I’ve Read My Last Free Article for the Month

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Could big media profit from paying its readers?

You know the moment I’m talking about. The one where you read that irresistibly juicy headline and have no choice but to click. But when you do, you get the message.

You have no free articles left this month.

Great. Well, I guess my world will have to stay right-side-up for now.

I get it, though. News providers like the New York Times and Washington Post deserve to get paid for their product, and the paywall solves that. To what end, though?

Some people will avoid those sources. I’m one of them. I’m very choosy about which headlines I click because I know I’ve only got so many clicks. I ask myself, Do I really want to spend a free article on this topic?

And yea, I could subscribe. It’s just a couple of bucks, right? I don’t want all those subscriptions, though. I only care about a few articles from each of these sites per month, and other outlets cover the stories themselves.

The relationship between news providers and readers is symbiotic. These sites cannot exist without revenue, and readers are revenue, whether directly through subscription fees or indirectly through advertising. Given the interdependency, why can’t we find an honest, mutually-beneficial solution?

I believe one already exists in the form of a cryptocurrency: the Basic Attention Token (BAT).


Meet Brave

Brave is a browser that focuses on privacy. It has nice features like built-in ad blockers and protection against tracking and data collection. Given that ad prevention is one of its key selling points, it feels somewhat ironic that another feature it offers is Brave Rewards, which lets you opt to receive more ads.

Two things are really cool about Brave Rewards. First, it’s entirely optional. If you don’t want extra ads, no problem — don’t enable ’em. But, if you do turn them on, you get a cut of the ad revenue.

This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Companies buy ads so consumers will see them. Consumers don’t really have an incentive to view ads, though, and will do their best to ignore, block, or avoid them.

Ads that people pay attention to are more valuable — look at the Super Bowl. So, why not take a small percentage of that ad revenue and pay it to people who are eager and willing to participate?

That’s Brave Rewards in a nutshell. You earn BAT by viewing ads. The ads are pretty subtle, too. Just a small OS notification that you can dismiss if not interested. You can make several tokens a month using the browser, and the tokens are currently worth about $0.50 each. So, a couple of bucks.


It’s a win-win-win

So, here’s a novel idea: apply the same opt-in, profit-sharing strategy to news providers.

Think about it. A large provider could give its users two account types. There could be a free plan where readers earn BAT by reading articles that contain paid advertisements. The reader has an incentive to view the ads because it makes them money. The amount earned would be proportional to the amount paid by advertisers, and advertisers would be willing to spend a lot because of the huge audience exposure.

Not everybody likes ads, though, so there could also continue to be a paid plan that removes them. And what if this could be delivered in BAT — the same BAT earned using the Brave Browser?

It feels like the perfect win-win for these media giants. If I could earn BAT by reading articles at the NY Times or Washington Post, they’d quickly become my most-visited go-to sources instead of the paywall landmines that I try to avoid today.

Traffic would be way up. Ad revenue would be way up. Subscriptions would be way up. It could catapult them to the forefront of relevancy and influence.

And it all starts with the simple idea of paying people for their attention instead of treating them as a revenue stream.


This article was originally published in ILLUMINATE on February 17, 2021.

2 Productivity-Boosting Mental Jumpstarters

Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash (modified)

Thoughts to think when you feel stuck

I’ve been living in leadership books these past few months, and they’ve given me all kinds of wonderful insights and fresh perspectives. Each one seems to be more enjoyable than the last.

Every day seems to be rife with opportunities to apply what I’ve learned, too. I feel like a leadership book version of Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, witnessing manifestations of these sacred texts’ teachings in the air around me.

There’s no doubt, these books have made me a better, more thoughtful leader, but there’s a pair of statements that have lingered in my brain that have had a profound positive impact on my own productivity. I don’t think of myself as much of a mantra person, but I’m hit with situations daily that trigger these affirmations to playback in my head — and they help.

Image from The Hangover via meme-arsenal

In addition to improving my own personal productivity, they’ve also been useful tools for mentoring and coaching. We all get stuck, we all need a little motivation sometimes, and we all feel frustrated about things happening — or not happening — around us.

Best served with an eyes-closed cleansing breath, these mantras will help you fight through those moments of stagnation, find a goal, and push to make it happen.


One important thing each day

I can’t remember what I did yesterday, and I’m not sure what I’ll do today.

We’ve all given that update, right? You know, when you show up to your team’s daily status meeting a little underprepared and struggle to articulate what meaningful progress you made or what you plan to do next. I’ve certainly been in that boat — more times than I care to admit.

That’s what I love about this first mantra. It addresses both parts of the feelsbad daily status report.

It’s inspired by the book A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter. Kotter explains that having a sense of urgency doesn’t mean you’re always running around creating a flurry of activity. Rather, it’s having a goal and making consistent progress toward achieving it without the stressful, frantic flurry. He writes the following:

With an attitude of true urgency, you try to accomplish something important each day, never leaving yourself with a heart-attack-producing task of running one thousand miles in the last week of the race.

This is my go-to self-talk when I catch myself spinning on tasks but accomplishing nothing, like when I’m flipping between email and Slack, searching for something new begging for my attention. That’s not a productive way to work. It’s entirely reactive and, at best, keeping up. It’s certainly not a mode that will lead to much progress.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

In those moments, I take a breath and think, “One important thing each day. What’s something important I can do?”

This helps me pause, take inventory of everything that needs to be done, and determine what’s actionable. When done at the beginning of my day, it pushes me to prioritize and set immediate-term goals. It can also help with personal or team roadblocks by shedding light on instances where the most important thing can’t be done.

Completing a meaningful task each day gives you a place to hang your hat. No matter what else happens, you accomplished that one important thing. You set a goal and achieved it, and you’ll remember it when it’s time to give your update in the team’s daily status meeting.


Be the leader you wish you had

Toward the end of last year, I watched Simon Sinek lecture about his then-upcoming book Leaders Eat Last. During Q&A at the end of the lecture, a woman asked, “If you find yourself in a place that you consider unsafe, is your best strategy to exit?”

This was his response:

Absolutely not. The best strategy is to step up. The best strategy is to be the leader you wish you had. The best strategy is to find someone you trust and say, “We have each other; let’s look after each other, but let’s also commit to looking after everybody else.”

He explains how toxic leaders use isolation and fear to control groups, but it’s always the group that ultimately holds power. The group controls the leader.

Sinek speaks about it in the context of toppling a dictator, but I find it to be applicable in many non-authoritarian situations, too. It’s easy for friends and colleagues to complain about what’s swirling around them, and it’s in those moments when the line creeps into my head: be the leader you wish you had.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I think of these words, I feel empowered to do the right thing. I’m permitting myself to step outside the bounds of my role for the good of myself, my team, or my company. Energy spent on complaining is redirected toward solving. Instead of being frustrated about what isn’t happening, I take actions to help make it the way I believe it should be.

Think about this when you find yourself frustrated. Who could make it better? What do you wish they’d do? What would happen if you did that thing? What else can you do to address it yourself? Be the leader you wish you had.


Put ’em together, what d’ya have?

These two mantras are both pretty good when used independently, but they get really powerful when combined. Like, power-level-over-9000 powerful. It’s setting them up and knocking them down. It’s taking names and kicking ass.

“One important thing each day” forces you to lock-in on a target, and “be the leader you wish you had” permits you to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It’s taking solution-oriented to the next level because you’re not just coming up with solutions; you’re implementing them. You’re making problems go away. (Hey! Common sense here. Make sure you keep the people that matter in the loop in your decision-making. Feeling empowered is good; recklessly creating controversy isn’t. You’re trying to be productive, not stage a coup. Usually.)

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes, or think about what your team will say. Nobody’s going to complain about how you do important things, like, every day. They won’t be disappointed that you identify solutions and work through roadblocks instead of sitting on problems until the next team meeting.

In fact, it’s going to be the opposite. Your boss will be very excited about that level of proactivity, and the team’s going to notice when you show up every day with tales of glory and meaty contribution.

Recognize when you’re unproductive and lack direction. One important thing each day.

Don’t wait when you know the answer, and don’t be penalized for others’ inactions. Be the leader you wish you had.


This article was originally published on ILLUMINATION on February 16, 2021.


Interested in learning more? Be sure to give the books mentioned in this article a read! Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

The Grass is Brown Everywhere

Photo by Trevor Littlewood via Geograph

Don’t sacrifice what you have in pursuit of what you don’t

You should switch jobs. Life would be better at a different company.

I mean, they’ve got better perks, better teams, better brand, better mission, better everything, and with none of the problems of your current company. Things would be so good over there. Right?

The reality is, there’s a pretty good chance the new company won’t be much better than the one you’re with now — but maybe that’s actually good news.

Two traps like to catch us all. First, there’s the “grass is greener” syndrome, where we fantasize about all the things we don’t have. The other is good old-fashioned pessimism, which makes everything look unfixable and hopeless.

When these forces collide, the desire to opt-out becomes incredibly strong. That’s when we start looking for a new job or become susceptible to those pokes from recruiters.

Photo by Carson Masterson on Unsplash

Now, it very well could be true that it’s time for you to move on, that it’s time for a change. The truth is, though, that every company has its own set of problems; the grass is brown everywhere. The secret to satisfaction is realizing what’s important to you, finding a place that checks enough boxes, and embracing it for what it provides.

How do you know when enough is enough, and how do you take inventory of what matters most? Let’s start by digging deeper into why the next might not be better than ex.


The company you work for doesn’t matter

Lie number one in the book Nine Lies About Work is that the company you work for matters, i.e., it doesn’t.

Authors Marcus Buckingham & Ashley Goodall explain that significant research has determined what makes happy, productive employees. The way this is done, they say, is by asking lots of questions to lots of teams. Then, you take responses from the highest performing teams and compare them to responses from average & low-performing teams, and look for the trends.

Through this process, the ADP Research Institute has determined that the following eight specifically-worded aspects are strong indicators of a high-performing team:

1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.

2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.

3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.

4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.

5. My teammates have my back.

6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.

7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.

8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

These “pulse statements” are genius. It’s not obvious at first glance, but they aim to measure an employee’s sense of self (even numbers) and team (odd numbers) in each of four different categories: purpose (1 & 2), excellence (3 & 4), support (5 & 6), and future (7 & 8).

High marks indicate someone who feels good about themself, their team, and their company. Given the reliability of these indicators, one would assume the best companies have higher scores than bad companies.

But that’s not what Buckingham & Goodall found.

Instead, they discovered that companies good & bad alike tended to have the same distribution of responses. There was more variance between teams within the same company than between different companies. In other words, your team matters; the company doesn’t.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

But what about all the articles and research that goes into those “best places to work” lists? Buckingham & Goodall tell us these are important influencers of why we join a company. The culture and perks are there to sell future candidates on the promise of lush, green pastures.

However, those coveted perks like 20% time, gym memberships, and free lunches lose their luster quickly, and then you’re back to the reality of being mostly at the mercy of your team. Their research supports this, too. They found that members of a good team at a bad company will stay longer than those on a bad team of a good company.


Taking inventory

Okay, so it’s the team that matters. That doesn’t change the fact that things might not feel super rosy where you’re at. How do you know when enough’s enough?

That’s a very personal question — one that’s going to be very different for everybody since we’re all at different stages in our lives & careers and have different needs & values.

Indeed, a great place to start is by self-reflecting on your own responses to the eight pulse statements above. If you’re feeling bad on most of ’em, that’s a red flag. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope, but it’s not great for your long-term outlook. (If you’re in that boat, my suggestion is to have a conversation with your boss. Tell them about ADP’s research and your responses. Consider a similar conversation with the team.)

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

I also love this article by Jessica Donahue, PHR. She describes a coaching conversation she had with her boss where her boss asked her to “take stock of what’s important to you at work and put those things through a force-rank.” Her boss asked her to consider things like the people she works with, growth opportunities, job flexibility, and how much money she made.How to Help Your Team Figure Out What They Value Most in a Job
Because no job or company is perfect all the time.medium.com

In other words, find what matters most.

And in her case, she determined that her company’s lack of profitability — the thing that had her questioning if it was time to move on — wasn’t as important as the things her job did provide. Her top 3 needs were being met really well. That realization helped her to overcome, in her words, a piss-poor attitude. She ultimately stayed with the company through bankruptcy and liquidation.


Conclusion

Every career is going to have its ups and downs. We’re all going to have moments where things feel less than great. It’s impossible not to look out the window and dream about what could be.

Consider what you’re leaving behind before you jump ship, though. Acknowledge that no matter how careful you are — no matter how much research and diligence you pour into searching — you’re about to enter into a game of team roulette that will ultimately decide your satisfaction.

The team matters most, and leaving a great team for a lesser one isn’t easily undone. Make sure you’re not already sitting on a great thing before being lured away by another company’s shinies. Know what’s important to you, and discuss your needs that aren’t being met. You might find it’s easier to unlock happiness by fixing your everything-except situation than it is to throw everything in the air and hope for something better. Fixing it benefits everyone.

Finally, if you go through all this — your engagement scores from the pulse statements are low, you’ve determined your most important needs aren’t being met, and you’ve had conversations with your boss to no avail— then maybe it’s time for a change. Part of the gamble is that you might end up in a better place, right? Take solace in knowing that you’ve exiting for the right reasons, and find that better something.


This article was originally published on ILLUMINATION on February 15, 2021.


Thirsty for more? Try the book mentioned in the article, Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

Why Asking for Help Is the Most Important Behavior for Your Team

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

The ultimate trust-builder and collaboration-enhancer

We’ve all known that person. You like them. They’re friendly and smart. But you hesitate to let them take difficult tasks. You’d rather they stick to things you know they can handle — the kinds of assignments they’ve been successful with in the past.

We’ve all got someone at the other end of the spectrum, too. The person that, no matter what it is, you know they’ll be successful. They’ll find a way, figure it out, and produce great results every time.

It hasn’t been a matter of intelligence or competency for the people in my life that have fallen into these buckets. It’s been entirely about trust. One group lacks it; the other has it.


Like a stretchy waistband

What is it about those folks we trust so much? How can we be so sure they’ll do a great job with new and difficult assignments?

It’s rooted in past performance. They’ve demonstrated an ability to figure things out and succeed. More importantly, though, is that we’re confident they have the right safeguards in place. We know they’ll do the right things to keep us comfortable as they work through challenges and arrive at a solution.

They’ll discuss the plan beforehand, solicit feedback as they go, review when they’re done, and speak up if they get stuck along the way. These are all ways of asking for help — and they all build trust.


The number one thing that earns trust

Brené Brown uses a great metaphor for trust: the marble jar. The concept is borrowed from her daughter’s classroom system for promoting good behavior. When the class does something good, a marble is earned. When bad things happen, marbles are removed.

It’s the same with trust. When you do something trustworthy, you earn a marble. Damage trust, however, and risk losing a handful.

So, what’s the best way to fill the jar? In her book Dare to Lead, Brown shares the following observation from her research:

We asked a thousand leaders to list marble-earning behaviors — what do your team members do that earns your trust? The most common answer: asking for help. When it comes to people who do not habitually ask for help, the leaders we polled explained that they would not delegate important work to them because the leaders did not trust that they would raise their hands and ask for help.

It makes sense, right? If someone is doing something unfamiliar — something they’ve maybe never done before — and we don’t think they’ll seek guidance or check-in as they go, it’s natural to worry about the outcome. How could you not be concerned?


Everyone gets a marble

Think about the marble jar for this person that you’re uncomfortable with, that you don’t quite trust. How full is it? Probably not very.

Luckily, the solution to an empty jar is simple: start adding marbles.

When you don’t trust someone, part of the challenge is that they need to be the ones to earn marbles. Don’t worry, though, because there’s a wonderful, marble-earning solution for that, too! Ask them for help.

It takes courage and vulnerability to acknowledge a lack of trust in a relationship, particularly with someone you’ve known for a long time. It doesn’t need to be awkward, though. You don’t need to say, “I don’t trust you,” which can be harsh, ambiguous, and defense-triggering.

Instead, focus on promoting specific, trust-building behaviors. Suggest reviewing a plan before getting started. Tell them you’re happy to provide feedback at any point. Ask them to report on the status and offer help if they’re stuck. Give them space, but let them know you’re in it with them. Supporting a colleague in these ways is sure to earn you a lot of marbles.


The ultimate trust-builder

Asking for help is an underrated and insanely powerful tool. Look beyond the obvious, immediate benefits like getting your question answered. When you review a plan and get input before starting, mistakes are prevented before they occur. Soliciting feedback and double-checking your thinking improves quality and creates opportunity.

And, all the while, you’re creating a trusting, collaborative environment.

The benefits don’t end there, though. Asking questions demonstrates vulnerability and humility. It’s a signal of self-awareness, an admission that you don’t know everything. It signals to others that it’s okay to ask questions. People will be less afraid of judgment and less likely to judge themselves.

Trust is important, and asking for help is an easy, straightforward way to develop a lot. Don’t save it as a last resort. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to fill your jar. Cite specific ask-for-help behaviors missing in your interactions with others. Make asking for help habitual, so it comes naturally when help is needed most — when stakes are high and mistakes costly.

A team that trusts deeply and actively supports itself is capable of incredible things — and all it takes is for members to buy in on asking for help.


This article was originally published on The Startup on January 21, 2021.


Interested in learning more? This article was inspired by Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Check it out! Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon.

How I Learned to Be More Decisive and Stop Trying to Please Everyone

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

CONFESSIONS OF A CONSENSUS-SEEKER

I used to think my ability to get everybody to agree was a strength. I have strong opinions, I’m competitive, and it’s not enough to have my opponent concede when debating a topic. I need them to agree with me — to believe what I believe. This served me well early in my career, and my fiery conviction and the resulting success allowed me to rise into leadership positions.

Honestly, even as a team lead this approach worked pretty well. Looking back, I think the turning point was when I became the manager of two teams. That’s when I no longer had the capacity to be “in it” with the team on every assignment. That’s when I hit a wall with my consensus-seeking.


The Deadliest Slide at the Playground

As a team lead, I did the best I could. Of course, I didn’t really know what I was doing and was mostly making it up as I went. That’s not to say I didn’t try or that I did a bad job. It’s just that I’m a learn-by-doing sort of person, so even though I’d read and done research on what it meant to be a good boss, it took some time and experience for concepts to set in.

The pattern continued as I moved into management. I wanted to be a “manager of the people” — to empower the team, and to give them a voice and sense of ownership. But they didn’t always agree among themselves about what needed to be done or how to do it. (Who’da guessed?) On top of that, I had my own opinions about what was best. This is where consensus-seeking started to be a problem.

The team would go on and on about a problem and then, just as they’d be coming to a conclusion, I’d weigh in with my 2 cents and reset the whole conversation. You know the big slide in the board game Chutes and Ladders? The one right toward the end that basically takes you back to the beginning? It was kinda like that.

And, because I needed that consensus, I’d keep the debate going as long as people continued to disagree. I just felt like, if we could all understand each other’s perspectives, we could find a solution we all agreed on.

I knew it was a problem. I could feel the team spinning, and we were spending more time coming up with plans than it would take to execute them. Feedback from the team provided clear supporting evidence in my performance reviews, too.

Could be more decisive. It’s good to listen, but sometimes the team just needs someone to choose. (paraphrasing)

Message received. I wasn’t surprised, though. I knew it was coming, but it still stung a little to be forced to acknowledge my shortcoming in a more official way.


Melancholy and the Infinite Debate

Analysis paralysis was certainly a key problem caused by my consensus-seeking. We’d talk and talk and talk about a topic or design, then reserve ourselves to continue the discussion in the next meeting. It was exhausting.

But, having no decision and pressure to make progress, the team would soldier on, with fatigue from the endless debate taking its toll. Even if it was my idea that “won,” it didn’t feel like winning. My effort to make everybody happy had done the opposite — everyone was miserable!

That gave way to the second major issue: lack of commitment. With so much discussion, people would lose track of what we were even trying to accomplish. Or, worse, they’d stop caring. I was mentally beating them into submission, and they just wanted it to end.

Team members would shake their heads and ask, “So, what are we doing?” They had no energy and just wanted to get on with it. It’s a real feelsbad moment to look into the defeated eyes of your team and explain that you’re just going to do the thing that you all talked about so long ago.


Can we all agree that consensus is horrible?

My a-ha moment came while reading Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The main character, Kathryn, is speaking and says the following:

“Consensus is horrible. I mean, if everyone really agrees on something and consensus comes about quickly and naturally, well that’s terrific. But that isn’t how it usually works, and so consensus becomes an attempt to please everyone.”

It feels dumb and obvious, but I literally stopped and thought, Oh no. That was it, that was my problem. I continued reading.

“…some teams get paralyzed by their need for complete agreement, and their inability to move beyond debate.”

Yep, that was us. I was worried that people would be upset by not having their idea picked, so instead, I chose to pummel them into having the same idea. Reading about my own behavior in the context of the book was reassuring, to know that the bad thing I was doing was prolific enough to be addressed in a novel about the bad things we do. Still, not a great feeling to know that I had stepped into a common pitfall.

I always tell my teams that I’d rather have a problem we know the solution to than one we don’t, though, and this was one of those cases.

In the same chapter, another character speaks up about “disagree and commit” which is a popular idea that’s been written and talked about by many people, including Jeff Bezos. The concept is simple: it’s okay to disagree, but once the decision is made, everyone commits to it.

Certainly, that’s the philosophy I need to embrace, I thought. The hard part about decision-making was the fear of being wrong. I needed consensus because, if we all agreed and were wrong, we’d be wrong together. I didn’t want to force my decision on the team to have it rubbed in my face later by bitter and spiteful colleagues.

Because they’d be bitter and spiteful… Right?


A Breathtaking Detour

Making decisions requires a constructive environment filled with trust and communication, and my consensus-seeking didn’t provide that. I felt like we needed to talk things through because people would be upset if we didn’t do it their way. And it wore them down. Instead of looking for the best solution, they were looking for a way out.

However, it turns people don’t need to get their way to be happy. They need to feel heard. Having a voice makes us feel safe, like we’re in control. We want to know that if we call out danger, the team will steer away from it. Similarly, if we know a safe path, the whole team benefits from taking it.

Imagine you have plans for dinner at a restaurant with a friend. You and your friend have many choices for how to get there. You can take highways or backroads. You can drive yourselves or take public transportation. You can go separately or together. There are a few tradeoffs with each decision, but for the most part, they’re inconsequential.

Now, let’s say you know about some construction on one of the roads. You tell your friend to avoid that route because of significant delays, but they take it anyway and show up super late. You’d probably be upset, right?

Conversely, if they show up on time, you probably don’t care which specific path they took to get there. Maybe the same construction takes them through a scenic part of town, so your friend left early to enjoy it. You wouldn’t mind that they ignored your advice. It wouldn’t prevent you from enjoying each other’s company and having a good time — it might even give you something to talk about!

It’s the same with most team decisions. If you can agree on what you’re trying to accomplish, listen to everybody’s input, and make a reasonable decision, it doesn’t usually matter which specific path is chosen. What matters is that you get to where you’re going.


The Destination vs. The Journey

We’ve all heard the popular adage about road trips: it’s about the journey, not the destination. The idea is that the experiences you’ll have on the way to your destination will outweigh the ones you’ll have once you arrive. The point of these sorts of trips is usually to have experiences, and the journey is long and thus provides many experiences, so there’s truth to the statement.

When you have several options to choose from, you’ll often find yourself in one of two buckets. Choices will be equal or have tradeoffs. When all things are equal, it’s like meeting your friend at a restaurant. It probably doesn’t matter. Pick and move on. Most decisions have tradeoffs with multiple factors being influenced to different degrees, though, and that’s what makes them so tricky.

The reason they’re difficult is that people have different values. The best decision for me is different than the best decision for someone else, and neither of us is wrong — we just have different values. For example, one of us may value speed to market whereas the other values robustness of features. This is sort of a destination-vs-journeyquestion all in itself! Is it better to reach your destination quickly to benefit from more time or go a bit slower and arrive more prepared?

The question to ask yourself is, what are you trying to accomplish? This is why it’s so important for leaders and stakeholders to set goals and priorities: to enable the team to make decisions.

But, even if all that fails, there’s some good news. In the absence of a clear winner, you’re somewhat back to the all-things-equal scenario. There is no right or wrong when the deciding factor is subjectivity, so choose and move on.


The only losing move is not to choose.

As a former consensus-seeker, I hope I’ve said enough to convince you — to make you believe — that consensus-seeking is bad.

The two major problems with consensus-seeking are time lost and lack of commitment. You sacrifice time with endless discussion, and with no decision, there’s nothing to commit to.

For that reason, any decision is better than no decision, even if it proves to be the wrong choice. Being wrong is often more efficient than trying to ensure you’re right, and conducting marathon debates won’t save you from mistakes, anyway.

Consensus is painful, and you don’t need it. What you do need is commitment. Seeking consensus will drain energy and morale whereas listening and incorporating feedback will build trust. When the team trusts you, they’ll support your decisions, and that’s how you get commitment.

Energy saved by skipping analysis paralysis now gets applied toward the commitment, and a positive cycle begins. Commitment and energy lead to results. Results earn trust and influence, which then get applied to the next round of decisions.

Making decisions is more important than the decisions themselves. Know what you’re trying to achieve, listen to your team, and make a decision. Everyone will be happier and more productive for it.


This article was originally published in The Ascent on January 5, 2021.

The Fault In Our Loyalties

Photo by Thomas Evans on Unsplash

Having the wrong “first team” may be driving intergroup conflict throughout your company

Regardless of your position in a company, you’re probably a part of multiple teams. You have an immediate team — the people you work with every day. There’s another team made up of everybody in your department, and you might also be on a team with peers from other departments. And within those teams, there might be even more virtual teams that you belong to.

The point is, you’ve got a lot of teams beyond the one you’re assigned to on the org chart.

But, all those teams have a common goal. They all want the company to grow and succeed and be an awesome place to work. If everybody and every team wants the same thing, what’s the problem? Why do you need to know your “first team” and prioritize your allegiance?

The plan is nothing, strategery is everything

For most of my life, commitment & accountability have gone hand-in-hand as the formula for success. Set a goal, commit, and get it done. So, as I’ve landed in leadership roles, it’s something I’ve emphasized a lot with my teams.

That’s not bad, per se, but I was encouraging commitment at the wrong level. I wanted team members to commit to completing an assignment within a certain timeframe, then hold themselves accountable to get it done. However, that sort of commitment has proven to be too low-level and individual-focused.

You can’t emphasize execution without buy-in on strategy.

What I’ve come to realize is that commitment is much more effective when used to obtain buy-in from the team on a particular strategy. In other words, it’s really powerful when the team can agree, “We’re going to accomplish X by doing A, B, & C,” and commit to the approach. You can’t emphasize execution without buy-in on strategy. I’d been looking for people to commit to A, B, & C without understanding or agreement on what we were trying to accomplish.

I was doing everything I could to make execution of assignments go as smoothly as possibly — and being marginally successful — but it wasn’t until I read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni that I came to see I was prioritizing my teams incorrectly and creating unnecessary turbulence as a result.

In the book, members of a fictional executive team learn to prioritize shared objectives above the goals of their individual departments so the company can succeed. They prioritize themselves as a team and align on strategy. Departments begin working together to achieve common goals rather than competing for resources, and they experience success as an organization rather than as disconnected teams. It’s beautiful.

Overarching goal, all the way across the sky

Every team will have an opinion on what’s most important and how to achieve success. The sales team will tell you sales are the key: “Great product doesn’t mean anything if nobody buys it, and revenue is our lifeblood.” The product team notes, however, that this is why investing in the product is so crucial. “If you have a superior product, selling is easier!” Finance might say sales and product mean nothing if you spend irresponsibly and manage money poorly.

The thing is, each of these teams is right. Their perspectives are valid and true. What’s most essential, though, is to have an overarching goal— an objective that all the teams can get behind and rally around. Something to unite the clans.

“If everything is important, then nothing is.”

An overarching goal is important because, as CEO Kathryn notes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “If everything is important, then nothing is.” The goals of individual teams are certainly important, but the leadership of those teams needs to commit to a greater objective. Without agreement at the top, conflict will trickle down through the ranks and become more severe at it seeps deeper in the company.

The whole is greater than some of its parts. Or whatever.

In order for the company to be truly successful, all teams need to achieve some level of success. No single team can carry all the others, but one failing hard enough could lead to disaster. It doesn’t matter if your team hits its numbers if everything else burns to ash.

I’m a competitive person. I want my team to be the best and most successful. It’s easy to look at peer teams and think, “Not my problem. We’re doing our part.” There’s even a certain amount of pride in that, right? To know that you’re winning by out-pacing the others? But I also know that my team’s only part of the puzzle, and our performance won’t mean as much without the other teams succeeding.

For the company to succeed, all teams need to work together to maximize strengths, mitigate weaknesses, and understand how they’re doing collectively so they can adapt and win. This is where the concept of your first team becomes so important. You shouldn’t just listen to your peers explain what’s happening on their respective teams. You should be invested in it. You should be on the same page about what you’re trying to accomplish together— the overarching goal — and be willing to adapt as a group in order meet your objective, because that will make the company successful.

The concentric safety dance

One of key themes in Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last is the importance of the circle of safety. The idea is that when a group trusts each other and doesn’t need to worry about internal threats, it can focus all of its energy externally which allows the group to succeed.

Imagine an organization where all the leaders are in the middle of circles that represent their departments, divisions, or teams of direct reports. The individual teams are united and working together well, but they’re treating other teams within the organization as external threats. That makes for a tremendous amount of energy wasted on intergroup conflict.

Now let’s adjust the picture so that the leadership team forms their own circle of safety in the middle. When this group trusts itself and has a shared vision, its energy can all be focused outward to the next layer of team. When all teams are being directed toward common objectives, they can also learn to trust each other eventually form their own greater circle of safety.

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Come down from the mountain

Deciding that you’re more committed to one team than another doesn’t mean the other team is unimportant or somehow less valuable. Those other teams, especially the one made of your direct reports or day-to-day peers, are extremely important. It’s critical to invest heavily in those teams and relationships, but prioritizing your allegiance will improve the efficiency of all your teams immensely.

Google research has shown that psychological safety is the number one most important factor for effective teams. When leadership agrees on an overarching goal and strategy for achieving it, it leads to commitment. Commitment within leadership translates to clearer messages around what needs to be accomplished by their teams — the commitment travels down and across the organization. Cross-team alignment means less conflict and less internal threat, which in turn allows teams to focus more of their energy outward and toward achieving the common goals. A tidal wave of commitment can wash over the entire organization.

It starts with leaders prioritizing themselves as a team and putting the interests of the company ahead of those of their specific departments.

Ask yourself, who is your first team? What’s the overarching goal that the team is trying to achieve, and what’s the strategy for achieving it? How is the team progressing, and how can it use its collective resources to adapt?

Work together as a leadership team. Set an overarching goal, commit to a strategy, and hold each other accountable to execute your parts. With clarity and commitment, all teams can contribute and support each other in helping the company achieve its goals, and the company will grow, succeed, and be an awesome place to work.


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This article was originally published in ILLUMINATION on December 23, 2020.