A Forbes Coaches Council Post.

The soundtrack from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” is inspirational and is a reminder of music’s incredible power. But there’s more: Listen to it from a leadership development perspective and you’ll find pearls of wisdom for leaders looking to better develop themselves and their team. The following are a few timeless lessons embedded in several of the show’s songs.

Create and take advantage of opportunities.

In act one, Lin-Manuel Miranda repeatedly belts out the words, “I’m not throwin’ away my shot,” as part of the song “My Shot.” His character, Alexander Hamilton, raps about his frustrations with the British, his vision for a better future and his desire to leave a lasting legacy.

Life is filled with windows of opportunity or “shots.” The questions we need to ask as leaders are:

• Do we create these spaces of advantage in our own life or team?

• How do we notice them when they show up?

• How do we act when they appear?

The best leaders create, watch for, recognize, leap into and guide themselves and those they lead into these spaces of advantage. More importantly, they develop this capability within those they lead.  

Think big.

In that same catchy song are the lyrics “Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up. Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up.” A compelling cause is greater than the self. The best leaders figure out ways to get buy-in. A challenge that, no doubt, the founding fathers navigated.

Over the long haul, it’s not necessarily the most talented teams that win, as we often believe, but rather the best teams. So, the question is how do we develop the best team? Creating an environment and culture where individuals feel compelled to sacrifice and give their best effort for a cause larger than self is a great way to develop a team.

Culture is the foundation. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quotation attributed to the business management guru Peter Drucker. With all due respect to Peter, I advise leaders that culture eats a hell of a lot more than strategy: It eats everything, all the time, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and it’s still hungry. Culture has the appetite of a growing teenager. So, great leaders set and get their culture right. They align their vision, mission, values and personal leadership philosophy. Leaders deliberately — and with great purpose — figure out how they will routinely turn those words into action. They identify their culture carriers, recruit and retain for culture and develop talent. Leaders challenge and support individuals to become a team. They focus their energy on the team.

Control the controllable, discard the rest.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” Similarly, in the song “Wait For It,” the lyrics “I am the one thing in life I can control” remind us the best leaders come to realize they have minimal control over externals. Conversely, mediocre leaders apply an excessive amount of time thinking and worrying about these externals. A few things to remember:

• Our attitude and how we choose to respond to our environment are in our control.

• The space between stimuli and our response is the space we own. Extend that space as long as possible for the best decision making.

• With clarity comes freedom of action and the ability to focus on those things we can control; this is a competitive advantage worthy of pursuit.  

Fuel grit and resilience in your people.

In the song “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” the powerful lyric “When you knock me down, I get the f#@k back up again!” represents the ability to embrace failure through grit and resilience. What motivates people and teams to persevere, to continually put in the effort? Leaders who guide their team to be able to answer for themselves the following three questions are well on their way to creating the motivation essential to grit and resilience. These three questions are:

• In terms of what I want or what is being asked of me, can I do it?

• Will it matter?

• Do I care about the outcome?

These are the building blocks of great success — the hallmarks that define champions. Leaders create a compelling narrative that help people arrive at an empathetic “yes” and support their reasons for “yes.” They also figure out ways to show tangible proof of micro-wins with those they lead. 

You must constantly be preparing.

A common characteristic amongst the best leaders in sports, business and the military is they all possess a humility to constantly prepare and develop themselves so that they are ready for opportunity when it presents itself. The song “The Room Where It Happens” is about the character Aaron Burr’s desire to have a seat at the table where political decisions are being made. It made me think about the difficult moments when leaders are alone. In order to make themselves ready for the big moment, they must prepare and sacrifice. They work to be the best when no one is watching and, in a way, on this quest to become more self-aware and improve their skills, they are alone in the room — just themselves with no place to hide. As a leader, do you seek to “catch” your people in moments of preparation and sacrifice? Do you remind them that comfort disables and discomfort enables? Great leaders understand “I’ve got to be in the room where it happens,” and getting to the “it” involves relentless preparation.

“Hamilton” is a powerful reminder that we possess free will and unlimited potential, and how we think and act can mean the difference between a mediocre or great executive and team.


As you know, a simple, effective decision-making process enables you to solve problems, avoid expensive mistakes, and seize opportunities that grow your business.

Here are the four most critical steps in the process.

Think FD3: Frame, Define, Develop, Determine.

1. Frame your decision statement with an action verb, object, and so that.

Clarity on what you are deciding and the purpose of that decision will save you hours of frustration and prevent you from spinning in circles.

“To purchase [verb] a new car [object] so that I can get to work [purpose].”

“To invest in marketing so that my ideal clients know how I serve them.”

2. Define your MUSTS and Wants so that you have clear criteria.

A must is a mandatory requirement that you can measure. Use “so-thats” for clarity.

“A compact car so that it fits in the parking garage.”

“Clear materials so that my ideal clients know the outcomes to expect.”

A want is something you desire but can live without if necessary.

“I want a blue car.”

“I want to invest less than $15,000.”

Rank order your wants, with ten being the most important and one being the least important.

3. Develop your options so that you have alternatives to compare.

You should create at least three viable options so that you do not fixate on the first solution that comes to mind.

You might wind up selecting what your “gut instinct” identifies, but creating options helps you avoid errors that come from what’s known as availability bias – defaulting to a recent, high-profile example that has stuck in your mind.

Advertisers rely on availability bias to influence your choices.

People who cancel airline tickets after a plane crash and decide to drive instead are using a high-profile incident to make a less safe travel choice.

4. Determine your best option by ensuring you’ve met the Musts, and you’ve got the most critical Wants.

Use a simple chart to check off the Musts and tally up the Wants.

The best score wins.

Frame – Define – Develop – Determine (FD3) is a simple, effective process that you can use for any decision you need to make in life and business.

Once you make the decision, you will need to deploy it to your team. We’ll discuss that in another post :0)

How well is this process working for you? Leave a comment below or send me an email: [email protected]

“I want my subordinates to make decisions,” Jim told me, “but they keep asking for permission.”

Why is that so bad, I asked him, you know they won’t make a wrong decision.

“The problem is that the decisions keep piling up on my plate. It’s like the salad bar at Olive Garden. Before you know it, you’ve got a mound of everything, and you lose your appetite for the main course. I feel like I can never get to the main course.”

Greens can be good for you.

“The problem is that I need to make my decisions – that’s the main course. My decisions are getting cold and stale because I’m choking on the salad bar. We’re losing opportunities because I’m in the weeds.”

That makes sense. What have you done to encourage your subordinates to make decisions?

“I tell them that’s what I want them to do. They nod in agreement. An hour later, the emails come in asking me permission to do this, that, and the other thing.”

What happened the last time someone made a poor decision?

“I kinda lost my mind.”

Does this conversation sound familiar?

I’ve had a version of it three times in the past week, which is why I’m writing this article for you.

The COVID pandemic and economic uncertainty have made people even more risk-averse.

Decisions that your direct reports should be making are piling up on your plate and reducing your bandwidth to do your job.

Here are three action steps that will help you boost people’s confidence to make decisions.

1. Define the decision-space. Have your direct reports outline the scope of their decision-making authority and boundaries. Discuss and refine. You’ll be able to reinforce the shared commitment to your common purpose as you do so. 

2. Set the expectations. Every time you lose your mind when someone makes an honest mistake, you discourage initiative.

Let people know how you will respond if a decision they make does not work out well.

If it’s a mistake of commission – someone erred when trying to do the right thing – then you need to underwrite the error and coach.

Underwriting the mistake will sustain their confidence that you won’t throw them under the bus. Coaching will help your subordinates learn from the experience.

A mistake of omission – laziness, ethical short-cuts, etc. – deserves punishment.

Walk your talk.

3. Practice. Rehearse the decisions and your responses if things go well or go poorly. When someone tries to put the ball in your lap, give it back to them, and review steps 1 and 2.

What’s your top takeaway about encouraging people to make decisions?

Let me know with a comment or email at [email protected]

The United States Army says that leadership is “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.”

A cringe-worthy business leadership definition is “the capacity of a company’s management to set and achieve challenging goals, take fast and decisive action when needed, outperform the competition, and inspire others to perform at the highest level they can.”

Here’s the problem with these definitions: any jerk with a big enough stick can meet these standards.

Here’s the effect: the lack of standards that differentiate leaders from jerks can prompt you to rationalize bad behavior that gets results.

As you know, excusing tyranny is a devil’s bargain that rarely ends well.  

“Chickenshit” behavior, to use historian Paul Fussell‘s elegant term for toxic leadership in the Army, ends up pushing your top talent out the door, demoralizing your employees, and creating a toxic workplace.

Disengagement, presenteeism, and turnover are the highest costs most companies face.

Turnover, according to Gallup, costs somewhere between 50 and 200 percent of an employee’s annual salary.

That means a 100-person company with a 50k average salary that has a 26 percent turnover rate (the U.S. average in 2017) loses $660,000 to $2.6 million each year.

What options would $1.6 million give you?

Getting turnover to a healthy eight percent begins with good leadership.

Here’s SLA’s definitionLeadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to the common good.

Here are five action steps to inspire people to contribute their best to your company’s common good:

* Lead with authenticity so that you get past imposter syndrome and stop allowing the red cape at work to make you comatose at home.

* Inspire people to do what’s right even when no one is watching so that you avoid micromanaging and focus instead on growth.

* Get the right people in the right roles doing the right things so that you plug the drain on employee turnover and boost productivity 2X – 3X.

* Adapt quickly to turbulence and uncertainty so that you can innovate and lead change – and avoid slow-rolling and risk aversion that kills your best initiatives.

* Set aside empty cheerleading and carrots-and-sticks so that you can spark a genuine commitment to results.

What do you think of our definition of leadership? Add your comments to the article or email me at [email protected]

Historian and WWII veteran Paul Fussell has the best definition I’ve seen:

“Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

Yes, America’s Greatest Generation had plenty of chickenshit.

It’s no surprise we do, too.

Substitute “business” or “nonprofit” for “military,” and you would not need to change much else from Fussell’s definition.

Good leadership cleans up chickenshit quickly.

Leadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to your team’s success.

Petty harassment, bullying, upstaging, back-biting, bureaucratic pedantry, gaslighting, and cheap power-plays undermine your team’s performance as people look over their shoulders and cover their butts.

What happens in your halls, slack chats, and zoom calls is more important than what you write on the walls.

Do you want a healthy, winning culture where people do what’s right even when no one is watching?

Focus on morale.

A lot of companies focus instead on mood – keeping people happy, all the time, at work.

You see this with games, parties, happiness stickers, motivational posters, and the like.

Like everyone, I enjoy being in a good mood.

Mood, though, is temporary dopamine.

It’s the sugar-donut approach to culture.

It does not inspire commitment to your mission or one another.

Without morale, your efforts to keep people in a good mood are mostly a waste of time and money.

Morale is about confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline – doing what’s right with a high degree of skill and care, even when no one’s watching.

Morale is your commitment to excellence.

Morale keeps you and your employees moving forward and bouncing back – able to handle both successes and setbacks.

To build high morale, start with these three principles.

1. Make sure everyone knows that their work is essential.

Create buy-in by discussing the thinking behind and the importance of your mission and vision, your goals, values, and strategy.

Get people involved in defining them.

Take the time to answer questions and challenges.

When someone asks why it means they care.

2. Get your employees the training, resources, and guidance to do their jobs well.

If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If it’s not worth doing well, it’s probably not worth doing.

Set-up your employees for success.

Align work with people’s natural inclinations (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes for a simple way to start).

People who report using their natural strengths each day are 2X to 3X more productive than their peers.

3. Let people know that you appreciate who they are and what they do.

Coach people to be the best versions of themselves (see our PROM Servant Leader archetypes for a simple way to start).

Do not subconsciously try to turn them into clones of you.

Nothing says, “I don’t appreciate you” quite like efforts to turn people into mini-mes or suggestions that they hide their identities.

Instead, help them contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

Take special care to ensure that your most vulnerable employees feel the safety and confidence that they can contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

Your most vulnerable employees tend to be those who look, think, or act differently than the majority.

Recognize people’s contributions in ways that they want to be recognized. It’s the morale-version of the platinum rule.

Take these three action steps, and you will develop an all-weather, high morale company that succeeds not just some of the time, but ALL OF THE TIME.

What’s your top takeaway? Let me know with a comment, DM, or email to [email protected].

P.S. I set aside time each week for strategy calls. We’ll discuss:

  • Your goals
  • The obstacles you want to overcome
  • 2-3 action steps to solve problems and get results

No sales, no bait-and-switch, no BS.

Schedule your call here.

Woke-Faux-Ness is the tendency of leaders to spill ink about social justice, fairness, and respect but avoid putting these values into practice.

Freelance writer Arwa Mahdawi inspired me with her recent article on “woke-washing.”

The say-do gap can create cynicism and internal conflict, which heightens employee disengagement, presenteeism, and turnover. These silent revenue killers are among the highest costs businesses and nonprofits face.

You know about these problems and their consequences.

You are doing your best to avoid them (otherwise, you would have unsubscribed from my list long ago).

At the same time, you are probably tired of the divisive name-calling, blanket condemnations, and facile, self-punitive hype that Columbia’s John McWhorter calls a new racism.

On the positive side of the ledger, most high-functioning people grow uneasy about cognitive dissonance and take steps to reduce the say-do gap.

Behavior change tends to follow some form of what the military calls the OODA loop: Observe-Orient-Decide-Act.

Observation inspires thought. Thought sparks words, and words spur action.

Here are some positive steps you can take.

1. Address affinity bias. Affinity bias is the unconscious tendency to gravitate toward people who look, think, and act like you.

This tendency is a part of what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking, which is governed by the amygdala section of the brain that houses our fight or flight instincts.

Yes, everybody has an affinity bias.

No, it does not mean you are a closet bigot.

Those who convert affinity bias into a conscious attitudinal bias that claims superiority over another are bigots.

Once you know about the human tendency toward affinity bias, you can engage your System 2 brain – the analytical mind – to address it. Now, you know about it.

2. Walk the Talk. Model the behavior you want to promote and hold people accountable.

You know the importance of setting the example, and that “Do as I say not as I do” is not acceptable.

“Treat people exactly how I treat people” is what you want to promote. It starts with respect – the commitment to treating everyone with equal dignity.

The temptation can be keen to overlook or rationalize disrespectful behavior by high-performers, but holding them accountable (especially if they look, act, or think like you) is vital because of their outsized impact on the organization.

One way to check the levels of mutual respect in your organization is to see how people treat your newest- and lowest-paid employees, custodial staff, and other contracted support staff.

Also, check how people leave your common areas, especially the bathrooms.

People who respect one another tend not to leave messes for others to clean-up.

3. Set-up people for success. A problem with too many diversity programs is the lack of focus on putting people into positions where they are most likely to thrive.

This problem is part of the reason the first-rung tends to be the hardest to climb for non-majority employees.  

Here are some ways to set-up people for success:

  • Align work with people’s natural inclinations and strengths. They’ll be 2X to 3X more productive, will enjoy the work more, and those factors are likely to increase their longevity and advancement.
  • Coach people to be the best version of themselves and avoid subconsciously encouraging them to be clones of you (the mini-me syndrome is another example of affinity bias).
  • Measure how confident your most vulnerable employees feel to bring their best and most authentic selves to work each day.  

Our eBook, “Build your Winning Team,” takes you step-by-step to set-up people for success. Just send an email to [email protected] and I’ll send it to you right away.

What’s your top takeaway?

Let me know with providing a comment below or by email.

P.S. Are you ready for your NSASO session?

NSASO means No-Sales, Action-Steps-Only. I set aside time each week for these calls. We’ll discuss:

  • Your goals
  • The obstacles you want to overcome
  • 2-3 action steps to solve problems and get results

Schedule your NSASO here.

The Leadership Podcast, co-hosted by Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos, is my go-to resource for leadership discussions.

They’ve got extraordinary episodes with some of the world’s most respected leaders.

I was gratified when they asked me to discuss ways that leaders can deal with workplace bullying and help their subordinates be the best versions of themselves.

One of my mentors, Michele Flournoy, connected us (thank you, Michele!).

As you know, bullies, predators, and jerks can ruin your team and peace of mind.

By the time they become managers, most of them have mastered the art of kiss-up and kick-down.

These creeps exist in the workplace. They are very intentional about what they are doing and are quite unlikely to change.

More common is behavior that is not intended to be bullying but is perceived that way.

This situation damages the trust, mutual respect, and morale that’s essential for your team’s success.

Turnover is the #1 indicator of this problem.

With the economy in such horrible shape, people are understandably reluctant to leave their jobs.

As the economy recovers, though, expect to see a mass exodus from toxic work environments.

Gallup reports that seventy-five percent of Americans who leave their jobs voluntarily do so to get away from their managers.

There are common-sense ways to deal with unconscious bullying.

First, make your values explicit. There’s a direct correlation between expectations and results.

Clear leader and employee behaviors for each value set important boundaries and will help you hold people accountable.

Second, discuss your values routinely at meetings and during your one-on-one counseling sessions.  

Third, give people ways to disarm bullying behavior. Merely repeating back what a person said and asking for confirmation can be enough to correct the behavior.

Finally, coach your direct reports to be the best versions of themselves. Subconscious cloning – trying to turn people into mini-versions of you – damages your relationship and undermines performance.

The best gauge of success is when your most vulnerable employees feel that they can always contribute as their best and most authentic selves.

I was proud to discuss this issue with Jan and Jim on The Leadership Podcast.

Check it out here.

P.S. Nailing your next 100 days gives you the escape velocity to launch, reboot, or scale your solo or small business. Check out the replay of this free masterclass on the 8 steps you need to take to achieve the escape velocity you need.

Schedule your strategy call today. We’ll discuss your goals and obstacles, and I’ll give you 2-3 specific action steps to take now to power through roadblocks and get you closer to your goals. No sales, no B.S.

 

Here’s what I’m reading about race in America.

Peniel E. Joseph, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

The Economist, Tackling racism: The new ideology of race and what is wrong with it.

John McWhorter, The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility, The Atlantic.

Ruchika Tulshyan, How to Reduce Personal Bias When Hiring, Harvard Business Review.

Sabrina Siddiqui, Majority of Voters Say U.S. Society Is Racist as Support Grows for Black Lives Matter, The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post, How John Lewis caught the conscience of the nation

I highlight these books and articles because they contain a range of viewpoints on this challenging and delicate subject.

One takeaway for business leaders is that there’s a difference between attitudinal and affinity bias.

Attitudinal bias is prejudice. It is a conscious choice to de-value someone based on race, sex, creed, color, or any other distinction.

It is disgusting, abhorrent, and pathetic.

Affinity bias, on the other hand, is a common, unconscious tendency to gravitate towards those who look, think, and act the way you do.

Both biases tilt the playing field for some groups over others. One does so intentionally; one does not.

Fifty-six percent of Americans, according to a recent WSJ/NBC poll, believe that Black and Hispanic Americans face discrimination.

Intentions matter.

Once you know about affinity bias and accept that you probably have it, you can do something about it.

And now you know about it.

What is your top takeaway from this article?

P.S. Do you want counter affinity bias as you nail your next 100 days? Here’s the free training that will help you do exactly that. It’s perfect for solo-entrepreneurs, consultants, and micro-business owners.

Sign up now while this article is in front of you. You are one decision away from nailing your next 100 days.

You would have to be an idiot not to take diversity and inclusion seriously.

Study after study shows the economic power of diversity.

A diverse, high-performing team is more productive, your leaders make better decisions, and you avoid the drama that makes for a toxic workplace.

The return on investment is such a no-brainer that companies spend millions each year on diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs.

The likelihood that these programs deliver diverse AND high-performing teams, though, is too limited.

A recent Wall Street Journal study shows that companies are doing well in hiring diverse talent, but not in promoting them.

The first management rung seems to be the hardest to climb.

What’s happening?

Systemic bigotry is part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that companies set their employees up for failure when they fail to align work with people’s natural inclinations.

When your hiring focuses mostly on diversity-that-you-can-see, you heighten the risk of putting the round peg in the square hole.

You know the results: heightened frustration, less productivity, and faster burnout.

People who report using their natural inclinations – their superpowers – each day are two-to-three times more productive than those who do not.

Using your superpowers each day means higher engagement, better performance, and less frustration and burnout.

Aligning work with natural inclinations is the best way to set up your employees for success so that you are more likely to retain and promote them.

We’ve developed a straightforward and free tool that you can use to promote diversity of natural strengths and make your leaders successful.

Servant leaders come in four broad archetypes: Pioneers (innovators), Reconcilers (team-builders), Operators (implementers), and Mavericks (game-changers).

Your subordinates are more likely to thrive when you put them in positions aligned with their superpowers.

You will be a better mentor when you help each person be the best version of themselves rather than sub-consciously encouraging them to copycat you.

You will also avoid what my mentor Michele Flournoy calls the mini-me syndrome – the tendency to surround yourself with people who think and act as you do.

The combination of physical and cognitive diversity will power your growth, limit expensive mistakes, and make your company a better place to work.

Do your most vulnerable employees feel that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Get the tool here.

What’s your top leadership takeaway from this article?

Add a comment or email me at [email protected]