I was the King of Malicious Compliance, and I wore the crown proudly.

Not familiar with the term malicious compliance? It’s a kind of organizational sabotage where the goal is often to get the boss fired.

Thankfully, I’ve been deposed from my throne, but here are some examples:

  • I’ve been known to rigidly comply with an order from my boss in a way I knew would cause him embarrassment. (Ask me about my M&M watch sometime.)
  • Knowing I had the correct answer, I might deliberately withhold my contribution in a discussion unless asked a direct question.
  • I could strictly adhere to mandatory office hours – just the arrival and departure times, of course – while spending the intervening hours in decidedly unproductive ways.
  • I might even do something I knew was counterproductive, just so I could say, “But you told me to do it.”

And I was pretty effective, because malicious compliance is contagious.

At the time, I freely admitted I wasn’t the best follower, and I blamed it on poor leadership. After all, I deluded myself, if I had a decent leader instead of a marginal manager, I’d have been a better follower. Even so, I never understood why my bosses put up with my crap.

So, what do you do with a guy like me?

I know what you’re thinking: I’d have fired your ass in a heartbeat. And sometimes they tried.

Now, I won’t say all organizations have someone like that, but many do. We justify tolerating them for bizarre reasons like “he’s better than a vacancy,” or “she’s really good at what she does” (when she does it), or maybe “HR makes it so hard to get rid of people.” And we put up with their crap without noticing the negative effect they’re having on the organization.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Do not tolerate those kinds of behavior. Malicious compliance will spread through the organization like sick building syndrome!

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Take it from me, there’s a much better way, and I’m grateful someone made the effort with me (thanks, Mike): be a leader.

Leaders learn what motivates people – and what demotivates them. Get to know your folks. Find out what they like and don’t like about their jobs and what their aspirations are. When I felt like I was being treated like a person instead of a part in a machine, I responded.

Leaders don’t tolerate harmful behaviors. What you tolerate, you endorse. Address the behavior every time it occurs. Force the miscreant to acknowledge the behavior and its harmful effects. It was a hard conversation, but when I had to confront my own bad behavior, I stopped it.

Leaders seek inputs. Whether implementing a change to a process or a procedure, or developing a solution to a problem, listen to the people who will be affected – especially those who push back. If possible, let the hard heads play a significant role in the implementation; you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how smoothly it goes. When others saw me get behind something I was originally against, it made a huge difference.

Leaders encourage intelligent disobedience. Your employees should feel empowered to speak up when they see something wrong instead of dogmatically adhering to the exact instruction. If they’re afraid to say something (or keep quiet out of spite), that’s on you, and you’re liable to be embarrassed by the result. Empowerment takes trust. I never set up someone who trusted me.

Leaders develop leaders. It’s one of your primary roles – and possibly your most important. Work to identify referent leadership on your staff, and put the effort into helping that person grow and improve, channeling their efforts to the benefit of the organization. I’m forever grateful to the mentors who saw something salvageable in me and made me a leader with a passion to pass the lessons along.

Look around for the royalty in your organization. Be intentional about your leadership, and give them a chance to respond. I never knew how heavy the crown was until I laid it down.

How about it, leaders?

You have the stick.

Sad little girl

 “Leadership is about influence and inspiration.” – Everyone Who Knows Anything


Who has the most influence on the mood in your workplace?

If you’re part of the leadership – formal or informal – you do.

Especially if your mood reveals your anxieties about the organization or job security, or your lack of compassion for those struggling to meet your expectations.


In one of my favorite strips ever (, Calvin sums it up nicely: “Nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around a little bit.”

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Around the mid-point of my Air Force career, a mentor remarked one day, “You’re just not prone to happiness, are you?” After he had my 8-year-old daughter explain what a Marsh-wiggle was, we talked about the effect it was having on my Airmen. I got his point, and I’d like to think I’m remembered differently by those who served with me in my later years.

Like leading by example, you don’t have a choice about impacting the office climate with the mood you’re emoting. You may not be aware that you’re doing it, but that’s a matter of your emotional intelligence, not reality on the ground.

No, I’m not trying to resurrect the old myth about leaders having to be charismatic – there’s plenty to evidence to debunk that; but from the C-suites to the referent leader far down in the organization, others are taking their positive and negative emotional cues from you. This is anything but new information, and yet we could all benefit from the occasional friendly reminder.

A huge part of a leader’s job is inspiring others to follow in pursuit of a vision. You make it really hard for them to be inspired if they don’t think you’re inspired yourself. Reflect for a minute on a couple of the best leaders you’ve known – were they positive and encouraging in a way that made you want to do more and better, or did their interactions feel perfunctory and their tone and manner show worn places in the veneer covering their anxiety?

Okay, here’s a test: we all come to work at less than our best once in a while. On the rare occasion you do – regardless of whether you’re bothered by something work-related or something that happened outside the office – do people ask you what’s wrong? If not, you should be worried. It means they’re either used to you being in a bad mood, or you’re not as approachable as you should be.

If that strikes too close to home, stop it. Get your fire back… people need to believe that you like being their leader.

I can’t guarantee your motivation and authentic positive outlook will fill your workplace with unicorns, butterflies, and rainbows. But it won’t hurt. On the other hand, I can assure you that your dour mood directly affects your employees’ morale and engagement.

Your folks deserve your best. Are you giving it to them?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

Leaders Develop Leaders

There’s been a lot of clamor lately about companies wasting their leadership development dollars. Many do, but that doesn’t mean leadership development is a waste of money. The simple truth is: if you’re not getting the bang for your buck, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

  • You’re wasting your money if it’s a canned training program not integrated with your company’s mission. And developing leaders doesn’t end with an end-of-course survey.

I don’t deny you might be able to learn the what of leadership from a book or a once-and-done training program, but you can’t learn how to be a leader without practice – over time, in real life situations. Let your people try and fail. Let them articulate a vision and try to get people to follow. Encourage them to be vulnerable and more open to feedback. Hold them accountable for doing what they said they’d do.

Let them learn to lead.

  • You’re wasting your money if your whole senior leadership team isn’t involved. Leaders develop leaders. That’s a critical part of your job.

You should be having regular discussions about leadership with the people going through the program. Not the “how’s it going” type, but real conversations that reinforce what they’re learning and help them see from a different perspective how their actions affect their teams. Coaches can help, but it doesn’t get you out of participating.

Mentoring is key… I’ve never talked to a real leader that didn’t give credit to the person(s) who saw something developable (or salvageable) in them and set them on the leadership path. God knows I needed more than one (I’m forever thankful to Mike, Scott, and Steve for giving me the rope to hang myself but faithfully talking me off the ledge), and your senior leaders probably did, too.

  • You’re wasting your money and your effort if you’re not evaluating your leaders with regards to how well they’re… well… leading. You can’t know if your program is making an impact if you don’t know if your leaders are leading.

We tend to make people managers and then call them leaders, as if the two are interchangeable. We watch them manage their team, and at the end of the year we evaluate them based on how well they managed stuff. But rarely, as in almost never, do we evaluate their leadership. By the way, their teams don’t want to be managed; they want to be led.

Our government is (in)famous for this. In a recent conversation with a good friend and senior government executive, I asked how he could hold his direct reports accountable for leading their teams if there was nothing in their job descriptions about leading. You know, specific and measurable…

His answer was, sadly, he couldn’t. And didn’t.

Is your company any different?

If you support the idea that leaders can be developed and leadership outcomes can be observed, you should be able to evaluate whether the leaders you’re developing are making a difference in your organization. It’s time to own the return you get on your leadership development dollars.

Ask yourself if there’s a difference in the team’s performance. What evidence do you have? Is there a renewed sense of vision and purpose? How’s the team’s motivation? Has cohesiveness and collaboration improved? Is the leader developing and empowering the team in new ways? Do you see a difference in their interpersonal skills? What about trustworthiness and accountability?

It doesn’t have to be rocket surgery, especially since you already compare leaders using some sort of scale – everyone does (even if it’s a scale known only to them). Start there and have a conversation with your peers, your boss, and your direct reports. Decide how you’re going to evaluate leadership effectiveness and make it part of every feedback discussion you have.

So if you don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth out of your leadership development program, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; change how you’re doing it! Make sure your program’s integrated with the company’s priorities; get – and keep – your whole leadership team in on the effort; and evaluate how well your leaders are leading.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick!

Manage vs Lead

You’re making them leave!

Finding and keeping talented employees is at or near the top of nearly every senior leadership survey I’ve seen lately. Seems like the time is right for the talent management gurus to show off their stuff and make a bundle – which would be a huge waste of your money.

Why? Well, guess what leaders? Your talent doesn’t want to be managed any more than you do.

They want you to put your leadership pants and skirts on and create a work environment where they’re motivated and challenged to do exceptional work.

In short, lead them!

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

A couple of times in my military career, I was fortunate to be able to selectively recruit people for my group. Counterintuitively, I didn’t go after the fair-haired wonders out there. No, I looked for the under-utilized and under-appreciated talent from other groups that I thought could fit into our can-do culture. And they jumped at the chance because they knew they would trusted with challenging (and sometimes dangerously exciting) jobs, flexibility in their working conditions, plenty of recognition and appreciation, and opportunities to grow and develop.

You already know this, but I’m going to remind you: Your employees chose your company because they thought they wanted to be part of what you’re doing. Your talent is leaving because they don’t like the way their boss treats them.

And I’m not stereotyping by gender or generation, although it appears that the younger talent is even less willing to stay in an environment that reeks of “old school” management than a middle-age guy trying to juggle a mortgage, car payments, and college tuition.

No, I’m talking specifically about your most talented employees – from any generation and at any level of the organization. They’re the ones who can’t stand to be treated the same as your employees who only deliver the minimum required to keep their jobs. The ones who give the extra effort because of who they are, and will give you even more if you motivate them. The ones who know that work is something you do, not somewhere you go.

So what does your talent want? What motivates and inspires them? It’s not about the money, and you’ll never keep the ones who really believe it is.

Here’s an idea: ask them!

I did just that with a client’s high performers recently, and the answers were anything but surprising (to me, anyway). Every single suggestion they had for improving their company was a leadership issue – things like more development opportunities, more communication, less favoritism, more follow through and respect – the free stuff that leaders ought to be doing anyway.

It’s not that difficult, folks!

You want to keep your talent? First, get rid of your dead wood. Our experience is that as involuntary attrition goes up, voluntary attrition goes down. Not theoretically – in actual practice, because your talent hates that you tolerate underperformance.

Next, here’s what the high performers said made leaders great (really, I didn’t make this up): “Be approachable, act like you care, follow up, encourage, trust, motivate, give recognition, be open to feedback, communicate more, be willing to help, listen, be humble, build teamwork and rapport.”

Not exactly rocket science, is it?

While loyalty to a particular company may be a thing of the past, loyalty to a particular leader is not. Your talent won’t leave leadership like that.

The same high performers then said they’d bail on a boss who “shows favoritism, lacks trust, lacks integrity, lacks professionalism, is selfish, unfair, unengaged, closed minded, or a micromanager.” Try a few of those, and you’ll be stuck with a bunch of Donny Do-Nothings. Count on it.

I doubt this is new information for any of you, but if you’re having a problem keeping talent these days, your organization’s leaders aren’t doing what you’re paying them to do. Or maybe you’re not.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

they follow courage.” Braveheart

Are you a courageous leader? Is that why people follow you?

Okay, some of you might think it’s a stretch to call what corporate and government leaders do courageous. Like former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s admission that he colluded with then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to mislead the public and shape the government’s messaging during the 2008 Lehman Brother’s collapse in a book called – get this –  Courage to Act.  Heaven forbid we perpetuate the over-inflated sense of self-importance many senior leaders have.

But the question’s still valid: do people do what you say because of your title or because you’re a courageous leader?

I like the Braveheart quote, because during my long association with the military’s special operations community, I got to know a lot of really courageous leaders – some with titles and some without. They were followed because they had the courage to go forward in the face of extreme adversity, and they had the courage to admit failure when their best wasn’t good enough.

They had the courage to speak out against a bad plan, but they had the discipline and commitment to fix the plan and execute it with everything they had. Some even showed courage by hanging up their spurs when the organization’s culture grated on their personal integrity like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Great corporate leaders do those kinds of things, too, so I guess courage isn’t reserved for the battlefield. History is full of examples where those with the guts to take risks, forge ahead, and lead change during trying times are remembered for their courageous leadership.

So one more time: do people follow you because you display confidence and gutsy leadership, or are you hunkered down behind the status quo exercising your authority over them? And yes, I watched the movie to the end and saw Mel Gibson’s character meet a painful and gruesome demise. I’d like to think that was against your company’s HR policies.

Here are some of my favorite ways I’ve seen leaders display courage away from the battlefield:

  • Be real. No rose-colored glasses or pretending it’s all unicorns and rainbows. Confront hard reality head-on and be honest about it with the people you lead so they know the true state of the organization.
  • Tell it like you see it. That doesn’t mean you get to use the truth like a club, but sometimes real conversations can be awkward, and it takes guts to not avoid them. Especially when you have to tell the boss what she doesn’t want to hear – naked emperors ruin organizations.
  • Encourage constructive debate. Have the guts to stand in there in the face of dissent, knowing that when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is generally better off.
  • Indecision kills. Make a decision and move on. Even if it’s unpopular. And then have the guts to make a better decision if that one doesn’t pan out. That kind of courage is contagious when you build a culture where people aren’t afraid of the occasional failure that comes with taking risks.
  • Don’t tolerate bad behavior. You endorse what you tolerate, and if you put up with negative performance issues, everyone knows it. It’s demoralizing to your high achievers to listen to Billy Do-Little BS with his pals about how long is too long to take for lunch. Back to having hard conversations, don’t let bad behavior slide – reinforce expectations and get a commitment from the miscreant to improve – or get rid of him.

About 20 years ago in the Air Force’s senior service school, I was part of a group of a half-dozen or so having an intimate chat with a recently retired Air Force Chief of Staff. We talked about selfless service, leadership, integrity, and courage, and I asked him how he knew it was time to leave. His answer should resonate with all leaders.

Though he could have stayed in his position much longer, he said after he knew in his heart that the moral compass of those above him was pointing in the wrong direction, leaving was the only option.

He didn’t follow a title, he followed courage.

EQ man

Why know what your EQ is if you don’t use it?

It’s been 20 years since Daniel Goldman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” was published, and interest in the subject doesn’t seem to be losing steam. There are volumes of research that link social and emotional abilities to personal success and seemingly countless self-help books on improving your EQ. A recent unscientific consultation with The Google quickly returned about 14 million hits on the subject.

Not to sound blasphemous, but emotional intelligence is just not that complicated.

Most people have way more EQ than they give themselves credit for. In fact, I’ve only met two people with really low emotional intelligence: my teenage daughter’s boyfriend and a senior government executive whose entire Johari Window is a blind spot.

Using sophisticated words to describe your EQ may make you sound sagacious at the office cocktail party, but measuring your EQ matters much less than using what you have for good instead of evil…kind of like a super power.

If the answers to any of these questions ring a bell, you probably have a higher EQ than you think:

Is it important to be aware of your emotions and how they influence interpersonal and group dynamics? Absolutely. Can I always control my emotional response because I know what pushes my buttons? Nope.

Does being able to recognize another person’s emotional state help you respond in a way that de-escalates the situation and yields a more positive outcome? Certainly. Do I occasionally pass on the opportunity to de-escalate just for the entertainment of watching a jerk lose his mind? Yep.

Can showing empathy to a frustrated co-worker turn things around and bring them back off the ledge? Almost always. Do I occasionally poke the badger because I’m tired of the whining? Guilty.

See – you don’t need to know your EQ score or fancy vernacular to know whether a response to a given situation is going to make it better or worse. But if you’re looking for the success that comes with more developed social and emotional abilities, you have to be intentional about using your EQ for good.

Look at it this way: If you’re forever finding yourself in emotionally charged or awkward exchanges, you’re either doing it on purpose, or you’re too self-absorbed to realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Either way, it’s YOU. Like my oldest daughter told me the other day, “if everything around you smells like $#!+, you should probably check your shoe.” If you’re doing it on purpose, that’s using your EQ for evil – stop it! Assuming it’s the latter, a little EQ boost is easier than you think.

  • Begin with some healthy introspection about your interactions with others and how you view your co-workers.
  • Start appreciating what your teammates are contributing, and treat them like human beings that have good days and bad days.
  • Look for the good in others (instead of expecting the worst), and don’t just help them because of what they can contribute to your cause, but because helping others is what we’re on the Earth for.

Good leadership creates an environment where using EQ for good comes naturally. It creates a “we” organization with people who have a shared sense of purpose. It develops people who know how to have healthy disagreements without the emotional escalation that stems from a lack of trust. It builds a culture where feedback isn’t a dirty word, and it creates teams that know success isn’t hiding behind a thin veneer of playing nice.

So, you can be content with the EQ you have, or you can read the books, attend training seminars, and take as many self-assessments (notoriously unreliable for those with low EQ) as you can stand to measure your EQ improvement. Just know that regardless of how emotionally intelligent you are, if you’re not using your “super power” for good, your organization is better off without you.

How are you using your EQ?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

Cold Steel

Leaders have got to get better at delegating!

Intentional leadership takes time, and there are already plenty of demands on the 24 hours we have. Our jobs certainly aren’t getting easier, and I’m betting that most of your day isn’t consumed by core leadership tasks like motivating, developing, mentoring and guiding others toward the implementation of a vision.

So, how much of your job as a leader should you delegate? Almost none of it, since leading more effectively will bring the most benefit to both your people and your organization.

On the other hand, when it comes to management tasks, you should delegate virtually everything that someone else can do. Here’s when I learned it:

Not long after 9-11, I was feeling a little overwhelmed juggling tasks as the commander of a little special operations flying outfit. Not only were we in near constant motion supporting the very young war effort, but we’d also just been told that our unit was closing in six months. The challenge: maintaining combat capability to the last day while working the not-very-responsive personnel management system to find everyone jobs. All while coordinating shut-down activities like asset disposition, facilities turnover, audits, ceremonies…you get the idea.

One day, I caught my second-in-command re-typing (yes, typing) a flight authorization to correct some minor errors made by one of our young Airmen. I’m afraid I reacted poorly to his justification that he was just showing the troops he wasn’t afraid to get “in the trenches.”

Trenches, hell, get up here and help me lead!!

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

It was a watershed moment for both of us. When I started delegating tasks to others in the organization, people jumped at the chance to get more engaged. And when we reviewed progress toward the various goals, it was their moment to shine as their extra effort was recognized. It was easy to make it about them, and it made me a better leader because I could focus on my core leadership tasks.

Why aren’t we good at delegating? For most it’s somewhere between “If I want it done right, I’ll have to do it myself” and “I don’t want to admit I need help getting all this stuff done.”

It’s time to put your ego aside and remember that there is almost always more than one way to successfully accomplish a task. It isn’t necessarily wrong just because it’s not the way you’d do it, and if you’ve created a culture where it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help, you have bigger problems than being a poor delegator.

In most office settings, everyone has some spare capacity. Use your employees’ spare capacity to create more time and space for you to focus on what’s important as a leader. Not just for your benefit, of course; delegation helps people learn and grow as they take on a greater variety of tasks, and they feel more engaged with each task accomplished.

So how do we become more effective delegators?

Start with a list. Make a list of tasks that can only be done by you – core leadership tasks and those that can’t be done by others because of policy or serious risk of organizational failure (real failure, not the Henny Penny kind). Then make a list of everything else you do; that’s your list of tasks to be delegated.

Choose the right person. But don’t over-think it – just start matching your task list with the most logical people. Think about giving them input about what they’d like to take on as additional duties. You might be surprised how much more willing they are to give extra effort when you get their buy-in up front.

Give clear guidance. When delegating, make your expectations clear, and then step back and give them room to succeed. As long as you’ve established clear boundaries, empowered them to make decisions at a lower level and let them feel like they’re contributing to the organization in a more meaningful way, you’ve set them on the right path. It’s okay to check up on them – that’s good management – but don’t micromanage them or you’ll both be worse off than you started.

Oh yeah, make sure you tell others that someone else with be taking over some tasks they’re used to you doing.

Re-evaluate your task list in a couple of months to see what needs to be refined. Don’t be afraid to make some tasks rotational or to give additional guidance where needed. Learning to delegate effectively is a process; don’t expect overnight success.

Are routine tasks keeping you from spending your time taking care of your people? What’s keeping you from being a more effective delegator?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You’ve have the stick

Changes Ahead

If we want change to be lasting and more effective, we have got to get better at leading it.

A group of us were talking the other day about leading through change, and I couldn’t help but recall the many reorganizations I’ve watched (or been part of) during my years in the Five-sided Puzzle Palace. It might surprise you to know that not all my experiences with change in the home of the world’s greatest military were positive. Some were slightly less painful than others, but almost all were less than effectively executed – yes, I’m being charitable – because the changes weren’t well led.

In fact, we’ve led it so badly for so long, the very word “reorganization” has taken on an adversarial connotation. I’ve heard it called realignment, refocus, transformation, shake-up, even “simply changing who people work for,” but not once did it feel like we were doing anything but reorganizing.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Here’s some lessons that came from examples I’ve see of how NOT to lead during change. I know there are other kinds of change besides a reorganization, but the leadership lessons learned – or not learned – apply across the board.

Most importantly, don’t plan the change in secret. I know… you don’t want to distract anyone from their work by giving them something else to stand around and have fact-free conversations about. Well guess what – too late. You can’t stop the rumor mill with secrecy, and they’re already distracted all day long by wondering “How does this change affect me?” They’ve even given it a pet name, like The Great Disorganization of 2015, Musical Cubicles or Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. To the whole organization. Start with the “why” you’re changing, follow with “what” you’re trying to get out of the change, and continue with soliciting “how” it might work better from the people whose day-to-day activities are affected by the new way of doing thing. You’re trying to get buy-in from the doers, not the affirmation by middle management that they’re okay with the new power distribution.

Next, pleeeeeese don’t change the organization to fix someone’s lack of performance. As in, don’t move a function away from a poor manager and give it to a top performer as a reward. If you do, you can bet you’ve just sent a horrible message to your workforce.

Instead, make sure the change is about the good of the organization. Individual needs do not override the collective goals of the organization (thank you, Mr. Spock). If a manager’s not getting the job done, get him some help (development, coaching, etc.) or replace him. It shows that accountability is more than a slogan on the break room bulletin board.

Finally (almost), don’t continue down a dead-end road just to save face. Not all newly-created organizations work the way they’re envisioned. Teams don’t gel, new leaders don’t lead, promised resources don’t materialize, etc., etc. In fact, a lot of changes don’t pan out the way we think they’re going to, so…

Fix what you messed up, and don’t be shy about telling people why you need to change again. Help your people build change resiliency, and keep everyone’s focus on organizational performance.

Okay, really last… don’t drag out the implementation date. It’s hard on people to have to dance between their current, but soon-to-be-former boss and their soon-to-be boss. Would you rather have your tooth pulled in one appointment or have pieces of it extracted over a series of months?

Change happens, and there are winners and losers in every re-shuffle, but the only people who are happy with change are those in charge of it and those who benefit by it. Still, led properly, growth and success are its by-products, and everyone can get behind that.

The alternative is not as good.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

I survived another meeting

An old friend sent me a picture the other day of this blue ribbon that says, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” He obviously remembers how I feel about meetings.

Turns out you can actually buy the ribbons here, and I know a lot of bosses who should pass them out.

You leaders have got to get a handle on the endless parade of time-wasting, morale-draining meetings you expect your people to sit through!

Routine, regularly scheduled meetings – the ones that are on your calendar until the end of time – are the worst! They typically involve endless droning around a table about activities that only one or two people in the room care about. When the boss at the head of the table tolerates such time wasting, the expectation is that everyone has to say something, and we’ve all experienced the guy who’s a little too fond of his own voice.

Several years ago, everyone in my directorate went to a weekly staff meeting like the one I described above. I used to tuck a couple of Sudokus in my notebook to make it look like I was taking notes (I know, not setting a good example). One week, I asked the director if I could skip the meeting if I was too busy. He said, “Sure.” I never went again.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

When I was talking the other day with a senior government leader about making meetings more productive, I got some pushback on my value judgement. He said, “It’s the only time we all get together. How else will everyone find out what the others are working on?” I remember one time a Deputy Under Secretary actually saying, “The daily meeting’s not for you; it’s for me to find out what everyone’s doing.”

Trust me, there are far better ways to connect the people who need information with the people who have information. If you’re the boss and doubt what I’m saying, give this to your people and ask for their thoughts.

Productive meetings don’t happen by accident. If you want to see a dramatic improvement in Return On Time Spent In Meetings (ROTSIM – a new metric?), try these proven steps:

Put someone (preferably someone who values efficient use of time) in charge of the agenda. Meetings without agendas usually end up being free-for-alls. If you absolutely have to have a routine meeting to update the boss, make it clear in advance that no one brings more than two or three of their most critical issues that a majority of people around the table really need to know about. Any issues that only the boss and the person speaking care about should be handled one-on-one or in an email.

Get rid of as many routine meetings as you can. I was once part of an organization (for a very short period of time) who actually tracked the number of meetings attended as a performance metric. Try only having meetings when there is something to decide. Have clear objectives, not open-ended ones like “Discuss employee engagement.” Send pre-work to the attendees so they can come to the table as an informed participants, not as sponges.

No marathon meetings! People lose focus and creativity when you hold them hostage for more than an hour or two, especially after lunch. If need be, break the agenda in half and have two shorter meetings appropriately spaced.

Finally, make sure someone’s keeping track of decisions and deferred issues. Make it a written record and include who is responsible for each along with a deadline. It can be part of the pre-work if you need a subsequent session.

What about the time you spend around the conference room table? Want to reduce it and make it more productive?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

Sorry Key Shows Online Apology Or Regret   

      Admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations (not!)

I didn’t see much press uproar last month after Southwest Airlines grounded nearly a quarter of their fleet because they hadn’t conducted required inspections on a backup system, resulting in over a hundred cancelled flights.

I wondered why it didn’t reach the media screech most companies get for public safety compromises (think GM’s ignition and Nissan’s break switch lawsuits). Could it be because they caught it themselves, admitted fault to the appropriate oversight, presented a plan to fix it and then did?

I won’t get started on my disdain for mainstream media, but would it be too absurd for me to believe Southwest actually handled this correctly, and so there wasn’t much chum in the water to feed the media?

Let’s assume that’s the case. Is that how your organization admit mistakes? Or does it?

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Early in my Air Force career, I was a squadron Safety Officer (an additional duty, which shows the priority leadership put on it). It was one of those thankless jobs, but one that required unquestioned integrity to be effective.

During my tenure, a boat we were carrying on our airplane vented fuel into the cargo compartment right after takeoff, which required an emergency return to the airfield. No doubt our fault, since we believed (but didn’t confirm) that the boat’s tanks were empty. I properly reported the incident to higher headquarters – and was thoroughly wire-brushed by the commander for admitting our mistake.

But we fixed our processes as a result, and it didn’t happen again.

It can be hard to admit mistakes, especially as a leader. But nothing cements the trust a leader has with followers like saying, “I made a mistake; here’s what I’m going to do to make it right.”

The alternative is the equivocation and “conflation of events” that we keep hearing about in the media, usually resulting in a scab that keeps getting picked. Or, worse yet, we don’t hear about the cover-up until it threatens the very success of the company.

It’s really not that complicated to admit a mistake, but there seems to be a palpable resistance in many organizations to do it. After some very unscientific research, I turned up nearly a zillion versions of How to Make the Perfect Apology. I’ve summarized them for you:

1. Act quickly.
2. Don’t cover it up.
3. Own the mistake.
4. Take the necessary steps to make it right.

It’s that simple, and my hat’s off to Southwest for getting it right this time.

What about your organization? Do you have a culture that encourages people to admit mistakes, or hide them?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.