Not Their Problem

As well as a glass ceiling, women who are successful and become CEO’s also face a “glass cliff“(1). If you work twice as hard and are twice as smart as your male counterparts and actually land a CEO position, you face more challenges as a CEO because you are a women(2).

Glass Cliff?

Women CEOs are more likely to be recruited to companies that are in trouble to begin with. Either because the “first string” (of men) passed on the job, or the board needs to show that they’re thinking outside the box and recruiting a relationship-strong leader (i.e., a woman).

Then women CEOs are more likely to be the target of activist shareholders. Boards and CEOs used to be able to ignore them, but now they can create real headaches while owning a minority of the company stock.

Lastly – and this will sound familiar to many women out there – women CEOs get more negative attention from the press. Even when they objectively do better in comparable situations.(3)

What Does the Research Say?

Diminishing, denigrating, and dismissing 50% of the potential brain-power and creativity available to solve hard problems in an ever-connected and accelerating world based on their gender our one’s own ego is stupid ineffective.

For a long time women were told they’re the problem, they need to change, that they need to lean in – even by other women.

I argue that women’s attitudes and behaviour isn’t the problem. It’s men’s attitude and behaviour that’s the problem.

For example, this research analysed calendars, emails, and sensors attached to people in an office setting. Their hypothesis was that women had fewer mentors, less face time with managers, or weren’t as proactive as men in talking to senior leadership – all factors in determining future promotability. Turns out none of these were true when they analyzed the data.

So the researchers concluded that it wasn’t the women’s behaviour, but how the women’s behaviour is perceived by men. The way that people with the decision-making power perceive them. Which is another definition of bias.

When I shared this with my sweetie – who is a strong and successful woman in her own right and doesn’t need any of my damn help thank-you very much – she gave me the eye-brow. The one that says “thanks for playing, Captain Obvious”. Then we laughed and laughed.

The Bare Minimum

What do we men need to do differently?

First, I want to acknowledge that some people will have stopped reading at this point. Either because they don’t agree with me, or they think it’s not their problem, or they think they aren’t biased against women, or maybe I’m just boring. If you’re still reading and look forward to picking up your game, thank-you.

The bare minimum:

  • Don’t be a creep. Don’t stare at her chest, don’t make comments about their appearance, don’t flirt, don’t ask for dates, don’t encroach their personal space, so so so don’t touch her, and don’t make creepy comments behind her back to fellow creeps(4).

Some men never figure this out: the waitress at the restaurant doesn’t smile at you because she likes you. She does it because it’s her job and because she works for tips.(5)

Also, you don’t get credit for not doing these things. Remember, it’s the bare minimum.

The Next Level
But let’s assume you’re not a creep, which you probably aren’t. Here are some other things you might want to watch out for in your own behaviour:

  • Don’t interrupt. Let people finish their sentences. You may think it’s just the give and take of a conversation, brain-storming, or debate. At best it’s rude, at worst its verbal bullying. I am guilty of this, especially when I get excited about a topic or issue. I used to wonder why people thought I was obnoxious…
  • Stop mansplaining. Don’t explain things to women they already know and didn’t ask you to explain. If you didn’t know what mainsplaining is, start watching for it. Imagine what it’s like to be a woman having her own book explained to her and you’ll understand how oblivious and obnoxious it is. Again, I’m amazed how often I catch myself doing this, even though I’m trying really really hard not to (and no, I don’t get to take credit for not doing something.)
  • Don’t hepeat. Don’t repeat what someone else said and take credit. This happens often enough that it has its own word and twitter hashtag.

Advanced Leadership

What are some positive things we can do, to be a good ally and a good leader?

  • Set the example and expect others to do the same (see above).
  • Start questioning your own bias, and fight to overcome it. This is also a great exercise in better decision-making all around.
  • Promote women. Fill the leadership pipeline with people of ability, especially that first critical promotion to management.
  • Step on the creeps – you may not be a creep, but leadership means setting the example. You have a responsibility to stop others who are “misbehaving”. If you tolerate creepy behaviour, you are complicit.
  • Set ground rules for meetings that include respectful listening (see above).

I hope you found something helpful in this article. If you did, please let me know.




(1) I was listening to NPRs “Secret Life of a CEO” series, which is interesting in itself. I recommend it.
(2) Because it’s never just one thing ever when situations go south.  And if you’re a woman, to hell with you in particular, apparently.
(3) Yes, I know you too can use Google to cherry-pick counter-factual arguments, research, and articles. I’ve read them, thanks.
(4) Think of it this way: the consequence of a bad date for men is a wasted evening. The worst case for a women experiencing a bad date is rape and death. It’s not fair, but you can empathize why some women might be a bit sensitive when it comes to these things. The consequences are wholly disproportional.
(5) Maybe you are that charming. I really don’t know, but I doubt it. Maybe it really is a genuine office romance, but those are usually are really really bad idea. Especially if it’s someone who works for you or you work for them.

Leadership Lessons from the Music Industry

The music industry continues to change. Falling album sales eroded by on-line streaming, questions on how artists get paid and make a living, and technology making it easy for anyone to become a producer. It’s another industry that got hit by the internet twenty years ago (remember Napster?) and continues to get sucker-punched over and over again as the technology evolves(1).

With a young step-son who’s been a professional musician since age 15, and is now recording his sixth album, it’s a topic of interest to me personally – how is he going to make a living doing what he loves,  in an industry famous for manipulators and scumbags, and keep being that good person I know him to be? He’s a talented guy and decent human being, and I look forward to helping him figure it out where he wants my help.

I got to sit in on The Gathering(2) afternoon’s music panels on Friday, and came away impressed with the thoughtfulness and depth of discussions. There seems to be an intersection between artists, brands, marketing, and the people who act as in-betweens.

There are successful artists who have become their own brands (not only making music but also clothing and other products, and doing their own marketing); brands that bring marketing in-house (for example Dr. Dre headphones, who started as a musician(3)); and marketers who love music doing amazing things in the world even though they don’t make music (like Andy Cohn from the FADER).

Turns out music is more than just music. Social justice, innovation and creativity, self-identify, story and narrative, commerce, influence and motivation all get mixed up in a wonderful goulash(4), or maybe a Chili Verde(5). You decide.

Music is unique in the human experience, but it costs money to make it. Surprisingly people want to be able to make music and eat at the same time. Go figure. So music is also commerce, and not surprisingly music also overlaps business and leadership. This became clear to me while listening to the panelists and hearing themes that leadership and business people have been talking about for decades now: values, vision, and people.

Image result for nobody speak
“Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow, currently on heavy rotation at my house


Here are some of the things I heard:

Your Values

Be really clear about what you’re offering, what you expect in return. You can trade your talent and identity for fame and money if you want to, and that’s okay, but don’t expect it to last, don’t expect it to have an impact, and don’t expect anyone to have your best interests at heart.

You can do better than that. There were some powerful stories told on the stage, but they’re not mine to tell. Let’s just say that music not only influences and changes lives, it also literally saves lives(6).

…or as Joe Belliotti put it, “You don’t have to be an asshole to be successful.”

Your Vision

Overused, oversold, and yet so important. What’s the thing that you would be doing even if you had to pay to do it?

Of all the panelists who shared their “vision statement” (and they all had one, it’s de rigueur don’t you know), authenticity was believable, even if it wasn’t messianic: “Feed my family.”, “Take care of the people important to me.”, “Protect my fans, because they got us here.”


“Touch your people every day, because you’ll be sad when they walk out the door.”  – Jason White

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but I will add this from my own experience: if you think you’re doing this well enough, you’re not. Very few people actually do, many fewer than think they do.

It’s more than likely that you’re just fooling yourself. No shame in that, it’s easy to do. It even has a name: confirmation bias. Take a long hard look at how well you treat your people, and what you tolerate in terms of how others treat them, and do better.


(1) See also publishing, newspapers, manufacturing (robotics), transport (self-driving cars), entertainment (pirated movies), etc. Next up professional services such as lawyers and doctors (artificial intelligence). Time to buy an acreage and some goats and move to the country?

(2) In its fifth year, it brings together brands and marketers. Three years ago they added music, integral to telling any story, which is what good marketing does. Plus I love any excuse to head to Banff despite the tourists – they’ve done a really good job of extending tourism past the summer holiday & winter skiing crowd, and I admire that.

(3) If you haven’t watched “Straight Outta Compton” you should, even if rap isn’t your thing. Good movie.

(4) My mother’s signature dish. That and rouladen. Mmmmm.

(5) What’s in the slow cooker right now, and it’s making me drool. Pardon me if I’m distracted by food.

(6) For one example, check out Paul Brandt’s #notinmycity campaign, imagined and executed by marketing students from Mount Royal University. As an added bonus the campaign has ruffled establishment feathers, which delights me because that’s what’s necessary to drive change.

Hiring Millennials

Thanks to NeoMam Studios and Adecco for the infographic. Big data is not something that my clients worry about, but then not many of them are Fortune 500 (and I’m okay with that). However being web-savvy, mobile friendly, and having a culture you can promote do work.

Pay special attention if you have an aging workforce.

Personal Commitment is Always the Only Way to Drive Change

This article, about how EBay is making recruitment, retention, and promotion of women a strategic priority, is interesting once you get past the jargon, it illustrates a couple of points well:

  • personal commitment is the best, perhaps the only way, to drive change. Which means telling a personal, credible story about your own motivation. Which means being vulnerable, and that’s scary.
  • finding, keeping, and promoting the best available talent, no matter what the source and no matter what the size of your company, is a strategic advantage that raises the game for everybody
  • being a good ally means putting somebody else’s interests above your own with no expectation of reward
  • measurement and culture (how people treat each other) trumps policy and process
  • it’s also a good example of having one priority at a time (promoting women not the first thing the CEO John Donahoe tackled)

The only thing I’d add (and maybe they’re doing it already) from my experience in mentoring is finding a way for women to mentor each other. The best way to inspire somebody is for them to imagine they can do what you did.

In this case that means women mentoring women. And besides, mentoring is a great way to develop  leadership skills, identify those that can lead (because they mentor), and fill the leadership pipeline with people that know how to develop other leaders.

Just a suggestion, John, if you’re reading this…


Pick Your Staff Like You Pick Your Fruit

As a parent, I was told and believed that parents are the greatest influence on the character and success of our children. And it’s not true. Believing that only served to make me waste time doing things that weren’t effective, and made be feel guilty and ashamed when I failed as a parent, and made me act like a controlling asshole. Best of intentions, poor behaviour, bad results.

Turns out that the greatest influence on a child’s character is not her parents, but rather friends in school and out. So, if we have so little influence, what can we do? Help our children pick their friends? Help them learn how to choose their friends?

You Can Pick Your Friends

A friend of mine shared with me how she taught her son to choose his friends like you would choose your fruit. Pick the ones that are mature and ripe and flavorful. And if you find a rotten one, don’t keep it around.

I believe the same is true of whom we choose to surround ourselves with as adults. Our peers, professional colleagues, and friends are a great influence on us in our day-to-day lives, and the research bears this out. We’re more like to be able to quit smoking, lose weight, or exercise regularly if we choose to spend our time in the company of others who do the same, for example.

I believe the same is true of choosing friends with a positive attitude. Not a Polly-Anna make-believe optimism. A positive attitude that helps us get through the hard times, celebrates our successes, and helps us enjoy life when we can.

I believe the same is true for those we chose to work for or with. If you’re a hiring manager you have a huge influence on the outcome of the success of the company. Hiring the right people may not guarantee success, but hiring the wrong people is a sure-fire way to fail.

Who you choose to hire is the greatest influence on the success of your company. A-players hire and are attracted to other A players. A-players will not tolerate working for or with B and C-players for very long. They have a choice, even in a recession, of where to work, and they will take it.

B-players hire C-players because they do not want to feel threatened. B and C-players cost the company not only in terms of lost productivity, but also lost opportunities, demoralized staff, dissatisfied customers, and the extra effort it takes to manage them. They infect everything they touch. The cost of hiring the wrong person is five times their salary and up. They are literally a rotten apple that will turn an entire barrel of apples into a stinking, rotting mess.

Most people leave a job because of their boss, or because their boss tolerates poor performance in others. Not because of money. Even though that’s what they tell you. (Except maybe in Alberta and Saskatchewan because of our weird oil and gas economics, and I believe that’s about to come to an end.) So C-player supervisors and managers drive A players out of the company.

Personally I like Robert I. Sutton’s “no asshole rule“. I found it delightful that simply by telling candidates in the hiring interview that, “By the way, if you’re an asshole, I’ll fire you.”, had the effect of screening out a majority of abusive behaviour from the first day. Some candidates, after being confronted with such a clear boundary around expected behaviour, simply didn’t take the offer. Which I imagine was just fine by Mr. Sutton.

Over-Communicate to Drive Change

First in a series about communication and change management


Mistake #1 They Know What I Know

You and your team have create a brilliant plan during that conference, workshop, planning session, meeting, brain-storming, or tiger-team. It is so blindingly obvious (to you and everybody that was in the room) what needs to be done. You’re inspired and energized. Momentum and success are sure to follow.

Yet think about the time your boss came back from a conference or a retreat full of vim and vigour, thoughts of incentivizations dancing in her head. How well does that usually work out? You try to carry out your brilliant plan, it falls flat. Bitterness and disappointment soon follow.

Other people cannot read your mind. They do not know what you know. They have not experienced what you experienced. They were not at the retreat with you. Your plan, initiative, or strategic shift may be brilliant, but it needs to be as inspiring for the people on whom we’re foisting change as it is for us.

Which is a shame, when may just need a little explaining and inspirational communication .

Say you’ve decided to roll out a performance review process. Please don’t, and I’ve seen this done – really, tell your managers: “Do performance reviews. Follow this process [hands over slide deck], use these forms [hands over forms], have it done by this date.” It will fail.

Fix #1 Over-Communicate

Back in my Air Cadet days, they forced us to practice “public speaking”. One of the simpler tools in our tool box was: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” This pattern works for change management too.

That new employee performance review process? Your first communication might be just for managers who will be performing the reviews. Announcing the initiative, explaining the process, and inviting them to a training session. Tell them what you’re going to tell them…

Consider repeating this first step for different audiences. Your first communication to non-managers might be an all-hands e-mail announcing the initiative, explaining the process, and inviting people to an in-person information session (like a lunch-and-learn) where they can ask questions.

Now your managers are ready for the questions that will come from their direct reports (which inevitably won’t be asked when you’re at the front of the room), because you’ve already told them what you’re going to tell them…

After the review process is complete, you might consider having a “hot wash”, inviting feedback, and compare how the process was supposed to be carried out and against what actually happened. Share this analysis. Tell them what you told them…

When You Don’t Over-Communicate

When people don’t know what’s going on and why, they make stuff up. And not the good stuff with fluffy bunnies and unicorns farting rainbows. The bad stuff. Worst case scenario stuff. Corrosive speculation and rumour-mongering follows.

Over-communication will save you time, energy, and grief in the long run. It’s worth the effort.

Here’s a Company That Gets the “Culture” Thing

Here’s a Company That Gets the “Culture” Thing

…and instead of hiring based on a job description, they’re hiring based on the kind of people they want to hire. Bravo!


Fire the Creeps and Bums

Fire the Creeps and Bums

Firing a non-productive or anti-social (in the destructive sense) member of a team actually increases the team’s productivity by 30 to 40%. That means that on a team size of 4, productivity will stay the same or get better even if you don’t replace them,  Yet your payroll drops by a quarter.

On a larger team then you’re making money by getting rid of the bully / degenerate  because of the bump to productivity. If they’re at the managerial or executive level your return on investment is even higher. The higher up in an organization the greater their impact, positive or negative.

Cost of a Bad Hire

If that doesn’t convince you then consider the cost of make a bad hire, or keeping them around. It starts at five times their annual salary and goes up from there, depending on their impact within the organization. Up to 27 times.

Too many leaders are afraid to replace, move, or let go somebody they know needs it. Perhaps they’re in a key position. Perhaps they’re a family member (tough one for sure). Perhaps they’re a loyal, long-term employee whose performance has dropped in recent years.

So decide now what’s best for the business and all the people in it. If you can’t do what’s right, maybe the problem is you.

Let the Facts Judge Them

I like John Spence’s approach as outlined in his book “Awesomely Simple“. You’ll need four sheets of paper: On the first one have thee employee write  what they believe is expected of them. It’s important that expectations are clear and agreed, and that they have agreed deadlines.

On the second they write what they need (training, staff, support, equipment) to accomplish what they’ve committed to. On the third what their reward should be if they accomplish their goals. On the fourth, what they believe the consequences of failure should be.

The key to this approach is regular (weekly) face-to-face review. Regular review is where accountability happens. We don’t need to judge our employees. Presenting the facts will do that for us.

What Took You So Long?

A common reaction when they finally do get asked to leave? “What took you so long?” Everybody else knows what needs to be done. Why don’t you?

What’s the hardest fire you’ve had to make? Do you have somebody you need to let go but just keep putting it off? Let us know in the comments.

Bears in Camp: Using Culture to Overcome Fear

I was at a Scout Jamboree in Southern Alberta two summer ago, in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Beautiful country with lots of wildlife.

Including bears.

Being Scouts we were prepared. Everybody received instruction on food storage, garbage disposal, and cooking protocols. Young men and women were on stand-by with ATVs and walkie-talkies to respond to any bears that might wander into camp. Rally points and head-counts were established. Think of a fire drill except with bears.

About the fifth day just before supper we go those bears. Right in the heart of 1500 campers. On the siren’s signal we rallied at the sub-camps (large groups of people being a deterrent to bears), and after they proved difficult to dislodge we more at various larger collection points in the facility. Away from our supper and closer to the few hard-sided buildings in camp. Everything was going according to plan.

Scaring Off The Bears

Except for one thing. These kids were tired after a long day of running around in the woods and playing on the water. They were hungry. They could hear the ATVs driving up and down the trails chasing the bears and not having much success. Some of them were starting to get scared. It was time for some leadership!

I leapt on the nearest rock and started singing the silliest, most juvenile “action” song I could think of called “I Found a Bug”. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say that bugs get eaten. At first people thought I was crazy. This happens a bit so I’ve learned to ignore it. It didn’t take long for the 200 kids at our rally point to start singing along. When I was done two of the Scouts wanted to lead a song themselves. My plan was working. The kids were taking over.

One after the other Scouts got up on the rock and led a song, story, or skit to keep themselves entertained while the bears were chased through the woods. I think my singing have even helped scare them off! Half an hour later the all clear was sounded, and we returned to our campsites prepared our supper, lighter of step and smiles on our faces.

Values are Culture, Culture is Brand

I believe that the stories we tell ourselves, the songs we sing, and the ritual we indulge in is what makes us human. Other animals can use tools, some animals may even use language. We don’t know. But as far as we can tell we’re the only ones that pass knowledge on from generation to generation verbally.
This is a powerful force in our lives, one that we sometimes hesitate to indulge in. We’re suspicious of being manipulated, and rightly so. We don’t have to reach too far back into history to find examples of these forces being used for evil or personal gain.

Yet this is the essence of leadership, good or bad: to nurture and leverage the group consciousness to execute a goal or task that one person cannot accomplish alone. Many business leaders force success by dint of personality, intellect, or sheer stick-to-it-ivness. Yet in the end how effective are they really? How long do their accomplishments last after they’re gone?

If all you want or need is to make money, then there are many ways to do that. If you want to have a real effect on the world you’re going to have to work through others. The others that believe the same things you do, value the same things you do, and will continue having an effect long after your presence has faded.

What is Your Company’s Culture?

Values are culture, culture is brand. What stories does your company tell about itself? What is the real brand that emerges in times of stress?

Learning By Doing

Tommy trips over a guy lineI was doing some strategic planning with a long-term client last week. They’re doing well, expanding their business in tough times, making the hard decisions about staff, and being leaders. They’re the kind of business I love working with because they run with what they decide. Which has translated into some fantastic cultural and business changes for them in the last year.

We landed priorities for the next quarter, and it came time to assign champions for each one. First pass: the CEO ended up as the champion for all three. So I asked her:

“Are you the best person to do all of these, or are you absolutely the only person that can do these?”

Often the leader is the best person to be accountable for any strategic given initiative. They’ve got the experience, the training, the track record. That’s why they’re the leader. They could do the best job. It doesn’t mean they’re they should.

Mine Mine Mine

I’ve seen this often enough now: the leader takes all the important initiatives, leaving nothing for anybody else to do (strategically leastways). The consequences?

  • They’ve just sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Why aren’t my managers engaged? Because you won’t let them be.
  • They’ve just become the bottleneck, and will often fail at everything instead of giving themselves the chance to be successful at one thing
  • They’ve not focused on the most important thing a CEO has influence over: the values and culture of the business.
  • They’ve lost an opportunity to identify and mentor possible successors

Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, had several very simple principles of developing leadership in young men and women. One of them was:

Learning by Doing

He believed that the best way for young men and women to learn leadership was to lead a small group of their peers. That’s why the patrol system (6-8 boys or girls organized as a small team that do their planning, camping, cooking, etc. together) is so powerful. They can learn all the things they need to in a mostly safe environment, where feedback is immediate and honest, and mistakes are easily forgiven.

The fastest way to squash the enthusiasm of a patrol of Scouts is to start micro-managing them. Adults, especially if they have their own children in the program, get in there and start “fixing” things before they even go wrong. The kids don’t learn anything, the adult becomes over-whelmed and frustrated trying to keep up, and Scouts start drifting away to other troops or even out of the program.

Adults do the same thing. They’re just a little more subtle about it. Sometimes.

So here’s my recommendation:

Delegate Like Crazy

Delegation is hard, because we’re often prone to believe we’re the best person to do any particular task or lead a specific initiative. We might even be right, we are the person that could do that job the best. But we’re not the only one who could.

Stick to the jobs that only you can do, and delegate everything else. It’s a huge opportunity to develop your staff and the culture of your team / division / group / company. Which is your single biggest responsibility (after turning a profit).

You are now the leader of leaders. It doesn’t matter if it’s a snotty twelve-year-old boy who hasn’t changed his underwear in three days, or an executive vice-president. Develop them!

Don’t know how to delegate? Learn. In the age of the internet, business and executive coaching, and self-help books there’s no excuse! Never done it before? Start small and work your way up.

There’s no way to get the most out of your team or get to the top of your profession without delegating. You may be very good at your job, but that’s the only thing you’ll ever be doing if you don’t learn to develop relationships and leadership in the people who work for you.

Learn delegating by doing it.

Question for the Comments: What do you have on your desk or to-do list right now that you could give away, or not even do?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Manager Tools – The Art of Delegation (podcast)
Delegation on Amazon
Why I Suck and Delegating (and Why You Might Too) (blog)

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with