Jeff Marquez authored his latest piece for helping your Mid-Level Leaders be the best versions of themselves. You can read the article here.

CEOs are struggling with their return to the office policies. Employees “who are least engaged,” WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani told The Wall Street Journal, “are very comfortable working from home.” 

Cathy Merrill, the chief executive of Washingtonian Media, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post warning employees about the risks of not returning to the office. “The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.” Her employees staged a work-stoppage.

A friend who works in the high-tech industry stated that their company will use a 75-25 rule: employees need to spend 75 percent of their time in the office and work from anywhere for the remainder.

Leaders can do better than use proximity to make judgments about value, issue veiled threats, and come up with arbitrary rules that will waste time and energy in the monitoring.

Here’s a better way.

There are plenty of jobs that are done mostly in isolation, such as research-oriented work. Other jobs, like manufacturing, need to be performed in person.

Companies also have roles in which employees perform recurring tasks: assembly-line work, IT monitoring, coordinating activities, and the like. You also have to handle non-routine requirements, including innovation, crisis management, and product development.

When you put these variables together in a quad-chart, you get a better way to organize your return-to-office requirements. 

Recurring work that employees can do in isolation are prime candidates for very permissive work-from-home arrangements. 

Roles that require innovative work that employees can perform in isolation should have permissive arrangements, too, but less so than the former because the free exchange of ideas improves quality and reduces the risk of science projects taking on lives of their own.

By contrast, innovative roles requiring substantial collaboration should probably be performed more at the office than elsewhere.

Recurring, on-site roles often require the highest in-office frequency. 

Apply a commonsense method like this one, and you’ll boost productivity, retain your top talent, and make smart choices about office space.

P.S. How action-oriented are your company’s values? Slogans mostly create cynicism. Actionable values boost accountability for employees doing what’s right, the right way, without you having to watch.

I’m teaming up with leadership expert Jan Rutherford on June 2 at 1 pm US Central time to offer you a Values Do-in-Ar. Inc magazine recognized Jan as one of America’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers. 

You will come away from this Do-in-ar with action-oriented, accountability-inspiring values that enhance your company’s performance, reputation, and well-being.

To get your invitation, please donate to your favorite charity and let me know that you’ve done so (I work on the honor system).

I’ve just donated to the Milwaukee War Memorial, which is holding a special event in honor of Memorial Day.

Jeff Marquez recently authored this piece on LinkedIn.

Message from the Middle Whether you are a CEO, president, owner, or Mid-Leader, the answers to these three questions reveal a lot about your leadership and organization. Unless you are the CEO, president, or owner, you are a Mid-Leader at some level. The answers reveal how you are taking care of your Mid-Leaders and how your boss is taking care of you.

A cyberattack on an east coast pipeline put a major crunch on gasoline availability. Thousands of Americans lined up at pump stations wanting to get every drop of fuel possible. Some even put gas in plastic bags. 

The hoarding reminded me of the toilet paper pirates at the start of the pandemic.

The gas shortage is only for three days, and yet panic-buying sent prices soaring and people waiting on a pump for hours. Some probably burned more gas in sitting the queue than they originally needed to fill the tank. 

What perspective can you gain from this head-shaking episode?

1. Busy people get more done but also make more mistakes

You opt for the easy button to move forward. Instinctive decision-making works a lot of the time, but it’s also the impulse that leads to toilet paper hoarding and burning time waiting on the pump when you could be doing something more productive.

Normally, a quick discussion with a trusted advisor gives you the perspective you need to make a better decision and move forward with confidence.

2. Overwhelm means that you’ve got more to do than you can process

The feeling can be paralytic or lead people to tick off inconsequential tasks while neglecting the vital ones. In this situation, take 1 minute to write down your top 3 priorities and an action step to move each one forward. Then, get going.

A 5-minute call with someone you trust helps you get these priorities and actions right, which will save you hours of rework and anxiety.

3. Opportunities abound when you keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs

When you’re too close to the action, you cannot see the whole stage. Gaining perspective is the art of identifying the important details and seeing the bigger picture so that you can seize opportunities others miss.

Who helps you gain perspective?

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins the week of May 24. More here.

“The clarity, buy-in, and accountability we’ve gained from this program,” said Ray Omar, Capital Brands CEO, “has put us on track to reduce costs by over $1m and increase revenues by over $2m.”

I gave a presentation to the Milwaukee Rotary Club this week on Afghanistan. As many of you know, I spent four combat tours there: three in uniform and one as a civilian. 

Members of the club told me that they’d like to hear about some personal experiences, ways to understand the withdrawal decision, and what’s likely to happen next. I synthesized all that into three main points that apply beyond Afghanistan.

1. You don’t create new wins with old thinking. It seems safer to do what you’ve been doing, even if it’s not working, but there are opportunity costs, too. According to Nobel Prize recipient Daniel Kahneman, people tend to be risk-averse. hey fear losses more than they prize gains. They prefer to smell their own fumes rather than be hit with a blast of fresh air. Whose pumping in the fresh air for you?

2. To grow, you need vulnerability and security. Security without vulnerability leaves you buttoned up and unable to grow. You cannot grow unless you are willing to take off your mental and emotional body armor, and gain exposure to new ideas. Vulnerability without security means you are likely to become someone else’s dinner. Who are your trusted advisers?

3. You gain ground by building bridges, not by digging trenches.  Americans are tossing bombs at each other over politics, identity, and other matters. You can’t move forward while you are digging in. I found in Afghanistan that the only way to make progress was to get out of the trenches and build bridges with people who didn’t agree with me (some of whom were trying to kill me).  Who’s helping you build relationships that broaden your reach and impact?

You can view the presentation at the Rotary Club’s YouTube channel here.

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins the week of May 24. More here.

Accelerating Success

FOCUSED is for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to create and sustain great teams that drive the business to new heights. Apply here.

SENIOR LEADER MENTORING. I have only 1 space available. Get the details here.

Build your StrategyThis program is perfect for small business and nonprofit leaders who want to create a winning game-plan without breaking the bank.

VALUE-ADDING Leadership (self-directed version) is perfect for young leaders people who want to lead as their best selves and inspire people to contribute their best. Check it out herehttps://strategic-leaders-academy.teachable.com/p/leading-well/

Scholarships

If you want to apply for or sponsor someone for a scholarship, contact me at [email protected]

I just watched an extraordinary video about the blue crab. To grow, it has to break out of its exoskeleton and grow new armor. Each breakout results in 25% growth. The molting takes about thirty minutes, followed by two days of shell hardening. 

To grow, you have to be sensibly vulnerable. You need to break loose from your mental and emotional armor while maintaining commonsense security for yourself and your business.

Growth, as my mentor Alan Weiss says, is different than problem-solving. The latter gets you back to the status quo. It’s like regrowing into your armor after shrinking. Growth means breaking out of your shell to get bigger.

What would 25% growth mean for you and your business?

Here are some excellent breakout opportunities.

Value-adding Leadership

This 8-week program begins in mid-May. You will develop the six habits that inspire people to contribute their best to your team’s success. There are 5 of 8 spaces remaining.

Be Authentic: Authenticity is the opposite of selfishness. Impulse is not a permission slip (ask the former Uber CEO).

Trust Principles over Rules: Trustworthiness, Respect, and Stewardship point out true north in volatility and uncertainty.

Practice Empathy, not Sympathy: Pity is demeaning. Seeing and feeling an issue from someone else’s point of view is your bridge to cooperation.

Pass the Credit; Take the hit: Throw people under the spotlight, not under the bus, so that you empower them to innovate and take risks.

Describe the Why; Delegate the How: Describe what to do and what outcomes you want to achieve. Let your subordinates figure out how to do it, so they have ownership.

Multiply your Experiences: You don’t create new wins with old thinking. To think outside the box, you must expand your box. 

You will participate with other high-quality leaders in this by-application-only program. Go here for more information.

“The clarity, buy-in, and accountability we’ve gained,” said Ray Omar, Capital Brands CEO, “has put us on track to reduce costs by over $1m and increase revenues by over $2m.”

Antietam and Gettysburg Exclusive Event, July 14-17.

This exclusive event is for seven solo or small business leaders who want to take their businesses to new heights. Four of seven places are available.

We go to five points on each battlefield to discuss breakout ideas. You get enough history to know what happened so that you can draw business conclusions and insights that make the second half of 2021 your best ever and prepare your 2022 offensive.

Here are some examples:
Dunker Church. Simplify your business model so that your team works in concert and avoids miscommunication. You make a bigger impact striking with your fist than with open fingers. 

Little Round Top. Create buy-in so that people gain commitment to your success right away. Frontline decisions make the difference, so empower people to make decisions and execute boldly. Aggressive and unexpected plays can carry the day against superior odds.

Pickett’s Charge. When you smell your own fumes, foolish ideas look feasible, and good people get harmed trying to execute them. People flee poor leaders at the first opportunity.

That’s right — there’s no nerding-out on military trivia. The discussions focus on specific ways you can create breakouts that grow your business. 

I’ve rented out an entire B&B for this in-person event so that you get connection, reflection, and inspiration.

Contact me ([email protected]) for more information.

FOCUSED Business Growth

This 7-step program is for small and solo business leaders who want to strengthen their foundations for growth and build the business to new heights. The next start date is in early June. 7 of 8 places are open.

FOCUSED is an acronym for action steps you’ll take:
F — put First things First so that you focus on your priorities
O — Overcome obstacles that are impeding growth
C — Commitment and Culture so that you boost buy-in and accountability 
U — You leading as your best and most authentic self
S — Simplicity in your business model and game-plan
E — Execute
D — Decision-making that seizes opportunities and avoids expensive mistakes

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

Click here for more information and to apply.

Scholarships.
Please email me ([email protected]) if you want to apply for or sponsor someone for a scholarship for one of these programs.

I chuckle every time I meet a science-defying person on the sidewalk who hurriedly pulls up their mask when approaching and pushes it down after we pass. 

The probability of catching COVID while passing someone on the sidewalk is equivalent to being killed by a lightning strike. Over a year into the pandemic, this behavior reflects virtue-signaling rather than values. 

Virtue-signalling, like the facades on a Saddam Hussein palace, obscures the realities within. CEO hang-wringing apologia about diversity last year often resulted in no follow-through or change. Harvard business review articles show that most diversity training makes things worse. Still, CEOs throw money at the failed approaches. Plato described the behavior as “seeming over being.” 

You want values that work, and you want what you value to be working. 

Business values are behavioral norms that guide your profitable customer-centric solutions. Some are internal-facing, oriented on how people work together, while others are external-facing to expand your base of loyal customers. The true tests of your values are whether they are profitable for your business, your employees, and your customers. 

If your values set specific behavioral norms that lead to profitable customer-centric solutions, you are going to gain delightful customers and attract employees who will do what’s right, the right way, without you having to micro-manage. Vague values, on the other hand, are slogans that create cynicism. 

The vital step is to set business values that work. To help you do so, I’m hosting the “Never Suffer from Vague Values Again” do-in-ar with leadership expert Jan Rutherford on June 2 at 1:00 pm US Central. 

You’ll come away from the event knowing precisely how to set values that are the right fit for your business.

Here’s the game-plan: 20 minutes of format with Jan; 20 minutes working on your values assignment; 20 minutes of advice and support from Jan and me.

To get the meeting link, please donate to your favorite charity and email me ([email protected]) to me know you’ve done so (I use the honor system, so your word is good enough).

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins in mid-May. More here.

Jeff Marquez recently authored this piece for mid-level leaders on LinkedIn.

I have advised CEOs, owners, and senior executives that if you want to get the pulse on your organization, ask the mid-leaders—the heart and soul, the core of the company, business, or agency. They straddle the strategic and tactical levels of an organization, oscillate their thinking to increase value and impact up, down, and across, manage a finite set of resources, and are responsible for day-to-day operations more than any other manager or leader. More importantly, they are the critical link to employee recruiting and retention and, ultimately, to mission or project success. 

Mid-Leaders shoulder a lot of responsibility. How do you get it all done? It is because of your Team. You know you cannot do it alone. But are you leveraging the full intelligence of your Team? In her book, “Multipliers,” Liz Wiseman describes how two types of leaders leverage intelligence: 

Diminishers: Some leaders seemed to drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone else. We’ve all worked with these black holes. They create a vortex that sucks energy out of everyone and everything around them. When they walk into a room, the shared IQ drops and the length of the meeting doubles. In countless settings these leaders were idea killers and energy destroyers. Other people’s ideas suffocated and died in their presence and the flow of intelligence came to an abrupt halt around them. Around these leaders, intelligence flowed only one way: from them to others.

Multipliers: “Other leaders used their intelligence in a fundamentally different way. They applied their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capability of people around them. People got smarter and better in their presence. Ideas grew; challenges were surmounted; hard problems were solved. When these leaders walked into a room, light bulbs started going off over people’s heads. Ideas flew so fast that you had to replay the meeting in slow motion just to see what was going on. Meetings with them were idea mash-up sessions. These leaders seemed to make everyone around them better and more capable. These leaders weren’t just intelligent themselves–they were intelligence Multipliers.

Perhaps these leaders understood that the person sitting at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is the genius maker, not the genius.

Are you a diminisher or a multiplier? You used to be the one doing “it.” You might have been the smartest one in the room on “it,” but now your job is to be the genius maker of others. How do you do that? How do you inspire others to contribute their ideas, their intelligence? How do you become a multiplier? Wiseman offers five disciplines:

1. Attract and optimize talent – you are a talent magnet because you attract and deploy talent to its fullest regardless of who owns the resource.

2. Create intensity that requires the best thinking – you create a space where everyone has permission to think and do their best work; a comfortable, safe, and intense climate. 

3. Extend challenges – plants seeds for opportunity by challenging others, stretching the organization.

4. Debate decisions – you drive decisions by engaging people in debate upfront, leading to decisions that they understand and can execute efficiently. 

5. Instill ownership and accountability – transfer ownership, allowing your Team to own their work and expect complete work.  

Add these two habits to accompany your multiplier discipline: 

1. Ask great questions. Make them broad and open, so your Team will tap into and share their intelligence. 

2. Listen more and learn to appreciate the intelligence and genius of your Team. 

Be a multiplier. I often say the best ideas do not always come from the top. Carving out time and space for you to engage your Team’s genius is a low-cost, secure investment with a high payoff. 

Machine learning figures out what you like and gives it to you. Your subordinates tend to do the same. What’s not to like about that? 

Curated information can save you time, provide mental comfort, and lower your anxiety. The problem with likely-to-like information is that it narrows your point of view. Pretty soon, all you smell is the aroma of your own fumes. 

I’ve spent the past week testing some of the limits of Amazon Music’s machine learning. I love ’80s rock and am a huge fan of Taylor Swift’s tunes. Amazon has a cool feature called autoplay. When you reach the end of your playlist, the feature plays songs it believes that you will enjoy.

I got into the mood for 80s rock, so I “liked” tracks by Guns-n-Roses, AC/DC, and Tina Turner. I kept the autoplay engaged for a couple of days to see what would happen. 

After two days, the tracks were all headbangers and no T-Swizzle, even though my Faves playlist is full of her music. By day 3, the auto-playing songs grew repetitive. 

Amazon Music wants to please me by playing songs it thinks I’ll like based on my history and how I’ve responded to its advice. Our top lieutenants will do the same. They want to give useful advice that pleases you. After all, they have to spend many of their waking hours with you.

The trouble is that the mental algorithms they use to gauge what you’ll find useful are not dissimilar to Amazon Music’s method. If you are not very careful, you will wind up getting the same themes over and over again. You’ll struggle to find new ways to win when you use the same old thinking.

To avoid endless repeats of Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith, I needed to take action to hear other voices. What trusted advisors do you use to make sure that you are not savoring the smell of your own fumes?

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on LinkedIn.

Do you have a jerk, bully, or slacker among you? Like weeds, you have to manage or prune away their behaviors. Chances are the face of a person is coming to mind. What feelings does this person evoke–stress, negativity, anxiety, or anger? Their toxic behavior is harmful to your Team. So how do you deal with difficult or toxic people? Step one is to determine the observable actions and behavior of such an individual and the effects on your organization. Then what?

My colleague and friend Chris Kolenda teamed up with executive coach, international best-selling author, and former FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer Mark Goulston, M.D., to share ways to deal with toxic behavior. It was pure gold.

Mark described a typical approach of a toxic person. They charm, frustrate, anger, and outrage you in that order. They use innuendos, and when you respond to it, they got you. Instead, look them in the eye and listen for a question. Then and only then do you respond. He says, “expect difficult people to be difficult, expect them to push or prod.” When they do, he advises holding a little bit of yourself back. They often do not have substance because they rely on provocation.

I have had the unfortunate experience of a toxic boss, and Mark described their behavior to a tee. Now, here you are in the throes of chaos, in the moment, face to face with the toxic one. What do you? Mark says pause and say to yourself, “opportunity for poise,” and do the following three steps:

1. Do not act on the first thought that comes to mind because it is your defense.

2. Do not act on the second thought that comes to mind because it is your attack or retaliation mode.

3. Act on the third because it is getting closer to solution mode.

I reflected on my experience and how I thought that the boss was just having a bad day. That day turned into weeks, then months. Toxic behavior can cause tremendous damage ranging from losing employees, decreased productivity, losing sleep, and impacts on family and loved ones. To prevent or minimize the damage, Mark offered the following ways to deal with a toxic or difficult boss, employee, or peer.

The Boss – If you have a difficult boss, use what Mark calls assertive humility. The tone is important, so a bit of emotion might be necessary.

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something that is affecting my results. When would be a good time to talk?” He or she is likely geared toward results, so they will be curious.

2. At the time, find something positive, flatter them. “Do you know how smart you are in ______ (goal setting, vision…pick something they do well)?” They will become disarmed.

3. Tell them you are bringing that up because you do not want them to distract others from the potential that the specific skill or talent can bring to the organization. In other words, their toxic or difficult behavior is distracting and preventing employees from seeing the boss’s skills and talent.

4. If necessary, follow up with, “You have a little control of what you say and how you say it, but you have no control of how it is heard. I and others have observed that you are triggering flashbacks in people. Those flashbacks are not always positive like an angry parent, and they can be tough for people to work around. Try to trigger flashbacks that are positive and remind others of a positive parent, coach, or mentor.” 

5. Finish it with, “You have no idea what kind of productivity you can get from people who, when you trigger them, either want to kill themselves or kill you. And you turn them into people who want to kill for you. It will blow your mind!”

Employee – If you have a difficult employee, again, use assertive humility with the appropriate tone. 

1. Approach him or her with, “I need your help with something.”

2. Then say, “I’m really getting close to rooting against you, and it pains me. In fact, I do not want to work with anyone in this company I do not root for. The reason I’m getting close to rooting against you is because…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Let them know that you do not believe that is the person they really are, that they are better than that. “Let’s consider this a wake-up call conversation that could lead to another one because if I get to a point where I am rooting against you, we will have to make changes.”

Peer – If you have a difficult peer or colleague, use assertive humility with tone.

1. Tell them, “I am getting really close to avoiding you. And I do not want to avoid you. It is bad for our Team and for our cooperation.”

2. Say, “The reason I am close to wanting to avoid you, why I am having this conversation is…” and tell them of the observed toxic or difficult behaviors.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them know that you do not believe that is who they are or that something must be triggering them. “Instead of taking on the behavior of avoiding you, and I am not the only one, I am bringing it to your attention.”

Finally, Mark has a formula worthy of remembering: aggression + principle=conviction and aggression – principle=hostility. “Conviction makes you strong; hostility makes you wild.” If you have toxic or difficult people among you, manage or prune away the behavior. Let these tactics help you confront them, and get you back to focusing on your powerful Team and sustainable success.