Doing the Tango at Work!

Abundance Collaboration Organizational culture


Key Point: You need to be valued as a helper at work and have the mindset and skills to be an effective one! This spirit of giving and generosity is core to Abundance in the Character Triangle. Why is this so important?

In today’s knowledge based work environments, networking and collaboration for high performance is a necessity. There is an explosion of information, and insight needs to gingerly flow in every direction, allowing for the connection between opportunity/possibility and solution/innovation to rapidly snap together. This usually happens through a dense network of mutual assistance. Top down command and control environments are just too cumbersome. People who wait for the top down “memo” to get collaborative are too pedestrian. Lone geniuses are no longer likely to be smart or skilled enough to create exclusively. In turbulent knowledge systems, innovation emerges most effectively from different people swiftly bringing unique value to each other. This requires a helping or collaborative skill set. Helpers are value generators and while they have clear accountabilities for their own results, they also have the capacity to ask and give of themselves in a timely way.

“Make others successful.” That is a quote from something called “The Little Red Book of IDEO.” You likely know about IDEO, the world famous company that focuses on creative development. This Red Book captures its core beliefs and values. IDEO is putting significant focus and research on collaboration as a foundation to the principle of helping others be successful. People in IDEO were asked to rank five teammates who helped them the most and then rated each on three attributes. They also applied the same rating to a randomly chosen non-helper. The three attributes were: Competence, Trust and Accessibility. Surprisingly, trust and accessibility were found to be greater differentiators than competence. The findings also reinforced that collaboration must be culturally reinforced. It flourishes through intentional acts of helpfulness and the recognition that goes along with it.

Character Moves:

  1. Identify the top five helpers you work with. Why? Rate them on Competence, Trust and Accessibility. Who comes out on top? Why? How would people at work rate you as a helper? Would you be in their top five?
  2. Understand the importance of Trust, Accessibility and Competence as it relates to you having a helpful, collaborative skill set. And embrace the value of abundance. Recognize that generosity of spirit not only creates a sense of simple gratitude but that it’s also good business for you and the organization.
  3. Learn when to ask for and give help. Often we don’t know we need it until we see it in front of us. And vice versa. When collaboration happens effectively, the rhythm of the organization takes on a dance-like quality; hence the Tango analogy as referred to in the recent Harvard Business Review article, IDEO’s Culture of Helping, by Teresa Amabile.

The helpful Tango in The Triangle,



I Will Pay You $2,000 to Quit Now!

Accountability Management Organizational culture


Key Point: Last week I offered every new hire (about 50 of them) $2,000 dollars if they wanted to quit. No questions asked. All they had to do at the end of the day was tell the leader running our “welcome session” that they changed their mind and wanted to leave the company. We would make it easy, without any kind of resentment on our part. Those of you who follow the work of Tony Hsieh, the CEO of the successful Internet retailer Zappos, know that this is not my idea. Tony, and likely a few others, have had this practice of paying reluctant new hires to quit in place for some time. The reason makes sense. The culture and mission of the company is totally in the hands, hearts and minds of every person. How could any leader afford to entrust someone not fully invested in the values and purpose of the company to stay? It is a huge investment for the company and new hire. Anything less than full commitment from both parties is wasteful.

While paying people to quit is somewhat novel, it may be a little too downstream to be sufficient in keeping the best people. I prefer to invest in the selection process BEFORE someone gains entry. Note the quote below from Claudio Fernandez-Araoz‘s Creating a Culture of Unconditional Love, about the importance of a very tight screening and selecting filter for hiring:

“So, how do you build a great culture? It starts with you, the leader, using it as a filter for hiring. My model is Egon Zehnder himself, who founded our firm and gave it his names. From the beginning, he vowed to consider only the strongest candidates to join him: People with double degrees from top schools, international experience, high emotional intelligence, and remarkable career trajectories. More important, he would never, ever, hire anyone who was not dying to work in a highly professional, ethical, collaborative firm. Before I joined, I was interviewed by some 35 partners, including all executive committee members, in five different countries, over a single week. Egon personally checked my references with McKinsey, my employer then. That’s the standard process, and it remains intact today. Until he retired as CEO, Egon met with and approved every single consultant who joined any of our 68 offices around the world – for 36 years. Today, his successor, Damien O’Brien, continues the practice, no exceptions allowed.”

The two examples of hiring filters extend from an online retailer employing a lot of call center people, to a high end consulting firm selecting mostly double degreed candidates. But the common premise for both companies is that people make the culture. Most leading organization pundits believe that culture trumps strategy. As a leader, I want a very diverse and inclusive culture… Except on character attributes. I want these values to be standard, commonly held, shared and developed. No exceptions.

Character Moves:

  1. Hire and get hired on character first. Use the most sophisticated filters you can find. Hire on evidence of character in action and previous results achieved… NOT well-positioned intent. If you’re applying, show up with stories and evidence of character and results. The interview process is only part of a deeper selection system.
  2. Not every organization, culture and person is a good match for obvious reasons. Be definitive in what attributes and character values you are looking for… Whether hiring or wanting to be hired.
  3. Be intentional about your character. My core framework of course revolves the Big Three in the Character Triangle… Accountability, Respect and Abundance . How about you? Be ready to passionately articulate them and give examples of how you put them to work to bring value to others.

Paying to stay in the Triangle,



Are We Becoming Too Darned Soft?

Accountability Growth mindset Resilience


Key Point: I’m starting to wonder if we have collectively lost some level of mental toughness we owe ourselves. Employee engagement scores are at all time lows, in part because more than ever, employees are blaming companies for inadequacies (some well deserved). “It is someone else’s fault that I’m not thriving at work.” “It is somebody else to blame because my career is not progressing.” Apparently, the mysterious “they” is out to prevent people from achieving something or another.

I was struck by Thomas Friedman‘s Op Ed in the New York Times. Essentially teachers are being blamed, more than ever, for students’ inability to get their work done and completed well. If students get D’s and F ‘s, the administration and parents now find “it’s mostly because the teachers haven’t found the key to performance.” “Students don’t get assignments in on time because they are burdened with Facebook and text time.” Huh? Read the article. I hope it makes you stop and think about what this means.

Hey, I’m a big fan of giving feedback effectively and all the enlightened things a good coach should do. But be self-accountable enough to recognize your part in the scheme of things. If you are not clear on your assignment… Get clear. If you’re not engaged… Do what you can to get there. Stop being such a big baby and so darn soft. I’m not asking you to apply self-blame either. That’s destructive. But be honest with yourself. Just do your part to step up. If you’re getting a “D” at work, figure out how to fix it. And if you get feedback that it’s not going well, have the mental toughness to understand your part. I owe the organization A+ work, not B work. If not, I need to suck it up, and fix it… No excuses.

Character Moves:

  1. Take a mental toughness check. How do you think about grading? Demand self-excellence? You can do so and still be kind and empathetic to yourself and others.
  2. Ask yourself if you are taking on the right balance of responsibility for the success of others. (Including your kids, etc, in your personal life).
  3. Getting an A is earned, not a given right. Are you mentally tough enough to demand excellence of yourself and others?

Mentally tough in The Triangle,



Does Your Mobile Device Cause the Flu?

Respect Well-being


Key Point: Our cell phones and iPads are likely disgusting. The germs feasting on it are like all of Africa’s wildlife visiting the water hole at sun down. Germs are everywhere of course, and well beyond mobile devices. The data suggests that 80 percent of influenza-type sickness can be stamped out through more intentional hand washing. Research shows that only 34 percent of people wash their hands after sneezing. On average, we touch our faces about 16 times an hour. The hand washing research on the behavior of healthcare workers is also alarming. So the Government of Alberta has initiated an awareness campaign that also includes instruction on how to wash our hands properly. Workplaces throughout Alberta have decals like the one below in bathrooms, offices, etc. You might think that our mothers would have taught us better, but apparently we need a refresher


However, the “mobile device hygiene” that I think is even more lacking, revolves around how we use them in the presence of others. The abuse of wireless technology regarding face-to-face communications may be causing an epidemic of the “cellfie flu.” It seems like we may need an awareness campaign and courtesy instructions to minimize the sick, even nauseous, feeling that we often get: We ‘re not really important, playing second fiddle to the mobile device in the hands of others.

I’m a big technology user and I think our mobile communication culture is unbelievably wonderful. But I’m a “cellfie flu” carrier too, so in part, I’m writing this blog to myself 🙂 Maybe decals like the one above need to be developed and placed at Starbucks and other cafes around the world. Would the instructions on the decal include the following?

Character Moves: “How to use your mobile device when you are with others.”

  1. Switch your device on silent and put your ears on. Put the mobile device away. Have the decency and courtesy to look the person(s) you are with directly in the eye to show you’re present to fully engage with them. The connection is with THEM, not the wireless network.
  2. Have the strength and courage to be present. When you hear the mobile device “chirping” in the background, ignore it until you have thoughtfully concluded your time with other(s).
  3. If you need the mobile device during your personal connection (you might have an emergency, you want to look something up, etc.), kindly request permission from the person(s) you’re with.
  4. Do not text when you can talk! If you text someone sitting across from you, you will be struck by the pox and spontaneously combust.

Mobile “cleanliness” in The Triangle,



Do You Really Care if You Care?

Abundance Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: It’s time for the annual “Character Care” checkup. Does your boss really know anything about you? Does he or she really care? Do you really care for the people who work for and with you?

I believe people have both a right and responsibility to thrive at work and life. As a colleague and leader, we have a right and responsibility to help those in our lives and work prosper. People are self-accountable for thriving, but we have a big impact on contributing to the conditions by which they can. And to establish a condition for them to blossom, I believe we have to really care for them. The following is my minimum “care checklist.”

1. I show I care for you when I know about your real aspirations and challenges.

2. I know lots about who and what’s really important to you. I may not always remember everything, but I genuinely care about those you love… Your partner, children, pets, pet peeves, etc… I remember milestones that are important to you.

3. I commit to help you advance yourself. I encourage you, applaud your progress/successes, and with sincere care, help you confront shortcomings and failures. I tell you what I think you need to know to continuously improve, while appreciating your uniqueness.

4. I ask you for your insight and help. I value your opinion and guidance.

5. You trust me and share your hopes and fears with me. I do the same with you.

6. I trust you with what’s really important to me. We genuinely never try to let each other down.

Character Moves:

  1. Draw up your personal “care checklist.” Determine how well do you show up with integrity to consistently apply these “care” beliefs. It takes huge amounts of energy. 

Care “check up” in The Triangle,



‘Bridge-Gate’ & Payback at Work

Empathy Organizational leadership Respect


Key Point: The three “R’s” associated with victimization are: Retribution, Redirected Aggression and Revenge. Each has no long term legitimate value in the work place. In their book, Payback, Judith Eve Lipton and David Barash note: “Since humans began cooperating, and also failing to do so, there have been, among the under-appreciated drivers of human misery, the three R’s of payback.” Further noted by the authors, “In most cases of payback, the person who pained the initial victim receives his comeuppance either immediately (in which case it is retaliation), or after a delay and typically with heightened intensity (revenge). But in a more bizarre formulation, it is sometimes not the source of the pain but an innocent third party who is on the receiving end (redirected aggression).” I have seen the miserable three R’s in action in the workplace. I also want to see them expunged from the default action too many people apply. Is this wishful naivety? I don’t think so. (Make a list of common, big and small ways you have seen payback applied at work… Hmm… Not behaviors to be proud of).

Although many of my readers live outside the U.S., I’m assuming most are aware that New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, claims that he wasn’t personally involved in the recent and despicable act of punishing the people of Fort Lee, New Jersey, by artificially creating a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. This behavior is a living example of redirected aggression causing misery to many innocents… Like kids stuck on school buses for hours, and first responders seriously delayed in helping the critically hurt (and possibly the death of one 91-year-old woman suffering from cardiac arrest). Christie, although pleading ignorance, has a history of what The New York Times called “vindictive behavior,” including a Rutgers University professor being denied financing for a research project after he had voted against Christie on a redistricting commission, and a Republican colleague being disinvited to an event in his own district after he had a disagreement with the governor. Despite whoever proves to be culpable, the behavior flowing out of the governor’s office serves as a useful reference for this blog.

The application of payback on the world stage is beyond my pay grade. However, what I do strongly believe is that the three “R’s” rarely have sustainable value in any work organization. The people who have thrived in my experience are those that bring the most value to others, not those who become ulcer-causing experts at payback. The very best leaders are tough-minded and make difficult decisions every day. They embrace, rather than avoid constructive conflict. BUT they DO NOT, as a matter of their ethical framework, typically come from a place of payback.

Character Moves:

  1. Avoid the three R’s. When you feel like you’ve been unfairly wronged at work (and it’s almost 100 percent guaranteed that you will one day), take some serious time to contemplate the best long-term action. You will be tempted, based on a sense of evolutionary survival, to apply one of the three R’s. You may even fantasize about using them. I must admit, employing this behavior has crossed my mind from time to time. DO NOT DO IT.
  2. Look for a more constructive, valued path. Applying the three R’s is short term, destructive and frankly selfish. Talk to people you respect. Get their insight for applying action that will bring the best value to you and others. You will not be considered a patsy if you don’t strike back. You on the other hand will be deeply “self and other” respected for taking the high road.

As the authors of Payback so thoughtfully write: “The more we comprehend the workings of the three R’s, the more effective mechanisms we may find for transcending selfishness and expanding empathy and compassion.”

Constructive Payback in The Triangle,