Avoid situations in which a “no” is more powerful than a “yes”

In a 50/50 relationship—where each person has equal authority—a “no” is more powerful than a “yes.” For instance, in a marriage in which the 50/50 rule is in place, if one spouse says, “Let’s go out to eat on Friday,” and the other says, “No; I don’t want to,” the latter rules. “No” trumps “yes.”

This seems unfair to me.

This quirkish adulteration of fairness is particularly potent and unsavory when one person in the 50/50 relationship tends to be negative and pessimistic, or controlling, or indecisive, or inordinately passive.

How can we avoid this situation?

  • One obvious way is to avoid 50/50 relationships. Just one degree—a 51/49 relationship—can make a difference. (Just hope you possess that extra one percent.)
  • Spread the power among three or more people, perhaps a 33/33/34 scenario, so that one person cannot control.
  • Establish a measure of independence in decision making; don’t frame an issue in terms that require consensus: “I’m going out to eat on Friday. Would you like to join me?”
  • Carefully craft the initial statement such that you can say “no.” You: “What would you like to do on Friday for dinner?” Other person’s reply: “Stay at home.” You: “No, I don’t want to do that.” In which case your “no” might prevail over the other person’s preference.

I’m not advocating that we become manipulative and self-serving. I am suggesting that we avoid being manipulated and controlled and that we establish balance of power in mutual relationships.

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Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional. Pursue peace in relationships.

At work and at home, conflicts are inevitable. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. So don’t be surprised when relationships are strained, but do proactively try to resolve the conflicts.

Here are some things to consider.

Misunderstandings are a natural byproduct of progress.

An ancient proverb says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” There’s something implied but omitted in this phrase; do you see it? My paraphrase of this proverb is: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean; but where there are oxen working, there’s going to be a lot of excrement that needs to be cleaned up.”

Whenever a group of people (oxen) are engaged in activity (producing a harvest), mishaps will happen. Whenever people work together, things get messy. And the more people involved and the busier they are, the messier it gets.

Take the initiative to restore the peace.

In strained relationships, someone must take the first step toward restitution. You be that person. You may be reluctant to do so because “I didn’t start the conflict” or “I’m not the main offender.” Regardless, you can be the peacemaker.

Settle matters quickly.

Misunderstandings seldom resolve themselves and they usually get worse when ignored. Address difficult issues sooner than later.

Distinguish between issues that need to be dropped and those that should be addressed.

If taken to an extreme, obsessing about peace in relationships can have an unsettling effect. If I feel compelled to address every minor irritation that comes my way, I’ll unnecessarily stir up the relational waters. Some issues just need to be dropped.
Consider this suggestion when you’re upset, but if someone else is upset, don’t dismiss their feelings as unimportant or trivial: “Yeah, I know Bob’s upset about being surprised at the meeting, but it’s not a big deal; he just needs to drop it.”

You may need to help arbitrate other people’s quarrels and misunderstandings.

At times, you’ll need to intervene in relational tiffs in which you are not personally involved. If you’re a leader, you’ll do this often.
This might involve encouraging someone to take action: “John, I think that you and Bob need to get together and talk out your differences.” Or, you may need to get directly involved: “John, let me set up a meeting with you, Bob, and me so that this issue can be addressed.”

Sometimes our pursuit of peace will fail.

For relational conflicts to be resolved, everyone involved must do their part to establish peace. Sometimes our sincere effort to resolve an issue won’t work because the other party cannot or will not agree to a peaceful resolution.

Click here for suggestions on how to structure a peace-seeking conversation.

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Own your problems

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Last summer, I boarded a flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Seattle. I had priority boarding so I was among the first passengers on the plane. Normally this is a good thing but not in this instance because the plane was stiflingly hot.

I asked a flight attendant, “It’s very hot inside the plane; has the air conditioning been turned on?” (I have been on flights where the answer to this question was “no”; so I thought I’d start with the obvious.) The attendant basically ignored me.

Five minutes later, I crawled upstream to the front of the airplane (passengers were still boarding), when another flight attendant stopped me. Our conversation went something like this:

  • She said, “Sir, may I help you?”
  • I said, “It’s very hot inside the plane; has the captain turned on the air conditioning?”
  • She said, “The air conditioning is not working 100%.”
  • I said, “Ma’m, the air conditioning is not working 20%.”
  • She said, “Yes, it is warm.”
  • I said, “Why is that?”
  • She said, “The supplemental ground AC unit is not working. When possible, we’ll start the engines and start the AC.”
  • I said, “Well, that explains that. Does the captain know all of this?”
  • She said, “I’ll make sure he does.”

Five minutes later, the captain, in what sounded to me like a cheerful but rather flippant and patronizing tone of voice said over the intercom, “Well good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for joining us on this flight to Seattle. This is captain Snotnose (not his real name). Sorry about the temperature, yeah…we’re having some issues, should be okay once we’re in the air. Thanks for your patience.”

I understand that mechanical things break. I wasn’t upset at that. But it bothered me that no one took ownership of the problem, and only after someone (me) complained was an explanation given.

Here’s my advice:

  1. When something goes wrong on your watch, don’t ignore it, hide it, or minimize it—own it. (The AC is not working 100%?)
  2. Don’t blame someone else even though someone else may be complicit. (The ground crew may have forgotten to service the supplemental AC unit, but I’m on your plane.)
  3. Don’t use the phrase, “Thank you for your patience.” (I was not patient about this issue. That comment is presumptuous and dismissive and it makes things worse.)
  4. As soon as there’s a problem, acknowledge it to those affected. Don’t wait until they complain. (We were all perspiring; the problem was evident.)
  5. Explain why the problem is happening; a good explanation won’t fix the problem but it will lessen frustration.
  6. When possible, offer some type of compensation, even if it is token. (The stewardess did offer me a cup of ice but I declined; because everyone was suffering from the heat, everyone should be offered a reprieve.)
  7. Be empathetic. During the plane incident, a simple, “Sir, I’m very sorry about the temperature issue; I know it’s very discomforting.” would have helped ameliorate the tension.
  8. Don’t hesitate to apologize.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk that said, The buck stops here. He didn’t coin the phrase, but he did popularize it.

The saying is derived from the expression passing the buck, common in poker gameplay. It came to mean “passing blame” or absolving oneself of responsibility or concern by denying authority or jurisdiction over a given matter.

The phrase means that no excuses will be made. The speaker is taking full responsibility for what is happening rather than passing on the responsibility.

In life and leadership, we must own our problems. The buck stops with us.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lead Well fall workshop – September 27-28 Click here for more information.

Leaders: craft vision that is both bold and credible

Plus - 12 best books I read last year - book 2 of 12

I recently led a leadership training session for 35 people who work together in a large organization. The topic: crafting vision.

I divided the group into teams of five and gave them this assignment:

  1. Take five minutes to create a prediction about the future that is both bold (a daring and audacious statement) and credible (the likelihood of the statement happening).
  2. Your prediction will be rated on a scale from 1-10 on boldness (1 means “not bold”, 10 means “very bold”) and 1-10 on credibility (1 means “not credible”, 10 means “very credible”).
  3. An unbiased judge (someone I brought in with me to serve this role) will evaluate each prediction based on the two criteria (boldness and credibility), and the two numbers will be combined for a total score. The highest possible score is 20, the lowest is 2.

Here are two examples that demonstrate the extremes.

  • The prediction “The sun will rise tomorrow” would be scored 11 because it’s not very bold (1) but it is very credible (10).
  • The prediction “Ten years from now there will be no cars, just private planes” would also be scored 11 because while it is bold (10) it’s not credible (1).

We had fun discussing each prediction. Then I switched applications and made the exercise relevant to their workplace. I instructed them, “Using the same parameters (boldness and credibility), create a prediction about the future of your organization.”

This simple exercise led to a very profitable discussion and vision-crafting session.

What is vision?

Vision is a picture of the future that is better than the present, and it produces passion in those who receive it. Stephen Covey says, “All things are created twice: first in someone’s mind and then in the physical world.” The first creation he refers to is vision—seeing something in your mind that currently does not exist.

Craft vision that is both challenging and realistic.

When crafting vision, avoid two extremes: being too safe and being unrealistic. You may visualize something that is too safe and meager, perhaps just a small extension of the present (“We’re going to increase sales 2% next year.”), or your thinking may lapse into wishful thinking (“We’re going to produce three major projects next year that will triple our sales.”)

An emphasis on developing vision that is both bold and credible will help avoid out-of-balance aspirations. Imagine the power of a vision statement that scores an 8 on each variable for a total score of 16.

Leaders, use this exercise with your team to explore future opportunities for your organization. Also use this exercise to craft vision for your personal life.

Visualizing a better tomorrow is the first step toward accomplishing it.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

12 best books I read last year – book 2 of 12

Becoming a Leader – Warren Bennis

When I am asked to recommend just one book on leadership, this is it. Bennis’ thoughts will be as relevant 100 years from now as they were when first written. Click here for more information from Amazon.

Reflect on the past but don’t dwell on the past

Michelangelo sculpted four intentionally unfinished works: The Bearded Slave (shown here), The Atlas Slave, The Awakening Slave and The Young Slave. Though they appear unfinished, they are just as he intended them to be. He wanted to show what it might feel like to be forever enslaved.

Sadly, some people choose to be enslaved by their past.

Years ago, a man came to me for counseling. When I asked him why he had come, he spoke about how his employer had taken advantage of him and then fired him. As he told the details, he became visibly emotional—flushed face, moist eyes, quivering lips…

About ten minutes into the session I asked, “When did this happen?” (Recently, I assumed.) He answered, “Seventeen years ago.”

Oh my…

While I wanted to empathize with him regarding the alleged employer abuse, I was shocked that he had allowed this one incident to negatively influence his life for so long.

Now to the other extreme, I have a friend who continually (and almost exclusively) talks about the “good old days.” Doing so seems to make him a positive, joyful person (though at times I think he’s hiding something; surely something in his past was unsettling) but he’s also stuck in time. He has no vision for the future because he constantly lives in the past.

Let me suggest that there’s a difference between reflecting on your past and dwelling on it.

Reflect on your past so you can be grateful for the positive experiences and learn from the painful ones. But, don’t dwell on your past, or the positive experiences may cause you to be smug, complacent, and apathetic about future possibilities and the painful experiences may eventually pollute your soul. Just as there are two ways to fall off a horse, there are two ways an obsession with the past can unbalance us.

Think more about the present and future than you do the past. Enjoy the wonder of each hour and dream about a better tomorrow. View the past as a prelude to the future. Always have something to look forward to.

Free yourself from unhelpful introspection.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Here’s a video about Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures.

When you’re uninformed, don’t let people take advantage of you

Register for the Sept. 27-28 Lead Well workshop

We are most vulnerable to being taken advantage of when we’re engaged in an area we don’t understand.

For instance, most people know what is involved in painting a room, so if a painter bids $3,000 to paint a small room, we immediately reject the bid: “That’s ridiculous; too much money for one gallon of paint and six hours of work.” But if an AC repairman says, “Your framis is broken, your coils are corroded and the VS pump must be recalibrated—that will cost $3,000,” we’re more likely to approve the work because we just don’t know what all that means; air conditioning is a mysterious world to us.

I first learned this lesson when I was remodeling an old house to use as headquarters for my organization. Because it was zoned commercial it had to comply with American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. I didn’t know anything about ADA rules, so I solicited a bid from an ADA “consultant” who offered to “manage” the process for $4,000. But a builder friend of mine told me, “We are most vulnerable to being taken advantage of when engaged in an area we don’t understand,” and then he told me that the ADA rules were fairly easy to understand and available online. He was right. I figured it out myself and saved a lot of money.

How can we avoid these moments of naive vulnerability?

  • Be aware of when you’re in an unfamiliar environment and don’t make hasty decisions. When pressed for a decision, a good initial response is, “Let me think about that.”
  • Always get multiple opinions and bids on all products and services.
  • Take the time to research areas you’re dealing with; you’ll be surprised at how much and how quickly you can learn.
  • Solicit input from trusted friends who are familiar with the domain you’re unfamiliar with.
    Be available to help other people when they are in unfamiliar territory. Use your expertise to assist others.

Don’t be misled or taken advantage of.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Lead Well fall workshop – September 27-28 Click here for more information.

Leaders – adopt the Kaizen strategy; pursue continuous improvement

Plus - the 10 commandments of rational debate

In 1950, 21 of Japan’s most important business leaders attended a dinner party in Tokyo. American statistician W. Edwards Deming was the keynote speaker. Deming’s said that the key to restoring Japan’s post-war economy was to pursue a simple strategy of continuous improvement in all products and services. Collectively, and without regulatory or legislative involvement, these leaders adopted Deming’s recommendations, which eventually led to a manufacturing and economic renaissance.

In two decades, Japanese products, which had been referred to as “Jap scrap,” became synonymous with “quality” and “super-engineering.” These quality improvement methods took Japan, within one generation, from a country that had been completely destroyed in 1945 to the number two economic power in the world. The Japanese called the process “kaizen,” which means “continuous betterment” or “continuous improvement.”

Leaders, embrace the Kaizen mindset. Never be content with the way things are; continually strive to make things better. Adopt the mindset that everything is a work in progress and that incremental improvements will always be made. Continually ask, “How can this be improved?”

Here’s a great example. When Netflix was launched, their primary business was sending DVDs to customers using a simple mailing envelope that also doubled as the return envelope. For years the envelope went through many iterations as Netflix continually tweaked its functionality. Here’s a picture of a few of the different envelopes.


Of course, their distribution strategy has changed drastically. Now they stream their movies, making the envelope obsolete.

An important aspect of the Kaizen strategy is the emphasis on continuous improvement. We don’t improve things periodically, we do so continuously. We don’t just think of it once a year, it’s a modus operandi that influences us daily, if not hourly.

Here’s a 4-minute video about the Kaizen Strategy.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The 10 commandments of rational debate. These 10 rules will help clarify your thinking and strengthen your ability to persuade others.

Leaders: lead collaboratively

Plus - 12 best books I read last year: book 1 of 12

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

I have never understood why some leaders, when they are developing strategy and making decisions, are reluctant to include other people in the process. I can’t really think of any downside in doing so. You have assembled a team of smart, engaged people who love your organization; why wouldn’t you seek their input?

One of my favorite leadership mantras is: All of us are smarter than one of us. The IQ of the team is always greater than the IQ of any one person, and the IQ of the team can even exceed the sum of the intelligence of individual team members—collective team intelligence can produce a 1+1 = 3 outcome.

For instance, one study found that, on their own, participants got only 10 percent of the answers correct on a tough logic test. When they worked as a group, the score soared to 80 percent.

Collaborative wisdom will always exceed individual wisdom. Any idea or plan will be improved upon when submitted to the wisdom of others.

Collaborative leadership is more important now than ever before because in our complex society, functioning as a soloist will produce inferior results. The Lone Ranger is dead. Good leaders know that they don’t have to have all the ideas or know all the answers, and that’s why they’re eager to receive input from others. Wisdom does not necessarily flow from the top down.

I’m not suggesting that as a leader you relinquish all control—it is the leader’s responsibility to make decisions, and everyone knows that. And, I’m not suggesting that you lead by consensus—there are times when consensus is impossible and even undesirable. But if you truly listen to others and they know that their thoughts help shape decisions, there will be a healthy sense of unanimity when you make the final decisions.

During World War II, General Eisenhower made a habit of visiting his troops on the frontline, and he would ask the soldiers, “What do you think?”

We should follow his example. Feedback is a gift.

James Surowiecki’s book, The Power of the Collective, talks about the wisdom of crowds. Here’s a video of the author speaking on this topic.

12 best books I read last year: book 1 of 12

How We Got to Now – Six Innovations That Made The Modern World – Steven Johnson, 2014.

Blending science and history, Johnson tells a fascinating story about glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. Click here for more information from Amazon.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.