Context Matters

I read this Blog Post recently, Competence is Context-Dependent, which provides a perspective on context related to hiring and recruiting that I very much agree with. The primary take-a-way was that it may not follow that the best person for a job in one organization is the best one for the same job in a different organization. It depends on the context (culture) of the organization. The individual will most certainly have to act and behave differently in one than in the other regardless of the job.

For those of you in the HR field, I’d really recommend this read. For me, however, it really triggered my thought process on the topic of context, which I’ve always felt very strongly about, especially in terms of communication and leadership.

I can still remember a few years ago, when there were some website design pundits preaching that content really didn’t matter anymore. Their advice was to just get yourself out there. I remember thinking then, if content isn’t important, why design one in the first place. If you have nothing of substantive value to say (context), why be out there at all?

I have this same perspective on leadership, as I’ve always felt that the context of anything was critical. If you don’t have the required level of discernment or understanding, then how can you know where anyone is coming from? How can you know what lens others see the world through and how it shapes their values or opinions? How can you lead effectively?

In my view, the context of any situation is a must know. Remember this one from yesteryear that is still completely relevant today? Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Most of you know this is Habit 5 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I still have the book and the audio training tapes (digital now of course 😊), to which I still refer to often as refreshers. The content is timeless and never out of context.

The data backs it up! Most people listen to someone with the intention of replying, and as soon as they have a reply in mind, stop listening and wait for a chance to jump in and respond, even if they have to interrupt. It really drives me nuts when someone does that or talks over me, and hiding my consternation is no easy task. No matter what remarkable new insights are uncovered in the subsequent words from the other person, I find myself immediately wanting to tune them out.

With context, on the other hand, so much more can be accomplished if we truly understand the backstory of the other person. We can become better at giving or receiving feedback, meeting new people, assessing the environment more accurately, knowing what the room is telling us; in short, becoming better communicators.

For anyone wanting to become better at discerning context, I’d have the following suggestions:

  1. Listen for what’s not being said. In my view, this is a core competency. Understanding non-verbal cues and body language is a great advantage.
  2. Remember that you don’t have to respond. In my previous life, where I attended a lot of corporate meetings (most of which, truth be told, were unproductive 😊) I made it a point not to say very much until the end. Why? Because most of the people who were doing most of the talking and responding were so busy running for office, that they completely missed primary points of context. I made it a habit to make note of points I thought were relevant and then to summarize in context that added some value.
  3. Ask thoughtful questions at timely intervals. One of the most important lessons I learned from my mentor, Sam Walton, was to ask Why? at least 5 times, because you probably weren’t going to get the real story until after that fifth question.
  4. Resist the urge to give a lot of advice or state a lot of opinions. You have to consider that you’re not the only one this person has talked with and refer back to the data I shared with you earlier about how most people respond. It takes someone with listening discipline to resist this urge.
  5. Be open to whatever the path the conversation takes. The most significant discovery I’ve made over years of communicating with people is that most really don’t want any feedback. They just want to be heard. Even if nothing comes of the interaction in terms of resolution, positive outcome, or otherwise, they at least need to leave feeling like they were heard.

In today’s environment, there’s one phrase I hear so often now, especially from politicians and elites, that I have to resist the urge to tune them out. The phrase is I was taken out of context. In the interest of trying to be objective, when I hear that, I always check the backstory. Unfortunately, I do find that 99% of the time, the individual was taken completely in context.

Truth Be Told, however, we still need to know the backstory.


Displacement an unconscious defense mechanism whereby the mind redirects affects from an object felt to be dangerous or unacceptable to an object felt to be safe or acceptable. ~Sigmund Freud

Unfortunately, that is not the primary meaning of the word today. It has come to mean something of great fear to the workforce in that someone’s getting ready to lose their job via position elimination, poor performance or otherwise.

The perspective on displacement that I want to share in this post is how this phenomenon is initiated and how it manifests itself in terms of leadership. It comes from my observations and experience having to do with Organizational Development and Vision-Focused Leadership, which I touch on quite often in my work on Personal Leadership Effectiveness™ and the 10 Core Character Competencies.

There are three fundamental shifts that always following three related events and I’ll use the term displacement to illustrate:

  1. When you displace inconsistent structure and an enabled culture with a culture of disciplined structure and accountability, the dysfunctions start rising to the surface immediately.
  2. When you displace a culture lacking non-productive or negative activities and people, with one that has shared values, mission and vision, watch how fast the negatives start disappearing. Why? Because the culture insists, they have to. How they begin to disappear is also via displacement of one kind or another.
  3. However, also watch how fast those negatives start manifesting themselves again if the positive culture I just described starts to collapse. (This is one of the reasons I talk about the importance of Balanced Leadership.)

A powerful shared vision will displace much of what people gossip and complain about in an organization via a toxic drama that seems to exist wherever you allow it. It is important to note that some drama will not go away completely. My view on drama is if it doesn’t create constant disruption and dysfunction, then you have to allow people to ‘talk.’ In fact, the really insightful leaders, who understand the psychology of leadership, can use drama to an advantage; however, that’s a topic for another day.

I came across Freud’s definition of displacement in Wikipedia when I was preparing to write this post. I’d actually never heard the term too much until it started showing up here in Northwest Arkansas as a result of all of the organizational restructuring and ensuing displacement of employees that began about 5-7 years ago. In fact, I hear it from many displaced employees that I interact with pretty much weekly.

As a side note, everyone (especially those in positions of leadership) need to understand that no one is exempt from this happening to them. They also need to understand that displacement isn’t an annual process anymore. It’s something that organizations (especially corporations) now integrate into their planning process, where it’s planned and happens on either a monthly or quarterly basis. It’s triggered by any number of things: organizational restructuring, changes in the business model, changes in leadership at the top bringing on board a different perspective and culture, changes in productivity or performance, etc.

I also wanted to share this perspective, not just in terms of Organizational Development, but also in terms of a displaced individual’s growth and development. My primary focus in working with these folks is to bring about a positive shift in mindset as quickly as possible. In short, let’s examine what happened and why, accept it for what it is regardless, and re-engage as quickly as possible.

The tendency to ‘hang on’ to the displacement itself is overwhelming. We all (whether we realize it or not) have a point of reference, because displacement isn’t mutually exclusive to losing a job. It can happen when someone you love is displaced from your life, when your best friend is displaced, when a value you’ve had your whole life is displaced with one that only creates conflict in your life, just to name a few.

The real challenge is to overcome that displacement and start moving the needle forward instead of in place or backward. It really all comes down to your mindset.

Truth Be Told, this is why Freud’s definition really resonates with me.

5 Mindsets I Think the Best Leaders Have

If you’ve followed any of my Posts, Podcasts or Video Casts, you’ve read and heard me refer to the importance of the mindset regarding individual choice or change. I meet with many leaders on a regular basis and I’m pretty adept at discerning where their mindset is in terms of why they think they’re at a certain place in their life and whether or not they know who they really are. When I visit with some of these leaders (and I do with many), I listen more than I talk because, if I’m going to help them, I have to understand what their mindset is. If I’m going to be able to re-direct their focus quickly, then I have to know where they’re at. I need to know the answer to two questions: Why are you here? and Do you know who you are? My Video Cast for Leaders posted this week was titled The Power of Encouragement. One of the things I talked about was the mindset of encouragement that starts with how the best leaders are able to encourage themselves in order to encourage others. In short, they choose to start their day with whatever really gets their spirit lifted and their mindset focused on seeing the very best of the day as it evolves. I’ll share here the links of two video clips that I generally start each day with; one with ultimate laughter that just moves me to tears, and one of faith that also moves me to tears. I always feel so uplifted that it bleeds over into the rest of the day. However, I interact with far too many individuals, who suffer from an affliction that is rampant across our society right now. It’s the tendency to play the victim or to blame someone else for what’s happening. We’re all seeing it daily, especially at the highest levels of leadership in this country. In fact, the US was identified in a recent survey as the angriest country on the planet. This is why I focus so quickly and so aggressively on the mindset. It directs the way we think, feel and act. It directs our Attitudes, our Beliefs and our Commitments. This is why (based upon my experience working with a multitude of leaders) I want to recommend 5 mindsets that I feel the best of those leaders have. (1) They understand you always have a choice. Truth Be Told, there are things in life you can control and things you can’t. No one has control over where they were born, their biological sex, how rich or poor their family is, what color their skin is, how tall they are, etc. That’s not to say these things don’t matter. They do and will obviously impact your life in many ways. I’ve written and spoken in the past about how having the name Maxie has impacted mine. So, while you may not be to blame for your situation, you are always responsible for it and for figuring out how to deal with it. No one else can unload the baggage you’re carrying, whatever it may be. This isn’t to say you have to do it all by yourself. You should get help if you need it, but for better or worse, at the end of the day, it’s on you to choose. (2) They Develop A Bias to Act. Most people make plans about the plans they’re planning on planning. The rest of us just show up and get to work. Personally, every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself. Most people approach work and motivation by waiting to be motivated, then they get to work. The problem, however, with motivation is that it’s very sporadic unless you have a bias to act. Some wait around forever expecting it to just fall out of the sky. Others spend all their time and energy looking for ways to motivate themselves so they can finally get to work. I remember when I wrote my first book. All of a sudden, I had people coming up to me daily wanting to introduce me to a friend or family member that had this great idea for a book. I didn’t talk to many at all that hadn’t had the idea for years and just hadn’t acted upon it. What surprised me was that most of those folks thought that the idea was the hard part. In my view, everyone has ideas, so to me, that’s the easy part. But very few people can act on the idea because they think it may be a bad one. So, what happens? The ideas stay ideas. In my view, sometimes, the best idea is to just do something. (3) They Let Go of the Need to Be Right. I interact with some leaders more often than I’d like that let their ego override their decision-making. They constantly analyze even the most basic assumptions about pretty much anything and everyone, constantly challenging others to prove them wrong just so they can be right. Anyone can survive pretty much anything as long as they don’t cling to the need to be right about everything. For myself, I just keep working on being a little less wrong about most things on a regular basis. (4) They Stop Wishing for Different & Start Making a Difference. I found out long ago that you can’t change your current state by spending all your time wishing things were either the same as before, better than now, or different going forward than in the past. The reality is that there will be no going forward as long as you’re in a state of denial about where you’re at, what got you there and what you had to do with it. In other words, if you’re not willing to own reality and start choosing to act, you can wish until the earth cools again and become another statistic in another survey about how many people in the US spend their time alone the majority of the time. That mindset won’t move the needle! (5) They Define Success Internally, Not Externally. This is why I’m so intentional about discovering where someone’s at relative to the question Who are you? I’ve written before about the Impostor Syndrome and how I struggled with it for the majority of my corporate career. I not only believed I didn’t belong or deserve to be where I was; I always worried I was going to be found out as a fraud. I just couldn’t believe that a hillbilly from a town of 300 people in Northeast Arkansas was an officer in the largest company on the planet. The result was I spent entirely too much time trying to please everyone instead of just being who I was. Whatever success I have now is measured entirely based upon a part of my purpose being to prevent as many current and aspiring leaders as possible not to struggle with what they’ve earned, especially because the leader they report to doesn’t encourage instead of taking advantage of them because of it. Truth Be Told, that really makes me angry!

Great Leadership Requires Great Balance!

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences. I’ve always felt that way, and unfortunately, I still have the opportunity to address that concept on a regular basis, especially with clients in environments, where the term work-life balance is thrown around indiscriminately in two ways: By short-sighted, die-hard executives at the top, who constantly tell subordinates Don’t expect any if you expect to get to the top. By HR practitioners, who toss the term around in their development workshops and seminars as a wonderful leadership objective, while offering no realistic solutions for achieving such a state. There are times, believe me, when I get really upset knowing these environments really haven’t changed that much. I’m asked often what I think is the most important objective with Leadership and I consistently respond with balance. Why? Because balanced leadership requires continuous, situational adjustments to maintain a balanced, healthy organization, not only professionally but personally. I use the term life balance often because we know that our work life does bleed over into our personal life and vice versa, with the latter being the case more often than not. Balance is stressed in every aspect of our lives, from learning to ride a bike to eating a balanced diet. I’ve personally realized this in my own life, as I’m more diligent now than I ever thought I would be about getting enough exercise (it happens to be biking on a regular basis) and not only what I eat, but how. It should be no different in leading an organization. This realization is why I’m so focused on measuring Leadership over 10 Core Character Competencies, with one of those being to Zero in on caring for people. We’ve all worked for or with someone, who had no life outside of their work. At the office by 6 am, never home before 6 pm, and along with making a choice to work those kinds of hours, not cognizant of the affect or influence that was having on everyone in the workplace environment and at home. I’ve been there, believe me, and I know whereof I speak. Balance is critical to good leadership and not only to have a healthy organization, but to have a sustainable and profitable one. With no push to get the job done, the organization fails. At the same time, if the culture is such that everything outside of work is sacrificed, the people will fail just as quickly. The short-term gains will eventually lead to failure and demise. The best leaders constantly strive for balance in everything and they understand the value of being rigidly flexible. The poorer leaders work just for the sake of work, regardless of the circumstances or the diversity of the challenge. The best leaders preach people first, mission always. The poorer leaders preach process and outcomes always, never understanding that people don’t sacrifice for process or outcomes; they sacrifice for mission! Those of you working in a more results-focused environment are probably under a leadership culture that is more autocratic or transactional (this for that) in nature. An inevitable outcome is that the balance you require personally will not be relinquished professionally. Truth Be Told, balance is the objective in all things. Leadership is no exception.

Leaders, Are Your Goals Overrated?

If someone asked me that question, my first response would be with a question. Are you asking about my personal or my professional goals? In this case, I’m asking about both because (whether one or the other) they both require the same common denominator. A convicted mindset! When I’m conducting Merit Profile Assessments with aspiring and even current leaders, I’m measuring their character and behavior over 10 core competencies that tell me three very important things: 1. The nature of their general overall attitude. 2. The nature of their general overall belief system. 3. The nature of their general overall commitment level. Knowing those three things helps me determine what kind of leadership style they have and what kind of leadership style they default to in times of anxiety, stress or crisis. It also tells me the one thing I’m really looking for, which is the nature of their overall mindset. So, why is the mindset so important? Because identifying goals is one thing; understanding the difference between goals and behaviors (especially if they’re the result of unhealthy habits directed by the mindset) is quite another! This is why I’m asking if your goals are overrated. If you don’t have healthy habits (behaviors) that reflect a convicted mindset, then your goals really don’t matter. The majority of them will never be achieved, either professionally or personally. Let’s take a simple example. You can have a goal of becoming wealthy, which a lot of people do, and you can set incremental financial goals, which a lot of people do. However, if you haven’t noticed, the majority of us aren’t wealthy. Why? Because the mindset is not the same. Those not wealthy see money as something to be spent, while the wealthy see it as something to be invested. Think about any book you’ve ever read about becoming rich (there are many and more being published every day) and you won’t find one that doesn’t zero in on investing. So, what does investing require? Creating the habit to invest rather than to spend, regardless of how much you start with. Warren Buffet himself said that Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. In my opinion (and my own earlier personal experience, by the way) people tend to rely too much on self-discipline and completely ignore forming useful habits, much less identifying unhealthy ones. They also tend to set goals that are far above their ability or knowledge level and then become frustrated when they make little to no progress. Interestingly enough, I find this most often with executive leaders, who rely more on positional authority to accomplish goals (which bleeds over into their personal lives), rather than creating healthy leadership habits that influence people to help them accomplish those goals. You’ll have to trust me because I’ve been there. People are also tempted to take shortcuts to achieve a goal that actually only sabotages them in the long run. The most common goal I can think of that’s approached exactly this way is losing weight. How many people have set this goal and then sabotaged themselves by not first identifying why they default to unhealthy habits and then identifying and creating new habits that not only help them in the short-term, but more importantly, in the long-term? The common denominator is the mindset, which is a fixed mental attitude that predetermines an individual’s response to certain situations. This is why I believe it’s better to invest your time and energy into building long-term habits rather than short-term goals. Goals are finite; habits are enduring because they occur daily on a continuum. Look, it’s not an easy proposition to create new habits. We’ve all heard that it takes 21 days to embed a new habit, which is a myth. Research actually indicates that it can take (depending upon the circumstances) 66 days. This is not only why finite goals are so appealing to most of us, it’s why investing in understanding our mindset and why we behave the way we do on the front end is so important. I haven’t really focused much on goals in general the last few years. I’ve invested much more time in changing my mindset from ‘wondering what’s next’ to ‘knowing what’s next’ because of habits that reinforce my three core values of simple, relevant and compelling. Because of those core values and new habits, I’ve become pretty good at saying ‘no’ to most things rather than ‘yes’. Truth Be Told, looking back, all those ‘yes’s’ sabotaged me much more than they helped.

Leaders, What Do You Really Care About?

The issue I’ve had for a long time with self-described, self-development experts is that they attach more significance to achieving success than to an individual’s definition of success, which to me is much more important. If you can’t determine how an individual see’s success through the lens with which they view the world, it’s really hard to set (much less achieve) the necessary goals or objectives, based upon the individual’s mindset. This is why I’ve really invested much of my time and energy in focusing on Leadership Development based upon assessing an individual’s character and behavior. If I can get at the core of what embodies an individual’s core values and determines their mindset, then I can also get at the core of habitual defaults that arise during times of not only stress and crisis, but comfort, as well. If you’re asking why I’d want to know what you default to during times when everything is comfortable or peachy, it’s during those times that we’re all susceptible to becoming complacent. I was taught a long time ago by my mentor (Sam Walton), that complacency is the enemy of achieving just about anything. In my view, you can’t talk about self-improvement without also talking about values. It’s not enough to simply grow and become a better person. You have to define what that better you is. You have to determine in which direction you want to grow. It’s even more important to do so for Leaders. Why? Because they have many followers under their influence that look to them every day for the way. What if that way is the wrong way? In short, it’s one thing to focus on being happy and feeling good, but if your values are misguided, then the feeling good part may hurt more than it helps. Every moment of every day, whether we realize it or not, we’re making decisions about how to spend our time, what to pay attention to, where to direct our energy, where to spend our money, or who we spend our time with. There are an infinite number of things we could be doing. Right now, I’m choosing to write this Blog Post and if you’re reading it, you’re choosing to do so. Maybe in a minute or less, someone will text you and you’ll stop reading because you just can’t stand not looking at and answering the text. When that happens, you’re making a simple, value-based decision that your phone is of more importance than reading this Post. Your behavior in that moment follows your value set. Our values are constantly reflected in the way we choose to behave. We all have a few things that we think and say we value, but we never back them up with our behaviors or actions. I can tell others all day that I value diversity and inclusion, but if my behaviors and actions don’t reflect that value, then I’m providing a false narrative that does nothing but erode my credibility, especially as a Leader. In fact, many of us state values we wish we had as a way to cover up values we actually do have. Instead of facing who we really are, we lose ourselves in who we think someone else wants us to be. If you want to know the clinical term for that, it’s called the Impostor Syndrome. I’ve noted before in one of my Podcasts that I was plagued by this feeling for most of my earlier career. Put another way, we lie to ourselves because we don’t like some of our own values, so therefore, we don’t like a part of ourselves. It’s this discrepancy between self-perception and reality that usually gets us into all sorts of trouble. I know it did for me as I was a people-pleaser to my own demise on more occasions than I could relate in this post. It took me a while to learn that there’s a time to please and then there’s a time to say enough is enough. Our values are extensions of ourselves. They are what define us. When we’re disconnected and in a state of values-conflict, then we cease to gain traction and most things we attempt just don’t seem to take hold. Leading others is difficult enough for even the best of Leaders if they haven’t identified their own personal set of core values. Truth Be Told, if you don’t stand for something of value that’s beyond just the material or beyond yourself, then you’ll stand for just about anything.

Truth Be Told, As Leader, Thy Name Is Hope!

One day, we’ll all pass. With very few exceptions (and I mean very few), beyond a small group of people in our families and for an extremely brief period of time, little of what we say or do will matter for very long afterwards. This is an uncomfortable truth of life. It’s why we spend so much time thinking about why we do what we do, about who we really are as individuals and as Leaders, and why we spend so much time imagining our own importance. We’re trying to make sense not only of what’s going on around us, but of what part we actually play in the grand scheme of things. In short, we’re continually looking for hope. We care deeply about our families, our communities, our faith, our society, and our way of life. Why? Because we need to feel that sense of importance in order to keep giving ourselves hope. The reason there are so many more followers than Leaders is because all the followers are not only looking for someone to lead them, they’re looking for someone to give them hope. Leaders, do you understand that one of your primary obligations (note I didn’t say responsibilities) is to provide hope. When you really start digesting that thought and marinating upon it for any length of time, it would give most of us serious pause to consider if this ‘Leadership thing’ is really for us. Hope is why most of us believe we’re here for a reason. Hope is why many of us believe nothing is a coincidence. Hope is why most of us believe that everyone matters because our character and behavior affect everyone under our influence. Hope is why most of us believe that if we can lift just one person up, then everything else is worth it. Hope is why it’s still worth waking up in the morning and working very hard to stay ahead of the tsunami of negative that tries to drown us at every turn. A Leader’s mental psyche needs hope to survive the way an engine needs fuel. Without that fuel, our whole mental apparatus stalls out. If we don’t believe there’s any hope that the future will be better than the present and that our life will improve in some way, then we die mentally, emotionally, physically and finally, spiritually. Seriously, if there’s no hope of things ever being better, why do anything? I don’t believe the opposite of happiness is sadness or anger. I believe it’s hopelessness. I didn’t have that perspective until I spent the last seven years working everyday with people devoid of hope. I came to realize that as long as people can still be sad or get angry, they at least still cared about something. It’s when they lose hope, that they have nothing to really care about and literally approach ground zero in life. I learned that hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness and depression. It’s also the source of misery and addiction in the form of the fear of a failed or meaningless future. When you start thinking of these crises as those of hopelessness, then you start to understand that they’re all desperate attempts to generate hope. In most cases, generating that hope becomes the mind’s primary objective. Truth be told, I’ve learned more about real Leadership in the last seven years (both personally and professionally), than in the entirety of a 27-year career in the corporate marketplace. As Leader, I’ve learned that most of what we construct around us is for the purpose of providing and maintaining hope; not just for others, but for ourselves. When I gained that understanding, it became clear that I had a greater obligation (note I didn’t say responsibility) beyond my job description, and even now in my effort to develop Leaders of tomorrow. I had to provide narratives that implied a better future was possible and that achieving it was absolutely possible. I also gained and understanding that when others spent too much time talking about finding their life’s purpose, it really meant that what mattered and what was worthy of any investment of effort wasn’t really clear to them. I learned that one of my obligations as Leader was to provide that clarity. We all see the world through a different lens. Some through a racial lens. Some through an environmental lens. Some through a political lens. Some through a societal lens. Some through a religious lens. Some through a patriotic lens. Even some through a ‘I don’t give a rip about anybody else lens.’ As a result, we all have different narratives. As Leader, understand two things: (1) Seeing the world through only one lens limits your ability to provide the Leadership required by any group of any number with a multitude of lens. (2) Seeing the world through only one lens limits your ability to provide a simple, relevant and compelling narrative that will give them all the same feeling of hope. Truth Be Told, as Leader, Thy Name is Hope!

As Leader, When Is Enough Enough?

I think I’ve noted before that, by nature, I’m generally an optimist, always looking for the way forward, especially during crisis. We’re all products of our experiences, our upbringing, signature events in our lives, etc., that shape our attitudes, our beliefs and our commitments. I’m no different in that respect. I take the same optimistic approach not only with events, but with people, as well…….to a point. Whether personally or professionally, we’ve all had that one person that we interact with day after day, week after week, month after month; even year after year in some cases. We care about them, we worry for them, but every time we walk away after the interaction, we think to ourselves, Why won’t they change? Maybe it’s a family member, or someone we work with, or someone we’ve been trying to help for a long time. Maybe they’re just negative by nature. Maybe they don’t believe in themselves. Maybe they have a victim mindset that couldn’t possible entertain the thought Maybe it’s me! Yet, every time we see them, we try to encourage, instill confidence, compliment, or tell them how much potential they have. We offer unsolicited tips, recommendations; even a book or two that might influence their mindset, while all the time silently saying to ourselves Why won’t they change? Maybe we even feel it’s hopeless, but we keep clinging to the hope that they’ll somehow change. That there’s some special piece of information that we can give them that would change everything. Maybe we keep buying them books they’ll never read. Maybe we keep sending them to counseling or seminar sessions we know they don’t want to go to and that we know they won’t listen to. Maybe we keep leaving voicemails or emails that we hope will somehow get through, yet never do; all the while thinking Why won’t they change? So, when is enough enough? I believed for a long time that every person under my leadership (both personally and professionally), was worth saving regardless. I’ve even invested (to an unhealthy degree at times) in self-examination and reflection to ensure I was adapting as much as I could without sacrificing my core values; while also ensuring I was providing as much opportunity as I could for that person to be as successful as possible. What I’ve learned, especially over the last few years, is that not only is that naive and unrealistic, it’s much more costly to me as leader, and to others under my influence to keep saying Why won’t they change? There’s a very fine line between grace and accountability. That line of demarcation (if you will) is called enablement. As leader, if you spend too much time enabling, you do so at your peril and the peril of everyone else in the environment. So, when is enough enough? Enough is enough when drama and dysfunction are the only things continually coming out of a black hole that you keep pouring everything positive into. Truth Be Told, that’s when it’s time to ‘free their future up’ and yours, as well.

No One’s Exempt!

Every day, someone gets caught cheating, lying, violating a trust or otherwise violating our culture in order to get an advantage or just simply to win.

Instead of holding the offender accountable because it’s a cultural imperative, supporters now rush to their defense because the violation assisted them in getting an advantage, as well. Worse, the leader allows the offender to go unpunished for fear of backlash.

Even worse, we’re seeing more leaders than followers become the violators and therefore, less subject to being held accountable. Clearly, nothing works in any initiative if even one person, follower or leader, violates with abandon and is allowed to do so. Disciplining the violator is in the best interest of everyone. More importantly, the need to hold accountability should be greater for the leaders we follow.

Being a leader doesn’t give one a license to violate the culture. Leaders are subject to the cultural imperative of accountability, as well. The bravest thing followers can do is to hold their leaders to the higher standard the leader committed to in the first place, which is much easier said than done. Why? Because part of the leader/follower dynamic is that our leaders are very often an expression of ourselves.

Truth Be Told, this is precisely why no one should be exempt!

Bureaucracy: A Choice!

If you ever find yourself saying something close to, “I can’t do anything about it because my hands are tied”, you may unwittingly be a part of the productivity-killing machine called “Bureaucracy”.

When you’re unable to accomplish a thing, or perhaps stop a thing from occurring, because the decision is “out of my control”, you may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Bureaucracy creates layers between the decision-makers and those who are affected by their decisions. An unintended consequence of work-place bureaucracy is that it sometimes creates pockets of minions, who see it as their primary role to simply carry out whatever comes down from high above.

When bureaucracy gets thick enough it stifles innovation, creativity, and a person’s willingness to push back; even when they strongly disagree with a particular decision or course of action. Perhaps worst of all, it creates an atmosphere where it’s easy for leaders to not look people in the eye and tell them the truth about their performance. After all, why put yourself in the uncomfortable position of having an honest and perhaps difficult conversation with an employee, when it’s much easier to just let the next re-organization take care of it?

Most would agree that there is very little positive that comes out of a house laden with administration, regulation, and process. If you do allow yourself to become a part of the bureaucratic machine, remember this:

When our history is written and we’re judged by those who were affected negatively by our tacit participation in the process, they may not accept our excuse of, “It was out of my hands”. Instead, they may just remember us for remaining silent and for not standing up for them when we had the chance.

They might also remember us as a person who didn’t have the confidence to look them in the eye and tell them the truth, while we were still in a position to do something about it.

Bureaucracy has likely existed since shortly after the first group of people decided to try to accomplish something together. Whether or not we choose to participate in it is up to each one of us individually.

Truth Be Told, in most circles, they call that….choice!