5 Leadership Strategies You Should STOP … Now!

At the beginning of every leadership development seminar or workshop, I always ask the participants to share with me their greatest challenge. This helps me to customize the content and deliver information that is relevant.

While a few people mention specific skills they want to develop (i.e., give better feedback, conduct performance reviews, improve coaching, etc), most managers come to the workshop wanting to know how to fix the negative behaviors of their team. They are looking for strategies to make their team more motivated, to take more ownership, be more accountable, to change bad attitudes … just to name a few.

The following are 5 “old school” strategies that often generate the biggest problems for leaders and their teams.

  1. STOP focusing on their weaknesses! It is impossible to nurture a high-performing team when the leader points out everyone’s flaws and weaknesses. We all have them. A more effective strategy is to build a team that complements one another’s strengths and fills in their areas of weakness. Consider giving your team the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment so you can clearly understand the unique strengths and contributions of each member of your team and then ask them for their ideas on how they could better leverage their strengths within their day-to-day work. You might actually be surprised by their ideas to drive organizational performance!
  2. STOP trying to command and control them! This management style creates a team culture where they quickly learn to only do exactly what they are told. Nothing more; nothing less. Instead of giving them strict guidelines to follow, take time to define success for the project or assignment, set clear expectations (including a deadline), and then offer your support along the way. Once you’ve defined what matters, they can bring their best experiences, talents, and ideas to complete the project and … you have set the groundwork for accountability. When you give your team a chance to bring their best work, everyone wins!
  3. STOP giving them negative feedback! The purpose of giving feedback is improved performance. However, there is no way you can undo negative performance that occurred in the past. What you can do, however, is focus on the positive behaviors or outcomes you want them to continue, as well as the behaviors or outcomes you want them to change … in the future. Focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want. A slight shift in how you deliver the feedback can make all the difference in the world. So try giving feedback that is specific, future-oriented, and has a positive, encouraging “tone.” It will result in a team that feels confident and motivated to do more.
  4. STOP being so critical! As a “Maximizer,” my personality is wired to spot opportunities of untapped potential. Earlier in my career, someone would come in my office proud of their 98% success story and I quickly zeroed in on the 2% opportunity where we could have done better. While that is strength of mine, I did not use it effectively and it resulted in a team that felt their efforts were never good enough. Once I understood the negative implications of my behavior, I made a commitment to them, and myself, to always take time to acknowledge, value, and celebrate individual and team wins. This small change (in my behavior) quickly resulted in a team that was happier, confident and more engaged.
  5. STOP ignoring the rotten apples! We must stop rotten apples simply because dealing with it makes us uncomfortable. A rotten apple is a deadbeat, downer, or just simply a “jerk” (to say it nicely). Unfortunately, they have the capacity to bring down performance 30-40%. If you have a rotten apple on your team you must “fix them or toss them,” but do not ignore them! To address a rotten apple, simply have a direct conversation about the need for performance improvement. Make sure their performance expectations have been clearly established and communicated. Ensure the goals are realistic and have a timeline associated with them, along with consequences if the person fails to meet those expectations. Check with HR if necessary and Document, Document, Document!

As the leader, the one your team looks to for direction, the way you act and interact makes a difference. Instead of dwelling on “their behavior” as the problem, I propose you examine what you are doing and think about using different strategies that could influence a more positive, mutually-beneficial outcome.

What It Takes to Become a Crucial Leader


Today’s economy demands a new kind of leader. A courageous leader who pokes the box, challenges the status quo, or breaks the rules, even in the midst of an increasingly complex business climate. Anyone can follow a map, but remarkable leaders seize opportunities by designing the map!

Innovation. It is not just a business strategy for the creative team or senior management. Innovation is the responsibility of everyone! From the c-suite to the front line, leaders must abandon the old philosophy “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and look for ways to create new methods, ideas, products or services to keep their competitive advantage.

In a recent IBM study of 1,500 CEOs, over 60% cited creativity as the most crucial leadership quality needed over the next five years. However, another study reports a mere 26% of employees are often or regularly encouraged by their manager to look for new solutions or to take risks. More than a third (41% in the US) said they are never encouraged to do so. The irony … creativity is crucial in a thriving organization but very few leaders actually allow or encourage their employees to be creative.

It’s easy, quite comfortable, and safe to say “no” all the time. Pushing the boundaries of creativity challenges us to take risks; to sometimes slow down to discover something new and different. But the payoff for a team (or organization) that allows space for innovation to occur is too great to put off any longer!

A culture of innovation:

  • encourages employees to bring their best ideas and solutions to a major problem
  • results in employees being energized by work that is meaningful when engaged in a shared mission
  • leads to new and re-engineered products and services resulting in leaner processes, happier customers, decreased costs, and greater ROI
  • creates competitive advantage
  • becomes “the strategy” that will determine an organization’s ability to survive in a highly competitive business climate

As with any leadership skill, creativity is developed through practice. Here are three strategies to drive innovation within your team.

  1. Inspire a mindset of curiosity. Rather than saying “No, because …” engage your team with “Yes, if …” conversations. Explore and challenge the current ways of doing business. Don’t accept “this is the way we’ve always done it.”
  2. Tie innovation to the organization’s goals. Bob Champagne, Director of Corporate Development at Starbucks says, “We identify areas that are most important to us through strategic planning. Then we put up guard rails and let people play in these spaces.” So how do you do this? Continue to reinforce your mission, goals, and priorities while also giving your team freedom to pursue creative ideas. This helps the team understand which opportunities are worth pursuing and will move the business forward.
  3. Plan for creative thinking. Google is a company known for its culture of innovation. Various reports indicate their employees spend 60% of their time on the job, 30% being helpful to others, and 10% “thinking.” This approach sends a very clear message that innovation is not only expected and valued, but is part of everyone’s responsibility.

If you’re feeling a little stressed to go out and “innovate,” don’t be. Is it possible you have opportunities directly in front of you? Often times it is not the biggest idea that has the greatest impact, but rather the accumulation of small ideas and improvements that, over time, creates a significant competitive advantage.

If you are interested receiving a copy of the 5 Easy Steps to Innovation activity that you can use with your team, simply send me an EMAIL and request a copy today!


Why Leadership Should Not Be Like A Box of Chocolates

My husband and I were blessed to take a vacation out west a few months ago. We absolutely love spending time in Arizona. We love renting a 4-wheel drive Jeep and going off road to explore the mountains and the desert. It is simply amazing how the landscape changes from the tall ponderosa pine trees scaling the mountain sides in Flagstaff to the ominous mountains of brown rock covered in cactus in Phoenix, to the more flat terrain covered with blowing tumbleweed in Tucson.

This year we decided to spend a couple days in Sedona. Our condo had a perfect view of one of Sedona’s signature red-rock mountains. When I walked out that afternoon onto our balcony, I was captured by one of the most breathtaking displays of God’s creation I had ever seen.

As I sat there trying to take in all the beauty of the red rock mountains, I realized that no matter the people or businesses that might come and go in that city … no matter the weather patterns that might come and go in that city — those magnificent red rock mountains would still be there. No matter what might be going on in the lives of the people who called Sedona their home, the one thing they could always count on to be a consistent part of their landscape would be the red rock mountains. Life might bring about change, but the mountains would remain consistent. And with that consistency, comes a sense of assurance and security.

Even in the midst of daily challenge and change, which is becoming the new norm in business, a strong leader can evoke assurance and security when they lead with … consistency. In other words, they are consistent in the way they approach work. They are consistent in the way they interact with others. They are consistent in the way they handle challenges.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about a leader who is rigid, hard-nosed, or unwilling to adapt. I’m talking about a leader who cares as much about the “how” as they do the “what” … or the “why” … or the “who.”

Consistency, as boring as it sounds, is far more valuable, impactful, and influential than rare moments of greatness. Consistency is a fundamental leadership principle and (over time) will:

  • motivate those around you
  • demonstrate your commitment and dedication to others
  • show respect and acceptance for others
  • improve emotional efficiency within the team
  • develop a professional reputation that is respected within your network
  • influence your team culture and foster an environment of accountability
  • model the behavior you want to inspire in those around you
  • create opportunities to advance your career

My plan in writing this blog was to highlight a few leadership skills, when implemented consistently, would increase the leader’s effectiveness. What I found, however, was that it really isn’t as much about a “skill” as it is about being consistent.

If your leadership style is like a box of chocolates (you never know what is inside), your team will never know what to expect. But just like the red rock mountains of Sedona, consistency by itself, is powerful. Consistency is a great teacher.

Building Your Leadership Strength

  • When you think about leading with consistency, what specific skills or behaviors do you model successfully?
  • Is there a particular skill you need to improve?
  • Is there a specific behavior you need to change?
  • What can you do today to become a more consistent leader?
  • If you successfully make these changes, what is the payoff for you?
  • What is the payoff for your team?

The Civility Challenge – Engaging in Strong & Respectful Conversations

In my last blog post I asked the question “Is there a need for civility in social media?” Since my post I have become more aware of the lack of simple human courtesy … and its not just in social media. Once I started looking I saw it everywhere. Whether you are at a restaurant, business meeting, or a family reunion, it is inevitable that someone will complain, criticize or express a political opinion and, inevitably, someone loses their cool and you know the rest of the story.

The dictionary defines civility as “formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” While it is a struggle at times to see this demonstrated, I hope the acts of politeness and courtesy are not a thing of the past.

With today’s push for fast food, 24/7 news, instant messaging delivered straight to your smart device, and every news and online media source asking for an uninformed, uneducated opinion to a current event, is it possible we are becoming a society who is impatient and completely self-centered and self-absorbed?

Aside from the human decency perspective or the social responsibility of extending kindness and understanding to others, when we treat others with a lack of civility, we (or me being the person who is uncivil) ultimately lose. My behavior reinforces a professional brand that is perceived by others as a positive or negative brand. And because I want to be seen as someone who is polite, professional, and polished, I am highly aware of the need to extend respect and courtesy to others, even when it is a stretch to do so.

The intent of the Social Media Civility Challenge is personal. It is simply a set of guidelines to help me express my beliefs, engage in a dialogue in a way that is effective and respectful to others, and protects my professional brand, which is extremely important to me. It is about practicing civility and promoting respect! It is about being a strong leader!

The Civility Challenge

  1. I will not use social media (nor any other venue) to insult, demean, or attack others.
  2. I will exercise self-regulation; I have full control over my thoughts, my attitudes, my behaviors, and my posts.
  3. I will error on the side of caution knowing once my words are read they can never been taken back.
  4. I will be okay if I don’t post everything that goes through my mind.
  5. I will think twice and write once to ensure I communicate the right message and have no regrets over something I posted.
  6. I will treat people with unqualified respect, even when we don’t agree on an issue. They have a right to their opinion.
  7. I will honor and respect others’ differences and not mistreat them simply because we think differently on a single issue.
  8. I will focus on common ground as that will help to strengthen the relationship rather than magnify our differences and create a greater divide.
  9. I will focus on doing what is right versus trying to be right.
  10. I will agree to disagree … and still be kind.

Hopefully this blog post has sparked an idea or helped to resolve some questions or frustrations you’ve observed or experienced in your own interactions with others. Maybe the topic of this post has increased your awareness of the need to extend a little grace to others. Perhaps you realize if you want others to behave with more civility, that change must first begin in you.

I recently read a quote that said, “What this generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.” Will you join me in practicing civility and promoting respect for the sake of future generations? Will you join me on this journey to become a strong leader?

Personal coaching to improve civility in your sphere of influence …

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being extremely low and 10 being extremely high), how civil and respectful are the interpersonal relationships within your group (work or personal)?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being extremely low and 10 being extremely high), how would you like it to be? (Hopefully the score for question #2 is higher than the score for question #1.)
  3. Since you only have control over your own behavior or actions, list two to three things you could do differently today to promote more respectful behavior in your workplace.
  4. If you take action to become more respectful and civil in the workplace, what is the payoff for you?
  5. If you take action to become more respectful and civil in the workplace, what is the payoff for your team?

Is There a Need for Civility in Social Media?

Over the past few months I have found myself discouraged and frustrated by the barrage of social media attacks against people who hold differing opinions. Whether it is religious or political differences (these seem to be the most common right now), there seems to be no shortage of people who are ready to criticize, condemn, and even verbally attack those with opposing views.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a defender of our first amendment right to free speech. I’m not opposed to someone expressing their view, even if they are passionate about their view and it is different from my own. What I am opposed to is their lack of civility.

During a recent informal poll, I asked the question “do you think people are mean on the internet?” The overwhelming response was “YES.” Here are the top three reasons (direct and indirect) people are perceived mean on the internet.

  1. People feel less inhibited to speak their mind because they are staring at a computer screen and not into the eyes of another individual. Therefore, it is easier for people to post what they really think.
  2. As with any written communication there’s a higher chance of miscommunication because the reader doesn’t have the benefit of non-verbal communication, which can completely change the tone of the message.
  3. We tend to take more time crafting an email that will go out to five people than our brief, top-of-mind posts that go out to hundreds of people.

I must admit that it concerns me as I see people becoming more and more intolerant with others. I find social media posts that include hateful name-calling, vulgar language, and insulting and demeaning content offensive. While social media gives us a glimpse into the conversations being held in living rooms of families across America, some things are just better left there – not spewed in a public venue, but kept in the privacy of their own homes.

Am I the only one that feels this way?

I have always prided myself in treating others with the utmost respect, despite the fact we may have varying opinions or beliefs. I don’t feel the need to belittle them or make them feel less of a person because they don’t believe the way I do. After all, I don’t believe you can demand, bully, or punish people into agreeing with you.

Maybe it was how I was raised. After all, my parents would ask me “If Susie decided to ‘x’ (you can fill in the blank), would you do it too?” Of course not! That question helped me understand that Susie and I didn’t always think alike … and that was okay.

Maybe it was because of the religious influences in my life. I must confess. I had a drug problem when I was child. My parents drug me to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday night, and Saturday night, whether I wanted to or not. It was there that my values of hope, faith, happiness, passion, family, God, and my love for humanity (regardless of race, status, religion, or political party) was rooted and developed.

Since the lack of social media civility has been a sore spot for me recently, I began tossing around the idea of a Social Media Civility Challenge. While I could create my own set of guidelines to post by, I thought it would be exciting if the Social Media Civility Challenge became a collaborative effort.

Will you help me write it? This could be fun!

To contribute to the Social Media Civility Challenge, in 12 words or less what specific commitment(s) or declaration(s) would help someone express their beliefs, while also engaging in a dialogue that is effective and respectful to others?

Simply submit your contributions by posting your comments below, post your comments on the StrengthsBuilders Facebook page or LinkedIn post, or by emailing me at ValeriePlis @ StrengthsBuilders.com.

I really hope you will join me in creating the first Social Media Civility Challenge. Your contributions will be noted in my next blog post!

Stay tuned for the finished product!

How to Make Difficult Decisions Easier

Recently I was faced with the challenge of making a difficult decision. I was torn between continuing to volunteer in a leadership role that I thoroughly enjoyed and where I was successful or to pursue a newly created role that had greater potential to impact more people. While this might sound like a fairly easy decision for others to make, I was extremely passionate about what I was doing but was also feeling the tug to do more.

There is nothing easy about making a difficult decision (SMILE). In addition to evaluating the facts, you must also address the emotional side of making a tough decision. Now the decision goes from being hard to being complex.

Learning how to balance the emotions with the facts is very important when dealing with a difficult decision. The fear of the unknown often causes me to avoid making the decision, while the pressure to make the “right” decision results in a lot of stress and anxiety. What will others think of my decision? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I thought it would or should? Then what?

I have been faced with a lot of difficult decisions to make in both my personal and professional life. Here are a few strategies that have helped me over the years make difficult decisions easier.

Explore the potential outcomes and consequences. Sometimes when you are so close to a situation it is helpful to consider different views. You can explore all options by asking the following four questions followed by “and what else?”

  • What will happen if I do “x”
  • What won’t happen if I do “x”
  • What will happen if I don’t do “x”
  • What won’t happen if I don’t do “x”

Journal your thoughts (hopes, fears, concerns). Focusing too much on feelings during the decision-making process can be misleading and often leaves you confused. Journaling those feelings, however, has proven to be a good problem-solving tool because it brings clarity and helps you gain valuable insight and self-knowledge. This process is especially helpful on days when you have a clear mind and can document the pros and cons of the decision without any emotional bias. These journal notes will help during those times you start to second guess your decision.

Examine your motives. What is the driving motivation for this decision? What is the “right thing” to do? Are you motivated by a personal agenda or by what is in the best interest of the team or organization?

Explore external resources. In an effort to avoid analysis paralysis (especially if this is a potential weakness for you), clarify the definition of “responsible research” in advance. Would it be helpful to talk with someone who has experience? How many people should you speak with? What types of resources should you review? What is a reasonable length of time to spend on research?

Get a clear vision of how you would like things to be. If you could wave a magic wand and instantly achieve the ideal outcome or solution, what would it look like? Are there other options you can consider? Rather than one major decision is there a series of smaller actions you can take to achieve a better result? When making decisions or taking action, it is also important to keep in mind what you can only influence versus what you can control.

Envision the “worst case scenario” and identify steps can you take to be more proactive and prepared. This step alone can minimize the anxiety around making the decision.

Extend open and honest communication. When communicating the decision to others, be mindful of your verbal and non-verbal communication. Be prepared to discuss the challenge and the options that were considered. Review the final decision and emphasize the desired results. Remember, adults are wired to think “what’s in it for me.” Take time to talk about the personal benefits to them and then get them involved (if possible) in creating the plan.

Regardless of who you are and what you do for a living, making difficult decisions is something we all face. It’s not always something we want to do, but often times its something we must do.

By the way – I decided to move forward in the new role because I saw it as the best way to help our whole organization grow and prosper – even the group I was “leaving behind.” I structured a gradual transition plan for the new leaders and have stayed involved enough to help smooth any issues. It is too early in my new role to report on the progress … but I have decided that it will be my best decision ever!


Transforming Lives Through Courageous Leadership

On the heels of the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I’ve been thinking a lot about the acts of courage that occurred that day. From the heroes in the theater who gave their lives to protect someone else … or the people who didn’t flee but stayed to help a stranger who was wounded … to the police officers who voluntarily ran into the violent chaos to try and capture the shooter and save lives, these were all acts of courage. They willingly put the best interests of others in front of their own.


What is Courage?

The VIA Character Institute defines Courage as the capacity to take action to aid others in spite of significant risks or dangers. Courage allows people to avoid shrinking from the threats, challenges, or pain associated with attempting to do good works. Brave acts are undertaken voluntarily with full knowledge of the potential adversity involved. Brave individuals place the highest importance on higher purpose and morality, no matter what the consequences might be.

Rosa Parks exhibited an amazing act of courage when she refused to obey the orders of a Montgomery, AL bus driver who directed her to move to the back of the bus. Even when faced with the fear of being arrested and even the possibility of being beaten, she did not back down. This single act of courage became the tipping point for extraordinary change!

What does this have to do with corporate America? A lot.

I am reminded of Enron, the largest corporate bankruptcy in history where thousands of innocent people lost jobs and their life savings. Bernie Madoff and his international investment scheme took money in excess of $50 billion from the rich and famous, universities and nonprofits, and even his own family members who trusted him with their life savings. Most recently, I think of the Penn State child abuse scandal and how leaders misused their position and either through the sin of commission or omission devastated the lives of many young boys.

What does it mean to be a courageous leader?

While there are many qualities that contribute to being a courageous leader, the following are a few I believe to be highly important.

Leads with integrity. Anyone can talk the talk, but only a strong leader can walk the walk with integrity. In an age where corporations institute policies, procedures, and boards to regulate ethical conduct within their day-to-day business, there are few things needed more than a leader who will do what they say and say what they do. A double standard in the workplace has a negative impact on productivity, efficiency, and relationships. To lead with integrity you must follow up and follow through on commitments you make to others. It is important to develop a reputation for being dependable and reliable in the small details as in the big projects.

Takes a stand. I had a boss once whose moral principle was “we may not always do things right, but we should always do the right thing.” Leaders are faced with many decisions throughout their day. Leadership takes courage and often requires making bold and unpopular decisions. Even in the midst of opposition courageous leaders are clear on what is non-negotiable. There may be some decisions that are more “profitable,” more “advantageous,” more “expected” or “acceptable,” but a courageous leader is not influenced by the easy way out. They are willing to take a stand for the right thing

Takes innovative action. Over the past three years, the economy has demanded a new kind of leader. Even in the midst of an increasingly complex business climate, companies need leaders who are not afraid to poke the box or challenge the status quo. Leaders must abandon the old philosophy “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and look for ways to create new methods, ideas, products or services to help their organization keep their competitive advantage. Anyone can follow a map, but courageous leaders seize opportunities by going out and designing the map!

I believe America needs courageous leaders. The result? The simple act of doing the right thing would have a major impact on the way we do business and interact with others. Could it possibly be the tipping point for extraordinary change in America?

Strong Leaders Ask Powerful Questions

Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working for bosses who had different leadership styles. Most of them had a direct, hands-on approach, which simply means they told me what to do and I did it. Even though I worked in an office environment, the culture was more like a factory. I knew exactly how things were supposed to work, what I was supposed to do, and if there was a problem I knew who to go to for the answer. And once I understood the written (and unwritten) responsibilities and rules of my job, there was absolutely NO THINKING and NO ENGAGEMENT required. Just put the square peg in the square hole.

On the other hand, I was also blessed to have a boss who had the opposite management style. He took a more non-directive approach. He did more listening than talking. He would ask instead of tell. While he provided guidance and direction, he asked me to think about solutions and recommendations. He was coaching when coaching wasn’t popular. As a result, not only was I engaged, I was invested. I didn’t just invest my head … I invested my heart!

Coaching leaders are powerful and inspiring. They drive critical thinking within the team by asking questions – not giving answers. They get their team invested by asking questions that challenge them to think about their situation, possible solutions, and successful outcomes in a different light. They ask questions to get the team’s input. They ask questions to ensure the team understands the goal. Plain and simple. They use the art of questioning to get their team invested in their work.

The following 5 tips will help you become a coaching leader.

  1. Focus on questions that solicit input. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, writes a “reasonable individual does not need to get their way in order to support a decision, but only needs to know that their opinions have been heard and considered.” Asking for input implies you value and respect their thoughts. Sample questions include:
  • What are three viable solutions?
  • What is your personal recommendation?
  • What do we need to do to prevent this from happening again?
  • What does success look like to you?
  • What support do you need from me?
  1. Focus on questions that are action-oriented. Drilling down into the details of what happened yesterday is generally not as productive as focusing on what needs to happen in the future. Examples of forward-moving questions include:
  • What steps are necessary to move this forward?
  • What do you need in order to ensure success?
  • What is one thing you can do immediately that would make a difference?
  1. Use the other person’s preferred language. People process information by hearing, seeing, thinking, or feeling. The challenge is most people ask questions based on their own personal processing language, rather than the language of the other individual. So listen for clues and then adapt your questions. Examples include:
  • Auditory – Which solution sounds like the best option to you?
  • Visual – Which solution looks like the best option to you?
  • Thinking – Which solution do you think is the best option?
  • Feeling – Which solution do you feel is the best option?
  1. Ask for a commitment. We are having a conversation about a specific problem or opportunity … now what? Good ideas and strategic plans are great but without a commitment to action, they are of little value. Here are some sample questions to move the individual from thinking to actually doing.
  • What part of this plan will be your responsibility?
  • What do you commit to doing first?
  • When do you commit to getting this done?
  • What can I do to support you toward these goals?
  1. Ask your question and then wait. Don’t be afraid of silence. Remember, if you are speaking … they are not thinking. If they are speaking … they are not thinking. Give them permission and the opportunity to think.

Asking … not telling … may feel awkward at first. But I challenge you to try it. Just do it! Strong leaders are intentional in asking questions. Even if they already have the solution or know the answer, they are committed to the growth and development of their team. I challenge you to start today!

Strengths Coaching for you …

  1. What is your commitment to become a coaching leader?
  2. What is the payoff(s) for you as the leader?
  3. What are some specific changes you need to make to support your commitment to becoming a coaching leader?
  4. What are potential barriers that would interfere with your success as a coaching leader?
  5. What do you commit to doing first?

Bad Excuses Good Leaders Use to do “Nothing”

My husband and I went this past weekend to watch the latest Julia Roberts’ movie Mirror Mirror. In this story Julia Roberts played the role of an evil queen who was out to steal the throne from her stepdaughter. When the evil queen looked into the mirror and recited the famous line “mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” she saw an idealized version of herself. In her eyes she was the epitome of perfection and excellence. It was the king … the stepdaughter … the prince … and those bandits who were the imperfect ones and the nagging source of her problems.

This story line reminded me of a lot of managers I have known and worked with over the years. They were quick to pass blame and took little (if any) ownership to the dysfunction of their team.

A couple days ago at a training event, a manager at my table was complaining about her team and how they drained her mental energy and kept her from doing her work. I asked her what could she do differently to influence a more positive outcome? Her response … “Nothing.”

Here are a few common excuses I’ve heard managers (and non-managers) use to rationalize doing “Nothing.”

    1. I’m too busy
    2. I’ve done everything I can
    3. I’ve tried it before
    4. It won’t work
  1. It’s not my job
  2. It’s their problem
  3. If only I … (fill in the blank)
  4. If only they … (fill in the blank)
  5. My hands are tied
  6. It won’t ever change

While we are all guilty of using some of these excuses at various times, I want to challenge you with this powerful quote …

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character. (Or your professional brand!)
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Now it’s your turn …

  1. Identify a situation in which you have convinced yourself there is nothing you can do.
  2. Describe how you would like this situation to be better. Be specific.
  3. What is the big payoff for you if the situation improves?
  4. What do you need to believe in order to take action today?
  5. What is one thing you can do today to influence a more positive outcome?


The Animal School – A Fable

The following story was written by George Reavis, Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools, back in the 1940s! This story is humorous but has a clear message. I thought you might enjoy. This content is in the public domain.

The Animal School – A Fable

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

Now it’s your turn …

  1. What are you “doing” that leaves you feeling drained, weak, and disengaged?
  2. What is it about that activity that creates the greatest struggle? Be specific!
  3. Is there another way … another approach … that feels more “natural?”
  4. How can you leverage one of your strengths today to tackle an immediate challenge?
  5. If you can overcome this challenge in a way that is more”natural,” what is the BIG PAYOFF for you?