Speak up

Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.—Hitchens

A woman checked into the hospital to have a tonsillectomy, and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot. How could this tragedy happen? In fact, why is it that ninety-eight thousand hospital deaths each year stem from human error? In part it’s because many healthcare professionals are afraid to speak their minds. In this case, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot, but said nothing. Meaning didn’t flow because people were afraid to speak up [Patterson and Grenny, Crucial Conversations, pg. 22].

Two problems led to this debacle: an intimidating leader and intimidated followers. In a previous post I encouraged leaders to embrace robust dialogue among team members—that would eliminate the first problem. In this essay, let’s think about what we should do if robust dialogue is disallowed and something bad is about to happen if we don’t speak up.

It takes a lot of courage and emotional fortitude to confront that which is unfair, inaccurate, corrupt, foolish, wrong, ignorant, misdirected, inappropriate, and/or evil; but we have a moral imperative to do so.

Sometimes there is a price to pay. Once in my career, I spoke up about a dysfunctional area of the organization and I was summarily dismissed. Previously, a friend had advised me to always have six months of “go-to-hell money” in my savings account. “That way, if your job becomes unbearable,” he said, “you can tell your boss what you think and then walk away.” His advice came in handy that day.

Become skillful at truth-telling. Learn to speak the undiluted truth in a palatable way and at the right time. Don’t be unkind, mean, or crass (some people, armed with the truth, think they have a 007 license to kill) but do speak up.

I’ll end this post with another sad story that illustrates the dangers of intimidating leadership and silent, repressed followers.

Alexander the Great was once drinking with his chief officers at a party, when, in a drunken stupor, he began arguing with his best friend and faithful soldier, Clitus. Alexander impetuously threw a spear at his friend, hit him square in the chest, and killed him. It stunned the entire group. Alexander couldn’t believe what he had just done and immediately went to his private chamber.

Soon, Alexander’s officers approached him one at a time to try to console him. Aristander told him, “It’s just fate.” Callisthenes said, “We needed that.” Anaxarchus surmised, “Good will come from it.” No one had the emotional fortitude to tell Alexander the Great that what he had done was a terrible deed.

A contemporary historian noted, “In this way, they consoled his soul, but corrupted his character.”

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


What? – There are times when it is wrong to remain silent.
So what? – Develop the emotional fortitude to speak up when you should.
Now what? – Read Sam Harris’ book Lying. It presents a good case for always being honest. Then, begin to speak up when situations demand it.

Leaders – Do your team members have the freedom to speak up and express dissenting views? Do you seek honest feedback or squelch it?

Develop your version of the Apgar Score

Apgar-new.001Dr. Virginia Apgar invented the Apgar score in 1952 as a simple and replicable method to quickly and summarily assess the health of newborn children immediately after birth. The Apgar scale is determined by evaluating the newborn on five simple criteria (Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration) on a scale from zero to two, then summing up the five values. The resulting Apgar score ranges from zero to 10.

The test is generally done at one and five minutes after birth, and may be repeated later if the score is and remains low. Scores 7 and above are generally normal, 4 to 6 fairly low, and 3 and below are generally regarded as critically low.

The Apgar score is a quick and easy way to evaluate important traits, and it’s used in virtually every hospital in the world today.

It’s been said that all good ideas are borrowed and all great ideas are stolen. I recommend we “borrow” this good idea by developing a personalized version of the Apgar score.

For instance, a friend of mine is an executive vice president of a major corporation. Several years ago he was asked to take over the lowest-performing division in the company, which had more than 6,000 employees. He quickly determined that one major problem was the high rate of employee attrition. The high turnover rate not only disrupted business but every employee who left cost the company almost $50k (the cost of hiring and training an employee).

Instead of sitting behind his desk and trying to fix the problem from afar, he visited his team members out in the field where work takes place. He asked a lot of questions and listened well. He soon developed what he called “our personalized version of the Apgar Score.” He simply asked, “What common characteristics do our top employees share, and in particular, what is the profile of a worker who stays a long time with the company?”

Within a few months he had identified six attributes and behavioral characteristics of a successful and stable worker. His division adopted this method of scoring as the main tool for evaluating potential employees. Following every interview, the candidate would be given a score by those who interviewed him or her and only those who rated high in all six areas were hired. Within 12 months the attrition rate was reduced by 60 percent and the division went from being last to consistently being in the top two divisions in the country.

An Apgar score-type tool can be developed for most industries and positions and is a reliable predictor of success. It can be used to both evaluate prospective team members as well as train current team members. For instance:

  • School principals develop an “Apgar score” for effective teachers.
  • Sales managers, identify key traits of successful salespersons.
  • Supervisors of computer programmers, develop a profile of the best in the field.

I think we’ll discover that some predictors of success for any given position are fairly obvious; most are hidden in plain sight. They just need to be identified and respected.

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


What? – For most positions, predictors of success can be identified.
So what? – Hire people who score high on these predictors of success and your organization will improve.
Now what? – Create a personalized “Apgar score” for various areas of your life.

Leaders – Years ago, I developed a set of criteria for effective leaders. I identified 12 indispensable skills that one must master in order to lead well. Click here for a list of the 12 skills. Go to learntoleadwell.com for more information on training opportunities.


network2You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. —Dale Carnegie

Sometimes we don’t need to be taught, just reminded. Networking is not a new topic but it remains an important one, so let’s revisit it.

I’ll begin with two questions:
How many contacts are in your professional and personal database?
When was the last time you initiated a meeting with someone you didn’t know well?

Networking is the process of building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. It is a major tool of successful people. Here are some suggestions for doing it right.

Network for the right reasons.

The main reason to network is to help and serve others. You must genuinely value relationships and desire to benefit others. Reciprocity will happen—people in your network will help you—but it’s important to give first. It’s difficult to sustain a viable network if your sole purpose is personal aggrandizement.

Dig your well before you’re thirsty.

Inevitably, there will be times in your life when you need help from others and there’s nothing wrong with reaching out when you do. But it helps to build your network before you have a personal need. Often, I’ll not hear from someone for years until he’s in a tight spot, then he’ll call. I always try to help, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, Why do you only call me when you’re in distress? President Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

Develop a varied network.

Your network will naturally include fellow professionals but also develop contacts in other areas. Get to know the staff at your church, synagogue, or mosque. Meet your neighbors. Spend time with coworkers from other divisions in your company. Reach out to your banker and the person who does your printing.

Categorize your contacts.

We all have a finite number of people with whom we can stay current. While that number can be larger than most of us think, there is a limit to how many contacts we can maintain. It helps me to place people in various groups based on how much time and energy I can devote to the relationship. My groups include:

  • Close family members – about 10 people
  • Close friends – about 20 people
  • Friends and colleagues with whom I have regular contact – about 50 people
  • Friends and colleagues with whom I have limited contact – about 200 people
  • People I know and have contact with about once a year – about 400+ people
  • People in my database – 1,000+

Maintain an updated database.

Digital technology provides easy and accessible tools to organize and retain information about your network. The key is to diligently keep the information current. I keep my personal contacts in Microsoft Outlook. For my blog site I use MailChimp.

“Work” your network on a regular basis.

Andrea Niereenberg says, “You can be the master of working a room and leave each networking event with a pocketful of business cards, but if you do not follow up with these people and others already in your network, you will never be successful at networking.”

Continually increase your network and keep it fresh. Here’s a simple scoring system to assess how well you are doing in developing your network. Try to accumulate at least 20 points every week.

  • 5 points — meet one-on-one with a new contact
  • 4 points — meet one-on-one with a current member of your database
  • 4 points — do something that will benefit someone in your network
  • 3 points — have a conversation (at least 4 minutes) with a current member
  • 3 points — write a personal note to a current member
  • 2 points — send a personal email or text message to someone that generates a response
  • 1 point — send a personal email or text message to someone that gets no response

My favorite word in the English language is initiative. People who take initiative get ahead in life. Networking requires it. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you; reach out to others.

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


What? – Networking is valuable.
So what? – For the rest of your life continue to build a viable network.
Now what? – How did you answer the two questions listed at the beginning of this essay? How good are you at networking? Do you see its value? Using the tracking system described above, try to amass 20 points per week.

Leaders – Set a good example for your team members by becoming a networking guru. Coach your team members in developing this relational skill.

Be skeptical; fine-tune your crap detector

skeptic-cartoonTo be a good writer you have to have a good, built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector.  Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway surmised that to be a good writer you had to be able to see through the folderol and not be duped by manipulation and deceit. If I may, I’ll rewrite his sentence to read, “To be a wise person you have to have a good, built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” I have extended the application to all persons and chosen a slightly more socially acceptable term.

A crap detector is fueled by healthy skepticism. We all need a dose of skepticism because it protects against naiveté and being taken advantage of.

Be suspicious of advertising, PR, and marketing.

Most advertising is propaganda; it is self-serving manipulation. It is biased and often misleading opinion. It blurs the distinction between perception and reality. When you hear a radio ad say “AAA Plumbing Company really loves its customers,” don’t be fooled. Of course they’re going to say that. Would you expect them to say “We really don’t care much about our customers; we just want your money”?

Fortunately, the Internet has given consumers new tools to see through the haze and shop smartly. Customer reviews can provide clear insights into products and services. So don’t fall prey to Madison Avenue.

Be distrustful whenever money is being exchanged.

Chances are good that the AC repairman is overcharging you. The suggested auto repairs your local Firestone store is recommending may be unnecessary. The medical treatments proposed by your doctor may or may not be necessary.

That’s why it’s prudent to always get multiple opinions and multiple bids. If you always get at least five bids on all products and services, you’ll typically save around 30%.

Be wary of political rhetoric.

I don’t listen to either Fox News or CNBC because neither reports unadulterated news; they give biased commentary on select topics. Interestingly, the BBC is a more impartial and reliable source for news about American politics and events. The Economist magazine, printed in Great Britain, is also a good source.

During political campaigns, it’s hard to trust what candidates are saying, because their messages are constantly being adjusted based on public opinion.

Be skeptical.

I’m not advocating philosophical skepticism, a branch of philosophy that questions the notion of absolute truth. I am promoting practical skepticism, a mindset that seeks to identify and debunk both intentional and unintentional falsehood.

Don’t be consumed by skepticism or allow it to morph into cynicism; it should not define your personality or outlook on life; not everyone is out to “get you.” You don’t want to be known as a negative, crotchety, and sullen cynic. But you do want to be wise, insightful and prudent.

Brian Dunning shares these interesting thoughts on skepticism:

“The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.

“The scientific method is central to skepticism. The scientific method requires evidence, preferably derived from validated testing. Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies generally don’t meet the qualifications for scientific evidence, and thus won’t often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They’re simply following the scientific method.” (Brian Dunning © 2015 skeptoid.com)

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

What? – When properly employed, skepticism is an asset.
So what? – An appropriate level of skepticism will make you a wiser person.
Now what? – Become selectively skeptical, particularly regarding the three areas mentioned above.

Leaders – Vet everything. Try to see all issues from multiple angles. Pursue facts. Have a wholesome and balanced mistrust of all vendors. Get multiple bids on all work-for-hire.

Utilize four-minute conversations

4 minute.001A lot can be accomplished in a four-minute conversation. It’s long enough to make a solid connection and a good impact; it’s short enough to maintain a quick pace and uninterrupted flow.

A short conversation—10 to 30 seconds—may satisfy basic social norms but it’s not long enough to truly connect with someone. It will seem polite but likely be ineffectual. But in 240 seconds, a solid and profitable connection can be made.

Conduct your own experiment to see if this is true. The next time you’re mingling with a group of people, engage in a few short conversations and in a few four-minute conversations and sense the difference. When you arrive at work tomorrow, instead of slowing down just long enough to say a brief hello to your office mates, come to a complete stop and spend four minutes with each person or group.

The constructive use of four-minute conversations can make a huge difference in human encounters, particularly the following.

First four minutes of reengagement

Marriage counselors tell us that a critical time in all marriages is when husband and wife reengage at the end of the day. Prioritize that time and it will enhance your relationship; neglect that opportunity and you’ll damage it. The same window of opportunity occurs when your kids get home from school and when you first see your office mates following the weekend.

First four minutes of a new encounter

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When you meet someone for the first time, carefully orchestrate the encounter. Be nice. Be genuine. Make it easy for people to enter your personal space. Show interest in the other person. Talk more about the other person than you do about yourself, but talk about yourself, too.

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

What? – A lot of good can happen in a four-minute conversation.
So what? – This should be a “tool” in our relationship toolbox.
Now what? – Immediately start using this relational technique.

Leaders – This is a great people skill for your team members to embrace. It’s also a good tool for you to use as you relate to people in your organization.

Avoid the diminishing-expertise syndrome

Russian matryoshka dolls

Russian matryoshka dolls

Great teams are led by people confident enough to recruit people better than themselves.—Warren Bennis

A favorite toy among Russian children, the matryoshka doll is a series of wooden dolls that nest inside each other and get progressively smaller and smaller. Open up the largest doll and you’ll find a smaller, identical doll. Open up that doll and there is yet a smaller one. There may be as many as 15 dolls inside the largest one.

The matryoshka doll can teach us some important lessons on how good leaders build a great team and how insecure or uninformed leaders can inhibit the growth and health of their organization by choosing weak team members.

Recruit people who are “bigger” than you are.

If the person at the top of the organization intentionally hires someone who is “smaller” (less qualified with less potential), and that person recruits someone who is “smaller” than herself and this selection criterion continues to cascade down through the entire organization, eventually it will produce a dumbed-down organization.

Recruit people who are “different” than you are.

All of the dolls inside a matryoshka doll are identical (except for their size). If a leader only recruits people who are similar to himself—same personality, gifts, age range, perspective—his team will not benefit from the critical element of diversity.

Choosing quality team members is the leaders most important job.

For a leader, important decisions fall into two categories: strategy and people. I think the people decisions are the most important because if you get the right people on your team, they will help you set the right strategy.

When I was a kid, we often played an impromptu game of softball or basketball after school. Everyone who wanted to play gathered, two captains were chosen, a coin toss determined which captain chose first, and then teammates were selected one at a time. The captain who chose the best players, won. Sometimes a captain would choose a less-skilled player early in the selection process so as not to hurt the person’s feelings (no one wanted to be chosen last). While that might have been the kind thing to do, it wasn’t the smart thing to do if you wanted to win.

Leaders, choose the best and the brightest to serve on your team and your organization will prosper.

This suggestion is not for the insecure and paranoid; it takes a lot of emotional fortitude and self-confidence to recruit and empower people who are smarter, more competent, edgier, and more connected than you. But if you don’t, you and your organization will suffer from the diminishing-expertise syndrome.

You may wonder, “Won’t that make me look bad?” No, it will make you look like a competent leader. Remember, leaders get work done through other people. Also, surrounding yourself with top-flight people will motivate you to continue to grow and become better yourself.

In her book Team of Rivals, Doris Goodwin reminds us that when Abraham Lincoln was elected president and began compiling his cabinet, he not only chose strong and competent men, he actually chose men who had run against him in the primaries, men who had hoped to have his job—essentially, he chose a cabinet of opponents. Lincoln reasoned, “I have looked the party over and concluded that these men were the very strongest men. I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”

Surround yourself with great people.


What? – When insecure leaders recruit team members who are less competent than they are, the team suffers. If this mentality is systemic, it will negatively impact the organization.
So what? – Leaders must recruit the brightest and the best, even if the candidates are better than the leader.
Now what? – When given the opportunity to choose team members, choose the best.

Leaders – Analyze yourself in this area. Are you guilty of the diminishing-expertise syndrome? If so, adjust your mentality.

Filter and edit your speech

phone call 3.001Have you ever known someone who tends to say everything he thinks? There is no filter between thoughts and speech. It is a flawed type of communication that reasons, “If I think it, I should say it.”

Verbal diarrhea.

Before you turn your thoughts into sound waves, send them through filters that will snag the detritus and let the worthy thoughts pass through. Filters like these:

  • Is what I’m about to say accurate and truthful (or am I assuming, telling a half-truth, misleading, etc.)?
  • Is this the right time to speak?
  • Is this the right place to speak?
  • At any given time in a conversation, is it my turn to speak or should I remain silent?
  • Is this the best person(s) to share these thoughts with?
  • Will what I say be helpful? Is it necessary?

If you allow these filters to do their job, I suspect you’ll talk less and the world will be a better place.

Thoughts that make it through the filters will then need to be edited. A good editor makes prose clean, clear, and concise. Here are some items to consider:

  • Have I already said this? If so, there’s probably no need to repeat it.
  • Will what I’m about to say make sense?
  • Does my audience have the right context to understand what I’m going to say?
  • How can I be most clear and concise?

If you edit your thoughts before you speak them, we’ll more easily understand what you want to say and the risk of miscommunication will be greatly decreased. Before you speak ask yourself if what you’re about to say is worth it.

The gold standard for communication is: well said and worth saying.

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

What? – Filter and edit your thoughts before speaking.
So what? – Analyze yourself: do you scrutinize your thoughts before you speak?
Now what? – It takes time and self-discipline to incorporate these suggestions into your life, but the sooner you start, the better.

Leaders – Consider your organization’s internal and external communication. Are all communiques filtered and edited? When you use your “leader’s voice” are you careful and thoughtful about what you say?

Forgive others

forgive2.001To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. —Lewis Smedes

In her book The Liar’s Club, Mary Kerr tells the true story of a married couple who had a major argument over how much the wife had spent on sugar. Instead of resolving the simple dispute, both husband and wife held on to their grudge and refused to speak to each other for forty years. As if silence wasn’t enough to perpetuate their dispute, one day the husband took a saw and literally cut their frame house in half. They lived the rest of their lives in separate sides of the house.

Granted, this story is rather extreme, but it does illustrate the damaging effects of unforgiveness. In years of counseling, I’ve never known a couple to cut their house in two, but I have seen couples who were emotionally separated from each other, often for decades, because of unresolved offenses.

Forgiving others brings freedom in three areas.

1. The one who has been offended is set free from harmful emotions.

When offended, our natural response is to become angry, and initially, there’s nothing wrong with that; anger is an instinctual and appropriate response to hurt. But unresolved anger can soon escalate to bitterness, hatred, and other toxic emotions.

Notice who is adversely affected by these dangerous emotions—the offended, not the offender. When we refuse to forgive others, it is often we who suffer the most. So we must forgive for our own well-being.

This is why we must forgive even if our offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Our offender may never ask forgiveness so we must choose to forgive, otherwise we will suffer twice: once at the offense and on a continual basis if we harbor anger or hurt.

Marshall Goldsmith said, “Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past.”

2. Relationships can be healed.

Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, wrote, “Forgiveness offers a way out. It does not settle all questions of blame and fairness—often it pointedly evades those questions—but it does allow a relationship to start over, to begin anew.”

In the early years of our marriage, Mary and I argued often, and sometimes the squabble would become so complex we’d even forget what the initial issue was. In the heat of an argument, we would drag in issues from the past, present, and even the future. We returned insult for insult. We’d dig in our heels, choose our weapons carefully, and engage in mental and emotional battle.

But as we’ve matured we handle disputes differently. We still argue, but it seldom gets out of hand. Moments into the conflict we may say something like, “Sweetheart, I love you. Regardless of what happened to cause this dispute, our relationship is more important. Please forgive me for my part in this misunderstanding.” Are we naively ignoring the issues? No, we’re simply maintaining the integrity of our relationship.

Forgiveness is life-giving water poured upon a parched, dry relationship. Without it, relationships can spiral out of control until they are broken or impaired.

3. Forgiveness offers grace to the offender.

When President Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated. The questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”

When we forgive others we offer them grace and emotional release from feelings of guilt.

It’s important to know that forgiveness is a choice; it’s a function of our wills, not our emotions.

We must choose to forgive because we will seldom feel like forgiving. I often illustrate this by holding a pen in my hand and then, as an act of my will, I drop the pen on the floor. Forgiveness is like that; we must drop the issue and the offense. Just let it go.

Forgiving an offense doesn’t mean we will forget what happened. It may be hard if not impossible to forget the details and memories surrounding an offense. But forgiveness will provide emotional relief, and in time it will ameliorate painful memories.

Forgive one another.

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

What? Forgiving others will bring relief to both the offender and the offended.
So what? Make forgiving others a consistent part of your life.
Now what? During a time of quiet reflection, make a list of those who have offended you. As an act of your will, forgive them.

Leaders – The mental and emotional condition of your team members will, for better and for worse, affect their work and ultimately the organization. Unresolved issues in both private and work relationships will hamper productivity. The willingness to forgive others will resolve many of these issues.

A recent blog—Include these three phrases in your conversations—addressed some of these issues.