Easy Way, Hard Way

Easy Way, Hard Way

As a young parent, a challenging task was bath time – especially when the kids developed the muscles to effectively jump, squirm, and grab. The toughest part was hair, because the “No more tears” promise on the bottle never seemed to work. When I encountered Avenger-like resistance to washing hair, I developed a standard script with them which sounded like this – and most of the time it was delivered in a calm and even tone of a loving father. Most of the time ūüôā “Aubrey, you have a choice here. Easy way – You hold your breath and close your eyes when I tell you, and I will do everything I can to keep the soap from getting in your eyes and mouth. Hard way – you keep screaming and I will just pour the water.”

Many of you know I wrote a book on parenting, and as I look at the paragraph above I am not sure a chapter like that would ever be written. If it did, it might involve waterproof stickers or $50 Avengers mask that protected ears and eyes. In hindsight, I was trying to teach them a first lesson of choices and teamwork because we face decisions like this daily as teenagers and adults, and the reality is that this flips as adults when the hard way actually becomes the right way.

People-centered leaders focus on the choices their team members have and work hard to coach them through decisions so there is greater ownership. They recognize when people choose the ‘hard way’ in communication by sharing a hard truth that puts their job at risk. Here are some examples:

Situation 1: Your leader is not effective at leading you because they second guess all your decisions, fail to give you the information you need to make the right decision, and have not given you any routine performance feedback in 2+ years.

Easy way: Complain at happy hour about your leader or resign and hope there is an exit interview for you to share your frustrations.

Hard way: Share how the leader is making your job harder at your next one-on-one and ask for help.

Situation 2: The smell of a teammate’s perfume or body odor is making it hard for you to work (allergies, or just a bad smell) to the point you are thinking about working remotely. {Sounds crazy – but ask an HR professional about their story on this and I guarantee they have one.}

Easy way: Buy $100 worth of potpourri for your office.

Hard way: Pull your team member aside and share the impact the odor is having on you (perfume, body odor, shoes being off) and ask if there is a way to address it.

Situation 3: Your project is going badly and you don’t know how to fix it.

Easy way: Do the best you can to fix it, but hide the truth in updates to your leader and team.

Hard way: At the next update or meeting with your leader, tell the truth and ask for help.

Of course, the key ingredient in all of these situations is trust. If it is there, it makes the hard way easier. When a high degree of trust between two people is not present, the easy way becomes the only way.

People-centered leaders recognize when someone has chosen the hard way, and shared something that they did not have to. When that happens, make sure you stop and recognize the choice they made. If you don’t know what to do? Easy way – Pretend you do and make promises you might not be able to keep. Hard way – Tell them this is a new situation for you and ask for 1 hour/1 day/1 week to give it some thought so the next conversation will be a productive one. Commit to helping resolve it, and follow through on your commitment.

What did you do today to build trust with each individual on your team?

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Here are two resources for those of you interested in what a conversation around different ‘hard way’ choices might sound like:

Read Crucial Conversations

Podcast and book: Radical Candor

Hope as a leadership strategy: 4 keys and 2 questions to help build one

Hope as a leadership strategy: 4 keys and 2 questions to help build one

There is power in Hope, and yet it is something that does not come from the world as much as it used to. It is still something that comes from within us, and it is the hidden and critical piece of our ability to perform at our best.

Here are a few examples I have experienced:

  • Hope in a major personal transition

I experienced an unexpected job loss, and in the days that followed I learned about the difference between a good day and a bad day. On a good day, my personal outlook was captured in this formula: Hope > Fear + Anger + Hunger + Frustration + Loneliness + _______ + ________. I learned that in times of overwhelming change, our foundational outlook and strength (I called it YOUR ROCK in a keynote earlier this year) will be tested and defined. This is where our faith and social capital (friendships) will be tested.

  • Hope in developing your best people

When doing development plans for people, the best place to start is with something that will demonstrate their ability to get feedback and use it; 360¬į evaluations do that. I think of an organization that did this simple task with three¬†high potentials (future leaders), in which two of them accepted the feedback and had a hope-ful discussion about how they could use it. The third was not ready, and spent most of her time on the threat and fear it created, not able to move past it.

  • Hope in leading

People expect leaders to be human in some ways, but not¬†when it comes to managing stress and being hope-ful in the most difficult situations. Part of my work as a coach is providing a safe place to be honest and allow frustrations and fear to come out. When I coach, it is important to allow what has to come out to come out, and then ask the question – “What would be the one thing you want to focus on today in our time together?” It is a simple invitation to a hope-based problem solving session. Leaders need to learn how to balance reality and hope,¬†and this gets modeled and practiced in every coaching session.

I read some wisdom recently from a hope expert, Dr. Anthony Scioli, who wrote a book based on his research РThe Power of Hope.  He identified the four cornerstones of hope:

  1. Attachment – a feeling of connection and trust
  2. Mastery – a sense of empowerment and purpose
  3. Survival – the ability to manage our fears and generate multiple options
  4. Spirituality – faith in a religion or a set of life-defining values

Notice any common themes between my words and Dr. Scioli’s? It is no coincidence that the name of the process I use for career/development plans is simply called Journey to Mastery.

What are you doing as a leader to build and rebuild a hope-filled outlook for yourself? What are you doing as a leader to build and rebuild a hope-filled outlook for your team?

A client asked me to lead a sensitive conversation for them in the midst of some major change, and added, “You have such a great ability to make it safe to share difficult things and help us find solutions.” I thanked her, and thought back to my internal compass for selecting the clients that I work best with – passionate, hope-filled leaders that are over-challenged and under-supported.

What does your hope formula look like today?  Hope > ______ or Hope < ________?

What can you do to change the latter and maintain/build the former?  (Hint: See cornerstones above)

That is the foundation of a hope-filled leadership strategy.

Never Start With Do

Last week I had the privilege of delivering a 3.5 day leadership training to a group of emerging leaders.  One of the things I cherish about new leaders is their hunger for learning, and it is infectious.  Great conversations start with a question Рthat is my mantra.  Our time together was structured around questions and each learner had a learning log in the form of a poster that they put on the wall.  It turned out to be an amazing way to watch the journey of 20 different leaders as the answered questions like:

  • What is your definition of leadership?
  • What makes your job critical to this organization?
  • What are¬†my strengths?
  • What skills/knowledge do I already possess?
  • What capacity do I need to build as a leader?

Our time ended with action plans and I heard many of the same things – I need to go DO . . . . .

My one piece of advice is always make your first DO = self observation, not DO = practice the behavior.  Here is why.  In my new book I talk about the OBN leader(Ought But Not) and the trap of thinking you are doing things in a way that are most effective for your people.  Just taking time to watch yourself in the situations where you think you are being an effective leader will help you test your belief.

For example, one leader mentioned that she realized through observing herself in an active listening exercise we did in class that spending 3 minutes (even 30 seconds) listening to someone was impossible because her mind started to swirl with how to fix their problem.  For her practice, I advised her spend a week watching herself in listening situations and practicing active listening to see what she did well and where she struggled the most.  At the end of each day email herself what she experienced and how her capacity to be present with others showed up for her.

Then Рset a goal (that is SMART) and enlist the support you need to be successful.  This includes asking one person to serve as an accountability/feedback person for you.

It is that simple, but never that easy.  I get that.  It is powerful to watch people ignited by learning, and when individuals start owning their learning it is cause for celebration.

The moment I knew the learning was working was when 3 leaders formed a group to read Crucial Conversations together, with the goal of increasing their capacity to manage conflict.  It was priceless!

What are your answers to the questions I posed above?

At its core, talent management is about great conversations.  Go have one.


People Habits before People Skills – Johari Window

I remember the moment I became passionate about one-on-ones. ¬†I was in day 2 supporting a nationally known author/consultant in the area of conflict management/robust conversations. ¬†Our challenge: ¬†We were 16 months into a curriculum rollout/organizational change and the success was present, but only in pockets. ¬†As we went from group to group getting feedback on successes and failures, a question came to my mind, so I asked it. ¬†“Bill, in your assumptions of organizations and relationships between leaders and their teams, do you assume that leaders are meeting one-on-one with their teams regularly?” ¬† His answer “Yes.” ¬†It hit me, we can equip leaders all day long to have these wonderful fierce, crucial, or honest conversations, and yet if they are not creating controlled space that is safe and focused (like a one-on-one conversation) it will be difficult to practice and change habits. ¬†More importantly Failure rate > Success rate – and failure in the area of building relationships (ie. leadership) is expensive at many levels.

That is also the time I realized I would start a crusade around habits that mean the most to people (ie. engagement!) and that busy leaders, if they are willing to practice them will get the biggest ROT (return on time).

Here are some videos I have put together for leaders to think differently about this time using the Johari Window as a lens for not only how they listen, but how they create safety for their people by sharing first.

Leadership and the Johari Window – Part 1

Leadership and the Johari Window – Part 2

 What is to come?  A script for how this could be a 15 minute time of learning in one of your team meetings and a key note/workshop around one on ones where this could be used.  Subscribe to my trU Tips and you will get the templates.

I believe our learning model for most organizations has changed, instead of going off to class, practicing, and then coming back to receive practice/support to help us get better Рwe now are in positions where we have to learn as we do and it is important in that model to get support and feedback real-time.  Since 99.9% of companies have <500 people, this model works great as long as leaders are present on a somewhat routine basis and the time is productive for both leader and individual.

My goal is to equip leaders and key supporters (HR leaders) to help their people create the habits that feed a frenzy of honest conversations, that lead to thoughtful actions, and result in trUPerformance.

Tough Conversations

Is there someone in your work life that is causing you pain?

There are some great books out on having difficult conversations.  My two favorites:  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and Crucial Conversations by the Vital Smarts team.  When I script leadership development activities, this is the #2 learning must for any new/current leader.  It is that important and it gets easier, but it is never that easy.

If I were a leader every time I looked around the room and realized more than half my team is new in the last 12 months, I would make a group learning assignment to read/reread one of these books as a team.  It could also be a gift for a new team member, and if you do that remember my gift giving advice!

Let me add another voice to this topic, a TED talk by Ash Beckham.  It is not specific enough to outline the skills of having honest conversations with people, but it certainly speaks to the heart of the topic.  I found myself laughing as she shared her own transformation to having more honest conversations.  Her voice is not academic Рinstead it is very real and that makes her advice/story relevant and helpful.

She started by controlling her own narrative first.  It would be a great follow-up to a book study group because many of the themes of the above books are captured in her talk.

A big part of having tough conversations is showing up often enough – in a focused manner – with your people to have all the other conversations that constitute a relationship. Habits around One-on-Ones and team meetings are critical to making this skill even more relevant and EASIER.

What makes tough conversations tougher is when, as leaders, those are the only time we show up to connect with our people.

Excuses or Reasons? Two practices to help you listen

My words started the conversation “Did somebody feed the dog yet?”

The response started with the words “Well, she did not do what I asked her and . . . . . “.

It was the language of an excuse.

The thing that stuck in my mind was I will accept reasons, but please don’t give me excuses.¬† As I watch leaders and teams work through things, I have seen how excuses create lines for battle.¬† He said . . . .¬†¬† She said . . . . They said . . . .¬†¬† It gets¬†messy really fast.¬†¬†When emotions are raised by assigning¬†blame first, it is hard for most people to step back and talk through it.¬† Excuses generally point outward at the environment or actions of others, and lead to blame and away from solutions.

When we focus on getting some reasons out on the table, it requires us to ask a few more questions to establish what assumptions or knowledge are being brought into the conversation.  Establishing this allows ownership to emerge.  The focus can then be on a decision they made that got in the way of something getting done or getting fixed, and what the action plan looks like.

Two great practices this week are to listen:

  1. When something happens or your outcomes are questioned, do you give an excuse or ask a few questions and focus on reasons something happened or did not happen?  How does it effect the conversation?
  2. As you interact with your team, what do you hear more of Рexcuses or reasons?  What is the impact of sharing excuses vs reasons?


I am holding out hope that some day my simple question gets answered with something like:

I am watching my favorite episode ever of Dog with a Blog and thought I would finish it before I fed our hungry dog.  That was probably not a good decision, because the next episode was my second favorite ever, so let me shut off the TV and take care of it.


I could be waiting a while, but I know the expectations I need to share and the questions I need to ask in the future.

Questions to help the work get done (and the team to be built)

Seth Godin had a recent post titled Two questions behind every diagreement.  In it he shares two questions that will help move through/solve every disagreement:

  • Are we on the same team?
  • What’s the right path forward?

By definition, you cannot have a team without common goals and group decision making power, and getting there requires conflict.  These are two great questions, but let me add a few more to help you apply this in your own team and move things forward:

1. Are we on the same team? –> What is the issue?¬† What is the outcome¬†we want?

2. What’s the right path forward? –> What are three steps that will move us ahead?¬† What 1 step will I own?¬† What 1 step will you own?¬† What 1 step will we BOTH own?¬† (remember 1 + 1 + 1 = 3)

If you cannot¬†answer/agree on #1 don’t¬†skip/move ahead to #2.¬† The key to #1 is addressing the issue and not the person – ie.¬† If the issue is someone or what someone else needs to do to make my life easier, then the whole discussion is about winning and not solving a problem.¬† That means you are the problem –> so step back, take a deep breath, apologize, and step back into the discussion with a different mindset.

If you get to #2, the best way to build teamwork is to own work together.  If a solution takes 20 steps and 3 months, focus on the next 3 and 48-72 hours.  Progress/success builds relationships between people and teams are created along the way.  I can hear the complaints now РРBut this is a very complex problem and 3 steps is too small. My next question:  Is the issue that the problem is too complex or We are not agreeing on/owning a solution as a team?  In either case Рeither start moving forward or punt the problem to another team.

fyi РIf anyone on the team has a goal to sit back and let someone else fail so they can either:  a) Ride in and save the day or b) Play the I told you so card РРРthey should be given one chance to hit the reset button, and then removed from the team.

Thanks for planting the seed Seth.

What if We Called It Your Individual Development Story?


When we think of anything with the word PLAN in it, do these words quickly follow in your mind?

What if we called it something different?  For example, instead of your Individual Development Plan, what if we called it your Individual Development Story?Talent Management - Writing your story

If you think of it as a story, it would have a main character РYou Рin all your strengths, experiences, successes, weaknesses,  and moments of non-performance.

It would have . . .

. . . history that helps you frame your character with terms like talents, passions, rewards, and realities. (what I call your trUYou)

. . . a current story about where you are today and what might be changing for you.  It would also have some preferred future that gives us a sense of where the story might be going.

. . . ownership. It is our story and although we need to ask others for help, in the end it is ours to write and to tell.

. . . portability.¬†Sometimes our story needs to go somewhere else to move ahead –¬†another role, another project, and maybe another organization.

. . . help.  If we know you and understand where you desire to go, then we could choose to enter your story and join you on the journey as a mentor, a friend, a partner in accountability, or maybe even a fellow learner that desires the same journey.

If we know our journey will be challenging journey, then maybe we hire a coach.  They would help us step back and see things differently, or rewrite the journey so that the story takes us to some different places and outcomes that we might not see by ourselves.

I am thinking of renaming my template as I prepare to share it with the human resource professionals at the Illinois SHRM Conference next week.  Too many people do not have them based on the Talent Scorecards I have given leaders and too many I have seen lack the pieces that tell a great story.

I would like my story to say that I worked, with others, to change that.

It feels like a great conversation.  I love great conversations.

How to get better at delivering feedback? First, get better at receiving it.

I am in the process of reading/reviewing Jodi Glickman’s book Great On The Job – What To Say, How To Say It – The Secrets of Getting Ahead.¬† As I go through it I will share some thoughts that make me go Hmmmm . . .¬† This posting is based on one of those moments.

What is the secret to speaking what you feel about someones performance and having it end up in a place where the relationship is still intact (or stronger) and your thoughts are heard?

The first and only tip – Focus on how you request and receive feedback from others.

I read Jodi Glickman’s book Great on the Job, and one quote¬†is stuck in my head.¬† It is under the chapter of Ask for Feedback and the heading of Say Thank You.¬† The quote is (p. 129):

The goal, however, is continuous improvement and learning, not just feeling good.  If you have a tough feedback session, remind yourself that the goal of the session is not to make you feel good.  The goal is to make you better at your job.


Talent management is about great conversations, and the definition of a conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette. (wikipedia)¬†¬†We all need to hear what is going well, but we have to be able to hear what we can do better.¬† At the heart of this conversation is a lot of smaller conversations around –¬† How am I doing?¬† What is going well and where do I need to improve?

How can we use this as individuals?

First, recognize that giving feedback is a lost art for many leaders who are, themselves, caught in a spot where nobody is telling them what they are doing well (when is the last time you told your leader about something they did well?) and the list of to do’s is only getting longer.¬† So, our job as individuals is to ask for it well,¬†¬†stay calm in the moment of receiving it, and respond by¬†saying thank you without our faces getting red or our jaws tightening.¬† Then do something with it that creates momentum for you and the organization.

Second, put extra focus into defining your role/objectives and own the one on one time with your leader.  This makes talking about performance  easier.  Here is a template if you want an example of what that looks like.

Getting and giving good feedback is not easy, but it is pretty simple.  I wonder what would happen if both leaders and followers read this one chapter together and tried it for a couple of months.  My guess is some great conversations would happen.

What tips do you have for giving/getting good feedback?

Friday Fun – The cumulative effect of Happy moments . . .

In his interview about happiness in HBR, Daniel Gilbert makes the following statement:¬† “…the frequency of your positive experiences is a much better predictor of your happiness than is the intensity of your positive experiences.”¬† It is not the big initiatives, but the cumulative effect of the little things we do at work and at home to generate smiles that makes the biggest difference.¬†¬†While we are thankful for some research – Did we really need some PhD to tell us that?

So what can we do with this?

Every culture treats humor differently.  For example, I am not sure a That Was Easy button or a zany sound effects box would work in a bank.  What about comments about what people are wearing, or smiles received or handing a sucker to a customer with a smile?  Anything where we purposely create one of those moments that Gilbert talks about will make a difference.

Maybe a good Friday goal would be to generate 6 smiles in other people.

Here is my first try:  A great video about how making people smile caused a shift in their behavior.  It made me smile, and is just good clean fun.  Take a look.