One Phrase Worth Rethinking

I recently had a discussion with a young lady that was exasperated at an ongoing conflict she was having with a co-worker. The conflict started on a separate project several months ago and now they were working on something new together and all he could do was put her down and make her feel stupid and insignificant. Since in this case they had no choice but to work together, she was exhausted and highly stressed at the idea of having to go through this with him again. I asked her if she had spoken to him directly about her concerns in light of this new project. Her response was a very common phrase:

“I shouldn’t have to.”

Her reasoning was that they had spoken before and that she had made herself crystal clear yet already he was starting to give her “those looks” again that indicated how useless he thought she was. Since they had talked about this before, she felt he ought to know how that these looks and the tone of voice he used were condescending and insulting. She was emotionally exhausted having to be on his team again.

You can see there is a lot for our young lady to get her head around about her own accountability, but look at that last sentence again. “He ought to know how to act in this situation.”

I have seen many people (myself included) brought to a complete halt by the “I shouldn’t have to” mentality an interpersonal conflict situation. “I shouldn’t have to” assumes (a) “rightness” on the side of the person saying it and (b) some kind of justice that exists between us and all of those with whom we have relationships. In fact, when it comes to conflict situations, “I shouldn’t have to apologize” is one of the most common walls erected to resolution. It means, “I am not to blame, she is, therefore it is she who needs to apologize.”

The problem is that “I shouldn’t have to” is often entirely irrelevant. The real issue is whether the potential outcome of DOING it would outweigh the protection of pride involved in NOT DOING it. And that’s what “I shouldn’t have to” is often about. It is my own ego interpreting the situation as if taking whatever action this is will put me in a subordinate position. And that position becomes more important than the actual resolution of the issue.

Of course there are times where the situation has become extreme enough that you have to put your foot down and say enough is enough. This is an example of ownership of your role in the situation and taking a stand. Unfortunately, “I shouldn’t have to” is a phrase of inaction…it sometimes represents why we are not going to do something in the specific situation that might, in reality, make a difference.

Before deciding that I just don’t understand the jerks you work with (and I don’t…but they aren’t that different from jerks others work with…trust me), ask yourself a couple of questions before sticking to your “shouldn’t have to” plea.

  1. What are the consequences of action versus inaction? Is it possible that doing what you “shouldn’t have to do” might break the stalemate?
  2. Is it possible that you are now trying to make a point rather than trying to solve the problem?
  3. Is it possible that the other party doesn’t realize that you are waiting for them to do something? How would they know?
  4. Is it possible that your stand is based on a lack of confidence rather than real justification?

And by the way, don’t let me sound too righteous here as this is a trap I fall into as frequently as anybody. I often have to ask myself who I’m helping and whether or not it is really worth it. The big question for me is often, “Is this really a principle I’m standing on or is it pettier than that?” If it’s pettier, it might be worth doing it, even if you shouldn’t have to.

Differing Without Dividing

Bill Barrett on Strategy
June 30, 2014



I can’t tell you how many leaders I have worked with who have a self-defeating view that competition solves everything. In a team or a company that values collaboration, competition on its own can be destructive. Stanford’s Bill Barrett provides a little more clarity on how the nuance of competition can work effectively.

Building Rapport with Employees

I recently read an article focused on building relationships between business faculty and students. In this article, Dr. Maryellen Weimer discusses research on the value of building rapport that indicates that open communication and a feeling of “alikeness” increases motivation, increases quality of work, establishes greater trust and leads to overall greater student (and faculty) satisfaction.

rapport_symbolAs I read this I couldn’t help but think that the context is very similar to those of us in management or leadership roles and our relationship with our employees. Like faculty, there is often a distance that is established within the system based on the need for the manager to be objective and, at some degree, evaluate the performance of the employee. We decide on job assignments, roles and responsibilities, and even compensation, so the distance between the leader and the follower can be great. For some, it is even formalized by the belief that, “If I’m the boss, I have to be distant,” which makes establishing rapport nearly impossible.

The researchers cited in this article found that of all the elements of rapport-building that were observed, there were five that were repeated throughout the study. While the research focused only on the educational context of business faculty and student, I believe these five elements can easily be replicated in the work place. (Perhaps I should do a study?). Take a look at the following and see what you think:

1. Respect:  Managers and employees who show respect for each other, the work they are doing, and the organization for which they are doing it would be much more likely to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

2. Approachability: Employees have to feel comfortable coming to you and you have to be willing to speak to them.  Your employees need to feel they can approach you. It is impossible to feel comfortable with a boss if he or she has no time for you or your concerns. And by the way, formal and highly structured methods of connecting (“Call my assistant and we’ll work you in next week”) detract from the notion of approachability.

3. Trust and Integrity: Managers must be honest with their employees and have a visible connection between what they say and what they do. One of the easiest ways to undermine true rapport is to create an environment where employees can’t trust their boss. If you promise it, deliver it. If you can’t deliver it, don’t promise it.

4. Caring: Leaders have to care about their followers, and their followers have to know this. This means responding to and working with your employees as individuals. You don’t have to be their mother, but you need to care about their experience while at work. As I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as work/life balance…it’s all life. This means that the time they spend with you needs to be valued.

5. Positive Attitude: Managers need to be optimistic about the possibilities of their employees and their work. They should have a sense of humor. Take what you do very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Your employees will respect the fact that you have context and will appreciate the approachability that comes with optimism.

Rapport is established by the actions of the leader. You can’t send an email announcing that you will now have rapport. But you can look at these five keys to rapport building and decide what you can do to start establishing better and more productive relationships with your employees. While these actions are not difficult, they require commitment. In the end, building rapport will not only enhance the satisfaction of your employees, but it will make a more satisfying workplace for you as well.

The Passing of a Great Leader: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher


Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.  


Margaret Thatcher, 10/23/25-04/08/13

thatcherIt has always amazed me that in America we are so often “surprised” when women are chosen for high levels of leadership responsibility and we are truly challenged at the idea that a woman could just as easily be the best choice for national leadership as a man. If we were to elect a female president, there would be a certain amount of self-pride that we are so diverse and accepting as to consider that the gender of the top leader makes little difference.

Yet, one of the strongest democratic, free market leaders of all time was none other than Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The longest serving prime minister of the United Kingdom since the beginning of the 20th century, Mrs. Thatcher died today at the age of 87.

From a leadership perspective, Prime Minister Thatcher defied much of the myth of what it takes to become a great leader…especially as a woman. She was born in 1925 to very common means. Her father taught her about politics as she grew up, but not as a political relate. Mr. Roberts (her dad) was a member of the town council.

It is clear that the way Margaret Thatcher became the dominant leader that she became was by something pretty simple…she decided to do so. She entered politics in the 50s, losing her first foray but learning an enormous amount from the experience and gaining a reputation in the eyes of the public and her peers. The battle was a tough one, so much so that in 1973 she was quoted from a television appearance as saying, “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.”

Next lesson then—not only did she want to be a leader, she persevered even when she believed it was impossible. In May of 1979 she became that person that she thought would never exist when she was elected Prime Minister.

If you have any interest in leadership and you have not read her biography, you really should. Her terms were amazingly challenging for anybody but as a woman, she destroyed every myth. She was decisive in military challenges, open in taking on adversaries, and wise in knowing when to push and when to pull.  She had guts and she had compassion. After three terms as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher left the post in 1990 yet continued as an active member of the House of Lords. She went on to write several books, the only one of which I have read being Path to Power(2005) which is an amazing study of her life.

The legacy of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is one of many lessons. While I would still argue that her example makes most arguments of concern about women in leadership positions sound ridiculous, the lessons of her life are applicable to leaders of all gender and race. They are also important for new leaders and tenured ones. If you know what you stand for and are convinced that your leadership would benefit those around you, you owe it to yourself and others to claim the responsibility to make it happen.  If you do this, and you stay true to your beliefs, you can change your team or your company and perhaps, the world.

Does Your Competency Model Include Leadership?

What Drives PromotionWhat drives the identification, development and promotion of leaders in your organization? Is it actually the person’s ability to lead? For many organizations, the leadership qualities of a candidate for promotion or hiring may be a small part of the consideration, but the real focus is the competence of the leader in whatever technical area is represented. This is especially true in middle level positions as individual’s rise to higher levels of leadership responsibility, in many cases because they are the best technically at what they do.

Author and consultant Mike Myatt, in a recent post on Forbes, argues,

We live in a time that has moved well beyond competency driven models, yet organizations still primarily use competency-based interviews, competency-based development, competency-based performance reviews, and competency-based rewards as their framework for doing business. It remains the best practices mentality that rules the day, when we’re long overdue for a shift to next practices.

I have also been railing about this practice for a long time, but in reality, what are we asking organizations to do? Hasn’t the expert earned the right for the higher position by working harder and having greater competency than those are her? Is there anybody else who can better advise the troops and ensure the work is done well than the person who is the best at it?

Here’s the problem. It’s not that organizations promote the highly competent to leadership positions, it’s that they don’t develop these folks as their career is coming together to be managers and leaders. As an MBA professor I can say that there are some skills and ideas of which a person can be made aware in a classroom setting, but the way to develop a leader is to give them space to USE these ideas to create their own leadership competency. You can’t become a great sales person without selling anything, and you can’t become a great leader without leading.

Developing leadership is a long-term proposition and should begin earlier in a person’s career than most organizations start to push for it. Classes, workshops and real hands-on opportunities can be offered early in the career of a competent employee. This doesn’t have to be expensive as some of the greatest learning comes from being mentored and having the opportunity when it arises to develop leadership skills. A small amount of intent on developing leadership earlier in the careers of your employees can have tremendous pay offs in the end.

If I Sit Like This Long Enough

All of us have times where we feel powerless and defeated. Mostly because, well, there are times where we are powerless and defeated! The problem is that there are those moments where that lack of confidence can have big consequences…when giving an important presentation or when trying to lead the troops through a difficult change for example. The bad news is that we often don’t get to choose when our doubts will rise above our confidence. The good news, at least according to recent research from Harvard, is that there is a way to boost that confidence when it’s needed the most. Ready? When you’re feeling powerless you should…………

Sit like your powerful…even if you don’t feel like you are

Sit like you’re powerful. Yep, that’s what the data show.  According to Dr. Amy Cuddy and her research team, as little as two minutes sitting in a “high power” pose stimulates higher levels of testosterone (the hormone linked to dominance and power) and lower levels of cortisol (the hormone linked to stress and fear). As Cuddy said in the recent TED Global 2012 conference, “Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds.”

What exactly is the difference between a high power pose and a low power pose? There are many variations so think of this: when we are unsure of ourselves we tend to wrap ourselves up and get smaller. We hunch over, or put our hands in our laps, cross our arms perhaps or pull everything towards us. When we are confident and feeling in control of our surroundings we take charge. We use a lot of space, leaning back with our hands behind our heads, putting our feet up, or standing and leaning into the space.

This is not some passing, minor finding. Researchers for a while have found that leaders tend to have lower cortisol levels than followers yet the assumption has been that a natural tendency to have less of the stress inducing hormone led to the characteristics of leadership. Cuddy’s research indicates that it may simply be that leaders act like leaders and in showing that they are masters of their space, actually induce those lower hormonal levels. If that’s true, you should be able to do the same. Try it and let me know about your results.

I’m going to try to get Dr. Cuddy to be a guest on the All Things Leadership Podcast sometime soon. If you haven’t checked out the podcast, go to or search for it in the iTunes podcast library and subscribe. There are some interesting interviews and more being added every couple of weeks.