“Come See Me in My Office”

The dreaded invitation.

“Come see me in my office.”

When you’re the one inviting, here are a few truths to remember…

  • Your employee didn’t wake up this morning intending to make life miserable for you or anyone else.
  • Your employee is trying. If not, there’s a much deeper problem that’s been simmering for a long time.
  • Your employee is probably very nervous or afraid.
  • Your employee will definitely feel misunderstood and possibly bullied.
  • Your employee almost certainly will not say most of what he’s really thinking.
  • Your employee really wants some encouragement after a tough conversation.

And here are a few things to try…

  • Start things off with a less scary invitation: “Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to go over some stuff with you.”
  • Visit your employee in their own office where they’re comfortable.
  • If you need to close the door, tell them it’s because you want both of you to be able to speak freely with each other without having to worry about what anyone else thinks.
  • Show your employee honor by genuinely allowing that their motivations could be very good. Honestly try to understand your employee (they’ll know).
  • Make it a two way conversation. Ask them what their take on the issue is, what factors are causing it, and how you can help.
  • Tell them how much you appreciate them.
  • Ask them for feedback.
  • End on a positive note. Smile. Be truly excited to help each other make things even better!

Unless, of course, you really are just trying to kick them rudely out the door. In which case, you may be the problem…

Leaders, Treat Your People Well Because…

Research overwhelmingly supports the theory that giving your people the very best treatment is good for your bottom line. Investing more in making your people happy bears great returns long term.

So we treat our people well because that way we will be richer. And there is nothing wrong with that.

May I just suggest the idea that we should also treat people well just because they are people?!

“[Managers must realize] the almost sacredness of their responsibility for the lives of so many people. [Managers’ fundamental task is] providing the enabling conditions for people to lead the most enriching lives they can.” – Bill O’Brien, Former President of Hanover Insurance

I feel there is a necessary disclaimer: Treating people well doesn’t mean being a pushover. As a leader, you can give someone the worst news (e.g. “I don’t think this job is a good fit for you”) and still be treating them well. (In fact it helps that the best business decisions seem to align with the long term health of everyone involved.)

Treating people well means genuinely caring about them, prioritizing their needs and desires, doing what you can to help them, and always giving them respect. And if you’re only doing that when it’s expedient, then it’s not real care. And you can’t hide that from your people forever.


“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” – Samuel Johnson

When People Speak Poorly About Themselves

A team member came to me: “I’m so sorry! This client entered this information wrong, so it didn’t work correctly in our system. Stupid me tried to fix it, but I didn’t realize that undoing it would undo some other parts of their entry that needed to stay. That’s just me being stupid, not thinking. Can I just re-submit all the correct parts?”

I had to scratch my head. Sure, there had been a mistake made, but it was entirely on the client’s part, and the way my team member was fixing it was exactly right. There was no mistake on her part, nothing she did wrong. She was not being stupid. In fact, if anything, she was being resourceful, taking ownership of the situation, and doing a good job problem-solving. But every day, she seemed to be more sure that she was just terrible at her job. I needed to help her change her mind about herself.

There’s an overarching reason this matters: My team member is a real person deep down, who shouldn’t be hurting inside unnecessarily, and I get to be a part of that journey with her.

“[Managers must realize] the almost sacredness of their responsibility for the lives of so many people. [Managers’ fundamental task is] providing the enabling conditions for people to lead the most enriching lives they can.” – Bill O’Brien, Former President of Hanover Insurance

From a leadership and business standpoint, there’s even more to it:

The Effects of Self-Deprecation in Business

Googling Self-Deprecation gives you this quick definition: “The act of reprimanding oneself by belittling, undervaluing, or disparaging oneself, or being excessively modest.”

Being aware of your weaknesses and owning up to your mistakes is very healthy in business. But disparaging yourself does serious harm, especially when excessive self-deprecation becomes a habit.

When a team member is too negative about his or her self (both inwardly and outwardly) it has serious effects on both that person and the entire team. That means productivity and morale take a hit. It even reaches as far as affecting the branding your business has with outsiders. Here are just a few ways it can screw things up:

1. Doing big things takes self-confidence.

As the great writer Samuel Johnson put it, “Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.” If you truly believe your negative self-talk, you lose your own motivation to try accomplishing bigger tasks. If you don’t believe you can grow and succeed, you won’t put much into it. And if your negative self-talk is just a show for now, don’t let the power of repeated words take you by surprise: You’ll start to believe yourself eventually.

2. A negative focus discourages the people around you.

If something as insignificant as a rainy day can drain people of their happiness and energy, being surrounded by negative talk will certainly do the trick. When your go-to behavior when confronted with a challenge is to berate yourself (instead of just finding the solution), the people around you get discouraged. (This applies to speaking negatively of others, too. Too much negativity just brings people down.)

3. You make yourself seem less dependable.

This is an important point for those who might put on an airs of humility by speaking poorly about oneself. You may think you’re convincing the people around you that you’re modest, not cocky, a team player, one of the nice guys. Instead, people are beginning to see you as less dependable for one of two reasons: a) They believe what you’re saying; Or b) they know the psychological toll your negativity is taking on you and the team.

4. Outsiders lose faith in your business.

When the public catches wind of your blaming yourself for every little hiccup, they believe you. Why shouldn’t they? After all, you know your business better than they. They’re not there every day to see that you really are dependable. They just hear, “I’m bad at serving you. You can’t count on me.” So being hard on yourself in front of clients and customers, especially when completely inaccurate, is doing more damage to your company’s bottom line than you might realize.

Why Self-Deprecation Happens

Those are just a few of the many ways talking poorly about yourself does a lot of harm. But even those alone are plenty of reasons to help break this habit wherever we see it. As with fixing anything, finding a real solution requires understanding the ultimate causes of the problem. Otherwise, we’d be fighting symptoms.

For instance: “Stop talking so poorly about yourself! That’s very irresponsible and it’s bringing the team down! I don’t want to hear any more of it!” Such a confrontation would be directly attacking the symptom, but would probably just make the person’s self-esteem worse–which just leads to less confidence and more negative self-talk.

Also important to note is that solving the problem requires understanding the different nuances of each case. I might practice self-deprecation because I think it makes me look better, while you might do it because you truly believe you’re worthless. Those are two dramatically different problems that need attention, and there’s no one-size-fits-all fix.

Since every case is a little different (really a lot, since it starts with the day you realize your mommy is disappointed with you for picking flowers from her garden, gets worse when your date breaks up with you, and continues straight through your career full of critical bosses and angry customers)–I’ll just suggest just a few examples (real examples, fake names):

1. Childhood emotional abuse

Dan’s parents treated him like crap. They “loved” him, but it was a “tough love,” really a misguided attempt at giving him humility. His parents, in reacting to their own experiences with arrogant people, decided Dan was going to grow up self-aware–especially aware of his shortcomings.

They lovingly tried to help Dan examine each and every decision he made (even down to how he spent his free time), constantly questioning his choices and suggesting he could be doing better.

Dan heard one thing: You’re not good enough. You always do things wrong.

And it stuck with him.

2. A heavy-handed boss

Jessica had the greatest work ethic and a positive attitude. She was easy to get along with and was very dependable. This meant she quickly moved into a position of leadership at her first job.

As with any management position, she had lots of fires to put out. But every time there was a fire, no matter how much she’d take responsibility, ask for help, work overtime to make things better–no matter what, her boss yelled at her.

Of course her boss knew she was a good person, but he was insecure in his own position. He was afraid that if the numbers slid, he’d take the heat from his own crabby boss. So he laid the pressure on thick, the only way his experience had taught him how: Being heavy-handed.

Jessica worked for him humbly and patiently for three years before finally throwing in the towel. But by the time she left, the emotional scars were there. Her new set of glasses saw only one reality at work: I do a bad job.

3. Seeking positive attention

Sam had been in a relationship with the girl he loved for several years. As often happens, after the first several months, emotional attention wasn’t as automatic as it used to be. He started having to look for it.

At first he tried showering the love on his girlfriend, hoping she’d return it. She appreciated it immensely but didn’t get the hint. And sure she loved him, she just didn’t realize how much he needed to hear it.

So Sam started criticizing himself even when he didn’t really believe it. Every time he did, his girlfriend would come running to his defense. She cared deeply for him and didn’t want him to think badly about himself. So he learned that whenever he needed encouragement, he just had to say something depressing about himself, and he’d immediately get the support he needed. This relationship taught him how to function in the world: Belittle yourself so that others will praise you.

4. Why self-deprecation flourishes: The workplace bully

This isn’t an origin story–it’s a sad (and true) example of why self-deprecation flourishes on a team.

After learning that she always does things wrong from her first boss, Jessica moved on to another company with a nicer boss. Unfortunately, some of the team wasn’t so nice. Tanya quickly picked up on Jessica’s poor opinion of her work and she ran with it. Tanya had her own insecurities to deal with–she was afraid her own value to the team would be forgotten. So she protected herself by criticizing her teammates.

Jessica was the perfect victim. Tanya barely had to try. Tanya just affirmed to everyone Jessica’s own negativity about herself. Tanya didn’t really have it out for Jessica. Jessica was just collateral damage in Tanya’s war against her own insecurity. But every time Tanya picked on her a little more, Jessica’s self-esteem got weaker and weaker.

Bullying takes weak hearts and makes them weaker. Self-deprecation flourishes when there’s a bully on the team.

How to Help Break the Self-Deprecation Habit

Solving the problem of self-deprecation on your team is primarily a matter of identifying what the real root cause is in any given case. We looked at a few possible drivers, but the bottom line is that you have to do your homework. And the best way to find the root cause is to ask: Ask the one who needs to cut him or herself some slack. Ask a teammate who has been watching for a while. Ask yourself what patterns you’ve seen and stories you’ve heard. But especially: Ask the person him or herself. It’s amazing what you’ll learn just by starting an open conversation.

Once you understand what the real driver of the self-deprecation habit is in a particular case, the solution is as simple (not easy) as dealing with the lie at bottom of it:

You’re NOT worthless.

You DON’T do everything wrong.

You SHOULD be praised without having to manipulate for it.

I CANNOT allow bullying on my team.

I can’t emphasize enough that there is not one universal solution. Consider what would happen if you tried to help Sam (who learned self-deprecation as a way to manipulate more positive attention) by constantly responding with praise and affirmation. This would simply reinforce the underlying problem. It would solidify his belief that the best way to get respect and encouragement is by speaking poorly about himself. So it would only get worse. A smarter approach would be looking for times to frequently praise and encourage Sam when he isn’t seeking it. And when he does continue to berate himself, engage him in discussion–he might admit that he doesn’t actually believe what he’s saying. But don’t just reward the behavior. On the other hand, some immediate affirmation and praise might be needed desperately by Dan, who has lived his entire life genuinely believing that he’s a worthless basket case.

As a final reminder: Putting people down for putting themselves down is a bad idea. It’s the lazy answer, and it will just make matters worse.

So if you have team members who are bringing themselves down along with the team and even your entire brand, get to know their story. Why do they talk badly about themselves? And then–through honest coaching and daily reinforcing, prove to them that they’re better than that.

Your business will thank you. What’s more rewarding–your encouragement and coaching might just help people turn around their entire lives. You have a chance to help people learn to respect, love, and take care of themselves. That is awesome!


“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Why Some “Help” Really Hurts


When I visited a school in a Ugandan village, the local leader I was working with told me that the buildings were not being maintained and would continue to fall apart, because everyone knew that western aid-workers would just come rebuild them if needed.

Very revealing.

This doesn’t mean I think assistance programs are bad, but this concept makes you think hard about how aid should be shaped to have good long-term effects. I remember seeing lots of very clear and damaging cases of “shifting the burden to the intervenor” while living in and visiting some very poor areas in Africa.

Consider this–from Peter M Senge’s excellent study, The Fifth Discipline: The Are & Practice of the Learning Organization:

“The long-term, most insidious consequence of applying nonsystemic solutions is increased need for more and more of the solution. This is why ill-conceived government interventions are not just ineffective, they are “addictive” in the sense of fostering increased dependency and lessened abilities of local people to solve their own problems. The phenomenon of short-term improvements leading to long-term dependency is so common, it has its own name among systems thinkers–it’s called “shifting the burden to the intervenor.” The intervenor may be federal assistance to cities, food relief agencies, or welfare programs. All “help” a host system, only to leave the system fundamentally weaker than before and more in need of further help.”

You see lots of this. And it’s not just in poverty relief. You see it in personal life. You see it in business–when companies use kid gloves and cute initiatives to train and empower leaders (watering down what real, complicated leading looks like) and end up just babysitting a lot of managers that were never given the chance to be taken seriously. You see it in customer service–when out of a desire to go above-and-beyond, companies accidentally train customers to be extremely high-maintenance instead of self-reliant. Examples are endless.

So the tough question is–how do you help AND avoid that effect?

I don’t have a perfect answer, but I think it starts somewhere along the lines of: “Teach a man to fish…”

What do you think?


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

12 Rules for New Managers – #3: Write and Own a Vision

Last Monday I posted the 2nd rule I wish someone had given me when I first became a manager: Know Your People. The 1st one I needed was Keep Your Eye on the Ball.

Today I get to share with you the 3rd of 12 rules every new manager should know. I used to hate this one. I thought it was silly. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

If you know any managers who are either fresh in their field or could use some fresh perspective and inspiration, please share!

Rule #3: Write and Own a Vision

“The number one reason most people don’t get what they want,” says T. Harv Eker“is that they don’t know what they want.”

Before you embark on a journey, you need to know your destination. Any preparation or action you take before you know exactly where you’re trying to go is silly.

You need a vision! A destination.

A vision is a clear concept of what you plan to make a reality.

If you want to be an effective leader, you need to determine exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and where you and your team are headed.

My experience confirms that until you have that clear vision, all your planning, all your analyzing, all your reviewing, all your assigning–all your work will be crippled by a lack of direction and purpose.

A vision needs to be 5 things:

1. Sincere

Your vision needs to be a sincere and honest expression of what you and your team truly want. You can have as cool sounding a mission as possible, but unless it’s something that fits you, you’ll never stick to it.

2. Inspiring

To be and do their best, people need to feel like they’re part of something important. Something that makes a difference. That’s why disconnected visions like “Follow all the rules and run smoothly” don’t work. You and your team need something exciting to reach for!

3. Clear

Your vision needs to be clear. It needs to be tangible and measurable. It needs to be specific and exact. As a leader, you lose all your leverage when the goal is something subjective, like “Be the best we can be.” You and your team need to know exactly what is the destination, so that there is no room for misunderstanding and half-hearted work.

4. Actionable

Your people cannot be waiting for the dream to become a reality. They need to be focused on making it a reality. Try using action words in your vision: Success won’t happen to you, you will make success! Tag numbers on it, put measurements in it. Your vision has to be one of action, so that when a player stops pulling his weight, the vision speaks directly to them.

5. A Commitment

Until you and your team can promise yourselves and each other that you will make your vision a reality, and hold each other to that commitment, the vision will be useless. There will be no passion, no inspiration, no power. Your vision has to be a commitment!

So how do you create and use your vision?

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion,” said Jack Welch, one of the greatest business leaders in history.

1. Write it!

Do not just talk about a vision. Do not have a vague idea that leaves everyone off the hook. Choose one and commit to it. Make it official. Put it in writing! You need to be able to return to it, consult it. Your team needs the same.

2. Collaborate.

This is one of the biggest mistakes I made as a manager. I tried to choose our vision without including my team. How seriously do you think they took that vision? How much do you think it resonated with them? How motivated do you think they were to pursue it?

3. Teach it.

Everyone on your team needs to know your vision. Inside and out. If you’re all trying to get to slightly different versions of a destination, you’ll never get there. So teach your vision in depth to each and every player on your team! Have people memorize it, or at least keep a copy! Talk about it lots. You and your team have to own it!

4. Tie everything into it.

Here’s where you’ll start seeing the real difference. When you have a “vision” in one corner, and what-you-do-daily in a different corner, you will see aimlessness and confusion. The real power is when you wrap everything you do back around into your vision. Show your people how each little part of their job is a part of the vision. Then, and only then, will you feel the momentum.

Takeaway: You and your team need a vision, and until you have one, there will be no direction or momentum. A vision is a clear concept of what you plan to make a reality. Your vision needs to be sincere, inspiring, clear, actionable, and a commitment. You need to write out your vision with the help of your team, everyone needs to learn it, and everything you do must tie into it. Then, and only then, will you feel the power of vision.

“Determine that the thing can and shall be done and then we shall find the way.” – Abraham Lincoln

What else should managers know about creating and living a vision?