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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.

Jeff Marquez posted this article on Trust on LinkedIn.

While looking at the spaghetti of wires under the dash of my friend Aaron’s car, I remember asking myself, what the heck was I thinking? What was Aaron thinking allowing me to touch his classic car? Well, I am installing the fourth and most difficult wiring harness now. I know why he allowed me to touch his classic car–trust.

I think back to our previous work situations where we both would shake our heads at what we faced—often like spaghetti wires. We would discuss the mission or task, what right looked like, discuss with the Team to get their input, decide, and execute. Our expectations of each other matched our behaviors and that feeling cut across our Team.

Trust cuts across all levels of people from CEOs, senior executives, Mid-Leaders to early-career professionals, and everyone in between including personal relationships. Whether you are a CEO wanting to cultivate trust with your Mid-Leaders or a Mid-Leader wanting to strengthen your Team, here are a few ways to make trust bonding for your Team.

1. Inspire trust by being open, transparent, and clear about challenges. Most people want the Team and others to do well. But they can’t help if they don’t know so share challenges, and wins too! And remember, the best ideas do not always come from the top. 

2. Lead by example with candor, honesty, and vulnerability. Be the person you want your Team to be. As you share, they will share. As you innovate, let them surprise with their views and talents. 

3. Make your expectations clear and make trust part of your Team’s everyday conversations. My friend and trust expert, John O’Grady, describes having high trust relationships that start with “you have my trust, and it can only be eroded or lost” rather than a “trust must be earned” mentality. Talk with employees about how their demonstrated behavior aligns with your expectations. And when you think there may be a trust issue arising, approach it from a position of authentic curiosity instead of being accusatory. Find the underlying reasons for the issue and collaboratively address them. Maintain trust behaviors and a trusted environment before it becomes broken. Be proactive.

Trust creates a sense of psychological safety and can be an incredible inoculant when bad things happen to good people and good organizations. Think about your past year but more importantly, think about the year before you. Trust can make you feel in the most positive and profound ways. It fosters confidence, commitment, and teamwork. Who does not want that? Start trust bonding now.

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. 

F + P = GD. Facts + Perspective = Good Decisions.

Facts, alternative facts, and fake news is the 2000s version of the trope that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. These problems complicate decision-making and lead to expensive mistakes. 

Six Americans, to date, have experienced blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. One person has died. The CDC suspended the J&J vaccine until they can complete further testing to see if there’s a causal linkage to the blood clots. The EU did the same with the AstraZeneca vaccine and then re-authorized its use.

It’s heartbreaking to lose a loved one. The shock is worse when their death is unexpected and linked to something that was supposed to be good for them. The alarming reports have increased vaccine skepticism as people fear that the jabs are unsafe. They prefer the passive risk of catching the increasingly-less-fatal COVID to the active risk of injecting the vaccine.

66 million people have gotten the J&J jab. If a causal relationship is found, the probability of getting a blot clot from the shot is one in a million. That’s right, 1:1,000,000, which is far lower than the risk of harm from COIVD. Other one-in-a-million chances include being struck by lightning, casting the deciding vote in an election, and flipping a coin that lands on heads 20 times in a row.

President Biden announced on April 13th his decision to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. The date marks twenty years after the terrorist attacks on America planned by al Qaeda, which had a safe-haven in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon reportedly urged the President to stay the course. Some experts even argued for putting more forces into Afghanistan. Voices from the national security establishment, including former 4-star general and CIA director David Petraeus (whom I advised for three months in Afghanistan), decried the decision as short-sighted and likely to lead to al Qaeda returning to the landlocked country to plan terror attacks against the United States.

President Biden, however, was skeptical. During his speech, the President spoke of his trip in 2008 to the Kunar River valley. That trip was to my outpost, FOB Bostick. What then-Senator Biden saw was violence in our area had plummeted as more and more Afghans stopped fighting and decided to work together with us. He also saw the limits of what US forces could achieve: we could not provide legitimacy to the Afghan government. They needed to earn the support of the people. Unless they did so, we would be stuck.

Using his twenty-year perspective to weigh the arguments, Biden concluded that the risks of keeping US forces in Afghanistan far outweighed the benefits. The Afghan government has yet to earn enough legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, and no length of continued US troop presence was going to change that. 

The difference between the poor decision to avoid getting vaccinated and the good decision to remove American troops from Afghanistan is perspective

Perspective provides context that is vital to sound decision-making. F + P = GD. Facts + Perspective = Good Decisions

Who is providing you with perspective so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater or following the bandwagon over a cliff?

P.S. Leading Well is 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.

“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.”

Jeff Marquez recently authored this article on Trust on LinkedIn.

When you are asked a question and are uncertain of the answer, frustrated, or are short on time, how do you respond? We all have short-circuited answers that allow us to respond and move on. Or so we think. These so-called default answers—“Let’s talk,” “We’ll have an answer soon,” “Don’t ask, just get it done”—can damage the trust between mid-leaders and Team members. While these default answers might allow a leader to provide a response quickly, they can unintentionally send signals of uncertainty and mistrust to the receiver. Put yourself on the receiving end of these defaults and consider the feelings and anxiety they may create:

1.     Let’s talk—uncertainty. Is this positive or negative? How should the employee prepare?

2.     We’ll have an answer soon—ambiguous. Is soon next week? A month?

3.     Don’t ask, just get it done—lack of confidence, trust, and value in the Team member.

Provide context and drive meaning to motivate people. Experts say it takes five hundred milliseconds, or half a second, for sensory information from the outside world to incorporate into conscious experience. So, we can still get an answer out quickly, but if we take a few extra seconds to be more transparent, we can change the meaning of these defaults and bring clarity, understanding, and commitment to our work. Consider how the three defaults from above, but now with context, change the feeling:

1.     Let’s talk about this at 4 p.m. I like your idea of involving the staff because it gives them ownership of the process—You specify why you like the idea, you set the expectation for time, and the employee feels valued.

2.     We have not decided yet but will by the end of the day on Wednesday—You are honest about not having decided and have set expectations so that the Team member has a clear idea of how to proceed.

3.     Here is what we thought when we made the decision—The Team member is going to have a better understanding of the conditions and will likely give their best work because they feel like they are part of the team, trusted, and valued.

Trust comes from words and actions, but it must be felt by others to resonate. Take the few extra seconds to be transparent, honest, and only promise what you can deliver. Think about the work environments this crisis has created with back-to-back virtual meetings and online overload and consider how these conditions impacted your organization. Think about what is before us as we enter the renewal and new opportunities. Do what you can to remove uncertainty. Invest those few seconds to help your people feel trust. 

How will people remember you?

Ray Lambert died on April 9th at age 100. A Staff Sergeant during World War Two, he led a medical section in the 1st Infantry Division and is one of a few who found themselves in the first wave of the three major amphibious landings in the European Theatre: North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.

“The only heroic thing I ever did,” Ray told me, “was to rescue a soldier from a burning tank.” His boss told him not to go because the tank was about to blow up. Ray went anyway, pulled the soldier off the tank, and scrambled into a ditch as the tank exploded. “I disobeyed an order, so I did not get an award.” Others who’ve done the same were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The intense fighting on Sicily affected him deeply. He was in the thick of it for the month-long campaign, grinding through the island’s mountainous spine against the best German units. He was awarded the silver star (America’s third-highest award for valor) after going into a minefield to rescue a wounded soldier.

Ray landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Coming ashore against intense enemy fire, Ray spotted a pile of concrete. “It was the only cover on the beach.” Ray used the slight shelter for a casualty collection point. He put one of his medics there and proceeded to bring the wounded to the rock. He was wounded twice but patched himself up and kept rescuing his comrades. He eventually passed out from loss of blood and a broken back.

Ray suffered from post-traumatic stress. After the war, he found a job as an electrician and later began his own business. He couldn’t sleep. He hoped work would keep his mind off the war. He lost a lot of weight. 

After passing out during a job and nearly getting himself killed, Ray went to the VA to speak with a psychologist. “Talking about the experiences helped me deal with them. My memories were no longer abstract. I could deal with them.” Ray’s memory of his war experiences was near-photographic, except for Sicily.

Ray was highly successful in business, in his community, and taking care of his soldiers after the war. Seventy years later, he could recall their first names, where they were from, and their wives’ names. “Getting to know people on a personal level kept us going when times were tough. They knew that I cared about them and would never put them in danger carelessly.”

I first met Ray in 2004 at the 60th anniversary of D-Day. We’ve been dear friends ever since. In 2018, our friend Christophe Coquel (a resident of Normandy) and I devised a plan to put a plaque on the concrete chunk where Ray saved so many lives. “I want the names of every man in the medical section on that plaque,” Ray told me. 

Ray and his family attended the October 2018 ceremony to dedicate Ray’s Rock. It’s the only plaque on the beach and the only marker dedicated to a platoon of medics. “I can still hear their voices in the waves,” Ray reflected, staring at the surf.

Ray’s legacy lives on in the people he touched because they pay his gifts forward to others. Who will remember you, and how will they remember you? 

1. Gratitude: you can fail alone, but you cannot succeed alone. Ray grew up in depression-era northern Alabama. He left home at age 13 to find a job and never finished high school. He said he became who he was because of the support of others. We’re all privileged, and we have agency. What are you doing with your opportunities?

2. Putting people in a position to succeed is the best form of caring. Ray knew his soldiers and employees and what mattered most to them. They gave their best because they knew Ray cared about them and put them in positions to succeed. Are you bringing out the best in others?

3. Set the right example and mind the say-do gap. Ray lived his standards of competence and character. He wasn’t perfect. He expected you to know your job and be trustworthy. He never asked people to endure hardship that he was unwilling to endure himself. What say-do gaps should you close?

4. Be your best self by finding the right support. Strong people like Ray are the ones who seek out support to take them to new heights. People who lack confidence wrap themselves in a crust and pretend they’re invulnerable. They never develop. Like a lobster, Alan Weiss says, you have to shed your protective shell if you want to grow. Who are your catalysts

What will be your legacy: how will people remember you?