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Alerts, Rules and BLUF’ing – 3 Actions You Can Use To Save Gazillions!

When I was leading a large team inside a large organization, I could easily have been overwhelmed by 100’s of emails every day.


Emails from Bosses, Peers & Subordinates.

Messages from stakeholders and partners.

And then I was saved by my, now, good friend Hugh Culver. My boss brought in Hugh to speak with us about time management. I didn’t know Hugh at the time, and I was looking forward to another ‘time management seminar’ like it was a root canal.

Are You Spending 80% of Your Time on the Wrong 20%?

First, I was blown away by Hugh’s energy and style. Then he taught us a couple of tips that I use to this day. Then I added a lesson I learned in the Army called BLUF (best articulated by Gen Stanley McCrystal).

These simple things have saved me countless hours and made life immeasurably easier.

Turn alerts off

As Hugh says, “just seeing, or hearing, an alert on your smartphone, tablet, or computer pulls you away from what you’re working on and forces you to think about that email. Remember this: the mind won’t ignore something unfinished. An alert pulls your valuable cognitive resources away from what you are trying to finish and says, “Hey, look over here—I want your attention!”

Create rules

Rules can quickly remove email from your In-box and give you a filing cabinet-type organization system. Here are good descriptions of how to set these up for OutlookGmail (called “filters”). The two must-adopted rules are:

    1. Create a folder called ‘CC’ and set up a rule that will automatically redirect any email that you are a copy addressee out of your inbox and into the ‘CC’ folder.

This will clear out your inbox of all but the email that is most important. And you can always visit the ‘CC’ folder and review messages any time later.

    1. Create a rule that will flag or highlight emails from those who are most important to your work. This could be your boss or your direct reports.

Obviously, this will allow you to focus on the truly highest priority messages.


The McCrystal Group has recently written about BLUF’ing your in-box. One simple but highly effective way to focus attention on what matters most is by using BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). The method is straightforward: start an email by writing “BLUF” in bold and include a 1-2 sentence summary statement, including any necessary actions.

Below are two example emails. See how long it takes you to extract the relevant information in Sample 1 compared to Sample 2.

SAMPLE 1 Traditionally formatted email message body




Sue, We will be presenting our proposal to the Board of Directors on February 3rd. You were instrumental in September during the early-stage development, and we could use your help now that we are working on the presentation. We’ve received some intel that the Board will be specifically looking for justification for why we want to go with Vendor B despite being 20% higher than Vendor A. You have the best technical background to articulate a compelling argument for our recommendation. Would you be able to review the presentation as a whole and then provide any relevant input for section 2? Specifically, we could use your thoughts on Slides 7-9. Ideally, we’d like to get your edits by January 31st. Please let me know if you think that will work for your schedule.

SAMPLE 2 BLUF formatted email message body




BLUF: Requesting input on the justification for the selection of Vendor B (Slides 7-9 of BoD presentation). Input needed by Jan 31st.

Sue, We will be presenting our proposal to the Board of Directors on February 3rd. You were instrumental in September during the early-stage development, and we could use your help now that we are working on the presentation. We’ve received some intel that the Board will be specifically looking for justification for why we want to go with Vendor B despite being 20% higher than Vendor A. You have the best technical background to articulate a compelling argument for our recommendation. Would you be able to review the presentation as a whole and then provide any relevant input for section 2? Specifically, we could use your thoughts on Slides 7-9. Ideally, we’d like to get your edits by January 31st. Please let me know if you think that will work for your schedule.

Both e-mails have the same text, but the message and request are far clearer in Sample 2 than Sample 1.

Save your teams the time, and confusion, of digging through longwinded texts by offering a “BLUF” at the start of your messages.

Read the secret habits to make you a better leader


Implement any or all of these three, and the ROI on your time will increase by about approximately 1 Gazillion percent!

Consensus May Not Be A Dirty Word, But It Is A Lazy Leadership Word

Once Margaret Thatcher described consensus as to the opposite of leadership. 

She felt that consensus is an abdication of leadership obligations; true leaders take you somewhere the group otherwise would never go.

I believe, the need to “build consensus” can be an excuse to avoid making hard but necessary decisions. 

Read about tough decisions

At best it could be a well-intentioned but naive effort to achieve an impossible unanimity. 

Regardless of the cause, the search for consensus can leave the organization locked in inactivity.

At one time, consensus was a perfectly fine word and being a “consensus-builder” was a perfectly fine leadership characteristic.

Yet, in my opinion, consensus has become an excuse.

An excuse for not meeting the unpleasant duties of personal and organizational leadership.

The search for consensus creates an environment where the perfect has become the enemy of done and leads to organizational paralysis and irrelevance.

I have too often observed leadership teams where every action is agreed to by consensus, which causes the organization to be locked in constant and unproductive conflict.

Conversely, I have been part of teams where the debates are vigorous (sometimes even heated), and the decisive votes may be close but turn into action because the underlying values, principles and direction of the team are so strong that it results in an organizational and leadership culture that is robust and healthy.

Read about clarity to leadership teams

Consensus is different because it creates danger. After all, you might assume consensus just because you have the votes.

The real world of leadership is where divisions persist and where differences cannot be eliminated, only bridged.

A leader who understands the extent of the limits of consensus can take the organization where it needs to go.

The leader who knows how to maximize or even expand the scope of consensus is in a position to take their team and organization to new heights. 

Consensus used in the best sense of the word could be the key to unlocking the organization’s full potential.

Read about the First Team



7 Steps To Leading in A Crisis: Don't Be an Ass

7 Steps To Leading in A Crisis: Don’t Be an Ass

To some, this entire year feels like a storm of bad news. As a leader, you’re leading in a crisis and during unprecedented times. Naturally, world events might get to you. But are you taking this out on your team? They deserve better than you being an ass.

I have been blogging about leadership for a few years now. I draw the subject matter from my observations of other leaders, the questions readers and clients ask, and from my own experiences and mistakes. To protect the privacy of others – and my ego – I usually veil names and circumstances when I relate a story … but this one is all about me!

My own experience leading in a crisis

I spent a few years leading a public-sector organization. Things were going very well until a series of events pushed me into a place where I wasn’t sure who I could trust. I felt many of the people I was working with weren’t acting ethically and I began to feel undermined, paranoid, and under attack.

On the ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ spectrum, I do not fly or freeze well. When threatened, my instinctive reaction to fight. In that setting and at that time, I felt my temper becoming quicker to light. I was in such a state that I once slammed a door so hard it nearly came off its hinges.

Not one of my finest moments.

Maybe, maybe my reaction was understandable. But it was unacceptable and inexcusable.

My personal and professional expectation is to hold myself to a higher standard. In times of uncertainty and adversity and crisis, any signs of leadership immaturity will make your employees feel unsafe and insecure.

I needed to be the paragon of composure and not an ass.

So, if you’re leading in a crisis, let me save you from these same mistakes.

Here are seven ways to maintain leadership composure during the most pressure-packed moments.

Get A Grip On Your Emotions

Grow up!

You are the adult in the room so learn not to wear your emotions on your sleeve. When you allow emotions to get in the way, your employees interpret this as you not being objective and too passionate about the situation.

Balance expressing concern and care while maintaining your composure.

Read more about demonstrating leadership even in tough times here.

Try Not To Take It Personally

There are lots of reasons why decisions and circumstances don’t always play out logically.

Remain calm and never start thinking that your moral indignation will justify your actions.

Keep Positive

Employees are always watching your actions, behaviour, relationships, and overall demeanour.

You must maintain a positive mental attitude and manage a narrative that keeps their employees inspired and hopeful–even when you’re leading in a crisis.

This is where your leadership and resolve can shine. Stay strong, smile, and demonstrate authentic compassion and empathy.

Remain Courageous

Fear is contagious. So, act like a duck! Calm on top and paddling like hell underwater.

No matter what kind of crisis you’re leading in, project a sense of steady confidence. That way, you will instill it in others.

Remain fearless and cool to communicate a sense of composure to those you lead.

For more on moral courage, click here.

Be Decisive

Maintain your composure and never show doubt.

Speak with conviction, confidence, and authority. This gives employees the comfort that everything is under control.

Be Accountable

You have chosen to assume leadership responsibility, and it’s more important than ever when you’re leading in a crisis. So take the required steps to problem solve before things get out of hand.

You Got This

The most effective way to maintain composure during challenges is to act like a leader.

You have solved complex problems many times before. Knuckle onto this one with the same compassion, elegance, and grace.

It’s easy to lose composure during times of crisis if you let worry turn into fear. By remaining calm and in control you can step back, critically evaluate what is going on.

Your composure puts those you lead at ease and creates a safe and secure workplace culture where no one needs panic in the face of adversity.

Leading in a crisis and beyond

Oh yeah, and don’t be an ass.

If you’ve been thinking about moving your career to the next level? Looking for support while you’re leading in a crisis? You’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

The High Cost of Poor Leadership
10 Signs You Have a Scary Boss
People Pleasing Leaders & Soup Sandwiches – 5 Messes You Make When You Try to Make Everyone Happy

This post was originally published in March 2017, and has been updated just for you!

7 Traits Culture of Safety Performers Possess

Have you, as a leader, established a culture of safety in the workplace?

Leadership is not a position.

It is an attitude – management is the position.

One has nothing to do with the other.

Safety, too, is an attitude.

What is a culture of safety?

A culture of safety is a state of mind and a way of living your life. Safety is the result. Safety is the choice in every moment of every day.

Those with a safety leadership attitude who promote a culture of safety will choose to do the job safely at every moment.

Companies are waking up to the fact that people who blindly follow orders on a job site still get hurt. But safety leaders who choose safety in every moment save themselves from harm by the choices they make.

In the workplace, a culture of safety is quickly becoming a coveted element in any organization.

Developing a culture of safety

Here are the 7 cultural traits an organization with a culture of safety performers will possess:


This comes wrapped in accountability and responsibility.

Any attempt to deflect accountability negates honesty. Honesty is the trait that allows leaders to be vulnerable and accept that they don’t know everything. You can fix what you don’t know, but you can’t fix what you cover-up. Honesty is a willingness to be who you are and make no excuses for it. Values and core beliefs are tied to honesty.

One of those core beliefs will be promoting a culture of safety and self-preservation.

Want to talk more about honesty? Please take a look at this post, where I discuss moral courage as a leadership characteristic.


This is the key to keeping yourself and others safe on a job site.

If no one is talking, then no one is listening. When no one is listening, instructions get missed, and people get hurt. Communication doesn’t happen by scolding or by lectures. People don’t respond well to scolding and being lectured. Communication involves conversation. People engage themselves in conversation.

When they are engaged, they are paying attention.

For more on communicating with your people, take a look at how to Improve Your Conversations By Not Talking – 3 Tips You Can Start Using Today.


Anyone working without it is a prime candidate to get hurt. Some work is simply intimidating. And when a worker lacks confidence in performing the job, others are put at risk. When a worker is continuously scolded, they will lose their trust.

Lack of confidence is a distraction.

Setbacks happen on every job site. When a setback occurs, people turn to those who display confidence and an “I’ve got this” attitude–all commitment to a culture of safety.


It’s perhaps the most contagious of all traits.

Working alongside those without the commitment to the job is tenuous. Knowing that a co-worker could quit at any moment leaves workers unsure and confidence on the job site wanes.

But when you are surrounded by those who have a deep-seated commitment to the job, it brings a sense of peace and sureness about doing the job safely. Commitment means to focus, and when workers are focused, they will act safely.

Positive Attitude

Regardless of whatever adversity you may face, your attitude is critical.

A positive attitude is what turns someone’s debilitating roadblock into a temporary setback that is easily overcome. People focused on the worst attract the worst. People who can find the silver lining will emerge as victors. They see what needs doing and take action instead of wallowing in fear. A positive, supportive worksite tends to attract those who will contribute to it.

Speaking of positivity, here are three 3-minute articles to discuss with your team to create a lifetime of positive change (for everyone).


When you are plugged into your surroundings, you can see what is coming and prepare for it.

There is a quiet confidence in merely “knowing” what is about to happen. You can prepare yourself and those around you. You can address issues before they become issues. The tough decisions are easy to decide when you can depend on your gut instinct for answers.

Learning to trust yourself is as essential as your team learning to trust you.

Sense of Humour

There is no reason safety can’t be fun.

The benefits of being safe are happy and joyful. So why can’t we laugh on the job site?

There is little reason to laugh when you don’t feel confident, lack commitment, or frequently face safety issues. But when you and your workmates have a sense of self, have confidence, excellent communication, and a great attitude, there’s no reason that you can’t have fun at work.

Humour allows people to settle into their work comfortably.

Establishing a culture of safety is the new Leadership.

Start by looking for these seven traits in yourself and your teammates.

And if you want to talk about Leadership and a culture of safety at your next safety meeting, I can help.


If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

5 Steps You Can Use To Build a “First Team” Mindset
80% Of Projects Fail Because Of ‘People’ Issues … Here Are 6 Things You Can Do To Reduce That Risk
People Pleasing Leaders & Soup Sandwiches – 5 Messes You Make When You Try to Make Everyone Happy

This article was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated.

8 Actions To Assess and Lead An Inherited Team

You would have thought I would have been smarter!

I was hired as the Chief Administrative Offer for a small town in Canada’s arctic.

During the hiring process, I specifically asked about labour relations and organizational health & culture. “Don’t worry,” I was assured, “we have a great team.”

Read about a new boss as an organizational change

I should have recognized the lie and I later found out I was hired to solve problems.

The organization was top-heavy with 7 Directors for a team of 25, and the residents had unmet needs. Stories about missed opportunities and hints of a toxic culture had drifted upward to the Mayor and Town Council.

All those factors had prompted the decision to replace the out-going CAO with someone from the outside, and I seemed to fit the bill. I had a record of accomplishments in leadership, turning around broken teams and implementing wholesale changes in business models.

But in taking on this new role, I faced a common challenge: I didn’t get to handpick the people who would be working with me.

Rather, I inherited the team that had created the situation I was hired to fix.

It was like fixing a plane in midflight.

You can’t just shut down the plane’s engines while you rebuild them—at least not without causing a crash. You need to maintain stability while moving ahead.

I needed a framework for taking over this team to:

  • Assess the human capital and group dynamics they have inherited;
  • To reshape the team according to the organization’s goals; and
  • Accelerate performance.

Read about surviving the first 90-days as a new boss

What Qualities Are You Looking For?

Like most leaders, you may have a “gut” sense of what you look for in people.

But different situations and challenges call for different strengths.

This exercise will help you better understand and articulate your priorities when you take on a new team.

Assign percentages to the qualities below, according to how much emphasis you think each should receive, given your current circumstances and goals. Make sure the numbers in the right column add up to 100.

Those numbers will be rough, of course. For some team members (say, your head of finance), competence may be the top priority; for others (say, your head of marketing), energy or people skills may be equally or more critical. The importance of the role and the state of the business may also affect your estimates.

Quality Description Importance
Competence Has the technical expertise and experience to do the job effectively
Trustworthiness Can be relied upon to be straight with you and to follow through on commitments
Energy Brings the right attitude to the job (isn’t burned-out or disengaged)
People skills Gets along well with others on the team and supports collaboration
Focus Sets priorities and sticks to them, instead of veering off in all directions
Judgment Exercises good sense, especially under pressure or when faced with making sacrifices for the greater good
Total 100 percent

Your requirements will depend partly on the state of the business. In a turnaround, you will seek people who are already up to speed—you won’t have time to focus on skill-building until things are more stable.

If you are trying to sustain a team’s success, however, it probably makes sense to develop high potentials, and you will have more time to do so.

To conduct this assessment, hold a mix of one-on-one and team meetings, supplemented with input from key stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and colleagues outside the team.

Also, look at team members’ individual track records and performance evaluations.

Depending on your style, these meetings might be informal discussions, formal reviews, or a combination, regardless you should approach them in a standard way.


Then What?


Review available personnel history, performance data, and appraisals. Familiarize yourself with each person’s skills. Observe how team members interact. Do relations appear cordial and productive? Tense and competitive?

Create an interview template.

Ask people the same questions and see how their insights vary. For example, What are the strengths and weaknesses of our existing strategy? What are our biggest challenges and opportunities in the short term? In the medium term? What resources could we leverage more effectively? How could we improve the way the team works together?

And my favourite question … If you were in my position, what would you do to make things better?

Read about using silence to talk

Look for verbal and nonverbal clues.

Notice what people say and don’t say. Do they volunteer information, or do you have to work for it? Do they take responsibility for problems, make excuses, or point fingers at others? Look for inconsistencies between people’s words and body language, this can signal dishonesty or distrust of management.

Pay attention to topics that elicit strong emotions, this provides clues to what motivates people and what kinds of changes would energize them.

Summarize and share what you learn.

After you’ve interviewed everyone, discuss your findings with the team. This will demonstrate that you are coming up to speed quickly. If your feedback highlights differences of opinion or raises uncomfortable issues, you’ll also have a chance to observe the team under a modest amount of stress. Watching how people respond may lead to valuable insight into team culture and power dynamics.

Reshaping the Team

The next task is to reshape the team within the constraints of the organization’s culture, the leader’s mandate, and the available talent.

You want people to be able to share information freely, identify and deal with conflict swiftly, solve problems creatively, support one another, and present a unified face once decisions are made.


The most obvious way to reshape a team is to replace underperformers and anyone whose capabilities are not a good match for the situation.

But this can be difficult culturally and politically, and in many cases, it’s simply not possible.

Spend the first few months observing employees in critical roles who clearly cannot do the work, or for truly toxic personalities that are undermining the enterprise.


Ensure everyone has a clear sense of purpose and direction.

To get everyone aligned, the team must agree on answers to four basic questions:

  1. What will we accomplish? You spell this out in your mission, goals, and key metrics.
  2. Why should we do it? Here is where your vision statement and incentives come into play.
  3. How will we do it? This includes defining the team’s strategy in relation to the organization’s, as well as sorting out the plans and activities needed for execution.
  4. Who will do what? People’s roles and responsibilities must support all of the above.

Get your team discussion guide here

Accelerate Development

Energize team members with some early wins.

Start by setting challenging goals for the next three months. Specify the work involved and who was accountable for it, and develop messages to share your team’s successes.

Once the team had those successes in place, it kept building on them.

The result is a cycle of achievement and confidence.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – 5 Skills To Go Further

If you are soon to take over a ‘new-to-you’ department or organization, I expect you are feeling pretty good about yourself.

I know I always did.

Whenever I was taking on a new team, I’d thought about what I wanted to be as a leader, what I wanted my legacy to be, and how we would be successful.

Our experiences define what kind of leader we will be and how we will operate.

I now look back on my leadership growth, and I think about what I got right and wrong.

In hindsight, I have two observations on the role of a front line and middle manager.

1. What got you here won’t get you further.

To get to lead a team, you have had to prove you were successful with those jobs that came before.

But simply applying what you learned in those jobs isn’t enough to make you successful at the next level.

Remember that what you’ve learned so far won’t automatically make you a great boss

2. Beware of doing the job of your subordinates.

At this point in your career, you’d make a great team leader.

You’d undoubtedly be the best front-line supervisor in your company.

But that’s not your job.

If you try and make it your job to be great at your subordinates’ jobs, you’ll fail.

They won’t grow, and you won’t be able to do your actual job.

Three Differences

Don’t throw your experience out of the window but understand that being a senior leader has differences from your previous roles.

Success is about understanding those differences and acting accordingly.

These are the three differences that I observed and have reflected on:

1. Define success

Your new role offers an unprecedented level of freedom to get to define success.

When your people complete a task with a glance of an eye, you can deliver instant and visceral feedback.

So how you define success is critical and powerful. 

Your criteria for success should include a combination of performing your mission, developing your people and building your team.

Even more importantly, it should have medium- and long-term elements.

Measuring success is about how your team performs during your tenure, and whether or not you leave it in a better place than when you found it.

How you will define success will have a significant effect on your organization.

Read about success

2. Set the culture deliberately

Once you know what your ‘success’ looks like, you can set about creating the culture that will deliver it.

This is a deliberate act.

When you are planning those ‘team cohesion’ events, make sure they are underpinning the stories and messages at the heart of the culture you are trying to build.

For me, it was about being an inclusive, learning and improving organization that unlocked people’s potential to better the whole organization and not just your part of it.

Decide what culture you want then set about reinforcing it as a series of deliberate actions.

3. It’s different now, so communicate differently

For everything I’ve said above, the most significant difference between an organizational leader and being a frontline leader is about how you communicate.

You should be able to remember the faces and names of all of your employees.

But you will have a tiny amount of direct influence over your people will be face to face.

Now you will have to project your leadership through you’re the people on your leadership team.

This means that when you interact with your leadership team, you must always think about the effect of that interaction on your front line people.

They won’t hear you.

They will hear someone’s interpretation of what you said and feel the effect of your message, not the words.

Similarly, the face to face interactions you have with those outside the team will be less regular but more significant.

You will touch people’s lives less often, but the fingerprints you leave will be much deeper.

The most junior employees will remember what you did and how you made them feel infinitely more than anything you said.

Read about nail polish & coloured pencils

Enjoy the ride

As a leader, you have no choice but to lead through others.

It’s also where you gain autonomy.

These are what define its difference.

Understanding culture and communication is important to every leader.

Defining where the team is going and then creating the environment in which your people can get there is a significant part of your job.

It is all underpinned by consistent, constant communication that is designed for second-order effects.

There is, of course, much more than this.

Nor did I got everything right.

I missed opportunities.

I  controlled when I should have loosened the reigns.

When things went right, it was because I had given my people the freedom to use their initiative and rectify my mistakes.

When I got angry I always regretted it.

My biggest regrets are from when I didn’t look after my people as well as I should have done.

That said, it was a wonderful experience, and I would recommend you enjoy the ride.