The Gray Zone

The Gray Zone

The Gray Zone

Let’s face it: we live in an either-or society.  You’re either with Us, or you’re with Them.  You are either for it, or you are against it.  How many times have you heard—or maybe even said to yourself!—that “It’s my way or the highway.”  Is it any surprise these same divisions are present in the workplace too?  Think about it: sales versus production, service providers versus support staff, baby boomers versus millennials, first shift versus second shift, management versus employees.

During our day-to-day interactions in the workplace, when we are not careful, it is all too easy to get embroiled in a debate with co-workers.  Sometimes, even when we realize that we are not in the right, we dig in and defend our positions.  Pride obscures our perception until we can’t see the truth, even though it’s right in front of us.

Sound familiar?

Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, people like to classify things.  Life is easier when we see things as extremes opposing each other, keeping the world “black and white.”  But life isn’t so easily classified.  We need to take some time and develop more appreciation for The Gray Zone.

So, what’s The Gray Zone?

The Gray Zone is the place between.  It’s not who is right in the workplace, but instead what is right.

Good communication in the workplace brings out the gray areas between the polarized black and white.  When a solution is a Gray Zone solution, it will instantly help organizations improve relationships and achieve results.  After all, there are few things as bulletproof as collaboration!

Here’s a quick snapshot of how Gray Zone solutions can function in your workplace:

Have you ever heard an employee say, “I did my share.  I did my job.”  Or maybe they say, “I did it last time.”  Or, when things have gone wrong, try to pass the blame along, saying, “No one ever told me!” 

Many leaders might write these employees off as simply having a bad attitude.  But if this is a pattern, then that leader has not done their job in clearly assigning work to their team.  After all, if everyone is responsible, then no one is.  Instead of writing employees off as lazy or ill-mannered—turning your team into the them—find the Gray Zone.  Leaders have an obligation to ask or tell their team how a job or assignment will be broken up.  The leader can then hold individuals personally accountable for not carrying their weight.  It stops being a question of who is right and becomes a question about what is right.

Change won’t come quickly unless you bring your team and yourself into The Gray Zone.  People are naturally resistant to change.  They want to know what’s in it for them if they go along with the change.  Your employees and team are no exception.  They’re biased!  Make sure you communicate with your team so that they realize even if they are not directly benefitting from these changes, they are still benefitting indirectly.  Again, it’s not about who is right, but what is right.  And sometimes that means the business comes before the individual.

If you would like to learn more about my newest presentation, “The Gray Zone: It’s Not Who is Right, but What is Right,” contact me today!  I welcome the opportunity to help you and your organization begin to benefit from improved workplace relationships—and see better results.

Leaders, Do Not Punish Employees for Doing What You Asked!

Punishing an employee for doing what you wanted them to do?  Sounds absurd!  And it is absurd—absurdly common, that is.  Coast to coast, it happens daily in the workplace.  What’s the cause of this phenomenon?  Well, usually it is the boss’s reaction to an employee’s actions that is sending the wrong message.

A few years back, I coached an operations manager on how he communicated with his team.  After an employee admitted a mistake that she had made, the operations manager said, “My thirteen-year-old daughter could have done a better job than you!”  This employee stormed off and gathered her coat.  When the operations manager asked where she was going, she said home.  He asked who she thought would do her job. 

She responded, “Why don’t you get your thirteen-year-old daughter to do it?”

Today, he would tell you that he should have done things differently with this employee.  At the time, he punished an employee for acting the way that he treated her.  In the employee’s mind, she was punished for doing the right thing.

To look at this from another angle, take an employee who consistently performs better than average.  You, the boss, know that they will complete any and all tasks that you delegate to them due to this wonderful work ethic.  Without thinking about it, you pile the work onto this employee.  When they continue to rise to the occasion, you continue to “reward” them with more work.  As a result, this bright employee begins to burn out.  When you say that they have a future with your company, they begin to believe that you are making false claims.  It is only a matter of time before this employee seeks out opportunities elsewhere.  When this person resigns, you’re shocked.  But where you saw a dependable employee, they saw nothing but more work and no pay off. 

If this example sounds familiar to you—maybe it’s happened more than once within your business—you are guilty of punishing an employee for doing what you asked of them, even though you meant well.  As a result, you have lost a high performer from your team.

Think about the way you ask for ideas in a team meeting.  No doubt when an employee speaks up and offers an idea, they get more work to do than your other employees.  You mean to give them more responsibilities, but instead you have just taught your team that when the boss asks for ideas, they better stay quiet.  Otherwise they will get more work to do.

Think about the dynamics of your team.  How do you delegate tasks among them?  Do you dump menial tasks onto the most cooperative and willing people time and again?  Eventually, these employees will tire of always getting the bad news jobs.  They will either leave to find new employment or will become uncooperative and unwilling in the workplace, as they are looking to avoid continuously getting the worst jobs. 

Think about how you recognize employees who have performed well.  Is it in front of a group?  After all, not everyone likes to be recognized in front of the group.  You might not realize it, but you’ve created one of their worst nightmares live and in action!  They may not perform as well the next time in order to avoid such a situation.

Think about how you communicate with your team about unwanted behavior.  Many of us fall into the trap of the office-wide memo about not following a policy or procedure when only one or two people are guilty of breaking the rules.  Your team begins to question your credibility, saying to one another, “You do a good job around here, but you still get your butt chewed out.”

As a speaker, author, and consultant, I try to remind all my audiences that problems with their employees often start at the top.  When employees are not doing what they should be doing, it’s time to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself:  What are you doing?  And what should you be doing?

Don’t Reward Employees for Poor or Unwanted Behavior!

Picture this: a scheduled meeting is due to start at 8am. But by 8, only 60% of your team has arrived. You, the leader, decide to give the late-comers a few more minutes. Over the next 15 minutes, the rest of your team trickles in. In the interest of moving things along, you notice those who were late but do not say anything, choosing instead to start your meeting. The late- comers are not held accountable and have no reason to arrive on time for the next meeting. Even worse, those who arrived on time begin to wonder why they should appear promptly only to sit around and wait. They might even start to think that it will be okay if they are late to the next meeting themselves!

Why would any leader, like the boss in the above scenario, reward an employee for poor or unwanted behavior such as arriving late? Usually it’s one of two reasons: either it’s the path of least resistance, or the leader does not understand the unintended consequences of their actions. Often, it’s a combination of both.

Let’s look at another example. You delegate a task to an employee. This employee whines and complains, takes a long time to complete the task, or purposefully makes a mistake. Obviously, these are unwanted behaviors! As a result, the next time you have a task to delegate, you look to other workers instead of this employee. You have taken the path of least resistance. You have also rewarded this employee’s poor behavior.

I know of a leader who gave a raise in reaction to an employee’s poor performance. This leader hoped to motivate the worker. However, within three days that employee fell back into old, poor habits. And why wouldn’t she? She had been rewarded for doing her job poorly.

So how can you avoid falling into the trap of least resistance and rewarding unwanted behavior?

No one likes conflict or having an uncomfortable conversation. But as the boss, it’s your job to deal with your team head-on when they perform poorly or exhibit an unwanted behavior. Make sure to deal with problems early while they are still problems—if you wait too long, they might become habits! Keep your expectations clear and communicated frequently, as well as the consequences if those expectations are not met. Most importantly, follow through on those consequences!

Most of the time when employees are not doing what they should be doing, it is because the leaders are not doing what they should be doing! In my book, Leaders Are MADE, Not Born, and my training seminar, Why Don’t Employees Perform as Expected? I highlight many occasions of leaders not doing what they should be doing and then blaming their employees. Want to learn more? Visit my contact page today!

Employees: Your Number One Renewable Resource


Machinery, methods, materials, money, and employees.  These are all resources that management relies on to get the job done.  If you had to pick one of these resources, which do you think is the most vital?  If you’re like me, the answer is easy: employees!  Imagine, for a second, if all your employees decided not to attend work one day.  What kind of work would be accomplished that day?  Would any?  Probably not!

In my most recent book, Leaders are MADE, Not Born! I outline three of the biggest complaints employees have regarding their leaders.  This May, let’s break those complaints down and take a look at how you can address them in your company!

Boss, Get to Know Us on Our First Day of Work!

Getting to know new hires only takes a few minutes out of your day.  After all, this person is the newest member of your team.  Studies show that employees who feel a sense of ownership in their work and place of employment are more engaged and more likely to go above and beyond the expectations set for them.  Make sure your employees know from day one that you value their work, their ideas, and their time.  You’re the leader, yes, but lead by example.  Model the kind of behavior and work ethic you would like to see in your team.

Boss, Take an Interest in Us!

Your involvement doesn’t end on day one of a new hire.  Developing a relationship with all members of your team from the newest to the most senior will take you far.  Find out what their plans are for an upcoming vacation, express sympathy if they’ve recently lost a loved one or had to put a beloved pet down over the weekend.  Even something as simple as remembering their kids’ names will go a very long way in establishing a relationship with your team.

A word of warning, though: you are still the boss.  Be careful not to become your employees’ divorce counselor or therapist. Taking an interest in their lives and stories doesn’t mean trying to fix all their problems.  Get involved but keep boundaries clear and everything professional.

And, hey, I get it! Things get busy, and sometimes the personal details can fall through the cracks.  Don’t be afraid to make building a relationships with your team a priority, even if that means delegating more often when it comes to other tasks.

Boss, Don’t Become the Invisible Leader!

You might be wondering what, exactly, an invisible leader is.  This leader is only interested in good news and is otherwise absent—aka, invisible.  This leader is ill equipped to deal with anything beyond the good.  Got a problem?  Take it elsewhere.  This leader’s door is usually closed, and they are often uninvolved with the day-to-day of the office or workplace.

How can you avoid becoming an invisible leader?  Easy. Use the MBWA way.  That is to say, Manage By Walking Around.

The MBWA way is has been around as long as dirt.  Maybe even longer!  It basically boils down to a leader making themselves not only open and available to complaints and conversations with their team, but actively seeking out these conversations.  While walking around the floor, I often pause to ask employees what’s going on today. I make a point to find out if anything is preventing them from doing their jobs.  What I’ve learned is that employees are more likely to tell me what is on their minds point-blank in this context.  Even further, they give me bits and pieces of information that I needed to develop solutions.

In the flurry of activity to keep an eye on over-arcing goals, it can be easy to lose sight of the day-to-day details that build a thriving business.  But leaders, remember: your employees are your number one resource!  Keep them content, heard, and interested, and you’ll soon find a happier, more invested team ready and revving to work hard for you and your company.

Influential Leadership: Building up Through Humility


According to a recent poll conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 58% of surveyed employees trust strangers more than their leader.  Think about that number—more than half put more faith in some random Joe on the street instead of their leader.  What’s causing this?  The answer might be simpler than you’d think.  It’s a lack of connection.  It’s employees feeling that they don’t have a strong bond with their leader.  After all, leadership is about influencing the people around you.  And how can you expect to influence a team that feels disconnected from you?

How can we, as leaders, build up those bonds?  First, think about a “good” leader.  What traits does this person possess?  For many of us, we think of someone with a strong will, a hefty helping of charisma, a clear vision, and boundless enthusiasm.  And while these are all excellent traits to have, did you notice what’s missing from the list?  The answer: humility.


Recently, the vision of a “good” leader has become dominated by phrases such as “the power of persuasion,” and managers have been encouraged to adopt an over-the-top, exaggerated confidence.  This turns them into a figurehead and an old-school version of The Boss.  They become untouchable—and unapproachable.

Meanwhile, according to research conducted by Administrative Science Quarterly, it turns out that leaders who actively seek out feedback and focus on the needs of the team over their own—that is to say, leaders who act with humility—saw higher levels of employee engagement and job performance.  There is also lower levels of turnover rate in an environment with a more humble leader. After all, when leading with humility, you’re creating bonds with your employees’ hearts and minds, which in turns makes it harder for recruiters to lure them away!


So, you’ve decided you want to lead with more humility.  How to get started?  The first step is easy: make yourself open to your team’s opinions.  Encourage collaboration and listen to the ideas that your employees bring to the table.  We all want to be valued and heard, but too often we allow our employees to be ignored and dismissed.  Adopt an open door policy and take your team’s points of view into account.  While listening to your team, make sure to put their needs before your own.  We all want to know that our leaders have our backs, so make it explicitly clear through your actions and words.

Perhaps the hardest part of leading with humility is admitting when we as leaders have made a mistake.  No one likes having been wrong or taking a misstep.  We’ve been encouraged to put on our leader masks for so long that we now feel like we’re playing a role instead of acting authentically.  This is called Imposter Syndrome.  We feel that we’ve become shallow versions of ourselves. But, by leading with humility and being willing to admit you don’t know everything, not only will your employees’ work lives improve—but so will yours.  

Finally, take the time at the end of the day to reflect on your own performance. How did you do at leading humbly?  Be honest with yourself.  One way to do this is to keep a journal and look back on your day.  What did you do well?  What can you do better tomorrow?  

Leading with humility implies a certain amount of vulnerability, which can be counter-intuitive and worrisome for many managers.  Like any new habit, give it time to grow and develop.  Give yourself time and opportunity to become a better, more humble version of the great leader you are.  More than anything, stay curious.  Stay honest.  Stay humble.

No-Nonsense Tips for Effectively Managing Generation Z


As a speaker and trainer on generations in the workplace, I often witness older employees assuming that Gen Z and Millennials (also known as Gen Y) are identical and interchangeable.  This couldn’t be further from the reality of things!  Just on the basis of who raised each generation—Baby Boomers raising Millennials, Gen X raising Gen Z—differences will make themselves apparent.  Drawing generational lines can be tricky, but most sources agree that Gen Z consists of adults born between 1996 and 2010.  The older section of this demographic is almost 22, and more than ready to make a real jump into the business world.

So how can we prepare ourselves to successfully manage the next wave hitting our companies?


Millennials typically received a good amount of feedback from their parents, most of it positive reinforcement.  We all know the old stereotype of a Millennial continuously knocking on their boss’s door just to “check in” and see how they were doing. It spread across workplaces like a wildfire!

There are some similarities between Gen Z and Millennials in this regard.  However, when it comes to Gen Z, the feedback loop becomes even tighter.  This is a generation that has grown up constantly monitored and observed.  They’ve spent their childhoods on the internet and using smartphones. Everything they’ve done—from grades posted to online portals to iTunes and Amazon purchases—has been tracked and documented.  And Gen Z is fully aware of this tracking and have opted into it.  They are used to frequent recommendations and suggestions. It’s no surprise that they want their workplace to reflect the rest of their lives!

But there’s good news—where Millennials typically want things sugarcoated, Gen Z prefers their feedback straight and to the point. Their parents never gave a rose-tinted version of things, so why should their leaders?


Like we said above, Gen Z lives in a world of continuous updates. What counts as “relevant” is constantly being reworked and redefined.  Their lives are in a state of constant flux, moving from one social media platform to the next, jumping from app to app, staying on and ahead of the trends This can lead to a shorter attention span, as they’re used to jumping immediately into what’s next.

While this might seem like bad news, it’s also very, very good news. Gen Z, as a direct result of that shortened attention span, are better multi-taskers than their Millennial counterparts.  They’re used to typing up a document on a laptop while doing research on their phone and streaming a movie on the television and—well, you get the picture! They can shift gears quickly, code-jumping between work and play, and keep an eye on multiple projects at once.

Great Expectations

Did you know that 72% of teens say they want to start a business of their own one day?  This Entrepreneurial spirit is really what defines this up and coming generation. And now more than ever, with the world just a wifi connection away, it’s not as far-fetched a goal as you might think. Gen Z appreciates feedback, but they’re ready to work independently and hit the ground running.

That’s because Gen Z has great expectations.  Millennials remember coming home, logging into AOL, and waiting for the dial-up connection to rev up.  Gen Z was born into a fast-paced world that never stops moving.  This does lead to some pitfalls, like the tendency to panic when something doesn’t work right away.  But it also leads to quick and quality turn arounds on assignments.

The Takeaway

Like with every generation—the Greatest Gen to Gen Z—there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer to managing a specific generation.  It’s easy to say that Millennials can’t take bad feedback or that Gen Z is flighty and easily distracted, but they’re really no different than the generations that came before.  We all want work that matters, and w all want to know that we’re performing above the expected caliber in our positions.  It’s common sense that is unfortunately not so common any more.

Don’t fear Gen Z coming into your workplace.  With a little time and a little feedback, you’ll have a strong team that will help support your business for generations to come.

Good to Great: Communicating with your Employees


Time and again, experience and surveys show that one of the main factors feeding into employees deciding to seek out new employment rests in those employees feeling seen, validated, and valued. Those feelings come directly from communication with you, their boss! In fact, the main difference between great bosses, good bosses, and subpar bosses rests entirely in how those leaders communicate with their team. We all want our employees to feel valuable and never disposable. So how can we communicate fully and effectively with our employees? 

Glass Half-Full 

It’s easy to lose sight of the positives in order to focus on areas with room for improvement. But if employees are never recognized for their successes, they may begin to feel undervalued and unappreciated. Take the time to verbally tell employees, “Good job!” or “You’ve really improved!” When it comes to praise, a little (or a lot!) can go a long way. 

I also like to take the time to appreciate when an employee has gone above and beyond. We all like to think of our teams as places where collaboration is the default, which means showing your gratitude when an employee helps another, helps you, or takes initiative and goes a few steps further than required. A simple “Thank you” shows your employee that you’ve taken note of their hard work. 

Clear Expectations 

Think about when you were a kid, sitting in the passenger seat of your parent’s car. Your parent tells you to go ahead, take the wheel and steer for a while. That’s the only direction you’re given: steer. You’re left to figure out what that means, and the car meanders first towards the middle dividing line, then towards the shoulder. 

Sometimes, your employees may feel like that kid steering the car for the very first time. Check in from time to time. When you first delegate a task, after explaining make sure to ask, “What’s our goal?” This gives a big-picture image for your employee, as well as requiring them to repeat back what you’ve just instructed, giving both of you the chance to make sure everything is clear. Before leaving, say, “Let me know if you have any questions.” This shows your team that you’re approachable and open to assisting should road bumps occur along the way. 

Room for Improvement 

Of course, there will always be times when some corrective communication must occur. This isn’t a bad thing, however, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Think about being the kid in the car again. When you drift towards the center, your parent shows tells you to go back to the left. When you get too close to the shoulder, they send you back to the right. They correct in the moment, and not after the fact. 

To jump to another metaphor, think about someone who has spinach stuck in their teeth. If that green leaf was in your teeth, you’d want to be told immediately, right? It’s the same for your employees. Very few people intentionally perform a task incorrectly. So if you notice something not going to plan, take a moment and check in. Phrases like “How can we improve?” or, if you expect an outside factor is impacting performance, even checking in with the person themselves. “How are you?” 

And sometimes, it may even be you, the boss, who has made the misstep. Address it immediately and own up to it. “That was my fault. I’m sorry.” Employees learn from watching us. We lead by example. Make sure you’re setting a good one from take responsibility, noticing work well done, and communicating clearly.

Stay Interviews and You


It’s safe to say that we’re all familiar with Exit Interviews—when an employee makes the decision to leave their current position and company, they are interviewed about their reasons for doing so, ways the company can improve, what the company has done well, and so on. But this does little to actually help the company in question. After all, that employee has already left. There isn’t any way to try and rectify the situations that led to their decision to seek new employment. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of conducting a Stay Interview. 

So. What is a Stay Interview? And why are they so important? 

Like an Exit Interview, Stay Interviews are conversations between management and current employees. However, unlike the Exit Interview, Stay Interviews give you the chance to retain an employee instead of having to go through the process of losing a valued team member, interviewing and finding a new person, and training them. The results from these interviews will give you knowledge about what your business is doing well, what can be tweaked and adjusted, and, most importantly, keep valued employees from leaving for different opportunities. 

Now more than ever, employees want to know that they’re being heard, acknowledged, and appreciated. People respond to collaboration more than heavy-handed—or, conversely, extremely hands-off—direction. Gone are the days where the boss simply says, “If you don’t hear from me, assume things are going well.” Stay Interviews go a long, long way to showing your employees that you don’t only care how their business is going, but that you are invested in their development within your corporation. 

Stay Interviews are also a fantastic way to pinpoint members of your team who are looking to move up in the ranks but aren’t sure how, or what it is precisely that you are looking for in regard to promotion. For instance, I can recall many years ago when I was a naïve teenager in one of my first jobs. I asked my boss what I needed to do to get promoted. His response? “You don’t get promoted for turning the lights on around here.” That was it! After, I felt like he didn’t care at all about my growth and development. Whenever I have a Stay Interview, I keep that feeling in mind. Employee feedback is crucial to your growing business, now more than ever. It can help you find talent that you might have otherwise overlooked or brushed past in favor of more pressing issues. 

It's a new year, and there’s no better time to try out some new approaches in your business. If you’ve been looking to shake things up and reduce turnover in your business, I can’t recommend Stay Interviews enough. The questions you ask, of course, will depend on your business and leadership communication style. The questions I ask might not be useful to you or your situation, and yours might not be relevant to mine! A quick google search will land you an abundance of options. Here are a few to get you started: 

  • What kind of feedback or recognition would you like about your performance that you aren’t currently receiving?

  • What opportunities for self-improvement would you like to have that go beyond your current role? 

  • What talents, interests, or skills do you have that we haven’t made the most of? 

  • What have you felt good about accomplishing in your job and in your time here? 

Stay Interviews are proactive and will help you reduce costs related to rehiring employees. Even better, they will help you keep the team that you already have, as happy employees are less likely to go looking for new opportunities. Sounds like a win/win situation to me!

Hit and Run: Avoiding Drive-By Assignments


It goes by many names: drive-by assignments, the dump and run.  We may call it something different, but we know it when we see it.  Maybe we’ve had it happen to us, or we (though we may not want to admit to it!) have done it to our employees.  A leader leaves an assignment with one of their team members and tells this employee to figure it out, then disappears as suddenly as they appeared.  The chances of this task being done correctly or promptly have just slimmed down to the faintest glimmer of a chance. 

Sometimes things even as miniscule as different acronyms might throw a wrench in the works.  For instance, I see ASAP and think it’s a top priority—but for some of my employees, BEE (Before Everything Else) is given top attention.  So how to cut through the miscommunications and streamline delegating in your workplace?  The good news is that it’s fairly straightforward to avoid.  We as leaders need to slow down and make sure to answer a few questions before moving along:

·      Who Will Do It?  Who is the person responsible for completing this task?  Make sure that your employee is clear on the fact that this is an assignment and not simply an afterthought.  Give your task the weight it merits.

·      What Has to Be Done?  Are expectations clear?  If you don’t have a clear picture of what this completed task should look like, why do you expect your employee to have one?  Define clear parameters for your employee to follow.

·      How Should it Be Done?  You’ve established the what, now make sure your employee has a handle on the how.  Different tasks demand different approaches.  Share your ideas on these approaches and see if your employee has any thoughts to contribute.  Make sure everyone is on the same page.

·      Why is it Done in This Way?  You’ve gone through the what and the how, now make sure your team member understands your thought process.  Sometimes it’s hard for us to connect with a task that is purely theoretical.  Again, clear communication goes a long way in assigning tasks.

·      When Should it Be Completed?  Nothing motivates workers like a good, old fashioned deadline.  If you don’t have a firm deadline in mind, make sure to at least give them a ballpark.  Otherwise, it’s easy to put off completing a task in favor of other assignments which may feel more pressing.

·      Where Will You Be?   Make sure that you’ve made yourself available and accessible should your employee run into any questions, road blocks, or problems along the way.

By making sure you’ve addressed these questions when assigning a task to one of your employees, you can ensure that things are being completed in a timely, competent matter.  No matter how much we wish it was different, our employees aren’t mindreaders!  We can’t expect them to give us what we’re looking for unless we’re able to communicate exactly and precisely what we want.  But with a little intention and a lot of clarity, we can become better leaders of more efficient teams.

Into the Unknown: Preparing Employees to Handle Change


People fear the unknown—your employees are no exception. We like to know where we stand. It’s why people develop habits and routines. However, contrary to what we might otherwise like, the only real constant in the world is change. And when change occurs in our workplace, whether through a broad overhaul or a small change in personnel, it can cause fear and unrest in a team. Change can make employees question their standing in your business: What happens if they can’t meet new expectations? What if they push back too hard and end up either losing respect or losing their job? If they accept change too quickly, will they be seen as a goody-goody by their co-workers? These are all questions your team will ask themselves. However, you can help employees manage their fear of change by setting a strong example. 

Set Expectations Early 

In moments of change, employees will often feel that they’re unable to keep up with the new landscape and their new expectations. Make sure that you have established a support system for them during these transitional periods, and, additionally, make sure that your team knows that system is available to them. This can be accomplished through creating an honest and accessible vision of the intended outcome. I don’t like changes made only for changes sake, and neither does my team! So I make sure that they understand why the change is happening, and ensure we’re all on the same page regarding my expectations both of them and my new system. 

Be Specific 

Whatever you know about your planned changes to your business, be prepared to share them with your team! Studies have shown that employees respond positively when included and feel that they have a say in the running of a company. Besides, by sharing everything from nitty-gritty details to big picture ideas, you not only bring your team into things with you, but you also establish yourself as well-informed, prepared, and ready to tackle any obstacles. By seeing you take responsibility and act with confidence, your team will follow your example. 


Along with setting clear expectations and explaining specific points of upcoming changes, keep things transparent. Openly discuss potential pros and cons of your proposed plan, and invite your team to come to you with any pros or cons in the planned changes that you may have missed. Make sure to highlight the pros of how this change will effect the employees positively. Humans are naturally inclined to align themselves with things that will directly benefit them. Make this a priority, and your employees will be more likely to follow your lead. 

The most important thing in managing change in the workplace is you. You’re the boss. Your team looks to you. Take responsibility for their fears and insecurities in the face of change, and find ways to keep everything smooth and on course. This will take a good deal of deliberation and conscious action on your part. After all, despite what Hollywood may have you believe, leaders are not born—they are made. Make yourself into the best leader you can be today.

Faith Over Fear: Empowering Employees to Better Your Business


Authority.  It is the confidence and power to act and make decisions.  It is, at the basic level, empowerment.  Generally, we think of ‘authority’ as something that belongs to the boss.  However, every time that the boss decides to delegate a task or assignment, they are also delegating the authority to make decisions on that task.  We often think of effective leadership as a hands-on activity.  But if we keep our hands and thoughts spread over too many tasks, we’re not only undervaluing and overworking ourselves—we’re doing the same to our employees.  It can be a daunting task to let go of the wheel and let someone else drive for a while.  So how can we as leaders empower our employees while making sure we stay secure in our role as leaders?


Believe in Yourself

A common worry among leaders is that by empowering their employees, those employees will manage to outperform you.  It’s easy to fall into the trap that an employee doing an exemplary job translates into a commentary about the shortcomings of your own ability.  Really, the truth is the exact opposite.  I am always thrilled when my employees operate at a level that sometimes outpaces my own abilities.  It builds me a reputation as a leader who surrounds myself with competent and empowered people.  Before delegating, simply ask yourself: Who gets the most work done in their area?  Who has created a record of hard work and service?  I’ve found that the more I empower my people, the longer that list grows, and the more options I have in delegating tasks throughout my team.


The Long Haul

The nature of running a business is to accept that there will be some level of turnover.  However, empowering employees and giving them more responsibilities, both big-picture and day-to-day, can create a sense of ownership in your team’s work.  They are more likely to find a higher rate of satisfaction with their job, and put more effort in.  When team members within your company feel that they have a say and that their voices are heard, they’re more likely to stay working within your company versus going out and seeking a new opportunity.  This will also help to build a reputation for your business, and this reputation can in turn help attract promising new talent to join your corporate team.


Taking a Step Back

Still, it can be hard to take your hands off the wheel and take a step back.  Most of us started in positions where our bosses once empowered us—that’s how we ended up in leadership roles.  You had the technical know-how and skills as an employee.  Now, your job performance is judged almost entirely on making decisions and getting work done through others.  There’s more security in doing a task yourself versus passing it along to a member of your team.  When these anxieties happen, remind yourself that it’s good your team is more proficient at a task than you are.  They are the ones doing the job on a regular basis, who are neck deep in the thick of things.  Your job is now the big picture—by empowering your team to take greater responsibility, you are ensuring that they are able to handle the details.

With all this in mind, it’s important to remember that your team may be hesitant to take on more responsibility at first.  For instance, I once had an employee who was reluctant to make definitive decisions.  He was unused to the level of empowerment I was wishing to give him. He asked permission to do something, and I got out of my chair, laid on the floor, folded my arms across my chest, and asked him, “If I were dead, what would you do?”  I told him his answer sounded good, and he went on his way.  This is the real test of leadership—if your employees need you to keep the company running, something has gone wrong.  A better business run like a well-oiled machine, and through empowering your team you can ensure that it will last the test of time, no matter what complications arise along the way.

Cool Hand Leadership: 3 Steps to Avoid Failures to Communicate

One of the sad truths of the business world is that, no matter how open your lines of communication are, sooner or later a miscommunication is bound to occur.  When these mishaps happen, it can be easy to look at your team and toss them under the bus in your place.  However, you’re still the boss, and as the boss it’s your job to make sure that you are getting through to your employees when delegating tasks.  The buck stops with you.  With that in mind, it’s good to shrink the opportunity for miscommunications in your business.  But where to begin?  Luckily, it’s fairly simple and straightforward.  With three easy steps, you can begin to build stronger communications within your company.

1. Be clear, concise, and observant. 

Make sure that you have a clearly defined vision and understanding of what you’re asking your employees to accomplish—after all, if you lack direction, how are they expected to follow you along to a desired outcome?  While delivering your instructions, keep it short and to the point.  If you go off on too many rambling tangents, your team may have trouble picking out what matters in your instructions.  Use simple language and avoid unnecessarily large words.  Finally, and maybe even most importantly, keep an eye on your employees’ body language.  If they seem unsure, pause and check in: they may have a question they are too self-conscious to ask without prompting.

2. Assume nothing.

It’s easy to fall back into the safety net of acronyms, idioms, and other lingo in your business.  However, just because certain terms and words are common knowledge to you doesn’t mean that they are to everyone.  The same goes with the perceived difficulty of an assigned task: Michael Jordan can dunk a basketball without blinking, but the same can’t be said for most of us.  Make sure that your employee has a full, well-rounded picture of what you’re asking them to do as well as knowing how to do it before sending them off to complete their task.

3. Ask for a summary.

Before dismissing your employee or continuing your day, ask your employee to give you a summary of what you have just instructed them to do.  This can clear up any miscommunications or misunderstandings before anything becomes a problem.  Ask a few questions to make sure that both you and the employee are on the same page.  Remember, you’re not grilling them in an interrogation, but rather working together with your team to keep everyone on track.

Remember—even with these three tips, miscommunications are bound to happen.  We’re only human, after all.  When miscommunications do occur, don’t be so quick to blame your employees.  When your finger is pointing at them, their fingers will all be pointing back at you.  Luckily, with a dose of intention and a whole lot of patience, you can minimize the amount of miscommunications happening within your business and work with your team to build a stronger company.

Delegating the Deckwork: Effective Delegation in Your Workplace

Delegate the Deckwork.png

A few years back, my wife asked me to stain our large, backyard deck.  It’s a large task, needing no less than 8 hours to complete, and definitely not the way I had wanted to spend my Saturday.  But she was right: the work needed to be done.  About two hours into my undertaking, my wife came outside to ask me to run to the grocery store.  I pointed out that I was busy staining the deck and not able to go, to which she replied, “Staining the deck is easy—you can finish once you’re back.”  I realized that, from her point of view, staining the deck looked simple because she did not have to do the work itself.

I often think of this exchange with my wife when training new leaders on the importance of delegation.  Oftentimes we underestimate the amount of effort an employee is putting into a task because we are not the ones doing the labor.  Remember: the only thing separating you from your team is a job title.  But with some attention, intention, and education, you can delegate effectively.


The first step to effective delegation is to agree on expectations and responsibilities.  We often do this without thinking, but a little more attention to it goes a long way.  Make sure that you and the employee you’re delegating to have the same picture of what success means.  Be clear and concise about roles in completing the task: who is responsible for what?  Build a safety net should your employee find themselves in need of some guidance.  Most importantly, make sure that the deadline is expressed clearly and enforced.


In order to avoid the dreaded mantle of the micromanager, we often find ourselves inclined to delegate a task and disappear entirely.  Stay involved with your employees throughout their project.  Allow them the room and freedom to complete the work, but stay available to them to help with any concerns or unexpected roadblocks.  By managing with intention, you can help your team succeed without staying immediately involved.


One way you can stay involved in a delegated task is to create and foster learning opportunities.  When the delegated project has been completed, meet with your team and check in: What worked?  What could have functioned more successfully?  Why did these things happen?  Establish that this debriefing will occur from the get-go of the assignment.  It’s important that your team is both celebrated for their successes and held accountable for lackluster performances, and that your expectations are clear from the start.

Not all tasks will be as straightforward as staining a deck.  Still, the basic principles of effectively delegating a task remain the same.  You want to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding methods, outcomes, and expectations.  Stay involved but allow your employees the freedom to succeed on their own terms.  When the delegated project has finished, call a meeting together to debrief on how things went.  Most importantly, don’t assume that the deck your employees are working on is easy: keep communication open, and your team will soon rise to the occasion.

John Graci is an author, consultant, and leadership adviser with more than 20 years of management experience in production, office, union and non-union environments. Connect with John to speak at you next corporate event.  Phone: 612-708-1939 Email:

Walking the Walk: Leaders as Role Models


Sometimes, as we find ourselves caught up in the daily grind, we lose track of a simple fact: leaders, you are a role model!  Your employees look to you and judge your actions as a reflection on the entire company.  Your team follows the example that you are setting, which further builds the company’s reputation in a community.  So, today, we take the time to reflect on how leaders can not only talk the talk of being a boss, but walk the walk as an effective role model.

Attitude is Everything

Maybe we don’t talk about it enough, but acting in a leadership role is hard.  You constantly find yourself caught between your employees, co-workers, and upper management.  Keeping everyone content is a constant balancing act, and spending that much time up on the high-wire can be exhausting!  But it’s important to still keep your head up and maintain a positive outlook.  Don’t put down upper management and co-workers in front of your employees.  Remember: you are the boss.  If you spend your days plodding around your business like Eeyore and claiming that the sky is due to fall any day now, your employees will respond in kind.  So if you would like to see a shift towards the positive in your workplace, start by taking a long look at your own attitude.

Maintain Positive Relationships

Along with keeping a can-do attitude thriving in your workplace, it’s important to deal with any conflicts that arise quickly, calmly, and professionally.  Say, for instance, that you find yourself clashing with another manager.  If you air your grievances publicly, it will only be a matter of time before your employees pick up on the unrest.  Soon, your team and the other manager’s team will find themselves constantly at odds.  While a little good-natured competition can be healthy, the last thing you want to do is accidentally encourage open hostilities within your business.  Take some initiative and try to foster positive workplace relationships.

Building Trust

As a leader, you want your team to trust you, and you want to be able to trust them in turn.  There is no way to build that trust without hard work, accountability, and integrity.  But in order for your employees to display these qualities, you must first model them yourself.  Work hard—pitch in when your team needs a hand and make it clear from the start that there is no assignment beneath you.  Most importantly, make sure that you do a good job at those assignments and hold yourself accountable.  Your employees will measure themselves against your example.  That is why you must conduct yourself with considerable integrity.  If you ask your team to follow a set of rules, you must also be ready to follow those rules yourself.

With a little intention, you can soon become a role model for your team.  By setting yourself up as a quality leader, you can trust your team to go above and beyond.  After all, they’ll be following your example.

John Graci is an author, consultant, and leadership adviser with more than 20 years of management experience in production, office, union and non-union environments. Connect with John to speak at you next corporate event. Graci Leadership Solutions  Phone: 612-708-1939 Email:


Is it ever ok to be friends with an employee?


At some point, all managers will struggle with the issue of becoming friends with an employee. Sometimes, special people come along. It's natural to want to get to know them better, in an extracurricular context. 

But, it's almost never a good idea to become friends with an employee. It's surprising and disheartening how many managers today don't see a problem with becoming friends with an employee.

Which is a huge mistake! Becoming friends with an employee is a severe misstep in leadership. It puts so many things at risk: your team's morale, as well as the reputation of not only your employee but yourself as well.

What’s the harm?

You might be asking yourself, “what’s the big deal?” After all, you’re not a robot – you have feelings and need companionship, right? Well, if you are a leader, you have expectations and responsibilities that transcend friendship.

The most insidious by-product of becoming friends with an employee is the perception of favoritism among the rest of your crew.  

 Why you should avoid favoritism at all costs

Favoritism behaves like a termite, causing damage from the inside out.  There are many good reasons to be wary of showing any bias in your organization. Here are a quick few:

-       Favoritism hurts the feelings of your employees who feel left out. While ideally, feelings would never come into play in the quality of work people do, the truth is that hurt feelings lead to lowered morale. 

-       It could hurt your reputation with your higher-ups. If you have even a single person above you on the food chain, you don't want a reputation-damaging word getting back to them that you're getting chummy with an employee.

-       It hurts the employee who is perceived as being favored. Others will see them as the boss' pet. Co-workers may begin treating him or her with disdain, out of jealousy, or with inauthentic friendliness, in the hopes that by getting on their good side, they are gaining favor with you as well. 

For example, if a leader goes out for a drink with an employee on the team, how do you think other employees will perceive that?

Let's take it a step further. If this leader then delegates a task to the employee she shared a drink with, others will remark,  "It's not what you know, it's who you know", regardless if this person is the most qualified for the job.

Now do you see how becoming friends with an employee can negatively affect the health of your organization?

How to avoid favoritism without hurting feelings

Focus on your own behavior. No one is going to ask you to stop being kind to someone, so ask for feedback from your employees. By supporting a policy of open communication with all your employees, everyone will feel like they have your equal attention. You'll be able to address any issues as soon as they arise, instead of finding out too late that there is a problem.

Keep in mind that none of this means you should be cold, standoffish, or dismissive with your workers. Employees have the right to expect that their leader will be fair and objective. As a leader, it’s difficult to live up to that expectation if you are getting too close to, or spending more time with, one employee over others. Leaders can give speeches all day long that they do not play favorites. However, employees will make their own decision based on the behavior they perceive. Perception is reality! Never forget: leaders are MADE, not born! 

John Graci is an author, consultant, and leadership adviser with more than 20 years of management experience in production, office, union and non-union environments. Connect with John to speak at you next corporate event. Graci Leadership Solutions  612-708-1939


Using Memos To Address Poor Performance Hurts Your Credibility

TO: Bosses

FROM: Your good employees who depend on you!

How many times have you been on the receiving end of a “shotgun memo”? You know, the kind of memo fired off by a leader to the entire team when only one or two team members are not following a procedure, or have done something wrong?


Memos are powerful communication tools. They are declarations from on high and can potentially change the course of your team’s progress, for better or for worse. When misused, like in the case of shotgun memos, they are de-motivating - your workers who are doing the job as you require feel lumped in with the workers who are in need of correction.  

Shotgun memos can damage team morale, and what’s worse, they are dangerous to a leader’s credibility, because leaders are obligated to directly confront those not doing the job on behalf of the those who are doing the job.

Relying on a memo that goes out to the entire team, instead of confronting the poor performers directly, is a symptom of a leader potentially practicing management without a license.  Managing via memo is not managing at all!

Remember, leaders are MADE, not born! It takes courage to be a leader and to intervene as soon as a situation calls for it. Don't be shy! People depend on you to tell them what they need to do and what they are responsible for!

Below is a short, amusing and practical poem that may provide a glimpse of what drives ineffective leaders to draft up and distribute a shotgun memo, courtesy of Duane Jackson at

An internal email was just sent to our tech team about a problem, ending with “Can someone look into this?”
It reminded me of a short story about responsibility:
This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done, and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

In other words, if you’re delegating a task or asking for something to be done – make sure you delegate to Somebody, otherwise, Nobody will do it.

If you recognize your own behavior in any part of that poem, take steps now to correct it. At the very least, use your memo to follow up with the team members whose erroneous behavior prompted the memo in the first place. Otherwise, you are at serious risk of letting down the people depending on you keep your team running smoothly!


John Graci is an author, consultant, and leadership adviser with more than 20 years of management experience in production, office, union and non-union environments. Connect with John to speak at you next corporate event. Graci Leadership Solutions  612-708-1939

You Pay for Training Whether You Intend to or Not!

by John Graci

During a meeting, how often have you seen managers shorten the length of employee training in order to get the employees back to the floor sooner?

It’s understandable how leaders arrive at that conclusion. The longer employee training takes, the less time employees spend producing. However, by choosing not to invest the time to train employees thoroughly, managers are unwittingly choosing to pay workers to do the job poorly, or to develop bad habits that will hurt productivity and quality for untold lengths of time.

The cost of poorly trained employees can be tallied not only in actual dollars but lost productivity due to the time spent fixing errors and covering overages and shortages, both of which could have been curtailed by adequate training. And this doesn't even mention the deadliest consequence of all: lost customers.

The long and short of it is: You Pay for Training Whether You Intend to or Not!

You’re going to pay your employees either way - it’s up to you to make sure you get exactly the performance you expect. The best way to do this?  Invest in quality training.

However, easier said than done. Quality training doesn’t just happen, and it’s not without its pitfalls.

Many organizations choose a superstar to do the training. Superstars, for all of their talents, typically have a hard time putting into words what makes them so good.  Superstars often leave out the "why" of the job.  Workers need to know the "Why"!  Otherwise, a five-step process will become a three-step process overnight, with sometimes disastrous consequences.

Many leaders make the mistake of believing that telling is the same as training, or assuming that saying it once does the job; many employees will do their best impression of a bobblehead doll and agree with everything you say, just to end the training session or meeting. No matter how thorough your presentation, you must also ask employees to repeat the information back to you, to ensure that they know what they need to do, and why.

Asking an employee, who is likely performing their best impression of a bobblehead doll, "do you have any questions?" isn't going to get you the results you want. Fishing for questions like this is asking people to willingly put themselves on the spot and look like they weren't smart enough to keep up. No one wants that. Instead, ask, "what questions do you have for me?” – this will keep the spotlight on you, and lets people know that they should have questions at this point and that you are eager to answer them.

Ever try to ice skate? You mastered this skill after one lesson, right?  Too often, leaders expect employees to learn new skills instantly. They hit the employee with an avalanche of information, then become stunned or even subconsciously judge the employee for being incompetent when the job is not done correctly right away. Your most effective leaders take the drip, drip, drip approach to employee education, allowing knowledge to sink in a lot deeper. Often, employees need to gain experience with the each of the smaller steps of a process before it takes root.

Time spent training employees is a valuable window to communicate what you expect of your workers and to get on the same page as to what you're looking for, and what they need to do. The stakes and the costs are too high to rush through it! Pay me now or pay me later! 

John Graci is an author, consultant, and leadership adviser with more than 20 years of management experience in production, office, union and non-union environments. Connect with John to speak at you next corporate event. Graci Leadership Solutions  612-708-1939