Do You Want to Improve Your Leadership Experience? STOP Solving Problems!

An emergency requires quick decisions and clear instructions.

There may be a little time for a discussion with your team.

However, a vast majority of cases do not require an immediate decision.

There is almost always time for the team to consider the situation and come up with solutions.

A thoughtful Leader needs to take time to let others react to the situation.

You have to create space for open decision-making for the entire team, even if that space is only a few minutes long.

This is harder in strict top-down leadership structures because leaders must solely anticipate decisions and alert their teams of any upcoming decision points. In a top-down hierarchy, there is no need for subordinates to think ahead because the boss will decide when required.

How many times do issues that require decisions come up on short notice?

If this regularly happens, you have a reactive organization in a downward spiral. When problems aren’t foreseen, the team doesn’t get time to think about them, a quick decision is required from the boss, which doesn’t train the team, etc., etc.

You need to change the cycle.

Here are a few ways to get your team thinking for themselves:

– If the decision needs to be made urgently, make it. Then explain why later, when there is time and then have the team ‘Red Team’ the decision to evaluate it.

Read about ‘Red Teamin’

– If the decision needs to be made on short notice, ask your team for input, even briefly, then make the decision.

– If the decisions can be delayed, push it back to your team to provide input. Do not force the team to come to a consensus. Consensus is a lazy leadership style that silences differences and those in dissent. Cherish dissent. Remember, if everyone thinks as you do, you don’t need them.

What Is Heck Is Organizational Health? 10 Questions Answered by Steve

Question: What is organizational health?

Organizational health is essentially about making a company function effectively by building a cohesive leadership team, establishing real clarity among those leaders, communicating that clarity to everyone within the organization, and putting in place just enough structure to reinforce that clarity going forward. Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent and complete when its management, operations and culture are unified. Healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave.

Read about the ‘First Team’ Model

Question: Why does organizational health offer a company its greatest opportunity for competitive advantage?

Addressing organizational health provides an incredible advantage to companies because, ultimately, health becomes the multiplier of intelligence. The healthier an organization is, the more its intelligence it can tap into and actually use. Most organizations only exploit a fraction of the knowledge, experience and intellectual capital available to them. The healthy ones tap into all of it. Addressing health helps companies to make smarter decisions faster, without politics and confusion.

How healthy is your organization? take the free survey!

Question: Why are so many of today’s smartest companies losing to underdogs?

I have found that some of the underdogs are more apt to shed their preconceived notions about running a business and allow themselves to gain an advantage around a different set of principles. The key ingredient for improvement and success is not access to knowledge; it is really about the environment’s health.

I have worked with many great, healthy companies led by men and women who attended relatively modest colleges, people who would admit to being just a little above average in intellectual capacity. When those companies made wise decisions that set them apart from their competition, journalists and industry analysts incorrectly attributed their intellectual prowess’s success. The truth of the matter was that the underdogs weren’t smarter than their competitors; they simply tapped into the adequate intelligence they had and didn’t allow dysfunction, ego, and politics to get in the way. Conversely, smart organizations don’t seem to have any greater chance of getting healthier by virtue of their intelligence. In fact, the reverse may actually be true because leaders who pride themselves on expertise and knowledge often struggle to acknowledge their flaws and learn from their peers. They typically aren’t as easily open and transparent with one another, which delays recovery from mistakes and fuels politics and confusion.

Question: Having worked with companies for so many years, is there anything that still surprises you?

Yes, I still get surprised by what I see in companies I work with, even after all these years. Some of that surprise is just a function because no two people, and thus, no two organizations are exactly alike. The nuances are interesting and keep me on my toes. But ironically, the biggest surprise I get is being reminded repeatedly that even the most sophisticated companies struggle with the simplest things. I guess it’s hard for me to believe that the concepts I write and speak about are universal. I don’t know that I’ll ever come to terms with that completely.

Question: Why are so few companies skilled at overcoming dysfunction?

Leaders often complain about worker productivity, politics, turnover and other signs of dysfunction but feel addressing the problem is either a hopeless endeavour or too touchy-feely. Even if the leader understands the need to address dysfunction, more often than not, they tend to naturally gravitate right back to the parts of the business they feel most comfortable with (usually in areas like strategy, finance, marketing, etc.).

Question: What’s “the wuss factor,” and how do you overcome it?

The “wuss factor” happens when a team member or leader constantly balks when it’s time to call someone out on their behaviour or performance. Many leaders who struggle with this will try to convince themselves that their reluctance is a product of their kindness; they just don’t want to make their employees feel bad. But an honest reassessment of their motivation will allow them to admit that they are the ones who don’t want to feel bad and that failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness. After all, there is nothing noble about withholding information that can help an employee improve. Eventually, that employee’s lack of improvement will come back to haunt him in a performance review or when he is let go.

How healthy is your organization? take the free survey!

Question: What’s the best way to run an effective meeting?

To answer that question fairly, it is important to be clear about what kind of meeting you are in. I find that all too often, leaders have one meeting a week where they put all issues into one big discussion, usually called the staff meeting. They combine administrative issues and tactical decisions, creative brainstorming and strategic analysis, and personal discussions into one exhausting meeting. The fact is the human brain isn’t meant to process so many disparate topics in one sitting. This exhausts people. For a meeting to be effective, there needs to be greater clarity and focus, which means there needs to be different kinds of meetings for different kinds of focus. So, being clear about what kind of meeting you are in helps everyone understand the purpose and what they can expect for outcomes. The four meetings include:

  • Daily Check-ins – administrative information exchange
  • Weekly Staff – tactical issues and goal-related activities
  • Ad hoc Strategic- strategic meeting that takes on one single big topic
  • Quarterly Off-site Review – developmental meeting and review of business fundamentals

Question: How can someone who’s not in the upper levels of their organization make an impact on its health?

While it’s true that no one can influence an organization like the leader and that without a leader’s commitment and involvement, organizational health cannot become a reality, there are many things that employees deeper in an organization can do to make health more likely. First, they have to speak truth upward in the organization. Most leaders, even the struggling ones, want to get better. When an employee is courageous and wise enough to come to them with respect, kindness and honesty, most leaders will be grateful. Without honest upward feedback, a leader cannot get better. Beyond that, people deeper in an organization can focus on making their own departments healthier and not getting too distracted or discouraged by their inability to change things outside of their “circle of influence,” as Stephen Covey says. By focusing on their own departments and their own areas of influence, they provide others with an example to follow.

Question: What’s something I can do tomorrow morning to get started?

The first thing anyone can do immediately to begin the process of making their organizations healthier is, to begin with, themselves and their team. A leader has to understand and embrace the concept of being vulnerable, which inspires trust in the leadership team. That trust is the foundation for teamwork, which is one of the cornerstones of organizational health. If a leader cannot be vulnerable, cannot admit his or her mistakes, shortcomings or weaknesses, others will not be vulnerable and organizational health becomes impossible.

Question: What’s the first step any company can take to start achieving organizational health?

The first step in becoming healthy is to get the leadership team together, offsite, for a couple of days of focused, rigorous, honest discussion. Nothing touchy-feely, but rather a practical session around everything from how the team behaves to how it will succeed to what its most important priority needs to be. That first session will provide the momentum a team needs to lead the organization to health.

How healthy is your organization? take the free survey!

Why I think “#BellLetsTalk” is missing an important point about Mental Health

You may have seen memes of a lion or battle-hardened soldier with the words ‘The Problem With Being Strong Is That Nobody Bothers to Ask.’

I’ve asked

I’ve talked.

I’ve tried.

But it seemed that nobody listened.

It seemed that nobody wanted to hear.


I am a big man; I’ve lived a great life, and I come across as hard and strong.

I’ve led soldiers and emergency responders and been hugely successful.

Yet I have failed.

Failed in relationships, struggled in business and made moral mistakes that sit heavy on my heart.

I was a functioning drunk who drank Rye like it was a cure for alcoholism.

I am pretty sure I have been depressed, and I know I have struggled with my mental health.

I grew up in an environment and served in the Army when you were not sick unless a bone was sticking out of your body.  I understood that mental health issues were a sign of weakness. Motivational posters surrounded me saying: ‘Big boys don’t cry,’ ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body,’ and a visit to the Chaplain or a Counsellor was a black mark on your career.


Such initiatives like ‘#SickNotWeak’ and ‘#BellLetsTalk’ are excellent in destigmatizing mental health issues.

For a child of the ‘60s, it is remarkable that mental health problems are now considered normal and asking for help is the right thing to do.

But where ‘#BellLetsTalk’ misses the mark is that we need to have a complementary imitative called ‘#LetsListen.’

But for many bringing an emotional problem up is hard to do.


In many of my blog posts, I have spoken about my last couple of years at Red Cross. I was struggling in a shifting and changing workplace. I had made a bad hire and was trying to manage an asshole. Years of working in high tension environments were catching up with me. I was leading a giant disaster and working on my Master’s degree.

In short, a lot was going on.

One day I was rushing to a meeting in another city.

While driving, I witnessed a small car get T-boned by a pickup. The vehicle was flipped end for end several times. I stopped to help and saw the driver, a young mother, was dying, the passenger, a Grandmother, was dead.

As bad as the scene was, the worse was finding a toddler in a car seat, not moving and trapped in the back seat. Other good Samaritans and I fought to get into the back seat to help the baby. It seemed to take forever, but we got a door open, the car seat out, and to our giant relief, the baby started crying and was seemingly unharmed.

Police, Fire & EMA came in time and took over the scene, and I carried on as if I were completely normal.


But I wasn’t.

Something switched deep inside of me, and I began to struggle even more with work.

One day I told my boss what had happened, and that was bothering me. All I received for my vulnerability was an unblinking stare.

I never felt so exposed or let down.

That one incident changed my entire relationship with her. She was once a trusted friend and confidant, and now she was someone in authority with whom I had lost trust.

The outcome was preordained the moment that trust was lost.

Eventually, I left or maybe was pushed out of a job I loved and left people I cared for.


There were many times that I reached out when I struggled with emotions and mental health.

I made myself vulnerable by trying to “#BellLetsTalk,” but no one listened.

A relative who told me that everyone hates their job so quit complaining; A boss who betrayed my vulnerability; or a Pastor who didn’t ask that one more question.

And all that accomplished was a guarded fear of opening up again.

So this year, as part of “#BellLetsTalk” let us try harder to ‘#LetsListen.’

5 Steps You Can Use To Build a “First Team” Mindset

Credit to:

Patrick Lencioni & The Table Group for the “First Team” concept,

Jason Wong of

and  Dalmau Consulting for the image

I loved my job.

I was part of a powerful and effective executive team to whom I was loyal. I had no problem identifying that they were the team I was personally responsible for and accountable for.

They were my ‘First Team.’

I had built my team into a great team. People took on some of the most complex projects you could imagine and not just succeeded but excelled. I felt great loyalty to everyone who directly and indirectly reported to me.

But there is no doubt that my division was my ‘Second Team.’

Read about what Punk taught me about this situation.

First Team?”

A First Team – best articulated by Patrick Lencioni – is the idea that true leaders prioritize supporting their fellow leaders over their direct reports—that they are responsible to their peers more than they are to their individual or “Second” teams.

If you’re not entirely on board with that concept, I get it.

In my experience, a “First Team” mindset has been transformational in creating a high performing organization by improving the quality of leadership and management practiced.  

When leaders have built trust with each other, it becomes significantly easier to manage change, exhibit vulnerability, and solve problems together.

I was part of a team who looked and functioned as like example A in the drawing:

When I fell out of my “First Team.”

Things changed when I got a new boss close to me and considered myself a trusted confidant. Over time she went quiet, stopped sharing reasons for decisions and stopped responding. People were hired onto the leadership team I belonged to, whom I believed did not demonstrate the standards I expected of them. My performance began to slip, and my reactions to events were not always as professional as I either hoped or was expected of me.

In retrospect, all the signs pointed to the simple fact that I was nearing or had gone past my best before date as far as she was concerned. To be clear, I have never purported myself to be perfect in any regard. Still, in this case, I was dealing with a boss who was not providing me precise and proper performance management nor effective leadership.

As pictured in example B, I lost faith in my boss and much of the leadership team.

So much so that I focused on my team, and slowly but surely, I became more and more isolated from the organization’s objectives.

 Other Examples of a Broken “First Team”

Imagine a world where the top leaders in your organization are gathered to solve the company’s most pressing challenges. Instead of coming together as a team focused on solving that problem, they approach the exercise more concerned about their self-interest than solving the company’s needs, as pictured in example D above.

Or are you part of a leadership team so disconnected from the rest of the company that they have

no idea what is happening on the shop floor? Picture example C above as the worst of ‘Undercover Boss.’ Where leadership has no idea.

But probably just another day at work for many people, and it’s why I spend a lot of time building a First Team mindset with my clients.

Read more about unaligned leadership teams.


Here are some of the ways I’ve had success in creating a First Team mindset:

Be Explicit

Be explicit about the behaviours you expect from your leaders. Be clear with my managers about their responsibility to one another, including detail of the First Team expectation in the job description and interview for how they’ve practiced it.

Treat Them Like a Cohort

If you don’t treat your leadership team like a cohort, they won’t become one. Ensure you regularly bring together your leadership team, including everything from mailing lists and slack channels to team-building exercises and social events.

Information and trust are the currencies of leadership, and demonstrating an equal distribution through shared experiences is a powerful tool.

Help Them Help Each Other

Encourage interdependence and normalization of help-seeking amongst team members.

Please encourage them to talk to one another about their problems and refer them for help.

Role-play difficult conversations with a fellow manager role play it.

Help Them Help You

Invite your First Team to help you solve your problems.

This vulnerability may feel scary, but it has proven beneficial to leverage your leaders’ capabilities to lead to better outcomes for your organization. And it is a great development opportunity because it exposes them to the types of problems they will face at the next level of their career.                   

Make it Stick

To ensure that you and your leadership team is adhering to the First Team concept, I recommend reviewing the following with your team:

    • At every opportunity, point out the priority of Team #1 before making any critical decisions.

This will put leaders in the correct frame of mind.

    • Demand that team members prioritize the executive team over all others.

When the executive team is truly cohesive and prioritized appropriately, their ability to face complex challenges with further confidence bonds the team and models unity to the organization, this requires an absolute, unwavering commitment to the First Team.

    • Explain how the team’s direct reports will be impacted.

We all know that if there is any daylight between executive team members, it ultimately results in unwinnable battles that those lower in the organization are left to fight.

Like many of the concepts I consult on, First Team is as powerful as it is simple.

Learn more about how I work with executive teams

I have seen highly educated leaders with vast experience have an “aha” moment about the First Team concept resulting in an immediate impact on their team’s cohesion and ability to succeed.

Be The CRO – 2 Ways to Communicate with Clarity

Much of success in business relies on getting everyone on the same page.

And inevitably someone has to choose to lead the charge in getting clarity. 

In the Army, we reviewed ‘comms’ (communications) procedures during pre-mission briefings to ensure that everyone would be on the “same frequency.”

In this case, gaining clarity could mean the difference between life and death.

In team sports like football and baseball, we see players and coaches using all sorts of signals and methods to achieve communications clarity to have precise execution of the play.

Without clarity things fall apart as the play unfolds; the feedback loop is immediate and obvious—from both the players and the fans.

The Challenge

At work, it is not as obvious as the fans booing you when there is a loss of alignment and focus.

I see it every day, and I understand why it’s so easy to fall into this trap.

We’re all uniquely designed and are naturally inclined to communicate in unique ways.

The goal is to understand your natural behaviour and make positive adjustments so that everyone clearly understands your message.

Clarifying Clarity Clues

Here are also two important clues to clear up the murky fog of communication and gain greater clarity –

Don’t assume that everyone hears (and visualizes) your message.

We have a natural tendency to assume that something is clear to us; we assume that it would be clear to everyone else. 

Using the sports analogy, teams usually have set plays, and they rehearse them in practice for weeks before they execute them in the game.

Work situations may not have a playbook, so when the leader calls the play, team members create their individual mental diagrams/pictures of what it’s supposed to look like.

Read about different images of the future


Some are distracted and never even hear the message. 

As a leader, we must regularly and publicly clarify our expectations.  

At the top of the organization, most of these expectations are at the 37,000-foot level. 

As we move down the organization, the clarity needs to get more granular as standards more specifically to the tasks.

This is hard work because it takes mental discipline, time, and energy to clarify what is expected of our employees and to supervise the level of detail is required.

Read about expectations

Clarify Where You Are

How are you doing on clarifying standards and expectations?

Reflect on it yourself and look for times when people were not on the same frequency with you.

What happened?

Whose responsibility was it?

Get feedback from a couple of your stronger players on how well you are doing on clarity.

Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

I often work with people who are transitioning from follower to leader.

The one question that always comes up is: What characteristic makes a good leader?

I tell them the answer is moral courage. 

I have come to realize I was never as concerned about my boss’ technical expertise as I was with their moral courage, honesty, and ethics.

Coincidentally, Abacus Data shared the results of a poll examining Canadians opinions of the leadership, answering the question by saying:

“Leadership can be hard to define – but … people … know what they like when they see it. We gave respondents a forced-choice question about what was most important to them in deciding to support a … leader.  By a considerable margin, “values” (42%) were identified as the top quality to look for, followed by judgment (29%). “Ideas” (15%) and “attitude” (13%) were well back in consideration.

What Matters Most in a Leader?

For me, values and judgment add up to Moral Courage. In the past, courage hasn’t been recognized as an essential attribute for business leaders.

This is changing.

Future leaders will need the ability to act courageously.

Without question, innovation is needed in “for’ and ‘not for’ profit businesses, but it is courage that makes change possible. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Rosabeth Moss Kantor wrote:” moral courage enables people to stand up for principle rather than stand on the sidelines.” 

What is Moral Courage in Leadership?

Courage in leadership is doing what’s right, despite being afraid of risking negative repercussions.

Fear is the most common reason people give when they avoid being courageous. Think about how you feel when you watch a leader who demonstrates personal courage. Most likely, you will trust that leader more.

Courage comes from being very clear about essential values and working to achieve goals that are consistent with those values.

Ultimately, every leader has the choice to either lead with courage or lead without it.

Examples of Courageous Leadership Behaviours

  1. Moral courage & humility when providing honest feedback in conversations and discussions or managing up to your supervisors or boards
  2. Allowing alternative & opposing viewpoints to be shared with the rest of the team.
  3. Speaking up rather than being compliant in silence.
  4. Leading through change & not settling for “we have always done it this way.”
  5. Taking ownership when you are in uncharted territory, and the safe path is to do nothing.

How are you, or your organization, doing at removing the barriers to morally courageous behaviour? Try this simple exercise here to find out. 

Developing Moral Courage

  1. Be very clear about your vision and values.
  2. Scripting in advance what to say
  3. Anticipate those who will disagree
  4. Have the honesty to admit when you have made a mistake or took a wrong path
  5. Be willing to entertain new ideas and change your assumptions.

Courage is a learned skill, and we all can be courageous. To be brave means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking the risk.

As we invest in the future and emerging leaders, isn’t it better to learn values, judgment, and moral courage in a SYSTEMATIC and PURPOSEFUL way instead of allowing them to muddle through?

Do you think fear is driving your leadership actions? Here are 7 questions to prevent fear of leadership failure. 

If you’re interested in going deeper or moving your career to the next level, 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:

How One Word Can Damage Workplace Culture

9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)

The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on January 5, 2015, and has been updated.