Do You Know What Your Boss Wants?

Accountability Contribution Organizational leadership


Key Point: Hopefully you can currently write or type out, in less than two minutes, what your boss wants from you as a direct report. The following eight points reflect a summary by Robert Galford in the recent Harvard Business Review blog, What Your Boss Really Wants from You. It’s pretty good. I’ve added two additional points I believe are also vital.

Your boss wants you to be:

1. Relentlessly focused on making your numbers and completing projects or initiatives in a timely, responsible fashion. And if things are regrettably falling short, your boss is expecting some sort of early warning heads-up.

2. Well aware of the particular numbers or initiatives that are of critical importance to him or her. Are you fluent in those numbers? And do you keep your boss apprised of where they are trending? You should be. Also, if these numbers or projects are veering off course, your boss wants you to come to him or her with the problem early on (and armed with a few well-thought-out possible solutions).

3. On top of the pulse of your organization, (department or area) and of your customer and client base. You should know where the stress points are and what’s being done about them.

4. Clear on where the business is going in the broader sense and in the longer term. You should have a respectable point of view on where the company should be going and why.

5. Knowledgeable about your people and their people — their strengths, weaknesses, and potential. How do their jobs help the company meet its goals? How are their jobs tied to your organization’s strategy?

6. Building a following of competent people who trust you, trust each other, keep you in the loop, and feel as if you are there to help and guide without getting in the way. Think of the last five direct reports who came into your office. What did they want? What does that tell you about the relationship you have with them?

7. Capable of identifying problems on the horizon, analyzing them, and problem-solving effectively — either alone or in collaboration with colleagues — on a timely basis.

8. Able to play well with others consistently. That is, confident enough to say what you think and also confident enough to hear, respect, and possibly integrate others’ views into your own perspective.

9. Able to highly engage and align the head, hearts, and hands of your team and to connect their contributions to the strategic intent of the company.

10. Competent in having crucial conversations with your boss and others, based on advanced self-awareness in leading yourself as a foundation for leading others. This includes having a high Emotional Quotient, Spiritual Quotient, and Positive Intelligence Quotient.

I know this sounds like a big list. However, it is not about perfection. It is about having a framework of clarifying what’s expected from your boss and working hard to be on the positive side of all 10 areas.

Character Moves:

  1. Rate yourself from one (lousy) to 10 (super good) on each of the 10 items above. (You may want to get feedback directly from your boss)? Just ask!
  2. Build an action plan to get better on your weakest area.
  3. Be proactive. Do not avoid painful areas or difficult decisions. Be very self-accountable. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you where you’re missing. Often bosses are not very good at it. Most actually avoid constructive conflict. Ask, clarify and then execute to get better.
  4. Apply the Character Triangle with total passion and commitment. It fuels positive results on all 10 above.

Know your numbers, optimize the contribution of people and execute to get great results. Straight forward and yet complex; the beauty of a paradox.

Know what your boss wants in The Triangle,



The Person Writing on the Whiteboard Has the Eraser!

Accountability Management Organizational leadership


Key Point: Please be aware that your and my name is on a whiteboard, either literally or figuratively. And the person writing on the whiteboard has the eraser. If you are an employee, your boss (if he or she is doing their job effectively) is evaluating whether you and I are the right fit. This may not happen daily, but it is occurring a heck of a lot more often than yearly. Why? It is not personal (although the outcome for you and me is), but business models are changing so rapidly that job roles and priority business requirements are doing the same. Yours and my skill set might have been the perfect match yesterday but is it as valuable today?

Recently, an executive friend of mine, who is the CEO of a privately owned business, sent me a picture of a whiteboard in his office. This person was going through an exercise determining what was required for the business, matching the key individuals/roles on his/her executive team with what was needed to accelerate the organization. On the whiteboard were the names of people who were great matches for the next 12 to 24 months, those that were question marks, and those (unknowingly to them) who were going to be asked to leave.

All of those folks who were going to be terminated, at one time were perfect matches for what the company needed, and assessed as high performing. But their micro world changed faster than they did. So what does this mean to you and me? We can never get complacent about job security. There is literally no such thing these days in the hyper competitive, global marketplace, and none of us can believe we are indispensable. This can be disconcerting or freeing. Let’s focus on the latter. Think of yourself as a valuable free agent in the marketplace, on an ever renewable, daily contract with your current employer or customers.

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize that no (or very few) organizations can sincerely offer long-term job security. You and I are more responsible than ever for ensuring WE have job security based on the attributes and skills we have and are continuously developing, rather than the security offered by the company we keep. Think of yourself as a growing, ever improving artisan/expert rather than an employee. Love the company you’re with, but recognize that the relationship is based on your value today and potential for tomorrow. Not what you did yesterday. Seniority means almost nothing.
  2. Face the fact that you and I have our literal names written up on a whiteboard, restructure document, etc. all the time for “keeping,” “developing.” or “removing.” And do not take it personally or feel offended. That’s just the way it is. The assessments will happen in rapidly increasing time intervals. Our self-accountable responsibility is agility through growing our marketable skills and attributes. This doesn’t mean living in the shadow of insecurity. On the contrary, it is living and working, with “eyes wide open.” No fear because we put ourselves in control.
  3. Work for an organization committed to growing your personal equity (rather than implying or hinting at job security). In reciprocation to bringing your best contribution to the company, you need to come out “richer” the other side of employment. If the company culturally cares about you, the system (your boss and others) will invest in you and support you investing in yourself. You should have opportunities to grow financially, experientially, in relationships, wellness, and more. One day you will leave (on your or the organization’s terms), confident you will be more valuable than ever in the broader market place when you go.
  4. If you have not developed and increased your market place value in the last 12 months, proactively plan to get out of your situation ASAP. Don’t be dumb through avoidance. You are likely being employed as a commodity rather than as a growing, valuable asset and therefore you will be replaced by technology, or someone less expensive/easier to get along with, etc. sooner than later. You need to move with the needs of the company and to be of continuous value. If not, know you have added to your equity for participation in the broader market place. You must proactively be holistically richer today than when you joined your employer! (This applies to entrepreneurs too… Some competitor wants to dislocate you… So while you may not have a “boss,” the same pressures apply to you and the value proposition of your company). Grow your equity or go somewhere where you can. You and I must. We are worth it!

Always on the whiteboard in the Triangle,



Laugh Your %#$ off! For real!

Abundance Community Well-being


Key Point: Laughter and a sense of humor are like oxygen for the spirit. I love to make people laugh and work with people who do the same. Over my career, practical jokes and just plain finding the humor in daily stuff has made such a difference in my life. Getting results at work is serious, but it doesn’t mean that it requires everyone to be head down, humorless and somehow thinking fun is for “after work.” These days, particularly with the advancement of mobile technology, work and after work are blending into what is clearly just life. I am not going to reserve humor for “after 5:00 p.m. and weekends.” I don’t expect everyone to be a comedian or prankster but if you’re a sour puss, please go work somewhere else. The Mayo Clinic and countless other scientific organizations have underlined the important health benefits of laughter. You and I deserve to laugh and have fun with each other for no other reason than it is physically and emotionally good for us. In fact, I believe we owe it to ourselves to laugh out loud daily, as many times as we can. It also impacts our P.Q. (Positive Quotient).

This week my CEO took a few of us to a world class Comedy Festival. Belly laughing for a couple of hours reminded me of how sometimes we under value humor in the office. By the way, this CEO is a guy who laughs everyday. I love working with him. (Trust me… This does not diminish his toughness). During my career I have prided myself in practical jokes, including but not limited to putting a colleagues sailing boat up for sale at 25 percent of its value, hiding a CEO’s top secret plan after he threatened to fire anyone who misplaced it, and an unimaginable number of infantile, but hopefully well intentioned pranks. More importantly, finding the daily humor in most things is what I really believe puts a smile on each other’s souls.

Even serious subjects are fair game. As an example, we are getting ready to up our game by advancing the company diversity/inclusion strategy and that’s causing some angst regarding implementation. So I sent the following picture out and added the caption as a precursor to our planning discussion on the next steps:

“Ok raise your hand if you want to talk about our inclusion strategy?” 


Ok… Humor is personal but at least I’m trying to see comedy in this subject… Haha.

Character Moves to Improve Our Sense of Humor (Adapted from the Mayo Clinic research):

  1. Put humor on your daily horizon. Consciously look for things that make you and others laugh. This could include proactively looking for photos or comic strips that make you chuckle. Keep funny movies or comedy podcasts on hand for when you need an added boost. (I love CBC’s “This is That.” Everytime I listen to those guys, I burst out laughing).
  2. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. (Remember my scrotum blog)? 🙂
  3. Share a laugh. Make it a habit to spend time with funny friends and teammates. And then return the favor by sharing comedic stories or jokes with those around you. Occasionally a great, and still tasteful practical joke makes a wonderful contribution.
  4. Knock-knock. Look for the humor in situations around you. Connect the wonderful attributes of your teammates to what is naturally funny about themselves and their situations. This is NOT making fun of people, but finding wonderful humor in what is unique and glorious about them.
  5. Know what isn’t funny. Don’t laugh at the expense of others. Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad, or hurtful one. Anything involving the bathroom and related body parts is usually out of line… Certainly with workmates. (This is where there is a difference between “work” and “non-work.”

Havin’ a laugh in The Triangle,


The Conversation is the Relationship

Respect Well-being


Key Point: “The conversation is the relationship.” This wonderful quote belongs to Susan Scott, the author of the best selling Fierce Conversations. Her point is: If the conversation stops, all of the possibilities for the relationship become smaller and all of the possibilities for the individuals in the relationship become smaller. If we compromise at work or at home and lower the standards about how often we talk, what we talk about, and, most important, what degree of authenticity we bring to our conversations – it’s a slow and deadly slide. Ernest Hemingway stated this so powerfully in his book The Sun Also Rises“How did you go bankrupt? Gradually then suddenly.”

I have to do better at learning how to have deeper, more powerful conversations. And as I grow older I fully realize that relationships are all that really matter. And if the relationship IS the conversation, I’ve got lots of work to do with the many people I so deeply care about. It is so tempting for me to live in my head, visit with my iPad, slouch into HBO, eat dinner with ESPN, and having access to everything digital makes it so easy to go there. Frankly, it is often easier. No one argues, disagrees, and gets into messy or uncomfortable emotions. But the trade off is emptiness and ultimately relationship deficit and at worse, bankruptcy. When I travel, I see a lot of older men sitting by themselves, having a beer and looking awfully lonely. Just saying…

The only way to go forward is to commit to more meaningful conversations. Perhaps as Scott suggests, the opening phrase might be, “how aren’t you?” Hmm. To take this seriously I strongly recommend reading Fierce Conversations and practicing the principles with those you love and care for. (I’ve read it before… Time for a revisit). Hey… It’s a return on investment issue… You get back what you put in. And yes life is squiggly, messy and sticky. The real you and me reflect that complexity. But like you and I, connecting with others in a deep way can be rich, authentic, and ultimately most rewarding.

Character Moves: (As taken from and only partly representative of the principles of Fierce Conversations… Please get the videos, read the book, practice, etc).

  1. Develop an outline of a conversation meant to dig deep (What Scott calls a “mineral rights” conversation): A. What’s going on relative to this issue? B. How is it impacting you? Who else is affected? C. If nothing changes, what are the implications? D. How have you contributed to this situation? E. What is the ideal outcome? F. What is the most potent step you can take to begin resolution?
  2. Debrief a conversation by asking yourself: A. Was I genuinely curious about this person and their reality? B. Did I work to understand reality from where he/she stands? C. Did feelings get expressed? D. What parts of me failed to show up? E. Who did most of the talking?
  3. Avoid these mistakes in one-to-one conversations: A. Doing most of the talking. B. Taking the problem away from someone. C. Not inquiring about feelings. D. Delivering unclear messages, coaching, instructions. E. Canceling the meeting. F. Allowing interruptions. G. Running out of time. H. Assuming your meetings are effective.

After doing intense assessments with top executives over the years, the single biggest hurdle beyond ego self-management, is the intent and skill to have deep meaningful conversations about the REAL issues. In the end, the conversation really is the relationship.

Relationship Conversations in The Triangle,



THINK, Ask… Think Again… Then ‘Send’

Accountability Collaboration Organizational leadership


Key Point: Warren Buffett says, “What the human being is best at doing, is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” I know better, but this Buffett quote applied to me the other day.

I am currently driving hard getting several key projects delivered before the end of the year and recently got some serious email push back from another executive challenging some assumptions on one of these. Why was this person challenging MY assumptions? After all, this is MY project, I’ve got approval for it, and doesn’t this person understand I have a “big title?” Certainly this associate must appreciate the complexity and tight schedule we’re on. So, knowing I’m right of course, I rip off an email essentially asking the person to pull forward instead of pushing back. When I subsequently received more complete information about the concerns raised by this executive, they were more than legitimate. I made some big assumptions that made sense on the surface but were unsupported by additional detail and facts. So I ended up eating crow instead of turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving. I apologized to my colleague for my quick, incomplete response, and committed to work with him and his team to dig in further.

I’ve been leading and managing for so long that my first rodeo involved the wooly mammoth. I know better than to machine gun fire off an email response about anything. So why does this still happen? Well, we’re human for one thing, and the act of moving forward is not about perfection. We make and unfortunately, repeat mistakes. In this case, I skipped over several key checks I normally try and follow. (I can give you lots of legitimately sounding excuses as to why I did). This cost me, and others, to waste valuable time. I need to sharpen my tool kit, and practice more. Therefore I am revisiting my checklist as follows:

Character Moves:

  1. Stop, think and put your ego in check. Why do you feel the need for an emotional response when challenged? I bet it is the ego in control and the matter is more about you being right, protecting your authority, territory, or some other defensive matter. Being right is less important than doing the right thing. It is hard to be this self-aware in the “heat” of daily work, and the ego can be a troublemaker with the best intention. Putting one’s ego in the penalty box doesn’t mean being a wimp. Actually, counter intuitively acting with the ego in check makes you stronger.
  2. Ask questions first. You will be glad that you did. Sincerely ask for additional clarification from the person challenging your viewpoint. Get below the surface perspective of the other person and understand their situation and aspirations relative to your position on the matter. (By the way, email or text is not always the best medium, but that’s another matter).
  3. Seek counsel first. Get advice from others who know your blind spots. All of us need trusted advisors who are confident telling us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear. These are really valuable colleagues. Build these relationships and recognize that the very best seek counsel all the time. Going at it alone can be a tip off that you might find yourself on the wrong road. The more at risk, of course the more counsel is required.

These simple steps are a paradox in that they make so much obvious sense, but in the midst of daily pressures, they can be skipped over. Life unfolds in untidy ways. We have multiple business and personal things going on, and it is so tempting to take short cuts. I pride myself on being action oriented and confident in my ability to think critically. However, I also know if I skip the three steps above, it ultimately slows me down and my thinking is less than critical.

Turkey instead of crow in the Triangle,



The Thanksgiving 10

Accountability Gratitude Personal leadership


Key Point: It is always worth a reflection on being grateful, and during Canadian and/or American Thanksgiving it just seems appropriate to give thanks for our work. (Canadian Thanksgiving is Monday, Oct. 14). So here is a “Thanksgiving for your work,” from a personal leadership perspective. Be thankful, IF YOU have done YOUR BEST at WORK to:

1. Understand the strategic intent of your organization and know how you valuably fit in.

2. Know what results and value are expected of you in very specific and measurable ways.

3. Understand what you are good at, like to do, and how you bring this value to others at work.

4. Develop yourself to become more valuable this year than last year; that you are continuing to build your competence and relevance.

5. Build strong work relationships by giving your time, and energy to help others.

6. Bring solutions to challenging problems with identified results and make improvements you and others can measure.

7. Give much, unconditional recognition to others and sincerely applaud their successes.

8. Deliver results and meaningful value others find important and vital; they are attracted to you and seek out your contributions.

9. Attack problems, situations, and processes but never other people.

10. State your views with honesty, frankness, integrity, and respect; always with the best intent to make things better rather than just to be right.

Character Move:

  1. If you have done your best on all 10 above, you truly have much to be thankful for because you are likely flourishing at work.
  2. If you haven’t done your best on a few, or many of the 10 above, you can be grateful you still have your job so that you can be even more thankful next Thanksgiving after you do better to apply the 10 :).

Grateful for attending to the Thanksgiving 10 in The Triangle,