Category Leadership Styles

Coloured-pencils, Nail-polish & How You Can Get Dedicated Employees

A pencil is a little wonder-wand: a stick of wood that traces the tiniest motions of your hand as it moves across a surface … As a tool, it is admirably sensitive. The lines it makes can be fat or thin, screams or whispers, blocks of concrete or blades of grass, all depending on changes of pressure so subtle that we would hardly notice them in any other context – Sam Anderson, New York Times 12 Jan 2018

For 130 years, the General Pencil Company of New Jersey has been making pencils.

Pencils so wonderfully simple they inspired Sam Anderson’s prose.

The General Pencil Company’s mission statement reads that they believe in quality, tradition, value, and the fun of creating. It is a company that has employees who have worked there for 47 years, and one, Maria, matches the colour of her shirt and nail polish to the shade of the pastel cores being manufactured each week.

I challenge you to momentarily think about your mission and vision statement(s). Does it sound loftier and grander than making the best pencil we can? Now look around your organization. Can you imagine that level of dedication and commitment?

I expect that you believe that your work is more important than mixing pastels for colouring pencils, but would you colour-coordinate your fashion to match your most important work?

I know that hardly anyone is motivated by mission and vision statements.

The things that motivate people at work are based fundamentally on the very exact needs they have in every other aspect of life – Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:


Basic Needs – The lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is essential, such as food and rest. When it comes to the workplace, this translates into money.

If a job pays employees enough that they can pay their rent and utilities and buy food and clothing, then the position satisfies the employees’ basic needs.

Safety and Security – Employees must have safety and security to succeed in the workplace. Employers should help employees feel physically safe by taking sexual harassment and threats seriously and having policies to deal with potential violence.

Employees must also feel that their jobs are secure. Suppose a company lays off many employees or doesn’t communicate with employees about layoffs. In that case, employees may feel frightened of losing their jobs — which would mean no longer being able to meet their basic needs — and be unmotivated to work.

Read more about talking safely to your people

Belonging and Love – Once basic and security needs have been met, employees seek to meet their needs by feeling comfortable with their coworkers and supervisors. Even if they don’t like or get along with everybody, they need to feel like they belong to the group they work with.

If an employee feels alienated from the company, she may not do her best work. This is doubly important when it comes to employer/employee relationships. Employees who don’t feel their bosses value them or their contributions won’t want to do their jobs.

Self-Esteem and Self-Actualization – The highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs relate to how employees feel about themselves and how they like and value themselves.

Employees who feel productive and do something worthwhile with their time tend to have higher self-esteem than those who don’t. An employee needs to feel like he is living up to his potential and is using his creativity & passion and may look elsewhere to meet these needs.

Read more about high potential

I certainly do not know all there is to know about the General Pencil Company, but reading about them, I can almost 100% assure you that they work hard – every day – to meet the needs of their employees.

Otherwise, how can you motivate a person to shovel and mill graphite for 47 years?

8 Tips On How You Can Avoid My 4:00AM Regrets

You are not your 2 AM conversations;

not your 3 AM nightmares;

not your 4 AM regrets

Mark Dimaisip

I don’t mind telling you that business could always be better.

Or I miss the energies created by surrounding myself with a powerful team.

Or that I am often awake at 4:00.

So maybe that is why Mark Dimaisip’s poem resonated with me, as did the Hidden Brain podcast episode on regret.

Everyone has regrets.

Some say regret is the most common emotion.

Amy Summerville, who runs the Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio, says:

‘we ruminate thoughts that spring unwanted to mind, and we chew them over without getting anything new out of them, they’re just repeatedly, intrusively, becoming part of our mental landscape.’

We don’t have time for all of my regrets; besides, that is why they invented rye.

But I would like to touch on my three leadership regrets that run rampant in my mind at 4:00 AM

1. Anger

Given the right set of triggers, I have a temper that can flash and lash out.

I’ve written about this and don’t understand where it comes from.

When it happens, it diminishes me, my leadership, my organization, and my people.

I have learned to manage it by being more aware of situations that may trigger the flash and trying to excuse myself, walk away, and disengage.

Read More About Not Being An Ass

2. Mediocrity

Far too often, I have allowed people to push me toward mediocrity.

As leaders, we know the right thing to do, yet people and systems cause us to settle.

And when we settle, nobody is happy.

People-pleasing only creates soup sandwiches, a mess where no one is satisfied.

Read More About Soup Sandwiches

3. Kindness

The business decisions I regret the most are those I wish I had acted out with more kindness.

Too often, I made decisions based on what I, our bosses or the mission demanded.

Decisions are made without humanity and care for the people impacted.

I know some of the decisions I have made hurt people.

That doesn’t make them wrong or even bad decisions.

But I wish I could get mulligans on a few where I could have been more honest, kind, and generous.


Final Thoughts

My experience tells me that your leadership experience would undoubtedly be happier with less anger, less mediocrity, and more kindness.

Happiness is a choice.

Focus on the positives.

Be self-aware.

Practice deliberate, purposeful, and thoughtful actions.

Understand that ambition and success will not lead to a life of fewer regrets.

Don’t get caught up in what you don’t have.

Be mindful and purposeful of the opportunities right in front of you.

Four Frequently Overlooked Risks in Change Management

Whether your organization is implementing a new hybrid workplace model, merging with another company, or executing a new strategy, change management is critical to successful organizational transformation.

Leaders often focus on communicating the end state’s vision and benefits when leading organizations through significant changes. However, many additional risks to a comprehensive change management plan should be considered.

I have worked with many clients to help identify risks and craft strategies to address them—to arrive at the organization’s new end state faster.

From my experience, here are the most common barriers to transformational change.

Lack of an Enduring, Focused Communication Strategy

When asked whether they believed their organizations’ strategies were actionable, middle managers and individual contributors consistently scored lower than executives. Leaders know the importance of communicating change, but they frequently overestimate the impact of their efforts.

Regarding your communication strategy, an organization-wide email cannot be your only change management communication. A recent Microsoft study on email rates showed that only 40% of employees would read more than 30% of any given internal email.

Another critical factor in driving buy-in and engagement to organizational strategy changes is ensuring individual teams understand how their goals contribute to overall organizational success. Leaders must communicate corporate strategy in a way that helps teams tie their goals to organizational outcomes while leaning on managers and network influencers to reinforce those messages.

Read more about being the Chief Reminder Officer

Inadvertently Excluding Network Influencers

Ensuring that your organization’s leaders are aligned and bought into the organizational change is critical to successful change management – but what about informal leaders?

Network influencers can be found at all levels of an organization and frequently fly under the radar of executive leadership in large organizations. Because network influencers often act as information brokers and influence how others perceive the organization, they should be identified and considered in your change management efforts.

Identifying key influencers and collaborators to determine who should be prioritized for in-office return can also help drive productivity and ramp up the success rates of your organization’s change efforts.

Read about informal leadership.

Failing to Establish and Clarify New Team Boundaries

Failing to establish new working relationships, ownership, and cultural norms often presents one of the largest sources of frustration in organizational change. Depending on the nature of the transformation, teams can experience massive changes in processes and working relationships that are difficult to predict and coordinate.

From a risk perspective, poor coordination can lead to frustration, damaged relationships, and, ultimately, mistrust in leadership.

To prevent your organization from being blindsided by operational risks and missed handoffs, consider running a decision space exercise or a red team exercise with subject matter experts and division leaders who are changing divisions.

Not Collecting Bottom-Up Feedback

In all large organizations, frontline employees have valuable insights that are frequently overlooked.

During times of transformational change, your frontline can serve as real-time resources and feedback mechanisms to monitor the progress of your new initiatives or efforts. However, many organizations need more capability to provide frontline employees with a way of escalating and delivering insights to leadership.

Failing to consider your frontline can potentially slow your reaction time to challenges such as new competitors and threats, and overestimating your company’s ability can lull you into false security.

In the long term, the risk is that your people will lose trust in leadership, and you will experience lower productivity, low psychological safety, high turnover, and stifled innovation.

Read about eliminating Top Down supervision

While these four risks are the most common barriers to organizational transformations, the challenges you will encounter will be unique to your organization.

An organization transforming, by definition, changes over time – being vigilant in monitoring risk should go hand-in-hand.

Is It Time To Get Rid Of Top-Down Supervision

Leadership is not for a select few people at the top of the organization; a healthy Organization has leaders at every level.

I hear it all the time, supervisors griping that their employees lack ownership in their work and projects. But the very same supervisors do not realize that they take actions that take ownership away from their people every day.

Hoping people take ownership is not a plan; leaders of healthy organizations implement systems and mechanisms that give ownership and eliminate mechanisms that inhibit a sense of ownership.

Read more about accountability.

Top-down systems rob people of their sense of ownership, so the more you can do to eliminate them, the better. I am not talking about monitoring data and results, as these should make the invisible visible.

The systems I am speaking about are where senior management determines what their subordinates should be doing and then holds them accountable.

I have experienced that people do their best work when they are accountable to themselves and their teammates.

When it comes to processes, adherence to the process frequently becomes the objective, as opposed to achieving the goal that the process was put in place to achieve.

It drives people crazy when the process becomes the outcome.

Edward Deming, who explored the principle of Total Quality Leadership, said that systems to monitor efficiency improved efficiency.

But processes that monitored the process caused the organization to become inefficient.

Monitoring processes, or how employees do their job, sends the message that we do not trust you.

And in the end, it drives employees away from taking ‘ownership.’

If you are clear about your intent and what employees are not allowed to do in carrying out your intent, you will drive ownership.

Read more about leading with intent.

Consider these questions:

How are you underutilizing the ideas, creativity, and passions of your mid-level managers responsible for their departments’ results?

Which monitoring systems can you hand over to mid-level managers and department heads?

What are the top-down monitoring systems in your organization? And how can you eliminate them?


What are the Four levels of Accountability Systems?

Level 1 – Chaos: People are not told what they are accountable for and therefore don’t do their jobs

Level 2 – Inefficient: People are told what they are accountable for but don’t do their jobs because of overwork or focus on the wrong things. This is most inefficient because resources are invested in monitoring, but work isn’t getting done.

Level 3 – Compliance: People understand what they are responsible for and do their work because there are systems to hold people accountable. People often feel forced into doing their jobs. This is where most organizations are and work towards, but this is top-down leadership.

Level 4 – Healthy: People are not told what to do because they have figured it out independently. And they hold themselves and their peers accountable for results with a minimum of monitoring systems. This is a highly engaged, energized, and healthy organization where people have engaged and ownership of their work.


In top-down organizations, accountability processes are designed with the idea that you, the employee, cannot hold yourself accountable for your work; therefore, your boss needs to do it for you.

In a Healthy Organization, people hold themselves and their peers to account for their performance.

Leaders in a Healthy organization are not to hold employees accountable but to help them keep themselves accountable.

Read more about organizational health.


How wonderful would it be if people did not have to attend dreaded accountability meetings? How powerful would it be if people felt safe enough to ask others, ‘Can you help me stay on track.’


This would inspire accountability and efficiency, creativity and energy.

Why would anyone follow you if they don’t believe you have the courage?

I have received hundreds of performance reviews over my career.

There is one that sticks in my mind.

It wasn’t remarkable because of the content or the score.

It was remarkable because of one sentence. “You are courageous.”

I have been called many things in my life, but courageous?

She meant that I was willing to take calculated risks. That I stood up for what I thought was right, even if it was at a great personal cost.

Another boss from another career and another life once told me, “If you can’t explain it to your grandmother, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

I have learned courage from my heroes – men and women who stood firm against the slings and arrows.

And, when given a chance, did not choose the more comfortable, morally ambiguous path.

A Stony Nation teaching says that in the face of a coming storm, most animals will try to outrun the weather. The buffalo turn headfirst into the storm, keep the herd together, and walk out the other side.

Courage allows you to build trust.

It gives you a license to lead.

Why would anyone follow you if they don’t believe you have the courage to lead them through the storm?

The Most Important Leadership Competency

This article is based on my research and an HBR article   

What makes an effective leader?

This question focuses on my research and my experience as a leader, executive coach, and organizational health & development consultant.

I recently conducted research to consider the most critical leadership competencies for leaders and leadership development programs.

This quite aligns with a previous article titled Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic.



Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety.

This theme combines two of the three most highly rated attributes: “high ethical and moral standards” (67% selected it as one of the most important) and “communicating clear expectations” (56%).

These attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment.

A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that they and their employees will honour the game’s rules.

Similarly, when leaders communicate their expectations, they avoid blindsiding people and ensure everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment, an employee can relax, invoking the brain’s higher capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity, and ambition.

Neuroscience confirms this point.

When the amygdala registers a threat to our safety, arteries harden and thicken to handle an increased blood flow to our limbs in preparation for a fight-or-flight response. In this state, we lose access to the limbic brain’s social engagement system and the prefrontal cortex’s executive function, inhibiting creativity and the drive for excellence. From a neuroscience perspective, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.

Do you think fear is driving your leadership actions?

Here are 7 questions to prevent fear of leadership failure. 

But how?

This competency is all about behaving in a way that is consistent with your values.

To increase feelings of safety, work on communicating with the specific intent of making people feel safe.

One way to accomplish this is to acknowledge and neutralize feared results or consequences from the outset.

For example, you might approach a conversation about a project gone wrong by saying, “I’m not trying to blame you. I want to understand what happened.”

Read How One Word Can Damage Workplace Culture

This competency challenge leader due to the natural responses that are hardwired into us.

But with deep self-reflection and a shift in perspective (perhaps aided by a coach), there are also enormous opportunities for improving everyone’s performance by focusing on our own.