Mistakes to Avoid: 4. Ignore Your Commitments

Ever work on a team or in a partnership where the trust has been lost? Or there was never any trust to begin with? Yea, that. Not fun for anybody involved.

There are many ways to build trust – showing vulnerability, asking for help, including people, admitting mistakes – but the fastest way to lose it is to not keep your word. Not just about the big things, about all things.

Be very clear about what you can and cannot commit to, and once you’ve made a commitment, make every effort to live up to it. If you can’t, you make sure you are explicitly absolved (not ignore it and hope it goes away) from that commitment (not ignore it and hope it goes away), have an alternative to offer, or otherwise authentically show you’ve made your best effort.

Likewise, expect the same standard from the people you work with. Leaders who “go easy” on their people are respected less. Leaders who have high standards and push their team to do their best are respected more. You just have to have the courage to hold yourself to that same standard.

It’s called “setting the example”, aka “leadership”.


*Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame. This is the third.

Getting Things Done is Easy, Building a Culture is Effective

Many leaders I work with are frustrated that the people in their organization aren’t being accountable, responsible, have an “ownership mentality”, aren’t entrepreneurial enough. And then, sometimes, they create processes and rules to try to cover every contingency to set clear expectations, which leads to more frustration.

My first Sergeant once told me if you lock an infantryman in a room with a cannon-ball he’ll either break it, eat it, or lose it. Which seems ridiculous until you’ve tried to make any non-trivial system “idiot-proof”.

Maybe focus on building an effective culture instead?

Mistakes to Avoid: 3. Face the Difficult Conversations

I do a lot of my work at ResultsCI.com, and there we often say:

“The conversations that are killing you business are the ones you’re not having.”

I was working with a client once, facilitating a discussion about what to do with a long-term, loyal, but unproductive employee. After discussing  all the internal and external workarounds put in place to support this employee, I asked “When was the last time you talked to them about this?”

Silly me. I should have asked that question first. The leadership team looked at each other a bit sheepishly and admitted that not once had they given them a clear set expectations, feedback, or an evaluation of any kind, formal or informal, in all the convulsions they had gone through to avoid firing this person.

My next question was: “What do you think would happen if you did?”

The best leaders I know have a knack of telling people things they might not want to hear in a way that preserves the relationship in a positive way, and sometimes even makes it stronger. Often the only people who will tell you when you have spinach in your teeth are your friends…

The good news is that’s there’s lots of help out there to learn this skill (it is a skill, and it can be learned.) If you need a place to start, try Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High. Then think about the conversation you’ve put off the longest, and go plan it.


*Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame. This is the third.

Hey Mom, I’m on the Intertubes!

Had the privilege of being interviewed for a leadership podcast last month, thought I’d share it. How do I sound?



Mistakes to Avoid: 2. Pick the Right People

As opposed to picking the wrong ones. Duh.

BUT, if you’ve thought about, found, and can inspire others with your vision (BHAG, purpose, passion, goal, mission, or idea) ONLY THEN can you start attracting the right ones. And weeding out the wrongs ones.

AND do not tolerate poor performance, as measured by their alignment to your inspiring vision. The poorest performer in your organization (company, movement, effort, team) sets the standard of performance for everyone else. Think about that for a second.

If this though experiment scares you, what are you going to do about it?


*Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame. This is the second.

Mistakes to Avoid: 1. Have a Vision

Imagine my delight when Trent asked me join a podcast on leadership. The question Trent was asking was “what mistakes should leaders avoid?” I jotted down five headlines inspired by my new-found fame, the first being:

Have a Vision (as opposed to drifting aimlessly)

Now I will be the first to quetch about how management consultants make up new words for old/obvious concepts and the try to either trade-mark them, write a book about them, or otherwise use puffery to make a feast out of a crumb. “Vision” (aka mission aka purpose aka BHAG aka passion) is one of those overloaded terms that shifts and slides depending on who is speaking in which context.

BUT, and this is a big but, you gotta know where you’re going. Take some time, quietly and without interruptions, to think about what success looks like for you, your company, you country, or whatever the appropriate scale of your endeavor is.

AND then be willing to share it, work on it, test your progress, hold yourself accountable to it, fulfill the promise of, and recruit a team (friends, family, company, movement) of people who want to work with you on that thing. If you don’t know what that thing is, then don’t be surprised when you don’t get there.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

So this went viral in March: Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber. As a direct consequence the founder and CEO (among others) was forced to resign, and I wouldn’t be surprised as more changes happen as the adults with the money hold the dude-bros accountable.

I’m mostly not sorry for them, because being a dick deserves to the rewards of hubris. Also, I’m looking forward to the day that Lyft come to Calgary, because I will always prefer to do business with people (and companies who are of course made up of people) who actually have values.

Every business needs to make money. I have no problem with that. But if they only reason you started a company was to make money, you’re going to have a hard time.

It’s Not Them, It’s You

Leaders are meant to lead change, and yet getting people to change their behaviour seems near impossible. How many times have you felt “If only *they* did what they were supposed to.” when faced with a peer or subordinate that wasn’t doing what you expected (or a child, or a spouse)?

Maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s you. Even if it isn’t you, if their behaviour or performance isn’t changing the way it needs to, maybe you need to change yours. After all, isn’t a definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results?

Work Life Balance is a Myth

I don’t think this is news: trying to balance work and life in some sort of fair, even, or “balanced” way. It’s like trying to divide the Solomon’s baby. So if you’re still trying to divide your time between home, life, children, self, etc. etc. then stop it.

Here’s what I suggest doing instead: figure out what you really want from your life. What are you good at, or where the opportunities are, or who you want to work with, or how to make a butt-load of money so you can retire early if that’s what you want. Then start working towards that.

This is easier and harder than it sounds, but the important part is to give yourself time to think, evaluate, and adjust. On a regular basis. It doesn’t matter if your no technology / no interruption time is 10 minutes every morning with a cup of tea, or once a year over a glass of Scotch.

When I was a kid on my first ten-speed, I was so fascinated by how the gear changes worked that I ran into the back of a car. I ran into it so hard the trunk popped open and I landed inside it. So pull your head up every once in a while to make sure you’re still headed where you want to go. Or at least there aren’t any parked cars in the way.

Then peddle like hell, if that’s what gonna get you to where you’re going.

Open Offices are Evil

I’m afraid I have to agree with the Washington Post. Not because I have anything against them, nor Google, but having worked in both open, semi-private, and private offices I have to agree: open floor plan offices are counter-productive. What you gain in reduced operations costs and floor space efficiency, you lose in individual productivity.

This is not new. It goes back to a book I read in university, a very long time ago now: The Mythical Man Month. One of the insights I took away was the demonstrable pattern of the best programmers at the best companies are 100x more productive than the worst programmer at the worst companies. The difference between companies: can you close your door and silence your phone?

That simple. A 10-second interruption costs you 20 minutes (give or take) of think time. In cognitively challenging work (programming, engineering, creative endeavours, writing, and other brain jobs) every interruption means starting over again.

So if you ever wonder why you can spend the entire day at work, and come home feeling tired and wondering what you actually got done, maybe you should work from somewhere else once in a while. I used to book a small meeting room on the other side of the building so nobody would want to come find me unless they absolutely had to. Not to hide, but to get work done. Try it some time. Let me know how it works for you.