Keep Your People Informed

Keep Your People Informed

By nature, we humans continually seek to reduce the uncertainty and ambiguity around us. We’re all different to some degree, of course, but we generally like to know what to expect each day, and we like to have clarity about what’s going on. 

As a result, we’re information seekers. 

We look for cues in what people say and how they act. We try to figure out what’s important and what’s not important in part through the words and actions of others. 

And when we don’t have much information to go on—for example, when our direct supervisors don’t communicate with us on a regular basis—we tend to fill in the gaps. 

We guess. 

We assume.

We interpret—and sometimes contribute to—rumors among our peers. We do our best to reduce our own uncertainty and ambiguity. Sometimes that works. 

Sometimes it doesn’t. 

That’s why

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Know Your People and Look Out for Their Welfare

Know Your People and Look Out for Their Welfare

It’s often said but less frequently done: “No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care.” 

Being a technical expert can help you be an influential leader or manager—people like to follow people who know their stuff. 

But if you want to motivate people for the longer term, if you want people to follow you because they truly want to do so, you need to dig deeper. People need

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Know Yourself and Seek Self-Improvement

Know Yourself and Seek Self-Improvement

My first encounter with the U.S. Navy’s leadership framework came when I was barely 18 years old. I was young and eager to do well as a new midshipman in Villanova University’s Navy ROTC program. Like everyone else starting at college, I was also trying to adjust to the basics of education and life away from home. Unlike our fellow freshmen, however, we midshipmen were also beginning our introduction to military service. 

Part of that initial training involved memorizing numerous facts. 

Facts about ranks, facts about weapons, facts about history.

And facts about leadership. Quite a few useful models of leadership behaviors and traits exist across all of the U.S. military branches, but one that I’ve revisited lately is the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. They’re virtually the same as principles claimed by other services (such as the U.S. Army), but 

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Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things

Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things

“Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process. Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”

- Atul Gawande, Better, p. 246

Health care in rural India would shock most of us in the United States. As Dr. Atul Gawande describes in Better—his fascinating book about improving performance in health care—many hospitals in rural India are overcrowded and under-resourced. The demands upon their services continuously outstrip their resources. 

They continuously must do more with not just less, but in some cases with nothing at all. They must improvise. They must make use of what is available and do their best. 

Despite their circumstances,

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Long Live the Organizational Heretic!

Long Live the Organizational Heretic!

The pressure to conform is tremendous. It starts before we can walk.  

Be nice. 

Share. 

See what your brother is doing? He’s doing a good job. Be like him.

As Yusuf Islam, better known by his former stage name of Cat Stevens, once sang, “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen.”

And that’s just at home. We then, very quickly,

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Practical Tools to Change Your Organization’s Culture

Practical Tools to Change Your Organization’s Culture

Most executives with whom I interact get it—they know that the culture of their organization must be aligned with what it needs to accomplish in order to compete and win. They understand that without the underlying values, norms and routines that encourage productive behavior, their organizations will fail to execute their strategy. 

But then comes the simple-yet-tough question, how do you change your organization’s culture? For example, if you need to become more innovative yet your culture is overly risk averse, what do you do? 

It may sound counterintuitive, but

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Bad Team Conversations? You Might Be Why

Bad Team Conversations? You Might Be Why

Like many well-intentioned executives and managers I’ve met, it’s likely that you genuinely want to engage your team; you want them to feel like active participants in the decision-making process. You know that you don’t have all of the answers. 

And when a problem arises that needs to be solved, you gather your team together.  

“So, how are we going to solve this? I want to hear your ideas.” 

Silence. 

Then, someone cautiously speaks up, offering a suggestion. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s certainly not particularly creative or original. 

A few more team members chime in, providing slight variations on the first person’s ideas. But the ideas are hardly flowing freely. And they’re staring at the table, out the window or up where the wall meets the ceiling—anywhere but at you. 

You’re left wondering,

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Think You’re Fair? Your Employees Don’t Care

Think You’re Fair? Your Employees Don’t Care

Imagine the following scenario: You and your executive team work hard to craft a bonus plan for your employees. You truly want them to share in the rewards of the organization when you’ve had a good year. The bonus plan you roll out to employees involves a formula that you’re convinced fairly distributes bonuses to everyone. 

Immediately, the plan hits a wall of confusion and cries of unfairness from many of your employees. 

What happened? 

Here’s another scenario: After careful deliberation, you decide that your performance appraisal system needs to be revamped. You recraft the dimensions against which managers assess their people, and you create a new form to document these reviews on an annual basis. Naturally, you’re excited about how this will help clarify performance expectations and promote accountability. 

This plan also receives immediate resistance. People just aren’t buying into the whole idea of the program. 

Again, what happened? 

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Two Ways HR Can Rise Up

Two Ways HR Can Rise Up

I spend a fair amount of time around the human resources (HR) profession. Sometimes, that’s in the form of consulting and problem-solving alongside HR leaders; other times it’s through research or teaching graduate students. I’m also an HR officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and I maintain my HR certifications like thousands of other HR people. 

But I’m often critical of HR. That’s not at all because I think HR people aren’t doing good work; rather, I think every profession should be critical of itself in an attempt to improve continually and stay relevant. We should all be on the lookout for how we can get better at what we do and how we do it. 

In particular for HR, I see two areas in which HR could improve substantially.

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The Three Olympics That Matter

The Three Olympics That Matter

“What’s your favorite day of the week? Your favorite season of the year? Buffett—Jimmy or Warren?”

It was sometime in 2001, and I was cornered. 

In between each question, he smiled and listened attentively, with a twinkle of curiosity and amusement in his blue eyes. He was clearly enjoying himself. 

His energy and wit far exceeded that of most 83-year-olds. And, as one someone dating one of his granddaughters, I was fresh meat. 

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The Agile Crimson Tide

The Agile Crimson Tide

The Alabama Crimson Tide lost on Monday evening, giving the Clemson Tigers their first national college football championship in 35 years.

But within the world of American college football, it’s undeniable that the University of Alabama’s football program—under head coach Nick Saban—is a powerhouse.

So despite the fact that Crimson Tide fans everywhere are in a state of mourning this week, there’s an interesting lesson to be learned from how Alabama has adapted its approach to the game of football during the past five years. It’s a lesson in

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Are You Liked, Respected or Really Useful?

Are You Liked, Respected or Really Useful?

There’s a conversation that typically happens at some point in leadership training for military officers about whether it’s better to be liked or respected as a leader. That is, do you want your people to enjoy your presence and to feel some sort of emotional attachment to you? Or do you want them to hold you in high regard for your abilities and behavior? 

It’s a good conversation because it highlights a natural tension that exists when you’re in charge of people. On one hand, being liked is a source of power in and of itself. People don’t like working for jerks. On the other hand, being in a supervisory position often requires one to make hard decisions that may not sit well with some people, and if your goal is to make your people like you, it could affect your judgment and behavior negatively. 

There’s no right answer, although sometimes I’ve noticed (at least in my own life in how I understood things and acted as a young leader) that in the military the “liked” versus “respected” distinction is treated too frequently as a strict dichotomy. It’s either one or the other. 

In reality, though, I see this as an “and” proposition. It’s possible—even, dare I say, ideal—to be both. 

But the bigger problem is

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One Resolution to Rule Them All

One Resolution to Rule Them All

Change is hard. And even though you’re the one person over whose behavior you theoretically should have the most control, changing yourself is often exceedingly difficult. 

Nonetheless, many of us doggedly pursue self-betterment. We set goals, hoping that we’ll achieve them along with whatever benefits they bring. We fantasize about the possibility of becoming someone closer to our idealized version of ourselves. 

And during late December, many of us set resolutions for the next year. 

Yet time and time again, most of us find our resolutions quickly broken. If you need evidence of this, simply go to any fitness center for a few days in early January and take note of how many people are there. Then, go back in early February. The crowds will almost always be gone. 

There’s one resolution, though, that can rule them all. It’s one that I’ve found helpful when trying to change myself in a small way. 

That resolution is simply this: 

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Be Vigilant for Your Moment

Be Vigilant for Your Moment

Despite its sometimes harsh weather and a professional football team that continually disappoints its fans, Cleveland, Ohio, is home to one of the world’s best orchestras. 

And that’s not just my amateurish opinion. Gramophone magazine, for example, compiled a list of the 20 best orchestras in the world, based upon ratings from top music critics—whom, I would readily assume, know more about classical music than I. 

The Cleveland Orchestra, on this list, is number seven.  

It’s rated higher than the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and a number of other great orchestras in the United States and around the world. 

So the Cleveland Orchestra is, quite naturally, a point of pride for northeast Ohio. 

And during the holiday season, the Cleveland Orchestra turns its attention to performing a variety of holiday tunes in its annual Christmas Concert series. 

As I have in the past, I found this year’s performance to be splendid. But during the performance, I noticed something that got me thinking. 

It was

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Forget Goals. What’s Your Moonshot?

Forget Goals. What’s Your Moonshot?

In early 1997, I started the process of applying to the U.S. Naval Academy. I was a junior in high school, yet I was somehow undaunted by the steps involved in this application—one of which is obtaining an official nomination, which typically comes from your U.S. Representative or either of your state’s two U.S. Senators. I applied to all three of these elected officials for my nomination. 

That was the first time I paid serious attention to the name “John Glenn.” 

He was U.S. Senator John Glenn at the time, but he was also, of course, the first American to orbit the Earth, a feat which he accomplished in 1962. He did it again in 1998, at the age of 77. He was also a U.S. Marine Corps combat pilot and

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Siri, Drive the Kids to Soccer Practice

Siri, Drive the Kids to Soccer Practice

Touchscreen ordering at McDonald’s. Self-checkout at the grocery store. 

Programmable logic controllers that guide manufacturing processes. Industrial robots that weld, assemble and, even, inspect. 

And perhaps one that really sparks widespread imagination: driverless vehicles. We probably have some time before we can get a positive result from telling our iPhones, “Siri, drive the kids to soccer practice,” but

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Why Gratitude is Smart Business for Leaders

Why Gratitude is Smart Business for Leaders

One of the most prominent experiences I’ve had as an adult was the year I spent in Afghanistan, where I advised the Afghan National Police in 2013. 

And one of the biggest reasons why it was a prominent experience is that it gave me a fresh perspective and sense of how good my life was in America. Being around poverty and people who had live through various levels of armed conflict for the past three decades has a way of making your “problems” seem a little less consequential. It makes you grateful for what you have. 

But it doesn’t take a trip to Afghanistan to develop a sense of gratitude. In fact, I’ve come to realize how gratitude is a daily choice: You must

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Advanced Manufacturing and Two Ways to Reward Agility

Advanced Manufacturing and Two Ways to Reward Agility

Modern factory floors fascinate me. There’s something about the clang and whoosh of the myriad machines, the hum of an overhead crane gliding along its tracks, the intricate yellow lines demarcating where it’s safe to walk and the ambiguous chemical aroma punctuating the air with hints of solvents or grease or paint or maybe all of them mixed together.

There’s something about the delicate dance of interdependent and interconnected parts and processes that somehow—amazingly—produce that which we and the entire world outside the factory walls often takes for granted. 

When I’m in a factory, I still get the same sense of wonder and curiosity that I had when I was 8 or 9 years old, touring the Rohm and Haas plant in Louisville, Ky. And this week, I had the opportunity to visit one of Cleveland’s (and Ohio’s, for that matter) oldest and largest manufacturing firms: Lincoln Electric. 

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