Subscribe to our Blog!


Ingrid Martine and Rick Maurer - The Un-Game Book Interview

Subscribe To Our Feeds

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Courageous Conversations – Apply the Distinction!

  1. Interrogate Reality
  2. Tackle the Tough Stuff
  3. Invite Learning
  4. Enrich Relationships
In the last blog post I talked about the distinctions to be willing and to want/to not want. If we don’t make the distinction, we can’t apply it. And we can’t help Joe, the manager who is innocent in terms of this powerful distinction.  But let’s assume we CAN apply the distinction. So our first step is to identify with Joe what his greatest concern about Jane is, to let him “bleed off” some of his feelings, and then to ask if he’s willing to look at his beliefs about Jane. He probably won’t want to. Most of us would rather be right than happy.  However, armed with the distinction, you say to him: “ I can see you don’t want to look at your beliefs around Jane. Are you willing nonetheless?”  You can teach Joe the distinction. Doing this is part of your job to develop your people. Once Joe gets the distinction, he’s much more likely than not to inquire into his reality. With your help, of course. This is step one of a courageous conversation. Bill Moyer and Heather McGhee may be using the wrong term when they say Americans aren’t willing to discuss issues in a fact-based way. In our hero’s heart there’s no such thing as “I’m not willing.”  Our hero’s heart is always the space of contribution.   I submit that in the heat of emotion we definitely don’t WANT to have a fact-based conversation. We just want to get comfortable again. We see no other way to be than the way we’ve always been. The distinction to be willing only lives for us as a concept. When it lives as a guiding principle it is extraordinarily powerful to promote a courageous conversation.  “I don’t want to/I want to is no match for “I am willing.” Guaranteed. Let’s begin by getting in touch with our own “I’m willing.” As a manager, we can learn to get ourselves and Joe to “I’m willing.” That’s a fine beginning for a courageous conversation. It could be a game-changer. It could help us escape the confines of our established mind. Albert Einstein said “You can’t solve a problem at the level of thinking that created the problem in the first place.” The rewards of courageous conversations can be immense. We may arrive at a higher level of thinking that would have us “up” our game. Would that be worth leaving the comfort of our ordinary mind? Have you ‘upped’ your game?  Ready to?  Share your story or desire to Apply the Distinction by entering your comments below.
Learn more about the distinctions to be willing and to want/to not want in Chapters 1-4 of “The Un-Game: Four-Play to Business as Unusual.” Visit

Courageous Conversations – Are You Willing?

Interrogate Reality

Tackle the Tough Stuff

Invite Learning

Enrich Relationships

Here’s a BELIEF from which you can lead as a leader, manager, be it in corporate America or in the privacy of your home:

Conversations can either ennoble you and increase your capacity for reflection and judgment, or they can demean you and constrict your ability to make good and thoughtful judgments. 

I recently heard Bill Moyer and young Heather McGhee discuss their shared concern about the viability of our democracy and the effectiveness of our public discourse.  They highlighted a lack of willingness in politics to discuss issues in a fact-based way and asserted “People no longer seem to care about facts or analysis. Our beliefs are more important to us than the facts.”

Wow! What an opportunity for courageous conversations. When our beliefs are more important to us than the facts, our beliefs BECOME the facts in our thinking. WE are right, and YOU are wrong. Not a good environment. To interrogate reality—step one of a courageous conversation—the environment must be perceived as reasonably safe.

So where’s the entry point for a courageous conversation between, let’s say, you and Joe, a manager who reports to you, who has an employee he considers to be a problem? (Substitute parent-child, husband-wife, friend-friend). Joe thinks Jane is broken and needs to be fixed. Jane doesn’t have her own answers, but he does and it’s his job to give her answers. He questions Jane’s commitment, and she’s a drain on Joe. Sound familiar?

What does the first step in a courageous conversation –to interrogate Joe’s reality—look like?

It helps to be interested in the distinction “I am willing” contrasted with “I want/I don’t want.”  Have you noticed you may not want to talk to an under-performing employee?  That’s right.  You don’t want to!  But as a manager who longs to be a great manager, you are nevertheless willing, aren’t you?

 At home, you may not want to say “no” to your child who wants an iPhone at age 8. Nevertheless you’re willing to say “no.” You get the point.

Being willing comes from a different place in you than “I want to/I don’t want to.”  The latter is from your feelings, and if you throw your hands up in the air and say “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am,” what you’re really saying is I AM my feelings.  Which you’re not.  You HAVE feelings, but you aren’t them. No matter how convenient it would be sometimes if it were true.

“I am willing” comes from beyond your feelings. It could be said it comes from your hero’s heart, from that place in us that is unchanging and unchangeable. It’s from the observer place in us who can witness our feelings and say “That’s not me. That’s not all I am.” This observer place is a place you will want to visit often if having courageous conversations interest you. There’s enormous power there. And you can get at it by choice.

Learn more about the distinctions to be willing and to want/to not want, in Chapters 1-4 of “The Un-Game: Four-Play to Business as Unusual.”  Visit:

Have a challenging courageous conversation to share?  Please add your questions/comments below.

Courageous Conversations Introduction!

My blog has changed as I’ve gotten clearer as to what my unique contribution is. So, from help for managers (now in archives) to the theme COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS.  Courageous conversations are a large part of my book “The Un-Game: Four-Play to Business as Unusual”. So it could be said that the blog is “The Un-Game” applied.

What are courageous conversations? They are the so-called undiscussables—the conversations we’re NOT having. The elephant in the room. The conversations we should be having personally, interpersonally, communally and societally that we aren’t having. I submit we aren’t having them because many of us don’t know how to have them. We expect to fail. In other words we anticipate a negative future, and you’d be an idiot to have them if that’s your belief. Unfortunately, the conversations we’ve been having have gotten us to where we are. Most of us are dissatisfied with where we are as a society. So ultimately courageous conversations are desirable so we can reclaim our vision for a society we would be proud to hand over to future generations—reclaim it and act powerfully to shepherd it from vision to action.

Courageous Conversations Have Four Characteristics.

            Courageous Conversations Interrogate Reality

They inquire into closely held beliefs opinions and conclusions with innocent, undefended curiosity.

            Courageous Conversations Tackle the Tough Stuff

Innocent, undefended curiosity can only occur in a context of safety. Once safe we can add the challenge of pointing to the elephant in the room.

             Courageous Conversations Invite, Even Provoke Learning

Innocent, undefended curiosity creates the safe learning environment in which we can tackle the tough stuff. We mine the conversation itself for its lessons which we can apply in areas of our concern where up until now we had seen no new possibility.

             Courageous Conversations Enrich Relationships

One of the faulty beliefs that we challenge in a courageous conversation is  “Tough conversations hurt relationships.”  We’re familiar with the assertion “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” Few of us have heard “I confronted him because I wanted to protect the relationship.”

Blog posts may sometimes be spoken by one or more of the characters in “The Un-Game: Four-Play to Business as Unusual.” You’ll likely encounter the young protagonist manager, Sam Adler and his master coach, Sophia Zabar. Or one of the four great managers who help him inquire into his meaning-making . Or even Samantha Osler, the young woman manager who, like her male counterpart, also longs to be a great manager.

Stay tuned.

Why Great Managers Ignore Traditional Performance Reviews

What you pay attention to prospers.  So it makes sense, doesn’t it, to have performance reviews?  Right, but the standard yearly reviews are not what great managers subscribe to. Traditional reviews are attractive for many reasons, the worst of which is:

They’re easy to hide behind for the manager who is as uncomfortable doing performance reviews as he or she perceives the employee to be in sitting through them.

Great managers, even if they do annual reviews, review performance all the time. First of all, they make sure the employee is clear about expectations and has the tools to do their work.  They couch expectations in terms of desired outcomes.  It’s NOT about the steps to take like smiling when supporting a customer on the phone, for example.  It’s about the outcome. Assuring the customer keeps their smile and their loyalty to the company is the prize the employee must bring home. Great managers simply assure support for the employee to produce that outcome. Secondly, great managers give constant feedback in informal situations as they manage…yes…by wandering around.  Thirdly, since they see themselves as a catalyst rather than a controller and corrector, they work from a partnership mind-set.  How can I help?  And if they must do annual performance reviews because it’s company policy, they will.  However, their focus will be: * to briefly review past performance (asking the employee first for their   evaluation) … then * to envision the future looking to build on strengths and to get support for weaknesses (e.g. a system to help a talented but unorganized person  stay on track) It’s respectful, in the spirit of continuous improvement and learning, and it works. No one ever said it was easy, but most things worth having aren’t. The skill-set to do good performance reviews is learnable. The results are priceless.    

Coaching Your Team to Success! Part Three!

Coaching Your Team to Success Question #10  Does your team huddle regularly?  How often do you connect with the others on your team?  Would you know if one of your co-workers had experienced a death or serious illness in their family? Who is invited into the conversation?  Is it “Bruce and Gloria only?” Do you only meet on a quarterly basis?  Do you routinely include your support staff when they have valuable contributions to make to the discussion? Inclusiveness and the diversity of those at the table will ensure that the questions are examined from more than one perspective.  The more engaged everyone is in the conversation, the more rigorous the debate and the better the ultimate decisions. To provide the best support and to make the best decisions, bring your team together on a consistent basis. Coaching Your Team to Success Question #11  Do you resist working your players relentlessly until someone is injured?  It’s the foolhardy coach who works the members of the team without rest. How often do people in your office skip breaks?  Eat lunch at their desk?  Work 7 or more days in a row? When leadership doesn’t encourage rest and rejuvenation for its team members, sooner or later someone suffers from overwork.  In a software development company we might begin to see anxiety, stress-related illness, or abuse of alcohol or drugs in response to relentlessly driven work conditions. To keep the members of your team healthy, take responsibility for insisting that there be a work environment where every player is required to sit on the bench to catch their breath when needed.  Coaching Your Team to Success Question #12  Are there cheerleaders for everyone on the team?  People are hungry to be acknowledged.  The nature of our work may be such that we seldom here “Good job!” from one of our clients. As a manager, you’re in a position to let others know how much you value the qualities they bring to their work. You can let them know that you see their intentions to be great members of a strong  team.  You can make it clear that their efforts are a real contribution. When people feel they’re valued, they’ll go the extra mile.  When people don’t feel appreciated, they look for a place where they will be. With tightened budgets, we look for ways to express our appreciation which doesn’t have a high price tag.  Learning how to consistently give sincere acknowledgments is a great place to start.            Coaching Your Team to Success Question #13  Do you celebrate your victories?  Many people are achievers.  They value hard work. Often their driven behavior takes them from one project to the next without rest, rejuvenation, or celebration.  They often find themselves too exhausted to enjoy time off work when it comes. Are you celebrating your team’s victories?  If not, plan to pause at the completion of the next big project.  Give yourself and everyone on your team an acknowledgment for a job well done before embracing the next task. At the end of this or any season, you’ll be glad you did. Speaking about celebration and acknowledgment, congratulations for having engaged in these questions. You didn’t do that just for the fun of it.  You did it in order to be an effective manager.  What distinguishes great managers from good ones is the capacity to be a catalyst to empower the players to play their best game. If you are and will be implementing actions that enable you to say “Yes, I did that!” or “Yes, we’re scheduled to do that,” you are a hero. This is no overstatement.  Why?  Because having done so is the same as having gone against the standard and the customary.  A caveat.  Be alert.  While we say it’s important to assure all our players are in the right position, or it’s important to huddle regularly, we often ignore our own stated wisdom.  That’s when it’s time to go back to the drawing board.  A hidden value is in place.  It’s time for the hero to look and ask again.  Management guru, Tom Peters, would say “Any closely held value, no matter how well concealed, even from yourself, inevitably prompts action that’s consistent with it.”

Coaching Your Team to Success! Part Two

Coaching Your Team to Success Question #6  Do I give team members regular feedback on their performance?  Warp speed in business creates ever greater challenges that require resilience.  The work  is never finished.  We often experience the scarcity of time.  Sometimes we neglect to take the time to give feedback to our team which not only would be useful but is necessary to sustain effective action. Do you make it a habit to let others know how they’re doing, or do you save it for an annual performance review?  Perhaps you’re in a small office, and reviews don’t occur on a regular basis.  Now is the time to put a system in place to ensure they do. Are you looking at all areas of performance, and are they clearly articulated so the team member can win? Is this particular individual contributing the success of others, or merely focusing on their own advancement?  Does he demonstrate support for the values of the office? Whether it’s feedback for making a course correction or to give a pat on the back, professional growth and excellence are dependent upon observation being relayed from the coach to the player.  Coaching Your Team to Success Question #7  Are you willing to take someone out of the game if necessary?  Rigorous decision-making is key when it comes to maintaining a successful team.  This includes the ability to demonstrate managerial courage when it is apparent that it’s time for a team member to move on. Having a compassionate heart, we may be reluctant to end the employment of someone who is clearly not right for the team.  If you find yourself in this position, ask yourself, “Am I really being kind by keeping this person in a position where they can’t be successful, instead of supporting them to find the job where they can be?” When we allow these employees to remain on the team, we bring down all of our best people.  In fact, we risk our best people leaving when they are continuously brought down by those who are not performing well. The best people require minimal management.  When you see yourself tightly managing someone who has the knowledge and skills to perform the job, it may be time to admit that you need to act.  But beware. Ignore your best performers at your own risk.  Remember the seven things that are important to your players.  Everyone needs attention. However, when you see you’ve made a selection mistake, act promptly. “Slow to hire, quick to fire” is a motto worth considering. Consider that it’s possible to remove someone from their position and help find a position within the company that fits this person to a Tee. I know it may be hard to imagine, but it’s not uncommon among great managers. The employee may even thank you for “firing” them. Are you willing to demonstrate both compassion and courage as a manager?         Coaching Your Team to Success Question #8  Does your team have all of the support it needs to be successful?  When a team steps onto the field, they have support for playing the game. Someone has made sure the field is ready and the equipment on hand. How are you doing in providing support for your team?  Have you invested in the technology needed to reach your goals?  Do you have adequate administrative support, or do team members waste their energy and time making report copies and sending faxes?  When was the last time your support staff was offered additional training? Have you asked your team what support they wish for to improve their performance?  By you providing the support they need, each person in your unit can focus on doing what they’re best at, and your entire company will benefit.     Coaching Your Team to Success Question #9  Is your team following the rules of the game? Are you a well-respected manager?  Does your team have a reputation of playing dirty? Is your team admired for being good opponents?  Do you violate your values on “technicalities”? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, consider what you’re willing to do to find out.  The failure of our biggest financial institutions during recent times is a prime example of what happens when those responsible ignore these inquiries or refuse to act on the information they receive. To have a team with enduring success and to attract professional with high standards, become a model for integrity.   In my experience there’s no better model for attracting great team members than being the change you want to see. If you want integrity, get clear on your values and then reduce the distance between your own talk and your walk. People are very smart.  They pay only attention to your deeds, not your words.

Coaching Your Team to Success! Part One

Let’s face it.  Business school wasn’t the best preparation for managing a business unit. For most of us, learning how to effectively lead a team comes from on-the-job training. Whether you manage two assistants or a large department, coaching your team is a powerful path to success.  When a manager puts on her coaching cap, she helps her team develop an effective strategy, practice skills, and score goals to win the game. Coaching Your Team to Success Question #1  Have you inspired your team with a compelling vision of success?  Within the parameters of core business outcomes that are handed to us, we are charged to be catalysts who inspire performance that will get results.  To keep your team motivated, it’s necessary to know what matters to them. Are you clear about what inspires your team?  It may be other things, but here are seven that you can take to the bank (You’ll take other things to the bank if you succeed with these seven!).
  1. They want to know the clear, measurable outcomes you expect them to produce.
  2. They want to have the materials and tools to do the work right.
  3. They want to have the opportunity to use their talents, i.e. what they do best.
  4. They want to receive recognition or praise for doing good work (not just in performance reviews but often)
  5. They want to know that someone at work cares about them.
  6. They want someone to encourage their development.
  7. They want the mission/purpose of the company to make them feel their job is important.
Do you have a stated mission and values?  When was the last time you spoke to these?  Are they a part of your office culture?  Could every member of your team explain your mission with ease? A coach keeps her eye on the big picture and keeps that vision in the forefront for everyone on the team.  Coaching Your Team to Success Question #2  Does each of your team members play the right position?  Have you ever hired someone you thought was just terrific, only to learn that you had made a terrible decision? In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses his research for making good businesses great.  He urges us to “get the right people on the bus” and then to “get them in the right seat on the bus.” Sometimes we have not selected the person with the right values or skills for the job. Other times we might hire a great person with excellent skills, but not have them in the right position. Are your team members spending 80% of their day doing what they are best at? If not, it may be time to reassess. We can be reluctant to take action when an employee is hard working and dedicated. But if he’s not well-suited to the position, it could be time for a change. Perhaps there’s another role for him to play, or it might be time for him to move on. One frequently used tool for assessing the strengths of your team members is Strengthfinders 2.0  by Tom Rath which includes Gallup’s online assessment.  Learn the individual strengths of those on your team, and use this knowledge to strengthen your team.  Coaching Your Team to Success Question #3  Have you identified the skills your team members need to develop?  A great manager empowers members of the team to continuously improve their skills. Has each person on your team identified their areas of growth? But be careful.  Many managers make mistakes here that great managers don’t.  They try to shore up or transform the weakness of an employee.  Consider skill and knowledge development? Of course.  But don’t use training for remedial purposes!  Let people build on their strengths and consider providing systems for the talented employee to remedy a weakness.  For example, if your best performer is a terrible record-keeper, don’t focus on making him or her a better record-keeper.  Let them keep on focusing their efforts on producing the results they produce with ease, and get creative in letting someone who’s organized effortlessly support these performers.  It’s a win all around. As coach, the manager keeps his eye on the skill level of each team member, always attentive to his role as catalyst which has a lot to do with motivating and developing his team. Coaching Your Team to Success Question #4  Do all team members set SMART goals?  A football coach knows specifically what constitutes a goal and the time by which it must be reached.  All energy is directed toward reaching the goal.  If you manage a work team, clear goals are key to maintaining focus. SMART is a commonly used acronym describing goals which are: Specific – Is it clear? Measurable – How will you know when you have reached it? Attainable – It must be a stretch, or it’s uninteresting, but is it doable? Relevant – Is it in keeping with your mission and values? Time based- Always have a “date by when” the goal will be reached. We can mistake intentions or ideas for goals.  For example, “This year we’re going to improve customer satisfaction” is not a goal. It may be a great idea, but it’s not a SMART goal. Instead, “We extend our customer support hours to 8:00 p.m. starting October 1, 2010.” might be an appropriate goal for a company that wants to create raving fans. Goals should always be put in writing.  A simple system to review your team’s goals regularly will support you to stay in action. Coaching Your Team to Success Question #5  Is everyone participating in regular practices?  Great results in any organization rarely come from one-time major feats.  Rather, it is the small and steady acts of each day which add up to success at the end of the day. Is your team practicing its best habits every day?  When we become careless or inattentive in one area of our life, we are likely to show up that way in other areas. Is your team using its time wisely?  Is everyone communicating effectively within the office?  Are we paying attention to the details and the big picture? Like running laps or practicing drills, how we demonstrate our skills in our day to day operations will determine how we perform when it’s our chance to score the winning goal with a client.

Managing Difficult People

Managers along with everybody else expend a lot of energy being concerned  about “difficult” people.  How to keep them from ruining the quality record.  How to keep them from plummeting team morale lower than a snake’s belly.  How to keep them from creating rabid customers.  And, of course, how to “fix” them. (4) I suggest that this may be a gigantic, albeit common waste of precious energy.  It’s a waste because we focus on the wrong person when we focus on the “difficult” person.  The great manager knows not to do that.  They have several strategies that help them deal with a potentially difficult situation. I’ll just focus on one here. (8) Great managers look to the locus of their power.  If they focus on the other person, they’re lost from the start because try as they may, they have influence, yes, but no real control over anyone else, even if they can hire, fire, and control the paycheck. Great managers know they can control themselves better than they can control anyone else.  So they ask what can  I do here.  In other words, they’ve found the locus of the power they are able to apply without help from anyone else. (14) Great managers make a distinction between their assessment “This is a difficult person,” and the facts.  “What does this person say or do or not do that has me conclude they are difficult?”  They can name specific behaviors.  They will ask themselves questions like “What might I be contributing to this being as it is?” “What’s in the way we have our department set up that’s contributing to this?” (5) After getting some answers to those questions, the great manager will not hesitate to call the employee in to talk. In possession of specific behaviors that don’t work, he or she will have an exploratory conversation with the employee.  The great manager will not be shy to point to behaviors that don’t work, but they’re not looking to remediate.  They don’t assume that there’s someone to fix.  The great manager sees him or herself not as a controller and a corrector, but rather as a catalyst to assure performance excellence.  In earnest great managers will look with the employee—in partnership at what’s in the way.  Uninspired performance is always unacceptable, but focusing on where the power is to remove obstacles to excellence is key. The power belongs to the manager who is aware that his or her thinking about things matters hugely.  Thinking someone is difficult puts them on a path that doesn’t lead where they want to go. (12)