Project Management

Helping Project Managers to Help Themselves

I'm all about Building Thriving Leaders™ This blog is based on over 35 years of project management and leadership successes and failures. Get practical, concise nuggets on both hard and soft skills to help you deliver projects successfully with minimal friction.

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Recent Posts

I Just Wanna Be a PM!

The Straight A’s of Intentional Leadership

Ten Ways to Grow your Followers into Leaders

Ten Points to be a Better Up and Out Influencer

Giving Back to the Next Generation of Leaders

Ten Ways to Grow your Followers into Leaders

The Scenario: 

Frank and his new boss Phil are discussing an upcoming major project that Ann, the CEO, has tagged Phil to own.

“Frank, we need to talk about Apollo. Ann is very focused on its delivery and has specifically asked me to be the project sponsor.

“OK,” Frank said confidently, expecting Phil to empower him to lead Apollo.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’m going to ask Beth to lead Apollo.”

Frank’s heart sank. “Beth?”

“That’s right,” Phil said. “I know that you’ve been wanting to take on something big like this, but I just don’t think you’re ready for Apollo.”

“What do you mean?” Frank asked.

Phil leaned forward. “Frank, I’ve got no doubt that you’d burn the midnight oil to deliver Apollo. The truth is that I just don’t think your team is ready for it.”

“My team? How so?”

“Apollo is huge and it’s going to require a strong team to get it done. Beth has done an outstanding job of investing in her team and growing them to be able to take on challenges like Apollo.”

Frank tried to appeal. “But you know I’d put everything I’ve got into delivering Apollo.”

“Frank, that’s exactly the point. I believe you’d put your all into it. It’s not about just you, it’s about the team you’ve been entrusted to grow. They’re Just not ready for Apollo. There will be other big projects in the future; let’s work to help you get your team ready for them.”

The Message:

Perhaps you know a Frank (or maybe are one yourself); a leader who will work himself to the bone to get something done but fails to grow and leverage a team of followers to help deliver results. Common excuses like, “I’m the only one who can do it,” “My team doesn’t have the experience,” or “It’s quicker if I just do it myself,” may be true in the moment, but they do nothing to build and leverage the skills that the leader’s team can bring to the table. This is a primal failure of what I call followership stewardship; the cultivation of followers to help them grow into leaders so you as a leader can scale into a leader of leaders. It’s every leader’s responsibility to acknowledge that a core purpose of being a leader is delivering results and growing followers. A leader who isn’t intentional about both delivering results and growing followers won’t scale into a leader of leaders. At some point the leader will not be able to deliver on bigger problems because he lacks the leverage of well-equipped followers to deploy. Sadly, this usually becomes evident when a leader fails to solve a problem that is too big for him or her to solve.

Do you need to work on being a better followership steward to deliver results and grow followers? Here are ten nuggets to consider:

  1. Watch the leader/follower skill gaps – Be mindful of having too large of a skill gap between you and your direct followers. Big gaps, even if the leader has high-potential followers, can cause the leader to take on more work by having to bridge the skill gap between the leader and follower.
  2. Have at least one follower who can do your job at a moment’s notice – Secure leaders don’t view followers as a threat. Quite the contrary; secure leaders cultivate followers who can fill the leader’s shoes with minimal business disruption. Have at least one follower who can fill your shoes in the event you are unexpectedly out of pocket.
  3. Find strengths that complement your weaknesses – Leaders who understand their own weaknesses need to seek out followers with strengths in the leaders’ weak areas. The leader not only supplements the team with strengths he or she doesn’t possess, but also provides an opportunity for both the leader and follower to learn from each other.
  4. Be disability inclusive – 26% of the US population has a documented disability. Only one in four working-age disabled people have jobs. Employee turnover is 48% less for those with a disability. Leaders need to actively look to the disability community for talent.
  5. Actively encourage being challenged – Leaders need to promote an environment where followers feel safe to challenge the leader’s thinking. Leaders don’t have a corner on the wisdom market and shouldn’t behave as if they do. Set and expect a respectful tone.  
  6. Call out “yes people” – Followers who simply agree with everything the leader says not only can be labeled as “sucking up to the boss” but also don’t get an opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking. Let followers know that you don’t want to build a team of brown-nosers; just make sure you follow up the words with actions and encourage being challenged (see point 5).
  7. Always have a succession slate – Leaders need to be intentional about having a candidate list of people who can take the leader’s job. Once you have the list, make sure you have a plan to cultivate your succession candidates to minimize disruption in the event you move on.
  8. Don’t make your job look so ugly no one would want it – Leaders who appear to work day and night, never take a peaceful vacation, or can’t enjoy their kid’s soccer game without being interrupted harm themselves in two ways. First, they become prime candidates for burnout. Second, they make their job look incredibly unattractive. Why would a follower who tries to keep balance want to be promoted into the leader’s 24/7 job?
  9. Promote “leverage a skill to learn a skill” – Leaders need to set a tone for followers to both bring a skill into an assignment and learn a skill from an assignment. Assignments that don’t have growth opportunities for followers are lost learning opportunities. Be deliberate about ensuring followers not only bring experience to a situation, but also gain experience from it.
  10. In-the-moment coaching while delivering – Leaders who combine the delivery of results along with in-the-moment coaching to followers provide far more value to the follower’s growth than any amount of sitting in a classroom. Capitalize on learning opportunities by providing timely and candid in-the-moment coaching.

The Consequences:  Not being an intentional followership steward can lead to the following:

  • Your followers won’t grow – When the leader doesn’t walk the talk on growing followers then – guess what – followers don’t grow. Imagine that.
  • You won’t grow – Stagnate followers mean stagnate leaders. Your growth comes in large part through the growth of your followers.
  • You won’t scale – When your growth is limited then your ability to take on larger and more complex areas of responsibility also becomes limited.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the 10 tips to be a followership steward.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those followership steward areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to be a better followership steward.
Posted on: August 18, 2022 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Ten Points to be a Better Up and Out Influencer

The Scenario: 

Alberto has just been hired to head up the program management office for Aspiron Group.

Alberto prepares a 30-minute presentation to replace the organization’s status reporting system for his vice president, Irene.

Alberto and Irene will be meeting each other for the first time.

At the beginning of his presentation, Irene gets an urgent phone call and apologizes to Alberto saying she only has 15 minutes.

Alberto presents slide 1, his view of why the organization needs a new status reporting system.

Irene immediately starts questioning Alberto about his reasons for wanting to replace the current system and why money should be redirected from other priorities to the new system.

Alberto, unable to satisfactorily answer some of Irene’s questions, fumbles for answers and gives a lot of “I’ll have to get back to you on that” statements.

After 15 minutes, Irene again apologizes for having to cut the meeting short and leaves the room. “What is he talking about?” Irene thinks as she leaves.

Alberto is left alone sitting in the room, having never gotten past slide 1, feeling as if he’d blown setting a positive first impression with Irene.

The Message:

Poor Alberto. Not only is it less likely that he will get the new status reporting system, but he has also failed to establish credibility with Irene. Rather than starting from a positive or neutral credibility position, he’s now operating from a deficit position, making it more difficult to influence Irene in the future.

As a leader, there are two vitally important concepts you need to clearly understand when influencing up and out. The first is the five tollgates that I believe leaders must successfully pass to effectively influence up and out (who I will refer to as recipients):

  • Tollgate 1: The recipient believes you’re credible – The recipient agrees that you have the subject matter knowledge to discuss the problem.
  • Tollgate 2: The recipient acknowledges the problem – The recipient agrees that the problem you’re trying to articulate truly is a problem.
  • Tollgate 3: The recipient understands what you want to do about it – The recipient not only has a clear understanding of the problem, but also understands how you think the problem should be solved.
  • Tollgate 4: The recipient sees how this aligns with his/her priorities – The recipient not only understands what you want to do but also agrees with the urgency of solving the problem relative to other problems on the recipient’s to-do list.
  • Tollgate 5: The recipient gets what you expect him/her to do – The recipient is clear on what you want him/her to do to address the problem.

With tollgate 5 comes the second important concept, which is about decision ownership. There are four decision ownership scenarios, as follows:

  • You propose, recipient decides – You expect the recipient to make a decision based on your proposal.
  • You decide, recipient concurs – You decide and look for concurrence and guidance from the recipient.
  • You decide, recipient is informed – You decide and keep the recipient abreast of your decision.
  • You decide, recipient is not informed – You decide and do not inform the recipient because the recipient doesn’t need to be concerned with your decision.

I can’t over-emphasize enough the importance of these two concepts when influencing up and out. The first ensures alignment with how a problem needs to be solved and what you expect the recipient to do, and the second articulates the roles you and the recipient play in any decision-making.

Do you need to be better at influencing up and out? Here are ten points to consider:

  1. Digest the five tollgates – Truly take the time to understand each tollgate, its importance, and what you need to do to ensure your communications follow the five tollgates structure.
  2. Make sure you structure your content to address each tollgate in sequence - If you haven’t passed tollgate 1, your likelihood of making it through the remaining tollgates is drastically reduced. Build your pitch around each tollgate in sequence.
  3. Make your words count - More content isn’t better. Get your point across in as little content as possible. Make liberal use of bullets versus narrative text to better condense thoughts into consumable chunks.
  4. Be manic about watching reactions - If your recipient is signaling understanding and you’re getting the desired result for a tollgate, move on to the next tollgate. I’ve had plenty of pitches where I’ve glossed over content because the recipient was already on board with what I was presenting in a tollgate. The most important thing is to get what you want, not to showcase everything you’ve prepared.
  5. Remember absolute vs. relative priorities - Just because a recipient says, “Not now,” it doesn’t mean the recipient is an idiot or that you’ve failed. Accept that timing might not always be on your side.
  6. Structure content for the time allotted and have a plan if that allotment changes - Plenty of times I thought I had an hour to pitch an idea only to have the recipient tell me I only had 30 minutes. Anticipate what you’ll do in the event your time gets cut short.
  7. Use fewer slides with Harvey balls – Forget the 7x7 rule (7 bullets no more than 7 words each). Put more information organized in sections on a slide and use Harvey balls to walk your recipient through your pitch. It saves a lot of “go back to slide 13” requests and actually facilitates more discussion. It also helps in the event your time gets cut short.
  8. State the ask/advise/inform upfront – Your recipient needs to know whether he/she is being asked to make a decision, is expected to advise, or is just being informed. Be clear on what you are expecting your recipient to do and ensure he or she agrees with the role.
  9. Be bold about telling the recipient what you think and why – This is particularly important when the recipient needs to make a decision. You could frustrate the recipient by asking an open-ended “what do you want to do?” question and then arguing with the answer. Besides, you then have to work from the recipient’s position as opposed to putting yours out there to start with.
  10. Leverage best practice examples that have worked for others – Seek out others who have had to influence up and out to sell an idea, get a copy of their communications (email, slide deck, etc.), talk with them about what worked/didn’t work, and ask them to look at your communication before publishing. You’ll both develop more effective communication as well as build relationship capital with those you seek to learn from.

The Consequences:  Being ineffective at influencing up and out can lead to the following:

  • Others will drive your destiny – Those who influence up and out better control the narrative and get what they want, which could come at your expense.
  • You won’t be helping your followers – Your followers expect you to be able to influence your management and peers across the organization to help them do their jobs.
  • You will be viewed as if you’re out of your league – Your peers who are better at influencing up and out will be viewed as stronger leaders by your management.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the five tollgates and ten points on influencing up and out.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any points you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those influencing up and out areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to be more effective at influencing up and out.


Posted on: August 11, 2022 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Giving Back to the Next Generation of Leaders

The Scenario: 

Miguel and Carol, two executives who retired from MilanCo last year, are having coffee.

“Miguel, what have you been doing with your time since MilanCo?” Carol asked.

“Oh, get up, watch the news, play a little golf, run some errands. How ‘bout you?”

“Gosh it’s so much fun. Some travel, seeing the grandkids, and I’ve got five women execs at MilanCo that I’m mentoring.”

“Really.” Miguel said.

“Most certainly.” Carol took a sip of coffee. “I’ve learned so much in my career, had some successes, and certainly some failures. I didn’t want all those learning opportunities to stay only with me, so I took it upon myself to reach out to HR and volunteer my time mentoring.”

“You volunteer your time?” Miguel asked.

“Sure do. It’s such a wonderful feeling to hear someone say, ‘Thanks Carol, you really helped me.’ More fulfilling than a paycheck. Have you considered doing something like that?”

Miguel looked down at his coffee. “Nah, my working days are over, time to let the younger ones rise up.”

“That’s exactly why I’m mentoring these women, Miguel. I want the younger ones to rise up; I’m just helping them rise up faster and with a greater likelihood of success.”

After a few more minutes of chatting Miguel looked at his watch.

“Well, gotta run Carol; was great catching up with you.”

“You too, take care Miguel. I’m meeting up with one of my mentees in a few so I’m just going to hang out here.”

“OK, bye,” Miguel said as he got up and left.

“Same selfish Miguel,” Carol thought as she watched Miguel leave the coffee shop.

The Message:

Carol’s view of Miguel’s selfishness was formed years earlier. They shared many similar leadership characteristics except for one; Carol intentionally sought to give back and grow younger leaders (who I will refer to as mentees) while Miguel did only what was required of him by his management. Half the time Miguel canceled mentee meetings last-minute because of some crisis; for those that he kept he appeared preoccupied. Word of how Miguel and Carol viewed their responsibility to scale leaders through giving back got around among the younger leaders, with many of Miguel’s mentees seeking out Carol as a mentor. While Carol wasn’t surprised with Miguel’s attitude during their coffee chat, she was disappointed that Miguel, with all his years of learning, still chose to keep things to himself versus helping others.

Want to be less of a Miguel and more of a Carol? Give this baker's dozen of tips a look:

  1. Wisdom sharing doesn’t stop at retirement – Just because you may have wrapped up your career doesn’t mean all of the great learnings you’ve had should die on the golf course. Be intentional about sharing your wisdom with those still in the workforce. You’ve still got something to contribute; so do it.
  2. Sharing wisdom is a responsibility and an honor – Being in a position to help grow future leaders is truly something that experienced leaders need to prioritize. The wisdom you can transfer to others can save time, money, and even a career. It’s your duty to share; joyfully embrace it.
  3. Courageously and candidly share your wisdom – A mentee shouldn’t just hear about your successes; he or she should also hear about your spectacular failures. That’s where some of the greatest learnings happen; don’t filter things to make yourself look good to the mentee.
  4. Allocate time in your calendar – Set realistic recurring time in your calendar to invest in your mentees and share your wisdom. Resist the temptation to chronically schedule other demands over your wisdom-sharing time.
  5. Know what your mentee needs and help him or her get it -  Maybe your mentee needs better life balance; or perhaps he or she needs help with calendar management. Take the time to truly understand what your mentee needs to scale up and help him or her get there.
  6. Don’t mentor an unwilling mentee – A mentee must want to be mentored. Trying to mentor an unwilling mentee is just a waste of time. Take the time to assess whether the mentee is interested or just going through the motions, then decide if it’s worth your time to invest in the mentee.
  7. Call out boasters – A boaster is a mentee who tries to learn about your experiences to prove his or her own superiority. The boaster mentee will tell you why what you did was wrong and what he or she did was right.
  8. Don’t let pontificators pontificate – A pontificator will use any experience to prove relevance. A pontificator mentee isn’t interested in hearing what you have to say as a mentor; he only wants to talk about experiences to demonstrate wisdom.
  9. Watch the poser – A poser really has no practical experience but will try to impress you with things she might have read or heard about. A poser mentee might be genuinely interested in learning or may simply want to dazzle you with factoids and sound bites.
  10. Don’t project a leader caste system – Some may aspire to be great people leaders, others may find a niche as a thought leader, and some may not want to be a leader at all. Don’t project to a mentee that people leadership is somehow more important than other types. Explore with the mentee where his or her strengths and desires are and assist on the journey.
  11. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug – Sometimes a relationship either was never meant to be or the relationship has run its course. Evaluate the relationship with the mentee and agree when and if it’s time to part ways.
  12. Don’t embellish your experience – So maybe you have a lot of experience in a particular discipline; that doesn’t mean your wisdom automatically transcends to other areas. Stick to your expertise areas and don’t be afraid to admit when discussions drift outside of your subject matter expertise areas.
  13. Be mentally and physically present – Taking phone calls, checking email, or appearing preoccupied when in a discussion with a mentee projects that you’re really not interested in the relationship. Make the mentee feel as if he or she is the most important person you could be focusing on.

The Consequences:  Hoarding all that wisdom and not giving back by growing future leaders could lead to the following:

  • You can lose a sense of purpose – I’ve known many people who have graduated from their career only to find that they have lost a sense of professional purpose and are quite frankly bored.
  • Someone who failed could have succeeded – A potential mentee who could have benefited from your wisdom had to experience a failure that could have been avoided had you taken the time to share your wisdom.
  • You squandered the opportunity to advance your legacy – You won’t be remembered as someone who not only had tons of experience but willingly shared his or her wisdom with others.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the 13 tips to use your wisdom to grow future leaders.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those areas on how to grow future leaders.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to be more effective at growing future leaders.
Posted on: July 28, 2022 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Intentional Decision Making

The Scenario: 

Esther walked into the conference room and saw Grace sitting there, head in hands.

“What’s wrong, Grace?”

“It’s Paul, he still hasn’t decided on authorizing me to hire SysCon. He owed me a decision last week and now we’re going to slip our code-complete date.”

Esther smirked. “Sorry about that Grace; it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a disaster at making decisions.”

“Don’t you know it. He not only doesn’t make decisions when I need them, he doesn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me know when the decision will be made. Then he blames me if something slips. I’m tired of it.”

Esther leaned over to Grace and whispered. “Grace, I haven’t told anyone yet, but I just accepted a position at Miconal this morning. They asked me if anyone else was interested in coming over. You’d be a great addition there.”

Grace perked up. “Hmm. Do you have a contact there?”

“Sure do.”

“Send it on to my personal email. Thanks Esther.” Grace smiled, packed up her things, and left the conference room.

The Message:

Grace’s frustration with Paul is something many of us have experienced. If you were a Grace, you got frustrated with a leader who couldn’t make decisions, didn’t make them in a timely manner, or acted impulsively. To put some meat on the bones, I’d like to contrast what I call intentional decision-making with reckless decision-making. Intentional decision-making means decisions are made on time, based on available information, by the right person, and with the good of the organization in focus. Reckless decision-making is the inverse; decisions not made in a timely manner (or at all), not based on available information, made by someone not authorized or informed to make the decision, or driven by some agenda not focused on the good of the organization. Intentional decision-making balances speed with decision quality, while reckless decision-making unduly emphasizes either speed or quality at the expense of the other.

Are you a reckless decision-maker who wants to be more intentional? Consider these 12 tips:

  1. Decision speed is based on need – If you see a car coming at you, split-second decision-making is imperative. You don’t take time to gather facts, consult with others, and consider alternatives. You just act. Similarly, leaders need to throttle the speed of their decision-making to the urgency of the situation. Gauge the need to make a quick decision and act accordingly.
  2. Set expectations on decision types – Followers need to know what to expect from a leader regarding what decisions they can make on their own and when to engage the leader. The leader needs to get alignment with followers on four decision types:
    1. Follower presents decision alternatives, leader decides – The follower brings a decision to the leader for the leader to make.
    2. Follower decides, leader concurs – The follower consults with the leader before making a decision.
    3. Follower decides, leader is informed – The follower makes a decision then informs the leader of the decision made.
    4. Follower decides, leader not informed – The follower makes a decision independently, the leader is not informed.
  3. Be clear not only on what decisions need to be made, but when – When a leader is faced with a decision, one of the first questions he or she needs to understand is when the decision needs to be made and what happens if it’s not made by that date. Don’t accept ASAP, TBD, or Yesterday from followers. They are either too vague or, in the “yesterday” case, impossible to achieve. Drive specificity on the need-by date.
  4. Press for consequences of not deciding by the due date Consequences of not deciding are just as important as the due date. Conducting the due diligence on the decision will likely compete for time on your schedule, so the leader needs to have a clear understanding of not only the due date but the consequences of not meeting the due date. It also forces followers to be thoughtful and quantitative about what they are asking you as a leader to do and what happens if you don’t do it by the due date.
  5. Accept that sometimes your alternatives are worse and worser – Leaders are rarely faced with perfect decision alternatives; most times there are negative implications of any alternative and the leader must evaluate which alternative offers the fewest downsides. Don’t be tempted to dismiss an alternative just because you find something wrong with it; it may be your least-worst alternative.
  6. Explain the why – Followers may not agree with the leader’s decision and may think the leader is operating without the facts or has another agenda. When the leader doesn’t reveal the rationale behind a decision, it gives followers the opportunity to create their own version of the why, which may or may not be accurate. Explaining the why behind your decisions exposes followers to your thought process and allows followers to correct any inaccurate factors that guided your decision. While followers may not be happy with a decision, you want them to at least respect its soundness.
  7. Encourage “if you were in my chair” thinking with followers – A secure leader has the courage to ask his or her followers, “If you were in my chair, what would you do?” Asking a follower what decision they would make not only demonstrates that you respect their point of view, but also exposes the leader to how a follower thinks though difficult decisions. Getting the follower’s perspective also helps the leader give the follower additional considerations they may not have thought about.
  8. Be intentional about risks and mitigations – Good sound decision-making involves an understanding of the risks with each decision alternative and the mitigating factors which need to be undertaken to ensure success. I’ve seen seasoned leaders who mentally analyze decision alternatives’ risks and mitigating factors. Then there are others who need to write (or type) them out. As a leader, it’s not only important that you clearly understand the risks and mitigating factors, but that you can also explain them to followers.
  9. Be clear on the constraints – This is particularly important when empowering a follower to make a decision. Any constraints that are present, i.e., “The decision has to cost less than $10,000,” should be well thought out and clearly articulated. It not only helps followers with decision-making, but also forces you as the leader to understand how a decision meets or doesn’t meet constraints.
  10. Don’t let decisions sit on your to-do list – Allowing outstanding decisions to stack up not only frustrates followers, but also takes up your management cycles by putting more on your to-do list. Work to getting decisions off your to-do list as quickly as you can while still being intentional rather than reckless. It’s a great feeling to cross something off your to-do list, and outstanding decisions are no exception.
  11. Articulate the why when changing your mind – One of the constants for a leader is that things will change. What may have been a good decision three months ago can suddenly be a bad decision. As a leader, it’s important for you to be open to reversing a decision that no longer is the best (or least-worst) alternative. Just be clear about the why when explaining your change.
  12. Do what you say you’ll do – If you say you’re going to make a decision by a due date, for Pete’s sake do it, or provide rationale as to why the decision can’t be made by that date with a revised due date. Just as you expect followers to do what they say, they expect you to live up to your commitments.

The Consequences:  Not being intentional about decision-making can result in the following consequences:

  • You’ll make bad decisions – This may sound like a no-duh, but it’s well worth stating. Also, making untimely decisions or not making them at all is the same as making bad decisions.
  • You’ll frustrate followers – As a leader you’re expected to make decisions that pave the way for followers to do their job. Reckless decisions hold up progress and will ultimately cause your followers to question your fitness as a leader.
  • You’ll hurt your business – Reckless decisions will most likely cost time, money, and/or quality. You also risk losing great follower talent (like Grace) who get fed up with you as a leader and decide to leave.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the 12 tips for intentional decision-making.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those decision-making areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who has exposure to your decision-making process to hold you accountable in your intentional decision-making
Posted on: July 22, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Having the Courage to Call Out Balderdash

The Scenario: 

  • Sue and Tran are talking after leaving Rob’s team meeting.
  • “Can you believe what Jim just got away with?” Sue asks.
  • “I know, Rob must be blind. Didn’t even question it.”
  • “Same thing happened last week when Pete presented that bogus plan that looked like he spent ten minutes putting together.”
  • Tran shakes his head in disgust. “I’ve only been on Rob’s team for a few months, but I’m already seeing a pattern of him either not calling out balderdash or not recognizing it. Is he afraid or just incompetent?”
  • Sue just shrugged her shoulders as the two entered the elevator.

The Message: defines the world balderdash as “senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense.” It’s likely you’ve been in a meeting where a colleague, supplier, leader, or maybe even you, presented something that just didn’t make sense. Strong, competent leaders don’t let those skim by; they usually start out with, “help me understand . . .” then precision question the presenter to determine if it’s a communication issue or if the presenter is speaking balderdash. When it becomes evident it’s balderdash, the leader’s next actions reveal his true stripes. Some leaders shy away from confrontation altogether, others may gossip about it with a colleague, some may throw a temper tantrum, or even mentally save the event only to bring it up again in a performance appraisal. The intentional leader doesn’t do any of these; he calls it out, realigns on what needs to be done, helps with corrective action, and follows through to ensure the corrective action is taken. The intentional leader isn’t concerned about being right and doesn’t gloat over a victory; but is concerned about doing the right thing for the business. Calling out balderdash isn’t comfortable; it’s not supposed to be. It’s a necessary part of the job. However, intentional leaders need to know how to do it to get the ship righted and preserve everyone’s dignity.

Need to learn how to better call out balderdash and get things moving on the right path again? Give these ten tips a peek:

  1. Focus on the behavior, not the follower – Focus on the follower’s actions and why they were wrong; don’t attack the follower. Focusing on the follower versus the action implies that the behavior would be the same regardless of the situation and it attacks their character. Stick to the action, why it was wrong, and the consequence of the action.
  2. Make it about the team, not the follower – Focus on the action’s consequence to the team and what the tangible impact means to the team because of the action. Don’t make the follower feel as if she is alone in the battle. Stand arm in arm with the follower.
  3. Call out evasiveness – If a follower is giving vague answers or trying to answer a question that wasn’t asked, call it out. Followers need to know that they can’t pull the wool over the leader’s eyes. Expect direct answers to direct questions.
  4. Set expectations of what and when – If there is corrective action needed, get agreement with the follower on what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. Don’t allow for ambiguity on what the follower needs to do next, no TBD or ASAP.
  5. Don’t go on and on – Calling out actions doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out exercise. The follower will likely get the point after a couple of minutes. Be clear, concise, and brief; don’t make an uncomfortable situation go on any longer than necessary.
  6. Be firm, not angry – Followers need to know that you’re serious when calling out actions. Do so with a firm voice and controlled language; yelling or throwing a tantrum not only isn’t necessary but it labels you as a leader who becomes unhinged when problems occur. Followers will avoid giving bad news for fear of an angry reaction. It also can brand you as unable to control yourself when things go south. Not a good image to project, not only to followers but to your boss.
  7. Offer help – Be prepared to offer help to the follower to rectify the action. Help could come from either you as the leader or another person with the experience to help. Be ready to make yourself and others available for help.
  8. Have a quick 1:1 chat afterward – Take a couple of minutes with the follower afterward, through email/chat/direct conversation to underscore that you believe in them and are there to help correct the action. The follower needs to hear your support and encouragement. The quick chat will help ease any angst and focus more on the problem to solve versus whether or not they will still have a job.
  9. Set a follow-up discussion – After setting the what and when expectation, ask the follower to schedule a follow-up discussion with you to provide an update on the corrective action. The follow-up not only ensures corrective action is in progress, it also instills accountability in the follower to do what needs to be done by when.
  10. Acknowledge successful corrective action – When a follower successfully navigates through a corrective action, be intentional about acknowledgment. The follower needs to see you as a fair and balanced leader; one who praises good actions and calls out not-so-good actions.

The Consequences:  Not being intentional about calling out balderdash can result in the following consequences:

  • You’ll be viewed as a weak leader – When others see a problem and see you not calling out the action, you’ll be seen as afraid to confront others and lacking courage.
  • Your credibility will be challenged – Not calling out actions could cause others to wonder if you have the wisdom to know when something is wrong. Followers will likely wonder if you’ve got the experience to do the job.
  • Your team’s overall quality of work can decline – If followers know you can be fleeced, you can unwittingly set a low-quality bar of work. Followers will perform to your expectation level; if you demonstrate lowered expectations by not calling out balderdash, followers will meet your lowered expectations.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the 10 tips for calling out balderdash.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those calling-out areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to show courage in calling out balderdash.
Posted on: July 15, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Women, poets, and especially artists, like cats; delicate natures only can realize their sensitive nervous systems.

- Helen M. Winslow