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] 

Decide’s Latin origin means to kill off or to sever.

To make a decision thus means to kill off the alternatives.

Common decision-making errors result in you killing off the better alternatives – they are short cuts to expensive failure

Here are two doozies.

Confirmation bias happens when leaders place excessive weight on data that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and discounts contrary information.

We are living this problem right now. 

People on one side of the political spectrum highlight worst-case data on COVID-19. Their opponents emphasize opposite data. 

So many “expert” assessments and statements by political leaders are tainted by confirmation bias that ordinary people like you and me lose faith in their credibility.

It’s not just a political problem.

I fell into the confirmation bias trap myself. 

I wanted to take people on leadership trips to Normandy battlefields. I know the impact these experiences have on leaders and teams, and I’m very good at delivering them.

I wanted to do a lot of good for a lot of people, so I was eager to get going.

I believed that a good social media campaign could lead to mass interest.

A digital marketing agency I hired felt the same and suggested that Facebook ads would be a winner. They had had success with Facebook ads before, with a life-coach. They believed that they could replicate the outcomes. 

We made a series of (really cool) videos, created a complicated sales funnel, and crafted the ads carefully. 

We launched the ads. The videos were really popular and we saw superb engagement rates.

No prospects. 

We needed to create enough volume, we told ourselves, and the ads would pay off. Even if only .1 percent were interested, one million views should lead to 1000 prospects. 

We spent more.

We got nearly 2 million views and 300k “likes.” 

No prospects. No buyers.

I finally shut off the ads.

It turns out that we had tapped into an audience that loved military history, but they were not leaders or buyers.

Most entrepreneurs and leaders go to Facebook to keep up with friends and family, not for business advice.

That was an expensive lesson. 

******

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

*******

Status quo bias, on the other hand, increases resistance to change, even if your situation sucks and your plan is failing.

Leaders perceive that the status quo is safe. After all, the executive team signed up for the approach at one time.  

Board members or executives poke holes in alternatives, shoot-down proposals, and emphasize the risks of change.

Some resist change for fear of being “wrong” in adopting the current plan. 

Others do not have an apples-to-apples comparison of risk, so they place more confidence in managing the challenges of the failing plan they know than in a proposed alternative that they don’t. 

Solo-entrepreneurs and small business leaders with status quo bias make a decision one day and then talk themselves out of moving forward the next morning. 

You get trapped in the hamster wheel.

Here are two action steps to deal with these problems.

First, assess your assumptions. 

Ask “what must be true” for the plan to work. Those are your assumptions. 

Do a sanity check on the validity of the assumptions.

Do the same with alternate plans. 

This approach gives you an apples-to-apples comparison of the risks and opportunities.

It also helps you check your confirmation bias.

Second, use premortems.

A premortem is a story or two about how the plan failed so that you can identify the indicators and warnings. 

Make those indicators and warnings part of your risk assessment.

When the indicators and warnings light up in the wrong direction, you know it’s time to make a change.

Red-teams or designated critics can be helpful, too, but I prefer the pre-mortems. 

Leaders may rationalize away the former because they are supposed to point out problems. 

They go with the plan anyway and lose the benefit of the premortem’s indicators and warnings.

The premortem is something the decision-makers own, so they are more likely to take them seriously.

We will discuss decision-making and seven more steps to nailing your next 100-days during my free masterclass.  

Yes, it’s free and takes only ten seconds to sign-up. There are no sales, no gimmicks, just value for you.

Sign up now while this article is in front of you. You are one decision away from making even better decisions :0)

Get the peace of mind that you have decided to work ON your business

What is your top takeaway from this article? 

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

You are one decision away from nailing your next 100 days.

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

Do you know what it’s like to live every day feeling like you’ve got a target on your back?

Can you understand what it’s like to feel that society has stacked the deck against you?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that your co-workers and managers look down on you because you are different?

If you are like me, you cannot answer the first two from personal experience. You can read about it, talk to people who have lived it, and you can empathize.

But you cannot fully understand.

You can do your part to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to make a positive ripple in a lake of prejudice and injustice.

As a leader, you need to get question #3 and fix it. The buck stops with you.

There’s no excuse for ignorance, complacency, or self-deception.

Make your team a lake of dignity and respect that does not tolerate anyone who tries to put a toxic ripple in it.  

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also smart.

I was bullied and sexually assaulted as a teenager. I couldn’t concentrate in school afterward or when I felt the predators were circling.

I’ve also, unintentionally, said and done stupid things that hurt other people.

I was fortunate to have had people who told me the truth – lessons I do not forget.

Employees who feel that they have to hide, live a lie, put up with disrespect, or look over their shoulders are less engaged and productive.

Wouldn’t you be?

Here’s the real test for your culture: how safe and confident do your most vulnerable employees feel to contribute their best and most authentic selves each day?

If you were to use a 1-5 scale, with 5 being “Always,” anything less than 5 from every employee means you are wasting talent and money.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to find out.

1. Get some objective data. You can’t see the label when you are inside the jar. The combination of anonymous questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews provides you points of view you are not going to get by yourself.

2. Shop your Culture. You shop your business to see how well your sales team performs, and if your processes are user-friendly, why don’t you do the same for your culture?

3. Look for the signals. What do people put in their workspace? How well do your employees care for your bathrooms and facilities? Do people cluster in like-groups or diverse groups?

Look at your workplace from a vulnerable employee’s point of view so you don’t walk past problems anymore.

Once you know the data, you can take action.

How well are these steps working for you?

Let me know: [email protected]

Accountability is a four-way intersection.

Accountability means being answerable to someone for something important.

When you lead with accountability, you keep your commitments to your vision and mission, your employees, your customers, and your partners.

Lack of accountability leads to neglect, poor performance, abuse, and backbiting.

When you uphold accountability fairly, you show that you are sincere, you set the example, and you don’t play favorites.

Accountability improves commitment to your vision, mission, goals, and values.

Accountability reduces your need to micromanage and spend energy on compliance.

Accountability is possible when you make your goals and expectations clear.

Accountability improves when you share your goals and expectations.

An accountability group accelerates your performance because you are sharing your goals with people who are committed to your success.

Accountability gives you the focus to work on your business.

Accountability strengthens your promise to sharpen yourself so you can lead to greater success.

Accountability puts you back in command.

There’s a direct line from accountability to success.

Only you can draw it.

Leadership is the art of inspiring people to contribute their best to your team’s success (check out the free Leading Well masterclass) – accountability builds commitment so that people do what’s right even when no one is watching.

What’s your top takeaway from this article? Write me at [email protected]