What you see is what you get – measuring your response to others

What good is it?

Often the mantra of the obsessively practical or the hopelessly cynical, a “what good is it?” response typically indicates disgust, disappointment, or disdain, maybe all three. Obsessively practical leaders seem to become well, obsessed, with efficiency. Every act, every task, every intention, indeed every suggestion is qualified by its practical contribution to the efficient function of the organization.

But more prevalent are the hopelessly cynical. I worked for one such leader, the founder and director of a moderately-sized leadership training organization working mostly in Asia. He expected to be disappointed and usually found something to meet his expectations. Over time, only those with a fetish for being belittled and berated stayed in the company. There was always something somewhere done by someone that failed to come up to standard.

I worked with the company for nearly two years and I can attest that the real failure rate was no higher than just about anywhere else and a good deal better than many companies of that size. It was his attitude that made the difference.

Now, make no mistake, I am no raging and rabid fan of the positive thinking crowd. It seems to lead to a delusional approach to life and its challenges.

But I am a fan, proponent, and practitioner of the power of a positive attitude. The late Michael Vance, creative thinking consultant to Walt Disney and a good many others, often observed that positive thinking tends to avoid or mislabel problems to the point of failing to deal intelligently and creatively with them. He also observed that with a positive attitude problems are identified, intelligently and honestly appraised, then and only then can creative responses be implemented.

So, the “what good is it?” response can have a more fruitful use. How do I know?

  1. Because, with few exceptions, subordinates and associates want to please. Mister Cynic referred to above does not believe that. He believed that everyone was out to disabuse him of his generosity, neglect their responsibilities, and screw up regularly and that they did so with no remorse. He is categorically incorrect. His experience has not been my experience. People make mistakes. We live in an imperfect world and 100% efficiency is a myth. But nearly everyone wants to do well and meet the expectations of their job. We are hard-wired to do so. What good is it? All effort should be acknowledged for what it is – a good attempt to do the job. If and when it falls short, accept the reality and respond accordingly. That’s what superlative leaders do. They do not cynically respond with disdain in their voice, “What good is it?”
  2. In all labor there is benefit. We do not learn by learning only, we learn by doing. Trying, falling short, learning why, trying again are all part of the development process. We cannot order a fully functional subordinate or associate from Amazon. It will not arrive on the floor ready for work. Development is what you do because you are a leader. No prudent leader would ever trample on the good deeds and well-intentions of others deliberately. Developing capable people and successful companies is always a collaborative effort.
  3. In every effort, even the ones that are not quite up to par, there is good in them. They yield something beneficial. A teachable moment or a deeper understanding are not without value. Ask Thomas Edison about failed attempts at developing the electric light.

What good is it? Well, it turns out there is a lot. The weekend begins tonight. Most of you have two days off. It just might be a good time to take another look at how you respond to the efforts of others. There’s a tragic lesson in the life work of Mister Cynic mentioned above. He spent his entire career disappointed, always feeling like he had been cheated out of more success by the failures of others. He spent his days, indeed his life, wandering around the workplace looking for people doing something wrong, finding whatever he could that would validate his cynicism and negativity.

You know what? He found plenty of it. But he ended his career bitter, angry, cynical, and disappointed that he had been robbed.  He really did look back on his life and ask “What good is it?” distressed that it was not better.

Yet other leaders in exactly the same situation had an entirely different experience. Did they find disappointment? Yep. Did they find error and failure? Certainly! But they found good in it. Lots and lots of good in it.

It’s right there in front of you too.

If you’ve got a few minutes, take a look at the video below. It’s a compilation of clips from Michael Vance.

Leadership Challenge #1 – the innocently rude sales clerk


customer serviceRemember the challenge from Monday? Here it is. My response is below.

You are the owner/manager of a retail department store. Your store is busy so high sales volume also means a lot of returns.  One of the new employees is tasked with handling the checkout register and for restocking items as they are returned when checkout traffic permits. The employee has gone through the company’s orientation and training but has been working the floor only for a few weeks.

You are working the floor, walking the many departments to watch for problems, help where needed, and answering questions. You see a customer browsing the rack of trousers in the men’s wear department. The customer has focused in on one garment and has pushed surrounding garments aside so he can look more closely.

The new employee approaches with an arm load of clothes to restock. She approaches the customer looking at trousers and says, “Excuse me.” Then without waiting for a response from the customer, she pushes the trousers he was looking at back together, spreads others apart, inserts the ones she is carrying, and walks off.

You see the customer’s look of surprise. As the employee walks away, the customer turns and leaves too without selecting a garment for purchase or even looking further.

What would you do?

Here’s what I would do?

  1. Try to find the customer before he leaves the store and apologize. Do not justify the employee’s behavior. Do not try to explain. Just apologize and offer a 10% off compensation. This addresses the effects of what happened immediately.
  2. Find the employee and speak with her. Do not wait until next week or even think about trying to address this in a public meeting. Give her the benefit of the doubt. It is unlikely she considered what she did as rude. She was probably just trying to be efficient and conscientious. She does double duty on the floor and at the cashier’s counter so she was likely trying to get through floor duty so she could get back to the counter. Guide the conversation but do not reprove, at least not at this stage. If you take the time to inform and train now, and see her do it again later, you can be sterner then. But now, explain what happened and why the customer felt the way they did. Then explain what should be done when stocking or restocking merchandise.
  3. Review your training and orientation curriculum. Make sure that it covers situations like this. Do not assume that employees will understand. Some will. Most won’t. They aren’t naturally rude or thoughtless, well most aren’t anyway, but they can be blind to the bigger picture. Change whatever might need to be changed. Add whatever might need to be added to address the finer points of customer relations and service on the sales floor.


Leadership Challenge #1 – The Customer Service Fail

customer serviceYou are the owner/manager of a retail department store. Your store is busy so high sales volume also means a lot of returns. One of the new employees is tasked with handling the checkout register and for restocking items as they are returned when checkout traffic permits. The employee has gone through the company’s orientation and training but has been working the floor only for a few weeks.

You are working the floor, walking the many departments to watch for problems, help where needed, and answering questions. You see a customer browsing the rack of trousers in the men’s wear department. The customer has focused in on one garment and has pushed surrounding garments aside so he can look more closely.

The new employee approaches with an arm load of clothes to restock. She approaches the customer looking at trousers and says, “Excuse me.” Then without waiting for a response from the customer, she pushes the trousers he was looking at back together, spreads others apart, inserts the ones she is carrying, and walks off.

You see the customer’s look of surprise. As the employee walks away, the customer turns and leaves too without selecting a garment for purchase or even looking further.

What would you do? And most importantly, Why?

I will answer this on Thursday and I want to hear from you. I’ll select from the answers I receive and post them along with mine. This is NOT a test so there are no right or wrong answers. It is an exercise in leadership training and discussion is the name of the game. Send your answers to me at Jack@ThePracticalLeader.com

Management 101 – Part 3 – Training

trainingAfter I sold my business in the Caribbean, I took a job at a major home improvement retailer (the one with the blue, gray, and red logo not the orange one). I had owned and operated a millwork business in the islands so I was very familiar with doors, windows, trim, and custom work so when I was offered a job in that department I thought it would be a simple transition.

The training process my new employer offered consisted of a series of computerized modules intended to introduce new hires to the processes and procedures of the company’s products and the methods of placing orders.

The morning I “graduated” from the training and was escorted to my spot behind the millwork desk on the sales floor. As the HR guy left, he said, “You’ll catch on.” That was it.

I soon discovered that the computerized training had two flaws. First, it did not effectively simulate life in the real world. The training modules had obviously been created by people who, talented thought they were in creating computerized training systems, had obviously never worked on the sales floor. Second, it failed to consider the complexities of an unfamiliar system. It did not introduce new hires like myself to the intricacies of the company’s outdated and convoluted computerized ordering system.

The third element in Management 101 is training after planning and organizing. The concept is simple enough – give someone the skills and information they need to get the job done. The problem is in the execution. The problems stem from two flawed assumptions.

Assumption #1 – that the trainee knows a lot already. Usually this comes from people who are too busy to invest the time and effort into effective training so they assume their charge knows what they need to know and a brief or summary training is sufficient. But it may not be that you’re too busy. It might be that you just assume too much. They did this on my job. They assumed that because I owned and operated a millwork business that I knew the subject already. I knew the subject. I did not know the company’s products, the local codes that affected the customer’s choices in products, nor the wacko system the company used to process an order. Every company or organization has a particular product line and even old product lines come out with new products. Every company or organization has its own peculiarities; its own ways of getting things done that may or may not mesh with what your trainee has learned. The solution: Find out. Ask questions, watch the trainee’s performance, assure them that you assume nothing so that they have ALL the tools they need to get the job done, but they can move through the process already if they’re covering familiar ground.

Assumption #2 – that the trainee doesn’t know anything. If you’re going to err, err on the side of this one. It is better to be over-prepared than under. Nonetheless, you don’t want to insult them either so be sure to communicate both your intent and why covering old territory. Everyone needs to review the basics now and again (Just look at you. You’re a seasoned manager or leader and you’re reading through a series called Management 101). In today’s litigious climate, many companies are covering all their legal obligations by having employees follow a systemized training program so that everything is covered and everyone goes through the system. In your company there may be little you can do about this assumption, but try to fast track the quick learners and the experienced pros.

Abraham Maslow’s now famous study of human behavior and learning suggested that the trainee should be exposed to what s/he does not know, their level of conscious incompetence, so that they are motivated to acquire the knowledge and skill.

Since this article is more on training as a concept that training as a practice, I must leave the tasks and techniques of training to another series. Here are the key concepts of training:

  • What does the trainee need to know?
  • What do they know already?
  • What new skills do they need to acquire?
  • What old techniques do they need to unlearn?
  • What is the best way to get the trainee from where they are to where they need to be?
  • Where will you begin? Where will you end?
  • How will you know that the training is completed?

A plan is primary. Organizing people, time, and stuff to execute the plan builds the structure of permanent accomplishment. But it is training that populate your organized plan with the animated figures who make it happen.

The first two installments in this series are:

Management 101 – Plan

Management 101 – Organize

Management 101 – Part 1 – PLAN

planningPOTC – the four elemental components of any effective management strategy

I am still in Uganda and will be for several more weeks. It is my privilege to be training some new managers as they make the transition into the realm of those who lead others.

I am well aware of the Peter Principle which says that in an organization, personnel tend to rise to the level of their incompetence. And I am aware that not everyone can make the transition into places of authority and to the command of others. But one works with what one has with the understanding that some will make the grade and others will not. Even seasoned trainers cannot always predict who will rise to the challenge until the person gives it a go.

I am also aware that it is almost certain that if adequate preparation is not provided, the attrition rate among new managers will be higher. So I am here giving what amounts to basic training in management to a team of people we hope can rise to the level of ability and responsibility their jobs require.

Reaching back to the fundamental principles of management I am emphasizing the four elemental components of an effective strategy – POTC:  


PLAN     –     ORGANIZE     –     TRAIN     –     CONTROL


No manager can skip the planning stage. Getting somewhere demands consideration of where you want to go connected to where you are and a PLAN for getting from here to there. It demands knowledge of and consideration of the conditions and components that will be necessary to get the plan operational. Planning does these 9 things for the manager/leader:

  • It makes your work and the work of others more efficient. Translate to mean it gets more done for less time, less effort, less money which can only mean one thing – profit. Even if your position is in a non-profit organization there is still the imperative to efficiently utilize the organization’s resources and funds. Therefore,


  • Planning enhances efficiency because planning denotes and connotes ORDER. Order creates more out of less. For visual evidence of that, think of a cluttered closet or cupboard. When disorder exists in a storage closet, all available and useable space is filled with a jumble of items. Putting those things in order creates useable space that was not there before. It creates more out of less. Part 2 of this series is ORGANIZE where I will examine the topic more thoroughly.


  • Planning manages risk. The very act of planning means looking into what is going to happen and factoring in what could affect wither the outcome or the path to the outcome. Planning tries to accommodate the circumstance that could impact events so that their impact is not life-threatening.


  • Planning mechanizes people and processes in the sense that it coordinates them avoiding or at least minimizing duplication of effort, minimizes waste of either effort or resources, and perhaps most importantly, reduces friction that always occurs whenever two parts in motion make contact. If nothing is moving, if nothing is happening, no friction exists because nothing is moving. Planning considers that friction will occur and addresses it.


  • Planning enlightens the manager about what will need to be done and what are the expected results, therefore the manager wikll better know what skills and attitudes will be required. Planning anticipates training, the third topic in this series.


  • Planning focuses the direction of the organization toward agreed upon objectives that in turn validate the company. It is not enough to do things. It is necessary to do the correct things in the correct sequence. Planning does that.


  • Planning assists in maintaining control. I will address the control factor soon (hint: the “C” in POTC is? You guessed it. Control.


  • Planning unleashes motivation and keeps it at a healthy level. Responsible people respond positively when they see their efforts actually mean something. People hate busy work. They respond negatively when they are asked to do something just to do it. They respond better when they can readily see how what they do has meaning, relevance, and importance. Planning means you actually thought about this before you asked them to do it.


  • Planning requires you, the manager, to be attentive, creative, and innovative. Managers have to think, they have to understand, they have to have ideas. This is one of the key differences that separates leaders from followers.

The next article will cover ORGANIZING. Until then, what benefits have you seen from planning that I did not include in my list? What did you discover when you or someone you worked for failed to plan well?

Helping your associates grow

I want a staff entirely populated by trusted associates. Everyone does but hardly anyone has a staff who function at that level all the time. Someone somewhere at some time is unaware, that is to say, they are unconsciously incompetent.

You’ve probably seen this chart but I’ve put it in for a visual reference. Louis, the intern mentioned in the two previous posts, functioned more at that level that at any other, but was blissfully unaware of his incompetence. The operative word here is “blissfully”. Louis was incompetent, did not know he was incompetent, but had never been put up against visible, measureable, cognitive standards of awareness and performance to the point that he could grasp his incompetence.

He didn’t know that he didn’t know and, in that happy state of foggy standards, had appraised himself to be above average.

Effective leaders cyclically expose followers to concepts, skills, ideas, and tasks they don’t already know. This is called growth.

Notice I said cyclically. I did not say continually or regularly. To do so regularly or continually will provoke frustration, anger, fatigue, dismay, and deflation. People need positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment if they are to remain motivated.

But, they also need to be challenged if they are to avoid arrogance and self-righteousness. So, don’t nag, it works against you.

If you have people in your staff at the lowest level – forced laborer, (See the chart here) you should consider either finding a place for them to function somewhere else, or hand them off to a subordinate who can manage them thus freeing you to lead the others.

At the other three levels you can by and large leave people alone to do their jobs unless and until your direct intervention is called for. You, as leader, are monitoring and measuring two critical components – competence and confidence.

What are you looking for? You are looking for the teachable moment, that point when the person you are leading becomes aware that either they are ignorant of a required skill, attitude, aptitude, or insight and need to be instructed or they know of it but need coaching to integrate the skill, attitude, or aptitude.

If you try to intervene when a person is confident and competent your intervention will be regarded as interference and provoke resentment. If you try to intervene when the person is unconsciously incompetent, you will confound them.

I am not suggesting that you simply leave people alone to flounder around until they get so frustrated they ask for help. I am suggesting that you lead, not ignore. Remember the three essential skills of effective leadership?

  1. Understand what’s going on all the time everywhere.
  2. Know what needs to be done.
  3. The ability to influence those you lead to follow your leadership.

So, your role is to:

  1. Know where you want to go with the person you’re working with.
  2. Know where you are.
  3. Know what steps to take to get from where you are to where you want to go.
  4. Do that over and over.

The function of development is cyclical. It should get easier along the way because you build confidence within the person(s) you are leading and you strengthen their confidence between you and them so they more comfortably respond to your leadership. They develop confidence in your competence while they deepen confidence in their own competence too.

Immutable law of leadership #2 – cause and effect

 width=Effective leaders understand both causes and their effects and are capable of dealing with both. In an earlier post I used a story of a manager at Disneyland who encountered a late night situation with tired horses and large crowds of people. You can read about it here.

The immediate concern was the safety of the people and the care of the animals. It demanded a certain hands-on, crisis mode style of leadership. Once the crisis was over, the manager then met with his subordinates to discuss calmly and carefully why the situation developed and what they could do to avoid a reoccurrence.

One style dealt with effects, one with causes. Effective leaders can manifest both because:

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.

Now, let me clarify that I am not addressing cause and effect in the universal sense. The concept of reaping what one sows, the golden rule, or karma is not within the scope of a blog on practical leadership, as important as is the subject. The principle of cause and effect universally applies and you as a leader with address it a hundred times every day.

  • Effects are usually easier to see than causes. Causes are often underlying, effects are on the surface.
  • Causes are almost always less urgent than effects. If horses are going to trample people, you have to do something now. Once the crisis is resolved, it is less demanding to address the steps that “cause” the crisis. Humans typically give more attention to effects because of their visible, in-your-face, explosive nature. Our lives and work are crowded with tasks, demands, responsibilities, and obligations. Pushing causes to another time is easy to justify, dangerous to ignore completely.
  • One of the most significant tasks and consequently one of the most difficult challenges is to develop the capacity to see cause and effect relationships in the people you lead. Because of the principle of line of sight, experience, position, and wisdom make it simpler for you to see than those who serve in subordinate positions. One effective tool is to be sure to clarify why and not only address what. The crisis on Main Street Disneyland was not necessarily due to misbehavior. It was because the supervisor could see better the potential for trouble than could the others. It became the supervisor’s privilege and responsibility to define the problem and, if he was skillful, solicit from the team solutions. It seldom works to form a committee to research, review, and discuss the resolution to a crisis. If your toddler is crawling out into the street between two parked cars, you pick up the child. Discuss with those responsible later why and what.
  • There is always an effect brought on by some connecting cause. It’s there, you have to find it.
  • Good “causes” create positive “effects”. We typically see cause and effect relationships in negative terms. Horses will trample people and toddlers will get squished by cars. But it works the other way as well. Setting in motion certain conditions, events, directives, actions can reap huge rewards. The up-coming posts on motivation and productivity address this.

So, take a look at your own leadership context and tell me where you had to deal with cause and effect and most importantly, how it worked out.

How we learn – and what you should do to get the most out of what you need to teach

 width=“How to Light a Fire Under People Without Getting Burned,” one of the seminars I offer, demonstrates the art of multiplying your efforts through others. I sometimes conclude the seminar with a role-playing exercise where each participant must list the tasks he or she presently does that could possibly be done by someone else, then list whom among their associates might possibly be trained to do it. Next I ask them to script how they as trainer would speak to the potential trainee to enlist their help. Finally I ask them to practice the actual interview with another student. The object of the exercise is to put the material I’ve taught into immediate use. Normally, the exercise works very well. However, on one occasion one of the seminar participants surprised me.

A leader of several years’ experience completely froze up when it came to this exercise. He was a very non-technical learner and could not grasp the activity at all. Instead of being a fun event and a practical conclusion to the seminar, it was for him a moment of extreme discomfort. Since a key element of effective learning is that the experience must be fun and non-threatening, he ceased learning at that point.

Effective leaders know how to develop and employ high impact training materials containing these four elements:

  1. The opportunity to be involved and participate.

  2. The capacity to overcome barriers to learning.

  3. The means by which the learner can buy-in to the material, i.e., “WIIFM = What’s in it for me?”

  4. The use of  appealing, non-threatening interactive methods.

A person’s innate, natural, and preferred learning style never changes and mostly depends on whether they are technically or non-technically inclined. Technical learners are those who are most comfortable with mechanics, devices, handwork, and machines performing “hard skills.” Non-technical learners are most comfortable with concepts, ideas, words, and paper, the “soft skills.”  All training materials and the experiences that employ them fit somewhere within and around these three classifications:

  1. Visual – what the student can see.

  2. Aural – what the student can hear.

  3. Kinesthetic – what the student can do.

But learners do not learn equally well between the three classifications. It greatly depends on whether the learner is technical or non-technical. To be most effective, use more than one method to impart information to those you train, remembering that each learns at differing rates and in differing ways. People with hard skills learn best by hands-on training such as practice with a machine or procedure, role-play, or simulation. Soft-skilled people learn best by seeing the information, but poorest kinesthetically. Neither group learns well through only aural means.

How do you find out whether the learner is inclined toward hard or soft skills if you don’t know them very well?

At the beginning of the training session or in an interview prior, ask them what they do for a living and for a hobby. Generally, what people do for fun fits their natural learning style.

What training materials should you use?

To show them, use:

  • boards
  • computers
  • charts
  • videos
  • handouts
  • Powerpoint presentations

To tell them, use:

  • lecture
  • discussion
  • workshop
  • tutorials

To let them, use:

  • buzz groups
  • case studies
  • brainstorming
  • action plan development exercises
  • critiques
  • critical incident analyses
  • field trips
  • games
  • interviews
  • practice exercises
  • project sessions
  • role plays
  • quizzes
  • simulation