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12 Steps to Being a Better Boss

Monday, August 10th, 2015


As I said in June, Wally Bock is my hero.

The stuff he writes is loaded with common sense and practicality.

Best of all, his advice to bosses can be implemented at any level in an organization by individual bosses.

He’s also one heck of a writer, which, in my mind, moves him from gold to platinum.

I’ve added this post from last week to my collection of all-time favorites.

Minims for Bosses

Merriam Webster defines a “maxim” as “a well-known phrase that expresses a general truth about life or a rule about behavior.” Minims are different.

Minims aren’t well known. They don’t express a general rule about life. They’re not big important truths, just little things that will help you do a better job as a boss. Each minim is a one or two sentence distillation of a tip in my forthcoming ebook, Become a Better Boss One Tip at a Time. Here are a dozen.

  • The best way to “empower” competent and willing team members is to get out of their way.
  • Power isn’t something you bestow. It’s something you unleash.
  • Mistakes are the price you pay for better performance in the future.
  • Most performance issues are not self-healing. If you leave them alone, they will usually go from bad to worse.
  • Sugar-coating legitimate criticism robs it of nutritional value.
  • Creativity lives in those cracks in your schedule.
  • The example you set determines the behavior you get.
  • When you’re silent, you can listen and when you listen you can learn.
  • Distrust the abstract.
  • Most of your team members, most of the time, only need suggestions and informal direction.
  • If you mess up, fess up and fix it.
  • Great ideas are everywhere and the best way to find out if they work is to try them out.

As I said, clear, pithy, doable advice and, if you take a step back, solid common sense.

Of course, it only works if you’re willing to check your ego at the door and sit on your dignity.

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Success Sans Ego

Monday, June 29th, 2015


What is the secret to getting ahead?

According to Mike Curtis it’s pretty simple.

“Look for opportunities, and shed your ego.”

Curtis should know.

After high school, he was working in a coffee shop when a company called iAtlas Corporation opened across the street.

He pestered his way into an internship that included acting as receptionist and answering the phones.

When Alta Vista (the original search engine) acquired it he chose to move to California instead of starting college.

After a stint at AOL and another company he landed at Yahoo where he was lead engineer for Yahoo Mail, with a team of 200 and a 2-window office.

The reason he left offers yet more sage advice.

“Make sure that one day whatever company you join is working as hard for you as you are for it.”

He went from an executive position at Yahoo to Facebook’s bootcamp sitting next to interns and new grads, hence his advice to drop the ego.

Now he’s a VP at Airbnb.

Quite a career path for a guy who skipped college before it was fashionable and worked his way up.
Flickr image credit: Celine Nadeau

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If the Shoe Fits: the Cost of Distraction

Friday, March 20th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhat happens when you create a fast growing business that has unicorn potential, but it doesn’t fit with your personal dream?

Do you pursue both?

That’s what Ben Nash did and almost destroyed PCS Wireless in the process.

Nash had always dreamed of being a real-estate mogul, while PCS Wireless bought, fixed and sold old cell phones.

Glamorous real estate or mundane phone reselling — which would you chase?

“I was running around the business world trying to find myself. I got distracted with ego and shiny things. I lost money in real estate, but losing money isn’t the problem. That’s a minor issue. I’ve always personally made money. The issue was my energy and focus was going to my other businesses and not to PCS.”

Nash didn’t get himself back on track, his team did.

About two years ago, the PCS executive team sat Nash down and gave him the “are we going to do this or not?” talk. (It’s “very important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” is how Nash describes his team.)

There are myriad distractions in life; everybody has them.

What’s important isn’t the distraction, but how you deal with it.

And how comfortable your team would be if it was necessary to sit you down for “the talk.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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A Response to Remember

Monday, February 23rd, 2015


Like most of you, I get a lot of email.

Maybe because I write not only this blog, but also creatively for clients, I tend to care about my responses.

The result is that every now and then I write something worth sharing beyond that email.

That’s what happened today.

A friend sent me an article.

My response was especially apropos considering the upcoming presidential election, which means months of being bombarded by candidates, talking heads, pundits, gurus, etc., on all forms of media.

That said, here is my self-described brilliant take on it.

Years ago there was one talking horse named Mr. Ed on TV. These days there are dozens of talking asses on all kinds of media.

Feel free to use it, although attribution is appreciated.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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If the Shoe Fits: Be The Change…

Friday, February 6th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

‘I have always felt that the fact that I’m a boss is just the way it happens to be, and the person who is my subordinate could be my boss in another universe. So I try to not have it be a social or class distinction and have it be just more a reporting and professional distinction.”Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFounder/CEO/boss. Too many see their title/position, and the money that often goes with it, as something that sets them above others — better, smarter, better looking.

And they treat others accordingly.

Startup ego is out of control and those who write about it are mostly preaching to the choir.

What will change it is you.

You can change it by modeling Rothschild’s words in your own company.

By recognizing that anybody in any position can have good ideas.

By respecting all your people equally and listening to them,

By telling those who believe they are better that they aren’t.

By telling yourself, if necessary.

And by channeling Nike and just doing it.

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Ducks in a Row: Rigidity — Sources And Cures

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015


Is your boss rigid? Or maybe it’s your colleagues — or even you?

Rigid in action, thought or imagination?

Rigidity is a mental habit and, although often grounded in ego, often has as much to do with the corporate culture as with the individuals involved.

Openness is based on trust and if the people or the culture don’t foster trust then you should expect them to be ultra turf conscious, not interested in sharing, and prone to spending large amounts of energy fighting every new thing that comes along.

Twenty-somethings often regard rigidity as synonymous with age, but that’s a wildly inaccurate assumption and not born out by the facts.

While the age thing may play on the surface, it should be recognized that rigidity is present in all ages.

There are a lot of pretty rigid twenty- and thirty-somethings and no one in their right mind ever called a teenager flexible

If you have any doubts about this, try getting your twenty-something co-workers to approach a subject from any position other than the one they advocate.

Rigidity is not so much about doing it differently as it is about doing it ‘my/our way’ and that attitude has substantially worsened.

It seems that everybody has a group and while their group is OK, other groups, i.e., any that don’t agree with theirs, are rigid, inflexible and standing in the way of progress.

In many ways rigidity is a form myopia.

The cure is simple to state, but difficult to implement, because it requires truly honest self-appraisal, which is not something with which most people are comfortable.

The thing to remember is that there’s value to be found in most approaches and when that value is tweaked and/or merged with other methods the result is usually worth far more than the original.


For additional input and insights to being a boss, be sure to check out the March Leadership Development Carnival.

Flickr image credit: trombone65

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Entrepreneurs: a Tale of Two Billionaires

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/9229714799Chamath Palihapitiya grew up poor, became a billionaire, but found it wasn’t enough.

As a VC, he is building the kind of real legacy he wants by investing in companies like Glooko, a mobile diabetes management company, and Treehouse, a company that trains computer engineers and helps them find jobs.

Compare his attitude to billionaire Vinod Khosla, who blocked access to a previously public beach and now is ignoring a judge’s order to return public access.

Khosla’s actions even spurred passage of a new law that can use eminent domain to force a sale of the property.

Perhaps it’s time to follow an old Roman custom that was used to keep victorious generals’ egos in check; they were required to have a person in their victory chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

It’s definitely time to rewrite the adage, “money is root of all evil” to a more accurate “ego is the root of all evil.”

Flickr image credit: Jason Eppink

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Ducks in a Row: Empowerment Made Easy

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014


Want to empower your team (spouse, kids, friends, others)?

Try channeling billionaire Marc Benioff, cofounder and CEO of Salesforce.com.

When someone shares a problem, skip the advice.

Ask leading questions instead.

The kinds that help the person think through the effects, reactions and repercussions of proposed actions/solutions.

Questions that don’t include what/why/when/how you would do whatever.

The secret isn’t the questions, it’s the fact that Benioff isn’t directing the answers, isn’t even interested in having an opinion and getting his way. He’s also not interested in solving the problem for his employee.

Leading questions sans ego help clarify both the question and the answer.

Amazing how empowering interaction with an authority figure can be when that person gets off their dignity and doesn’t need to vest their own ego in the solution.

Flickr image credit: Rich Anderson

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Ducks in a Row: G&S Combats Ego-merge

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vetlesk/3575715538/Yesterday we considered the dangers inherent when employees start thinking of themselves as an extension of the company/manager, as in ““I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.””

Today we’ll look at why building people, as opposed to making them dependent, is a smart move and three prime things to help you do it.

People building is imperative, because reputation, both the manager’s and the company’s, is everything when hiring, and being known for your great G&S (grow and strengthen) policies and actions will help you attract, develop and keep the best and brightest.

You’ll still lose some now and then when they’re ready for the next challenge and you can’t provide it, but the benefits resulting from their ultra-high productivity and creativeness during the time they’re with you will far outweigh the loss when they do leave.

G&S isn’t rocket science, nor does it have to be costly.

Here are three basic rules to encourage G&S and discourage ego-merge.

  1. Treat everyone on your team and in your company with the same level of respect you want.
  2. Listen to your people. Encourage and assist them as much as possible in developing the skills they need to take their next step—even when it makes your life a bit more difficult.
  3. Always remind them that for all their successes, challenges, and failures it’s “and” not “because.”

Any manager can implement these and other strategies on her own, whether the company supports G&S or not.

However, it’s to a company’s advantage to fight ego-merge and advocate G&S through its policies, then support it by hiring managers who believe in the power of G&S.

But what if you’re a manager pushing G&S down while your own manager is either blind to it or the type who sees ego-merge as a plus?

But what can you do to avoid ego-merge as a worker with no control or leverage?

Awareness is the best protection against ego-merge. Recognize that it exists, understand what it is, know its symptoms and whether you’re prone to it, then monitor yourself, always remembering that the opposite of ego-merge is not arrogance.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Post a watch for the first symptom of ego-merge: when your glow of accomplishment for an exemplary project you did is quickly quenched by negative internal news or media coverage. The greater the offset the greater the ego-merge.
  2. Listen to yourself. When describing a project (successful or not) or coup (large or small), listen to how you describe it and where and how you attribute its success or failure. Adjust accordingly.
  3. Offset and reduce ego-merge in others by publicly giving full credit to those around you at all levels up and down for their contributions.

Flickr image credit: vetlesk

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You are NOT Your Company

Monday, March 25th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/8584948105/How many times, especially these days, at a networking function have you asked someone what they do and gotten the reply, “I’m not working, I’m looking for my next opportunity.”

OK, a lot of people are looking, but that doesn’t answer the question.

Ask again and you might get the same answer, but if your face still has a look of inquiry written on it you’ll get a second answer, “I’m a [whatever].”

It’s sad when people choose to define themselves based upon how they earn a living; worse when, as in the example above, employment becomes the career validation without which the career ceases to exist.

Bad as those are, the worst is when people take another step and subconsciously merge their identity with that of their company—I call it ego-merge.

I coined the term in the eighties to describe a state of mind that is not only unhealthy for individuals, but also damaging to the companies for which they work.

Ego-merge is what happens when “me” and “my company” meld together in the mind of the employee, whether worker or manager.

It’s most obvious in tough times and most noticeable in conversation when people use “because” instead of “and” when talking about accomplishments, thereby crediting the company or manager for their skills.

“I’m great because my company/manager is great.” instead of, “I’m great and my company/manager is great.”

At first glance ego-merge might actually seem to be a positive for companies—but it’s not.

When employees’ egos merge with their company’s, they often blame themselves for the company’s problems even when they have little power and may not have any line responsibility.

No matter how great their work environment, feeling responsible is a major productivity sapper when times are tough—employees with ego-merge have a difficult time believing that

  • it’s not their fault;
  • their manager doesn’t blame them;
  • they are good enough to help turn the company around,

because in their minds their skills and talent are good because of their manager/company.

Ego-merge affects the best companies/managers, where people are very involved, have high esprit de corps and are passionate about their mission and success.

But it also happens with more Machiavellian managers who intentionally foster the attitude within their organization as a retention tool.

Ego-merge does, in fact, encourage people to stay, but it also cripples them, ruins their creativity, saps their initiative and reduces their long term value to the company.

It’s every company/manager’s responsibility to help their people grow and become stronger, not to subtly cripple them in the hopes that they won’t leave.

In fact, it’s in the best interest of both the manager and the company to become people-builders.

Join me tomorrow for a look at how to recognize and avoid ego-merge, as well as why people-building pays off.

Flickr image credit: Seth Anderson

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