Sometimes No Defense Is The Best Defense


If you are leading a team, here is a good tip to keep in mind during a 1 on 1 coaching conversation: you do not have to defend yourself.

Some leaders feel they have to explain exceptions (perceived or real) to rules and justify their own requests. Your team member might question, “Why should I take out the trash? I never see Johnny and Susie taking it out.”

A leader caught off-guard will start back-pedaling. “Well, I’ll talk to Johnny and Susie…” or,  “It’s not Johnny’s job to take it out…” or, “Susie has back issues so it has to be you…”

A better response might look like this, “We’re not talking about Johnny’s and Susie’s behaviors right now. We’re discussing yours.”

Firm but fair. An equally good response, I think, is simply to acknowledge their disagreement and move on. “I hear you. So, you understand the need to put the trash out timely, and you have seen me demonstrate the process. How do you plan on making sure it happens as expected?”

At the end of the day, you are the one in charge and it might help to remind yourself someone put you in charge because they trust you to exercise your judgment. When you find yourself defending your own requests (assuming they are reasonable and within company guidelines) or justifying your actions to a belligerent or misguided team member, you must ask yourself who is actually doing the leading in that moment?

Your job is to coach and lead the team to success. That does not mean the team is expected to always follow you without question, but it does mean you do not always have to defend your decisions or actions with an answer. Sometimes the best defense against an employee trying to squirm away from being held accountable is simply not to defend yourself and keep the focus on their accountability.



Who Cut My Cheese?



There are lots of great leadership books out there, but there has been a disturbing trend in their quality the last several years. When I hear people in leadership positions talk about great leadership books, there is usually reference to titles like, “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “One Minute Manager.”

If you haven’t read them, they are basically bloated pamphlets with poignant management advice written at a third grade level.

It isn’t that the advice is bad—most of it is very good, attesting to their popularity. What bothers me about these books is that if you are in charge over the lives and work of other people, why the hell are you still reading at a third grade level?!?

I have listened in dismay as CEO’s and heads of Human Resource departments extol virtues gleaned from these pregnant pamphlets posing as actual literature. These are people who supposedly have college degrees, yet I have to fight the compulsion to hand them crayons.

It does not seem too much to ask that someone responsible for the lives and livelihoods of (sometimes thousands of) employees should be well-read and well-rounded as a leader.

Don’t get me wrong. I have also been lucky to work for great leaders who have contributed not only to my skills and experiences, but also to my library (thanks Kirk) with works that have changed the course of my life, and certainly at times the path of my career.

I recognize not everyone is going to throw out their television tomorrow and pick up Atlas Shrugged, but I guess the bottom line for me is if you have trouble spelling “CEO”, then it seems difficult for me to believe your employees and peers truly respect you (the ones who can spell or understand basic rules of grammar, anyway). It is more likely they are mocking your attempts at email, guidance, and instruction behind your back.

If you know you are a leader who struggles at crafting your message and delivering it appropriately, do yourself a favor and have someone who is good at that sort of thing help you with your communications. Designate a “Communications Manager” to help you and the company say the right thing, in the right way. Oh, and read a book—preferably one without pictures and extra large print that spans 300 pages at a minimum. I know you can do it, and it is worth the investment in time to better your knowledge and free the potential of your team.


Incidentally, leadership books are not always found in the self-help section. Five of my personal favorites are (and admittedly, these are not all high-brow reading, but they are at least books an eight-year old would struggle with):


Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Why Work Sucks… and How to Fix It by Cali and Jody

On Writing Well by William Zinser