Ignorant vs Stupid vs Agile

Ignorance is defined (Merriam-Webster.com) as lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.  In contrast, the definition of stupid (Merriam-Webster.com) is having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things.  The fine line between being ignorant and stupid is the ability to learn.

Taking that one step further, in research done by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger they identified one competency common to all people that became successful leaders – learning agility.  It is defined as the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.  People with this quality fail, but don’t normally fail multiple times on the same issue and find a way to apply learning from the past to new situations so they can find success.

I also recognize that some lack the ability to learn certain things, and yet I have dozens of examples from clients who work with people with disabilities or special needs that have seen learning happen because they raised their expectations of those individuals and stopped treating them like the labels that had been put on them were permanent.

There is not test for learning agility, but there are some practices that allow people to share their capacity and willingness to learn.  You know my mantra – Great conversations start with a question.  When we have honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions, the outcome is improved performance.  That is learning agility in action.   Here are some questions that test for it:

For yourself:

  • What do I want to learn this year?
  • What did I learn this past week / month / year?   Did I do it  the easy way (someone helped me) or the hard way?

For individuals:

In One-on-One:

  • What were recent successes and failures?
  • What do you need to learn faster?  What support do you need?

In Performance Conversation:

  • What did you do well this past year?
  • What could you do better?
  • What do you need to learn?

In the end, there is no difference to a leader from those who don’t have the ability and those who do not want to demonstrate the ability.  All organizations have these individuals, and hopefully do not have too many of them.  The latter reason is the most prevalent from my experience.

Sometimes I wonder if removing labels from our politically correct society soften feedback to the point that it is hard to hear.  Maybe we should use the words ignorant and stupid more to help people see their options more clearly.  People with learning agility will see the challenge in the direct feedback.  People without it will be offended – at least we would know who is who.

Inviting the Voice of Ownership

I remember the conversation vividly.  His call came two weeks after my Situational Leadership class and his frustration was evident.

I am asking all the questions you gave us in the training, but they are not giving me any answers.   The How can I support you? question is just creating awkward silence, when I know they are buried and complaining.  I feel like that training was a waste of time.

That conversation was over a decade ago, and started me on a quest to better support leaders and those they lead in having more meaningful conversations.

So here is my response after years of working with other leaders and individuals in this space.

1.  Be patient – The lens of a leader is generally one where they see themselves as nice and approachable, so not answering questions confuses them.  Too often, people do not see them as approachable.  I can think back to an extremely approachable leader I was working with, and the feedback from her team was She is so busy, I hate to bother her with my problems.  Her approachability was impacted by people liking her too much and not wanting to bother her.

Her fault?  No.

Her problem?  Yes.

Creating the space and continuing to share WHY you believe this time is important is the step to focus on.

2.  Look for opportunities to DO support – Talking about support is one thing, but people need proof.  Your best people will only need a little proof.  Your lowest performers will need a lot of proof.  Focus your time and energy on your best people, and continue to provide evidence of your commitment and INVITE your other team members to join the performance conversation.

Notice I did not say try to convince them of your commitment.  People have to make their own choices, and you need to focus on what you control which is your actions and keeping what you are thinking in the OPEN part of the Johari Window.  (see my video to hear about the JoHari Window)

3.  Be patient, and celebrate your successes.

Summer can be a good time to re-start relationships because people are relaxed and have lots of things to talk about.  Use this time to build relationships and invite people into more meaningful conversations about their future and the future of your business.

Just don’t get bogged down by the people that do not want to go there.

If you are interested – here is a presentation I created to support individuals in managing their own career and performance.  A full whitepaper is available on request – just ask.

Relationships: Building vs Maintaining

Relationships are tricky.  They start at random places – soccer games, first days of a new job, school functions, board meetings.  They only actually become a relationship, a thing that we can point to or hold up as something that has been created if we continue to deal with each other or are connected in some way.  See the basic definition:

Relationship (noun) – (Merriam-Webster.com)

  • the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other
  • the way in which two or more people or things are connected

We have to be careful to define it as a TRUe relationship just because we are connected through something like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  This connection could be a great way to maintain a relationship, but is it how we create one?

There is a difference between creating and maintaining a relationship, and especially when onboarding a new person or leader into your organization.  Creating is the intentional work of forging connections and establishing positive behaviors towards each other.  Maintaining is the work you do to make sure trust continues to exist and there is a pull (not a push) to stay connected in some way.

It is easy to call something a relationship.  Great relationships take some work.  Slow down and build first.  Summer is a good time to slow down and build.

Just Add Fear – Is this a line in your Leadership Recipe?

Do you ever intentionally try and scare your people?  Is it a tool you use in your leadership toolbox?

Let me rephrase that:

  • Have you ever initiated changes without an adequate explanation  to anyone why the change is important?
  • Do you go long periods of time without bringing the team together to celebrate wins of the past and talk about what the focus is for the future?
  • Does your travel schedule dictate how often you bring your team together?
  • Do customer needs always trump team communication/gatherings?
  • Do you allow months to pass without giving people feedback on their work and asking what support they need?
  • Do you let people hole up in their cubicles and just work for hours/days on end?
  • Do you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, births, and show up at funerals for your people and their families?

The hands on work of leaders, the habits we commit to say everything about our leadership.  Fear is like water, it always finds it’s way into where it should not be and the damage starts without us knowing about it.  Any builder will tell you that creating a 100% waterproof house is impossible, but building well and adequately venting things will help us avoid major damage.  My experience tells me in any new building you wait for the first heavy rain and watch closely for those things that are not built well.  Leaks will show up.  They are always there. Some tips – Don’t start with the question – What is everyone afraid of today?  Here are some questions that will help you watch for/listen for fear:

  • What questions are hanging out there that need answers?
  • What should be our top 3 priorities for the next 6 months?
  • Where are you making progress?  Where are you stuck?  What support do you need to get unstuck?

Listen for confusion or emotions that will distract from our ability to solve problems and work together.  Those are the slow leaks of fear filling up the space in our heads that we need to use for thinking and reasoning to do our best work. Great conversations start with a question.  When it works, we have honest conversations, leading to thoughtful actions, and improved performance.  Fear is always looking to creep in and it will, just develop the habits that does not allow it to stay for long. When we do it well, we allow fear a voice, and we create conditions that don’t allow it to stay long.

To build great culture you have to give fear a voice, and also not give it a place to stay.

4 Fallacies of Networking

Let me lend a different lens to your network – It is your number one resource for learning and professional development.  How is yours?

I found myself in several conversations with people over the past month who were lamenting the pain and anguish of networking.  Many were struggling to make the commitment to networking as part of their search for work.  I have spent the last decade speaking to groups about the importance of building relationships – and that conversation generally leads back to networking.  I  know it is hard, and I also know it is probably easier for me because of how I am wired.

4 Fallacies of Networking

  1. Networking is a lot of work – I shared my monthly goal for networking events last week and the group was surprised.  My goal = 2 per month.  What counts is any gathering of a group of people and my goal is simple, meet one or two people that I will follow-up with a written note.  That is it.  My goal is not quantity, just quality.  Chamber of Commerce events count, but so does a Booster Board meeting or high school sporting event.  If I do this consistently for a year it results in (at a minimum):  24 events, 48 written notes, and roughly 12-15 follow-up cups of coffee.
  2. Networking is an event – I have a goal of 2 events, but that is not really the end, it is just a piece of it.  Networking is a mindset.  Here is how I view networking based on my beliefs:
    • I believe that hearing the stories of others is important.
    • I believe that it is important to find other people that share my passions/goals, and the only way to do that is to hear stories and share my story.
    • I believe that the end point of getting to know others is a relationship that will continue into the future.
    • I believe in the importance of building relationships.
  3. Networking is inclusive – LinkedIn is a main way I keep track of my network.  I made a decision to kick all LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networker) out of my network.  I want people in my network that are active, positive, and people with which I have a professional connection/opinion.  That does not include everyone, and not letting someone in my network does not mean that they are bad, it just means they don’t fit my network.  I also have a habit where I review my LinkedIn connections once or twice a year and take people out of my network.  I look through and if I do not recognize or remember them I delete them.  I also delete people that post daily or mainly sell with their posts.
  4. Networking is Kissing Up to people you don’t like – I love this one, because it is generally from people who are looking for reasons not to do it.  If the goals of networking are to get to know others, have others get to know you, and learn things through connections/conversations, then you will have to talk to people that you would not invite to dinner.   An important part of networking is always being open to listen and learn, regardless of the source.  From my perspective, networking is about learning, and if it is done correctly you meet new people, build some great relationships, and you learn lots of new things.

I attended an event earlier this year with someone I had not seen in a while, and they gave me feedback that it seemed like I knew everyone.  The reality, I knew about 20 people of the 800 people that attended the event, and most I had met since starting my business.  Remember my goal?  In 5 years my networking effort adds up to roughly 120 events, 240 written notes, and 50-75 cups of coffee.

I know networking is hard.  There are events I go to that I do not have the energy for and end up leaving early.  I also miss events because I have other commitments as a husband or father that are more important.  Networking does not have to be your top priority, but it does have to be a priority if you are looking to grow professionally and have a positive impact on your community.

Listen Well

I follow several thought leaders and information sources, and there are only a couple I read >90% of the time.  Seth Godin is one.

His post today was very simple:  Two ways to listen

You can listen to what people say, sure.

But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.

I have been working with a career transition program called Shifting Gears, that helps mid/late career professionals make successful career transitions.  Many come because they have been out of work for >6 months.   One of the most important part of the program is captured by changing Seth’s words around a little.  I would say:

Others can listen to what you say, sure.

But the relationships you build will be defined by your actions.

Others are listening, and instead of worrying about how you are perceived, focus on how you live into the words you speak.

I remember one conversation in Shifting Gears that happened as our day began, and the individual was angry, frustrated, and seeing all the barriers (plus making a few up) between themselves and work.  Two hours later, they had moved past the barriers, and were optimistic and doing the work of finding work.  In listening to their actions, it became clear that they were developing  the capacity to get knocked down, and to get back up.  I saw them do this multiple times, and each time they came to apologize to me for being so stuck and negative – – I shared with them what I saw.

“Being stuck is part of any journey, and telling me about it is fine.  My job is to just listen sometimes.  What I respect and admire is that you made the choice not to stay there.  Keep doing that and you will be fine, and the world will get a gift when you are back working.”

Seth is right, and we will be far more effective as spouses, parents, professionals, friends, and leaders if we use that lens on ourselves before we use it on others.

Listen well.



I met a guy named Rich Sheridan two years ago, and have had the pleasure of touring his company (Menlo Innovations) several times.  Menlo is a software company that has developed a very unique culture and Rich has just published a book about it called Joy, Inc.  How We Built a Workplace People Love.  I read a lot of business books, and rarely do I finish any of them.  I am good for 150-175 pages, but at some point I run out of gas.  I read Joy cover to cover.  It was part because I have experienced the culture and personal tours from Rich, and part because it gave me a chance to hear all of Rich’s journey with the culture at Menlo.  He is coming to speak at our local chamber on June 6, so I look forward to sharing him with some of my high growth second stage companies.

At the very end of the book, he gives three next steps to any leaders who want to open up the conversations in their workplace and make JOY a greater part of their business, and I loved them. Here is the excerpt.

WHERE DO YOU SIT? Most visitors are simultaneously intrigued by and uncomfortable with the thought of a space without walls, offices, cubes, or doors. As I mentioned earlier, our guests are intrigued by the fact that I sit out in the room with everyone else. This kind of managerial experiment builds trust, the kind that comes from treating your team members like the adults they are.

Changing your seating is a simple experiment to run. If you are a leader trapped in an office or caught by the trappings of an office, turn the office into a conference room, grab a small table, and move out among the rest of your team. Ask them to select the table’s location. Tell them it’s okay to move it whenever they like without asking permission. Post a sign-up sheet outside the new conference room that was your old office and let the team know it’s available to anyone, first come, first served. Have them name the room.

You can always book the conference room yourself for those truly private conversations. I’m guessing you will be amazed at how few there are. If you are having a lot of private conversations, there is likely something else amiss with your team that requires deeper attention.

Remember my earlier admonition: everyone has to change in order for you to achieve the dramatic change you seek. This includes you. What’s the worst that can happen?

TRY A STANDUP MEETING FOR A WEEK: Go back to chapter four and read about how we do our daily standup meeting. Try it for a week. Set a timer, pick a goofy token, and experiment with some silly traditions. Find something fun in your current culture and blend it in.

COME VISIT: There’s one thing you have that I didn’t: Menlo. Come visit, explore[…]”


Excerpt From: Sheridan, Richard. “Joy, Inc.” Penguin Group, USA, 2013-12-26. iBooks.

This material may be protected by copyright.

Leaders and One On Ones – Know your voice

I was timing at a swim meet this past weekend for kids between 8 and 13.  What do you think my primary role was?  Timing?  Actually – no.  My primary role was encouragement and support.  Making sure they were in the right order for the next race and telling them what they did well during that race.  It was easy, because my natural voice is to encourage.  I have known that for a while, and in order to be more effective at using that voice I have had to work on knowing when that voice is NOT the one that is needed at that moment.

Do you know your natural voice when faced with someone that is depending on you for some level of support so they can do their best?  This is one very important piece of leadership.

One important message I share in any leadership training I do is that part of the leadership job description is NOT mind reader.  There are several ways to help leaders get more skilled at this, but the easiest is to ask questions and listen well.

We can make our jobs as leaders easier in the One on One by doing two things:

  1. Asking some scripted questions so we can gauge how the other person is feeling.
  2. Use the question How can I support you? coupled with multiple choice answers of Coach me / Direct me / Not sure.


I continue to publish templates for people to use in establishing healthy and productive conversations with their people that result in thoughtful actions and lead to higher performance.  Here is the page of templates, and here is the newest version of the one on one form that incorporates the two tips I shared above.

By the end of my swim meet I had recorded times for every child who swam in my lane, experienced lots of smiles, and everyone started and finished the race they were supposed to be in.  My natural voice came in handy, but so did my directive voice (go!).

As a leader, learn your voice and help your people tell you when it needs to change.

. . . and When We Want Feedback – Step 1

(Thanks to Seth Godin for planting the seed for this post – this is post 2 on this topic, see Post 1 if you want to start at the beginning)

I have talked to dozens of groups about feedback, and in almost every case someone comes to me and asks me to give them feedback based on my interactions with them.  I applaud their willingness to seek feedback, but it is the wrong place to start because there is no context.  Some feedback is too broad.  So if you want feedback, here are some tips for gathering valuable feedback.

Step 1:  Mentally be ready

Feedback is not about feeling good (that’s applause), it is about getting better.  There are ways to effectively give feedback that allows us to not only reflect on successes (things we need to KEEP doing), but also identify where we can get better (START doing and STOP doing items).  Regardless of the method, to receive the feedback you have to first prepare yourself to get it, because it is always hard to hear.

Jodi Glickman wrote a book called Great On The Job, and in it she outlines some very simple advice on feedback.  Here are the phases/steps she outlines for getting valuable feedback.

Phase 1:  The Preparation

  1. Plant the Seed
  2. Schedule the Conversation
  3. Provide Specific Guidance (of What You’re Looking For)

Phase 2:  The Conversation

  1. Ask for Concrete Ways to Improve
  2. Say Thank You
  3. Wait, Digest, and Revisit

The number one miss I see happening is skipping Phase 1.  The key to this step is letting people know you will be asking and helping them understand what would help you the most.  If you are working on your nerves – ask them to watch for signs you are nervous.  If you are working on use of humor, ask them to track laughter and how effectively you used humor.  The key is to plant the seed and to pick a time to talk about it that is convenient for them and will be the best time for you to hear it.  fyi – sometimes coming off the high of a 2 hour presentation is not a good time for you to really listen to feedback.

I do a lot of presentations to groups, and when it is possible I take one of my children so they get to experience me at work and I have someone that will give me feedback.  In a presentation last year to a group of entrepreneurs I took my oldest daughter.  I told her before I started that I wanted her to watch me and give me feedback on one thing I could do to improve.  At the end, I took her to dinner and asked her what feedback she had for me.  Her response was “You did a good job Dad, but at the end when you went around the room to ask people What one thing you are taking away from our time together?, you talked too much so it dragged.  At that point people want to leave and you need to keep things moving.”

She was right – I did start too many 20-30 second conversations.  It was great, and it happened because I first focused on The Preparation.  Next time I will be better.

Whether it is a One on One or a performance conversation, Always start with preparation.  Remember, leading and being led is about having Honest Conversations that lead to Thoughtful Actions, that result in Improved Performance.

What Seth Said – and more . .

I listen to many experts/sources – Seth Godin, Wired Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Parker Palmer, Huffington Post, Thomas Friedman, Emily Bennington, my Mom, the Wall Street Journal.  There are more, but these stand out for me this morning.

The one I go back to daily is Seth Godin.  I like Seth because his voice is edgy and challenging, and he writes about things that are important.  Here is a piece of his recent post called The feedback you’ve been waiting for . . .

“You did a great job. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I wouldn’t change a thing. You completely nailed it, it’s fabulous.”

Of course, that’s not feedback, really. It’s applause.

Applause is great. We all need more of it.

But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback.

(here is the full post if you are interested)

It is so true, and I am guiltier than most.  I know that.  Traditional wisdom would tell us, as leaders, to commit to this and go start asking for it.  That will be nice, but it won’t work because unless we put ourselves in situations where it HAS to happen it won’t.  Most people are too nice, and most of us are too afraid to ask.

For leaders – Here is what you can to get feedback:  1) Create a safe space where it can be given   2) Ask  3) Be genuinely excited/grateful when you get it  4) Don’t give up.  (fyi:  #3 is harder than #2 – and you won’t be successful unless you do #4)

For individuals – See above – – and when you see a leader looking for help to get better, be courageous and constructive.  We are constructive when we focus on behaviors, not intent.  If you are not sure what that means – go study Fierce Conversations)

The safe space is the one on one.  When we create time for others to help us lead them/support them, and ask the right questions we will get feedback eventually. (see previous post).

Seth started this thought, and I am more than happy to finish it.  More importantly – Are you ready to finish it with your actions?