Skip to main content


Showing posts from February, 2023

Beyond The Individual

"Why don't people want to work today?" It's a question I've heard many times. The frustration is real -- it feels harder than ever to find people with a solid work ethic who are willing to do the work it takes to get stuff done. They are there -- but it can be frustrating when we're confronted with people who won't do the job they are paid to do. I like to tell people that I've never had a job that I didn't hate at first but then eventually grow to love. Every single job is tough when we're first learning how to do it. Motivation, behind the monetary reward, is often hard to see. But the rewards are plentiful once you find them. The rewards of working with great people. The joy of finishing what you started. The warmth you get from carefully and completely serving a customer. People who don't seem motivated simply have yet to find the joy in work. Instead of getting frustrated, what if we showed them how much joy the work is already providi


Have you ever had a great thought that somehow escaped you and never found any traction? It's common for me to think I have a great idea (thinking about the thinking!) and then just letting is fade away like some mist on a foggy day. Where's the motion? Where's the action? Philosophy has to move from the head to the hands to do any good. Do you have commitments? Great! What are you doing about them? -- doug smith  

What About Your Stress?

Have you ever had a leader who felt the need to let you know how stressed they were? "There's all this pressure on financials..." or "it's not easy being in charge..." or "I need you to consider my needs, too..." and so on. Leadership comes with stress. Leaders need to rise above the safe levels of just letting things roll around you. Stepping up comes at a cost of uncertainty. What if that's not a bad thing, but rather a stimulating thing? Your stress ins not your team's problem. They've got stressors and problems of their own. They'll do their best until they learn a better way to do it. They've got time to improve. What they don't have is time to fix your stress. You know who IS in charge of your stress? Of course you do. That's you. -- doug smith


Dear Leaders everywhere: Results matter! Of course. We all know that. Let's remember this, please: People matter more. -- doug smith  

By The Hour

If you've ever been on both sides of the fence, you know the differences all too well. Having been blessed with a long and interesting work life I have spent some of that career as an employee and much of it as a contractor.  When I first started, contracting was less common and the distinctions were clear. Employees were expected to be loyal to the company and contractors had their own agenda: they served their current assignment without any expectation of extended loyalty. Contracting, or gig-working, has become so common that many people within a company will assume that they can expect the same behaviors from a contractor that they would from an employee. Some do everything they can to lock in a gig worker without actually providing any of the benefits of being committed that they have to hire lawyers to ward off lawsuits and organizing. That does not create an engaged workforce. Expecting loyalty from a temporary worker is the silliest of assumptions. You know they aren't

Flattened Out?

For most of my career, one organization after another has gone to extremes to "flatten out" the organization. Layer after layer of leadership was stripped away. In theory, this speeded up the decision process. This was meant to take some of the old bureaucracy out of procedures and streamline processes.  Middle manager after middle manager found their careers ended. Years of organizational memory dissolved. Barriers came down, but so did opportunities. What once presented ample opportunities for advancement for many slowly became rare perches for a precious, carefully selected few. Did we go too far?  Is it possible that we have an impression that people care less about career development because there is LESS career development to be had? Should we re-layer our organizations? People are looking for opportunities to rise -- where will they find them? -- doug smith  

What You Need

What do you need in order to lead? Does it take a title? Authority? Election or selection to be chosen the leader? While all of that helps, it's not what you need most. You don't need permission to lead, but you do need strength of character demonstrated with courage, clarity, creativity, and compassion. Start with a foundation of those core strengths, and the rest will be easier.   -- doug smith

Sensitivity and Toughness

The art of leadership includes knowing when to be sensitive and when to be tough. It could even be a combination of sensitive (caring about the feelings of others) AND tough (standing your ground.) High performance leaders balance sensitivity and toughness to make sure they don't break themselves or anyone else.  -- doug smith  

Inside the Lines

You've heard it so many times you could be tired of the expression: color outside the lines. I'm all for creativity, but let's face it, boundaries are also important. Sometimes a leader needs to make those boundaries clear and certain and keep things within those boundaries. The art of developing leadership includes some lines we need to color inside.  Knowing what those lines are is part of our job, especially when they change. It can feel like a paradox, but high performance leaders must balance clarity and creativity.  -- doug smith

Behavior is contagious

Have you ever noticed that behavior is contagious? If someone is yelling at you, it's easy to start yelling back. Conversely, if someone smiles at you, it's likely that you'll smile in return. Behavior is contagious. Character thought takes more work and more development. Building the type of character strengths that you want helps you decide what behaviors you'll show. If pettiness is not part of your character, you're less likely to act in a petty manner, no matter how misbehaved someone is around you. You never need to make someone else's character flaws your own. Just build your strengths, remember that no one around you will ever be perfect, and manage your emotions.  How do you manage your emotions? What do you do to keep contagious negative behaviors from infecting you?  -- doug smith

Growing Feathers

How does your culture handle insults? How about you? When I worked at GE we had an expression for handling insults: "grow feathers." When I first asked what does that mean, it was explained "handle insults like water off a duck's behind. If you're too sensitive, grow more feathers..." I did struggle with that at first. Someone people will come right at you with an insult. How we take that thought is completely up to us. We really can grow more feathers. The advantage is, if people see that they can't upset you, they may stop trying so hard to upset you, and start actually communicating. No matter what they say at first... It's only an insult if you take it personally. And, since it probably has much more to do with how they feel about themselves and what's going on in their own lives, it's better not to take it personally at all.  -- doug smith

Solving Team Problems

Sometimes team come together and sometimes they don't. When as a leader you can build a collaborative, cohesive, cooperative team you'll find your job is not only much easier but also more fun. One great way to bring a team together is to encourage them to solve problems. Introduce a creative problem solving process so that they work together, see the impact of their efforts, and consider the impact of their chosen solutions on others. Solving problems is a great way to engage your team. It takes conversation, understanding, creativity, clarity, courage, and even compassion to work together solving tough problems. Give them the guidance that they need, introduce a useful time tested and field tested process, and then watch the work begin.  -- doug smith

Professional Courtesy

It's possible for a leader to speak very directly and still be courteous.  Speaking with respect, with dignity, and with consideration for others takes some of us more effort. It is well worth that effort. We don't have to be thrilled with someone's performance to maintain professional courtesy. Showing kindness does not mean giving in. The power of courtesy is felt immediately and lasts a long time. People will remember how you treated them, even if they forget why you treated them that way. Disagreements can dissolve into forgotten details even as the feelings linger forever.  If you catch yourself being short with someone and delivering a pointed response consider pausing long enough to stay curious. What makes you tense? What are they really saying? What's going on? You might still decide on a direct spoken point of view -- sometimes that serves you well -- but you also might decide if it's worth demonstrating respect more than your status. It likely makes you e

Results vs. People

Which matters more to you, results or people?  It's better when it's not an either/or choice, but sometimes leaders are faced with making decisions based on the results they are looking for compared to the effects of the decision on people.  If it is at all possible to consider both results and people a leader still much prioritize. What matters most? Results do matter. What do your customers expect? How can you create products or services that deliver the kind of results that optimize your organizations resources? What will create the best possible present AND future? All the while also treating the people within your organization with respect, dignity, and fair opportunity.  Before we decide whether it's an either/or situation, let's consider this: unless we start with people, and unless we prioritize people, our results are at best temporary. If you prioritize results over people, it's only a matter of time before you become one of those people de-priorized over

Creative Work

What makes something creative?  Is it distinctive? Are new ideas involved? Could it be considered disruptive? Does it bring joy, inexplicable joy, to you without knowing why? Some people might think of creativity as magic -- it explodes from inspiration like a spell you can never tell is on the way. It shines, it radiates, it presents itself beyond anyone's control. Or does it? Creativity certainly does pal around with inspiration, but it is much more than that. Creativity requires practice, skill development, work. It's not something like being left-handed that you are simply born with and enjoy. Unless you consider everyone is born creative and we either develop it or not. Creativity has so much mystique, and so much appeal, that people love to claim it. I'm in favor of claiming your creativity, but it does take more than that. If you see a company or initiative and it has "creative" in the title, do you automatically assume that it is creative? I'm not so s

Character Matters

Have you ever had a boss who cares more about results than character? The kind of boss who doesn't mind a short-cut ethically if it gets the job done? It's easy to give in to that kind of boss, because they are powerfully insistent. Easy, but not necessary to surrender but your character does matter. Honesty, integrity, ethical behavior -- traits that may not be rewarded but are clearly observed. Any time you cut a corner someone feels the edge. Your team cares about your character even if your boss doesn't.  Strength of character matters and, long term, will serve you well.  -- doug smith

Help, not rescue...

Even the best leader can't rescue everyone. Sometimes people have to rescue themselves. That will likely make them stronger, too. -- doug smith  

Leadership Style

What's your leadership style? Do you utilize certain strengths to get things done? Do you work best with lots of other people? Do you facilitate processes rather than push people? Do you listen more than speak? Do you drive hard for results no matter how many feelings it hurts? What's your style and what's your blend? Leadership style is more like a kitchen than a cage: mix the ingredients skillfully in order to produce the best results. Play with the recipe, taste for progress along the way, and adjust as needed. You aren't perfect yet, but that's no reason to stop practicing. -- doug smith

Speaking with courage...

To speak with courage you might need to defend the right to dignity for yourself and for everyone. Everyone? Really? Yes, everyone. -- doug smith

Team Dynamics

  Teams are tricky. Just when you think you've got your team figured out, configured properly, fully set and ready to go, it changes on you.  Every time someone enters or leaves your team, you've got a different team. That's what makes recruiting, hiring, orienting, training, and development so important. If you don't develop your team the way you'd like them to develop, they'll change in ways that you might not care for. Team dynamics require us to build a team as a group, and also as a one-team-member-at-a-time proposition.  It's a project just juggling all of the pieces. It's a big responsibility and as a team leader there is no ducking that responsibility. I've tried -- you can't do it. Teams need their team leader's attention every single day. One on one conversations. Highly productive meetings. Occasional fun (and frequent sense of humor). Coaching to motivate when someone gets stuck. Prodding to get productive when someone gets lazy.