Is That the Best You Can Do?

This week, we were honored to have Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, speak at our workplace.  She is a very interesting and dynamic speaker.  Many that attended found her brutal honesty to be refreshing.

Among the many experiences and stories that she told was one about the speechwriter for Henry Kissinger that I think was very intriguing.  So much so, that I did some research on the story.  I found out that earlier in his career, Winston Lord was Kissinger’s speechwriter before he later became the ambassador to China.  The story basically goes like this:

Lord was preparing a speech for Kissinger and delivered a draft.  Kissinger called him in the next day and simply said, “Is that the best you can do?”  Lord said, “I thought so, but I’ll try again.”  He returned a draft to Kissinger, only to be called back again and asked the same question, “Is that the best you can do?”  This back and forth continued several times until Lord, who was exasperated and exhausted, finally said, “Yes!  I know it’s the best I can do.  I can’t possibly improve one more word.”  Kissinger then replied, “In that case, now I will read it.”

While I found that there were a few variations of this story (even as told by Lord himself in interviews), I found that the moral of the story remained constant and rings true; are you giving your best the first time?  The story is popular and I found it used in several blogs on leadership , articles and speeches. 

So the story begs the question, “Are you delivering your best work the first time?”

All Kissinger really wanted was an assurance and confidence in the fact that this was in fact his speechwriter’s best work.  If the speechwriter would have said “Yes” the first time Kissinger probably would have accepted it, but by repeatedly issuing the challenge he ultimately received his speechwriter’s best.

As I think about the application of this story to leadership, I think about it in two ways.

First, as leaders, do we elicit the best work from our people? How do you know?  What are you doing to challenge your  people to be better?  Are you teaching and developing them to produce quality work?  Do they convey their confidence when submitting work product? Do they strive to provide their best the first time?

Second, as leaders, do we set a good example and provide OUR BEST work the first time?  To your boss?  To your subordinates?  To your colleagues and partners?  To your customers?  Are people seeing your best work the first time?  Or do you scrape drafts together and submit them haphazardly just to get by? 

Here’s 5 tips on helping you achieve your best work the first time:

  1. Chuck laziness aside!  Don’t procrastinate!  You may be thinking, “Ha!  Easier said than done.”  Procrastination is one of the most widespread workplace diseases that there is.  Many even fall victim to the fallacy that “I do my best work under pressure.”  Well, then create artificial pressure to get you there, because leaving things to the last-minute generally leads to less than desired performance.  Force yourself to get started on things early.  If you can get in to this habit, you will be a step ahead of many.   This basic tip also sets you up for more effectively employing the next three tips.
  2. Plan for the Red Pen Plan time for the proof-reading, editing and review of your work.   Your boss shouldn’t be spending time red-penning (editing) your work.  Make sure this is part of your own project or work plan.  And honestly, once you learn to use it appropriately it becomes second nature. 
  3. Find Good Hole Punchers!  In addition to planning the proofing process in to your work, is the development of a list of trusted people who can review your work before you submit it.  Have them punch holes in your theories, format, content and anything else they can.  This list should be of people from a cross-section of your work environment because you may want different or multiple opinions on varying pieces of work.  Two key callouts though are that your list needs to be made up of people who have no fear of being brutally honest with you AND you need to be willing to accept any feedback that they provide with an open mind. 
  4. Sleep on it!  One of the great tricks of the trade, especially if you don’t have good hole punchers is to come to a stopping point in your work, put it aside, sleep on it a day or two, and then come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.  This gives your mind time to rest.  And when you come back to the work, you may see things you didn’t see before or think of new ways to phrase or say things.
  5. Obsess on improvement!  How many times has spell check saved your life in catching a misspelled word?  How many times since then have you misspelled that same word over and over only to have spell check catch it again?  I know it’s happened to me.  However, you won’t always have spell check around to save you.  So, wouldn’t it be good to get past being lazy and learn to actually spell the word right?  The same applies to all that you learn each time you submit a piece a work for review.  As people proof your work or provide you edits, learn the lessons they are teaching you and apply them to future work.  Learn to spell the word right!

What tips do you have for submitting your best work the first time?



Are You a Bad Boss?

We’ve all seen them.  Some of us have had them.  And no one wants one.

And above all as a leader…. You shouldn’t want to be one!

Bad bosses.

Like others, I read lots of blogs and articles around leadership in an effort to expand my own knowledge and refine my skills so that I don’t become one.  One of the blogs I follow is Michael Hyatt | Intentional Leadership.   This week he posted a fantastic article called Thirteen Ways to Frustrate Your Employees.  This was a humorous, but very honest view of 13 bad boss behaviors.  Given that I’ve had conversations with several of you about “bad bosses”, I think you’ll find this article very interesting.

As I read through the short article, I realized that I have observed every one of these behaviors and definitely have a desire NOT TO BE like this.  And that is part of the point of his article;  you don’t just learn behavior from good bosses, but you learn what not to do from bad bosses.

To take his article a bit further though, it is up to us as leaders to be very aware of how our leadership is perceived and received and then do something about the things that aren’t working as well for us (or others).  Here are three simple steps to take in making changes to your boss behaviors:

  1. Assess your leadership.  Be aware!  Whether through official means (e.g., 360 degree surveys, structured classes), through feedback loops, from mentors and trusted colleagues, or with the help of the human resources department – find a way to know how people see your leadership.  And don’t just do it once.  Figure out how to constantly assess.
  2. Acknowledge your issues.  No one is perfect.  And no one expects you to be either.  But people do expect you to be honest.  So, following an assessment, share with your team, peers, boss or others (as appropriate) what you are doing to address your areas of opportunity.  I recently saw a great display of this out of one of my bosses – it was well delivered and as a result, well received.  This shows humility, which is a great tenet of servant leadership.
  3. Follow through.  Develop a plan to change and then make sure that you do what you said you were going to do.  Make sure your actions match your words.  People WILL remember what you say.  If you need to modify or change your plan, then make sure you communicate that and set the proper expectations.

Here is the link to Michael Hyatt’s article:  Thirteen Ways to Frustrate Your Employees.  Make sure to check it out.  You will definitely find it valuable!  AND it will also give you a good chuckle!

If you find that you exhibit any of these behaviors, then it may be time for you to review steps 1-3 above and do something about it!

Question:  What other bad boss behaviors have you seen or experienced?  Comment below.



Inspire With Why

People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.

In my down time, I really enjoy listening to people that inspire me with intriguing ideas. is one of those places where I can always seem to find great inspiring content.

The other night, I came across a presentation by Simon Sinek (author, educator) titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  I found his comments to not only be logical and profound, but applicable to inspiring any audience (e.g., direct reports, team members, customers, etc.).

Sinek believes that if you explain and share why you do something, there is greater loyalty, buy-in, and inspiration as compared to simply communicating what you do.

My favorite statement in the presentation was, “There are leaders and there are those that lead.  Leaders hold a position of power and authority, but those that lead inspire us……we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to.”

The video is 18 minutes long.  I encourage you to listen to the entire presentation as he does a great job communicating his message.  I believe it will change the way that you think about communicating as a leader.

It did for me.

When a Great Leader Leaves

Change.  It’s inevitable.  It requires us to adapt the way we think and the way we do things.

One of the most recent big changes to my world has been the departure of some great leaders.  So, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to talk about how we (as leaders) need to act when a great leader leaves.

Losing a great leader has a number of impacts, regardless of the reason that they left.  It can rock the very foundation of what people know to be true of the environment in which they function.  Much similar to a ship that is suddenly without their captain at the helm of their vessel.

A great leader is an inspirational force that drives the organization forward.  A great leader provides structure, consistency, and calm.  A great leader is beloved. 

As I’ve listened to those around me talk about the recent departures, I hear many different sentiments; from worry, to excitement, to panic, to confusion, to wonder. 

So what happens when a great leader leaves?  We change.  We adapt.  We overcome.

But what’s required of us as leaders when our leader leaves?  What’s our role?

There are some basics that are critical to ensuring that we ultimately adapt and overcome as an organization.  And you will be a key instrument in ensuring that this happens.

  • Be Calm.  It’s important that during a transition, especially when a leader leaves unexpectedly, you need to be seen as calm (regardless of how you may really feel).  Impacted associates will immediately turn and look at you (as a leader) for how they should respond.  Should we be worried?  Should we be scared?  Should we be angry?  They will take their cue from you.  You set the tone.  If you are calm and confident, it will create a calming effect on your associates and peers.  If you are emotionally out of control and erratic, you can actually make the situation worse.


  • Provide reassurance.  One thing that great leaders often do is develop a structure that is capable of running without them.  They do this through organizational alignment, development of direct reports, establishing clear direction and strategy, etc.  These are the bedrocks that you can immediately rely upon to help move you forward during sudden change. 

Reassure your team that they know their roles and they have tasks in front of them that still need to be accomplished.  Focusing on the task at hand, often times helps people get past the panic and worry about the unknown future.  The simple notion that “we are in control” in and of itself is reassuring.

Get past the why.  While “why” will be a question asked by many, the fact is, the answer doesn’t change the current situation.  We may never fully know why.  So instead of expending our energy here, it’s important that we and our teams focus our energy where it is more productive.  Your team will likely need your guidance and direction to get there.


  • Be Present.  This is time for you to be present amongst your team.  Going back to the first two points, being visible to your associates (and peers) is critical to create that calming effect and to provide reassurance.  Being present also means that you are able to listen and see how your associates are responding to the situation.  Some may require more nurturing than others, but having a good pulse of how your team or the organization is handling the change will help you make the right decisions to move each individual associate and the team forward.


  • Take Stock.  Determine quickly what obligations the departed leader had on their plate and ensure that they are covered.  Don’t let things fall through the cracks.  Similar to sending a calming, reassuring message to the team, this tenet also helps send a calming message to customers, stakeholders, and partners that “we’ve got this”.

One of the greatest examples I can pull as a reference to one of the recent departures is how a group of Senior Directors rallied quickly to determine what responsibilities needed to be met, what meetings needed to be attended, and what customers needed to be communicated with.  They did a great job of splitting up these responsibilities and ensuring that the gaps were filled. 

It’s also important to work with the departed leader’s supervisor and your peers to determine the path forward.


  • Step Up!  This is the time for you to Lean Forward as a leader.  Decisions need to be made, things need to get done.  While some decisions may wait for a new leader to be appointed or hired, the fact is that it may be some time before this person is named.  This is not the time to be timid and passive. This is the time to show ‘what you’re made of’ and that your leaders were right in putting you in the role that you are in.  So, STEP UP!

As always, this list is not all inclusive, but the people that I see achieve success during times of change like this are the ones that cover these five foundational elements (at a minimum).

No one wants to see a great leader leave, but all we can do is appreciate them for their contribution, the time that they spent with us, and be a good steward of the legacy that they have left behind.

So, the question is, when faced with this type of change, will you step up and rise to the challenge?



Creating Beautiful Music

I have this wonderful vision in my head.

I have this dream that my teams will function like a masterful orchestra that creates beautiful music and achieves brilliant success.

In order to get there though, they need something.  They need something from me.

Every great orchestra takes it’s cue from their conductor.  In the case of the team, they take their cue from their leader.  This is me.  This is you.

What is it though that they need from you and I to create beautiful music?

As I was perusing some of the TED videos, I came across one that intrigued me.  And struck a chord as to how great conductors lead.

Watch this amazing video from TED and I’ll catch up with you afterwards to share my observations and thoughts.

To start, I found this video to be intriguing.  Did you catch the leadership lessons?

The guy that brought us “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” marvelously displays how great leaders lead. [Actually, Bobby McFerrin is a genius of a guy if you ever listen to him talk.]

Here are 5 leadership lessons I observed:

  • Great leaders demonstrate the behavior or action that they want from their team. Did you notice how he started out simply by showing us what he wanted on the first note?  The team (audience) quickly picked it up because he was clear (even without using words) as to what he wanted them to do.  Once they picked it up, he moved on to the next note (lesson).  How often do you demonstrate desired behavior or lessons for your team?
  • Great leaders reinforce desired behavior. Did you notice how (even within a minute) he reinforced their understanding of the note by having them demonstrate and practice it over and over again.  Sometimes he would let them sing it alone and sometimes he would reinforce the note by singing it with them.  How often do you reinforce desired behavior when developing an employee?
  • Great leaders ‘let go’ and trust. Did you notice that he stopped instructing and singing and let them sing the notes?  He trusted that they would follow his lead, which they did because of the foundation of the first two points.  They also developed a reciprocal trust in him and his leadership.  How often do you ‘let go’ and trust that your team will do what what you have taught or instructed them to do?
  • Great leaders help their team understand the bigger picture. Did you notice that after they had established trust in each other and they were doing what he expected, he chimed in with his own melody over the top of what they were singing?  To me this was a great audible example of displaying how their part worked with the greater whole.  This gives meaning and purpose to those things that we ask our teams to do.  How important is it for your team to understand how what they do contributes to the greater whole?
  • Great leaders stretch their teams. Did you notice that once his team was comfortable with what they knew and trust was established, he started to stretch them in to the unknown?  In fact he stretched them down the scale beyond their learned limits and then back up the scale above their learned limits.  They did more than they probably ever thought would be possible.  How often do you stretch your teams to new heights?  To do the improbable?  The impossible?

The result?  Beautiful music.



A Lesson in Graciousness and Servant Leadership

A friend of mine shared this story that was posted on CNN and I thought it was a fantastic display of servant leadership and graciousness.

In reading the below story, I wonder if the participants ever would have thought this would have ended up in national news.  Think what kind of story this would have been if the participants would have been snobby, uncaring or arrogant.

It doesn’t matter how great you think you are or great you may be, true leaders understand that serving others is the greatest way to lead and then act on it.

What kind of story are people telling about your actions?




4-star general, 5-star grace

CNN -February 13, 2011- Written by Bob Greene

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Graciousness can pay priceless dividends.

And it doesn’t cost a thing.

You may have heard the story about what happened between White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Four-Star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a recent Washington dinner.

As reported by the website Daily Caller, Jarrett, a longtime Chicago friend of President Obama, was seated at the dinner when a general — later identified as Chiarelli, the No. 2-ranking general in the U.S. Army hierarchy, who was also a guest at the gathering — walked behind her. Chiarelli was in full dress uniform.

Jarrett, apparently only seeing Chiarelli’s striped uniform pants, thought that he was a waiter. She asked him to get her a glass of wine.

She was said to be mortified as soon as she realized her mistake, and who wouldn’t be? But the instructive part of this tale is what Chiarelli did next.

Rather than take offense, or try to make Jarrett feel small for her blunder, the general, in good humor, went and poured her a glass of wine. It was evident that he wanted to defuse the awkward moment, and to let Jarrett know that she should not feel embarrassed.

As Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr:

“It was an honest mistake that ANYONE could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes on my pants which were almost identical to the waiters’ pants — REALLY. She apologized and will come to the house for dinner if a date can be worked out in March.”

Now, even if you’ve never met Chiarelli or followed him in the news, you have to be impressed with him after hearing that story. With his lofty rank in the military, he could have given Jarrett the deep freeze, reproached her and corrected her. But he poured her the wine — “It was only good fun,” he wrote to Starr — and invited her to a meal at his home. He came out of the incident as a decent and magnanimous person.

It’s easy to do, if you care about other people’s feelings.

[There are more examples in the original article, which you can access via this link to CNN.]

What Gen. Chiarelli did though was to demonstrate, instinctively and in an instant, what it means to be a big person.

The rest of us may never reach the exalted status of those three men. But kindness knows no social stratum. Every day, we’re given the choice. Consideration? It’s free of charge. It can echo forever.

Grief in the Workplace

Photo Credit: Photobucket

Maybe it’s me, but here recently, it seems like I know more people in the workplace that have been struck by a tragedy or personal loss.  Whether serious personal illness/injury or loss of a loved one, dealing with loss or grief in the workplace can be very difficult.

I find myself thinking, “What do I say?” Am I going to aggravate them by simply saying “I’m sorry” or “How can I help?”  I definitely feel compelled to say something, but sometimes it feels awkward, uncomfortable, and quite frankly, I personally feel helpless because there is little I can do to ease the situation for a friend or co-worker.

Let me start by saying that I am not an HR professional.  Simply, someone who has been there a few times and have my own experiences to pull from and in talking with a few of you, know that this is a topic that many don’t know how to tackle well.  So, I offer my own thoughts to this difficult and delicate subject.

My personal opinion and experience has been – when responding to a situation involving grief or significant loss:

  • Treat people respectfully.  Be kind and supportive.
  • Don’t avoid or shun.  Talk to them.  Offer your support and check in on them, but allow them their space.
  • If they ask for your support, give it.
  • Be present.  If appropriate, attend the funeral, wake, or go to the hospital.  Back up your verbal support with your physical presence.
  • Pay attention to the longer term.  Clearly when there is a death, many people rally around, but as the weeks pass, the support often goes away.  So continued support is appreciated and necessary.

This is an important topic for leaders. Why?  Because you don’t get second chances or ‘do-overs’ when responding to someone else’s grief or loss.  You have to get it right the first time and there isn’t a manual that says “do it this way” every time.  Times of crisis like this, when there is a great need, often define how people perceive you as a leader and tests what you are made up of as a leader.  In essence, you show your true colors.  Plus…it’s not about you.  It’s about fulfilling a need for another.

Few of us are prepared for it though.  So, I researched around and found some additional tips on how to handle grief in the workplace that I thought pretty universally applied to supervisors and coworkers.

Above all, these situations require judgment and common sense on your part as everyone deals with grief differently and has different needs.

Leaders can play a key role in helping a person to heal. Resuming the normal routine of work is part of the healthy recovery process. Knowing something about the various stages or behaviors that are common in the grief process can be helpful in understanding how to support grieving workers (there are plenty of resources online to learn this – search “stages of grief”).

Here are some additional tips for dealing with grief in the workplace (specifically around loss):

  • Make contact with your bereaved associate as soon as possible after you learn of their loss. Offer your condolences. Listen and respect confidentiality. Expect sadness and tears.
  • Be prepared. Know your organization’s policy on bereavement and personal time and be ready to explain the policy to the associate.
  • Be as flexible and negotiable as possible in allowing your associate to have the time and space to deal with their loss.
  • Arrange for back-ups and replacements necessary to cover the person’s work during their absence. Ensure that phone calls and e-mail messages are re-directed.
  • Get information on services, funerals and memorials to the person’s colleagues in a timely fashion.
  • If appropriate, help to organize some form of group acknowledgment to support the associate, such as issuing a card or flowers, or planning group attendance at a memorial ceremony.
  • Ensure that support continues when the person returns to work. The first few days may be particularly difficult adjustment.
  • Have back-ups or a buddy system in place when the associate returns to work to provide support and check in with the associate periodically to see how he or she is doing.
  • Consider adjusting the workload. Expect productivity, but be patient and reasonable in your expectations.
  • Be sensitive to the cycle of upcoming holidays or trigger points that might be difficult for the associate.
  • Recognize that other cultures may have customs, rituals or ways of dealing with loss that differ from those to which we are accustomed, especially in our multi-cultural workplace.
  • Watch for warning signs of prolonged grief and ongoing performance issues, such as poor grooming, severe withdrawal, substance abuse, or other uncharacteristic behaviors might be warning signs.
  • Offer resources for professional help. As a manager, you are in a unique position to observe a need for help and to recommend assistance through a referral to your EAP or appropriate community resources.
  • Be mindful of how this situation may be directly or indirectly impacting others in the workplace.  There are many friendships in our workplace, and others may also experience varying levels of grief in support of their friend or colleague.


What Kind of Impact do You Create?

Today on the way in to work, I was walking along the sidewalk and as someone was approaching I looked them in the eye and said, “Good Morning”.

The person never looked at me and when I spoke, slightly turned their head up and away, almost in a snobbish fashion.  I was a little surprised and my first thought was, “Wow.  It just got colder outside.”  My second thought was, “Wow.  I hope that wasn’t someone that works here”.

Who knows what was on that person’s mind.  Who knows if they were even cognizant of what they did.  All I know is that I was slightly taken aback as I thought, “How rude”.  Never having met this person before, this is now my first impression of them.

At Walmart/Sam’s Club we practice the 10 foot rule.  This is part of our culture. It is part of who we are.

Acknowledging someone else’s presence costs you nothing, but can create a great positive impact.

NOT acknowledging someone costs you nothing, but can create a GREATER negative impact.

So my questions for you are; What kind of impact do you create? What kind of impression do you leave with people as you pass by them?



%d bloggers like this: