4 Steps to Doing the Right Thing

Do you do the right thing?

I want to revisit where we were last time – talking about Integrity.  This is a timeless topic, but in recent days is timelier than ever before.

Before we get to far away from it, I also want to revisit the example we were using previously in talking about the University of Arkansas Head Football Coach situation.  While I don’t want to draw too much attention to this situation I do want to take a different look at it – this time through the lens of the actions and decisions of the Athletic Director Jeff Long.

While the coach’s actions brought about a very public ethical dilemma, Long’s response/reaction mitigated a lot of the negative that the coach had created and may have created an even greater positive focus on the integrity of the program that will have long lasting positive effects. 

He showed that the university valued ethical behavior over a winning coach, which is a lesson in and of itself not only the players, students, coaches, faculty, and fans, but for us as well.

How often do we focus on the results over how we achieved the results?  This plays out in business all the time.  Our job as leaders with integrity is to ensure our people understand the importance of the ‘how’.

Most interestingly for me was the ‘how’ in the way that Jeff Long tackled this ethical dilemma.  I’ve categorized these in to four distinct areas of action that were taken.

  • Acknowledge.  Houston, we have a problem.  Have you ever tried to avoid a negative situation because you know that it’s going to be painful and energy consuming?  I have.  But when it comes to ethical dilemmas we really can’t just sit on the fence and wait for things to blow over.  We need to deal with it.

When confronted initially with the situation, the first thing that Long did was acknowledge it.  While this was a very public situation for the university, he didn’t try to hide it. Instead, he stood in front of reporters and told them what he knew.  More importantly, he also said that he didn’t know everything and didn’t succumb to the requests to speculate. 

  • Set Expectations.  Okay…so we know have a problem.  Now what?  You need to define what needs to happen next.  And whether that is simply for your own benefit to organize or to publicly let others know what your plan of action is, definition is important because it gives you structure for dealing with the situation.  Jeff Long did this very well. Once he acknowledged the situation, he said, “Here is what I’m going to do next.”  He didn’t paint himself in to a corner either by setting artificial timelines.  He simply said, “Here is what we are going to do.”  And more important than setting the expectation for himself and the public, he followed through on what he said, which improved his credibility significantly.
  • Consult.  Do I need to shoulder all of this responsibility myself?  Absolutely not.  While I don’t possess a PhD in human psychology, I have a hard time believing that humans are built to handle tough decisions alone.  We have a safety net of people that make up our social sphere that help guide us along the way.  This may be your parents, or a sibling, best friend, pastor, boss, career mentor, legal resource, counselor, or other source.  The fact is, gaining other perspectives on tough decisions is a great idea.  I know that I use a network of trusted people in my life to help give me perspective all of the time.

In his statement, Long stated that he sought counsel and perspective from others.  Undoubtedly, there were very different perspectives presented, but in the end, he had to take in all of the information, filter, and then make the best possible decision.  The same is true for all of us.

  • Decide and Act.   Making tough decisions isn’t easy.  Acting upon them is sometimes even harder.  As I looked at these two actions, I thought about splitting them out in to their own points.  But as I looked closer, I believe that you can’t separate them because they are absolutely interconnected. 

As a leader, you can’t decide and then not act. If you don’t act then you really didn’t do anything, now did you?  Leaders make and act on tough decisions.  Don’t forget that.  If you can’t, then being in a leadership position may not be for you.

At the end of the day, Long made a very tough decision.  He made the right decision (in my opinion).  But he didn’t stop at the decision.  He followed through with action.  He terminated the coach, he started a search for a new coach, and then hired a new coach.

One other side note and observation that I wanted to cover is the compassion that Long exhibited in the handling of the situation.  Not only was he sensitive to all that were impacted in the words that he used and privacy he maintained,  but his tone, demeanor, and delivery conveyed that he really cared about all of those involved (including the coach).  Following the above steps in a sterile manner may get you through the situation, but what people will remember is your sincerity and how you made them feel about it.

Every ethical decision that you come to in life may not be hyper-complex.  Some may be much more black and white and easy to quickly determine.  However, I’m confident that you will experience at least one or more difficult, complex, ‘gray’ decisions to make in your life.

Having a framework to approach and deal with these situations will be very important to your success.  Just remember to be sincere and compassionate as you face these challenges.

As leaders, we all have tough decisions to make.  Many may not be as public or complex as the one that Jeff Long faced, but tough decisions nonetheless.  While none of us are perfect, having the right tools in our toolbox will help us when those tough decisions come along.

My questions for you are:

  • Will you step up when it’s your time? 
  • Will you make the right decision when no one else is looking? 
  • Will you act with integrity? 
  • Will you teach integrity to those that look up to you?

Mentoring Basics: Part 5 (series finale)

Throughout this series we have covered several basics of mentoring from the mentor’s perspective. Everything from creating some structure in your mentorships, to assessing a potential mentee, to some key do’s and don’ts.

This is the final post in the series on Mentoring Basicsand we are going to spend a little time talking about how to handle tough conversations.

Before we dive in to how to handle these types of tough conversations, I want to make sure we cover why you need to deal with these types of conversations in the first place. As a mentor, you have accepted a position of guidance and leadership over another. You have agreed to provide input and experiences that will help shape and grow them. You are tasked with being a good steward of the trust given to you by your mentee and you must be honest and objective in diligently executing your role.

Being a mentor is a big deal!  All this responsibility should sound pretty heavy.  It’s almost like there should be an official oath, a swearing in, or at least a cool handshake that has to be accomplished before you become a mentor.

And while the handshake would probably be fun, the point is that your role is important and should be taken seriously. That means you have to take the good with the bad. While there are plenty of good times in developing others, there are also plenty of tough conversations to be had. And a good mentor won’t shy away from these tough issues. Rather, they find a way to deliver the message that needs to be heard in an appropriate manner in the best interest of the mentee.

So what are tough conversations?

I find that these are talks with your mentee on topics that may be difficult to deliver. Based upon your own experience and personal style, some topics may be more difficult for you than others. These topics can revolve around all sorts of things (e.g., performance, attitude, style, grooming, etc.). One way to know that a topic may be particularly difficult for you is if you have that little voice in your head saying, “Oh man, this isn’t going to be fun.” Or if you have an immediate reaction to walk away rather than deliver the message. Or if you start seeking out ways for you not to have to deliver it. But if you don’t deliver it, who will?

I’ve been here several times before. And its not always easy. Sometimes its something that can be embarrassing for both you and the mentee, like telling them that their personal hygiene needs improvement. Or sometimes it may be something confrontational, like telling them they are wrong when they strongly believe they are right.  Or perhaps they are close to or have violated an ethical or morale principle.

As I think through my mentoring experiences, I find that these center around a few general themes.

  • Delusions of grandeur – when someone thinks they are greater than they are and/or are better at something than they really are.
  • Negativity or negative traits – when someone exhibits negativity in the workplace and/or negative traits (e.g., lying, gossiping, bad attitude).
  • Poor performance or failure to complete work – when someone delivers sub-standard performance or doesn’t meet expectations.
  • Highly personal issues – when there are highly personal, sensitive or potentially embarassing issues, including personal life issues that affect the work place.
  • Ending the mentoring relationship – when you need to end the mentoring relationship ahead of schedule.
These are just a few themes that I’ve encountered and I am sure there are many more.
While the listed themes cover a wide variety of issues, the approach to handling these as a mentor are very similar. Here are five suggestions on how to handle the conversation that you can add to your leader’s locker.
  1. Be prepared. Make sure you know your facts before you engage in a tough conversation. This may mean that you need to fact seek and fact check before you have this conversation.
  2. Be private. Before you have a tough conversation, make sure you are out of earshot of others. Protect your mentee as appropriate from any additional embarassment.
  3. Be honest. One thing that should always set you apart as a mentor (which we have discussed in other posts) is honesty. You of all people should provide an honest assessment of the situation. While being honest can sting some times, if done properly in the right spirit you may do more for someone’s development than ever before.
  4. Be clear. When having a tough conversation it is very important to be concise and clear about what you are saying. Don’t ‘beat around the bush’. Get straight to the point. Talking around the situation only creates greater confusion.
  5. Be supportive. Tough conversations are just that. They can be embarassing. They can make someone feel inferior or badly. So, unless it’s your goal to destroy someone’s ego or self-confidence, you should find a way to deliver in a supportive and uplifting manner. Watch your tone. Be mindful of the words you use. Tell a story about a time when you did something similar and learned from it. There are things you can do to soften the blow if the situation calls for it.

Again, there are many other approaches that you can take in handling tough conversations, but these are just a few that you can add to your locker.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and if you’ve taken anything away it should be that there are many ways to approach mentoring. You need to figure out the approach that works best for you and then build upon it as you gain more and more experience.

Hopefully, the tools provided in these 7 posts on Mentoring Basics will serve you well on your mentoring journey. If you have other thoughts, please feel free to post comments and share with the broader audience or you can email me directly and I will find a way to incorporate.

Again, I hope you have enjoyed this series. If you have thoughts on other series or topics you would like to explore, drop me a line.  Don’t forget to ‘like’ The Leaders Locker on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Happy Mentoring!


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?



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.


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