High Tolerance for Ambiguity

We all want certainty. We want our plans to meet our expectations. We want our team to perform according to schedule. We want our suppliers and our customers to do exactly as we want. And then we wake up and realize we're dreaming!

The advent of continuous communication, via the net, forever changed the notion of certainty. The market disruption that has become the norm requires us to always be facing a foggy future. So, how do you develop a "high tolerance for ambiguity"?

First, admit the obvious - everything is changing constantly. Let yourself off the hook that there is something wrong with your management if things aren't perfect. Second, learn how to move quickly from side-to-side. If one task is late, then how can you move over and tackle another one? If someone else makes a big mistake how can you take immediate small steps to recover?

Third, find a way to use your skills, and that of your team, to help others handle their ambiguity. You can be a sounding board, you can help brainstorm solutions, and you can help redeploy resources to keep their schedule on track. When all around you people are bailing water as fast as they can, you want to be the guy selling bigger buckets!

Be encouraged,


Posted on February 4, 2015 .

Be a Better Manager

Francis Bacon, one of the greatest thinkers in history, wrote these insightful words, "Old wood is best to burn, old wine best to drink, old friends best to trust and old authors best to read."

How can you claim to be a competent manager and not be continuously reading something by Peter Drucker?

Drucker is gone now but his influence grows. He was the father of modern management and the first genuine leadership mentor in the western world.

Google him. Click on anything he has written. Read it. You will be a better manager in days and a better person immediately.

Be encouraged,

Posted on January 22, 2015 .

Which Manager Are You?

When was the last time you had an honest talk with your boss? A talk where you shared a well thought out projection on where your team was headed and what it would take to get there? 

When is the last time you revealed a mistake she hadn't caught yet but you wanted to be out in front and minimize the damage?

When are you going to tell him those concerns that keep bothering you and you try to ignore? On this issue I have met two kinds of managers: those who are transparent and talented, and those who are hiding and hopeful.

Which one are you?

Be encouraged,

Posted on January 11, 2015 .

Christmas is About Business!

Have you ever noticed how much "business people" are a part of the Christmas story? Charles Dickens popularized the notion that business types are anti-Christmas. But the traditional Christmas story is full of business people who cared.

The Inn Keeper in Bethlehem had a full house. Everyone was in town for the census (another business-driven initiative). But even then, in the early 1st Century, he had a sense of customer service. Rather than turn the couple away he made provisions in his stable for the young man and woman and their soon-to-be-born child.

Nearby there were livestock merchants - you know them as shepherds.  Their animal work then, as today, knew no holiday. But these weren't ordinary shepherds; they were actually tending the flock for the temple sacrifice. So, they knew the prophecy that a messiah would come. But they had no idea they were about to be memorialized for their part in the story.

The Christmas story not only includes the hospitality industry and livestock but there were political consultants - better known as "wise men" who would also take center stage. And you may not realize that according to the tradition of the day, three wise men would be traveling with a contingency of workers numbering around 100!

The lasting message of Christmas, however, is not the prominent role that business people played in the unfolding drama. No, it is the role the baby born in a manger would play in the lives of all mankind.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"

Merry Christmas,

Posted on December 24, 2014 .

Holiday Priorities

Some managers hate Christmas...I'm serious. The company holiday party, staff rushing to kid's school programs, and the inevitable "I need to leave a little early today." Face it; we all get a bit distracted this time of the year. So, what does a lasting leader do?

December is the month that demands priorities. If your business is at the retail customer level then you already know what you need to do. But for all of us, it is important to pay attention to 3 things.

First, what absolutely has to get done before the end of the year? Make it a priority in the first two weeks of December because the last two are almost a "wash". 

Second, huddle your team early in the month and get on the table who might have a schedule or work challenge. The earlier you face it then the less frustrating it will be when it happens.

Third, make sure as the manager, this month of all months, that you let each of your associates know how much you appreciate them. For a lot of people this is not a joyous time of year. Their family is not together or is maybe even fractured. All of the faux family time that is blasting from the radio doesn't help them. As their leader, you can strengthen your relationship by strengthening their confidence in you. 

It all starts with paying attention to them and letting them know specifically what it is you appreciate.


Posted on December 5, 2014 .

The Thanksgiving Managers

That first Thanksgiving was actually a meeting of managers. Before you stop reading, consider this, the Native Americans had long had a process of who would plant, who would water, who would weed, and who would harvest their crops. Supervision usually fell along the lines of age and experience (sound familiar?).

Transporting the pilgrims from their native Europe to the shores of the North American continent was a major corporate enterprise. Several teams were involved including nautical engineers, seaman and ship staff, and management of a corporate grant from the king.

So, when these two business cultures came together in a celebratory event it took a lot of coordination and organization. My conclusion - as a manager you're part of a profession that's been at the core of our founding as a nation. And, as history records, effective managers/leaders built the greatest nation on earth.

Thank you for choosing to be a leader of other associates. Thank you for the extra time you spend before and after normal hours preparing work for the people you lead. Thank you for promoting the very concept of free enterprise that has given us as a free nation much to be proud of on 
this Thanksgiving.



Posted on November 26, 2014 .

Which Comes First - The Answer or The Question?

There was a time in the American workplace where the manager was the person with all the answers. If she didn't know the answer then she surely knew where to find it. Those days are gone. In fact, if you still expect your associates to bring their questions to you for divine light then you are going to fall further behind in developing a high performance team.

Today's uncertain business climate demands a high tolerance for ambiguity. What your associates really need from you are not the answers but the questions.  When they are trying to resolve a customer issue, what questions should they be asking themselves?

When your team faces a sudden problem, what questions do they ask of each other that will bring greater clarity to the possible solutions? And, most importantly, when you are not around and they are working alone in their cubicle, what questions should they be asking themselves through out the day. Questions that will lead them not only to a solution but a better solution that you would have come up with.

Here's your choice, you can walk around all day saying, "Do this and then do that." Or you can look at your team and ask, "What would happen if...?" Which one is going to develop a high performance team? Which one is going to harness the intellectual power of the group? Those are questions to which, I think, you already know the answer. So, do it.

Be encouraged,


Posted on November 20, 2014 .

Email Jail

It seems as if there is no way out. Every exit is blocked or locked. 

It overwhelms you. That's how a leader described his email inbox when he returned from lunch. Email overload is draining the productivity out of many workers - maybe even yours. So, how do you manage it?

First, recognize and tell your team that every email is not of the same priority. They will never be able to treat every message like an incoming phone call. It's their job to determine what the priorities are.

Second, email must be divided between the #1 - must be answered immediately, the #2 must be answered within 24 hours and #3 place in folder for review if necessary. Third, answer the #1's first and before you do anything with the #2's.  

Talk openly about email. Don't let anyone hide behind "catching up on email"...only you can set the tone. If you don't your team will become tone deaf and on permanent lock down in email jail.

Be encouraged,


Posted on October 15, 2014 .

The Unmotivated Fringe

Every manager has at least one. They are often on the fringe. They might even have potential, but for now, they are your unmotivated employee.

You can't even remember why you hired them. You can't ignore them. 
You need every human resource to be fully engaged.

I suggest three meetings over three weeks. In meeting one (week one), state your concern using "I" to describe the problem more than "you". And ask how you can help them get engaged and become self motivated. 

Week two, ask how the past week has been and where they think they have made progress. Week three, point out where you believe their performance has improved. But, if by week three, there has been little growth then you have to explain that their job is in jeopardy and set a hard date for improvement.

Your most valuable inventory gets in a car and goes home every night... they must grow or go...and that's your responsibility!
Be encouraged,


Posted on October 10, 2014 .

Apple Butter Time

Have you ever made apple butter?

I am serious. Making apple butter requires constant vigilance while you stir the vat of boiling apples. Losing just a second of concentration can result in tasteless apple butter.

So, what are you being vigilant about today? Are you obsessed over some minor detail? Are you fixated on just one problem?

I hope your answer is no. What you should be vigilant about today is listening to your team, encouraging your team, and removing barriers in their way.

You're going to be focused on something, why not make it something that really matters.

Be encouraged,


Posted on September 25, 2014 .

How Do You Put It Together?

How does your team organize their work? In a restaurant or retail shop the customer is standing and waiting, so over time we learn how to organize the work to get the product to them quickly. But when you are processing information or other computer based production work, how do you do it?

First, as the leader, you are the one person who must understand the entire design. How does information or work request come into your group? How is everyone else alerted? How is the workflow on that request established? You probably have already done this.

But second, what is the protocol for a problem order or a mistake in how the information is processed? This is where I often see a variety of "recovery methods" that become isolated and prone to being ignored.  Every mistake/problem must be transparent to everyone who can do something about it.

Third, test the system often. Plant an order or request that will be a problem and see how your system and your team responds. As the manager it is your job not to just make sure things run smoothly but to also be on hand and on point when they don't. 

The more your entire team can do that then it will become less important for you to be at the helm in a storm.

Be encouraged,


Posted on September 19, 2014 .

Warning - Dangerous Virus

Don't bother using your hand sanitizer. It won't stop a deadly virus that is spreading in workplaces across America.

Some businesses have already closed as a result. The technical name for this mutated threat is - FEAR! Don't laugh too quickly. It has already struck you today and you have inadvertently passed it along to your associates.

If you knew you could not fail at work today, what would you do? Fear of failing however, is not the problem. Your team is most fearful of failing you, so they devote most of their energy at work to reading you.

What might happen if they believed you had their back no matter what? And then spent their time on their customer, their project, or the sale?

Practice safe leading - stand up to fear!

Be encouraged,






Posted on September 11, 2014 .

Poor Performer

Who is your poorest performing team member? Go with the first person that came to your mind. Now, what are you doing to turn that around or turn them out? Managers who last don't get the option of doing nothing. There are three things you can do that will make a difference.

First, You have to set aside time - regular, weekly time - to invest in that associate. It must become a priority. Second, when you meet with them don't talk (and certainly don't lecture) instead, listen. As the legendary Peter Drucker said about the most effective managers, "Listen for what is not being said."

Third, ask them "What obstacles do I need to remove that will help you succeed?" You are not obligated to do what they ask but you certainly need to know what they think their obstacles are. And, of course, remove them when you can.

Remember, your most expensive inventory gets in a car or truck and goes home every night. You cannot afford to ignore them.

Be encouraged,


Posted on September 5, 2014 .

Too Much To Do

Regardless of your industry or business, there is a very good chance that your employees have more to do on their desk and their computer than they can get done today. I am old enough to remember work without personal computers, cell phones, or text messages.

Our communication tools create new tasks and interruptions at lightening speed everyday. So, how does your team prioritize what they are going to get done today? In the absence of clear priorities there will be a tendency to just stay busy without regard to the business implications.

First, make sure your employees know your priorities and how they support those. Otherwise you can't be upset about what they choose to do on their own. Second, encourage your team to huddle at least once in the morning to make sure everyone knows what the priorities for the day are.  Don't let them hide in their cubicle.

Third, every few days, huddle with your team and review what has been done and see if any critical priorities were missed. It takes effort to keep your team focused but failure to do that costs much more.

Be encouraged,


Posted on August 15, 2014 .

Your Team's Success

Do you have anyone reporting to you that if they quit today you wouldn't try to convince them to stay? Be honest!

Then what are you going to do about that? There is no coming economic boom that will produce enough profit to cover up mediocrity. And those associates will not have an epiphany and suddenly improve.

Your action, or inaction, will determine your entire team's success.
You can make excuses or make progress - your choice!

Be encouraged,


Posted on August 11, 2014 .

Are You a Coach or a Cop?

Are you a coach or a cop?  What will you employees experience the most today from you?  Will it be, "Let's talk about how we can improve that process" or will it be, "This is the third mistake you have made on this project and it is unacceptable!"

No need to waste any mind space about which it the best form of leadership.  Here is how you bring out the coach rather than the cop.  First, invest time thinking about each of your associates and ask yourself one question, "What is one thing they need to improve in?"

Second, set an appointment with them to meet.  Begin the meeting by pointing out what they are doing well and then ask what they believe they should improve in.  If it is the same as what you are thinking then start coaching.  If it is not, then, work on whatever they mention and bring up your area as well.

Third, thank them for taking time to meet with you and remind them that you want to help them improve.  Coaching leads to high performers.  Being a cop leads to people who devise ways not to get caught.  Your choice.

Be encouraged,


Posted on July 31, 2014 .

Ordinary Work

We don't value ordinary much anymore. In fact, it is often a derisive term for "not good enough". But, whether we will admit it or not, a lot of what our team does each day is ordinary.

For sure, there are big days where we break all records and raise the bar. But, in between, are a lot of ordinary workdays.

So, what will you do today to encourage ordinary work? How will you send the expectation that the ordinary is very important and you appreciate the task? 

This is when leadership becomes not so much what you do but who you are

Be encouraged,


Posted on July 16, 2014 .

Managers Have Stopped Reading

Managers have stopped reading! I can hear your response, "Barry, I am reading email and reports all day long!" That's not what I'm talking about. As a leader, you have to have vision beyond the horizon. You can't arrive at market or production issues at the same time as your team. So, how do you do that?

First, make sure you have access to the most reliable writing that is being produced about your customers and/or market. It may come from an association source or business data, but you should be following the blogs or reporting what is being done by those who are obsessed with your customers.

Second, there should be at least one book on your desk that is about how to improve your personal skills. There are hundreds to choose from. This summer I am recommending Laura Stack's book, Execution is the Strategy - How to Get Maximum Results in Minimum Time

Your competition is getting better. You cannot afford to grow complacent. 

Third, you should be reading something for fun. That's right - fun. When our mind is relaxed and in escape mode we are at the height of our creativity. You find yourself thinking about something in a different way. In fact, you will find yourself saying, "This thought just popped into my mind!" No, you released it by relaxing your mind.

Reading is the fuel for successful managers. It's time to fill up!

Be encouraged,


Posted on July 13, 2014 .

Birth of a Start Up

This week we will celebrate the most successful start up in the last 500 years...the United States of America!

So, how did they do it? First, they brought together the key stakeholders (delegates) and gave them a creative voice.

Second, they divided leadership according to talent. Ben Franklin could do one thing, Thomas Jefferson another.

Third, they recognized the enemy...in fact they could smell the powder from their muskets.

Is the business enemy closing in on you? Use that as motivation. Assemble your team...assign tasks based on talent. And get a big bell you can ring (preferably with a crack) and sound it every time your troops score a victory!

Happy Birthday America...you have been very good to me

Be encouraged,






Posted on July 2, 2014 .

Catchy Phrases

"What goes around comes around...what goes up must come down...chickens come home to roost." Enough with the catchy phrases! But there is some truth in all of these.

Before anyone on your team responds to you, they first run through their impression of you in their mind. It takes only a nanosecond but it makes a lifetime of difference. If they perceive you as open to them and willing to listen, then they will respond in a way that supports that.

If they perceive you as close-minded and only interested in "yes" responses, then that is what they will give you in return. Now, this is not a perfect science it doesn't work this way every time - but it does most of the time, so you can't afford to ignore it.

Before you say anything today to anybody ask yourself three quick questions. First, how do I want this person to perceive me as a leader? Second, will the way I say this encourage candor and cooperation? Third, will my comment build my relationship with this person or will it erode it?

Be encouraged,


Posted on June 21, 2014 .