your mind have?  I previously had a boss that had zero original ideas and never made a decision until he could get some sort of consensus.  His decision-making capabilities don’t sound so bad as I type it, but trust me; he was a “go with the popular opinion” type of boss.  There were so many occasions where a person would have a conversation with him, and there would be an agreement only to find out they changed their mind after talking to someone else.  It was almost a game to try to be the last one to talk to him before the decision had to be made.

Be wary of phrases like ‘That’s the way we have always done it’ or ‘We tried that before, and it didn’t work.’  These are indicators that the culture of your organization does not embrace change.  Which probably means your leaders are not open to changing their minds.  It’s time to have these kinds of conversations in our workplace and show how being open to new options and changing a decision does not automatically translate to a negative.

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