When Leaders Get It Wrong

Responsibility, Characteristic of LeadershipAs the childhood song goes, “When you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” What about when you’re wrong?

Thursday, I received a phone call from yet another supplier that had the solution, but had no idea if I had that problem. Here is how the call began…

“Thanks for taking my call, Jeff. Do you have 5-10 minutes?” I replied, “I have no idea with whom I’m speaking, nor why spending 5-10 minutes would be in my best interest.”

SPOILER ALERT: This post is NOT about what he did wrong in the sales call. It’s about what I did wrong in my response.

How Should A Leader Respond?

I won’t go into details on how rude I became through the course of this 90 second call, but let’s just say my response to the rep was certainly punitive. Upon hanging up, I spent the next couple minutes mentally justifying my response and why it was okay for me to “teach him this hard lesson.”

This was the moment of truth for me…the moment in which I recognized something was wrong, and realized how I behaved next would be one of those ‘character-defining’ moments.

Fortunately, I had this sales rep’s email address from a previous attempt he had made, and I had the chance to start rebuilding, what I had so quickly and recklessly torn down. I apologized, taking responsibility for creating the low-point in his week, and for showing a lack of respect for him. Additionally, I committed to work on not treating others the same way going forward.

His response showed great professionalism, claiming that the subsequent interaction was the highlight of his week, not the low-point.

It turns out that this sales rep had learned more about the ineffectiveness of his approach through my respect for him as a person, than he did through my critique and rebuke of him as a sales person.

Leadership Tip

It is easy to critique, and call out problems we see in others. In our zealotry to uphold truth, right the wrongs, and teach a better way, we can leave quite a bit of carnage in our wake when our ‘principles’ trump our respect for ‘people.’

As leaders, our approach matters. While we may seek to ‘teach’ new and better ways, we must be quick to recognize the difference between Teaching and Preaching. As I have said before…

“A person who puts their own PR before [t]eaching is merely [PR]eaching.” (Tweet This)

How would you finish the lyrics to the song?
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you’re wrong and you know it…”

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 25-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

The Challenger Sale & Sainthood

St. Francis of Assisi, Challenger Sale“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” These are the words ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi when addressing the Franciscans in his Rule of 1221 on how they should practice their preaching.

While there is some debate over whether he made the specific comment as quoted above, or simply addressed the principle through his writings, I believe his point is on the mark.

He is not admonishing those that use words, but rather imploring those following his teachings to demonstrate in life and in action what they were otherwise trying to convince people of through words.

His quote strikes me as being more about sequencing…behaviors followed by words…than it does for being one versus another. Both have their place.

If St. Francis were a Sales Manager…

With more and more sales leaders introducing The Challenger Sale to their team, we can all fall into the trap of ‘talking about’ the principles, traits and behaviors of a Challenger, in hopes that the profundity of our words compel new action.

Sometimes that happens, but more often people exposed to a whole new way of thinking, need to see repeated examples of these behaviors in action, especially when it comes to weighty concepts like ‘Reframes‘ and ‘Commercial Insight.’

If you have recently introduced Challenger to your team and are encouraging them to adopt new behaviors, guess who they’re looking to as their model? That’s right. Sobering, isn’t it?!

With that in mind, consider how the aforementioned quote from St. Francis might sound if he was a Challenger advising his aspiring Challenger Friars? Perhaps it might sound something like this…

“Teach the Challenger at all times, and when necessary use words.”

Mirror Test…

Question: If you could wave that magic wand and your team would automatically emulate Challenger as well as you demonstrate it to your team, what kind of Challenger team would you have?

Answer: Exactly the team you have right now. For some, this is great news and for others, it is simply a reminder that we need to be as diligent in the practice and execution of Challenger as we ask our reps to be.

Remember, we are held to higher standards. Therefore, let’s step up and re-commit to live out that which we have been proclaiming as being transformative, as we lead our team to the proverbial Promised Land. The rewards are so worthwhile for all involved.

As with any change effort, whether the implementing the Challenger Sale or instituting new governance practices with IT, the leader sets the stage of how each team member should respond, whether implicitly or explicitly. Let’s lead excellently…in a manner worthy of our calling!

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

10 Principles of Personal Leadership

Starbucks Coffee and Leadership

Image courtesy of Todd Clarke

I was recently working with some of my retail clients on ‘showrooming’ and leadership, and was reminded of some of the great principles Howard Behar spoke of in his 2009 book, “It’s Not About the Coffee.

Whether you have read the book or have yet to read it, I would highly recommend picking up a copy. Following are just a few reasons I found to be highly beneficial:

•  It’s practical, not just theoretical
•  It’s actionable, not just anecdotal
•  The focus is on People, not Product
•  The principles are timeless
•  Those you lead will benefit

Following is an excerpt from his book on the 10 Principles of Personal Leadership that I thought would benefit those looking to improve their own leadership.

10 Principles of Personal Leadership

1. Know Who You Are: Wear One Hat
2. Know Why You’re Here: Do It Because It’s Right, Not Because It’s Right for Your Resume
3. Think Independently: The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom
4. Build Trust: Care, like You Really Mean It
5. Listen for the Truth: The Walls Talk
6. Be Accountable: Only the Truth Sounds like the Truth
7. Take Action: Think Like a Person of Action, and Act like a Person of Thought
8. Face Challenge: We Are Human Beings First
9. Practice Leadership: The Big Noise and the Still, Small Voice
10. Dare to Dream: Say “Yes,” the Most Powerful Word in the World

[Download printable PDF versions of The 10 Principles of Personal Leadership (annotated) and the Checklist for Individuals, Leaders, and Coaches].

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Case Study: Is the Problem Marketing or the Marketer?

Lead Generation and Lead QualificationThe Phone Call…

“Am I going crazy?” Having just answered the phone, I had no idea who was calling and asking such a question of me. I responded with a courteous, but cautious chuckle saying, “Well…I think I’ll need a little more to go on. With whom am I speaking?”

She paused, told me who it was, laughed rather distractedly, then proceeded to dive right into describing her dilemma from today’s meeting with the Marketing Director from her “problem division.” She is the Sales Director of a firm in which I knew a bit about, particularly with the company’s background and this particular division’s struggle.

In summary, sales were strong across all of her other divisions and lines, each of which had their own marketing leader, while she led the Sales across all divisions. Things were great, that is for all but this one division. Sales continued to decline year over year and had high lead dependency from Marketing, thus her concerns.

The Rest of Her Story…

The sales model is B2B with an outbound sales team that sells consumer products ranging from $200 – $1,000. As described earlier, they are highly dependent upon Marketing to deliver leads.

The Division Head and Marketing Director were both new to this division in 2011 and had stepped in with a new, radical, $1M cost-reduction strategy for marketing. The new marketing mantra became for the next two years, “Less Quantity, More Quality!”

This strategy resulted in lead reduction of 60% in 2011 compared to 2010. In 2012, the leads dropped another 40% from 2011. Not surprisingly, sales had correspondingly declined steeply, more so than any other recent period. While sales did have a dramatic decline, it was nowhere near the rate of decline for the lead volume.

The Sales leader saw neither quantity nor quality from marketing, and as she describes it, the numbers supported her version of the story. Despite the numbers, the Marketing Leader and Division Head remained committed to defending their original strategy a year and a half into it with major revenue losses, and subsequently showed no openness to a different, or better strategy.

Towards the end of 2012, she managed to get a commitment from Marketing for substantially more qualified leads in 2013, although to the Marketer, ‘qualified’ apparently meant email, number and “Request for literature.”

Additionally, the Marketer’s commitment was simply to an aggregate number of leads on a monthly basis, but not by geography, firmographic, demographic, product type or other. His tactic? Email marketing….it’s part of the ‘cost-reduction’ plan.

Today, prior to the call and after her meeting with the marketing team, she made her plea for more qualified leads as the current lead quantity left her outbound team with capacity in excess of 60% going into their largest quarter of the year.

After her meeting, she shared that in addition to the quantity of leads being a third of what they needed, 80% of them were for two of  their 10 product lines. This meant that they had on average  a half-lead per rep to call on each day for the remaining products….not enough to meet the sales plan.

“A Lead is a Lead is a Lead!”

Through frustration, the Marketer responded to her plea for more balanced and qualified leads with saying, “A lead is a lead is a lead. We know that regardless of what product type we market, more than half of the prospects will want something different anyway. We could collect leads on just one of our products and it wouldn’t matter. All that matters is that you have leads of any type, then your team can determine what they really need.”

Again, the sales exec says to me…this time through tears…“Am I going crazy? Do I have my expectations set too high? Is it unreasonable to ask marketing to know the customer well enough to hit who they’re aiming at? Maybe I am the problem. I don’t feel like I am but it just seems like we need to change our approach to marketing.”

I responded, “Being crazy and unreasonable is not your problem, although your 2-year tolerance may be a part of the problem. It sounds to me like there is a much larger issue at play here…”

Change the Marketing, or the Marketer?

I speak with people in Sales and Marketing roles from all over the country. From executives to analysts to reps. Lead generation and qualification is by far, one of the most common frustrations I hear.

No matter who I am working with or from what field, I am pretty quick to keep the responsibility and accountability with each respective group I am working with. Most companies needing my help typically don’t have their respective ‘houses in order.’ Therefore, I keep Sales concentrated on their own responsibilities and Marketing, theirs so I don’t create an all out Game of Thrones. I work with the executive leadership on cross-departmental improvements before circling back to the departments.

For these reasons, offering up an anecdotal recommendation to this Sales executive to “change the Marketer” after merely an hour-long conversation would be ill-advised, no matter how apropos that may seem. There is always more to the story, especially when it comes to Sales and Marketing alignment.

What Advise Would You Give?

Given the very limited facts we all have here, what advice would you give and to whom would you target your comments? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Division Head? Who would you love to spend 15 minutes with and what would you tell them?

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Mother’s Day – A Flawed Model for Leadership

Mother's Day Card (1915)What began 100 years ago, with President Woodrow Wilson signing into law a National Day to honor mothers, has come to represent something of a flawed model for truly honoring those we care about.

In today’s culture, where ‘busyness’ rules the day, we can quickly and easily fall into familiar patterns that look an awful lot like day-to-day survival as we work through our to-do lists. By the time Mother’s Day rolls around, the scramble to ‘show Mom how much you love her’ can simply become another checklist item.

As leaders, we can fall into these same patterns.

‘To-Do List’ Appreciation
Many years ago, working with one of my leaders on this very topic, I had observed an unhealthy tension between the leader (Ron) and his staff members. With one particular staff member (Robbie), it was especially pronounced.

I met with Robbie and asked him what he was so angry. He proceeded to describe the dysfunction between Ron and the whole staff.

One of the examples Robbie cited was that when Ron would walk in to work every morning, he would walk right past every one of his co-workers without saying a word, much less “good morning.” Hearing these examples, I sat the two of them down to talk about these behaviors in order to bring insight to Ron, and facilitate a healthier work environment.

As Robbie shared his example with Ron about not saying “good morning” when he walked in, Ron wrote a note on his paper, saying aloud as he wrote…”Say good morning to Robbie when I walk in.” Ron’s tone was clearly patronizing. Robbie hung his head in disappointment.

Ron was terminated shortly thereafter for a variety of reasons, including his lack of value for people. He relegated respect and honor to a checklist item.

A Look in the Mirror
We hear stories like the one I just described, and we are appalled. Yet if we look in the mirror, how often do our actions reflect aspects of this very same behavior. For example, if we are marking our calendars in Outlook with reminders to ‘get Mom a card’ are we truly honoring her?

I am not advocating doing away with Mother’s Day. I just believe that we have an opportunity to ‘honor’ differently. If we truly want to honor her, we make it a priority and demonstrate our love and honor through our regular actions.

And so it goes with those we lead. It is easy for us to say we value our staff, but do our daily actions reinforce that our actions match our words? If not, let’s change that.

Let’s use this Mother’s Day, not as an annual reminder of when to ‘honor’ mom, but rather as the beginning of how we will honor those we love and care about each and every day.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

1 Minute Leadership Test…Will You Pass?

The role of the leader is a difficult one, to be certain. Done well, it is one of the most rewarding professional and personal experiences for the leader and those they lead. Done poorly, and at best, your team may achieve incidental success from time to time…despite their leader.

After two decades of working in leadership and developing leaders, I continually see one common area in which leaders often fall short. This one minute video clip sums it up as King Leonidas asks Daxos’ men one simple question. After playing the clip, see how quickly you can spot the problem?

Leadership Test: If those you lead are asked about the organization’s or team’s top priority, would your team answer like the Spartans or more like the Arcadians?

If your team is lacking a “WAR! WAR! WAR!” response, time for the mirror test. How they respond is your responsibility. For additional tips on how to create more intentional, predictable and repeatable results, see this post on Vision.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Leadership Lesson from X Games

Tucker HibbertTalent Alone is not Enough

January 27, 2013 marks the first time an athlete has ever achieved a six-peat…six consecutive gold medal performances…in the winter X Games. Tucker Hibbert did so in remarkable fashion in the Snowmobile Sno-Cross event Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t his talent alone that won the finals for him. The X Game analysts were quick to point out that this was one of the most experienced and capable field of champions they have ever seen.

What they did point to as the differentiator, rightfully so, was his preparation. You see, in between the semi-finals and finals, Tucker chose to spend his time walking the course to evaluate how the snow conditions had changed. He also spent time evaluating where the shadows were falling on the course along with identifying the intended lines he would take. It turns out that he was the only competitor that did so.

Assimilating all of that information resulted in his selection of starting lane (afforded to him because of his semi-final finish), which was counter-intuitive to where most others wanted to start from. By the time they all completed the first lap, Tucker was in the lead and on his game plan. More than half way through the race, conditions continued to change as the shadows continued to shift and the snow conditions on the track worsened.

Lap 9, Tucker was jolted by hitting a rough patch in his originally chosen line. He adjusted his line to his plan B approach by the time he reached that same rough section on lap 10 and continued to put distance between himself and the second place competitor. Six laps later, he had finished the race creating a phenomenal 13 seconds of distance between his next closest competitor.

The Mark of Effective Leadership is Reflected in Their Preparation

Tucker prepared in a way that his competitors failed to do. In fact, all things being equal, each of the competitors had the opportunity to win with similar experience, equipment and conditions. Yet, it came down to Tucker’s preparation that enabled him to respond asymmetrically to an otherwise, equal playing field. Tucker clearly had an advantage over his competition. An advantage also available to each of his competitors, but they declined, instead relying upon their own experience to see them through.

For leaders, you can certainly attest to the pressure to perform while leading your team to do the same. With the level of responsibilities a leader typically carries, the tendency can be to approach business as just another day. merely showing up and reacting to whatever the next day has in store. This is certainly no way to lead, and definitely not a recipe for intentional, predictable and repeatable success.

So how can you tell if you have fallen into this trap? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do today’s actions reflect about your preparation to lead your team to success?
  • Specifically, what have you done today to ensure your team’s success?
  • Does your to-do list focus more on tasks than it does in leading your team to success?

If these questions have exposed some vulnerabilities in your daily approach, you are not alone. Be encouraged as you have taken the first step to acknowledge complacency. Complacency threatens all of us if we don’t intentionally disrupt our own status quo. Here are three steps to help you prepare differently, much like Tucker had done for his record performance. After all, wouldn’t we all like to succeed in intentional, predictable, repeatable ways as Tucker did?

3 Ways Effective Leaders Prepare Differently

  • Intentionality. Evaluating ever-changing conditions in the business environment requires being prepared for anything. This includes anticipating problems before they happen, and even planning how you will respond to the unanticipated. To have this ability, the leader will need to take intentional steps and set aside time to address these areas. Action: Schedule this into your calendar to address consistently and frequently. This needs to become an habitual routine.
  • Predictability. After you begin intentionally looking for ways to be better prepared, you will begin to see patterns. These patterns often come in the forms of team member behavior that leads to lesser performance, complacent reactions of competitors, or even economic rhythms that you can predict and address now that you see them. Action: Practice predicting outcomes privately. Start developing this capability and pay attention to predictions and what surprised you along the way before you go public.
  • Repeatability. When you have devoted the time to be intentional, others begin to notice your seemingly innate ability to predict outcomes and that you are well-prepared, you will find that repeatable successes happen with much greater frequency. This makes you an invaluable asset and resource to your team and your organization. Action: Look for ways to repeat your success without relying on repeating the same exact actions. Life usually doesn’t work that way. But for the effective leader that knows how to succeed repeatedly, do as Babe Ruth did and call your shots before they happen. Then make good on it by developing your intentionality and predictability muscles.

The most meaningful things in life take time to develop. Effective leadership is one of those meaningful areas worthy of pursuing. But it’s up to you. What will you choose? What will you do differently today, that will make a noticeable difference in what you and your teams do tomorrow?

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

3 Steps to Cultivating Confidence

Keys to ConfidenceAfter two decades of working with individuals, managers and leaders at various levels, I have observed and identified 3 behaviors that lead to intentional, predictable and repeatable results.  Practicing these three simple behaviors will put you on the fast track to cultivating confidence.

The three behaviors are as follows:

1. Self-Reflection – We can all get caught up in the activities that our jobs and personal responsibilities require. The tendency during the busyness can be to ‘act’ or ‘react’ without paying attention to whether that was the best course of action to take. Furthermore, because the focus tends to be on the task at hand, one can fail to assess if the action taken is achieving the results originally intended. For this reason, setting some time for intentional, self-reflection can shift your focus back from results, to behaviors that create the results.

When a person is more intentional about changing their behaviors to best achieve the results, and evaluates their intention in comparison to the outcome, significant learning takes place that guides your future steps.

Self-Reflection = Intentionality. I call this ‘succeeding on purpose.’ When a person intentionally reflects upon behaviors that contributes to the result, and achieves their expected result, the byproduct is greater confidence.

2. Write it down. Documenting your observations…even in the briefest of forms…is the least fun, but most rewarding when you start to see patterns. For example, consider a recent example of a person on a new diet.

Everyday, around 2:30 pm, Steve eats a candy bar out of habit. Before documenting his eating habits, Steve was aware that he had a candy bar on many days, but not sure exactly when in the day, how often, or even why he ate candy for that matter. After reflecting on his behaviors and documenting his observations, he recognized that he snacks in between two meetings as a sort of distraction from the next meeting. It wasn’t that he was necessarily hungry after lunch, craving sweets or needing an afternoon pick-me-up. He simply needed a non-work related distraction before his next meeting.

Once the pattern was observed, he recognized steps he could take to improve his eating habits by keeping granola bars on hand at that time of day. Even better, he later realized that taking a 10-minute walk outside provided a more healthy distraction before stepping in to his next meeting.

You can improve or change that in which you are aware. Without awareness, you are just guessing, which is the number one killer of confidence. Self-reflection of your behaviors, followed by documenting your observations, allows you to start seeing patterns, which creates predictability.

Documenting = Predictability. Similar to the infrequent golfer who never knows where the ball is going with each swing, so it is with the manager that can’t predict outcomes based on their actions. Just as Babe Ruth used to do in pointing to where he would hit the ball, we too have the ability to accurately predict outcomes. Predictability contributes to confidence.

3. Debrief your actions. An important, and often over-looked, activity that benefits all who do so is to debrief each action taken. The Army refers to this as an After-Action Review (AAR). This process of debriefing includes all members of the team and asks questions such as:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What can be learned?
  • What should be done differently?
  • Who else could benefit from what was learned?

A thorough and proper debrief directly contributes to continuous learning and improved results, which enables a leader, individual and/or team to have, and repeat, success in the future.

Debriefing = Repeatability. Those that know how to repeat their successes are invaluable to organizations and to others. The ability to intentionally and predictably achieve a successful outcome at will…or repeatably…is an asset every organization would love to have.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

Courageous Leadership: Done Right or Done Over

Courage in LeadershipThe Setting
It was during the announcements of Sunday’s service when I leaned over to my wife and asked, “Didn’t the Pastor give this same message last week?” After confirming the correct date on the bulletin, we both concluded he had indeed delivered the same message the week prior.

We anxiously awaited some sort of explanation from the front. What happened next, has stuck with me to this day.

The Pastor stepped forward to address the congregation and proceeded to explain that there was not a misprint in the bulletin, and said, “Yes, I do intend to preach the same message again.” He went on to explain that each week, after each message, the pastoral team does a debrief on the music, the message, and all aspects of the prior Sunday’s service.

During the debrief, one of the Associate Pastors shared with the Lead Pastor, that the message wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Some of the feedback given, suggested his message was too general in nature, and offered too few specifics or examples to effectively land the point. The associate pastor was right.

“The message wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t as memorable as the title.”

The Lesson
From the front, the Pastor asked to do a ‘do-over’ of last week’s message. What an example of humility…of accountability…of responsibility…of leadership! We all make mistakes, whether in roles as leaders, employees, parents, or other. Some mistakes, of course, have greater consequences than others, and ‘do-overs’ aren’t always possible or appropriate.

When a misstep has occurred, there are three lessons that can be learned from the example above.

Debrief: 3 Keys to Recovering from a Misstep

  1. Own your mistakes. Mistakes happen. When they do, be quick to accept responsibility. People are quick to follow a humble leader, but are merciless in reminding the leader of mistakes that they refuse to own.
  2. Heed wise counsel. The best leaders know to surround themselves with others that will speak truth and cover their blind spots. You don’t need to be a leader to employ this same approach with friends that care enough to hold you accountable.
  3. Always debrief. It is important to note that the Pastor’s realization only came as a result of the debrief. This is so important, that the military considers this aspect as critical to every completed operation regardless of result, in order to continually learn, adapt and improve future missions. If you are serious about making intentional, predictable, repeatable improvements in your results, conduct a thorough debrief of your actions among qualified peers.

The Rest of the Story
With great humility in having to do a ‘do-over,’ the Pastor delivered a powerful message that Sunday, presenting the case so effectively that I still remember the message 5 years later. More importantly, he demonstrated an uncommon act of courage in his leadership that was worthy of emulating. Well done, Pastor Bendinelli!

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.

A Leadership Horror Story

Every Saturday usually begins the same way for me. I get up, head to Starbucks and have a cup of coffee while reviewing the past week’s results and the next week’s goals. Debriefing the week and reflecting upon what changes I need to make is highly productive time for me. However, my regular routine this last Saturday was disrupted by a troubling scenario playing out before me.

Leadership and TerminationTHE SCENARIO: “Good morning, you’re fired!”

I noticed a woman across from me that seemed to be waiting for someone, but otherwise enjoying her morning. Ten minutes later, the man wearing a tie arrives and motions for her to join him at a table rather than the more comfortable chairs in which she was already sitting. In an instant, I saw from his demeanor that something wasn’t right. I sensed a mismatch between her expectations and his actions.

With no coffee order of his own (Clue #1), he sat down across the table from this woman and spoke in a low voice (Clue #2), all the while averting eye contact with her (Clue #3). His questions were seemingly aimed at the table, since that was where he was looking. She gave explanations for each of the things he asked about. Explanations wouldn’t matter. His position was resolute. The outcome was predetermined. Her employment had just ended right in front of me at 7:43 am on November 3.

She did her best to hold it together in such a public setting, although a few defiant tears refused to be held captive. That first tear must have been the leader, because it led a number of others right down the side of her cheeks. She was completely caught off guard. Apart from her coffee, she had nothing to dab her eyes with. He continued to speak to the table to tell her no need to come back to work on Monday.

She was devastated. I was nauseated from the recklessness and thoughtlessness of this leader’s actions.

He grabbed his backpack and left without speaking another word. His job was done. It was at this point that I was able to articulate in my own mind my observations of his demeanor when he walked in. I concluded that what bothered him was not how the news would affect this woman. He appeared to be bothered more by how it affected his weekend.

As leaders, what can we learn from this example?

DEBRIEF: Lessons for Leaders Delivering Difficult Messages

  • Be Predictable. Staff members should never be surprised when it comes to their performance. Provide consistent feedback. Care enough to share.
  • Be Discrete. The old adage to ‘Praise in public and correct in private’ is good advice. With corrective actions or terminations, choose the location wisely as the discussion should never be on display for outsiders to observe.
  • Be Present. Regardless of circumstances, when having a conversation, be completely present and engaged in the conversation. Staff should expect that from leaders.
  • Be Professional. No matter how difficult the message is for you to deliver, it is worse for the person receiving the news. Don’t portray yourself as the victim.
  • Be Honoring. Treat people with dignity and look them squarely in the eyes when communicating. Averting eye contact is dishonoring and suggests there is something in which to be ashamed (e.g., Surprising a person with a termination for performance).
  • Be Thoughtful. When delivering any message that may evoke emotion, be thoughtful by being prepared. Have tissues on hand. You may also consider having your discussion in a different meeting room to avoid parading your upset staff member in front of their peers after the discussion.
  • Be Careful. Most of us are not immune to having our own leader, CEO, board members, etc. approach us with a difficult message. Therefore, remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Terminations and disciplinary actions happen for legitimate reasons. They can…and should always be…constructive in nature, never destructive. Practicing these characteristics in our daily demonstrations of Leadership can help to ensure we are constructive in our approach. Let’s all make sure we avoid creating this destructive horror for others.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessAbout the Author: Jeff Michaels is a 20-year Sales & Marketing Executive that works with executives, leaders, and teams to create repeatable success in their business. Articles posted here typically emphasize one or more of the three requirements leading to Repeatable Success — Intentionality, Predictability and Repeatability.