All posts by Casey

Speak Assertively: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

We all have a right to express our thoughts, feelings, wishes, and opinions without stepping on the other people’s rights, of course. But most of us don’t know how to do that. We don’t say what we mean and we don’t mean what we say.

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Let’s suppose that you’re in meeting and a colleague ridicules your idea. How do you feel in that moment? If you’re like most people, you feel angry and defensive. But how do your react based on that anger? Do you attack back? Do you retreat? Do you pretend it doesn’t bother you, but tell others afterward what a jerk your team member is?

We learn how to communicate based on what works for us. That’s how I learned to be passive-aggressive. It’s not in my nature to attack when someone does me wrong. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel aggressive. In the past, when someone hurt my feelings or questioned my competence, I hid my hostility. Sometimes I’d sideswipe the person with an indirect and snide comment. And sometimes (I blush to admit), I’d get revenge by talking about the person behind their back. My behavior worked for me; it made me feel better, at least in the short term. But it never solved the problem. In fact, the problem often got worse. When I became a manager, I realized that my behavior would not serve me well. I’d have to learn how to deal with these issues by expressing myself directly, honestly, and respectfully.

Below is a scenario and four four possible ways of responding. Choose the mode of communication that you typically would use under the circumstance.

Scenario: A team member slams your idea in a meeting, calling it lame and saying it’s not worth discussing.

Four modes of communication: 

Passive: Say and do nothing. 

Aggressive: Say: “Who are you to criticize my idea? You’re last big idea caused us to go so far off track on this project that we’ll never catch up!”

Passive-Aggressive: Say: “Oh, that’s right. I forgot that you’re the expert here. Ha-ha.” [Afterward, talk to others about what happened and say what an idiot your co-worker is.]

Assertive: [Speak to the person in private after the meeting.] Say: “When you said that my idea was lame and not worth discussing, I was embarrassed. I feel that my integrity is at stake here. I want to know how you see the situation and talk with you about I can get my ideas out in the open . . .”

The assertive mode of communication is the only direct, honest, and respectful mode of communication. When delivering an assertive message, keep these components in mind:

  • Keep strong emotions in check. If you are angry, wait until you calm down. But don’t wait too long. Discuss the issue as soon as possible.
  • Describe the situation without judgment or evaluation. Simply state the person’s behavior in a neutral, factual way. (“When you said that my idea was lame and not worth discussing . . .”)
  • State the impact of that person’s behavior on you. (“I was embarrassed. I feel that my integrity is at stake.”)
  • Ask for the person’s input. (“I want to know how you see the situation . . .”)
  • Dialogue: After you’ve asked for their input, listen to their side things and share your own observations. Work together to solve the problem.

Assertive speaking is a skill that needs to be practiced and applied. Fortunately, life gives us a wealth of opportunities to practice. Here are just a few: 

  • Your neighbor asks you to dog sit his Saint Bernard—again.
  • A co-worker steals your idea and passes it off as her own.
  • Your boss doesn’t give you the time and attention you need to succeed.

When faced with these kinds of situations, you choose which mode of communication to use. You can be passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Just know that using those modes will not solve the problem. Assertive speaking is the only mode that allows for the possibility of resolution.

So, start practicing. There’s a big payoff for honing your assertive speaking skills. Here are just a few of the things you’ll be able to do:

  • make direct requests (or say no to them, if you need to)
  • resolve conflict          
  • give feedback (constructive and positive)
  • improve your relationships
  • express your confidence
  • maintain your professionalism

Assertive speaking is the first of three core communication skills needed for success. The next post deals with active listening.

Communication Skills: The Key to Everything!

“Where do I start?” That’s the one question I get asked at the end of every training session on what it takes to become a good manager. In a typical two-day session, we explore topics such as: transitioning into management, understanding personality styles, managing performance, and motivating people. At the end of Day 2, participants feel overwhelmed by it all and they don’t know where to begin.

My answer to their question on where to begin is always this: “Start building your communication skills.”

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Good communication is the thing companies need the most and the thing they do the least. Poor communication is cited as a one the biggest mistakes companies make in managing its people. It is the heart of morale problems and it is also the reason behind half of all unsuccessful projects.

Effective communication is a really big deal.

Good communication, the ability to express yourself, listen really well, and ask powerful questions, will see you through any kind of difficulty in your career and your personal life. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned; you just need to practice these three things—every day:

  • Speak assertively: Express your thoughts, wishes, and opinions clearly and directly. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Listen actively: Give the speaker your time and undivided attention. Really listen to understand what the speaker is saying.
  • Ask powerful questions: Ask your team members provocative, open-ended questions to encourage them to find new or deeper ways of thinking about issues. 

These skills don’t come naturally for most of us. We are not taught how to communicate in grade school, middle school, or high school. We may sign up for a communication course in college or through a professional development program, but by then we’ve developed a long habit of miscommunicating. And even if we do sign up for a class, it doesn’t mean we’ll become proficient.

You have to practice these skills. It’s the only way you’ll get better. If you’ve ever tried to play a musical instrument, you know what I mean. Think of when you first learned to play. It felt awkward to place your hands on the instrument and the sound you produced was pretty awful, right? With practice, though, you became more comfortable with the instrument and your noise started to sound like music. The same holds true for the first time you learned how to ride a bicycle, play a sport, or work at a craft. And the same holds true for learning how to communicate.

When you become skilled, you’ll be able to do almost anything required of you as a manager, including:

  • Defining roles and setting expectations for how you and the team will work together
  • Expressing your thoughts, wishes, and opinions
  • Giving and receiving feedback on performance
  • Resolving conflict
  • Finding out what others are thinking 

You’ll also be able to strengthen your interpersonal relationships, professionally and personally, and that counts for a lot. Communication holds the key to everything! I’ll give you some strategies and techniques for effective communication in the next few posts, so stay tuned.

Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Became a Manager

Like many people, I was kind of thrown into a management position. My boss needed someone to fill the position and I was that someone. I took on the role with no preparation, no training, and absolutely no idea of what I was doing.  It was pretty much a disaster, at least for a while.

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I could have profited from the wisdom of someone who had been there and done that. Here is the advice I wish I had been given at the time:

  1. Clarify roles and set expectations early on. Explain your role within the team, what your employees can expect from you and what you expect from them. Set the stage for working together collaboratively.
  2. Work on building your communication skills every day: Express yourself directly yet respectfully. Listen really well. Ask great questions.
  3. Tackle the difficult issues, otherwise they will fester. Know that conflict doesn’t go away by itself. Learn how to navigate those difficult conversations: Express yourself, listen to their side of the story, and problem-solve together.
  4. Be consistent in your managing style. If you’re a sweetheart one day and a bear the next, people will not know how to respond to you.
  5. Don’t focus on people’s weaknesses, focus on their strengths instead. Find out what people are already good at and then let them do more of it.
  6. Get out of the way. Provide your team with the knowledge and tools to do their jobs and then let them do it.
  7. Treat everyone as individuals rather than clones of yourself. How you approach work is not how they may approach it. What motivates you may not motivate them. Get to know each person’s work style and preferences and use those differences to maximize individual and team performance.
  8. Work at being human. Admit that you don’t have all the answers. Admit when you make a mistake.
  9. Check in with yourself every once in a while. Ask: Is the work getting done? Is the team working well together? Is each team member motivated? Am I getting what I need to do my job well? In other words: Am I meeting the needs of the task, the team, and the individual? Am I meeting my own needs?
  10. Just because the rest of the organization borders on the dysfunctional, it doesn’t mean your work unit has to be that way. Do everything you can to create an environment in which the people on your team are inspired to do their best.

Until next time.

Minding Your Stress

“Stress makes people stupid.”

This statement, quoted by Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, says it all. He explains: “When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn, or make decisions clearly.” Not a very good recipe for success, to be sure. While some stress may actually be good for you (it can keep you alert and focused) too much stress can be debilitating; it can take a toll on productivity and on your physical and emotional well-being.

fuzzy brain, 2

So, what is stress? Well, many people believe the stress they experience on a day-to-day basis is caused by outside forces: Our job demands a ridiculous amount of our time; our boss is on our case; our family needs our non-stop attention. We believe these things are the culprit, but in fact, it is how we think about these things that creates our stress. Our thoughts are directly linked to our feelings. If we think angry, we feel angry. If we think panic, we feel panic. The key to eliminating much of the stress in our lives is to gain greater awareness on what’s causing it and then work to redirect those stressful thoughts. Here are some ways to help you recognize stress responses in the body and the mind and then eliminate stressful thoughts.

Listen to your body. Pay attention to how you feel physically. Are you holding your breath? Is your heart racing? Are you clenching your teeth? Is your stomach churning? This is your body in stress mode!

Listen to your thoughts. Take note of your thought patterns. What are you saying to yourself? Are your thoughts creating stress for you?

Shift your thinking. Once you notice that your thoughts are generating stressful feelings, stop thinking those thoughts. It sounds too simple, right? Yet often, just noticing your thoughts will help you to break the cycle. Then, take a step back and do a bit of analysis: Review the facts of the situation. What is your evidence? Is there another way to view the situation? If not, what is the worst thing that could happen? You may be concentrating on the worst possible, but not the most likely, outcome. Once you’ve analyzed the situation, replace “stress building” thoughts with “stress busting” ones. Here are some examples:

Stress Builder: “I’m never going to get this project done on time.”

Stress Buster: “If I stay focused and take it one step at a time, I’ll make steady progress.”


Stress Builder: “My supervisor didn’t say good morning to me. He’s probably unhappy with my work. Performance reviews are coming up. I bet I get a bad evaluation.”

Stress Buster: “I’m jumping to conclusions. My supervisor may have been distracted or in a bad mood. So far, my evaluations have been positive, so unless I get some critical feedback, I’ll assume my supervisor is okay with my work.”


Stress Builder: “I can’t get the mistake I made on the report out of my mind. This is huge. The project is ruined. I’ve let down everyone. I’m such a loser!”

Stress Buster: I’ll leave this one to you. Try reworking these catastrophic thoughts to those that are more reasoned.


Can you see how our minds can get us so worked up?


Finally, try to slow down. As soon as you start to feel rushed or anxious, make a conscious effort to focus on the one thing in front of you that needs to get done right then. Trying to plow ahead and work harder and faster will only create more frustration and stress. Rather than letting your mind run ahead, turn to the task at hand. You’ll not only get the work done, the quality will be there, and you’ll be in a calmer mood. And, your mind and body will thank you for it.


See how you do in the next week or so. Try using your mind to reduce your stress.

Until next time.

Growth Spurt! Three Ways to Become a Great Manager

grassSome people, upon their arrival at this place called MANAGEMENT, believe they can rest on their laurels. Truth is, there is much more to learn, much more growing that has to take place. The job requires new knowledge, new skills, and new behaviors. Managers need to go after learning opportunities whenever and wherever they can find them. Here are three ways to grow into a great manager.

Seed (get feedback)

Want to accelerate your professional growth? Sow the seeds of performance. Seek feedback from everyone—your boss, your peers, and your employees. Here are just a handful of areas that can make or break your bid for success.

  • Do you show up? (Do you deliver on your promises?)
  • Are you open to new ways of doing things?
  • Are you consistent (do you run hot one day and cold the next)?
  • Do you control too much or not enough?
  • Do you communicate (share knowledge, offer feedback, listen)?

Ask yourself:  What would those around me say about my performance in each of these areas? Then ask yourself: Am I willing to hear (and possibly act on) what they have to say?

Receiving feedback isn’t easy, even when we ask for it. Giving feedback is just as tough, because most of us are not skilled at it. You can help people learn how to give you feedback by being open to receiving it and being willing to make changes based on that feedback.

Here are some guidelines to help you seek feedback from people at all levels of the organization.

From your boss:

Knowing where you stand with your boss is crucial, yet he or she may not be capable of delivering critical feedback. You assert your needs by stating what kind of input you want and why it is important to you: “I’d like your feedback on the XYZ project you assigned to me last month; specifically on how/when I’ve communicated to you and on how I’ve managed the deadlines.”

From your employees:

Your staff may never have been asked to give feedback to their boss, or were rebuffed when they did.  If so, you’ll need to show that you’re open to receiving it. Explain what you’re looking for and why: “I’d like your feedback on how I run our weekly meetings, how I manage the agenda, and how I listen to and act on your input. I want our meetings to be an effective use of our time.”

From your peers:

These are your customers, vendors, co-workers, and project-team or task force members. All can offer insight into your performance. Here are some examples of what kind of information you might seek:

  • Ask customers what they like or dislike about your product or service and what they would like to see changed.
  • Ask vendors what they need from you to do their jobs better.
  • Ask co-workers what you could do to support them in your role as teammate.
  • Ask project or task force members what you could be doing to serve the team more effectively.

If you’re going to ask for feedback from anyone, be prepared to receive it, even if what they have to say hurts. The moment you become defensive or make excuses, they will shut down and you will lose an important channel for learning and growth.

Feed (Get smarter)

No time to train? No money? No worries!

If the thought of attending a 3-day workshop on conflict management doesn’t exactly thrill you, or if you can’t squeeze it into your crazy-busy schedule, or if your company won’t spring for the expense, take heart. There are lots of ways to learn new stuff. Here are some creative approaches to learning:

  • Form a business book discussion group with your peers. Choose a book title to read and then meet monthly to discuss.  No time to read? Most popular business titles are available as audio books. You can listen to them during the commute.
  • Grab onto someone’s coattails. Find someone in your organization who is wise in the ways of management and ask him or her to mentor you. Most people will be flattered that you asked.
  • Surf the net. Find online resource to support your efforts at managing people. (Might I suggest that you start with, the site you’re on right now?)
  • Get smart about other things. Spend just 20minutes per week listening to smart people talk on any number of topics on
Weed (Get rid of unwanted behaviors)

Do you know people who just can’t seem to get out of their own way, who keep making the same mistakes over and over again? It’s probably because they lack self-awareness, the ability to assess their own thought patterns, motives, and behaviors, as well as the ramifications of those behaviors.

I became a better manager after some pretty spectacular failures. I learned how to evaluate my behavior and then figure out a different course of action to affect different outcomes.

You are going to stumble, so after you’ve soothed your skinned knees and salved your bruised ego, ask these important questions:

  • What just happened? (Be as objective you can in your analysis.)
  • What part did I play in this? (Avoid the impulse to blame the other party and look inside instead. You will usually find something there.)
  • If I could do it over, what would I do differently?

If you take your answers to heart, then to action, you will probably not make the same mistake again.

My next post will deal with the final step in managing your self needs: dealing with stress.

Until next time . . .

Managing Up: Your Relationship with Your Boss

Almost all of my posts to date have dealt with how a manager must meet the needs of the task, the team, and the individual. I offered a bunch of guidelines on how get the work done, how to manage group dynamics, how to motivate people, and so on. Do this. Don’t do that. Nag, nag, nag.

Well, what about you? What do you need?

Managers are so busy attending to the needs of other things and other people that they neglect their own needs. And by doing so, the task, the team, and the individuals suffer.

So, what are those self-needs? Here are three broad areas:

  • Managing the relationship with your boss
  • Going after your own learning and development
  • Coping with stress

Let’s start with managing the relationship with your boss, or “managing up.”

It took me a long time to realize that the quality of my relationship with my boss rested on me and me alone. For some reason, I thought it was my manager’s responsibility. (And of course, when the relationship went awry, I blamed my boss.) One day, I realized that my way of thinking was not serving me well, so I decided that I would drive the relationship. It took some work, but it made a big difference in my professional and personal growth.

To explore this whole managing up thing, let’s listen in on a conversation taking place between a boss and a colleague over lunch.

“Of the seven people who report to me, only one of them shows real promise.”

“Really. Only one?”

“Just one. Her name is Kira. She is the only one who’s built a real working relationship with me. All the others seem to fall into two groups: they either go out of their way to avoid me or they fall all over themselves trying to suck up to me.”

“How does Kira manage to do what the others haven’t?”

“Well, to start with, she knows me pretty well. She knows what my goals and objectives are. She knows my strong points and my weak points. She knows my preferred work style. And I’m pretty sure she knows which particular issues are freaking me out the most right now.”

“Wow, she knows a lot about you. How does she know all that?”

“We talk whenever we get a chance. She asks me great questions and she listens really well. She’s also watches how I work. For example, she knows that I like to communicate face-to-face or on the phone rather than through email. She also knows I don’t like a lot of detail, so she’ll summarize what went on in meetings.”

“What else sets Kira apart?”

“I guess the biggest thing is that she has great integrity. She shows up on time and produces good work. She says what she means and means what she says. And she keeps her promises to me and to her peers. That level of professionalism is important to me.”

“What else does she do?”

“One of the things I appreciate the most about Kira is that she always tells me the truth, even when she knows I may not want to hear it. Others on my team either withhold information or sugarcoat it to the point of making it irrelevant. And she doesn’t whine or complain. When she does come to me with a problem, she offers at least a partial solution. I appreciate that.”

“Anything else?”

“She’s serious about her work and always willing to learn more. She takes responsibility for her own development. She’ll push me to coach her and provide more training resources. She doesn’t just sit back and wait for it to happen.”

“Gee, Kira sounds like the perfect employee.”

“No, she’s not perfect by any stretch. She’s got her own weaknesses and blind spots. And we don’t always see eye-to-eye, either. In fact, we disagree with each other, loudly and often. In the end, though, I know that she’s got this company in her best interest. I wish I had six more Kiras on my team.”

“I’ll bet you do.”

If you’re wondering how to manage the relationship with your boss (because it really is your responsibility to do so), think about how closely you match Kira’s behavior.

The next post will deal with the second of your needs: going after your own learning and development. In the meantime, take care of yourself.

Until next time . . .

Connectivity: How to Really Know Your Employees

Your best employees will not stick around if they feel undervalued, ignored, or invisible. Successful managers get to know their employees—their skills and talents, their weak spots, their career plans, and the kind of working relationship that works best for them.

You can get more fully connected with your employees by asking them great questions and really listening to what they have to say. This process of discovery will help you learn about strengths, goals, and needs from your employees’ perspective.


  • Know that people can react strangely to being questioned (especially if they’ve never had a manager who bothered to ask before). Show that you are genuinely interested in them as people and curious to find out what’s on their minds.
  • Select a few questions to ask shortly after a new person has been brought on board, in preparation for a new performance year, during mid-year performance discussions, or at any other time during the year as needed.
  • When you ask these questions, be prepared to listen to what your employees have to say, resisting the impulse to defend, justify, explain, or argue—even if what they say makes you wince.
  • Don’t ask all these questions in one sitting; it will exhaust you both!

14 Pretty Great Questions:

Most of these questions were taken from my favorite management book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. I’ve added a few of my own.

  1. What did you enjoy most about your previous work experience? What brought you here? (If an existing employee, what keeps you here?)
  2. What do you think your strengths are?
  3. What do you think your development needs are?
  4. What are your goals for your current role?
  5. How often would you like to meet with me to discuss your progress?
  6. How do you like to be recognized for your accomplishments?
  7. Do you have any personal goals or commitments you would like to tell me about?
  8. What is the most positive feedback you ever received? What made it so good?
  9. Have you had any really productive working relationships with previous bosses, co-workers, or mentors? Why do you think these relationships worked so well for you?
  10. What are your future career goals? Are there any new skills you want to learn?
  11. Are there any specific challenges or stretch assignments you want to take on? How can I help?
  12. Is there anything that would make your work more interesting?
  13. What would make things better for you here?
  14. Is there anything else you want to talk about that might help us work well together?

Which of these questions can you see yourself asking? What questions might you add to the list?

Don’t wait to get more plugged in. Start asking your employees these questions. Their answers may surprise you. They may challenge you. They also may inspire you.


So far, almost all of my posts have been about how you can meet the needs of your employees. Now it’s your turn. My next post will be all about you. What do you need so that you can meet the needs of your group, the tasks, and the individual? Stay tuned.

Until next time.

Stickiness Factors: Retaining Good People

What can you do to get your best employees to stick around? A good starting point, obviously, is having a competitive wage and benefits structure in place. To be sure, these factors will attract, and in some cases, keep people around. But as manager, you probably don’t have much control over those things. So, what can you do?

Think about the best job you’ve ever had. It’s likely that you were paid a fair wage for doing work that you found interesting and challenging. It’s also likely that you had a boss who invested time and energy on you, one who created the kind of environment in which you thrived.

Now it’s time to pay it forward, to invest in your best and brightest (or those who have the potential to be). If you do, it’s very likely they’ll stick around. Here are twelve “stickiness factors” to consider, in no particular order.

Grey Duct Tape

  1. Get to know your employees. Take time to meet with new people to learn about their talents, abilities and skills, and then check in with them periodically. (In my next post, I’ll give you some great questions to ask that will help you really get acquainted with them.)
  2. Pay attention to your best people. Managers tend to focus on their weakest performers, leaving their best performers wondering what they have to do to get noticed.
  3. Chart a career path. Give people a clear understanding of what is required to get where they want to go professionally and provide the means for them to get there. People will stay where they can get the best in experience, training, and opportunities for advancement.
  4. Successful people are learning and growth-oriented. Don’t allow them to stagnate! Provide ongoing training opportunities and offer stretch assignments. Send them to seminars, have them sit on committees, encourage them to read and discuss books.
  5. Ask your employees to share what they know through training sessions and presentations, mentorship opportunities, and team leadership assignments.
  6. Be relentlessly fair in your treatment of employees. Perceptions of unfairness will seriously undermine morale.
  7. Involve employees in decisions that affect their jobs and the direction of the company whenever possible.
  8. People want to know how they’re doing. Offer frequent feedback on performance, both constructive and positive.
  9. Find out what your employee’s unique talents are and employ aspects of those talents in the job.
  10. Respect your employees’ work/life balancing act. If possible, allow flexible starting and ending times.
  11. Make sure your employees are recognized, rewarded and appreciated in ways that are meaningful to them.
  12. Successful people take risks and sometimes fail. If you create an environment where there is zero tolerance for error, good people will keep their ideas to themselves and will look elsewhere to find a place where risk is encouraged.

Your best and the brightest. Your key players. Your rock stars. These are the most productive, reliable, and creative people you’ve got. You can’t afford to lose them.

Until next time.

Empowerment: Lifting the Ball and Chain

Are your employees free to do their best work? It’s a simple question but one that merits serious thought.

Too often, employees are weighed down by “ball-and-chain” restrictions that prevent them from getting real work done. Such constraints may come from the organization itself (the way it is structured, the heft of its policies and procedures, for example). Or, constraints may come from the way you manage them (whether you allow them to think and act on their own, for example).

If your employees are struggling under this weight, fortunately, there is something you can do to free them up. You can remove that ball and chain.

How? Think empowerment.

EmpowermentBeyond the Buzzword

I know, I know. The term “empowerment” has been way overused, and yet, the concept is a sound one. Stephen Covey says it best:

“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.”

In other words, what’s good for the individual is also good for the company.

Think of it this way. Empowered employees are self-motivated and that’s always a good thing. In my last post about intrinsic motivation, I mentioned Paul Herr’s book, Primal Management. Herr says we are hard-wired to connect with others, to master skills, to achieve what we set out to do, to create and innovate, and to feel safe and secure. None of that can happen in a restrictive environment, however.

While the term empowerment is overused, it is under-practiced, and with good reason. It takes focus and commitment to create an environment in which people are free to think for themselves, solve problems, and respond to threats and opportunities.

What Does An Empowering Organization Look Like?

Take a look around your organization and within your own work group or project team. You might want to mentally check which indicators are currently in place:

  • No blaming others, no victim mentality
  • Decision-making takes place at all levels
  • Thoughts, feelings are freely expressed
  • No “us” vs. “them” mindset
  • Ideas are developed and considered
  • Little or no distrust and cynicism
  • No gossiping and back stabbing
  • People are engaged and energized
  • People feel genuinely appreciated
  • Accelerated learning and growth
  • Little absenteeism or turnover

If you’ve checked off only a couple indicators or none at all, don’t despair. There are things you can do to create a more empowering environment.

What It Takes to “Power Up” the Organization

Here are four major areas of focus to consider in the process of creating an empowering organization.

  • Does the company structure (reporting structure, hierarchy) allow people to do their best work?
  • Do cultural norms, the unwritten rules about the way things are done, reflect the value of empowerment?
  • Are company policies and procedures flexible enough to allow for innovation and improvement?
  • Do performance appraisals match the goals of an empowering organization?


You might be thinking that you have no control over these things (in which case, you yourself are not as empowered as you could be). Still, as manager, there are things you can do to create an empowering work team, regardless of whether the rest of the company is moving toward empowerment or not.

To get you started, here are some powerful questions to help you think about how your own attitudes and behaviors might promote or inhibit empowerment. Ask yourself these questions and be really honest in your answers.

  • Do I agree that empowerment is vital to my team and the company? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Do I actively promote empowerment? In what ways do I constrain people and how could I change that?
  • In what ways do I promote or hinder the free exchange of information and ideas between individuals and departments?
  • What informal messages do I consciously or unconsciously send that get in the way of a truly empowered team? What impact does this have on productivity and morale?
  • What do employees say about me when I am not in the room?
  • Once people are trained and have demonstrated their competency, do I trust them to work in our best interest?
  • How do I react when someone challenges me?
  • How do I react when one of my employees takes a calculated risk and fails?

Once you’ve identified areas that may be impeding your team, you can work to correct them.

Do whatever you can to lighten the ball that weighs down your employees. Do everything in your power to remove the chain that binds them, even if it’s only one link at a time. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Until next time.

Motivation from the Inside Out: Tap Into People’s Inner Drive

In the last post, I talked about the nature of extrinsic rewards—motivating people from the outside in. While some extrinsic rewards are necessary (fair salary and benefits), managers should be wary of using carrots and sticks to move their employees to action. If you want truly motivated people, you’ll need to go deeper. You’ll need to consider intrinsic factors, the things that motivate people from the inside out. But since motivation is an internal thing, as manager, you can’t really motivate your employees. What you can do, though, is create the kind of environment where people want to motivate themselves. And that is no small task.

Motivation? Think emotion

It is impossible to discuss motivation without talking about emotion. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Emotions have no place at work. Well, neuroscience begs to differ with you. Our feelings affect every aspect of our lives, work included. We can’t help it—our brains were made that way. Consider how this amazing organ has been built over time. The brain developed from the base up. The first to develop was the primitive, reptilian brain. Next to develop was the limbic region, the emotional area of the brain. Newest on the scene is the neo-cortex, the executive (rational decision-making) part of the brain. The older emotional brain landscape is more deep-seated, which helps to explain why, even though we try to be rational, we often act based on emotion.

Paul Herr, in his book, Primal Management, say that business people are somewhat justified in their views on emotions, because we tend to think in extremes. Let’s face it. We’ve all seen someone “lose it” and it’s no fun to watch (or to experience). We’re not talking about the extreme, though. We’re talking instead of the “subtle background feelings that ensure our survival by getting us out of bed in the morning and by imperceptibly influencing every decision and every move we make during the course of our workday.”

So, we are emotional creatures. We are also hungry.

Herr says that, just as humans have biologic appetites (nutrition, energy conservation, protection of the body, breathing, reproduction), we also have social appetites. We are hard-wired to work as part of a tribe, to master skills, to achieve what we set out to do, to create and innovate, and to feel safe and secure. When these appetites are not satisfied, employees will naturally disengage.

So, as manager, how can you satisfy these appetites? How can you create the right atmosphere in which people are driven to do their best work?

Motivational Drivers

I’ve identified nine drivers, which I believe are key factors in helping people feel more motivated at work. If you’ve got an employee who is not motivated, ask yourself these questions and be brutally honest in your answers. You may be able to pinpoint which drivers are missing.

Fit: Is this person in the right role according to his or her strengths and the specifications of the job? If not, how can I help the person find a better fit?

Expectations: Does this employee know what is expected of him or her? If not, how can I clarify those expectations?

Requirements: Does this employee have what’s needed to work productively (training, equipment, appropriate work space)? If not, how can I provide it?

Work Style: How does this person work (outgoing vs. reserved; task-oriented vs. people-oriented)? How can I respond to these behaviors?

Strengths: What strengths does this employee have? How can I continually build on these strengths?

Competency: Is this employee getting better at what he or she does? If not, what can I do to develop this person more fully?

Feedback: Do I routinely give effective feedback (positive and constructive) on performance? If not, how can I improve in this area?

Connection: Does this person feel connected to me and my team? If not, how can I help him or her feel more closely linked?

Contribution: Does this employee know how he or she contributes to the success of the organization? If not, how can I let this person know?

It’s unrealistic to expect you to put all nine drivers in place for everyone, but you’d be surprised, I think, to see what happens when one or two are put into motion. At the very least, I urge you to consider these motivational strategies:

  • Don’t bog people down with unnecessary policies and procedures.
  • Quit micromanaging.
  • Connect people to one another.
  • Communicate!

Here’s the link to Paul Herr’s book.

Until next time . . .