Growth Occurs Out of Change

The hardest decisions we make are the ones that can lead to the greatest growth.

Our family enjoys our Tower Gardens. We buy very little produce at the store now because of what we get off the towers. Lettuces, tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs, strawberries, and eggplant among many others. It all grows in large quantities when we pay a little attention to them.

pruning helps your garden be more fruitfulMaintenance of the garden somehow became primarily my realm. One of the things I have to do is trim back plants, calledpruning“. The idea is that you can help a plant become more fruitful by cutting back dead leaves and branches as well as areas where branches are growing out too much. When the plant doesn’t have to spend a lot of energy trying to maintain dead or overgrown branches, it can focus instead on flowering and growing it’s fruit.

The Struggle to Change

I have a hard time with pruning back, especially when the plant seems to be doing so well. Like my eggplant. LIttle buds all over the place that can potentially turn into eggplant. While I KNOW that pruning back is necessary to foster growth and make the remaining fruit better, I also deal with the hesitation of making the wrong choice and ruining the whole dynamic of the plant. I am afraid if I make the wrong choice that somehow I will kill the plant.

Realistically, I know the only way I could really do that would be to hack the thing down to nothing. But the hesitation is there anyway. Yet hidden among all the overgrowth is sometimes a lot of fruit waiting to develop.

Where is Growth Hiding for You?

Comfort and stability are the enemies of increasing our team productivity and growth. As our team becomes more familiar and settles into a system or process; things become more habit or rote. We no longer remember the core of who we are or what we are; we simply keep doing it because it looks good and feels good. We may be bearing some fruit but not as much as we could be or should be.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#BoldlyLead” display_mode=”box”]Comfort and stability are the enemies of increasing our team productivity.[/tweetthis]

As a leader we should spend more time looking for the indicators that we have gotten too comfortable. When productivity starts to level off, new ideas are not coming forward as often, and statements like “that’s not the way we do it.” pop up, it’s time to look at how things can change.

Pruning for Growth

This is time to break out those pruning shears and start to work. And guess where you are going to start?

Take a look at how you might be causing or contributing to the current situation. Are you engaged in any practices that you have comfortably settled in to? Are you hesitant to elicit or support change for fear of disturbing the status quo? Have you moved away from the open door to suggestions and ideas?

Prune back those areas within yourself to more readily see where things can be improved. The more you can see, the easier the pruning becomes for the rest of the process.

Keep in mind that when we talk about pruning back, we are almost never talking about pruning back people but rather what the people do. In fact, it’s usually the opposite; instead of looking at who we can do without we look for how we can have them provide more. How can we can the most out of the strengths of our team members? What do we need to change for that to happen?

eggplant from our tower gardenHidden Fruit

If you want to know the outcome of the eggplant pruning, I forced myself to do a little bit of cutting back on the overgrowth. Not a lot, just a little. Hidden behind all that overgrowth was some very hearty eggplant fruit. Who knew?

Where do you see the need for pruning back for yourself? How about for your team or organization?

Share your thoughts here or you can email me at

When Producers Are Also Employee Engagement Problems

The Diva. The Prima Donna. The 800 pound gorilla. The Lead Dog.

These names we typically attribute to those who seem to have elevated themselves to a level above others, often both in their performance and in their attitude.

Everyone likes a high producer. The person who can belt out a tune better than anyone else, hit a baseball more consistently and farther than others, or the person who has sales numbers up through the roof. We love what they can do for us.

Sometimes, however, there is baggage that comes along with that in the form of personality quirks, bad attitude, and poor personal relations.

They produce but leave a trail of ill-will, resentment, and outright hostility. But it’s hard to get past what they do better than anyone else!

And there’s the dilemma for the leader.

The Clubhouse Cancer

In baseball (and other sports) they refer to that type of person as a “clubhouse cancer“. The mindset and attitude they display spreads quickly throughout the team and infiltrates every part of the organization. The term actually has no official definition but is used widely to describe a player who has a detrimental effect on teammates not through their actions on the field but rather off the field.

Usually, they are one of the best, if not the best, players on the team. They had a huge impact on the field. Yet they often had a bigger impact off the field.

Rebuilding for Engagement

CHICAGO/OCTOBER 2016 Chicago Cubs fans gather in front of Wrigley Field marquee for historic beginning to World Series 2016
Big Stock Photo

An example of this is as recent as the Chicago Cubs. One of the players on the Cubs team was Carlos Zambrano, a highly talented impact player. Zambrano had a huge impact as the Cubs ace and some excellent season of performance. Yet when Theo Epstein took over as General Manager for the Cubs in 2011 he declared that one of the first things he was going to do was get rid of Zambrano.  The starting pitcher’s on and off-field antics, especially in the clubhouse, were legend. To Epstein, they were the wrong start to building a winning team.

In baseball and in other sports, there are examples of other teams and managers who divested themselves of problem players; not because of their performance on the field but because of their negative influence in the locker room or in the community.

It’s All About Chemistry

What Epstein knew was that for the Cubs to break their drought and win a World Series – something they had not done since 1908 – all elements of the team had to perform well together. He knew there had to be a connection and trust among the players. They had to get along in order to work together well.

In sports it’s referred to as team chemistry. The right mix produces the right results consistently. The wrong mix produces problems, sometimes disastrous.

Or Culture If You Prefer

culture engagement concept isolated on black background
Big Stock Photo

In business it’s referred to today as Corporate Culture. What we know about it is that we create the right atmosphere by establishing expectations, treating employees well, and promoting cooperation then we get better, more consistent productivity results. People share resources and credit, there is less negative conflict, and employees are more likely to “go the extra mile” for the team.

The Diva, however, can throw a monkey wrench into all of that. While they produce big, they often do it at the expense of others. They place themselves first above the team and even above the organization. They alienate others, insist on extra accommodations, hog resources to themselves, and demand on being a priority over others.

When leaders support this behavior, either through explicit endorsement or simply inaction, they create resentment for management as well. Morale sinks lower, productivity of other contributors drops off, and the culture we tried to develop fades quickly back into the decaying mess we likely started with.

As many sports managers learned, sometimes you have to draw the line for the good of the team overall. Sometimes what the Diva produces isn’t worth everything else they produce as well.

This is where you can Boldly Lead. Boldness doesn’t require being confrontational, but necessitates the willingness to take actions that may have short-term loss for longer term gain. To create a culture of employee engagement, we don’t just add things that create a better environment but also remove things that can become barriers.

[tweetthis]To create a culture of engagement, know when to remove things that can become barriers.[/tweetthis]

Keeping the high-producing Diva may have good or even great short-term results, but the long-terms costs make it a poor investment for an organization. Ultimately, productivity will drop and turnover will increase.

You could try counseling the Diva, but there’s not a lot of track record of success with that. While they may (temporarily) curb some behaviors, they still have the mindset that created the problems to begin with. Separating them from the organization is ultimately the only solution here. You will probably be surprised at the sighs of relief you hear when it happens.

When Epstein removed Zambrano from the picture the Cubs didn’t win the World Series that year, but their wins did increase substantially and they made the playoffs the next year. Just four years after they broke a 108 year drought and won the World Series.

What’s keeping you from your big win?

How do you deal with the Diva in your organization? What has been the results? Share your thoughts here or email me at

Oversimplification Can Be Dangerous

I Can’t Believe They Tried This!

Reading an article in the Huffington Post recently, the author tried to simplify the definition of a popular buzzphrase used in the corporate world.  The term was “Employee Engagement”.  They said simply that it was the new way of saying “Internal Communications”.

Wrong!  Wrong!  Wrong!

Making it simple is not always helpful.  In this case, it could be fatal!

The article was titled The Growing Importance of Managers in Employee Engagement by Gail S. Thornton.  Now Gail is a communications professional, so I can understand her tendency to classify it as a communications issue.

illustration of a Boss talking with employees

Employee Engagement – More Than Communication

And to be sure, excellent communication is a critical part of fostering employee engagement.  But it’s not the only thing.  To focus just on that component of employee engagement is similar to just relying on your belt buckle to hold your pants up; without the belt it’s not going to be very effective at accomplishing the mission.

Communication is the promise ring of employee engagement, but caring is the diamond.  Leaders must communicate, but the communication rings hollow if they don’t truly care for people on their team.  I know lots of great communicators who don’t really care for the people in their organization; communication is just a tool for manipulation.

[snaptweet]Communication is the promise ring of employee engagement, but caring is the diamond. -Paul Simkins[/snaptweet]

When a leader cares and communicates with care, real meaning is brought to the communication.  The communication involves listening a lot more than talking.  It involves open pipelines where people are free to speak up and speak out.  When that happens, people feel they count and are counted on.  That’s when engagement is possible.

There are other factors as well; such as knowing when to empower and when not to, refusing to be a rescue boss, providing guidance, making expectations clear, and creating a safe place to fail.

[snaptweet]Saying that employee engagement is simple is to assume your employees are simple.  They’re not. And neither are you by the way. -Paul Simkins[/snaptweet]

Communication is an important factor of employee engagement, but don’t go thinking that it IS employee engagement.

What factors do you consider when you look to create an engaged workplace?  How do you decide what to communicate and when?

Double-Dose of Leadership

John C. MaxwellWe had the benefit at the 2014 L2:Learn-Lead simulcast to hear from John C. Maxwell twice.  He opened the proceedings, which I documented in the post Why Leaders are Learners – Part I, and then closed it with another talk.  This was an excellent close for many, who left raving about what they learned from this.  I did too!

Leaders are Learners By What They Ask Themselves

John emphasized that the first place he looks to ask questions is to ask questions of himself.  The questions we ask ourselves direct us — and sometimes re-direct us — to keep us focused on our vision and goals.  They help us determine if we are improving, if we are making an impact, and if we are truly leading.
Asking yourself questions on a regular basis helps keep the main thing the main thing.  It keeps us from majoring in the minors and getting lost in the details.  It helps us maintain a big picture view.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

1.  Am I investing in myself?
When we take time, energy, and money to invest in our own growth, we prepare ourselves to lead more effectively, to be a more productive contributor, and primarily to unlock more of the potential in others.
[snaptweet]It doesn’t get any better for my people until it gets better for me.[/snaptweet]
This requires DAILY, INTENTIONAL growth.  I call it being a 1%er.
[snaptweet]Focus on growing yourself by just 1% a day.[/snaptweet]  That seemingly small 1% compounds quickly and soon you find yourself doing great things before you realize it.
Three Investment Indicators
  1. MY SELF-IMAGE – How do I perceive myself?  Do I truly believe in myself?  Quickly gauge yourself on this on a scale of one to ten.  Where are you?
  2. MY DREAMS – Do I have BIG dreams of what I want to achieve?  Are they scary and yet exciting?  Quickly gauge yourself on this on a scale of one to ten.  Where are you?
  3. MY FRIENDS – The Law of Environment kicks in here.  Are the people around you encouraging and uplifting?  Do they challenge you?  Do they add value to you?  Are you able to encourage, uplift, challenge, and add value to them?  Quickly gauge yourself on this on a scale of one to ten.  Where are you?
We will only invest in ourselves if we can honestly rate ourselves high in these areas.
2.  Am I investing in the right people?
  1. Do they influence others?  Who do they influence?  How many do they influence?
  2. Do they have potential to grow?
  3. What is their attitude and competence level?
  4. Chemistry Factor – Do they fit into the formula?  Do I like them?  Do others like them?
  5. Passion Factor – Do they have a genuine passion for what they do?  Are they motivated?
  6. Character Factor – Do their character traits fit in with the character traits I desire for my team?  Are they grounded?  Trustworthy?
  7. Values Factor – Are their values compatible with the team or organization (or my) values?  Critical to have this for the right culture within your team or organization.
[snaptweet]Culture eats vision for lunch![/snaptweet]
  1. Team Work Factor – Are they able to fit in and perform well as part of the whole?  Or are they a lone wolf?
  2. Support Factor – Are they supportive of other team members and organization objectives?  Can they support and complete me?
  3. Creative Factor – Can I count on them to seek out creative solutions to challenges?  Can they find possibilities out of impossibilities?
  4. Options Factor – Can they give me options?
  5. Ten Percent Factor – Can they give me the last 10%?  All the fruit is in the last 10%.  Can they stay for the harvest?
3. Am I genuinely interested in people?
Leaders see more than others see and see before others see.  Do I really care for others?  If so, I can use my advantage to add value to others.  If not, I will only use it to add value to me.

Where did you find yourself on this?  What questions do you ask yourself regularly?  Do you set aside time to think?

Add your thoughts and comments below.

Rich Leaders and Learners

Tim SandersTim Sanders was the third speaker at the L2:Learn-Lead event on October 10, 2014.  Tim was the “Maverick CEO” of a company called NetMinds and is a former Yahoo executive and a noted author and speaker.
Tim’s emphasis was on People-Centric Tools for Leadership.  Here are some notes from his talk at L2.
  • Talking about purpose, he remembered a book he read titled Working the Room by Nick Morgan.  Nick said that the only reason for giving a speech was to change the world.
If you don’t want to change the world, then get off the stage. -Nick Morgan
  • Success is not a destination, it is a direction: FORWARD.

The Modern Leader Needs to be Able to Lead With

A Clear Mind

To Unclutter and Clear Your Mind

  1. Reduce your sources of information.  Own the first 45 minutes of your day and avoid email and social media.  Spend the time in devotion and reflecting on someone who helped you in the past and think of someone who will help you.
  2. Create a culture in the workplace that is upbeat and hopeful and action-oriented.  Remember that culture is a conversation about how we do things around here.
  3. A Clear Mind is an educated mind.  READ DAILY books and periodicals of significance that help you grow.
  4. Remember if you let your calendar get full you will be an ineffective leader.  You need time to think; to be curious.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it killed the competition. -Sam Walton

A Creative Tendency

  • Most issues in a company are design issues, not people issues and need creative solutions
  • He has found that highly successful salespeople have creative projects within their life.
    • Creativity = Problem Solving
  • Make NEW mistakes
  • Trust people
  • Policy is the scar tissue of an organization.
If you have to rely on policy, you need a corporate cultural change.

A Compassionate Way

  • You can only effectively lead those you love.
  • Treat everyone like family
Mentorship is a program of highly effective leaders, not HR
  • Learn to listen without power – give empathy
What I like about Tim Sanders is that I believe he “gets it”.  Tim has learned that motivating through fear, dismissal, and non-emotional focus just doesn’t work for any extended period of time.  Either people burn out or they become totally disengaged.
Work is personal.
You can’t spend 1/3 or more of your day in one place and not have it be personal.  As a result, the rest of our lives are influenced by what happens at work and what happens at work is influenced by what’s happening in the rest of our lives.
If you want to create sustainable productivity and empowering employee engagement, as a leader you must spend time learning about your people.  Their hopes, their dreams, their fears.  You don’t have to solve their problems, in fact if you do then you are doing them a disservice; but you do have to know where they are and what’s going through their minds.
That’s how a modern leader achieves success.

What do you think?  Is there a “fine line” between relational leading and task-orientation?  What would be your two-word theme for how you lead?