Am I Angry At You?

Words are powerful. It is fun to take a close look at how we use them.


I find it interesting that we say things like, “I am angry at you!” AT you? We feel angry at a person or towards something. We are in love with somebody.

Our relationship to emotions is curious. We expel them from our bodies as if they are projectiles that we can throw at other people like baseballs. I am mad at you! The thing is, we let emotions live in our language in such a way that we are absolved of our responsibility for feeling them. We never say, “I am Anger now!”. Yet, curiously, we do say, “I am happy.” Perhaps we find it easier to accept we are present and in sync with a positive feeling but negative emotions happen to us.

Either way, think about how you use language to convey both the feelings you expel to others and accept from them, and listen to the language you use when defining your own emotions.


Today’s lesson: It is okay to feel emotions. Do not let yourself off the hook, however, for feeling them. Be conscious of the words you use to share your feelings. The onus is on you to take responsibility for who you are, not on others to accept you for who you feel like being.





What Am I Doing Wrong?

What weighs more… a ton of failure or a ton of success?


As a leader, I am a firm believer the buck stops with me regarding my team or their performance.

When I have a team member not meeting my expectations and I am confident I have provided the training, resources, and support needed for him or her to succeed, then I do not wonder why the team member is failing. Instead, I wonder what I am doing that is causing that team member to fail.

It is easy to blame others for what is happening with my team, or to point a finger at something beyond my control, but that never leads to a solution. What works better is taking responsibility for myself and my team. For example, if the team is struggling with selling widgets, I do not look at them and wonder why they suck at selling widgets. Instead, I wonder what about my leadership is causing them to struggle? Is it that I do not see the value in widgets myself? Is it that I have not figured out how I would sell widgets? Is it that I simply have not explained to them why selling widgets is important to our business or how widgets can be valuable for our customers?


Today’s lesson: Regardless of the issue, once I have established a team member has the requisite training and talent to win within our company’s boundaries, the problem is no longer their burden. It becomes mine, which means how I choose to solve the challenge becomes my burden as well. Leading is fun but it is rarely easy.



When Does Accountability Become Punishment?

Is it effective to punish employees for not meeting expectations?


I was CC’d on an email from a high-level manager praising a mid-level manager for essentially punishing his team for not delivering expected results. Sounds crazy, right?

In the mid-level manager’s message, he gave a simple punishment assignment. He asked his subordinates for a point-by-point explanation for why his team failed to meet his expectations. What was interesting to me was that this was praised by the high-level manager as an example of what I think has become the new code word for punishment: “accountability.”

The implication of the praise was, “Look at John! He is doing a great job holding his team accountable… and you should, too.

“Holding people accountable” has become a management mantra.

Maybe the intention comes from the right place but the actions advocated are often counter-intuitive and counter-productive. For example, telling your subordinates to produce a play-by-play explanation of why they did not meet your expectations will likely result in you getting exactly what you asked for. They will provide the minimum list of things required that they think you want to hear. They will also resent the time you are wasting asking for it. In a sense, it is like demanding an explanation from a child as to why they drew on the walls with crayon. It does not matter what the answer is. The question is a trap. There is no acceptable response available to the child.

It is easy to spot this sort of management trap by asking yourself a question: “If the result I asked for was met but the person did not follow every step of my directions to get there… would I still be asking?” Would you still be having the conversation if the team member met your expectations but did it their way, or would you not care so much how they did it, only THAT they did it?”

I think that might be the distinction between actual accountability (which I think some leaders believe is an even exchange for the word “responsibility”) and punishment. Holding someone accountable to their actions implies expecting them to keep their word. A very subtle but essential distinction here is they have to have given their word to be expected to keep it.

In the workplace, employees rarely, if ever, give their word. Instead, their word is given to them in the form of instructions, assignments, and demands. Think of the last time you paid a bill online or downloaded software. When the website provides an “End User License Agreement” (EULA–you know, that long list of terms no one reads before clicking “Accept”), the website is providing a false choice. You have to click “Accept” to move forward. When there is actually no choice, or when the choice is an ultimatum, there can be no legitimate assumption of accountability.

“You can use our product if you accept the terms explained over 7 pages of legal jargon and outrageous demands to compromise your privacy and security… or you can not use the product at all”…that is not a legitimate choice that can expect accountability because the end-user has no power to compromise. The same is true of something like, “We just raised our expectation for you to build 400 widgets a day instead of 300… or you can’t keep working here.” You forfeit your right to hold someone accountable when they agree under threat, whether blatant or implied.

This is not to say as managers, we can never expect people to rise to meet the demands of competition, profit, and production. It is only to say often, we are not actually having an “accountability” conversation.

What works better for me (and maybe not for everyone–after all, if I had all the answers I would be running a multi-billion dollar un-accountability firm!) is trading an “accountability” conversation to a “collaboration” conversation. “I see you did not do what I asked, John. I would like to explain why the expectation was important and then come up with a plan together to figure out how we can meet the goal in front of us. Okay?”

I find people tend to be more receptive to helping and stepping up to meet expectations when they choose to do so of their own volition instead of mine. Your team should never be treated as cogs for the machine of your success; instead, remember why you hired them. You need partners committed to the same goals. You do not have to hold a 50/50 partner accountable. You just have to motivate each other and help each other along and it would be insulting and disrespectful to demand a written essay of why he or she is not doing what you expect of them.

Today’s lesson: There is a fine line between “holding someone accountable” and punishing them for what you assume is bad behavior. Punishment breeds resentment or false commitment or faked results. Instead, try collaboration. Assume you have a team of adults committed to working together professionally and your role is to act as diplomat (not disciplinarian) between them to help facilitate communication and resolve breakdowns in action. This, in my opinion, is a more fulfilling role than trying to manage a brood of indignant children with crayons running around an empty house.



Who Is Responsible For This?

It seems whenever there is someone to blame, someone will.

A better way is to take responsibility regardless of fault and make the situation right.

No one really cares who did what, they only care who is going to do what.


Today’s Lesson: The Cause of Half Your Suffering [141012]

My feet ache.

I feel tired and groggy.

I don’t have enough money to fix my car.

I hate looking at the scale each morning.

The house is a mess.

Work sucks.

My girlfriend is not talking to me.


We all have complaints. What we do not realize is they are usually only half-complaints. We like to focus on the effect but avoid the cause. I think that is because the source of our suffering is almost always the same: it’s us. At times, we all wait (or wish) for some superhero to swoop in and save the day and we forget that we are responsible for being the hero in our own lives.

If your life were a story (and by the way, it is–it is the story you tell other people every day)… would you wish to be the hero of the story of your life, or the villain, or the damsel-in-distress on the train tracks, helpless and crying for someone to rescue her? When we take responsibility for our lives and actions, we have access to knowledge and power to help us succeed. We see the other half of the complaint and accept the responsibility of our actions and our lives.


My feet achebecause I never stretch them or wear comfortable shoes.

I feel tired and groggybecause I stayed up too late and drank more than I should.

I don’t have enough money to fix my carbecause I spent it on clothes, put it on credit cards, and never save enough.

I hate looking at the scale each morningbecause exercising and eating right is harder than not exercising and taking control of my diet!

The house is a messbecause I put cleaning off until I absolutely have to do it.

Work sucksbecause I do not want to read books on how to be more effective, or I don’t want to ask for help, or I do not want to find value in my team, or finding a better fit somewhere else is too much… work.

My girlfriend is not talking to me because I am too stubborn to say I am sorry first.



If you are tied to the train tracks and hoping for someone to rescue you, are you going to wait for the train or start working on those knots?



The Lesson I Learned Today… 140628

One of the worst parts of growing older is going to bed earlier.  The way we work today is damaging and self-abusive in so many ways but one of the little insidious ones is that it takes your night life from you.

A favorite part of summer, for me, is that magic time around 3 am when it’s 75 degrees with a light breeze and the city is quiet. I feel so energized by that calm night air, it is nearly electric.

Sadly,  I can’t remember the last time I was out that late in the city.  Responsibility, like adulthood, is important and pays off in the long run… but usually just screws up your night.


Nobody Cares About You (and Other Happy Thoughts)


Random thought:

The universe does not care if you succeed or fail today. The universe does not care if you make money or end up homeless and penniless. It makes no difference to the trees or the stars or the earth or the sky. None of them are sending anyone to help you or save you.

That may seem depressing at first, but what it means is this:

How today goes is up to you. Life is full of opportunity, but only if YOU create the opportunity.

Whether today is great or terrible, whether you laugh at every obstacle or cry yourself asleep feeling overwhelmed, whether you make a difference in someone’s life or go to bed angry and alone… the universe does not care and that means you have to.

You have a tremendous amount of power and responsibility over your life today. It is your willpower against the rest of the universe.

I believe you can achieve anything you want. The question is, do you?


Make it a great day!