Woman by the Pole

Empathy Kindness Respect


Key Point: We need to expect kindness and compassion to be a fundamental principle in organizations; not a “nice to have” quality, but a “must do.” Why? It’s the right way to treat each other as human beings AND it makes a difference to business results (a research/data based comment, Google it).

My wife Kathleen, visits her 94-year-old mother most every day. She often takes her on a walk to the main cafeteria. Kathleen noticed that there is an elderly woman who comes to the dining area and stands next to a pole by herself for long periods of time. As Kathleen sat down with her mom for tea the other day, another woman resident sharing the same table, pointed to the woman by the pole. “Ah… There’s my friend.” She went on to explain that the woman by the pole was very lonely, a recent widow, and couldn’t speak any English. “How do you communicate with her?” Kathleen asked. Her friend responded, “Well we don’t talk, but everyday I go up to her and just give her a hug, a long smile, and stand beside her.” Hmm.

Over my career, I’ve seen meanness more often than I’d like to believe in the workplace: People make fun of others’ appearance (too fat, too ugly, too skinny, too skanky, too whatever). And of course there is the ever popular gossiping. Even worse though, emotionally immature managers have somehow talked themselves into believing that giving someone “hell” is an acceptable way of treating those who they disagree with, have made a mistake, or they simply don’t like. But kindness and compassion are key ingredients in learning from failure, because they increase what researchers call “psychological safety.” Innovation depends on people learning from failure. Want people around you to “shut down?” Yell at or humiliate them a few times, and that’s exactly what will happen. They will stop sharing their ideas or views with you. (Keep in mind I am a huge fan of tough-minded feedback and coaching; just do it with respect).  

I recently saw a presentation from a Facebook executive, and I was curious how much EMPATHY is a theme throughout this social media giant. The goal is to have Facebook employees better understand what it’s like to use their own product under challenging conditions (for example, the one billion disabled customers, people using Facebook with little bandwidth, etc), and help them take this under consideration for their work. It got me thinking. Maybe we need an empathy lab to help all employees emotionally develop through designing and practicing kindness and compassion. There are still too many disenfranchised workers “quietly standing by the pole.” See them.

Character Moves: 

  1. Kindness, empathy and compassion are values that require intentional practice and we have a right to expect that from each other. Of course, we need to get results. As I often say, “no results means no job.” But I also want to add this: “Be a jerk, and no job either.”

Empathy Labs in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I recently wrote a fairly “aggressive” piece of feedback to one of our voice over talents. Ultimately, I felt bad about my tone, and knew I could have handled it better. The person needed the direction they received, but just like there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, there’s a line between “c’mon, I know you got this next time,” and being a jerk about it. Everyone knows it’s not all accolades and roses out there (and it shouldn’t be), but there’s no pride in being a punk.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Data Driven Leadership

Abundance Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: One of my proudest milestones as a Chief People Officer was to intentionally declare the following to all in our organization: “People have a right to great leaders and leaders have a responsibility to be great (not perfect).” We did a lot of research in developing a leadership framework that declared exactly what we meant by “great leadership.” We were very flattered when the giant of “leadership” John Maxwell stated very publicly, that our framework, was “one of the best he’d ever seen.” Therefore, I was gratified to read the following Stanford article, which also validates key elements of leadership we strongly endorse. The Stanford article states:

“Most leadership advice is based on anecdotal observation and basic common sense. Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Kathryn Shaw tried a different tack: Data-driven analysis. Shaw, along with fellow Stanford GSB professor Edward Lazear and Harvard Business School’s Christopher Stanton, published a 2015 paper titled ‘The Value of Bosses,’ in which they gathered data from… in an attempt to see whether they could show that bosses matter and, if so, how much. As part of their research, the authors asked company employees and managers, ‘What are the traits of a good boss?’ They found that bosses matter substantially.

Three Things Good Bosses Do:

The first thing an effective manager does is to vividly describe the company’s vision and mission, and to explain in detail how each employee fits into that vision, Shaw says.

‘The next thing they do is drive results,’ she says. To ensure that individuals (and teams) are productive and have a sense that their contributions are valued, attentive bosses set-aside time to coach, guide, and motivate.

An often overlooked aspect of strong people leadership is to help employees achieve their personal career goals.

The third aspect of strong people leadership is to help employees achieve their personal career goals. Shaw says it’s ‘incredibly motivating’ when an employee’s long-term career vision and values are aligned with those of the organization. ‘A good boss will share that vision with them and give them guidance and feedback to help them along the path.’”

Our research adds one other key thing good bosses do. They are collaboration magnets. People want to work for and with them, and are lined up to do so.  

Character Moves: 

  1. Great leadership in our organization involves six practices and three key outcomes: Achieving sustainable results, continuously developing oneself and others, and becoming a magnet in attracting others to work with. Rate yourself on all three. What does the data (not opinion), tell you?

Note: If you or anyone you know wants a one-page copy of what I believe is the best leadership framework outline anywhere, email me at lrubis@atb.com. I will happily share it with you.

Magnetic leadership in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: At the end of the day, it seems that our departments and individual contributions, are only as successful as the mindset of the leader that manages them. Maybe we feel lucky and thankful just to have somewhere to show up and work, but “settling” can be a trap, and if we’re serious about wanting to improve, we should develop very high standards regarding who our leaders are. I’m not sure if we always remember, think about, or follow this.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

‘Leading’ With a Dinosaur’s Tail

Management Respect Teamwork


Key Point: Command and control leadership is no longer the way to effectively run an organization. However, my observation is that many self-proclaimed contemporary leaders buy this idea on paper, nod their heads in vigorous agreement, but behave very differently. I think too many current managers really like the idea of being “the boss,” not necessarily being a true LEADER, but definitely the BIG BOSS. They mostly just expect people to do what they’re told. And they really think, even when outwardly presenting a “team” belief, that they’re smarter and know what’s best. And if you disagree too much, or step on their egos, there will be consequences. 

In 2004, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed head of Joint Special Operations Command for the US military in Iraq. He subsequently recorded his experience in 2015’s Team of Teams. The following is a quote from McChrystal’s best selling book:  

“I would tell my staff about the ‘dinosaur’s tail’: As a leader grows more senior, his bulk and tail become huge, but like the brontosaurus, his brain remains modestly small. When plans are changed and the huge beast turns, its tail often thoughtlessly knocks over people and things. That the destruction was unintentional doesn’t make it any better.” 

In our current whirlwind environment, traditional command and control structures are no longer very effective. The decision makers at the top of the command chain are too far removed from the relevant information, and are two slow to react. When Gen. McChrystal recognized this to be true, he changed the organizational and decision making structure of the task force to a “Team of Teams” approach. The two primary principles underlying this philosophy are transparent communication and decentralized decision-making. For those making the decisions under Gen. McChrystal, the maxim was simple: “Use good judgment in all situations.” While this may sound overly simplistic, the irony is that in a scrambled world, simple trumps complexity. 

Gen. McChrystal recognized that his role needed to change too. He viewed his primary responsibility as creating a “shared consciousness” or common purpose. One of his great quotes: “Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose, and together they forge individuals into a working team.” Rather than being the master strategist, the general saw his role as being similar to that of a gardener. He needed to create the right environment to allow these teams to flourish and decisions to be made within the context of this shared consciousness and purpose. 

Team driven leaders do NOT demand loyalty to themselves. They DO, however, demand loyalty to the organization’s purpose and expect team members to have the courage to fiercely fight for what they deeply believe best contributes to that purpose. The idea that loyalty is exclusive to people who “do what we say” and “blindly follow us,” is a misguided and outdated concept. It leads to people lining up to where the command power is politically perceived, versus doing the right thing. In organizations, particularly at executive levels, this spurious loyalty is outright dangerous. 

Character Moves:

  1. Determine how much of a “garden leader” versus “dinosaur leader” you and others are. Do you develop and promote shared purpose, values and a networked culture? Are expectations, goals, and projects both clear and transparent? Do you allow for a free flow of information, feedback and expect loyalty to the greater good and purpose? Do you recognize and reward people for their results, collaborative skills and a growth mindset? Or ultimately do you just want to be the “Big Boss?”

Garden leader in the Triangle, 

 – Lorne 

One Millennial View: From a Millennial standpoint, we’re likely to be dealing more with middle management experience… I don’t want to be disparaging to all the great middle managers that are probably out there, but that faux “big boss” attitude seems to start manifesting here. As we start climbing ladders and earning more responsibility, if we pretend to jump into some “big boss” shoes, I predict they’ll likely be way too heavy, we’ll sink in the mud and wind up stuck.

– Garrett Rubis

The ‘Gig Work,’ the Free Agent Model and You

Abundance Management


Key Point: Things are changing so dramatically that the required mix of competence and skills in organizations is also in flux. Yes, having the right DNA and values supporting the company culture is absolutely necessary for employees. However, that may not be enough? As an example, the current requirement for team members to have digital skills, a data science perspective and/or an innovative mindset may require organizations to inject people with those characteristics into the system. Developing incumbent personnel based on these rapidly emerging market needs is also necessary, but often not sufficient to help organizations change fast enough . The need for “new” and “better” ways of running a business is more urgent than ever. Intuitions that are too slow and complacent will disappear. This evolving dynamic is somewhat at odds with traditional loyalty considerations between employee and employer. That is: “I continue to grow and improve and the employer gives me ongoing employment?” Hmm… Maybe not?

And what about pay? I’m not sure current compensation systems are flexible and agile enough either? Part of attracting new talent with highly sought after capabilities puts pressure on the traditional pay process and ultimately material differential and exceptions to the compensation plan starts to happen. Along with this, the idea of annual pay increases may be too limiting and inadequate.

Additionally when leaders are looking to transform their business they often want someone “different.” It’s not that they necessarily believe current people are seriously underperforming, they just know new people coming in (assuming the required cultural values are resident in the newbie), will have a different angle and subsequently challenge the way things are done. My experience is that current people are often excellent performers and yet leaders just want to “upgrade,” which often translates to “different.” On the other hand, total replacement of people means valued institutional knowledge is lost. And who wants to be looking over their shoulder wondering whether their boss is going to simply decide they want a change?

I’m wondering if organizations might need to start thinking about something like a five-year contract for most, if not all employees? As employees enter their final year, they would be able to look for renewal. If after six months of the final contract year the employer does not confirm another 5-year renewal, the employee can trigger an exit leave with six months pay. This would change the relationship between employers and employees into a more of a pro player/team arrangement. If in five years you haven’t made yourself exceptionally valuable and/or if the business just needs someone with a different mix, it makes the change easier for both. Also, pay can be more individual, performance and market driven. Obviously the idea needs a lot more work, but you get the drift.

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize that the volatility and dramatic change pressures on organizations is going to impact traditional employer/employee relationships. The free agent model will get more traction, and traditional employer loyalty/retention models will significantly change. How will this impact you? If your five-year contract was up, would you be renewed?
  2. The U.S. government reports that around 40 percent of workers are contingent in some fashion. A huge market growth involves gig work networks: That is, vendors who try to match workers to gigs or projects. Companies such as Github (for software engineers), Pixelapse, and others are building similar community worksites. It may be beneficial to get to know more about “gig works” and the future relationship to you. 

Free agent in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: What truly is ideal? Nowadays, do we really want to be with the same organization for 20+ years? I think it depends on the industry. We know there’s comfort in routine, but unless there’s a clear ladder to climb, the norm can be dangerously unprogressive. This is a case-by-case situation, “grass is always greener” predicament, but then again… Have you ever met someone who made a professional change after five years and truly regretted it?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Are You Contagious?

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: Organizations behave like living organisms, and are Darwinian in nature. Over the last 40 years, I’ve seen the way a company’s social system responds to who is “hot” or “cold.” When you’re hot, everyone wants to be part of your aura. However, if the community senses the “light dimming” around an executive, the antivirus chaff thrown off can be painful. The higher you are in the organization, the more dramatic the popularity swings. Initially, it’s things like being excluded from certain meetings, communications, fewer calendar invites, and it’s most obvious at executive events when no one wants to get too close (often, literally). Although it’s rationalized as “just business” and “not personal,” one realizes that this phrase is probably the stupidest management cliché ever. Of course it’s personal… Especially if you’re the one with organization “Ebola.”

Liz Ryan is a very insightful career thought leader and regularly posts in Fortune. I like her checklist outlining Ten Signs Your Company Needs You:

  1. You can tell they need you if they contact you all the time, during work hours and after work hours, to ask you questions and get your advice.
  2. You can tell they need you if you have a lot visibility into the future of the company, and are consulted on its future plans.
  3. They need you if they send you around to represent the company on panels, at trade shows and at other high-profile events.
  4. They need you if you are the only person who knows a lot of the procedures. If they often ask you to train newcomers, they probably need you.
  5. They need you if you get a lot of acknowledgment from your managers, and pay raises.
  6. You are valued at work if they seek out your opinion on weighty issues and take your suggestions more often than not.
  7. You are a key player if you are the conduit to your biggest customers.
  8. You are valuable if you have technical skills that few if any other employees possess.
  9. They need you if you have already experienced and triumphed through a similar period of rough seas to the one your company is experiencing now — but this is only true if they know they need you to help navigate, and tell you so.
  10. Lastly, your company needs you if you are central to the way they generate revenue and there is no obvious alternative to keeping you in your job.

Note: I’m adding one to Ryan’s list:

11. The organization needs you if you have a positive influence on advancing the culture of the entire company; if what you do brings a growth and winning mindset to the behavior and aspirational belief. This includes being fundamental to helping the company become great from the inside out 

Frankly if you’re a highly paid executive and not able to check at least seven out of 11, look out. It’s only a matter of time and you will be replaced. Ironically, if the company is too dependent on you, you’re also at risk. If you’re not an executive and you can’t check off seven of 11, you may not be at risk, but you’re also likely not paid great and quite “replaceable.” Gosh, this sounds so harsh… Yet that’s mostly the way it is. If you find yourself being “ghosted” at work, (to borrow a cruel word from my millennial friends), well it’s because you’re contagious or not vital from a strategic perspective. So what does one do?

Character Moves:

  1. The above checklist assumes you already fully embody and live the company values and culture. That’s a given. Now, after that self-assessment, how do you fare against Ryan’s checklist? I believe you need to check off at least seven out of 11. 
  1. After an honest self-assessment, you have two essential choices: Check more off the list, or the organization will eventually check you out. Ouch… But, so directionally true. (Hey… I’m looking in the mirror on this too, so don’t think I’m writing this without self-reflection. Who wants to be ghosted? Geez…)

Virus antidote in The Triangle, 

One Millennial View: The “hot” and “cold” game might seem like a hard truth, but we all play it. It applies to everything: Work, personal relationships, TV shows, movies, hobbies, elections… You name it… Luckily with positions like work, we probably have some control. I know I’d rather be the “fire” emoji, than the “ghost” emoji.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Underneath the Resume!

Accountability Authenticity Management


Key Point: Have you been “let go” from your job? Ok, I mean fired. I don’t necessarily mean for “cause.” Actually, “just cause” dismissals are not that common (unless egregious) because even when managers think they have a case, organizations don’t want a big “dust up” and often prefer just to pay (as little as possible) to make someone exit. Smaller organizations often use the cover of dismissal “for cause” to avoid a payout, because they can get away with it and/or employees are somewhat defenseless. The most common way people get “let go” includes a continuum of possibilities. People find themselves transferred, given a “new challenge,” and so on. On the other hand, employees often “fire themselves.” They end up at odds with their leader and/or the organization, and leave for something else. The process is different and the outcome is the same. The very worst situation is when people quit on the job. They try to blend with the wall paint, often in prolonged career misery.

I chuckle a bit when I review the resumes of top, highly touted executives. They look pristine. It’s like “wow… This person is perfect, a blemish free superstar.” Of course, when you dig deep enough, you find out that’s not the case. Almost every time I explore why someone left for something else there is “more to the story.” So whoever big shot VP or CEO you work for, there is likely a time or two underneath the words of his/her resume where things didn’t go or end well. When they look in the mirror, they know the real truth. And here is the best part from my perspective; I don’t want anyone working for me that hasn’t had to overcome failure or mistakes. Why? It’s inevitable. If you’re trying to advance or improve, you will scrape your knees and elbows. How else does one really learn? You only trip when you’re moving, as the saying goes.

In my opinion, resume discussions really suck when the person pretends something else and uses career spin “make up,” aka the lipstick on a pig approach to career history. So you screwed up or things didn’t go as planned? Set yourself free by accepting, learning, moving forward and recognizing you are not alone. Resumes and the stories people tell at family gatherings are like a Facebook or Instagram page: Every situation is all smiles, and everyone is at the beach. Yet we know, underneath that page is real life and the messy rawness it serves up.

Character Moves:

  1. Success definition has to come from the inside out. Minimize attaching yourself to a role or a career track you create in your mind. It’s likely not going to work out that way. Dr. Peter Jensen, a sports psychologist, tells Olympians “if you weren’t good enough before the gold medal, you won’t be good enough after you win it either.”
  2. Try not to compare yourself to anyone else’s career ride. They are not you, and try not to judge yourself accordingly. Trust me, where they are in their journey will have a wonderful combination of ups and downs. Without minimizing smarts and hard work, factors like timing, luck, etc. are all relevant too. Every situation is unique.
  3. Define your purpose, live by deeply held values, try and work at what you’re good at, like to do and deliver something of value for others you care about… Then, accept that you WILL enter and exit multiple times… You and everyone else.

Under the resume in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: This is refreshing to hear. We technically know that no one is perfect, but it seems like a ton of people can’t wait to throw those first stones as soon as they get the opportunity to. No one likes screwing up, but for me, I know the minute I’m stressing about perfection is probably when I’m going to make that nightmare typo where I publish a news story with a title referring to George Clooney’s wife, Amal, as “Anal Clooney.” It hasn’t happened yet, but don’t put it past me.

– Garrett Rubis

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis