Emotions In The Workplace

Emotions In The Workplace

Emotions are more powerful than any quarterly report, trend analysis or profit and loss statement. The way we feel, both our positive and negative emotions, plays an enormous role in our ability to succeed. Those feelings deep inside us such as confidence, fear, security, poise, anxiety, calm and the resulting voices in our heads, have immense power over us. What does it mean when we say we need to ‘get our head in the game’? Sometimes work pressures can make us feel as if we are drowning and the struggle to stay afloat leads to even deeper troubles. Learning to ignore the voices of fear or doubt is a practiced skill. Generating our own positive emotions, even when we lack the external positive stimulus to do so, is critically important to the business leader.

So, how do we build a daily habit of feeling like winners so we can win? As leaders, how do we help those on our teams feel victorious more often so that they perform at their highest levels?

Success Comes From The Same Place As Failure

Abraham Maslow, a Brooklyn born psychologist is well known for creating what he called a hierarchy of needs. To this day, it bears his name. Google him and you'll find info about the hierarchy and how its pyramid formation and well-arranged structure of human requirements makes a lot of sense. 

Maslow's construct looks like this:

 By User:Factoryjoe - Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7964065

By User:Factoryjoe - Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7964065

Pretty interesting stuff and also very applicable to leadership professionals, hence Maslow's model has found its way into many workshops and classrooms for managers and leaders of all kinds.

Study the model and you'll find that once some of the basic needs of people are provided for, it becomes possible to grow as a person and to facilitate that growth as a leader. The top most level of the pyramid is where some pretty remarkable things can happen with humans and, arguably, humankind.

But it’s the level just below the top one on Maslow’s construct that I am most interested in.

If solving complex problems, making new things, forming new enterprises and becoming better than we are today all depend on our own sense of self-esteem, confidence and self respect, it must be pretty important that we monitor those feelings and work to keep them healthy, right? How can we reach new horizons as humans and as leaders if we don’t ‘feel’ like we can? You’ve heard the saying ‘If you think you can or you can’t - you’re right.’? It is silly to ignore that we live in a physical world where things must be accomplished and capability matters, but before the first step is taken in any journey, believing we can complete the trip is paramount. Success and failure both reside in our minds.

What is your role as a leader in helping someone ‘feel good’? Should you go out of your way to appreciate your team? In our workspaces, does the state of mind of a team or individual contributor really matter? Hint: It may be the only thing that really does.

Let’s take a look at a few realities about our role as leaders of attitude and mindset within our teams.

LEadership imperative #1 : AUTHENTICITY MATTERS

Workplaces are increasingly selecting and training for high Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, in their leaders. This nuanced skillset can show itself in a variety of ways and crucial to demonstrating you have EQ is being yourself and interacting in ways that are natural and organic to your personality. Faking empathy for someone isn't a great way to build rapport and those around you will see your faux sentiment. We've advanced as a business culture and gone are the days when companies lacked any understanding of healthy work environments, but, there are plenty of companies that slip into old habits. Many workgroups struggle with the balance between pragmatic, results-based expectations and a culture that creates willing players who choose to succeed together. The difference can be YOU as a leader.

By making a deposit in someone else’s emotional account, I received the dividend.

DO: Understand yourself well enough to determine what building a genuine care and connection with your direct reports or employees looks like for you. We are all different and connect with others in different ways. The key to caring, versus pretending to care, is understanding your own boundaries and what you enjoy (or don’t) about working with people. Then, bring that comfort and understanding into conversations you have with members of your team. Ask them more about them than you tell about yourself. Create an environment where they can shine and you will benefit from it.

DON’T: See being ‘connected’ to your employees as transactional. ‘Well, I had coffee with Glen yesterday - by Friday I should see his sales figures go up 10%.’ People aren’t formulas. It takes more than plugging in the right figures to get the result you need. Try asking your team members what being cared for and appreciated looks like to them. Maybe Glen has something he needs from you, that once provided, will allow him to hit those Friday goals. You may need to ask him about it so you can discover it together.

LEADERSHIP IMPERATIVE #2 : YOU CAN’t Pour From An Empty Vessel - or can you?

We all have tough days. Sometimes we're burning ourselves out just trying to hit our goals, solve a mountain of problems and keep our business on track. When it comes to emotional generosity toward anyone else during these times, our selfish brain sometimes whispers 'What about me?! They want recognition or thanks? Nobody is working harder than I am now!' When we're buried in stress at work and feeling under appreciated, the last thing we feel like doing is gifting someone with praise or understanding.

But, that's exactly the right time to do it.

In their fantastic book How Full Is Your Bucket?, Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton use the metaphor of our emotional bucket to discuss how we fill our own and others’ vessels via the quality of the interactions we have. The old adage 'Healer heal thyself' is a valid warning for all of us as leaders in that, for me to fill another's bucket, I have to have something to give. I have to be emotionally healthy in order to contribute to someone else's health. If I am burnt out and incapable of providing positive feedback, I may have no contribution to give a fellow colleague who is running on empty. These are dangerous times - especially for analytical individuals such as myself - we can tend to be quiet and reserved during times of high pressure and if our teams are looking for us to rally them during those times, we may disappoint. But, there's a beautiful reversal you can pull if you're willing to try. Here's what it looked like for me:

For years, my work cycle included weekly routines of travel, often starting in the wee hours of Tuesday mornings. The scene would go something like this - I'd spend a packed Monday reviewing metrics, reports, projections, risk analyses and participating in a dozen phone calls. By the end of that day, I was already exhausted for the week! But, each Tuesday at 4:30am I'd drive to the airport, sleepwalk through security, find my way onto my 5:30 flight and, all the while, have mission critical items flying through my head...

'We've got to fix XYZ...' '...That situation over in the next territory is going to deteriorate...' '....This leader is struggling, it's time for me to coach them to succeed, or...'

I'm a problem solver, that's my job. So, don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that those of us who play this role can't be angry that we must march out and fix things - if there were no problems, we'd have no work to do! Fixing things is part of the fun. But, during these high pressure times it can feel like one more pound of burden on our shoulders to have to think about how we must boost someone else when our bucket may be leaking onto our shoes. So, I decided to open an emotional dividend account. 

On certain Tuesday mornings, when I felt maximum pressure and fatigue, I'd comb through our results and seek highlights. Sometimes they were financials. Often examples would include great leadership or acumen demonstrated by someone on my team. My goal was to find a handful and begin sending quick one line emails, texts and other messages that select leaders would receive later that morning. Each item I mentioned was genuinely noteworthy - never did I manufacture reasons for compliments and never did I spray perfume on stink. Remember - authenticity matters. We owe our teams honesty and I never sought to praise anything which wasn't praiseworthy. So, even in a difficult reporting period, I could always find heroic work to highlight, and that was my Tuesday morning goal. By the time I was in the cab, zooming through the city to which I had traveled, a handful of messages had been sent which I hoped would start someone's day with a jolt of positive energy and a drop in their bucket.

Here's a secret: On those Tuesdays when I was at my most wrought and overtaxed, I sent MORE messages. I doubt my teams could ever tell that this was a deliberate tactic on my part and I hope no one was counting, because there were surely some Tuesdays when MANY people got praise and that might have correlated to me having a bucket that was bone dry! But, and here’s the reversal - by praising, bringing light to someone else and helping my amazing team of leaders find the courage to push through another day, I FELT BETTER. By making a deposit in someone else’s emotional account, I received the dividend. My bucket would be positively impacted knowing that the leaders which I was responsible for might have a little added spark that day as they faced the challenges ahead of them.

DO: Find simple ways to show someone what they mean to you and that their work is noticed. Often those you think least in need of such recognition will get the most from it. Realize that you can deliver praise which is both genuinely heartfelt and strategically executed.

DON'T: Assume that a compliment, award or recognition is the way to make someone feel appreciated. Sometimes asking for their help, listening and acting on their ideas or including them in ways they haven't been before will fill someone's bucket to the brim.

LEADERSHIP IMPERATIVE #3 : written reviews aren’t relationships 

If we are spending all this time telling our teams what we think of them and trying to get them to feel good, why do I need to do a yearly review?

The documented performance process is a well known constant across companies of every shape and size. Having clarity regarding what is expected of us and a record of how well we have executed against those expectations is important. Often, performance reviews can help a leader grow. But, occassionally performance reviews become a clearance sale of all the stuff we couldn’t sell all year. We haul it out, write it down and try to pass it off as worth something.

If your company uses a written performance process, great. Make those discussions meaningful, truthful and unvarnished. But, if you want that written review to really have power, it should be connected with discussions you’ve had all year with that leader. You should be seeking opportunities to praise and fill their bucket as well as to guide and course correct. Oh, yes, course corrections fill buckets too! You taking time to teach me and invest in me says more about how you care than almost anything you can do.

So, when executed well, that annual development process is hundreds of conversations consisting of compliments, thanks, highlights, watch outs and coaching that, at the end of the year, should all read as very familiar on a performance review.

DO: Give honest feedback throughout the year, and at end of year, based on whatever process you use. Recognize that your words and recognition all year made impact, but what you write sometimes has a more lasting effect. It feels permanent, so take time to get it right.

DON’T: Remain mum all year on how you feel about your star performer (or lowest ranking) and then spill it all in paragraphs of angst and frustration. No one is helped by the ninja performance review that jumps in out of nowhere and stabs someone in the heart, leaving them to bleed out as they realize how dissatisfied you are.


Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash


Everything Is A Three-Legged Stool

Everything Is A Three-Legged Stool

Anyone can be brilliant at any one thing for a certain period of time. I'll show you what I mean.

Can you sink a three pointer? Well, then, for the amount of time it takes you swish the ball from 24 feet out, you are the next NBA all-star.

Now, show me another one. And another. And another. Not so easy, huh? And you thought you were Stephen Curry...

The same can be said about so many other actions and endeavors. Maintaining a high level of skill in a repeatable way is much harder than pulling off the feat once. Once can be luck. Twice might be modest ability. Doing a thing each and every time one is expected to do it, and doing it well . . . that's true mastery. Our friend Malcom Gladwell would instruct us all to go put in our 10,000 hours of practice and then, maybe, we can begin to call ourselves 'skilled'.

The issue with being a reliably high performer is continuum. We might look at achievement as the ability to complete a task with extreme precision or quality. Capability - doing that same thing in a repeatable way - is harder. Our ability may level out over time - the result of learning, practice and whatever innate skill we brought to the task - but as we introduce frequency, we also introduce error.  Like Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the conveyor belt at the sweets factory, eventually, we're going to make a mess. 

This inverse relationship between quality and frequency might look like this:


Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 8.57.29 PM.png

So, we have a problem. We are leaders who must solve problems but we never have enough time or resources to focus on any one problem as much as we'd like. In business, perhaps unlike other professions, we don't get to specialize. We must be generalists. 

Now, we've acknowledged the need to have ability related to a task and we understand we must solve that task with some amount of frequency. Now, let's look at the third leg on this stool.

We all know, in the worlds of business and leadership, no one gets to just hire great people or achieve record breaking comp revenue growth and forsake all else. We're all managing 42 million things a day, right?

So now, I'm trying to do something well, not once, but repeatedly, and my focus or attention toward achieving that one goal has a detrimental impact on my ability to achieve a second or third objective and vice versa. How many goals or aims can I have before my ability to hit any of them is substantially degraded? Lucy and Ethel had a hard enough time with one conveyor belt, running ever faster, as the candy kept flying at them. Imagine a second, or third or a dozen conveyors! (If you're asking 'who are these Lucy and Ethel people he keeps referring to??', try YouTube... I'll wait....)

Now, where was I? Oh, yes...

Business Is Like A Game of Wack-A-Mole

You've played that game before. You grab your mallet, hit the little critters as they pop up in front of you and as their persistence is maintained and their speed increases, your arm finally gives out and the moles win, laughing at you and your pathetic attempts to hinder the rodent onslaught.

Whack-A-Mole represents a wonderfully distilled demonstration of the 3 axis problem we examined above. I can hit one mole quite well. I am reasonably good at hitting several of them in succession even as they come at me with increasing speed. But ask me to play four or five Whack-A-Mole consoles simultaneously with those little vermin relentlessly popping up all around me, ready to cackle with disdain when I fail to subdue them?! Curses!

So, are we to admit defeat, surrender to the moles and accept that the game is un-winnable? Just tell Wall Street "Sorry, our quarterlies are too hard to hit, we're gonna take a red mark this reporting period"?

Uh, no.

Great Leaders Understand Achieving Results Means Managing Contradiction

In my years of filmmaking, we’d often jokingly pose the age old quandary to clients and collaborators: ‘Do you want it good, cheap or fast? Pick two.’ If I have unlimited resources in one area, it should be a cinch to manage. The problem is, we never have all we want of anything. And working on one measure often results in a contradictory pressure in another. Think Newton’s third law.   

It’s about sequencing - and sometimes executing the sequence is more important than where you begin it.

Often the things we are measured on have opposing forces associated with them. Growing my revenue means I may see cost increases. Expanding my market share could impact my customer service. We don't get to ignore one KPI and celebrate achieving another. Focusing too much on one mole and letting another pop up around us is a recipe for disaster. In order to continue our achievement of our business goals, we must ensure we move forward in all of our key performance measures. Our organizations and our growth plans are often a symbiotic mix of many metrics and, like any ecosystem, balance matters. We need all three legs on our stool. 

So, what do stronger leaders do differently than leaders who are less successful? What do top-ranking professionals understand about maintaining balance?

1) Know which mole to whack next

It is foolish to think we can do it all, all of the time. I've watched leaders march into a new role and, armed with belief in their own 'rock star' status they set about being number 1 in every measure. They are certain that their special sauce is so zesty that they can run the tables and own the leaderboard in every stat. This is often a one way ticket to crushing reality and burnout. It's also foolish to believe that we can just choose to 'suck' at some items which are justifiably within our business' value proposition. Those companies that abdicate their responsibility for attending to all aspects of their enterprise don't stay around very long. The key, then, is making choices. Good leaders understand the art of prioritization. Show me a group of people, equally smart, each with the same resources, and the probable leader among them is the one who understands what to do next and has the requisite skills to marshal a team toward taking that action.

So, how do leaders just 'know'?

I've often heard bosses instruct teams to 'do the right thing' or lead the 'right way'. This is oversimplification and incomplete. Managing contradiction and moving results forward means choosing the correct next 'right thing'. With threats to your business all around you and challenges to your growth plans hitting you daily, which of those areas isn't a necessary focus? Of course, they are all critical. A great leader chooses which target is next to receive their attention and plots each of the successive challenges in a methodical approach toward achieving a goal. It’s about sequencing - and sometimes executing the sequence is more important than where you begin it. In order to do this, we need to change some mental modeling.

DO: Sit down and examine how many moles you are trying to hit daily. Are you in 'firefighter mode' most of the time? Do you need to delegate some of your workplace challenges to free yourself up or maybe sequence your own problem solving? Analyze your business to determine what your most dangerous shortfall or missed result is. Look for economies of scale and try to find metrics, that when moved favorably, lift others.

DON’T: Create a plan that inhibits your ability to remain flexible. Conditions change. I always guide my teams to ‘work their plans’, but only a fool stays focused on one area just because ‘that’s the plan’. If your house is burning and you’re pruning the garden... well, you know....

2) Achieve a Zen-like comfort with being behind

The first step to realizing you must prioritize is becoming comfortable with being behind in some areas for a carefully managed period of time. I'll repeat that last part:

For a carefully managed period of time.

As a business leader, I am responsible for achieving results. I am not allowed to ignore one area simply because I was focused on another. So, that means I must clock how long I can afford to focus on margin management before I shift my attention to revenue growth. Like a performer spinning plates, I can leave one rotating on its own for a while, just not too long, or SMASH!

DO: List your targets and determine a timeframe within which you must cycle back around to review each. While working on growth, give it 90% of your energy. But be ready to shift when talent development must be your aim. 

DON’T: Let this become a schizophrenic ‘run around with your hair on fire’ panic. This process is all about moving the needle on the focused metric of the day/week/month. You aren’t doing this to create the mere appearance that you’re attending to what matters most. You must actually see a result improve.

3) Recognize The Need To Communicate Up and Down

While managing dozens of competing priorities and choosing what to focus on at any given time, it’s extremely important that a manager lets everyone around them know their strategy.

A perfectly executed list of prioritized metrics and follow up plans isn’t always enough to satisfy nervous senior executives or unaware direct reports and field or unit operators. They need to know what’s in your head. Just because you know where you’re headed doesn’t mean your boss does. She may feel reassured knowing that while you’re focused on fixing the under performing distribution center in Arizona that you’re aware of the poorly trending conversion rates of the call center in Florida and that you will be attending to it within the next week. Since you’ve prioritized your mole whacking sequence, be sure the important stakeholders around you have clarity on the plan for varmint dispatching.

DO: Bring your team into discussions about what metric or target should be our next focus. They will often give you valuable additional perspective and they’ll be more bought in to the plan for improvement.  

DON’T:  Come up with a flavor of the month and continue to 're-announce' our priorities every other week. This isn't a good way to run a business and your teams will tire of this quickly - worse, they won't know what to focus on when everything is being referred to as a 'number 1 priority'.

Contradiction Must Be Discussed In The C Suite

Finally, these concepts and realities MUST be a part of every company directive or annual operating plan which boards and C-suite leaders approve. There is no doubt, that as a senior leader in your organization, you have the authority to tell your worldwide team of 100,000 professionals to drop what they're doing and focus on metric #3 immediately. But, just because you can, should you?

Senior teams have the ability, due to their position and altitude within an organization, to see months or years further down the tracks than some of their employees. This is a wonderful benefit and a crucial tool that those high-level leaders must leverage. This telescopic vision often results in a C-suite leader giving a directive today which is meant to impact a result which will be felt three quarters from now. That leader means well, but unfortunately, they sometimes haven't thought about all three legs on the stool. When a CEO directs revenue growth for next year's first reporting quarter to set us up for that acquisition we've been planning, does that leader realize that the energy and focus required to generate that growth may equal higher turnover resulting in a staffing shortfall? If I lose 14% more people than I planned for in the next 3 quarters, how will I execute the revenue plan and set up the acquisition? What other unfavorable impacts will this destabilization of my stool have on my business? This C-level leader is in danger of growing one of the legs on his stool at the detriment of the other two.

It's mind-boggling how often this happens at organizations and how little cause and effect is discussed when a operating plan is approved. 12 months from now, that same senior team will be in meetings morning to night, trying to figure out why their comp revenue is down 2% and their best talent is leaving. The irony, of course, is that they may have unwittingly started the toppling of the very seat they were perched upon.


What A Successful Team Needs - A Provocation for All Leaders

What A Successful Team Needs - A Provocation for All Leaders

Every company, large and small, wants to succeed. The definition of success is variable depending on the aims of said company. Healthy financials measured by year over year revenue growth? Sure! Aims to become the most recognized global brand? Yep! A small-town firm just trying to remain profitable and make it until next year? Quite common. 

From growth targets to profit projections, strategic plans to revenue forecasts, job descriptions to SWOT analyses, firms from every sector spend countless hours on tasks they believe will contribute to that ‘success’ they strive for. Many of these activities are helpful, even essential. But, none of them can supersede or replace a few basic truths that a company’s workforce already knows. In fact, if the right professionals have been hired for your organization, they are likely very capable of surpassing whatever your measures of success are. That is, if they are enabled to do so. 

These are a few areas of discipline, that when facilitated by senior leaders, can help an engaged team of professionals attain any heights you set before them.

Provide Consistent Direction and Role Clarity

Why do the casts and crews of Broadway plays rehearse from a script with lines for each performer? Why does an NFL team run formations a thousand times in practice while also running drills for each position? In the operating room or ER, how do clinicians, doctors and trauma nurses know what is expected of them when seconds count? The answer is role clarity, cemented by a deep understanding of how the team should act as a unit. 

Clarity in a job description or company direction seems like table stakes but, all too often, companies leave these details up to interpretation. Doing the next right thing in my role and the ability for me to count on the professional next to me to do the same is paramount. This is how teams behave as highly-effective units. Ambiguity is part of life and business - but too much of it will short circuit the capacity for your company to succeed.

In our professional world, lack of clarity from a senior team can be devastating. A company leadership that changes messaging as it pendulums from one crisis to another can destabilize an otherwise effective workforce. Today’s top priority which becomes tomorrow’s forgotten mandate will eventually confuse and demoralize your highest-performing teams. A well-selected and trained team of achievers can often reach any height they are asked to climb, but if we as leaders aren’t clear about which summit we are trying to scale, how can our employees form an effective plan of ascent?

The lesson for us all as leaders is - be clear about the vision. Make it compelling, applicable for all roles and simple enough to be understood. But, equally important, be direct and specific about what role each person should play in achieving the vision. And, once a course is charted, stick with it! While it's true that things change and professionals need to be adaptable, nothing saps the energy of a team more than direction that changes with the wind. Remember the root of the word ‘leadership’ is ‘lead’. By definition, one can not lead if they are reacting. If the tactics directed by a manager or leader of people feel like a grab bag of ‘trying things to see what works’, your skilled professionals will soon become exhausted.

Words Matter. Actions Matter More. Both Should Match.

Every company charter, vision or mission statement has content which is inspiring, if a bit aspirational. Experienced company professionals have learned to take these statements as well-meaning manifestos that sometimes just don’t seem to be present during the difficult boardroom debates or challenging fiscal quarters in which the firm is missing its targets.

More impactful to the daily lives of teams and individuals is what you say to them in the trenches. How do you set a goal and then clearly define what is and isn’t ‘in bounds’ toward the achievement of it? How do you address a deficiency? How do you handle a mistake, either made by you as a line manager or endorsed by the firm? Words matter and actions matter more, but maintaining the alignment of both separates the truly world class organizations from the rest.

Leaders and C-suite professionals can intentionally or by neglect endorse cognitive dissonance in a wide variety of ways inside their organizations. A company that says it’s a people-centric firm but allows promotions or advancements to happen for employees that have ‘played the game’ better than those who have shown consistent results - this isn’t a place where words and actions are aligned.

Another way of summing up this parallel of words and actions is ‘integrity’. If this concept is a malleable one that is twisted and contorted by a board, a manager or a director to fit today’s definition and you think your employees don’t notice, you’re wrong. You’ve probably selected a team full of purpose-driven and skilled professionals. What do you think they will do if they decide the mouths and the feet of their organization aren’t moving in the same direction?

Be Visionary About Tomorrow, Be Honest About Today

Strong players on any team want to score. If we’ve done our job as selectors of talent and assembled world-class teams, they don’t need to be told how critical it is that the company achieve its goals. They probably came to work for you to do just that - achieve. What these high-level thinkers and results-driven professionals need are two equally-important commitments:

First is a vision and mission they can feel connected with. They will be fueled and inspired by the affirmation that the company to which they’ve chosen to give their time and energy intends to impact the world around them in favorable ways. Increasingly, our workforces place this purpose-centric philosophy higher on their want lists than things like compensation. What a company stands for matters to your teams, so stand for something. Decide on the palette of colors that will make up the hues for your firm’s next horizon and then splash them liberally everywhere across your organization. ‘Think Different’, ‘The Third Place’, ‘Don’t Be Evil’ are all visionary belief statements or mantras that teams can sink their teeth into. These kinds of purpose statements become a divining rod that your teams will be empowered to refer to when questions arise.

Equally important when looking down range and deciding on a 5 or 10 year plan is the necessity of being truthful about the world of today. Smart teams know what is working and they feel all too painfully what isn’t. A group of talented players on your team is probably capable of telling you what isn’t going well in your organization. It doesn’t help for them to feel that truth telling isn’t alive and well in the company they work hard for. All of the visionary puffery in the world starts to feel disingenuous to a team if they are constantly hearing where we are headed and not seeing enough being done about the problems that exist where we are.

For us as leaders, this may be our area of largest influence. The ability to keep our teams engaged with the blue sky plan we’re all working on is powerful, but only if we take prompt and public action on addressing the pain points that teams feel regularly in a growing company. Whether the issues are structural, resource-centric, competitive conditions in the marketplace or other barriers for your company, your team will work harder for you if you commit to addressing these issues and working on them relentlessly until the problems are resolved. This also requires something only the best of the best leaders regularly demonstrate - the ability to be vulnerable and transparent enough with their teams about the organization’s flaws - and their own.

Select a Blue Chip Workforce, Then, Trust Them

Even if company leadership has delivered on the promise of role clarity and specific guidance for how we should operate each day, life happens. There will be decisions to make, corrections to apply and levers to pull that only your teams will understand. It’s said ‘politics is local’ and in the same fashion, so is business. In the home office or boardroom, leaders who work at higher altitudes in the organization have the gift of being able to see farther and plan for things that their teams may not be cognizant of. But, they often don’t know or fully understand the challenges their employees face in the field or on the front lines. Hubris often leads leaders to believe they can and should direct everything that their teams do. This is often tragic. It can be devastating to a skilled team of subject matter experts to have their superiors hovering ‘in their kitchen’ as they try to cook. Capable team members thrive when they are trusted.

Leaders, particularly when times are tough and your investors are unhappy, remember - that same team that got you those strong quarters probably has the skills to get you back to where you want to be. A good general resists the temptation in times of battle to grip more tightly on the reins of the horse or dismount and fight on the ground with their troops. The strategic leader stays on the horse, surveys the field, provides direction and trusts their well-trained experts to do what they do best. 

Hierarchy is a fact of life and important for organizations, but, over-indexing on command and control snuffs the life out of teams capable of incredible feats. On the walls of any institution which has achieved greatness were never carved the words ‘Those who complied succeeded here’.


— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership and expertise to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. He is the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids and teens. —