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Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Tips for Motivation People

Business confrontation.

There are times when an unpleasant confrontation with someone in your business is unavoidable. As much as we’d like to sweep the issue under the rug, hoping the problem fixes itself, as a leader it’s gotta be you who deals with the issue.

Years ago, I made the mistake of ignoring a problem. A team member, who usually did top notch work and who I greatly valued, began to underperform on a consistent basis. I didn’t want to say anything: she was a great person, she’d done great work in the past, and we all gathered that she was having some personal issues. So, at first I chalked it up to a temporary lull in her performance and decided to ignore the red flags.

But then she began to miss meetings, show up late for work, and generally appear to be unfocused and uncommitted. As a result, my supervisors began to confront me, wondering if I needed help getting my team’s performance back on track. It was only then, weeks after this whole thing started, and after our performance suffered enough that my supervisors took notice, that I finally decided to have a sit down with the problem person.

Everything got straightened out and the team was soon back to performing well. But I learned then that the longer you put off a confrontation, the harder you make it on yourself.

So, if you need to confront someone, do it right away. The pressure is low, and hopefully there isn’t much tension between the two of you at this point. If you let it go, you run the risk of giving the offending person more space to continue on a damaging path.

Secondly, be clear and specific when you have the sit down. When someone is being confronted, they take the defensive and often misconstrue what you’re saying. They may generalize and take it as an attack on them as people, for instance. To avoid this, lay out the parameters: “In these areas, I’ve noticed that you have not met your marks…”

However, the confrontation must be led by your heart, not your head. While it’s crucial to show the person exactly where they are not meeting expectations, don’t make this the only factor. After all, we’re humans, not robots. Put yourself in their shoes. What might be going on in their life that may be influencing their work? Is there anything you can do to help? Offer support. Reiterate that you are there for them, and that the confrontation is happening out of loving concern, not reprimand.

Finally, make a joint game plan that lays out how the two of you will resolve the issue. Include a timeline if need be. This doesn’t have to be a written document, of course. But it should be specific and clear. And it should above all serve to encourage the individual to seek out support and build trust between you.

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Actions speak louder than words. And even if you might tell them otherwise, a sure-fire way to demonstrate that you really don’t trust your team, that you really don’t think they’re capable, and that you’d rather just do the work yourself, is to constantly look over their shoulders and second guess their performance and commitment.

As you can imagine (or, have experienced yourself), we don’t respond too well to this type of management. In the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport argues that people are more fulfilled when they get the time and space to master skills of value, and have a sense of ownership of these skills which they can then contribute to a greater cause.

A few ways to create this sort of environment in your business:

1. Set the parameters early on

Your team are a bunch of grown-ups. They should know what’s expected of them. Be clear about your expectations in the beginning. If they are the competent, intelligent people you know they are (why else did you hire them?), you won’t need to remind them.

2. Allow for flexibility when you can

Some people work best in the early morning, while others are night owls. Cater your management to the needs of the team. Let them make their own hours as much as possible. However, there are some jobs, like retail, that simply can’t accommodate much flexibility.

3. Trust your team to get the job done on time

With the parameters set, trust that your team possesses strong time management skills. Think innocent until proven guilty–if it turns out that some of your people may need extra management, then intervene and help them, but only once it’s clear they need the help.


In every case, be the voice of clarity and encouragement when you manage. The goal should be that everyone knows exactly what they are doing, and why, and that they feel motivated and trusted to do their best work in the way that works best for them.


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More and more workers are stepping out of the office permanently, according to an article I just read which talks about how working from home has risen from three years ago.

The benefit for the worker is pretty obvious, and workers have been in favor of this for a long time. More flexible hours, convenience, and independence, to name a few. But now business owners too are beginning to see the value of the mobile worker.

The reason for this, according to the article, is “the access they [business owners] now have to professionals without geography posing a barrier.” Thanks to technologies like Skype and cloud-based file sharing, businesses now have a much larger pool of talent to choose from without needing to keep their search limited to the city where their headquarters is based.

Having a mobile workforce also boosts productivity, as workers feel more ownership over their work and enjoy the freedom to work where and when they choose.

So the benefits are pretty compelling. Is this something you’ve considered for your business?

To get comfortable with a new approach to leading and managing people, you’ll need to:

-Familiarize yourself with the tools that ensure communication between you and the mobile worker. Skype, the internal social media site Yammer, and Dropbox (or something like it) are crucial.

-Trust your mobile workers know what to do without your constant supervision. Micro-management, which I’m opposed to in the first place, is impossible with this worker arrangement.

-Determine what jobs can be done outside the workplace.

-Make a point to have face-to-face meetings periodically. The power of real face-time always trumps mobile communication, so schedule consistent times where mobile workers can come in and feel a part of the team.


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I talked about the importance of telling a story with your presentation a few weeks back.

This week I came across a book that adds more insight to this topic: Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds. Using the principles of Zen, Reynolds calls for an approach that covers the entire process of making a presentation, from preparation to delivery.

Most presentations are neither exciting nor inspiring. “The dull, text-filled slide approach is common and normal, but it is not effective,” says Reynolds. And I think he’s right. I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve sat through where I had no idea what the main points were even a few days after the fact.

Presentation Zen is a more basic approach to giving presentations, i.e., less is more. Your slides aren’t giving the presentation for you, but serve as a visual reference for you to keep the talk in context and to entice the audience. The moment you begin relying on your slides to inform the audience with content is the moment you can be sure you’ve put your audience to sleep.

Reynolds thinks we should take on a minimal design for our presentation slides. Don’t clutter your slides with colors and pictures and “fun” moving images. All of this just makes visual noise and takes away from the main points. Instead, slides should point back to you, the speaker, for insight and clarification.

Sure, there are some cases where you’ll need to put statistics and data on your slides. But do so in a way that points back to you, the story-teller, the informer, otherwise the audience isn’t bound to remember why your pie chart was that important.

Reynolds three main points in the book are:

Restraint in preparation 

We tend to go overboard in the research and scope of our presentations. Hold back, focus the discussion, and trust the process.

Simplicity in design

Pictures and text are suggestions and visual cues to the main point of the presentation: what you have to say.

Naturalness in delivery

This part takes practice. It has to do with public speaking, with teaching, with telling a story. None of these things come naturally. Yet with practice, you can become comfortable being yourself before others.

Reynolds, Garr. “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery.” Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2012.

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collaborationYou probably know that successful businesses are built around good collaboration, but you may not know that sometimes collaboration can actually be a negative force in an organization. Author Morten T. Hansen addresses the issue with an example in his book, Collaboration:

“When oil giant British Petroleum (BP) started to promote cross-unit collaboration,” writes Hansen, “leaders encouraged the formation of cross-unit networks focused on areas of shared interest. Over time, this idea flowered into an unforeseen number of networks and subnetworks…which consumed increasing amounts of managers’ time.”

This tendency toward overdoing it stems from the notion that more structure equals better results. But this often backfires, costing time and money. In reality, collaboration is the result of good chemistry between individuals united behind a single cause. Instead of implementing rules for how to collaborate, or “forcing it,” we should promote an environment that allows individuals to collaborate naturally.

I came across a YouTube video by Angela Fernandez Orviz that does a good job of illustrating how collaboration sparks creativity and innovation.

After watching the video, I arrived at a few points:

1. Seek out diverse strengths and personality types

As Orviz states, we must utilize a large network of disciplines in order to address issues in a global world. Most groups must diversify their business to stay relevant. This means integrating all sorts of professions, be they doctors, scientists,  journalists or salespeople.

2. Keep an open mind and embrace Divergent Thinking

Set your own ego aside and keep your mind open to many different ways of solving a problem. Each member of the team brings a specialized skill and viewpoint to the table, and it is up to the group as a whole to be open to everyone’s take on the matter. The brainstorming process may take longer as a result, as you’ll see ideas come from every angle possible, and you may face some frustrating road blocks. Hence, I strongly recommend that you…

3. Agree On The Objectives Early On

Before you even begin brainstorming, draft a written document that all members of the team agree on that specifically states the aims of the project at hand. This will act as a road map that keeps the collaborative process within a workable framework. In this way, you’ll be able to allow for divergent thinking and creative meandering, resting assured that you’ll eventually find your way to real solutions. Solutions which could not have been reached without many minds and strengths working in unison.


Hansen, Morten T. “Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps,  create unity, and reap the big results.” Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009, page 12.

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We spend at least 40 hours a week at our job. That’s almost one third of our waking lives. So we better darn well get satisfaction from all that time and effort.

To recap on last week, Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You highlights three components that result in job satisfaction:

Autonomy – feeling like you have some control of your job, and that your actions make a difference

Competence – knowing that you are good at what you do

Relatedness – being able to connect with your coworkers

Newport contrasts these “ingredients,” as he calls them, with the pervasive belief that passions lead to success. Instead of following your passions, Newport argues that becoming very good at what you do, and knowing that it makes a difference, transforms a droll job into a rewarding career.

But let’s narrow the focus today to you and your job. Do you feel you have control of your own work? Does it make a difference? Are you valued? And can you relate with your coworkers?

Answering these honestly will give you a clue as to why you may feel dissatisfied with your work.

From here, the first thing to do is to take ownership of your skills. You can blame your job and your circumstances all you like, and you may have good reasons to do so. But this won’t change a thing. Become determined, if only for your own satisfaction, to master the skills needed to excel in your field.

There is no excuse not to work toward mastery, because no one has ever mastered anything completely. Take Jiro Ono, for instance. Widely considered the best sushi chef in the world, 85 year old Ono tirelessly pursues perfection in his craft, as depicted in the award-winning documentary, “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.” His age and position in the culinary world don’t deter him from chasing after perfection.


So, you can always get better. While at work, take a personal inventory of areas in which you need to improve, and occupy your day with trying to master the skills your job requires. You feel better when you know that your work is valued and desired. Aim to be sought after.

Second, look at your past to boost your confidence about your present situation. Leadership coaches Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write: “To strengthen your confidence, first face the facts. When you look to your past, you’ll realize that successes often outweigh failures. And more importantly, that you survived through the failures and gleaned priceless lessons along the way.”

Looking back puts things in perspective. You may just realize that although your present job may not be ideal (and no job is), you have it now because of your accomplishments, qualifications and perseverance leading up to where you are now. This should give you some confidence and reassurance of your decisions.


Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.

Su, Amy Jen, and Muriel Maignan Wilkins. “To Strengthen Your Confidence, Look to Your Past.” Harvard Business Review, April 11, 2013. Accessed April 17, 2013.

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You are fired!

Here in Minnesota especially, we go out of our way to avoid unpleasant confrontation. In fact, many Minnesotans go to extravagant, almost comical lengths to avoid having to engage another person when doing so might bring out anger, hurt feelings or raised voices.

In many ways, this tendency isn’t bad. Minnesotans are very in tune with other people’s feelings, and are thus extremely empathetic and understanding. They want to keep everyone’s self-esteem in tact, and would much prefer to build people up than knock them down.

This behavior gets to be a problem, however, when giving criticism is necessary. Simply put, we all mess up, and we all need to be confronted at times when our faults get in the way of other people’s ability to lead successful lives.

Of course, I’m speaking in pretty general terms. Not all Minnesotans are non-confrontational or passive aggressive. But it is a stereotype that contains some truth, which is why I’d like to talk about it today.

An article in The Harvard Business Review points to the consequences of being overly casual in criticism: “A too-polite veneer often signals an overly politicized workplace: Colleagues who are afraid to speak honestly to people’s faces do it behind their backs. This behavior exacts a price.”

In other words, criticism will find its way into the workplace somehow. It is better to deal with it openly and honestly than to allow it to fester in the form of gossip and passive-aggression.

The biggest problem I see with people both giving and receiving criticism is their failure to separate their performance with their whole being. A comforting fact to remember is that when you must criticize (and to be a good leader, you must) you are never tearing down a person’s inner self. On the contrary, good criticism is meant as a way to strengthen the individual.

The best criticism is direct. It is not sandwiched between compliments. It does not rely upon outside explanation. It never comes from an emotional area; it is fact-based.

We all have trouble doing this well. To work on your direct criticism skills, consider the following tips.

1. Use Active Sentences. “You need to work on meeting your deadlines.” “I am counting on you to improve your attitude in regards to dealing with our customers.”

Not “If the invoices could be completed a bit sooner, that would be great.” This criticism is shrouded in vagueness regarding who should complete the invoices, how much sooner, and why this is necessary.

2. Be Specific. Provide facts and reasons for your criticism. Connect the specific areas that you feel need improvement with the bigger picture.

3. Don’t feel the need to feel bad or apologize. Giving criticism calmly and confidently shows the individual that for one thing, it is not a personal attack, and for another, that you are assured in the necessity of providing this criticism. You are doing this because you want the person to succeed.

Making this a habit opens the door to real, honest communication between members of an organization. This in turn makes the environment better-suited for productivity, clarity and trust.


Ferrazzi, Keith. “Candor, Criticism, Teamwork.” Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012. Accessed March 23, 2013.


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