October 2010

After a lengthy day of giving it all, I drive home engaged in those closing phone calls to my colleagues who remain on the field of battle endeavoring to finish their days.  Once home, I am adoringly assailed by my faithful dogs, and receive a kiss from my wife as she embarks on telling me of our dinner plans.  I work my way over to my bar to initiate my next imminent mission.  From the freezer, I remove the spring water ice block I prepared the previous night and place it on a cutting board. Taking out my sharpened ice pick, I chop several hefty pieces of ice off the block and place them into a crystal glass.  I begrudge small contaminated ice cubes melting and watering down my cocktail.  I next seize a lemon, smell its freshness, slash it and with a slight squeeze, drop a slice into the tumbler.  I reach for my caramel tinged Kentucky Bourbon and pour three-fingers high adding a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters and a dart of Angostura’s Bitters crowned by a modest dollop of pure Agave Syrup.  As these aromas and textures are settling, I delicately introduce a splash of fine herbal Absinthe, the Green Fairy (recently allowed back into the United States after almost a century of banishment).  All that’s left to do is top this apéritif  off with a squirt of my personal homemade purified seltzer and stir until the glass frosts.  Then I walk out to the patio start-up the barbecue, sit down, close my eyes, take a deep breath and let my olfactory senses take in the moment of my first sip.  Marvelous!  A Perfect Sazerac Cocktail!

I perform this ritual, when I can, to remind myself that Quality matters.  Strong Leaders inherently know that Quality is not a part-time thing.  Leaders incorporate quality into every morsel of their daily lives. Aristotle, the teacher to great Leaders such as Alexander the Great, Ptolemy and Cassander said, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”  A commitment to quality on a personal level is compulsory for a Leader desiring to extract the greatest work from his team.  It is the example he lives, even in regards to the smallest details, which set the baseline for the standards of acceptable behaviors and attitudes.  Even a momentary slip into mediocrity opens the flood gates for substandard performance from the team.

Quality is the most important force in successful achievement of our goals.  It is a “Prime” Value which must be at the core of any endeavor.  Good Leaders know they cannot do everything, but everything they do, should be done with excellence.  If Aristotle takes it too far back for you, just type some common business terms into Google and see how many listing there are.  Nothing comes close to “Quality” at over five billion.  Quality matters in every aspect of our lives!

Number of Google Search Listings

To be a great leader you must realize that Quality is finite.  There is no such thing as 50% quality.  It is either there or it is not.  You strive for it, you demand it, you fight for it, or you go home.  Quality delineates winners and losers.  You must believe quality is a very personal responsibility.  A responsibility to yourself and to those you hope to lead.  It necessitates constituting expectations of excellence in every goal you resolve to accomplish.  You must be constantly and consistently on top of quality in all of your team interactions.  If they know you expect their best, it is amazing how you will get it.

One of my favorite stories highlighting quality is told by retired ambassador Winston Lord from when he was working on a project for Henry Kissinger.  He recounts:

Henry Kissinger at the 2009 premiere of the Me...

Image via Wikipedia

“I went in with a draft, and it was actually of a presidential foreign policy report. … I would go in with a draft of the speech. He called me in the next day and said, “Is this the best you can do?” I said, “Henry, I thought so, but I’ll try again.” So I go back in a few days, another draft. He called me in the next day and he said, “Are you sure this is the best you can do?” I said, “Well, I really thought so. I’ll try one more time.” Anyway, this went on eight times, eight drafts; each time he said, “Is this the best you can do?” So I went in there with a ninth draft, and when he called me in the next day and asked me that same question, I really got exasperated and I said, “Henry, I’ve beaten my brains out – this is the ninth draft. I know it’s the best I can do: I can’t possibly improve one more word.” He then looked at me and said, “In that case, now I’ll read it.”

We are all familiar with the term “Quality of Life”.  Quality of Life refers to the principal that as living breathing human beings, our time is irreplaceable and predictably limited.  Once your time is spent, it is under no circumstances recovered.  Life’s moments spent without excellence are simply squandered.  They are less than they could have been and there are not any second chances.  Quality of Life is one of the foremost reasons people will follow great leaders.  When people are striving for excellence, they feel their life has purpose and value.  They are inspired and fulfilled.  Yes, they are unconquerable!

As a Street Smart Leader you must be “ungenerous” with your time.  Refuse to be involved with pursuits of ordinary mediocrity.  Mark your personal brand with excellence.  Determine the activities of your work and life that are deserving of your best efforts and perform them with unquestionable levels of worth.  Be the exemplar of quality for your team, especially when tasks are seemingly insignificant and especially when they are challenging.  If you have built your A-Team properly, they will rise to your example and propel your business forward.  Most importantly, regardless of the toil, your efforts will be rewarded because you have added to the Quality of “Your” Life.  Let’s toast to that!


 There are few evils which contend in destroying a Culture’s Soul more than Workplace Drama.  This wicked fiend slithers throughout an organization leaving a trail of overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful people.  Rapidly, processes break down, tasks cease to be completed, and everyone is exhausted.  The fun, the pop, the trust of a team is supplanted with a focus stealing chaos that consumes the team’s lifeblood.  Many managers living with Workplace Drama are easily confounded and can lose faith in their passion.  Their Vision becomes clouded and they begin to give up the cause.

Dealing with Workplace Drama is one of the least rewarding parts of being a Leader. It has the potential to suck the life out of you, and to eradicate your motivation.  Often it leaves mangers wondering: “Why did I choose this career?” “I just don’t get it. What is everyone’s problem? Why can’t they just do their work? It’s like dealing with children.”

Occasionally people need to blow off some steam.  They huddle around the water-cooler sounding off about a particular boss or co-worker.  Mostly it is momentary harmless banter.  The water-cooler tête-à-tête provides an outlet or release which can be healthy venting in measured doses.  But when the line is crossed and your team becomes stirred up, immobilized, upset, unhappy and otherwise dysfunctional, you have a calamity on your hands.    The culprits will begin to withhold information, manipulate situations, steal ideas, or act helpless so that others will come to their aid and give them extra help. Individuals are depicted as fools or villains and all of a sudden, everything is a big deal to the point of exhaustion. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions.  And your boss is looking at you and wondering why you can’t keep your team “under control”.

Workplace Drama must be eradicated immediately before its malignancy spreads.  Unimpeded, Workplace Drama will scathe productivity and foster a detrimental effect on accuracy and quality.  It will dissect a Team’s unity and become the focus of their work activities and priorities.  Those directly involved in the drama will take their “eye off of the ball” and induce costly mistakes.  This time waster, founded in bad behavior, prevents everyone from being great.  It reduces everything you are trying to build.  Unless you are prepared and equipped to contend with Workplace Drama, it will draw you into it as well and denigrate your standing as a Leader.  As usual everyone knows the score, and they are waiting.  Waiting to see what you are going to do about it.

Let’s start off by gaining a basic understanding of Workplace Drama.  Believe it or not the Drama is a predictable plot with predefined roles.  The moves of the “Game” are always the same.  In 1968 Stephen Karpman developed the Drama Triangle as a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis.  Karpman’s Triangle conjectures three habitual role-plays which drama seekers adopt:

● The Victim – The person who is treated or accepts the role of being vulnerable

Victim’s Moto – “I’m Blameless”             Victim’s Need – Love

● The Persecutor – The person who pressures, coerces, or persecutes the Victim

Persecutor’s Moto – “I’m Right”              Persecutor’s Need – Power

● The Rescuer – The person who intervenes; ostensibly wishing to help the situation or underdog

Rescuer’s Moto – “I’m Good”                   Rescuer’s Need – Acceptance

The Victim appears depressed, fearful, needy, having low self-esteem and looking for help or answers from others.  The Victim’s nemesis, the Persecutor, finger points, finds fault, has angry outbursts, a lack of compassion, clams perfection and judges others.    And the Rescuer demonstrates controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, over-extending, taking on other people’s problems while trying to be the hero.

Karpman explains a game of “con” and “hook” setting off a “switch” and finally the “payoff”.  The moves continue as the drama progresses.  In this Drama Triangle the players act out an unstable and emotionally competitive “mind game” which generates misery and discomfort for each other.  The covert purpose for each ‘player’ is to get their unspoken (and frequently unconscious) psychological wishes and needs met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole

Important in Karpman’s observations is the occurrence of the players frequently switching roles as the game progresses.  The drama plays out with the protagonist starting off in one of the three main roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, or Victim, with the other principal player (the antagonist) in one of the other roles. As the drama game progresses the two players move around the triangle switching roles, so that for example the victim turns on the rescuer, or the rescuer switches to persecuting.  Perhaps the victim goes on the offensive and begins to persecute the persecutor who then becomes the victim.  And it goes round and round.  That is, until you step up and do something about it.

So now that you realize this is a game with predetermined roles and routines, you can stop the insanity before it demolishes your team.  Your first move is a preemptive strike.  You need to firmly set the expectation in every team member’s mind that you will not tolerate “Drama”.  This should be one of your compulsory attributes for being on the A Team.  It should be discussed in Company Meetings, Team Meetings and Individual Counseling Sessions.  Make it crystal clear that you have a “No Tolerance” policy towards Workplace Drama.  Openly denounce gossip and backstabbing as inexcusable actions.  And let it be known the perpetrators, regardless of the drama role they choose, will be dealt with with severely.

Next identify your Drama Queens (or Kings).  These are those in your organization who reveal a penchant towards adopting one of the three drama roles.  In fact, they may even go further and want or need to play out the roles.  The drama queen may be a neurotic and self-centered perfectionist.  Often they are considered to be exceptionally talented, but this is not always the case.  A drama queen may be jealous or envious of others, which can make any personal failings even more painful and trigger irrational thoughts of revenge.  In a drama queen’s world, people can be either with her or against her; there are no stages in between.  The Drama Queen or King collects followers with similar proclivities and initially holds court to entertain while attempting to pull them into the game.

While a drama queen might find her forceful personality and manipulation skills useful in some situations, her inability to control her emotions and to form meaningful relationships creates a liability for you if left unchecked.  Watch your drama queens and kings for sign of instigation.  Understand the situations that will launch them into action and anticipate their play.  By thinking ahead of these divas, you will be able to control the outbreak when it happens.

In managing a drama situation, begin by ensuring you are not a participant in the drama.  Check yourself against the roles and objectively remove your emotions from game-play.  Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. But here is the biggest eye opener of all. If you are in the midst of interpersonal challenges and you still can’t identify your part, then you are in the middle of the triangle, and that is called denial.  Know that you stand on firm ground as a Tough Leader, and you can act with integrity and authority.

Once the game is on, commence your counter attack by bringing the entire Team together.  They too, have been witness to what is going on and know far more than you about the situation.  In your meeting, treat the group as a whole.  Do not deal with the drama players specifically.  Re-establish your “No Drama” expectations and restate your no tolerance policy.  Show your dissatisfaction with the lack of teamwork in solving the current situation (without going into the details).  Reinforce to everyone that time and money is being wasted with destructive personal agendas.

Now pay attention. One of your drama players is going to try and put their issues on the table to justify them.  Your Victim is going to start off with, “Well, I just don’t think its fair when…” or your Persecutor is going to start with a direct attack or your Rescuer is going to try and make peace.  You know the game and you’re ready for it.  They are trying to drag you into it.  Now shut them down hard!  Firmly state that you are not going to get into the details of the situation.  Instead, the Team is going to reaffirm rules of behavior to go forward with.  Make clear the Team’s need for functionality is your priority and not an individual’s claim on righteousness.  Then lead the Team in developing “Rules of Engagement” for the Team.  Write them on the board for everyone to see.  Facilitate a healthy outcome by focusing on principles of respect and honesty.   Specifically discuss and agree as to how conflict situations will be handled going forward.  Starting now!  Usually they determine to first try and work out a problem directly between themselves and then elevate to management if this does not work.  You need to make sure the result is that they talk with the person they are having the problem with or they talk to you.  They are not allowed to talk to anyone else regarding their complaint.  Stress this rule!

You would think in our current world of tolerance, collaboration, and “can’t we all just get along” philosophy that this would be the end of it all and everyone would go back to work and progress.  Not even close.  In fact, I don’t ever remember one of these meetings working out.  So why did you go through all of that?  Because, remember, it is game and you are playing.  The meeting was you move to set up the final play.  Your winning play!  You didn’t take sides, you didn’t mediate, you didn’t get emotional, and most importantly you didn’t join the drama game.  All you did was establish proper standards for conduct.  After all, the issue at hand is distinct from the bad conduct of Workplace Drama.  Now sit back and watch for a few weeks.  One of your drama players will recidivate.

It is time for you to pounce into action.  Now you set up a meeting with the offender.  Get ready.  They will come armed to plead their case on the merits.  As they embark on their reasoning, let them know you are aware of the situation and you are handling it.  But this is not the purpose of the meeting.  You want to talk to them about their unacceptable conduct.  They are disregarding the company’s “No Drama” policy, they are breaking the Team “Rules of Engagement”, and they are a problem to you.  Acknowledge the difficulties they are having with the situation or the person, but reiterate the proper way to deal with those problems is not through divisive backroom games.

Look them straight in the eye.  Are you ready to win this game they want to play?  Tell them directly and honestly that they will lose their job if they do not put an end to the drama.  Let them know that if they continue to threaten the culture, productivity, and teamwork of your Team you are going to fire them.  Explain this is not a time sensitive issue and you expect their attitude and behavior to change starting tomorrow.  End your session by reinforcing their value to the organization and your hope that they will take your honest warning seriously.  Check Mate!  Whatever path they choose to take, you have eliminated them as a drama player.  And everyone else watched you fortify a key value of the company.

Workplace Drama can steal your company’s soul and dishearten your personal drive.  It damages everyone associated with it and renders poor performance results.  In the end it drives a stake through the culture and any ability to have fun.  A Street Smart Leader shuts down the drama game, sets the tone of personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in the organization and work culture.  He protects the value of trust which allows people to grow and excel.

My truly worthy ideas usually come to me as a very clear concise image in the predawn moments between when I awake and before my eyes open.  They flood into my consciousness from their nightly hovering in the same way, a moment later, my eyes open and my vigilant puppy, Buck, pounces to ravenously lick my face.   Great ideas!  Where do they come from?  How do you know they are great? Or that they will even work?   A successful manager must be able to create ideas.  Ideas which move his team forward and establish higher levels of performance and competitiveness.  He must develop thoughts that can be believed in by others and successfully executed.

All managers depend on their experiences and what they have been taught to make decisions and deal with difficulties.   As trusted as this concrete footing may be, it limits the possibilities of breakthrough concepts which can markedly create advancing change initiatives.  Situations become trapped by repeating the same solutions to the same problems.  We have all been dared to “think outside the box” as if this is a reflexive response.  If divergent spontaneity was indeed simple, abundant development would emerge continuously.  Good ideas require work.  Even “Eureka” moments of brilliance are the result of thoughtful substructure.

A Street Smart Leader continually sharpens his skills of Abstract Thinking.  Abstract Thinking involves thinking about situations that are removed from the facts of the “here and now”.  Abstract thinkers are able to reflect on events and ideas, and on attributes and relationships separate from the objects that have those attributes or share those relationships.  Strong Leaders move beyond concrete thinking based on only seeing the facts and instead focus on ideas under the surface and their multiple meanings.

The study of abstract thinking is a vast subject which I will leave to the expertise of others.  But there are some very straight-forward pragmatic concepts that you can employ to strengthen and shine your ideas.

You need to begin to think of your problem solving methodology as a creative process.  And unless you are just a naturally gifted creative person, you will need to stretch and exercise your brain to be more creative.  I am amazed at the amount of time people will dedicate to mindless pursuits such as watching television, reading gossip magazines, or sports activities.  How much time are you spending training your mind?  Gain an understanding of the basic propensities of your mind.  Are you an intuitive or a structured person?  Do you prefer direct or indirect action?  There are many profiling tools to help you gain insights to your natural strengths.

If you are going to stretch your thoughts, you must train your brain to be more versatile.   Embark on specific exercises and courses of study which will expand your mental capability.  Learn to play an instrument or a foreign language.  Do crossword puzzles or learn a new artistic skill.  Find ways to look at the same situations differently.   For example, one of my predispositions is towards “directness”.  I am inclined to approach problems head on and compete with a “take no prisoners” mindset.  Although I can win many encounters with these natural tactics, there are time when these strengths work against me; especially if I am crusading from an inferior position.  So for several years I have been endeavoring to master the game of GO.  It is a 4000 year old ancient Chinese board game centered on indirect battle strategy.  It focuses on acquiring territory in addition to capturing opponents.  It is the anti-Chess game and forces a different train of thought for me.  It takes me out of my comfort zone.  If you want to create, you must dedicate yourself to discovering a way to exercise, strengthen and tune-up your brain every day.

With your brain sharpened you are ready to create great ideas to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.  But it is important to begin by asking the Right Questions.  Many failures are the orphans of misplaced efforts.  Dig into your situation deeply and understand what problem or need you are attempting to solve.  Do you have a productivity problem or a morale problem?  They could both show the same symptoms.  Do you need more customers or better customers to improve profitability?  Different strategies would relate.  Verse yourself in the methods of “root cause” analysis; the tactics of drilling down on a situation until you understand what are the real drivers behind the complications.  There are many six sigma courses and tools to assist you in sharpening this skill.  But if you don’t have the time for them, just let a four year old train you by asking you questions.  They will keep asking, “Why?” until they get to the root cause.  Why did we give up this vital inborn instinctive programming to the impatience of others?  Crystallize what you want to do.  Start with the Right Question!

You’re still not prepared for creative ideas yet.  Next you need to craft a vivid Vision of your successful outcome.  Your Vision is more than setting a new goal.  You must be able to visualize what the outcome will look like, how it will feel, what will be different.  Your mind must be crystal-clear as to the Vision it wants to achieve for it to become a reality. Those of you who are Stephen Covey fans will recognize this philosophy as his habit of, “Begin with the end in mind”.  Too many meetings are adjourned with managers rushing off to solve a problem they do not unequivocally understand without a thought to what the “winning” outcome would really look like.  The concept of “something is better than nothing” is erroneous.  False-starts and band aid fiascos only ruin your reputation and shut down your future creativity.  Construct your vision of success before you begin thinking of ideas to get there.

Along with your Creative Thinking, you should possess a strong groundwork of Critical Thinking.  Critical Thinking involves logical thinking and reasoning.  As ideas surface, you will need to critically scrutinize them for soundness.  Understanding principles of inductive and deductive reasoning as well as logically fallacies are valuable tools with which to build your thoughts.  If you begin with an invalid premise you will find yourself pursuing a lost cause.  The application of critical thinking to your creative process will result in reality based attainable solutions that work. Find additional checks and balances to your thought process.  If you are a natural critical thinker, find an intuitive person and ask them how they “feel” about your idea.  And if you are intuitive by nature, find a logical person and ask them what they “think” about your idea.  Your idea will be tested – either before implementation or after.  You choose.

Are you ready to begin your Creative Thinking?  You should make time each week in a place where you can concentrate on thinking.  Great thoughts do not come in between the hurry of hectic activities.  When is the last time you took an hour and just went off by yourself to think?  Sometimes when I am doing this, someone will walk up on me and hesitate wondering if they should interrupt.  They always have a surprised look on their face when I look up from my concentration and say, “I was just thinking.”  Isn’t it peculiar how little quality time we make for one of the most important activities we have as Leaders?

Now get away and think.  Remain focused on the “right question” and keep your Vision in the forefront.  Challenge the existing prevailing thoughts.  Imagine possibilities.  Develop every option and re-think your preconceptions.  Trust your feelings as you look down every path.  Look for relationships with seemingly unconnected resources.  Open up your mind and let everything on the topic pour out.  Do not settle for a quick fix.  You are looking for a breakthrough.

The preeminent tool I use to get the abstract juices flowing is a personal brainstorming session known as Mind Mapping.  Mind Mapping provides a flexible, fluent, image based methodology to elaborate on associative and metaphorical thinking.   Mind Maps start with a central topic and then branch out into possibilities.  They allow the freedom to start new and divergent ideas anywhere in the thought process and provide a visual format to link and weave commonalities.  Mind Mapping technique is easy to learn but takes practice to master.  Create Mind Maps for everything.  Flush out all of your thoughts, experience, lessons, advice and intuitions.   Remember you have a vision, a destiny, to fulfill with a new and original thought.


To become a prominent Street Smart Leader you must, Learn – Think – Lead.  Learning to Think is a part of your craft.  Become dedicated to the ideology of expanding your mind and thinking great thoughts.  Not every idea seeking venture will end with a brilliant result.  Often you will leave your creative sessions with only an exasperated and scribbled Mind Map.  But if you commit yourself to critical and creative thinking, someday, just before you feel that lick on your face, there it will be, Eureka, a Great Idea!  And guess what?  If you only have five or six Great Ideas in a year you will run far ahead of your competition and you will be a Superstar.

For Mind Mapping software go to mindjet.com or thinkbuzan.com

I entered management believing that as long as I was able to develop my department’s performance and meet company goals, I was doing my job and the rest would take care of itself.  So I did my job and waited for my career to move forward.  And of course it did, but not always as quickly as some of my contemporaries who didn’t appear to have my list of accomplishments.  It took me a few exasperating years to study their advancements and realize they were doing more than taking care of their jobs.  They were taking care of their careers.    

If you are to develop a successful career plan you must constantly concentrate your efforts in a three pronged attack.  Just doing your job well will only result in being able to do it for a very long time.  Eventually the mundane will take root and either you or your boss will tire of it and execution will diminish.  Inevitably your goal must be to advance stronger and faster than those surrounding you. You are in a race against time for success and the longer it takes to move up the chain of command the more unmanageable and improbable it becomes.  Launching a comprehensive campaign that showcases your talents and accomplishments will set you on the road to advancement. 

You must learn to manage three different entities every day with efficacy.  They are: 1) The Others you work with, 2) Yourself and 3) Your Boss.  Your ability to concurrently contend with the challenges of these three competing interests is essential. 


We naturally imagine our subordinates when thinking of managing Others.  But just as importantly are our peers, staff members, and those in the company who are postured to observe our performance.  It is crucial to have this group’s Respect!

The easiest way to gain the respect of Others is to Win.  People love winners and thrive on the opportunity to be connected with triumph.  Focus your efforts on being a Tough Leader who accomplishes problematic strategic issues.  Do not be concerned with “being liked”.  Victory is more important.  Others will notice who is winning and who is losing.  Your success builds influence and influence in turn creates cooperation.  With the cooperation of Others, you are armed to take on your next challenge with momentum.

Gaining cohesive long-term cooperation depends on being an advocate of Others’ needs.  Support your team and your peers with passion.  Too many managers make the mistake here of keeping score and waiting until they owe someone a favor before throwing in.  This egocentric approach only diminishes your short term effectiveness and slows your own progress.  Gain the respect and cooperation of Others around you by “paying it forward” when it comes to support.  Acquire a deep understanding of what they need to win and contribute everything you can to their success.  They will not overlook it and you will have increased your own power-base.

If you win and are supportive, you will gain Others’ admiration, but you really need their respect.  This requires bonding with them.  You cannot expect someone to run through walls for you if you do not have any bond with them.  Get to know the people around you.  Know their interests and passions.  Understand what makes them tick.  Care about them!  Running into them a few times a week in meetings is a disingenuous attempt at a relationship.  Relationships are of consequence and they matter.  Build them with the people around you.  Enrich your team’s and coworkers’ daily experience with a giving and caring atmosphere.


I have seen managers who are utterly out of control when it comes to managing themselves.  It is a spectacle they are even making it through the day.  They storm through what should be normal daily activities as if they were drowning.  If you are habitually disorientated, people will mistrust your capacity.

Managing yourself is a principal of Quality.  You must grasp the concept that Quality is not a part time thing and it must permeate all you do.  You cannot ask for or demonstrate quality in some things and ignore others.  Quality is a Value.  Episodic deviation from the value of Quality only creates hypocrisy when you try and enforce standards on others.  A commitment to quality elevates the game and demonstrates to others the expectations you command in all things – all of the time.  

Start with your personal organization.  Are you together?   Are you prepared?  Have you thought issues through?  You must become impeccable with your time management.  Know where you are supposed to be and know what needs to be done and when.   Meeting deadlines should be a “no sweat” routine with which you never falter.  Look at your personal presentation, your office, your briefcase, and your organizational system.  Do they tell people you are devoted to Quality?  Clean-up any chaos.  Think about how you are perceived in meetings, how you order lunch.  Make sure you are a self-reliant, prepared, and poised Leader.  No one will want to follow you if you can’t even find your keys.  Simply put… be professional!

Although a large part of your responsibilities revolve around the work of others, inevitably, you have work of your own to produce.  The production of your work should be skilled and precise.  The quality of anything leaving your desk must be first rate, accurate and presentable.   Believe everything you create will be posted on the bulletin board in the lunchroom or your boss’s door.  Set a goal to produce the preeminent work within the company.   Anything less lowers the bar for everyone and questions your credibility.  This is a tangible opportunity to create career distance between you and your peers.

As a professional producing striking work product, your next self-management focus is to demonstrate the attributes and values you require in others.  If you expect a strong work ethic, demand one of yourself.  If you desire positive attitudes, mandate yourself to be upbeat in the worst of times.  As your career expands, you leave behind the ability to “do everything you ask your employees to do”.  But you always retain the obligation to exhibit how to comport oneself in difficult situations and to ensure your organization’s Values are alive and well every day.   


This essential concept is often a surprise to many.  After all, isn’t my boss beholden to manage me?  Isn’t he answerable for me in the same way I am responsible for my subordinates?  The answer is, “No”. We just discussed how you were responsible to manage yourself.  If you want your career to thrive, you need to own it and not be complacent with anyone else having accountability for your success.  Managing your boss safeguards your accomplishments and profiles them before the organization’s executives.  Here is where your career takes flight.

You need to become your boss’s Star; his “Go To” person.  This originates with understanding and being proactive to his needs.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  It is not his job to make your duties easier for you. It is your job to make his life easier for him.  Think about that for a second.  What does he need?  What is important to him?  What are the organizational goals he is focused on?  You want to be the first one to the table with real deliverable solutions to make him successful.  Forget the idea that he is there to care for you.  Your goal is to ultimately assume his position.  Start to think of yourself already in his job.  Who is going to take care of you then?  If you understnd my point, you realize relying on your boss for your needs is a self–limiting proposition.  Get out in front of helplessness and stay there.  Also, it isn’t your priority to change your boss.  All bosses have their quirks and difficulties.  Accept them, for if you don’t already, you will have your own challenges for others coming soon.  It is your duty to lead your team to success despite any shortcoming of your boss.  Waiting for a change in his habits is only placing your career on suspension.  Learn to make your system work around his imperfections.      

To become his “Go To” person, you must have ideas; well thought out ideas that can be put into action with winning results.  You need to be able to discover the methods and means for improving your organization.  Your team must produce “standout” performance.  When an initiative of your boss is meeting resistance in other parts of the company, show how your team can break through the barriers and make it happen.  As you create innovative ideas and your team outperforms the norm, your accomplishments will be noticed.  But don’t be surprised when your boss gets a certain amount of credit for this.  After all, you are on his team.  Don’t get stuck here; just keep moving forward and your star will continue to rise and shine.

Too many managers never learn how to “Get to Yes” with their boss.  They think of an idea and throw it up.  They run into their boss’s office on Monday morning and excitedly spew out, “I have an idea. I need people.  I need money.  And then I can do so and so.”  Usually their boss impatiently listens for about 15 minutes and then says something like, “We’ll see.”  Doesn’t this sound familiarly like our Parent’s response when we were ten years old?  It should, because these managers are acting like ten year olds.  If you have a well thought out winning idea, then you need to guarantee it will get approval.  It is your responsibility to get the “Yes”.  Managers who sit around complaining that “nothing ever changes around here” have failed.  They are incapable of putting forth a compelling and unquestionable argument to get a “Yes”.  Commit to yourself that you will never receive a “No” from your boss again.  “Yes” isn’t just about being right.  It is about timing, presentation, and competing interests for resources.  It is about ROI, Values, and your Boss’s agenda.  If you’re not ready to win on all of the fronts, don’t pitch your idea.  Once an idea is pitched and denied, it usually dies.  Be patient, properly prep your idea, wait for alignment, and wait for your boss to be ready to say “Yes”.  Only then should you go for it and present.  If you can acquire this skill you will be among the few who can say, “My boss never says “No” to me.”  And your boss will learn to trust in the strength of your ideas and your abilities.  He will be able to count on you as a solid thinker and contributor.

 Managing Others, Yourself and Your Boss may seem like too many balls to keep up in the air.  It requires careful forethought, diligent planning, and unswerving implementation.  It entails an awareness of the priorities going on around you which you may not necessarily be involved in.  But most of all, it requires a commitment to being the best manager you can be in all areas of your working life.  If you’re not up for the challenge, you might continue to succeed at your job.  But if you want to be a Street Smart Leader, you will keep an active focus on these three priorities and vault past your contemporaries for that next promotion.

At some point in a career every manager has his authority challenged.  Typically the challenge comes towards the beginning of a new relationship with an employee.  But if it is not successfully dealt with, it can last for years. These encounters come in different forms and with varied methods.   Such contests are completely demoralizing and can leave many managers with self-doubt and asking themselves why they are in management in the first place.  Learning to deal with the undermining of these challengers is a survival skill of a Street Smart Leader.

First, let’s define when a challenge is a problem.  It is perfectly acceptable for people to challenge your ideas and methods in a professional and respectful way.  You should promote an open atmosphere which encourages vigorous and passionate debate regarding the best strategies and practices for your business. Healthy combative interaction in the arena of ideas makes them stronger and increases the likelihood of their success. A good Leader will learn to facilitate these discussions with astuteness and confidence in order to get the most out of a high performing team.  We are also not talking about someone who just makes a mistake and is out of line.  A good leader takes the higher road here.  He pauses the conversation or activity, creates an uncomfortable moment, then continues and let’s this one pass. 

When someone questions your authority on an ongoing basis, they are purposefully sabotaging your existence. They are rebuffing your ideas on the basis of rejecting your rightfulness to oversee them.  For whatever reasons they have decided, “You are not the boss of me.”  But you are and they just don’t like it.  Maybe they believe they should be the boss or maybe they want you to prove yourself or maybe they just have psychological blocks. Regardless of the reason, they are planning to undermine your effectiveness.  You are in Street Fight!

Their number one weapon in this battle is your inaction.  They are counting on the presumption that they are too clever, or that you will avoid confrontation, or that they can build an unassailable coalition.  They plan to diminish your power by ignoring your authority. They are counting on you forfeiting your power and allowing them to subsist.  Power is not lost it is relinquished. 

This point was driven home to me years ago while I was attending a charity dinner event.  The draw that evening was that business leaders were able to enjoy dinner with Professional Athletes at the table while we watched the program.  I am not one who is easily star struck, but still I attended as a part of our Executive Team.  Not knowing who he was, I found myself sitting next to Pete Vuckovich.  I quickly read the program and realized he had been a Cy Young Award winning baseball pitcher who had played in the World Series.  As I saw those at my table engaged in lively conversations with these sport’s idols, I wondered what I could say to Mr. Vuckovich.  I was far from a baseball fan and not really interested in his celebrity.  However, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity with a real Pro who was once at the top of his game. 

After some awkward silence as dinner was being served, I finally leaned over and asked, “Pete, do you mind if I ask you a question?”  He graciously smiled and replied, “Sure. Go ahead.”  I continued, “Have you ever stood on the pitching mound … against such a formidable opponent, who was on such a hot hitting streak, that you didn’t want to throw the ball?”  Mr. Vuckovich began to transform in front of my eyes.  As he lunged to within four inches from my face, his 6’4″, 220 lb frame and full Fu Manchu moustache took on an intimidating and intense bearing.  His eyes were penetrating and his posture was snarling like a charging bull on the brink of losing self-control.   Seconds seemed an eternity. He almost began shaking when he grabbed my arm and squeezed.  Then without raising his voice, almost in a whisper, he bursted, “Why would I be afraid.  I’m the one with the f—ing ball!”  Later I learned how Pete Vuckovich was famous for his intensity and competitiveness.  That night I learned what it meant to not resign your power.

Not if, but when, you find yourself in this predicament there are a couple of overall guidelines to follow.  Most importantly, you must remain “cool-headed”.  You cannot become emotionally reactive and let the perpetrator push your buttons.  You are in a battle for credibility and the fastest way to lose it is to over-react to a situation.  Be committed to defeating your challenger, but make sure you let them escalate each level of the interaction.  It is never long before such a contest enters the public square, so your boss will be evaluating your actions.  He will be watching to see if you are in any way “going after” the employee to settle your own grudge.  It is important for you to demonstrate the truth of your reluctance to participant in this conflict.  Make sure you are on solid ground. 

When someone is continually challenging your authority they provide many opportunities to make themselves look bad.  You don’t have to take them on at each one.  Wait for the battles where you are on firm unquestionable ground.  Be patient and be right – chose winning conflicts with which to discredit your opponent.  In truth, it is difficult not to be emotional when under this kind of attack.  It is personal but your emotions will work against you.  This is a time to “out-think” your opponent.

Usually their tactics fall into one of two general buckets: Direct Confrontation or Indirect Manipulations.  If you are to defend against these tactics, you must be able to recognize them and counter attack with veracious action.

Direct confrontations take several forms.  They include obvious hostile behaviors such as rudeness, inappropriate complaining, sarcasm, and insubordination.  Less visible, but just as aggressive, are the plots of backstabbing and gossip which are designed to build a collective resistance.  Direct confrontations are usually exploited by the arrogant.  They believe they are either “untouchable” or that they will gather support from others which will corroborate their bad behavior and disentangle you.  They are bullies and they are counting on you to avoid the confrontation.

As a Leader, you need to meet this confrontation head-on.  The trick is to do it in a way that is non-confrontational.  They are baiting you with their bad behavior and setting the trap.  The mistake many managers make in this situation is to react and take the bait.  They make a spectacle of the situation drawing the attention to their own behavior.  The over-reaction replaces the bad behavior as the topic among employees, peers and their boss.  Instead, you must have a plan thought out and be ready to execute it in an ultra-professional way.

Let’s look at a few examples of the Direct Confronter:

1.)    Take the person who challenges your authority in a meeting with sarcasm or anger.  You are sure this is no mistake and you have been waiting for it.  Instead of taking the bait, you stop the meeting with silence and allow that uncomfortable moment to sit with everyone and then continue the meeting.  Just before the meeting adjourns, while everyone is still seated, you look directly at your offender and calmly say, “Dennis, I’d like you to stay for a few minutes.” Be prepared, for he will most likely tell you how he can’t because he has something urgent to do.  With your eyes focused on his, tell him this will only take a moment and to please sit down. Watch everyone’s faces as they get up leaving Dennis sitting in the room.  Then you handle Dennis’s misconduct in an ultra-professional manner.  With no emotion, you point out how his behavior was unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated in the future.  Let him know if it does happen again, he will be asked to leave the room immediately.  If this happens again, you are on very firm ground and can begin replacing Dennis.

2.)   Having successfully shut Dennis down in a way that curbs his public grandstanding, you can next expect Dennis to concentrate on building his collective through backstabbing and gossip.  Backstabbing is most effectively put into play by going around you to your boss and complaining.  Nothing can be as upsetting as when you realize this is going on and your boss is listening to your adversary behind closed doors.  In today’s world of “open door” policies this is a predictable route for them to take.  Well since it is predictable, you will have a plan.  Whether or not your boss initiates a discussion with you, let him know you think it would be good for the three of you to get together and discuss Dennis’s unhappiness.  Dennis might relish the opportunity to “take you on” with the boss.  But you have chosen you battles carefully and you are going to focus the conversation on the indefensible – Dennis’s behavior and not on your ideas or style which he disagrees with.  Through your preparation, you make certain this meeting is about him.

After a few such interactions the Direct Confronter will lose credibility and will recognize your authority and the personal cost of challenging it.


Those who use Indirect Manipulation characteristically rely on “Passive Aggressive” tactics.  These tactics will usually manifest themselves as helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, bitterness, moodiness, or deliberate and repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is responsible.  They do not disagree or confront you.  Instead they wear you down with friction and attitude.  They wage their war with deliberate actions of resistance which, individually do not justify a response from you.  With these employees you find yourself terribly frustrated and insecure.  The good ones are masters at making you think there is something wrong with you as a manager.  They accomplish their jobs proficiently enough to make any application of your management over them seem trivial and as if you are picking on them. 

Learn to recognize the manipulations of the Passive Aggressive employee and prepare yourself to again deal directly with them.  Let’s look at some passive aggressive situations:

1.)    Many passive aggressive employees constantly test your will by not following policies and procedures, but still get the job done.  They don’t agree with the rules and they are not going to follow them.  When you call it to their attention, they’ll say they forgot, or they will try and improve, or they don’t see why it is such a big deal, but okay.  Just like their confrontational counterparts, they are baiting a trap for you.  They have set you up for a false choice.  You either become upset with them and appear completely irrational by making a big deal over such a small thing or you let them off the hook not wanting to deal with it.  They are very good at knowing where the line is drawn and running right up to it.  As a Leader you must take on the passive aggressive with a deliberate, constant, non-wavering campaign.  You need to move the line back.  Keep your responses proportional and do not over react.  This doesn’t mean you let things slide.  You risk looking aggressive if you go after everything at once.  So again, pick your battles and fight them.  Concentrate on policies that are already being followed by everyone else without a problem.  This eliminates any controversy on the right and wrong of the matter.  Find several areas that you are going to enforce “every day”, from everyone, even if it kills you.  Set deadlines and follow-up on them.  You must “break” your passive aggressive employee methodically, consistently and relentlessly. Without any emotion, excitement, or drama. 

2.)   Once they lose this battle your passive aggressive will most likely fight back with a bad attitude.  Since they are passive in their choice of weapon they will not be openly disgruntled.  Instead they will choose moodiness, sulkiness, irritability or the like.  Even worse they may try apathy or setting up others for failure.  All of these are unacceptable and should be dealt with immediately.  A serious conversation in your office with them will fix it for a week.  They will be dismissive and defensive and they will again test your will.  Do not let them get away with it.  As uncomfortable and upsetting as these meetings are for you, rest assured, they are hell for the passive aggressive.  If they persist in forcing you to meet with them again and again, begin taking notes of the conversations right in front of them.  Make it clear that you would rather not escalate the situation, but if they insist on it, you are prepared to win.

If you are constantly dealing with authority challenges, you need to take a strong deep look at yourself and ask if you are the problem.  Otherwise, you must be prepared to take on the occasional Underminer.  They are dangerous to you, your team and your company.  They focus attention on themselves and detract from the goals your team is working so hard to accomplish.   Take notice, everyone is aware that the game is on and they are watching how you deal with it.  They are evaluating your Leadership capability in these situations.  If you can conquer adversity without becoming emotional and reactionary, your team will respect you.  Take your victories with grace and silence.  There is no need to showboat or strut.  Everyone has noticed what just transpired.  Remember no one wants to follow a Leader who can’t stand up for himself when he is right and win!  Play it Street Smart and as Pete Vuckovich taught me – don’t relinquish your power.  You’ve got the Ball – KEEP IT!