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Showing posts from 2023

Leadership Communication

The art of leadership is communicating with the right amount of urgency exactly what people need to do next. They may know already and tell you what needs to be done. They have no idea and need clear directions. They may be filled with clues or utterly clueless. The science of leadership becomes the art of leadership the moment you start to communicate. How are you with the art of leadership? -- doug smith

The First Step

The first step in communicating better is developing the ability to connect with respect. Respect for the person, for the space, for the time. Respect for the results you are communicating to achieve. Respect for the willingness to share a conversation in hopes of reaching shared meaning. Connect with respect. It's a great place to start. -- doug smith  

Practicing Respect

Wouldn't it be great if respect came naturally and we didn't even need to think about it? It doesn't. We carry around so many tensions, stresses, and levels of bias that sometimes respect comes very hard indeed. It might even feel impossible. Respect takes practice. It takes practice to demonstrate respect all of the time, and so it is always practice. Intentional, studied, demonstrated practice. I'm still practicing. How about you? -- doug smith  

Silence or Apology?

Can you remember the last time you said something that you regret? Did it result in embarrassment? Maybe even an apology? It's certainly happened to me. It's even possible to say something that no amount of regret or apology can erase -- or even diminish. In other words, the harm is permanent and severe. Oh, if there was only a way to avoid that... There is. It's simple, but not easy. Simply pause. Before saying that "wonderfully outrageous" thing or "brilliantly sarcastic" comment pause long enough to take a few breaths. Embrace silence. A moment of silence can prevent a lifetime of regret.  If you need to, you can always say that incendiary thing in the future. But, you probably won't need to, and you'll be glad that you let the moment pass. -- doug smith

Go Deeper

Being absolutely sure of something means I've only explored one side. Not only is our individual perspective imperfect, it is also incomplete. Go deeper -- that's where the treasure lives. -- doug smith 

Not That Funny?

Are you gifted with sarcasm? Many people are. What's the harm, right? A little jokey joke here and there, just kidding, no big deal... What if it is a big deal? What if people misinterpret your jokey joke as a raging insult. Do you think it's possible that within every sarcastic comment there is a kernel of truth? That kernel of truth, once exposed, could lead to a productive and deep discussion of major issues -- or it could lead to the deterioration of a relationship. I leave it to you to decide which you think is more likely. Whenever possible (and...I think that is always...) I like to embrace humor while eschewing sarcasm. Why be bitter or biting when there are so many other ways to laugh? Kindness costs nothing while sarcasm leaves scars. Let's stay kind. -- doug smith

New Hires

Every time someone new joins your team, the whole team changes. Dynamics shift. Relationships move. Routines get modified and values get passed on or passed over.  Even if you've delegated the task of welcoming and orienting new team members (by the way, congratulations on delegating!) as the team leader you still have the profound responsibility of helping that new team member succeed in the service of the team and in the development of their individual goals. Ignore that responsibility, and everything slips. Focus on the value of each and every team member, and everything strengthens. Remember that a new hire is just learning what it takes to prosper in your team. Why not make certain that they learn successfully? -- doug smith  

Keeping Score

You don't need to keep score, but remember: someone is. Someone is paying attention to the way you handle feedback. Someone is monitoring your voice tones when you talk with team members. Someone is watching to see how you react when you are challenged. People, and especially leaders, are constantly evaluated. Will you be a perfect 10? Will you be a mixed up combination of varying opinions? Will you consistently treat people with the kind of respect and attentiveness that makes scoring irrelevant? High performance leaders relax on the scoring and focus on centering. Your self, your team, and some part of the world - all more centered, focused, balanced, and alive. (Oh, and don't worry -- it takes a lifetime to get there...) -- doug smith

Taking Command

Do even facilitative, participative leaders need to take command sometimes? However reluctantly, the answer is yes. But, reluctance is not necessary (or helpful) under the circumstances that require a strong leader to take command. In a crisis, under the duress of a situation hindering collaboration, when there is no time to the right situation, the leader simply must take command. How? With respect. With dignity. With urgency. We do not rip away the authority and influence of the group and we do not lock ourselves into a pattern of command-and-control as philosophy in the future. Here's what we can do to make sure that our sudden command is accepted, respected, and achieved: Plant the seed - even in quiet times, even when things are going smoothly and the team can make group decisions, high performance leaders let the team know what types of incidences will cause for command. Rely on an ally - the best leaders are still not perfect. Build relationships with a few trust

Insulting the Leader

We live in wild, wide-open times. People feel confident and entitled to say whatever they want, whenever they want, about whoever they want. Freedom of speech is wonderful, isn't it? Don't we value candor and honesty? Of course. And, we also value respect, decency, dignity, and truthfulness. When as leaders we are insulted should it be cause for alarm? We don't need to take insults personally, but we do need to take them seriously.  How we respond will set the tone. The ways that we react will set an example for everyone on our team (and many people off of our team) for leadership behavior. Can we remain professional, respectful, truthful? Can we manage our emotions? If the insult is true, that is valuable feedback. If the insult is false, there's no reason to get upset. High performance leaders remain leaders even when that leadership is disparaged.  -- doug smith  

Be Careful With That Power

Do you ever let your power go to your head?  Here's a sure sign that the answer is yes: if under pressure you invoke your job title. "Well, I'm the boss and here's what you need to do." Yes, it is sometimes necessary to invoke authority, but it always comes with side-effects. One of those side-effects is the habit of relying on that authority. It's fast, but builds shallow relationships. It's expedient, but what about those times that you are wrong? It's faster to force your views and authority on someone but sure to create resistance. What is better? It's better to pause, talk it through, find the mutually shared value, and focus on collaboration, rather than agitation. You'll enjoy the good results much, much longer. -- doug smith

Meet In The Middle?

Should we meet in the middle? When we find ourselves locked in a disagreement that won't resolve, stuck inside a problem that we cannot solve, let's take a step back. If we keep pulling apart, where does that take us? If we step a bit closer to each other, where does that take us? When our differences are poles apart perhaps we need to explore common ground in the center. -- doug smith  

Yes, It Is...

Think for a moment about a time when you did your best work. Think about a time when you found a flow, when time did not matter, when things seemed in harmony and when you did your best work. Wasn't that great?  You are not done. You are just getting started. Your best work is still ahead of you. You might need to get some bad work out of the way first, but hang in there. Seriously. Your best work is still ahead of you. -- doug smith  

On Silence

Sometimes I talk too much. Have you ever said anything that you regret? If you're telling the truth, I'm going to guess "yes." Leaders do that sometimes. And, while we owe it to our teams to speak up and express ourselves clearly, there are times when silence is better. Silence is better when the words you are about to speak are better spoken by someone else. Silence is better when the opportunity is for the team to learn from their own words and actions. Silence is better when the words we are about to say are in anger. How can we know the difference? When do we need to speak up and when do we need to shut up? Try this: pause for three seconds and at least one deep breath (more if you can.) Your answer may appear in that silence. -- doug smith

Should We Honor The Past?

There is a lot about the past that should make us uncomfortable. As long as people have been around we have found ways to cause problems and land in conflict. As leaders, it is our job to navigate our teams and organizations to better places. We desire and deserve better expectations and superior results. In the process we must do what we can to fix the errors of the past. That does not mean we must burn it to the ground. That does not mean that we must disrespect all that came before. It is possible to honor the parts of the past we grew from, while growing in ways that make the present and the future much better. Honor the past. And, then move ahead. -- doug smith  

Set Goals for Each Day

How often do you set goals? While goals do come in all sizes, from task level to life-changing, I set a few goals each day. Honestly, most ARE task level: "follow-up with Kellie..." "Send syllabus to Holly..." "Invoice client XYZ by 3:30..."  but they are still goals. Finding the right number (fifty is too many!) and prioritizing the order is and essential part of planning and it all starts with setting goals. Write it all down, and defer what does not matter. Focus on what you care about now. Setting goals for each day keeps your days productive. Even if (especially if!) one of those goals is "take a walk and rest..." -- doug smith

On the Usefulness of Organization

What if I had said "hierarchy" instead of "organization?" Would you have a different reaction. Like many people, I have spent considerable time fighting hierarchy. It is often necessary to do away with the old because it just doesn't work anymore. It always feels like the structure is there to slow you down, to prevent you from acting as fast as it feels you need to act. Is that always true?  Although we rebel against hierarchy, without clear and structured organization we fall apart, bit by bit. Chaos doesn't need a catalyst to cause catastrophic results.  It may (often!) be better to pause. Breathe. Ponder. Test. Ask. While many a manager has stood in my way during ambitious projects -- guess what? The times that they were right to slow the project down in order to "get it right" and in order to weigh all of the side-effects made profound differences in the effort.  Move quickly, yes, but not so quickly that you break what you'd considered un

What if?

It is a recurring theme: something needs to be done, and yet isn't getting done. Or, there is an urgent problem to be solved, and no one is solving it. When the cause is important a leader will emerge.  What if that leader is you? -- doug smith  

Take Charge

When do you have to get off of the sidelines and take charge? When there is an urgent problem, and no one is willing to step up? When you care about the outcome, and the outlook is grim? When your instincts tell you to move forward? Yes, yes, and yes. Sometimes we have to lead because no one else will. -- doug smith

Basic Respect

How important is trust in a team? When I ask leaders this question the usual answer is "It's everything. Without trust the team falls apart." I'd agree. Your team members must trust you as the leader to act with their interests in mind as well as the interests of the organization and of your customers. And you as the leader must be able to trust team members to perform in ways that serve the mission, help your customers, and help each other. I'd also add that trust starts with respect. Where does respect start? This is not a chicken-or-egg question. The answer is clear: respect starts with the leader. When you respect your team members, they witness how important that is, how useful it feels, and how necessary it remains. Show respect, receive respect -- in that order. It does not work in reverse. -- doug smith

It Could Be You

Have you ever sat thru a meeting or event and wondered, "Who's in charge of this mess?" Do you encounter broken processes that get in the way of success and that interfere with customer or team member happiness? This can be a challenge, but it is also a choice:  If you look around and wonder "who is in charge of fixing this mess?" it could be you. It probably is you.  -- doug smith  

Yes, or No

It's that simple: yes, or no. I've heard many leaders bemoan the trouble it takes to get a lazy worker to work. If that's really the problem, the possibilities but be fewer (and more immediate) than you think. A poor performer can be redirected, re-skilled, and learn to improve. Some of the best performers on teams that I have worked with struggled at times, but turned it around because they applied themselves to the mission, to the vision, and to their goals. Heck, I've struggle as well and in some cases without the valuable feedback and coaching that was provided I probably would have crashed and burned. But someone who simply refuses to perform thru laziness simply must go. Yes, or no -- are they willing to work, or no? As someone in one of my workshops once said, "sometimes you have to help them prosper -- some place else." -- doug smith  

Where Does It Start?

Leaders encounter a lot of resistance. You can probably think of at least three examples in your own experience of dealing with people disagreeing with you. It probably made your job tougher. Conflict isn't always bad, but it is usually uncomfortable. Even handled well, it takes time.  What can we do to prevent the kind of resistance that wastes time?  We can disagree about details and still get along if we agree on our values. But if we disagree about our values then our details can't be trusted. To build momentum, agreement, and effectiveness, I think that it starts with shared values.  What do you think? -- doug smith

Recognizing Mistakes

How long does it take you to recognize when you've made a mistake? It varies. That time as a child when I put my little hand on a hot stove, I knew immediately that was a mistake. But that time that I lost weeks of work and sleep over a broken relationship, that took awhile to figure out. It's even possible to rationalize a mistake.  It's as if a thief says "I deserve this because I've had a hard life" or a counselor says to themselves "of course it's fine for me to love that client in that possibly inappropriate way because they do love me don't they?" That's dangerous territory for a leader. We might even need other people to let us know when we get close to the margins so we can pull back to safety. We might need hedges around our walls around our moats to keep us safe. And unless we recognize a mistake, we won't learn from it.  It's hard to correct mistakes, and harder still if we keep defending them. -- doug smith  

Bad Rules?

What should we do with bad rules? If you added up all of the rules you are subject to during your life they would likely fill a three-hundred page book (and that's NOT counting the Apple User Agreement...) If we distilled all of those rules down to the really necessary ones, you could fit them all on one page. But instead, we face volumes and volumes of rules written by other people who have only THEIR interests in mind, who do not consult us on our preferences, and who expect to enforce those rules as if they were the Ten Commandments. What do you think of that? The other day an organization that was interested in influencing me listed a set of rules so arcane, so arduous, and so mean that I couldn't even READ them all (without gagging) much less agree to them. Where does that arrogance come from? What makes people think that other people will adhere to such one-sided rules? Doesn't that make it harder to defend the rules that DO make sense? If we confront people with enou

Get Stuff Done

Leaders get stuff done through other people. We establish visions, follow our mission, and set goals. Goals are a way to remind ourself to get stuff done, but it's the work that you do that gets stuff done. Do the work. -- doug smith  

The Wisdom of the Past

Change, change, change. We break things apart. We tear down walls and build new ones. We erase boundaries and discover traps underneath. Change is hard enough, and so we make it fast. We accelerate. Go, go, go! Behind us, structures and visions and experiences so easily forgotten that they fail to lead us on. Do we dare forget? Would we be better served to honor what went before as we forge our way ahead? Remember, that the wisdom of the past may be filled with flaws, but there's also much relevant truth. Study what is true, because it matters to you. -- doug smith  

Will They Follow You?

What if you declared yourself a leader but nobody followed you? It's not automatic. Even when it is your job title, in the end people decide whether or not they will follow you. I've done my best whenever I'm in a leadership position to create an environment of shared leadership. I'd rather facilitate success than drag everyone there. Still, not everyone responds the way you'd expect. Ever have someone resist following you? Ever have someone act in an insubordinate way publicly? Even escalating the energy might not work if they refuse to follow. It is a fair question to ask someone if they will follow you.  They could say "no" and if they do, maybe one of you is in the right place -- or maybe you've just got some more influencing and sharing to do. But, they can't say "no" forever, can they?  Check the rest of the team. Are you, as a team, moving forward the way you planned? Are you achieving your goals? Are you leading, in whatever your

Saying it best by listening

Think about the best communicator you know. Not someone famous (unless you know them) but rather someone you interact with.  Have you noticed their communication skills get better over time? (If they didn't, you might have a different view on them...) No doubt they work on it and keep developing those communication skills. There's always something to learn. We are never finished developing our communication skills. I know I've got a lot of learning to do when it comes to communication. How about you?  Think again about that great communicator you know. Could it be the some of the times you felt they were the best at communicating that it had very little to do with what they said, but more with what they didn't say? Could it be that the way they listen says more than they could say any other way? Saying it best by listening is always welcome. I'm going to try to do that more often. How about you? -- doug smith

First, Respect

Is there something important that you need to say to someone you're not getting along with at the moment? Are you reporting a problem to people in your organization? Is that conversation difficult, controversial, or problematic? Say it with respect and kindness or keep it to yourself. -- doug smith 

Asking the Right Questions

"Questions are taken for granted rather than given a starring role in human drama. Yet all my teaching and consulting experience has taught me that what builds a relationship, what solves problems, what moves things forward is asking the right questions." -- Dr. Edgar H. Schein, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling Retrieved 29 April 2023 from:  

It's a Job!

Jobs are a balance of learning and repetition. We forge new ground and we walk on well-worn territory. The routine wears us down, even when it's necessary.  High performance leaders show the value of a well practiced, skillfully executed job routine. Discipline in work comes from the extra effort of pushing thru when the task is due. Maybe you did it before, maybe you'll do it again -- give it all you've got right now. Someone is watching. -- doug smith 

Finding Deeper Conversations

We talk at the surface level (when we do talk!) most of the time. The good stuff, the material and the feelings and the knowledge that can help us the most is deeper. Baring our souls. Opening our hearts. Exercising our minds. Why don't we do more of that? As leaders, we should be experts at facilitating deeper conversations. We should create the space for people to feel safe, open, and free to say what they think and feel. We may not agree with them, and given enough time to think and feel openly, they might not even feel that way, either. When we take the time to express, listen, and process, then can get to a deeper place surrounded by better results. Taking a conversation deeper may feel risky but that's where the gold is. Deeper! -- doug smith

Your Inner Peace

Do other people upset your inner peace? Do you ever find yourself getting emotional over something someone said, or did? Oh, have I ever done that! So many times! It's not inevitable though, and as leaders we do well to get our emotions under control. We do control our emotions. It may not feel that way, because emotions are extremely strong. We can tame them, we can control them, we can manage our emotions. In a world where emotionally intelligent leaders are needed more than ever, gaining that sense of inner peace is essential. Taking a deep breath. Reflecting on what we've learned. Meditating. Praying. Expressing gratitude. Building social equity by serving with kindness and compassion. The work is long and steady and -- strictly optional.  Will you take the option?  Develop your emotional core of strength, focus, and centeredness and it will serve you (and the people you serve) well. Your inner peace belongs to you.  -- doug smith  

Help that Returns

How much time do you spend solving problems? Leaders who I have talked with say they spend a lot of time solving problems. The ones who seem to actually SOLVE most of those problems say that many of those problems belong to someone else -- they are simply helping. We can't help everyone solve their problems but we can probably help a lot more people than we do. Helping someone else solve their problem can likely lead to you solving your own. How does that happen? We learn by solving problems. New techniques, new tools get grown and sown into our repertoire of material. We become more adept. Also, by helping other people, those same people become much likely to help you when you needed. And hey, it also feels nice. Give some help, and watch gleefully when it returns. -- doug smith  

Clarity and Creativity

Is it possible to be too creative? Possible or not, many people fear that. They back away from radical innovation because it's scary. How can you know? How can you keep your creative juices in proportion to the juice available? How much is too much? More often than not, too much is not the issue. By holding back, by stepping fearfully, we are much more likely to settle for far too little. That's not for you, is it? That's not for me! And, yet, I don't want to over-do it, either! Yikes, what are we to do to create and maintain enough balance so that we have the creative energy to test the unknown without jumping off a cliff? It takes clarity. Clarity around a vision. Clarity around solid values. Clarity around current priorities.  Clarity gives us the guardrails we need to know how much is too much. Touch on that clarity. Develop that clarity. Rely on that clarity and fear diminishes.  Creativity balanced with clarity bridges the possible and impossible.  There may not b

New Tools

Do you ever catch yourself relying on old tools? We've all got those tools that just seem to fit comfortably into situations that we feel the need to fix. Stock quotes, favorite lines, basic interventions, templates left from some long ago project... It's not that they won't work (sometimes they do!) or that we should abandon them forever. Instead, it's a matter of branching out, dancing faster, jumping into new waves of motion. Learn how to use new tools, give the old ones a rest, and see how much more useful your whole set of tools becomes.  I'll try that -- how about you? -- doug smith


Solving problems can be challenging, especially when we're not even sure of what we want. How can you know what the solution is supposed to look like when you only focus on the pain of the problem? Get past the pain. Get past the problem. Knowing what you want from a solution is the first step in getting it. Set a clear, honest, noble goal and the rest gets very much easier. -- doug smith

Your Truth Now...

Do you know anyone who has every bit of the absolute truth? Nothing can ever convince that type of person that they could be wrong. It could be because they know for sure that part of it IS true.  But do they really? I'm not saying that all truth is relative (although certainly SOME is...) But, unless we keep an open mind and stay curious, how will we ever know, how will we ever grow? Tell me the truth, just don't pretend you know all of it. -- doug smith  

Powerful Curiosity

If you've attended any of my events on communication or leadership, you know that I believe that curiosity is powerful. It is more powerful than many alternatives. Curiosity is more powerful than rhetoric, dogma, or unquestioned truth. Curiosity is more powerful than judgement, or data, or drama.  Stay curious, and see how powerful it is! -- doug smith  

Note to Self #201

Any time I'm tempted to judge I want to reach for love instead. It's better for others, and also better for me. -- doug smith

Creativity and Discipline

Creativity and discipline are not mutually exclusive, they are mutually dependent. To rely on both, develop both -- creativity to light the fire and discipline to keep it lit. --  doug smith  

Find Your Way

Have you ever had one of those days when you just couldn't find your mojo? You know what I mean? That flow, that creative spark, that mojo that lights you up and helps you find your way to the end of a project? I'm a huge fan of creativity because it helps me in times like that. Rather than worry if what I'm working on is the "best thing ever" or maybe just an incomplete mess, getting started just takes getting started. Get it going and then fix it in the mix. Maybe it comes from working in movies when the most common phrase is "back to one" meaning try again, that just didn't work -- or try again, maybe we can get it better. We can always get it better, but we've got to get it started first. Maybe it comes from being a musician and knowing that it takes tons of practice to get a piece right. I'd love for it to be perfect the first time around, but not only is it never perfect -- it takes many times around. Your flow may take a few times arou

Better Communication Solves Problems

Imagine how many problems we could solve by improving our ability to communicate. Interpersonal problems, organizational problems, team problems, political problems, maybe even scientific problems -- all would be better managed if we communicated more effectively. I'm working on getting better at that. How about you? -- doug smith

Secret Agenda

If you or your team, or anyone on your team has a secret agenda, how is that working for you? In team building, establishing trust is a long effort and easily broken. People are watching you, and others on the team, every step of the way. When we keep secret agendas and try to manipulate people into helping us fulfill those agendas, that trust cracks open. Who is that secret agenda hurting the most?  Some random team member? Some soft-spoken customer? A vendor who is struggling to make their own budget? A regulator? That secret agenda is hurting your team. High performance, centered leaders tell the truth. They set goals that are easy to understand. They honestly detail the vision, mission, and agenda of the team. Lacking that, the team is lacking. -- doug smith

Generate Possibilities

Is your team creative? When you need to solve a problem, does the team create lots of possibilities? Rather than lock in on what is already in motion, what if you found something completely new, completely different? Possibilities open us up. Curiosity gets us closer to what we haven't been able to see before. Answers to deep questions, solutions to problems, resolutions to long-standing conflict, innovative products and services -- all come from opening the door to possibilities.  Create more possibilities, create more success. -- doug smith

Rise on Strength

Nobody is perfect. Especially, leaders who are managing big problems and dealing with difficult situations. That's not an excuse, it's a reality. Insisting on perfection will lead to disappointment. Disqualifying based on imperfection disqualifies all. A bigger question is, "can we tolerate the level of imperfection?" Another better question is "have that leader's shortcomings clouded and neutralized (or even reversed) their strengths?" We must not let our shortcoming devour our strengths.  We're better off rising on our strengths. To do that, we must never let our shortcoming prevail. Rise on clarity, courage, creativity, and compassion.  Rise. -- doug smith

Think About That

Some people think that your mind can change anything and that you can completely determine the outcome of something based on how you think about it. I'm not sure that I'd go that far. How about you? That kind of thinking does not have to be absolute to be powerful, though. I can't think hard enough to make the earth revolve around the moon but that doesn't mean that my thoughts are powerless. If you can change your mind you can change anything. You'll see it differently, experience it differently, and in effect change it. Does that sound contradictory?  "I'll have to think about that..." "Yeah, me, too..." - doug smith  

Situational Ethics

Life is simpler when you follow a clearly prescribed set of ethics and base every decision on it. Or, at least how it feels at first. It's not so simple after all. We are frequently faced with ethical decisions that require either an iron-clad adherence to a principle that will result in an outcome we do not want, or exercising some flexibility in our choice which then risks throwing the entire value out. It is complicated. It requires learning. It requires sophistication not easily developed.  The trouble with unbreakable codes is that they will eventually break you. The trouble with situational ethics is that it might not regard your situation very highly at all. It takes work. It takes clarity, courage, creativity, and compassion in balance to know what is right. And, it takes the patience to realize that after that balance is measured carefully and applied we will still make mistakes. Love first, and step lightly around the rest. -- doug smith  


Some things, no matter what you call them, remain unchanged. Spinning the image or shining the stains won't work when the truth speaks louder than deception. Stealing in the name of game playing or competition is still stealing.  It's simple: do not steal. Not in the name of a cause. Not in the name of a religion. Not in the name of strategy. If you wouldn't want it taken from you, don't take it from anyone else. Do not steal. -- doug smith

Action and Learning

How do you know if that idea is brilliant or not? When faced with plenty of possibilities, how do you decide? Evaluate carefully, narrow the long list down, and then what? Some ideas lead to dead ends. Some notions lead to break-thru. Actions and learning decide.  Act relentlessly and learn constantly until you achieve your goal. -- doug smith