Helicopter Parents and Bosses Crash!

Accountability Personal leadership Resilience


Key Point: Stop hovering as a parent or manager! I’m a huge cheerleader and supporter of my now adult children. When they hurt or struggle I don’t like the situation, and it is natural to want to fly in and try to “fix things.” It is so tempting to be the Rescue King, and many of us, with the best intentions can cross the line to become what literature calls “helicopter parents.” We all end up learning that they are the only person capable of fixing a difficult situation in their own grown up lives. There is a lesson in this for bosses too.

A new study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that being overly involved in your grown up kids’ lives could do more harm than good. The same parents who have been calling their kids’ college professors to complain and interfere about grades are now, you guessed it, showing up at work. This is becoming an all too often occurrence. Parents are accompanying kids to job interviews, and believe it or not, actually going to the top of the organization to complain about how their recently hired children have been unfairly treated.

A recent article on the subject noted: “Managers today feel that Gen NEXT (millennial) employees often look like a ‘deer in headlights’ or ‘as if they’ve been shot’ when the manager gives the slightest bit of critical feedback. And why wouldn’t they? If this is the first time someone has told you bluntly you failed, you’d take it personally too. “Parents are sending an unintentional message to their children that they are not competent,” says Holly Schiffrin, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington. “When adult children don’t get to practice problem-solving skills, they can’t solve these problems in the future.”

Everyone reading this blog has probably run into difficult situations at work. At some time in our career, it is highly likely we will have a crummy boss, miserable peers, unreasonable customers, and occasionally all three at the same time. We are all going to be treated poorly, perhaps even unfairly. Yet when we ask successful leaders to describe when they have learned or grown the most, they usually describe a how they navigated through a very challenging project or situation. So why would we deny our children the same experience?

You may think this parental interference is far fetched but I’ve seen it in action. Think about how you would feel if your mom or dad called your boss to complain about the way you were treated? Ideally parents are there to hear us safely vent our feelings. That doesn’t mean or give them license to take action on our behalf. Frankly, it is disrespectful to all involved, especially our children. And most of us parents know there is another side to the story. Do we really want to find what it is?

The same hovering concept applies to managers. I remember watching a new sales leader knock himself out doing the work of his sales people rather than coaching, teaching, supporting and giving them feedback. He was well intentioned, but the consequence of being a helicopter manager was that he took on all the stress and burden of his sales people’s success (or failure). And even worse, his sales team stood back and let him do so rather than being self-accountable. Unwittingly he made them less effective sales people.

Character Moves:

  1. As a parent, encourage your children to develop skills dealing with conflict, criticism and disappointment; including but not limited to learning how to conduct difficult conversations. Do not hover and never (unless it is a rare matter of personal safety) directly interfere. It will make matters worse for all.
  2. As a leader/manager learn not to hover the same way. Do not manage and try to “fix” people. Rather, coach people for results. Care enough to give constructive and specific feedback… And yes, that means positive criticism. Recognition is vital, but you will rob your employees of personal growth if you exclusively give “badges” of praise. 
  3. As an employee, don’t take it totally personally when you’re constructively criticized. Be self-accountable and ask yourself what you have to do to change things. Fix yourself first. Be the first to go to others, including your boss and parents if appropriate, for coaching advice. Ask for help and insight about what YOU might do. Take counsel and then YOU decide what action YOU will take. 

No hovering in The Triangle



Play Like Girls!

Organizational leadership Respect Teamwork


Key Point: Play like a girl. Play like a man. Really, what’s the difference? My current executive team is compiled entirely of women. My last executive team was all men. Both teams are excellent and I would work with each of them again, in any combination. The ideal is to have gender mix, because greater diversity promotes more angles of thinking and potential innovation. While some gender differences are obviously a matter of biological fact, in terms of leadership excellence we are gender independent. It’s all about mindset and respect.

The “play like girls” cartoon circulating the Sochi Winter Olympics after the Canadian women’s hockey team won their gold medal amused me. In this case, after the Canadian women’s hockey team’s tenacious and spectacular comeback to win the 2014 Sochi gold, the cartoon shows Canada’s men’s coach imploring his boys to play the same way. (You likely now know that the Canadian men did win a gold medal too). And because there is still too much ignorance about the “inferiority” of women in sports and all aspects of work/ life, the message in the cartoon is important for the time being. Women flat out compete with every bit of success, grit, confidence, fear, and failure as men. We essentially win and lose the same way.

Yet, according to the highly respected international organization, Catalyst, recent research shows negative disparity between males and females at the median and on an “apple to apple” comparison in many categories. Gender bias is improving, but we still have a long ways to go in 2014. 

Character Moves:

1. Become a vocalist for diversity AND inclusion. Regardless of gender, it is important for all leadership to understand that the best teams have common values (like the Character Triangle), but total diversity on every possible combination of gender, ethnicity, race, etc.

2. Help get across to all, that having a gender-balanced workforce is good for everyone: Gender-balanced teams are often more fun to work in, produce more innovative solutions, and create opportunities for everyone to grow.

3. If you are a male, advocate openly for gender diversity, ensure that your direct reports have clear accountability for driving diversity initiatives, and work to make diversity/inclusion “mainstream” throughout your workplace.

4. Watch Doug Conant, retired President & CEO of Campbell Soup Company, describe the key piece of advice he gave to Denise Morrison, Campbell’s current CEO, earlier in her career.

 Girls and boys in The Triangle,



The Winter Olympics and Gold Medal Careers

Accountability Teamwork Transformation


Key Point: When we play not to lose instead of playing to win, too often the very thing we are desperately trying to protect happens… We lose. We succeed more often if we play to win. While watching the Canadian Women’s hockey team beat the Americans for the 2014 Winter Olympics gold medal, after the latter had a two-goal lead late into the game… You could see this phenomena take place in HD… It was literally evident in the eyes of the players. If you watch most gold medal winning performances, the winners are on the edge. They have adopted the “play to win” mindset. Champions make a conscious decision to focus everything on the action required for winning and not the actions to prevent losing. Too often the medal “favorites” disappoint and in retrospect, realize they unconsciously or consciously focused on preventing mistakes rather than creating the winning moves.

In Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s new best selling book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, they do a great job combining science and story telling. While there are numerous lessons to be learned from the book, if there’s one thing I want to draw your attention to, it’s this: Competing well means taking risks that are normally constrained by fear.

A post about Top Dog reinforces the message of focusing on playing to win: “We definitely don’t want to use any of the science to pigeonhole people,” Merryman says, but what the authors learned shouldn’t be ignored. “There isn’t an ideal type of competitor… Po and I write about how people can be playing to win or playing not to lose.” The difference, she explains, is that playing to win means focusing on success, whereas playing not to lose focuses on preventing mistakes. “I think it’s easy to switch into that playing-not-to-lose mentality… But if you want to grow, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to innovate, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.”

Watching the Olympic athletes and reading the great stories in Top Dog are very instructive for our work life and us. Our personal spark will likely never ignite, or be expressed, when our orientation is just to get through the day. Competitive fire will only flourish when long-term goals are high, and when it’s accepted that risks and mistakes go hand-in-hand. We might not like to be judged, but having our reputation on the line can unleash intense effort and creativity. Self-accountability includes playing to win. Respect involves putting fear and related stress under our control, and accepting the mistakes associated without destructive self-blame when we fall. Abundance focuses on the rewards and spoils of winning rather than the false safety of not losing.

Character Moves:

  1. Take a moment to examine whether you are playing to win or not to lose in your career. Are you looking for ways to stretch yourself and “ski jump,” or are you focusing on lying low and “playing it safe?” What will this strategy bring you? What does “safe” really mean?
  2. Know what playing to win looks like in your environment. It does not mean being irresponsibly foolhardy. However, it does involve risk taking. And like former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said (and the Top Dog authors note): “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
  3. Take Bronson and Merryman’s scientific based insight to heart: “Come out of the shadow and seek opportunities where you’re going to get the credit or the blame – more than likely, you’ll try harder, throw yourself into it, and surprise yourself.”

Play to win gold medals in The Triangle,



What if the 12th Man Could See in Every Locker Room?

Organizational culture Respect Teamwork


Key Point: Respect in every work place and school must be the minimum standard for winning. When my beloved Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, I was ecstatic. Part of Seattle’s success is attributed to the aptly dubbed “12th Man.” Those familiar with the NFL know that Seattle Seahawks fans are so loud and boisterous that they actually have an impact on the game’s outcome. They’ve literally caused small earthquakes. It is very difficult for opponents to win playing on Seattle’s home field. And their 12th Man also wildly appreciates the winning character of the team on the field. I trust and hope, based on the philosophy of Coach Pete Carroll, that if the 12th Man could see inside the Seahawks’ locker room, they would also cheer and applaud… (Just look how awesome the post-Super Bowl speech was)… They’d see that a culture of character, accountability, respect and abundance emanated from the inside out. Sports are entertainment, but one reason we connect with it so much is it reflects the stories that play out in our daily life and culture. In some ways, the 12th Man is a metaphor for all sports fans. Now, in contrast, we have an inside look in the Miami Dolphins football team locker room. And that inside look shows a primitive, shamefully disgusting workplace culture.

Even if you are not a football or sports fan, you are likely aware of the harassment case and the independent investigation on this matter conducted by the National Football League. All 144-pages of the full report were released last week and provide a spotlight on bullying, bigotry, discrimination, mental illness/wellness and complete leadership failure in the workplace. While the disgusting objectifying of women, and racial bigotry is enough to make one puke, add homophobic locker room insults into the mix and the toxic cocktail is complete. While the locker room isn’t an office or even a construction work environment, my belief is that it reflects the underbelly of our culture. And while the Miami’s situation may be extreme, we would be naive to discount this investigation as not being instructive for examining all other environments. Unfortunately elements of deep disrespect still exist in too many workplaces and schools. It is a leadership call to action. We have to up our game and in matters related to the workplace, we are not the just spectating. We are the players.

William C. Rhoden, a sports reporter for the New York Times wrote the following: “My first reaction to reading Ted Wells’ 144-page report on the Miami Dolphins harassment case was that Commissioner Roger Goodell should ensure that Richie Incognito never be allowed to play another down in the NFL. Incognito, the Dolphins’ suspended offensive lineman, was the ringleader and catalyst of a reign of terror directed primarily at his teammate Jonathan Martin for two seasons… The Wells report paints a graphic and vile portrait of an NFL locker room that may shock even those familiar with the often lowbrow culture of men’s team sports.” The report itself goes on to conclude: “The behavioral activity that occurred here was harmful to the players, the team and the league. It was inconsistent with a civilized workplace – even in a professional football league and even among tough football players whose very profession is defined by physical and mental domination of players across the line of scrimmage. There are lines – even in a football locker room -that should not be crossed, as they were here. We leave the determination of precisely whereat to draw those lines to those who spend their lives playing, coaching and managing the game of professional football.”

One of the additional and deeply troubling insights from the investigation is the all too common reaction of the individual being bullied. In this case, Jonathan Martin truly believed that Incognito was one of the players who had driven him from the team, but at the time, he blamed himself for leaving, feeling that he was simply too sensitive and that he was at fault for not stopping the abusive behavior. Martin struggles with depression and even contemplated suicide as a way out. He grew up in a loving, affluent, supportive home environment and yet felt ill equipped to deal with bullying from as far back as his time in middle school. Martin is a Stanford graduate and accomplished athlete, yet still haunted by feelings of shame and somehow being unworthy of respect. Everyone one of us deserves to live in a safe and respectful environment while being able to navigate forward when we’re not.

Character Moves:

  1. Ensure you know how to recognize respect/disrespect. Know your blind spots and areas of ignorance when it comes to acceptance and adaptation to other viewpoints. As an example: If you still think being gay is a “lifestyle” as recently stated publicly by two prominent sports casters, you likely have some personal work to do.
  2. Do you have the tools to intervene and stop bullying of yourself, or others? Or do you want to fit in or avoid it so you collude with the bullies? Get training on the skills/tools. Are you a leader by action? Do you still laugh at those jokes you know you shouldn’t? Why?
  3. Be part of a leadership movement to increase understanding, tolerance, compassion and love while having the courage to speak out and act against any type of abuse or bullying. Step up. Be accountable. Be respectful. Be abundant!

Better 12th person in The Triangle,


P.S. It isn’t just in sports. Check out the bold Feb. 17 headline from the front page of The Province, Vancouver B.C.’s most widely read paper: Racial Slurs, Sexual Innuendos, Bullying and Harassment… Inside West Vancouver’s Police force.


He Sprayed Atomic Balm in My Underwear!

Authenticity Kindness Respect


Key Point: When you do things to people that are mean spirited or demeaning, even without intended malice, it might come back to haunt you. Sometimes, it returns many years later. Although it may be tempting or you’ve rationalized the intended behavior (e.g. “they had it coming”), taking action that embarrasses or humiliates someone is wasteful and of no value to anyone, especially you.

A humorous and somewhat trivial example reinforced this point for me. 40 years ago I played college football (No… Our helmets weren’t made of leather). Locker rooms are usually a lot of fun, full of good-natured pranks, teasing and jokes. Most of it serves as constructive team building. My freshman year, we were coming off a national championship season, had a winning team and a great locker room. The next year wasn’t as successful, and consequently the locker room was less fun too. I remember this guy in particular, one of the best players on the team, spraying my underwear with liniment (think Icy Hot) that made wearing them impossible to say the least. Go ahead and YouTube some “Icy Hot Pranks” if you want to see the painful results.

At the time I was ticked off for a bunch of reasons… I thought it was childish and untimely. People that know me understand I love practical jokes and pranks. Perhaps I was thin skinned on that day, but I just didn’t appreciate anything funny about it at the time. I haven’t seen or heard from this person since that year (he graduated and went on to play professional football). Then this week, 40-plus years later, he contacted me. He was seeking a favor. Frankly, that ancient incident is insignificant and I’m genuinely interested in helping this person and saying hello again. However, I’m just amazed how the world works and how many times we cross bridges with each other, often in the most unexpected times and ways.

Character Moves:

  1. Be MINDFUL of all our actions, big and small. Unfortunately, based on our limitations as people, we are all likely to unintentionally do things that hurt others. They WILL likely remember how we made them feel. They might not hold a grudge, or have residual hurt, but it is difficult for people to forget the experience. They most often remember the feeling forever.
  2. Do not ever think what you do doesn’t matter because your relationship is meaningless or temporary. Every relationship is meaningful. It is amazing how, where, and when the connection returns. And for some interesting reason, timeliness is often not favorable to us when we treat other people poorly.
  3. On the flip side, when we bring value to others, give of ourselves and make people FEEL GREAT, they often show up in the best possible, unexpected way to lend a hand. We do not have to run around trying to be liked by everyone, but intentionally and mindfully leaving every interaction with a positive feeling, even in difficult situations, is the constructive path to take.
  4. And never, ever spray anything, without permission, into anyone’s underwear… Haha.

Do not hurt in the Triangle,



The Big Mean Black Dog Shows Up at Work

Empathy Respect Well-being


Key Point: We can all benefit from increasing our personal understanding of mental wellness and illness. Today, we recognize that good mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Nor is it absolute – some people are more mentally healthy than others, whether mentally ill or not. In the work place, mental illness/wellness is becoming an increasingly important matter. Absence away from (and during) work, related to mental illness is dramatically increasing, along with the use of prescription drugs. In some cases the ending is tragic as highlighted by the recent untimely death of Oscar winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, which of course involved the daunting mental illness issues connected to addiction, opiates and other substance abuse.

Those of us fortunate enough to not be ill with an affliction in our brain, often have a difficult time understanding what it feels like. It is almost like back pain (not really obvious from the outside but aggravatingly painful at its best and totally debilitating at its worst). Depression is an example. Please watch this “Black Dog” video by the World Health Organization. It does a great job communicating the sense of dealing with depression.

After watching this, why would anyone intentionally want to feel like this? They do so because they are unwell.

We need a multi-pronged and systemic approach to confronting mental wellness/illness. Education and awareness will help. We do not expect people to hide or offer an apology when stricken with cancer, diabetes, and so on. Hoping mental sickness will go away and somehow people will just individually cope is not a solution. And for those of us not mentally sick, usually with the best intentions, we often just want people to “suck it up,” “get over it” and “grow up.” Or in our high achieving, revved up leadership mode, we just want to fix it for the other person.

Character Moves:

  1. Educate yourself and encourage the open discussion of mental wellness and illness. Help people with these issues get professional treatment.
  2. Promote or seek a balanced approach to treatment. Positive psychology is useful and it complements rather than replaces traditional therapy. While we need to work on reducing unhealthy thoughts or behaviors, there is scientific backed data on the merits of building happiness as well. As researchers noted in a recent Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, “Troubled persons want more satisfaction, contentment, and joy, not just less sadness and worry.” In addition to “fixing what’s wrong,” the researchers say, professionals can help “build what’s strong.” With encouragement, even people who are clinically depressed can still form healthy relationships and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  3. MAKE IT SAFE. Become aware of the signals that indicate the possibility of mental illness and how to connect professional help. Be supportive when the connection is made. If you are unwell mentally, also have the courage to seek help.
  4. Promote mental wellness and understand that you can work on improving mental fitness just like you can with your cardiovascular system.

Mentally well in The Triangle,