That’s It! Helping Your Team Get Energy in the Right Direction


“Why can’t people just do what I tell them?”

“Why don’t people just do what they should?  It’s not that hard.

The gap that often lies between how our employee or team are currently performing and where we would like for them to perform can feel ever present and often enormous.   No doubt, there are a host of things that are a part of this frustration.  But one of the issues that I often find present is the lack of clarity around what the win looks like.  Let me be clear – it is the work of the authority (supervisor) in any system to clarify what a win looks like.  I’m talking about the baseline – the starting place – the non-negotiables of what it means to effectively be about the work.  If not spelled out, we should not expect our employees to know what that is.  Yet, time after time, I find that when I ask those in authority about this I get a blank stare.

Communicating the win starts with clarified values and mission but it’s more than that.  It’s about the cultural non-negotiables.  The clearer the Authority can be on what the non-negotiables are the more the employee/s have the latitude to think creatively about how to accomplish them.  But if those non-negotiables are foggy expect there to be frustration for you – and them.

Stephen Covey tells a story about engaging his son in taking responsibility for the work of taking care of the family lawn.  As they began their work together Covey constantly reiterates with his son what a win looks like.  Green and Clean.  This was the baseline.  If the yard continues to make progress toward Green and Clean then we were going in the right direction.  This story is laced with some comical bumps along their journey toward progress but always with the clearly articulated focus on Green and Clean.  This was critical.

Once the authority has clearly articulated the baseline of what a win looks like it is incumbent that they keep the focus there.  Specifically – they must continue to reinforce when an employee’s efforts connect with the win.  It can be seductive to only point out when and employee misses the mark.  And, no doubt, there are times when clear feedback needs to come in order to provide protection, direction and order.  But once a baseline is given the goal must always be to move beyond it.  This requires a different kind of work – a work nuanced by a focus on leveraging and engaging strengths.  Why?  Because focusing on strengths not only brings encouragement to your team – it brings learning.

Consider the following excerpt from an article entitled The Feedback Fallacy in the most recent edition of the Harvard Business Review…

There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team.  While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed through footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something easily, naturally, and effectively.  Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not.  It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.  From now on, he told each team member, “we only replay your winning plays.”

Now on one level he was doing this to make his team members feel better about themselves because he knew the power of praise.  But according to the story, Landry wasn’t nearly as interested in praise as he was in learning.  His instincts told him that each person would improve his performance most if he could see, in slow motion, what his own personal version of excellence looked like.   

Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it.  By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like for her – by saying, “That!  Yes, that!” – you’re offering her the chance to gain an insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there within her so that she can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it.  That is learning.”*

There is so much more that is a part of the systemic work of creating a high functioning employee/team.  I want to clarify that I am not implying that this work is easy or obvious.  But I am struck by how many times I find these pieces not only missing – but not thought about.  I would certainly offer this as a starting point for every CEO, VP, Manager or Supervisor.

This is your work.


*The Feedback Fallacy, Buckingham & Goodall, (HBR) Harvard Business Review, March/April 2019, pp. 98-100.

Samantha – The Power of a Compelling Why



Today, I made my weekly pilgrimage to the television set to watch one of my favorite shows, CBS Sunday Morning.  As usual, there was a moment in the ninety minutes that spoke to me.  It wasn’t one of the headline stories.  It was a much shorter story about what might be considered a small issue in a small community.

At the far end of Islington Road in Newton, Mass lives two year old Samantha Savitz.  She is deaf.  And for whatever reason, her community has decided that not being able to communicate with her, as she takes walks around the community with her parents, is not okay.  So, with the help of a hired instructor, a group of community members has decided to learn how to speak in sign language.  Yep – as a group – they are gathering in someone’s home, on their own time, to be tutored by a sign language teacher just so they can talk with Samantha.*

This story spoke deeply to me – and not just because it is a sweet story…which it is.

To me, this affirms something that I am continuing to become convinced of in my work with communities and organizations.  Unless there is not only a clear “why”, but a compelling “why” I just don’t see why anyone would waste their time and energy by giving their best selves and efforts to a company or community in order to help it move forward.

Generally speaking, just getting paid is not enough to get the best out of employees.

Generally speaking, just believing that your community should be a great place to live is not enough to get the best out its community members.

Generally speaking, just believing that people should love God is not enough to fill the pews each Sunday.

In my opinion, there’s got to be a why – and not just a clear why – a compelling why in order to really make progress.

But getting clear on purpose (be it individual or institutional) is hard.  Getting to the compelling part of purpose is even harder.  Why?  Here are just a couple of ideas…

First, none of us have time to think about deep purpose.  We just need someone to make the widgets.  We need someone to mow their lawn.  We need someone to volunteer in the Sunday School nursery.

Next, many of us have just not been schooled in thinking about deep meaning.  We pride ourselves in being “can-do” people.  Just get the job done and suck it up.

Simon Sinek says, “People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.”  Whatever you think about that quote I (personally) think there is some truth to it.  The “why” of a matter…what I would call “purpose”… invites all of us to think more deeply about the things that really matter to us – and until things really matter I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to make progress around the stories we hunger to be told about us.

*Here is the link to the video:

The CEO clarifies the WHY…always.


In Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why he states that when companies grow the role of the founder changes.  No matter what their new job description it remains the role of the CEO to clarify the “WHY” of their company’s existence.  Unfortunately, this work often gets lost in the shuffle.

Everything an organization says and does communicates the leader’s vision to the outside world.  All the products and services that the company sells.  All the marketing and all the advertising.  They all work to communicate this to the outside world.  If people don’t buy “what” you do they buy “why” you do it and if all the things happening at the “what” level do not clearly represent “why” the company exists then the ability to inspire is severely complicated. 

When a company is small this is not an issue because the founder has plenty of direct contact with the outside world.  Trusted “how” types may be in short supply and the founder ops to make a majority of the big decisions him or herself.  The founder or leader actually goes out and talks to the customers, sells the product and hires most if not all new employees. 

As the company grows, however, systems and processes are added and other people will join.  The cause embodied by an individual slowly morphs into a structured organization and the cone starts to take shape.  As it grows the leader’s role changes.  He will no longer be the loudest part of the megaphone.  He will become the source of the message that is to flow through the megaphone. 

When a company is small it will revolve around the personality of the founder.  There is no debate that the founder’s personality is the personality of the company.  Why then do we think things change just because a company is successful?  What’s the difference between Steve Jobs the man and Apple the company?  Nothing.  What’s the difference between Sir Richard Branson’s personality and Virgin’s personality?  Nothing. 

As a company grows the CEO’s job is to personify the “why”.  To ooze of it.  The talk about it.  To preach it.  To be a symbol of what the company believes.  They are the intention and what the company says and does is their voice.  Like Martin Luther King and his social movement the leader’s job is no longer to close all the deals.  It is to inspire.*

*Excerpt from Chapter 9 of “Start With Why”. Simon Sinek.