Say No

4 Tips for evaluating alignment with our goals

Say No

“No is a complete sentence” – Anne Lamott

If we are going to achieve our goals, at times we will be saying no to things that might be fun, interesting or rewarding. The reality is that we simply do not have the capacity to do everything. Furthermore, we would not want to take on everything that comes our way since it may not align with our goals. There comes a time when we just have to say no. So how do we decide what to pursue and what to eliminate or postpone?

No is one of the shortest words in the English language yet it seems to be one of the hardest words to say. Ironically, it’s one of the first words we learned to say. So many things come at us at an ever-increasing pace with so many people demanding our attention it is hard to focus on what we should do. Consequently, we try to do it all. Even when attempting to apply a mental matrix of urgent vs. important, everything seems to fall into urgent and important. We find ourselves trying to please everyone and subordinating our priorities to our spare time, which disappears into exhaustion.

The net result is that our energy goes down and our stress goes up. We expend energy on things that in the end may not drive our personal satisfaction and that alone causes stress. We stress about taking on things that we know are not in alignment with our talents and what we want to accomplish. We see work being done and gain satisfaction from its completion, but not the deep-down gratification satisfaction that comes from achieving something that helps to move us forward. This is why we have goals.

Our goals serve as a filter and a compass to sort out the opportunities that align our action with the direction we planned. As we have the opportunity to start a new activity, our goals provide the guidelines that help us make a good decision for the use of our time. If the opportunity is in alignment with the planned work we had identified in our current goals, then we know that it is an opportunity that will make the best use of our time. If we cannot find alignment between the activity and our goal, then it becomes clear that we should take a pass on the proposed opportunity.

In my book “EXCELLENCE: You CAN Get There From Here!”, I lay out a complete process for developing and managing to goals. It contains both a long-term planning process to determine our direction as well as a short-term planning process to set goals and manage our progress.

This brings us full circle on this topic. If the opportunity is not in alignment with our goals, then we use the shortest sentence in the English language and just say no. This may be a hard thing to do and refusing the opportunity will certainly have an impact on the person providing the opportunity. As smart leaders we know to accomplish our goals, we will have to say no to some of the opportunities, activities and demands from our friends, family and colleagues.

Here are 4 tips for evaluating alignment with our goals:

Full Emotion False Alarm

4 Tips for managing full emotion false alarms

Full Emotion False Alarm

Have you ever been in the middle of a response to a crisis that turned out to not be a crisis after all? Have you ever had to go to extraordinary efforts to pull together information or provide a defense for a situation that did not really happen? Did it feel like a full emotion response to a false alarm?

The news is full of stories of people overreacting to events that prove to be false alarms. Recently it was reported that about 50 people scrambled from a terminal at LAX airport when someone yelled at the top of their lungs to run, and they did. Certainly in our current atmosphere of heightened sensitivity to threats and terrible actions from around the world, it is understandable that people, fearing the worst, ran for their lives. It is part of our DNA to instinctively flee from danger. But the kicker? It was a false alarm. It turns out someone screamed “Run!” when they saw that authorities had stopped a person in a Zorro outfit with a plastic sword. There was no real threat, just an emotional reaction to a perceived danger.

Running from danger is a good and reasonable response to a real threat. There is no question of that. When in danger, flee. No questions asked. However, in this case there was no real danger, just an emotional reaction to an unusual situation. Without all of the facts, someone assumed the worst, overreacted and triggered an emotional panic response from all of those around them.

We face these false alarm challenges on a regular basis. We encounter situations that from the first report seem to have dire consequences for our role, department, business, profession or some aspect of our professional lives. The initial reports may be fragmented, inaccurate or even exaggerated. Military commanders in the field often refer to this phenomenon as the “fog of war,” a period of time where the information is incomplete and unreliable.

First and foremost, we need to keep our perspective and realize the improbable is improbable. Things are not likely to be as bad as initially reported. Certainly they will be different than initially reported. We will need to seek additional information from several sources to piece together a more complete view of the situation. In most cases, once we have the complete picture, or at least enough of the picture to gain an informed perspective, the situation will not be as dire as initially reported.

Many times I have received dire reports from the field that if true as reported are seriously troubling. In many of these situations, once the full perspective is understood, the situation is far less troubling than initially reported. It usually stems from a misunderstanding or miscommunication that leads to an impulsive reaction. I was certainly glad I did not overreact in those times and add weight to a single perspective of the situation to only make matters worse.

As leaders people will look to us to react to the situation and will respond according to our actions and instructions. We can either keep our perspective and fully examine the issue and organize a response or react emotionally without sufficient assessment of the situation and cause a panic response. As hard as it may be to keep our emotions in-check, it is essential that we do so. We can very easily end up adding to the confusion or doing additional damage to critical relationships by acting before we have a well-rounded perspective on the issue. Keeping our cool and gathering the facts will always play to our advantage. Once we have the facts, by all means react.

As smart leaders we know that people look to us for our first reaction to see if they are in danger. Our initial reaction and our next steps will determine if everyone keeps their heads and gathers the facts or runs for the doors. Keep the emotions in-check, gather the facts and react accordingly will work for us every time.

Here are 4 tips for managing full emotion false alarms:

Make a Difference

4 Tips for making a difference

Make A Difference

“If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business. It’s that simple.” – Richard Branson

Do you ever wonder if the fruit of your efforts make a difference? Have you ever felt that you were shouting something of great importance, but nobody was listening? Have you ever been discouraged because you know the solution, but nobody seems to recognize you as an authority? I know I have and I still encounter that feeling on a regular basis.

Many years ago, I was exposed to a simple story that to this day helps me put my expectations in perspective and reminds me why I need to keep going. It helps me keep my perspective even when it seems nobody is listening or I question if what I am doing makes a difference.

The Starfish Story

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.” 

Adapted from the story “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

There is a great lesson available to us from this story. We may not be able to save the world. We may not even have the opportunity to convey our message to a large audience, though we know that others would greatly benefit from the knowledge and experience we could share. Our best opportunity to make a difference is to focus on those that are open to receiving our message and willing to accept our help. These are the people who are ready to listen and internalize our message.

There are many who would benefit from what we have learned through our successes and failures. Whether in our professional or personal lives we have a lot to offer others around us. In many ways as a leader we have a responsibility to develop those around us to allow them to better utilize their skills and ultimately help our team deliver success.

We are most effective when we concentrate on serving each person individually. If we concentrate on serving those who are receptive to our message, we may find that it leads to an opportunity to serve more people in the long run. Just as in the story, while we may not be able to reach the larger population, it may really make a difference to those we are able to reach. Taken one individual at a time over a long period of time, we will find we have made a difference to a large number of people.

I think about this story often. There is an enormous effort that goes into writing books, providing meaningful content in the blog, making videos, maintaining the website and corresponding with our community. There are times when it feels like I am shouting into the wind. Book sales come in one or two books at a time and the number of subscribers increases at a slow steady pace. Large audiences are not formed overnight or even sometimes at all. All of the hard work and long hours that go into writing the books does not automatically put the book in a wide circulation or place it on the Amazon or New York Times best seller list. I am reminded that overnight successes are years in the making.

It is the same when we consider the opportunities to mentor people and change the world around us. There are times when we will feel undervalued and it will be tempting to lose our enthusiasm. As leaders that is just the point where we need to apply our character and drive forward. One person at a time, one project at a time, one obstacle at a time. Over time our success will be measured by the individual successes we have along the way. In the end, we will know we have made a difference.

Here are 4 Tips for making a difference:

A Healthy Perspective

4 Tips for maintaining a healthy perspective

A Healthy Perspective

When are we at our best, when we are tired, irritable, sluggish or well rested, energized and feeling good about ourselves? The answer is obvious, when we are rested, energized and feeling good about ourselves. So how can we best take care of ourselves to ensure our peak performance?

We are constantly under the stress of trying to solve problems, dealing with conflict and making critical decisions without enough information. The everyday stress in our lives takes a hard toll on our mind and body over time. If we do not protect ourselves from being consumed by this constant attack, it will eventually reduce our efficiency and ability to be effective in our role as leaders. If left unmanaged it will ultimately lead to serious relationship and health issues that will severely undermine our ability to succeed.

Poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, the lack of exercise and constant conflict will inevitably take its toll on our mind and body. Typically it sneaks up on us as part of a busy life with many demands on our time.  It may start with not getting adequate sleep as we pack too much into our limited days. That may lead to having to grab some fast food on our way to our next appointment whether that be the after school soccer game, heading to the next meeting or running through the airport. We rationalize that just this time I will compromise on my rest and nutrition, but tomorrow I will do better.

Of course our busyness encroaches on our time to exercise as well as our time to calm down our thinking and process our thoughts. As a result our body responds by storing the extra calories as fat and our mind stores the unprocessed thoughts and emotions as stress and anxiety. Both of these things serve to reduce our ability to perform at our peak capacity. As we become more out of shape we become tired more easily and without time to process we become less able to deal with our emotions and fully apply our thinking. These things accumulate, reducing our ability to perform, and increasing our stress.

As we can see, these challenges build on each other and if not managed only serve to do us harm. So what are the key ingredients to maintaining our mind and body at peak performance?


More sleep tends to lead to better performance. We are more alert and have more energy when we start with a proper foundation of sleep. Studies consistently suggest that as adults we require seven to nine hours of sleep. Even though this is the most foundational part of our performance and stamina, it is the part most often compromised. A recent Gallup poll suggested that 40 % of us get less than six hours of sleep per night. Other studies have found that not getting a full cycle of sleep for even a single night can reduce the effectiveness of our decision-making by a noticeable percentage over those with a full night’s sleep.

It is important that we plan our sleep, just like we do any other part of our busy day. Without sleep as our foundation, we cannot build the structure that supports our activity and provides our success.


Food fuels our body and without proper nutrition our body becomes unable to support our activity. There are numerous programs available to us to support adopting a healthy nutritional approach to fueling our body. The most important aspect is to purposely adopt a program that works for us and then give it the proper priority. Our performance is directly impacted by the ability of our body to sustain our activity and provide the stamina we need to maintain our peak efficiency across the entirety of our scheduled day. Providing the proper nutrition in the proper amounts at the proper time needs to be scheduled into our daily routine and should receive a higher priority than any other activity as it serves to support our ability to lead.


Exercise is essential for keeping our body healthy and helping to manage stress. Exercise allows our body to maintain and build our strength and stamina as well as circulate blood to better process food and remove toxins. It allows us to increase our endurance and condition our bodies to deliver a consistent level of energy over a longer period of activity, enhancing our ability to remain fully engaged throughout the long work days. Studies have proven that those who exercise on a daily basis rated significantly higher on overall leadership effectiveness than those who do not exercise. Just like the other aspects of maintaining our physical and mental capabilities, this must be scheduled in our day and set as a priority.


Time to think and process are essential to managing our emotional state. Whether through activities like Yoga or meditations such as quiet time or prayer, time to process our thoughts allows our mind to unload and regain our perspective. Studies of leaders considered top in their area across the corporate world universally find that these leaders set aside time to process. These studies find that the benefits include achieving lower stress levels, improved cognitive functioning, creative thinking, greater productivity and even improved physical health. These are all benefits that serve our ability to lead and as such should be considered as part of our daily routine.

Considering that these are all foundational elements to supporting our ability to operate at peak performance, it only makes sense to give these the highest priority in scheduling our daily activities. Not compromising on these activities will in fact support our ability to operate at peak levels of energy and thinking and provide more effective leadership. Compromising on our foundation only serves to diminish our capability.

Here are 4 tips for maintaining a healthy perspective:

Pay Attention

4 Tips for enhancing team engagement

Pay Attention 

“The secret to engaging our people is to pay attention.” — Skip Gilbert

Is our team truly engaged in their work? Do they see their efforts producing success in our organization or are they just putting in their time? Are they contributing with all of their creativity and energy or just doing what they are told? Do they believe we are headed in the right direction? Do they feel appreciated for their contributions? Do they have confidence in their leader? The success of our organization and leadership may be defined by how the members of our teams answer these questions.

Years of scientific research have provided compelling evidence that engaged employees perform better, are less likely to leave or burn out, and more likely to lead and embrace change. Employee engagement has also been found to correlate positively with business performance and other measures of organizational effectiveness. With the current pace of change, we are all in need of bringing forward the very best our resources have to offer and keeping the activity focused on meeting the current business need. Our best chance for continued success is with teams that are aligned and energized to make a difference.

With few exceptions, individuals want to contribute to and be part of something special, noble, good, and significant. They want to work for good people they respect and who also respect them. The individuals on our teams are human, and humans want a higher purpose in life. As individuals, we want to know that our work makes a difference, has value and that we are recognized for our contribution.

The key to improving overall engagement is to pay attention to the individual and their efforts. People need to be seen and managed as individuals and recognized for their individual performance. As leaders our additional responsibility is to help individuals achieve results as a group focused on the proper goals, while respecting each other as individuals. This is how we build high performance teams.

Vision and performance are the two key factors that drive core behaviors, that reinforce the basic need for recognition and meaning. Vision provides direction to ensure that we can align our efforts toward the corporate goal without having to be told what to do. Performance measures the results of our actions. Contributing to the resulting success reinforces feelings of self-worth and satisfaction that drive engagement. We can see that we are valued as individuals and that our efforts produce success. It takes both vision and performance to produce these results. Either one by itself does not yield the feelings of self-satisfaction that drive engagement.

Individuals who believe the company is headed in the right direction are also aligned around that direction. As they internalize the vision and join in the belief that it leads to a greater outcome, they are naturally drawn into focusing their actions to achieve those goals. The stronger the alignment to the vision, the more powerful the resulting performance will be. The entire organization will be pulling ahead to achieve a common goal. Without alignment in the right direction overall performance will be exponentially reduced as energies are expended in non-contributory efforts. Alignment is a significant factor in achieving the full capability of the organization.

A proven requirement for achieving a high level of engagement in our teams revolves around the team’s belief in our ability to lead. Each of the individuals on our team needs to believe that we are caring and capable leaders. We must demonstrate every day that we are reliable and consistent and share a deep interest in them as individuals and the overall objectives. Any wavering in our behavior will only diminish the strength of their belief.

Gallup has investigated whether leaders are more likely to engage employees by building close relationships and attending to their wellbeing, or simply focusing on their performance. Gallup’s findings suggest that the most effective leaders need to do both. One without the other does not produce the same results. We have to know where we are going and care about the people that are going to take us there to achieve the success we desire.

In the end it comes down to paying attention. Paying attention to the individual. Paying attention to their performance. It is far easier to achieve our goals with an engaged team of individuals than any other way. Smart leaders know this.

Here are 4 tips for enhancing team engagement:

Servant Leader

4 Tips for becoming a better Servant-Leader

Servant Leader

“We succeed when we help other succeed.” — Skip Gilbert

Are we leaders or rulers? Do we tell people what to do or do we support the needs of those producing the results? The answer to these questions may very well set the tone for our success or limit our results.

As a leader, when we view the hierarchy of our organization, do we see ourselves at the top or bottom of the pyramid? Do we see ourselves sitting at the top of the chart needing to direct a group that follows our commands or do we see ourselves at the bottom of the chart facilitating the productive accomplishment of our mission? Let me ask this in a different way, are we leading an organization that needs to be told what to do next, or are we enabling the resources in our care to deliver their best performance in accomplishment of our goals? The answer makes a big difference in the type of organization we will build and our ultimate success.

If we see ourselves as the top of the organization and those below us as a necessary means to execute our commands, then we most likely subscribe to an autocratic style of leadership. In this model we typically prefer to have clearly defined tasks and closely monitor the activity and results. We prefer to make the decisions and highly value those that can follow our instructions. We generally leverage our experience and observations to make decisions that are intended to produce the outcomes we desire.

If we see ourselves as sitting at the bottom of an inverted triangle in our organization chart, we most likely view our role as being one of setting a vision, empowering teams or individuals to meet our goals and helping to facilitate their success. In this model we typically see ourselves as a servant-leader, one that sees a world bigger than just ourselves. This model is characterized by seeking a high level of participation in decision-making and delegating the work to those more capable to deliver. We generally benefit from gathering information and experiences from a broader audience to make a more informed decision that has greater buy-in. Having produced a decision, we then see our role as serving those that will execute the work and supporting their needs and efforts.

So which is smarter, a single individual or a the collective wisdom of many perspectives? Who knows the true outcome of a decision better, the people that perform the work or an individual that interjects their perception of the work? In most cases the likelihood of success is enhanced by having greater input into a decision with a larger buy-in to the outcome. In most instances the higher level of participation will yield greater ownership of the decision and better results.

So how does this work? I have finally achieved a level of responsibility and authority to have a larger level of influence in my organization and you are telling me that I now work for them? Exactly!! There is only so much work we can accomplish as an individual. Even with more hands and feet available to do our bidding, they can only accomplish what we instruct them to do and are limited to doing it the way we have instructed it to be done. As a leader, this will quickly become a limiting factor in the ability of our organization to adapt to ever-changing conditions and to overcome obstacles. In addition, we are not being good stewards of our resources by not tapping into their vast knowledge and experience to collectively produce a better result.

This can be really uncomfortable for the truly autocratic-style leader. Being in charge and forcing what seems like better decisions may feel comfortable. However in the end it will be our downfall. Once we run out of ideas and those around us become dependent on us to do their thinking, we will be at the limit of our organization’s capability.

As a smart leader, we are better serving the needs of our organization and our goals when we provide a vision, engage the thinking of our resources and then help them accomplish their work. It does not mean becoming passive in our role or accepting mediocrity as an operating norm. Quite the opposite, it requires an intelligent, engaged and confident leader to operate in this manner. It means setting a vision and clearing the road for our resources. It means involving more people in decision-making and helping to develop their thinking to make better decisions.

Here are 4 tips for being a servant-leader:

The Path to Success is Paved with Learning

4 Tips for Continual Growth

The Path to Success is Paved with Learning

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning” — Benjamin Franklin

The world is constantly changing, it has been and always will be. It is also a universal truth that our ability to prosper in a changing environment is dependent on our willingness to continually invest in our personal development through life-long learning. There is no shortcut and at the same time there is no higher return on investment available to us to increase our success, fortunes, and satisfaction. Investing in our ability to adapt and increasing our capability have no downside and for the most part cost us little beyond the work of executing a planned strategy.

We need to continue to grow which means developing our capabilities. When we stop learning we are stuck where we are. The world around us is going to continue to change and advance. If we are not willing to at least keep pace with the change, we will be left behind and just keeping pace with the change will not move us toward our goals. To thrive in a changing environment requires that we are developing our capabilities in a planned direction, with sufficient depth to increase our ability to provide value.

We master change through continuous learning. As an individual and a leader, continuous learning is about upgrading our skills and increasing our knowledge to be able to provide solutions in the future to questions that have not yet been asked. It is about combining our experiences with new ideas to have a better ability to adapt to new or different circumstances. Continuous learning involves viewing every experience as a learning opportunity and updating our understanding with the new information. We subjugate change to a common condition as we add to our knowledge and understanding and then apply our learnings to our environment. The very act of moving forward results in change and we become accustomed to change as a common component of every day life.

Our goals include personal growth. Continuous learning is such an important element in our personal growth and success that we should not leave it to chance. As we develop our annual development plans in alignment with our long-term career goals, it is important to identify specific educational and stretch-assignment opportunities to grow our experience. Ensuring that our goals have specific learning opportunities identified increases our understanding and enhances our capabilities.

The primary purpose of continual learning is to help us enhance our capabilities so that we are more effective in the future than we were in the past. This is the fundamental definition of the pursuit of personal excellence. In order to gain greater satisfaction from the results of our efforts, it is essential that we increase our capability. By investing in ourselves through continuous learning we enable ourselves to deal with future issues more effectively than we do today. We enable our future.

I have provided a framework for pursuing personal excellent in my book EXCELLENCE: You CAN Get There From Here! In the book I have outlined both a system for evaluating our strengths and talents and setting long-term goals and a process for pursuing those goals leading to greater personal success and satisfaction. These processes work together to help us set a direction and utilize continuous learning to maximize our ability to pursue personal excellence. We should not leave something as important as our personal success to the random whims of circumstance. If we are to be successful, we need to plan our success.

Here are 4 tips for achieving continual learning:

Embrace Who We Are

4 Tips for embracing who we are

Embrace Who We Are

“We are who we are” — Skip Gilbert

Do you ever feel the pressure to be like someone else? At times do you feel like everyone else seems to know more, be brighter, have more experience, or be more capable? Do you feel unsure of your suggestions because other people have differing perspectives? I know these thoughts have crossed my mind at times.

We need to embrace who we are and not try to be someone else. We are a collection of unique experiences, talents and skills. No one else has the same experiences combined with the same things we have learned. No one else has our exact education, social, or work experiences. Nobody has seen all the things we have seen, thought the things we have thought, learned the things we have learned, lived where we have lived, all combined into a single person. It is no wonder we feel like sometimes we don’t fit in. How could we? We are very unique individuals and anyone that tries to push us into a common mold is simply misguided. We are highly valuable and unique resources with a perspective that nobody else has.

Think about yesterday. There was not anyone with us every minute of the day. During that day we experienced new things as well as other things that either reinforced our opinions and perspectives or changed them. From just that one day alone we have a different perspective from anyone else on how the day went.

The path of our life is unique and distinct. We are the only one to have walked down this path. We have a unique set of experiences, molded and shaped by a unique set of circumstances and events. It is a journey that we are on alone, though there may be others with us at various points in time. We have a unique perspective and it is just as valid as anyone else’s. We have not come to our opinions lightly, but by what we have experienced and learned along the way.

Keep in mind that we are all unique people. Everyone around us is on their own journey as well. As a result they have formed their own perspective, based on their unique journey. From their perspective, their opinions and conclusions are just as valid as ours. Here lies the challenge and the opportunity. Each person has a unique set of opinions and conclusions based on their experience that may or may not align with ours or other’s perspective. But to that individual, they are solid conclusions.

As a smart leader, we recognize that everyone is vested in their opinion. We need to be sure to value that diversity and treat those opinions with care. If we need to help change someone’s mind, we should not imply that they are wrong, that would only setup a boundary. To influence a change in opinion we need to offer new information or perspective that will align with the experiences of the other person. We need to approach it carefully, thoughtfully, with respect and allow the other person to assimilate the change into their perspective.

There isn’t anyone else like us and there never will be. We are one of a kind, the only one; the original us. We should take pride in our journey and recognize that our perspectives come from our years of experience and knowledge. We were there for every learning and accomplishment. We know what we know and we should be confident in our ability to contribute.

Each one of us can be a better me. As I point out in the book EXCELLENCE: You CAN Get There From Here!, we are a work in process. When we choose to pursue Excellence, we put ourselves on a path of continuous improvement. We need to create goals, leverage learning opportunities and gain knowledge from those around us. Each one of us can always be a better me.

Here are 4 tips for embracing who we are:

Positive Reinforcement

4 Tips for providing positive reinforcement

Positive Reinforcement

“If you want to see more of what you are looking for in individual performance, let people know you appreciate their efforts.” – Skip Gilbert

Which would you rather receive, a sharp criticism every time you do something wrong or positive words of encouragement every time you do something right? Most of us would prefer the words of encouragement and I think most of those around us would answer the same way. We feel more respected and open to change when we receive encouragement.

Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative criticism. We all prefer to hear kind words of encouragement and recognition when we do something good. It makes us feel good about ourselves and makes us want to do it again to receive another reward. It seems to be part of our DNA that we learn new behaviors more quickly when receiving positive reinforcement.

In 1938 Dr. B.F. Skinner published the findings of his research in his book Science and Human Behavior. In his studies he concluded that both positive and negative consequences of an action changed behavior. However, positive reinforcement encouraged more willing and rapid learning than negative reinforcement. He concluded that negative reinforcement is temporary and has a series of unwanted side effects and often unwanted consequences. On the other hand, positive reinforcement encouraged repeating the behavior more frequently.

These findings were true in their day and continue to be true today. We are more likely to repeat a behavior when receiving positive reinforcement than being admonished for not displaying the preferred behavior. When we receive positive reinforcement for something we have done correctly, we can easily connect the action with the reward. Conversely, if we are punished for not displaying the preferred behavior, then we are still not sure what the correct behavior is.

Using positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool in our leadership toolbox. When we want to adjust behaviors we are more likely to be effective when we reinforce the preferred behavior rather than admonish for the lack of the preferred behavior. By publicly providing positive reinforcement to an individual for demonstrating the proper behavior, way of thinking, or action, we not only build their self-esteem, we encourage others to model that same behavior. It builds a self-reinforcing positive chain of events that leverages the single event across the entire organization.

As a leader it can be hard to find the patience to wait for the right behavior to happen to reinforce. We know what we want and want to make things change as quickly as we can. Sometimes it just feels more expedient to point out a mistake and say “don’t do that again”. The problem is that pointing out mistakes creates an environment of negative reinforcement and will slow down the change that we want to take place. We have to be patient and then reinforce the instance of somebody doing something right, and then make a big deal about it. Pick the right moment and then go overboard with praise. It works. We will see and feel the difference as people respond to the positive environment and learn from their observations.

In the end, nobody gets too much positive reinforcement. We all thrive on being recognized and encouraged by those around us, especially by our leaders. Given all of the chaos and challenges we face, it is not likely that we will simply become desensitized to being told we did something right or did a good job. There is just too much that needs to be fixed and too many people that do not have the patience to truly leverage their leadership. Positive reinforcement will not drive negative behavior. It naturally works for us, not against us.

Smart leaders allow people to feel good about their work which is a big part of the self-image of the individual. Most people want to please their manager and are looking for positive recognition. If we want to see more of what we are looking for in individual performance, let people know we appreciate their efforts. It does not mean that we cannot or should not provide adjusting guidance or lower our standards of acceptability. By providing positive feedback we open the door to greater acceptance of doing something even better next time.

Given a few cycles of positive reinforcement, most people will soon figure out what we are asking for. As a smart leader we will be building the effectiveness of our team as we reinforce the behaviors that we are looking for while providing a positive and encouraging environment. These are all necessary conditions for building a high performance team, achieving our goals, and driving organizational success. Then again, that is why we are smart leaders! 😉

Here are 4 tips for providing positive reinforcement:

Simple Truths of Leadership

5 Simple truths of leadership

Simple Truths of Leadership

There are a few key simple Truths of Leadership that are universal to all leaders and serve as a guide to achieving effective leadership. They are simple to embrace but sometimes difficult to practice. Anytime we find we are operating outside of these principles, we need to stop and reevaluate our thoughts and actions.

By following these simple guidelines we will be more effective in our leadership and have greater satisfaction with our results.

1) Make learning our life’s goal. We need to be continuously seeking greater knowledge and understanding. There is more to know than we will ever understand. It is imperative that we take every opportunity to learn more to expand our base of knowledge and understanding to make better decisions.

We have limitless opportunity to learn. We have continually available access to online education, through webinars, YouTube, blogs, LinkedIn, educational institutions, books, and many other resources. There are usually educational and training options available to us through our employers, as well as from professional organizations and informal common purpose meet-ups.

Most importantly we can learn from those around us and our everyday experiences. We are surrounded by people who have differing backgrounds, experiences and wisdom. They are bound to offer a different perspective based on their blend of experience and understanding. We need to be sure to take in everything they have to offer and synthesize our own view of understanding.

We operate in a real-life learning lab. Take full advantage of trying new things in a controlled manner and observe the result. Analyze the current blend of culture and actions and measure the results against our own perspective. Make an adjustment and see what happens. Be sure to observe the change and catalog the results so that we can continue to rise to higher levels of Excellence.

2) Do not act against our principles. We have a solid perspective on right and wrong. Every time we act outside of our core principles, we not only diminish the effectiveness of our leadership, we diminish ourselves as a person. We know when something is right and wrong. We established those core values years ago. When we operate outside of those values, we can never get back the part of us we lose.

Our values keep us centered and in alignment with how we want to be treated and want others to treat us. These values are important to us and serve as guardrails to keep us centered in doing the right thing. It is almost a certainty that when we operate outside our values we are going to hurt someone else and that will cause unrest in our conscience. That unrest will undermine our effectiveness and eventually catch up with us in one form or another as we wrestle with the outcome of our decisions.

3) Always speak truthfully. Our word is our bond of integrity. When we speak untruthfully or even spin something to better fit the desired narrative, we diminish our authority and integrity. Eventually the results of our misspeak will impact our credibility as others come to realize that we cannot be trusted.

Our word must always be as solid as stone. The words we speak as well as communicate through other means are the essence of our leadership. We are in the business of influencing others to engage and follow our lead. Our words are our currency for that exchange. If our words cannot be trusted then we have reduced the value of our currency as well as the value and effectiveness of our leadership.

4) Be thoughtful in our planning. As leaders we set the direction for others to follow. We are going to ask people to commit their most valuable resource, their time to achieving a purpose we put in front of them. We need to carefully consider how we ask them to utilize that valuable commodity and make sure that we do not waste their energy along the journey.

We need to make sure that our planning leads to the destination we truly want to reach. It will be ultimately disappointing and highly ineffective for our leadership to take people in the wrong direction. We need to be sure that when we arrive, we have arrived at a point of value and intention. There could be nothing worse than leading to a dead end or achieving lesser results than promised. We must be sure that we are clear on the destination.

5) Follow through on our commitments. It is extremely hollow for a leader to point to a direction, make commitments to engage action and then not provide the follow through. We will quickly be discovered by our followers as just being a noisy clang if we do not provide the support, resources and personal commitment that we advertise. Our effectiveness as a leader will immediately be diminished as those around us realize that we are not committed and they imitate our example.

Follow through is imperative. It demonstrates that we are committed to making the progress described and can be counted on to help provide the means to get there. Without follow through, the journey will stop as soon as it gets started. There is no substitute for delivering on our commitment.

These are simple but key truths that define us as leaders and directly impact the effectiveness of our leadership. They can boost our results and satisfaction by closely following them. Ignore them at our own peril.


Skip Gilbert