Category Archives: Leadership

Compliance or Commitment?

“And what if he is just not interested in the work?” I asked.

“At this point, I don’t really care if he is interested in the work,” Nelson protested.

“I understand, but if he is not interested in the work, then the best you will ever get is compliance. You will never get commitment.”

“So, what do you mean interested? It’s work. It’s not supposed to be interesting,” Nelson pressed.

“What are those things we are interested in? What things do we have passion for?” I stopped. “We are interested in those things in which we place a high value. And it doesn’t have to be the task, it just has to be connected to the task. A bricklayer may be stacking brick with mortar, not very interesting, but he may also be building a school for his children.”

“I get it,” said Nelson, “but we don’t build schools. How am I supposed to know what Julio is interested in? How am I supposed to know about Julio’s value system?”

“You are his manager. That’s the work of a manager.”

The Force

“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “How did you get that from Star Wars?”

Dalton shifted in his chair. “Look, it all started with a calamity on the shop floor. Materials were late, a machine broke down and Fred didn’t show up for work. My manager was miffed because I missed our production target. I am not saying that my manager is Darth Vader, but that is the way I felt. Dark side stuff. Some of that dark side lives inside and I listen to it. My guess, we all listen to it. That is the source of my inner critic, my judge. I’ve lived with my judge all my life, so he is a familiar character. My judge knows me and is very persuasive, always providing a way out, projecting blame on everything around me, so that, should I fail, it is not my fault.”

“And, if that is what you believe, what does that do for your team’s problem?” I asked.

“It certainly doesn’t help me look at alternative solutions. In fact, looking for blame keeps me in the past where there is certain to be a scapegoat.”

“What changed?”

Dalton’s spirit was up. “May the force be with you. You said I had to give myself permission, even permission to fail. The force won’t help you unless you trust the force. I had to slow down, relax. Thank my inner critic for sharing the tightness in my chest. Armoring up to protect myself may provide defense, but it cuts off the creativity I need to solve the problem.”

“Young Jedi,” I pronounced. “You are ready for the next step. Discovery, exploration, creating alternatives that might solve your team’s problem.”

The Dark Side

“Do you think that a change in your thinking can change the outcome of the circumstances with your team? Do you believe that a thought has the power to do that?” I asked.

Dalton was slow to reply. “My brain tells me that is so, but this tightness in my chest has me off-balance. My head says yes, my body says no.”

“So, who is in charge?” I tilted my face. “You know the body is just a connected series of neurons charged up with hormones and other chemical cocktails it produces. If your body could talk, what would that tightness in your chest be telling your brain?”

Dalton started to laugh, proving, in spite of the circumstance, that he had a sense of humor. “My body would be saying – Brain, you are up against a really difficult problem. As your body, we know there is a possibility of failure, so we have served up some chemicals to prepare you for defeat. Brain, we know that you have aspirations to solve your problems, but the body knows better. Do you feel that tightness in your chest? That tightness is just our resistance to your aspirations. We have been driving that resistance all of your life, and that is why it feels so familiar. We know you have aspirations right now, but if you would just put those off until tomorrow, or even next week, we will release the tightness in your chest. In fact, if you could find a smaller aspiration, a smaller problem, we wouldn’t put up such a fuss.”

I nodded my own chuckle. “Where did you get that?”

Dalton nodded. “Star Wars.”

Inside Critic

“There is a next step?” Dalton repeated.

“Yes,” I replied. “Did you think that just having confidence was going to solve the problems your team is trying to work through? Positive thinking will only get you so far. We have to do a little reality checking. But, you can’t move to the next step until you cut yourself some slack. I know a physician in Kansas City who has a sign up in his office. WELCOME to my practice. Please understand that I don’t carry malpractice insurance, and I make mistakes all the time.”

Dalton erupted a light chuckle, but he saw the irony.

“If he is your doctor,” I continued, “and you are looking to lay blame for your illness, you’ve got the wrong doctor. But, if you are looking for someone to help you discover the best path to take, you may be in the right place.”

“So, what is the next step?” Dalton asked.

“I just told you. Discover the best path. But, you can’t go there until you give yourself permission to fail. You will not be able to clearly see possible alternatives. The judge inside you will cloud your thinking, create anxiety and generally stir up resistance to resolving your team’s underperformance. Your inside critic wants you to feel defeated before you even start.”


“That’s it?” Rose looked puzzled.  “But, I work with a bunch of engineers.  I am their manager.  The engineering team looks to me for advice, guidance and direction.  Given a problem, they look to me for the solution.  You are suggesting that I just ask questions?”

“Rose, how did you land this job as a manager of a bunch of engineers? Was it because you are so good at solving engineering problems?” I asked.

“No, I am not even an engineer, though I think I have an aptitude for it, that’s not my area of expertise.”

“Then, how did you land this job as manager of engineering?”

Rose stopped to think. “This is the third department assigned to me in as many years. The company has a trouble spot. They make me the manager. I come in and get things organized, figure out the team, who is strong, who the ringleaders are, who needs to go. For about a year, I work with the strongest team members and pick one to take my place.”

“So what’s your plan here?” I wanted to know.

“Same thing,” Rose nodded. “Get things organized, figure out the team. Pick the strongest one to replace me. It will take about a year. I have already been told not to get too comfortable, the company is already working on my next assignment.”

Authority to Select and De-select

“So, it’s not me, but, Joe is supposed to motivate his team?” Alicia asked.

“No, that is not Joe’s role, as a supervisor,” I replied.

“Okay, so if he is NOT supposed to motivate his team, how IS Joe supposed to get the work done?”

“Alicia, when you hired Joe to be the supervisor, how did he put his team together?”

“Well, Joe had never really hired anyone before, so I helped him screen candidates and I made recommendations.”

“And what if Joe didn’t like your recommendation?”

“Well, Joe is an adult, and he had the final say. If there was someone he didn’t want on his team, I didn’t force him,” she explained.

“So, that’s the first answer to your question of how Joe is supposed to get the work done. While you may help and qualify candidates for his team, he has the authority to veto any appointment?”

“Yes,” Alicia nodded.

“And if, in his judgment, as a Supervisor, he feels that a team member is either not doing their best or that their best is not good enough to complete assignments, does Joe have the authority to deselect that person from his team?”

“Well, yes, I mean he can’t just fire someone, we have a process for that and it requires some approvals from HR and such.”

“But Joe has the authority to deselect someone from his team?”

Alicia continued to nod. “Okay, but there has to be more,” she coaxed.

Accountable for Output – Who?

Alicia was trying to make complicated sense out of this. “Each day, they are required to show up for work and do their best,” she muttered. “I don’t get it. It’s too simple. What if we are not getting the results we want?”

“If Joe’s team shows up every day and does their best, what could they do to get a different result?” I asked.

“Well, Joe could have them do something different, reassign a route, load the trucks differently to make fewer trips, double check the load for missing items.”

“Exactly, but who is responsible for making those decisions and assigning those tasks?” I continued.

“Well, Joe is,” she replied.

“So, the team shows up and does their best. It is Joe who we hold accountable for the results of the team.”

If Not Bonuses?

“So, if not bonuses, how do I get my team motivated to perform, to get the results we are looking for?” Alicia asked.

“It’s NOT your job, as a Manager, to motivate your team, cajole, persuade, or manipulate,” I replied.

Alicia was almost startled. “I’m not? It seems like that’s what I spend half my time doing?”

“Do you remember the contract that Joe has with his team?”

Shaking her head, she protested, “Yes, but that’s just a logistics crew. They drive trucks.”

“What’s the contract?”

“Joe’s contract? He just tells the guys, that he expects them to do their best. That’s it.”

“Yes, that’s the contract,” I confirmed. “Each day, they are required to show up for work and do their best.

Kicking the Can

“Things didn’t get nasty,” Ron reported, “but, I think it’s because I put the brakes on the meeting, and simply adjourned it pretty quickly.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Two of our managers went after each other in the meeting. One complained about the other in front of the rest of the executive team. That immediately turned into defensiveness. I stopped the conversation from escalating and told everyone we would pick this up next Monday.”

“Timeouts are not necessarily bad, especially when the emotions speak so loudly that we cannot even hear the words. But, tell me what impact this had on the rest of the team? What did this exchange teach them about how things work around the company?”

“Well, for one thing, it clearly communicated that I will not tolerate rude or insulting behavior,” Ron explained.

“And, what else did it teach them?”

“That if the behavior persists, I will shut it down. I won’t tolerate it and I will take action.”

“And, what else?” I pressed.

“You have something in mind when you ask the same question three times,” Ron chuckled.

I nodded yes.

“Okay. The team learned that when things get rough in a management meeting, where emotions surface in the conversation, we will avoid the confrontation and kick the can down the road.”

“Now, we are getting somewhere,” I said.

Human Connection

“Why do you want them to come back to work, in the building, I mean?” Pablo asked.

“They have been away so long. Since I’ve seen them, they may be two inches taller and I would never detect that on Zoom,” I smiled. “Seriously, they are detached. I miss seeing them in person, that warm smile in the morning, finding out how their child is doing. On camera, there they are, but it’s all business. Hi, how are you? Fine. How are you? Fine. What are the numbers on the spreadsheet?”

“What do you care? As long as the numbers on the spreadsheet are correct?” Pablo wanted to know.

“If I just wanted numbers on a spreadsheet, I wouldn’t build a company. I need a team. I don’t know why it’s important to be face to face, I just know it is.”

Pablo’s turn to smile. “You are correct, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. Kurt Lewin declared that human beings are herd animals. For the purpose of our survival, on the Serengeti plain, we had to stick together, for safety. An individual, isolated, became quick prey for a lion, a tiger, in Dorothy’s case, a bear. When we are isolated, we are alone. When we are alone, our survival instincts go full alert. We are hard wired to not get eaten. We may be fishing, we may be planting wheat, but we are looking for the lion, not paying attention to the fish or the wheat. Our attention to the work suffers. We only do our best work when we are together and safe. We feel safe as a member of a group, in proximity. Hugs create endorphins and communicate, with me, you are safe. Spreadsheets are easy on Zoom. Human connection is more difficult.”