Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • Before we can talk about fixing faulty behavior, we must identify the most common faults. I hasten to add that these are a very specific breed of flaws. They are not flaws of skill. I can’t fix that. If this were a baseball team and I was a coach, I’m not the guy to teach you how to hit a hanging curveball. That’s the hitting instructor’s job. I’m the coach who teaches you how to get along with your teammates—how to play nice rather than how to play baseball. Nor are they flaws in intelligence. It’s too late for me to make you smarter. If that’s the issue, the causative events probably occurred somewhere between birth and the time you left college. I wasn’t around. And I couldn’t have helped anyway. Nor are they flaws of unchangeable personality. We’re not attempting psychiatry here, and we can’t deliver vital pharmacological medication via a book. Consult an M.D. What we’re dealing with here are challenges in interpersonal behavior, often leadership behavior. They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make your workplace substantially more noxious than it needs to be. They don’t happen in a vacuum. They are transactional flaws/habits performed by one person against others. Here are the 20 we should avoid:
    1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations—when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
    2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
    3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
    4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
    5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
    6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
    7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
    8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
    9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
    10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
    11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
    12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
    13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
    14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
    15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
    16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
    17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
    18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who is usually only trying to help us.
    19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
    20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
  • Carlos is a very confident CEO. But he has a bad habit of verbalizing any and every internal monologue in his head. And he doesn’t fully appreciate that this habit becomes a make-or-break issue as people ascend the chain of command. A lowly clerk expressing an opinion doesn’t get people’s notice at a company. But when the CEO expresses that opinion, everyone jumps to attention. The higher up you go, the more your suggestions become orders. Carlos thinks he’s merely tossing an idea against the wall to see if it sticks. His employees think he’s giving them a direct command.  
  • Carlos thinks he’s running a democracy, with everyone allowed to voice their opinion. His employees think it’s a monarchy, with Carlos as king. Carlos thinks he’s giving people the benefit of his years of experience. His employees see it as micromanaging and excessive meddling. Carlos has no idea how he’s coming across to his employees. He is guilty of Habit #2: Adding too much value.

  • Sharon is the editor of a major magazine. She is highly motivated, energetic, articulate, and loaded with charisma. For someone who has spent much of her adult life working with words and pictures, she has developed impressive people skills. She can coax delinquent writers into meeting their deadlines. She can inspire her staff to stay at their desks late into the night when she decides to tear up the next issue at the last minute. She believes she can persuade anyone if she really puts her mind to it. Her publisher often invites her on sales calls to advertisers because of her charm and her ability to sell the magazine. Sharon is particularly proud of her ability to spot and nurture young editorial talent. The proof is in the bright energetic editorial team she has assembled. Editors at competitive magazines call them the Sharonistas, because of their almost militant allegiance to Sharon. They’ve been working with her for years. Their loyalty is unwavering. And Sharon returns their affection with equally fierce loyalty. That loyalty may seem excessive, especially if you work for Sharon but don’t quite qualify as a Sharonista. In today’s editorial meeting, where future assignments are meted out to the staff, Sharon offered up an observation that might make a good cover story. One of the Sharonistas immediately seconded the idea, saying it was “brilliant.” Sharon assigned the story to her. And so the meeting proceeded, with Sharon handing out plum assignments to her staff favorites— all of whom returned the favor by fawning over Sharon and agreeing with everything she said. If you happened to be one of Sharon’s favored staffers, the lovefest at the editorial meeting would be the highlight of your month. On the other hand, if you were not one of Sharon’s favored staffers or happened to disagree with her, the sycophancy level in the room would have been transparent and sickening. After a few months of this treatment, you would have been emailing your résumé to other magazines. None of this was apparent to Sharon, who was otherwise extremely shrewd about people and their motives. She believed she was being an effective leader. She was developing people who shared her vision for the magazine. She was building a solid team that could operate seamlessly. Sharon thought she was encouraging the staff to grow and eventually emulate her success. The staffers outside her inner circle thought she was encouraging sucking up. Sharon is guilty of Habit #14: Playing favorites.

  • Martin is a financial consultant for a prominent New York City firm. He manages money for high-net-worth individuals. The minimum starting account is $5 million. Martin is very good at what he does. He takes home a seven-figure salary. That’s a lot less than most of his clients make in a year. But Martin doesn’t envy or resent his clients. He lives and breathes investments. And he loves providing a valued service for his well-heeled clients, many of them CEOs, some of them self-made entrepreneurs, some of them entertainment stars, and the rest of them beneficiaries of inherited wealth. Martin enjoys rubbing shoulders with his clients. He likes talking to them on the phone and giving them the benefit of his expertise over lunch or dinner— almost as much as he likes beating the market by four points each year. Martin is not a manager of other people. He operates as a lone wolf at his firm. His only obligation is to his clients and seeing that they’re happy with the state of their portfolios from year to year. Today is one of the biggest days of Martin’s life. He’s been invited to manage a portion of the investment portfolio of one of America’s most admired business titans. People with enormous net worth often do that, parceling out their millions to several money managers as a protective hedge. Martin has a chance to join an elite group in the titan’s stable. If he’s successful, there’s no telling how many more clients will spring from this relationship. He’s calling on the titan in his office perched high atop Rockefeller Center. Martin knows that this will be his only chance to make a good impression on the titan. He has one hour to gain his confidence and trust— and the millions in his account. Martin has done this many times. He has a veteran’s poise and confidence when he sells himself to a prospect— and he also has a superlative track record of market-beating returns. So it’s a little surprising that he doesn’t rise to the occasion in his meeting with the titan. Immediately upon entering the titan’s office, when the titan says, “Tell me a little about yourself,” Martin starts selling his expertise. He tries to dazzle the titan with a rundown of his more prescient trades, explaining in great detail his investment rationale and how he ended up miles ahead of the competition. He talks about some of his more prominent clients. He outlines some ideas he has for the titan’s portfolio and where he sees various markets heading in the near and long terms. Martin is on such a roll that he doesn’t notice that the scheduled hour has gone by in a flash. That’s when the titan stands up and thanks Martin for taking the time to see him. Martin’s a little surprised by the abrupt ending to the meeting. He never got the chance to ask the titan about his goals, his attitude to risk, and what he was looking for in a portfolio manager. But as he rewinds the meeting in his mind, Martin is satisfied that he presented a strong case for himself, hitting all the high notes in his pitch. The next day Martin receives a handwritten note from the titan thanking him again but informing him that he will be going in another direction. Martin has lost the account and he has no idea why. Martin thought he was winning over the titan with overwhelming evidence of his financial acumen. The titan was thinking, “What an egotistical jackass. When’s he going to ask what’s on my mind? I’m never letting this fellow near my money.” Martin is guilty of Habit #20: An excessive need to be “me.”

  • It’s a little like a stage actor who keeps stepping on a pivotal line in a comedy, thus ruining any chance of securing a big laugh from the audience. It’s the director’s job to notice this and alter the actor’s delivery so that the line elicits the essential roar of laughter from the audience. No laugh, no play. If the actor can’t adjust his delivery successfully, the producer will find someone who can. Well, think of me as a caring director who helps you deliver your lines for maximum effect.

  • As a 10-year board member of the Peter Drucker Foundation, I had many opportunities to listen to this great man. Among the myriad wise things I have heard Peter Drucker say, the wisest was, “We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”  
  • Think about your organization. When was the last retreat or training session you attended that was titled, Stupid Things Our Top People Do That We Need to Stop Doing Now? When was the last time your CEO delivered an internal talk, designed to motivate employees, that focused on his negative traits and his efforts to stop this destructive behavior? Can you even imagine your CEO (or immediate supervisor) admitting a personal failing in public and outlining his efforts to stop doing it?

  • Our performance reviews are solely based on what we’ve done, what numbers we’ve delivered, what increases we have posted against last year’s results. Even the seemingly minor personal goals are couched in terms of actions we’ve initiated, not behavior we have stopped. We get credit for being punctual, not for stopping our lateness. We can change this. All that’s required is a slight tweak in our mindset, in how we look at our behavior. Get out your notepad. Instead of your usual “To Do” list, start your “To Stop” list.

  • We have to stop couching all our behavior in terms of positive or negative. Not all behavior is good or bad. Some of it is simply neutral. Neither good nor bad. For example, let’s say you’re not regarded as a nice person. You want to change that perception. You decide, “I need to be nicer.” What do you do? For many people, that’s a daunting assignment, requiring a long list of positive actions. You have to start complimenting people, saying “please” and “thank you,” listening to people more patiently, treating them with verbal respect, etc., etc., etc. In effect, you have to convert all of the negative things you do at work into positive actions. That’s asking a lot of most people, requiring a complete personality makeover that is closer to religious conversion than on-the-job improvement. In my experience very few if any people can institute that many positive changes in their interpersonal actions all at once. They can handle one at a time. But a half dozen or more changes? I don’t think so. Fortunately, there’s a simpler way to achieve the goal of “being nicer.” All you have to do is “stop being a jerk.” It doesn’t require much. You don’t have to think of new ways to be nicer to people. You don’t have to design daily tasks to make over your personality. You don’t have to remember to say nice things and hand out compliments and tell the little white lies that lubricate the gears of the workplace. All you have to do is . . . nothing.   
  • When someone offers a less-than-brilliant idea in a meeting, don’t criticize it. Say nothing. When someone challenges one of your decisions, don’t argue with them, or make excuses. Quietly consider it and say nothing. When someone makes a helpful suggestion, don’t remind them that you already knew that. Thank them and say nothing.

  • There’s a reason I devote so much energy to identifying interpersonal challenges in successful people. It’s because the higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral. At the higher levels of organizational life, all the leading players are technically skilled. They’re all smart. They’re all up to date on the technical aspects of their job. You don’t get to be, say, your company’s chief financial officer without knowing how to count, how to read a balance sheet, and how to handle money prudently. That’s why behavioral issues become so important at the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. All other things being equal, your people skills (or lack of them) become more pronounced the higher up you go. In fact, even when all other things are not equal, your people skills often make the difference in how high you go.

  • As an executive coach, I’m used to monitoring people’s dialogues, listening with forensic intensity for clues that reveal why these otherwise accomplished people annoy their bosses, peers, and subordinates. Ordinarily, I keep quiet in these situations. But Jon was a friend exhibiting classic destructive smart-person behavior. I said, “Jon, will you please be quiet and let Niko talk. Stop trying to add value to the discussion.” What Jon Katzenbach was displaying in full flower was a variation on the need to win—the need to add value. It’s common among leaders used to running the show. They still retain remnants of the top-down management style where their job was to tell everyone what to do. These leaders are smart enough to realize that the world has changed, that most of their subordinates know more in specific areas than they ever will . But old habits die hard. It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) “we already knew that” and (b) “we know a better way.” That’s the problem with adding too much value. Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, “Great idea!” your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say, “Good idea, but it’d be better if you tried it this way.”  
  • The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea—and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in. That’s the fallacy of added value. Whatever we gain in the form of a better idea is lost many times over in our employees’ diminished commitment to the concept.

  • If you find yourself saying, “Great idea,” and then dropping the other shoe with a tempering “but” or “however,” try cutting your response off at “idea.” Even better, before you speak, take a breath and ask yourself if what you’re about to say is worth it. One of my clients, who’s now the CEO of a major pharmaceutical, said that once he got into the habit of taking a breath before he talked, he realized that at least half of what he was going to say wasn’t worth saying. Even though he believed he could add value, he realized he had more to gain by not winning.

  • People don’t like to be critiqued, however obliquely. That’s why passing judgment is one of the more insidious ways we push people away and hold ourselves back from greater success. The only sure thing that comes out of passing judgment on people’s efforts to help is that they won’t help us again.  
  • How do we stop passing judgment, especially when people are honestly trying to help us? One of the awkward situations in my line of work is clients being concerned about whether I approve or disapprove of their behavior—and by extension how I feel about the change they’re trying to make. I try to disabuse them of this thinking immediately. I tell them that in any campaign for effecting long-term positive change, we have a choice. We can view the campaign in an approving light, a disapproving light, or with complete neutrality. Mission Positive. Mission Negative. Or Mission Neutral. I assure them that I am mission neutral. I don’t deal in approval or disapproval. I don’t judge. It’s not my job to weigh in on whether you’re a good person or bad because you’ve decided to change A rather than B. It’s the same as a medical doctor dealing with patients. If you walk into the examining room with a broken leg, the doctor doesn’t pass judgment on how you broke your leg. He doesn’t care if you broke your leg committing a crime or kicking the dog or tripping down the stairs or getting hit by a car. He only cares about fixing your leg.

  • Try this: For one week treat every idea that comes your way from another person with complete neutrality. Think of yourself as a human Switzerland. Don’t take sides. Don’t express an opinion. Don’t judge the comment. If you find yourself constitutionally incapable of just saying “Thank you,” make it an innocuous, “Thanks, I hadn’t considered that.” Or, “Thanks. You’ve given me something to think about.”

  • After one week, I guarantee you will have significantly reduced the number of pointless arguments you engage in at work or at home. If you continue this for several weeks, at least three good things will happen. First, you won’t have to think about this sort of neutral response; it will become automatic—as easy as saying, “God bless you” when someone sneezes. Second, you will have dramatically reduced the hours you devote to contentious interfacing. When you don’t judge an idea, no one can argue with you. Third, people will gradually begin to see you as a much more agreeable person, even when you are not in fact agreeing with them. Do this consistently and people will eventually brand you as a welcoming person, someone whose door they can knock on when they have an idea, someone with whom they can spitball casual ideas and not end up spitting at each other. If you can’t self-monitor your judgmental responses, “hire” a friend to call you out and bill you hard cash every time you make a judgmental comment. It could be your spouse at home, your assistant, or a buddy at work. If you’re docked $10 for each incident of gratuitous judgment, you’ll soon feel the same pain you’ve been inflicting on others—and stop.

  • Destructive comments are the cutting sarcastic remarks we spew out daily, with or without intention, that serve no other purpose than to put people down, hurt them, or assert ourselves as their superiors. They are different from comments that add too much value—because they add nothing but pain.

  • How do we stop making destructive comments? That was my problem several years ago. I was running a small consultancy with a dozen employees. As a feedback professional, I naturally experimented on myself. I had my staff do a full 360-degree evaluation of my behavior. The feedback said I was in the 8th percentile on “avoids destructive comments”— meaning that 92 percent of the people in the world are better at it than I was. I had failed a test that I wrote! My specific challenge (and I’m not proud of this) was not that I made nasty comments to people directly. I would do it when they weren’t in the room. This was a problem for me as a manager. In an environment where everyone’s preaching the value of teamwork and reaching out in the organization, what happens to the quality of teamwork and cooperation when we stab our coworkers in the back in front of other people? It does not go up. And I wanted the business to succeed. So I talked to my staff. I said, “I feel good about much of my feedback. Here’s one thing I want to do better: Quit making destructive comments. If you ever hear me make another destructive comment about another person, I’ll pay you $10 each time you bring it to my attention. I’m going to break this habit.”

  • Destructive comments are an easy habit to fall into, especially among people who habitually rely on candor as an effective management tool. Trouble is, candor can easily become a weapon. People permit themselves to issue destructive comments under the excuse that they are true. The fact that a destructive comment is true is irrelevant. The question is not, “Is it true?” but rather, “Is it worth it?” What you need to see is that we all spend a great deal of time filtering our truth-telling during the course of each day. I’m not only referring to the little white lies (e.g., complimenting someone’s haircut rather than saying it looks ridiculous) that we employ to smooth out each day’s routine social exchanges. We instinctively avoid destructive comments when it’s a survival issue. We know the difference between honesty and full disclosure. We may think our boss is a complete ass, but we are under no moral or ethical obligation to express that—to the boss’s face or to anyone else for that matter. You need to extend this survival instinct not only up the organization but across and down as well .

  • Before speaking, ask yourself:
    1. Will this comment help our customers?
    2. Will this comment help our company?
    3. Will this comment help the person I’m talking to?
    4. Will this comment help the person I’m talking about? If the answer is no, the correct strategy does not require a Ph.D. to implement. Don’t say it.   
  • When you start a sentence with “no,” “but,” “however,” or any variation thereof, no matter how friendly your tone or how many cute mollifying phrases you throw in to acknowledge the other person’s feelings, the message to the other person is You are wrong. It’s not, “I have a different opinion.” It’s not, “Perhaps you are misinformed.” It’s not, “I disagree with you.” It’s bluntly and unequivocally, “What you’re saying is wrong, and what I’m saying is right.” Nothing productive can happen after that. The general response from the other person (unless he or she is a saint wiling to turn the other cheek) is to dispute your position and fight back. From there, the conversation dissolves into a pointless war. You’re no longer communicating. You’re both trying to win.

  • Stop trying to defend your position and start monitoring how many times you begin remarks with “no,” “but,” or “however.” Pay extra-close attention to those moments when you use these words in sentences whose ostensible purpose is agreement with what the other party is saying.  
  • Telling the world how smart we are This is another variation on our need to win. We need to win people’s admiration. We need to let them know that we are at least their intellectual equal if not their superior. We need to be the smartest person in the room. It usually backfires. Many of us do this covertly and unwittingly all day long. We do it whenever we agree with someone offering us some practical advice, whenever we nod our heads impatiently while people are talking, whenever our body language suggests that we are not hearing something we haven’t heard before. (Are those your drumming fingers I hear?) We do this more overtly when we tell someone, “I already knew that.”

  • Being smart turns people on. Announcing how smart you are turns them off.

  • So, how do you tone down the need to tell the world how smart you are? The first step is recognizing our behavior. Have you ever done this? Your assistant dashes into your office with a document that needs your immediate attention. What your assistant doesn’t know is that you’ve already been alerted to the situation a few minutes earlier by another colleague. What do you do? Do you accept the document and thank your assistant, omitting the fact that you already are up to speed on the matter? Or do you find some way to make your assistant aware that you are privy to the information? In my experience, this seemingly insignificant moment is a litmus test for our excessive need to tell people how smart we are. If you can let the moment pass with a simple “Thank you,” you’re doing fine. If you’re like most people, though, you won’t let it go so easily. You’ll find a way to communicate that you are a step ahead of your assistant. The manner in which you do this may vary from a simple, “I already knew that,” to a dismissive, “Why are you bothering me with this?” But either way, the damage is done. The implication is that your assistant has just wasted your time, that your assistant has confused you with someone who is not up to speed on all things vital and urgent, that your assistant has no clue how smart you really are. Stopping this behavior is not hard—a three-step drill in which you (a) pause before opening your mouth to ask yourself, “Is anything I say worth it?” (b) conclude that it isn’t, and (c) say, “Thank you.”

  • That hothead image is tough to live down. Given the fact that our efforts to change are judged not by us but by the people around us, you may need years of calm, collected behavior to shake such a reputation.  
  • We all know negative people—or what my wife cal s “negatrons”—in the workplace. They’re the people who are constitutionally incapable of saying something positive or complimentary to any of your suggestions. Negativity is their default response. You could walk into their office with the cure for cancer and the first words out of their mouth would be, “Let me explain why that won’t work.” That, in my experience, is the tel tale phrase of negativity. I cite it as a major annoyance because it’s emblematic of our need to share our negative thoughts even when they haven’t been solicited. “Let me explain why that won’t work” is not quite the same as adding too much value—because no value is being added. It’s not like overusing “no,” “but,” and “however,” because we’re not hiding our negativity under the mask of agreement. Nor is it the same as passing judgment on someone else’s ideas—because we’re not rating or comparing anything. We’re not saying it’s good, better, or best. It’s clearly not the same as making destructive comments—because it’s not overtly nasty. “Let me explain why that won’t work” is unique because it is pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful.  
  • If negativity is your flaw, my first impulse would be to have you monitor your statements the moment someone offers you a helpful suggestion. If you’ve read this far, you know that I firmly believe that paying attention to what we say is a great indicator of what we’re doing to turn people off. If you catch yourself frequently saying, “Let me tell you why that won’t work,” you know what needs fixing. But in this case, the more revealing clue would be to take a personal inventory of how your colleagues deal with you. How often do they come to you with helpful suggestions—without you having to ask? How often do they knock on your door and sit down to shoot the breeze or give you a heads-up about a development that may affect you? How does the floor traffic around your desk compare with other colleagues? Are you a popular item, or are you beginning to gather dust on the shelf? If you get even the vaguest sense that there is an imaginary “Do Not Enter” sign outside your office, you’ve just become a little smarter about what you must change. When the issue is negativity, I prefer this form of observational feedback to mere monitoring of speech patterns. Checking what you say doesn’t automatically tell you what other people think of you. You may be overly negative, but your colleagues may be capable of living with it. But seeing how people relate to you provides proof that your flaw is serious, that it matters to people, that it’s a problem.  
  • The problem with not sharing information—for whatever reason—is that it rarely achieves the desired effect. You may think you’re gaining an edge and consolidating power, but you’re actually breeding mistrust. In order to have power, you need to inspire loyalty rather than fear and suspicion. Withholding information is nothing more than a misplaced need to win.

  • Being bad at sharing information doesn’t mean we are wilfully withholding it. The two are not exactly the same thing. But the net result is the same in the eyes of the people around us. How do you stop withholding information? Simple answer: Start sharing it.  
  • In depriving people of recognition, you are depriving them of closure. And we all need closure in any interpersonal transaction. The closure comes in many forms—from the emotional complexity of paying our last respects to loved ones before they die to something as pro forma as saying, “You’re welcome” when someone else says, “Thank you.” Either way, we expect closure. Recognition is all about closure. It’s the beautiful ribbon wrapped around the jewel box that contains the precious gift of success you and your team have created. When you fail to provide that recognition, you are cheapening the gift. You have the success but none of the afterglow.

  • When you hear yourself saying, “I’m sorry I’m late but the traffic was murder,” stop talking at the word “sorry.” Blaming the traffic is a lame excuse —and doesn’t excuse the fact that you kept people waiting. You should have started earlier. What’s the worst that could happen? You arrive ahead of schedule and have to wait a few minutes in the lobby? Are you really worried about having to say, “I’m sorry I’m early but I left too soon and the traffic was nowhere near as bad as I anticipated.” If the world worked that way, there would be no excuses.

  • The next time you hear one of your coworkers try to worm their way out of accepting responsibility by saying, “I’m just no good at . . . ,” ask them, “Why not?” If we can stop excusing ourselves, we can get better at almost anything.

  • There’s nothing wrong with understanding. Understanding the past is perfectly admissible if your issue is accepting the past. But if your issue is changing the future, understanding will not take you there. My experience tells me that the only effective approach is looking people in the eye and saying, “If you want to change, do this.”

  • For some reason, many people enjoy living in the past, especially if going back there lets them blame someone else for anything that’s gone wrong in their lives. That’s when clinging to the past becomes an interpersonal problem. We use the past as a weapon against others. We also cling to the past as a way of contrasting it with the present—usually to highlight something positive about ourselves at the expense of someone else. Do you ever find yourself beginning a long self-serving story with the phrase, “When I was your age . . .”? What’s really going on here? When we make excuses, we are blaming someone or something beyond our control as the reason for our failure. Anyone but ourselves. But sometimes we blame other people not as an excuse for our failure, but as a subtle way of highlighting our successes. It’s no more attractive than making excuses, but we usually require a really smart person whom we love to point it out to us.

  • We all have a tendency to favor those who favor us, even if we don’t mean to. We should then rank our direct reports into three categories. First, how much do they like me? (I know you can’t be sure. What matters is how much you think they like you. Effective suckups are good actors. That’s what fawning is: acting.) Second, what are their contribution to the company and its customers? (In other words, are they A players, B, C, or worse?) Third, how much positive personal recognition do I give them? What we’re looking for is whether the correlation is stronger between one and three, or two and three. If we’re honest with ourselves, our recognition of people may be linked to how much they seem to like us rather than how well they perform. That’s the definition of playing favorites. And the fault is all ours. We’re encouraging the kind of behavior that we despise in others. Without meaning to, we are basking in hollow praise, which makes us hollow leaders. This quick self-analysis won’t solve the problem. But it does identify—which is where change begins.

  • Apologizing is one of the most powerful and resonant gestures in the human arsenal—almost as powerful as a declaration of love. It’s “I love you” flipped on its head. If love means, “I care about you and I’m happy about it,” then an apology means, “I hurt you and I’m sorry about it.” Either way, it’s seductive and irresistible; it irrevocably changes the relationship between two people. It compels them to move forward into something new and, perhaps, wonderful together. The best thing about apologizing, I tell my clients, is that it forces everyone to let go of the past. In effect, you are saying, “I can’t change the past. Al I can say is I’m sorry for what I did wrong. I’m sorry it hurt you. There’s no excuse for it and I will try to do better in the future. I would like you to give me any ideas about how I can improve.”

  • When you fail at listening you’re sending out an armada of negative messages. You’re saying: I don’t care about you. I don’t understand you. You’re wrong. You’re stupid. You’re wasting my time. All of the above. It’s a wonder people ever talk to you again. The interesting thing about not listening is that, for the most part, it’s a silent, invisible activity. People rarely notice you doing it. You can be not listening because you’re bored, or distracted, or busy composing what you want to say—and no one will know it. The only time people actually see that you’re not listening to them is when you’re displaying extreme impatience. You want them to hurry up and get to the point. People notice that. And they rarely think better of you for it. You may as well be shouting, “Next!” at them.

  • Gratitude is a skill that we can never display too often. And yet for some reason, we are cheap and chary with gratitude—as if it were rare Bordeaux wine that we can serve only on special occasions. Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it costly. It is as abundant as air. We breathe it in but forget to exhale.

  • The next time someone offers you advice or “helps you” with something as important as your driving, don’t punish the messenger. Don’t say a word. Stop whatever you’re thinking of saying—unless it’s “Thank you!”

  • A leader who cannot shoulder the blame is not someone we will follow blindly into battle. We instinctively question that individual’s character, dependability, and loyalty to us. And so we hold back on our loyalty to him or her.

  • Each of us has a pile of behavior which we define as “me.” It’s the chronic behavior, both positive and negative, that we think of as our inalterable essence. If we’re the type of person who’s chronically poor at returning phone cal s—whether it’s because we’re overcommitted, or we’re simply rude, or we believe that if people really need to talk to us they’ll call again until they get through—we mentally give ourselves a pass every time we fail to get back to callers. “Hey, that’s me. Deal with it.” To change would be going against the deepest, truest part of our being. It would be inauthentic. If we are incorrigible procrastinators who habitually ruin other people’s timetables, we do so because we’re being true to “me.” If we always express our opinion, no matter how hurtful or noncontributory it may be, we are exercising our right to be “me.” You can see how, over time, it would be easy for each of us to cross the line and begin to make a virtue of our flaws—simply because the flaws constitute what we think of as “me.” This misguided loyalty to our true natures—this excessive need to be me—is one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behavior. It doesn’t need to be.

  • Less me. More them. Equals success. Keep this in mind when you find yourself resisting change because you’re clinging to a false—or pointless—notion of “me.” It’s not about you. It’s about what other people think of you.

  • Goal obsession had turned Candace into someone who claimed credit for everything, even when she didn’t deserve it. If I could make her see that her goal of being a star—as opposed to being an effective leader—was misguided, then everything else would fall into place. She wouldn’t be so desperate to purloin credit from her peers and staff. She could learn to accept that their triumphs said something positive about her as a leader. As I say, this is why I’ve given goal obsession its own special corner. It’s not a flaw. It’s a creator of flaws.

  • Study the twenty annoying habits and you’ll see that at least half of them are rooted in information compulsion. When we add value, or pass judgment, or make destructive comments, or announce that we “already knew that,” or explain “why that won’t work” we are compulsively sharing information. We’re telling people something they don’t know. We’re convinced that we’re making people smarter or inspiring them to do better, when we’re more likely to achieve the opposite effect. Likewise, when we fail to give recognition, or claim credit we don’t deserve or refuse to apologize, or don’t express our gratitude, we are withholding information. Sharing or withholding. They’re two sides of the same tarnished coin.

  • The other habits are rooted in a different kind of compulsion, one that’s centered on emotion. When we get angry, or play favorites, or punish the messenger, we are succumbing to emotion—and displaying it for all the world to see. Information and emotion. We either share them or withhold them.   
  • When sharing information or emotion, we have to ask is this appropriate and how much should I convey?

  • More than anything, negative feedback shuts us down. We close ranks, turn into our shell, and shut the world out. Change does not happen in this environment.  
  • I call them The Four Commitments. I need them to commit to: 1. Let go of the past. 2. Tell the truth. 3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative. 4. Pick something to improve yourself—so everyone is focused more on “improving” than “judging.”
    • First commitment: Can they let go of the past? Whatever real or imagined sins you have committed against people in the past, they are long past correction. You can’t do anything to erase them. So, you need to ask people to let go of the past. This is simple, but it is not easy. Most of us have never forgiven our mothers and fathers for not being the perfect parents. We cannot forgive our children for not being the ideal kids. We don’t forgive our spouse for not being the perfect partner. Quite often, we can’t forgive ourselves for not being the perfect us. But you have to get this first commitment. Without it, you can’t shift people’s minds away from critic toward helper. As a friend wisely noted, “Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past!”
    • Second commitment: Will they swear to tell the truth? You don’t want to work your butt off for a year, trying to get better based on what people have told you that you were doing wrong—and then find out that they didn’t really mean it. That they were jiving you, that they were only saying what they thought you wanted to hear. That’s a waste of time. I’m not naive. I know people can be dishonest. But if you solicit—no, demand—honesty from people, you can proceed with the confidence that you’re going in the right direction—and that you won’t get a rude surprise at the end.
    • Third commitment: Will they be supportive, without being a cynic, critic, or judge? This is asking a lot of people, especially if they are in a subordinate position to you. People are just as likely to suspect or resent their superiors at work as respect and admire them. So you have to remove any and all of their judgmental impulses from the equation. Do that and people are much more inclined to be helpful. At some point, they realize that if you get better, they have won something too. They get a kinder, gentler, better boss.
    • Fourth commitment: Will they pick one thing they can improve in themselves? This is the subtlest commitment, but it only sounds like you’re asking a lot from your colleagues. What you’re actually doing is creating parity, even a bond, between you and the other person. Imagine if you walked into work one day and announced that you were going on a diet. Most people would respond to that announcement with a massive yawn.
  • Change is not a one-way street. It involves two parties: the person who’s changing and the people who notice it.

  • Stop Asking for Feedback and Then Expressing Your Opinion.

  • “You asked me for my opinion and now you’re arguing with me.” It’s no different than our behavior when we argue with someone who’s giving us advice, offering feedback, or otherwise trying to help us. And we do that every time we ask for feedback and unthinkingly respond by expressing our opinion. When we ask a friend, “What do you think I should do in this situation?” we are setting up the expectation that we want an answer—and that we will give the answer full consideration and quite possibly use it. We are not announcing that we’re initiating an argument. But that’s exactly what we’re doing when we ask for feedback from someone and then immediately express our opinion. This is certainly true when our opinion is negative (“I’m not sure about that. . . .”). Whatever we say, however softly we couch it, our opinion will sound defensive. It will resemble a rationalization, a denial, a negation, or an objection. Stop doing that. Treat every piece of advice as a gift or a compliment and simply say, “Thank you.” No one expects you to act on every piece of advice. If you learn to listen—and act on the advice that makes sense—the people around you may be thrilled.  
  • An executive should: Clearly communicate a vision. Treat people with respect. Solicit contrary opinions. Encourage other people’s ideas. Listen to other people in meetings.  
  • In my experience, best-solicited feedback is confidential feedback. It’s good because nobody gets embarrassed or defensive. There are no emotional issues because you do not know who to blame or retaliate against for attacking you. In the best cases, you have no sense of being attacked at all. You’re merely ingesting honest commentary—which you requested!— from blind but well-meaning sources.

  • The stuff that is known about us to others is public knowledge. What’s known to us and unknown to others is private. What’s unknown to ourselves and others is, well . . . unknowable and, therefore, not relevant. The interesting stuff is the information that’s known to others but unknown to us. When that information is revealed to us, those are the “road to Damascus” moments that create dramatic change. They are the moments when we can get blindsided by how others really see us when we discover a truth about ourselves. These blindside moments are rare and precious gifts. They hurt, perhaps (the truth often does), but they also instruct.

  • Feedback from one person, however abstruse and vague, can be just as important as formal feedback from a group.

  • Not all feedback comes from asking people (solicited) or hearing what they volunteer. Some of the best feedback comes from what you observe. If you accept it and act on it, it’s no less valid than people tel ing you the same thing at point-blank range.

  • Every day, people are giving us feedback, of a sort, with their eye contact, their body language, their response time. Interpreting this casual observational feedback can be tricky; learning that something’s not right is not the same as learning what’s wrong and how we can fix it. The good news is that these feedback moments are plentiful and, with some simple drills, we can manipulate them so that patterns emerge to tell us everything we need to know to get started.

  • Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. For one day, write down all the comments that you hear people make to you about you. For example, “Oh, that was really smart, Marshal .” Or, “You’re late, Marshal .” Or, “Are you listening to me, Marshal ?” Any remark that, however remotely, concerns you or your behavior, write it down. At the end of the day, review the list and rate each comment as positive or negative. If you look at the negatives, maybe some patterns will emerge. Perhaps a number of remarks will focus on your tardiness, or your inattention, or your lack of follow up. That’s the beginning of a feedback moment. You’re learning something about yourself without soliciting it—which means that the comment is agenda-free. It’s honest and true. Then do it again the next day and the next. Do it at home too, if you want. Eventually, you’ll compile enough data about yourself—without any of your friends and family members being aware that they’re giving you feedback—to establish the challenge before you. When a friend of mine tried this for a week—at work and at home—the remark that popped up most often on his negative list was, “Yes, you said that.” In effect people were telling him, “I heard you the first time,” which suggested that people found his chronic repetition to be annoying. An easy issue to fix, but he might never have learned it if he hadn’t kept the list and searched for a persisting negative. If you have the courage to face the truth, you can do the same.

  • Turn the sound off. I sometimes have clients conduct the following exercise. When they’re in a team and starting to get bored, I ask them to pretend they’re watching a movie with the sound off. They can’t hear what anyone is saying. It’s an exercise in sensitizing themselves to their colleagues’ behavior. They must ask themselves what’s going on around them. One of the first things they see is no different than what they hear with the sound on. People are promoting themselves. Only with this newfound sensitization, they see how people physically maneuver and gesture to gain primacy in a group setting. They lean forward toward the dominant authority figure. They turn away from people with diminished power. They cut rivals off with hand and arm gestures. It’s no different than what people are doing with the sound on except that it’s even more obvious with the sound off. You can do the same for yourself and treat it as a feedback moment. Turn the sound off and observe how people physically deal with you. Do they lean toward you or away? Do they listen when you have the floor or are they drumming their fingers waiting for you to finish? Are they trying to impress you or are they barely aware of your presence? This won’t precisely tell you what your specific challenge maybe, but if the indicators are more negative than positive, you’ll know that you aren’t making quite the overwhelming impression on your colleagues that you may have hoped for.

  • A variation on this drill is making sure you are the earliest person to arrive at a group meeting. Turn the sound off and observe how people respond to you as they enter. What they do is a clue about what they think of you. Do they smile when they see you and pul up a chair next to you? Do they barely acknowledge your presence and sit across the room? Note how each person responds to you. If the majority of people shy away from you, that’s a disturbing pattern that’s hitting you over the head with some serious truth. You have some serious work to do. The “sound off” drill doesn’t quite tell you what you need to change. But at least you’ll know where to start asking, “How can I do better?” You can begin with the people in the room.Complete the sentence.

  • Pick one thing that you want to get better at. It could be anything that matters to you—from getting in shape to giving more recognition to lowering your golf handicap. Then list the positive benefits that will accrue to you and the world if you achieve your goal. For example, “I want to get in better shape. If I get in shape, one benefit to me is that . . .” And then you complete the sentence. It’s a simple exercise. “If I get in shape, I will . . . live longer.” That’s one benefit. Then keep doing it. “If I get in shape, I’ll feel better about myself.”

  • This may seem like a loopy backward way of giving yourself good feedback. You start with the suggestion and then determine if it’s important. But it works. As the benefits you list become less expected and more personal and meaningful to you, that’s when you know that you’ve given yourself some valuable feedback—that you’ve hit on an interpersonal skill that you really want and need to improve. That’s when you confirm that you’ve picked the right thing to fix. Listen to your self-aggrandizing remarks. I don’t want to get too psychological here, but have you ever listened to a friend brag about how punctual he is—“You can count on me. I’m always on time.”—when you know that being on time is the last thing you can expect from him?

  • It seems that the stuff people boast about as their strengths more often than not turn out to be their most egregious weaknesses. None of us is immune to this phenomenon. If it’s true about our friends, it’s probably true about us. Listen to yourself. What do you boast about? It’s quite possible that if you assess this alleged “strength” as closely as your friends do, it’s really a weakness. You shouldn’t be bragging about it at all. In a perverse way, you’ve given yourself some of the most honest feedback of all.

  • Look homeward. Your flaws at work don’t vanish when you walk through the front door at home.

  • When you make a list of people’s comments about you and rank them as negative or positive, you’re tuning in the world with two new weapons: Judgment and purpose. When you turn off the sound, you’re increasing your sensitivity to others by counterintuitively eliminating the precious sense of hearing. When you try the sentence completion technique, you’re using retrograde analysis—that is, seeing the end result and then identifying the skill you’ll need to achieve it. When you challenge the accuracy of your self-aggrandizing remarks, you’re flipping your world upside down—and seeing that you’re no different from anyone else. Finally, when you check out how your behavior is working at home, you realize not only what you need to change but why it matters so much.  
  • Vince boiled over and wrote Ted a stinging letter outlining all the slights and offenses that had poisoned their friendship—not returning phone calls, ignoring him at a dinner party, never initiating contact. (This sounds like a soap opera, but bear with me.) This pained Ted enormously, to the point that he immediately wrote Vince a reply. I quote it here in its entirety because it is a model apologia. Dear Vince, As Vito Corleone said when he sat down with the Five Families, “How did it come to this?” I read your letter a few minutes ago and, in a first effort to change— i.e., being more responsive—I am writing to address the charges. As I see it, there are three. To the first count of not calling you back, you are right, absolutely right. It is rude. It is not how a friend, or even a solid citizen, behaves. I should know better. It sends an unfortunate and incorrect message that I don’t care about you. (If it makes you feel better, I am democratic about this particular failing. I don’t call back my mother, my brother, and my in-laws. My wife says, “Me too.” This is hardly something to brag about— just a minuscule point of honor on my part to assure you that you are not in the bottom half of some imaginary call-back priority list. Apparently, I don’t have one. I treat everyone equally—which is to say, rudely.) For this, I apologize to you. And I will change that. To the second count of being a poor host when you were at my house, I certainly did not intend to ignore you or leave you out of the conversation. That said, what I remember is not the point. It’s what you felt that matters and this is especially pertinent when the issue is hospitality extended or withheld. As Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach used to say about coaching his players, “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” You obviously didn’t enjoy the evening, and for that I apologize. I like to think of myself as a decent and caring and generous host, and I will take your comments as a signal to do better. To the third count of my never initiating a phone call to friends, again you are right, absolutely right. Some people, as you say, like to work at friendship. Others don’t. Of all the charges you level at me, the third is the one that pains me most—because it is true and because it is so easily fixed. You are not the first to point this out. I guess I could wander back into my childhood to figure out why I act this way, but looking backward, seeking out scapegoats, is a fool’s errand. I’m 52 years old. I can’t blame my mother or my upbringing or that lousy tuna sandwich in third grade. All I can do is promise to fix my behavior, one step at a time—by taking my cues from you, by doing the things you say a good friend does. Hopefully, my rehabilitation starts with you. The evidence notwithstanding, I do value our friendship. Tremendously. We have too many years of laughs and good times and neighboring and genuine caring for each other to let our friendship slip away because I am a schmuck in an area where you least value that kind of behavior. All I can ask is your forgiveness. If you can grant me that, I do not expect us to return to things the way they were. I think we should aim higher. I would want us to return to things as they should be, where I can aspire to the ideal of friendship that you have described in your honest, painfully honest, letter to me. Shall we discuss this over a bottle of red?

  • When it comes to apologizing, the only sound advice is to get in and get out as quickly as possible. You’ve got plenty of other things to do before you change for the better. The sooner you can get the apology over with, the sooner you can move on to tel ing the world.

  • AFTER YOU APOLOGIZE, you must advertise. It’s not enough to tell everyone that you want to get better; you have to declare exactly in what area you plan to change. In other words, now that you’ve said you’re sorry, what are you going to do about it? I tell my clients, “It’s a lot harder to change people’s perception of your behavior than it is to change your behavior. In fact, I calculate that you have to get 100% better in order to get 10% credit for it from your coworkers.”

  • It’s not enough to merely let people know what you’re doing. You’re not running a “one day sale” here. You’re trying to create a lasting change. You have to advertise relentlessly—as if it’s a long-term campaign. You can’t assume that people hear you the first time or the second time or even the third. You have to pound the message into your colleagues’ heads through repetition that’s as steady as a metronome—because people aren’t paying as close attention to your personal goals as you are. They have other things on their minds; they have their own goals and challenges to deal with. As a result, your efforts to change may not get instant acceptance from your colleagues. You may have to fight your way through a “dumb phase.”

  • You cannot rely on other people to read your mind or take note of the changed behavior you’re displaying. It may be patently obvious to you, but it takes a lot more than a few weeks of behavioral modification for people to notice the new you. That makes it all the more vital that you proactively control the message of what you’re trying to accomplish. Here’s how to start acting like your own press secretary. Treat every day as if it were a press conference during which your colleagues are judging you, waiting to see you trip up. That mindset, where you know people are watching you closely, will boost your self-awareness just enough to remind you to stay on high alert. Behave as if every day is an opportunity to hit home your message—to remind people that you’re trying really hard. Every day that you fail to do so is a day that you lose a step or two. You’re backsliding on your promise to fix yourself. Treat every day as a chance to take on all challengers. There will be people who, privately or overtly, don’t want you to succeed. So shed the naiveté and be a little paranoid. If you’re alert to those who want you to fail, you’ll know how to handle them. Think of the process as an election campaign. After all, you don’t elect yourself to the position of “new improved you.” Your colleagues do. They’re your constituency. Without their votes, you can never establish that you’ve changed. Think of the process in terms of weeks and months, not just day to day. The best press secretaries are adept at putting out the daily fires, but they’re also focused on a long-term agenda. You should too. No matter what happens day to day, your long-term goal is to be perceived as fixing an interpersonal problem—to the point where it isn’t a problem anymore. If you can do this, like the best press secretaries, you’ll have your personal “press corps” eating out of your hands.

  • The thing about listening to that escapes most people is that they think of it as a passive activity. You don’t have to do anything. You sit there like a lump and hear someone out. Not true. Good listeners regard what they do as a highly active process—with every muscle engaged, especially the brain. Basically, there are three things that al good listeners do: They think before they speak; they listen with respect; and they’re always gauging their response by asking themselves, “Is it worth it?”

  • Whereas most people think of listening as something we do during those moments when we are not talking, Frances Hesselbine knows that listening is a two-part maneuver. There’s the part where we actually listen. And there’s the part where we speak. Speaking establishes how we are perceived as a listener. What we say is proof of how well we listen. They are two sides of the same coin.

  • To learn from people, you have to listen to them with respect. Again, not as easy to do as you might imagine. It too requires the use of unfamiliar muscles.

  • Bill Clinton was the absolute master at this. My wife and I had several opportunities to see the President in action in public forums. It didn’t matter if you were a head of state or a bell clerk, when you were talking with Bill Clinton he acted as if you were the only person in the room. Every fiber of his being, from his eyes to his body language, communicated that he was locked into what you were saying. He conveyed how important you were, not how important he was.  
  • Listening also requires us to answer a difficult question before we speak: “Is it worth it?” The trouble with listening for many of us is that while we’re supposedly doing it, we’re actually busy composing what we’re going to say next. This is a negative twofer: You’re not only failing to hear the other person, but you’re also orchestrating a comment that may annoy them, either because it misses the point, adds meaningless value to the discussion, or worst of all, injects a destructive tone into the mix. Not the desired result of listening. Keep it up and soon you won’t have to worry about listening—because no one will be talking to you anymore.

  • Asking “Is it worth it?” forces you to consider what the other person will feel after hearing your response. It forces you to play at least two moves ahead. Not many people do that. You talk. They talk. And so on—back and forth like a beginner’s chess game where no one thinks beyond the move in front of them. It’s the lowest form of chess; it’s also the lowest grade of listening. Asking, “Is it worth it?” engages you in thinking beyond the discussion to consider (a) how the other person regards you, (b) what that person will do afterward, and (c) how that person will behave the next time you talk. That’s a lot of consequences emanating out of “Is it worth it?”

  • The ability to make a person feel that, when you’re with that person, he or she is the most important (and the only) person in the room is the skill that separates the great from the near-great. Television interviewers like Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer, I’m told by people who’ve met them, have it. When they’re talking to you, on-camera or off, you feel as if you’re the only one who matters to them. It’s the skill that defines them.

  • The only difference between us and the super-successful among us—the near-great and the great—is that the great ones do this all the time. It’s automatic for them. For them there’s no on and off switch for caring and empathy and showing respect. It’s always on. They don’t rank personal encounters as A, B, or C in importance. They treat everyone equally—and everyone eventually notices.   
  • Thanking works because it expresses one of our most basic emotions: gratitude. Gratitude is not an abstraction. It’s a genuine emotion, which cannot be expected or exacted. You either feel it or you don’t. But when someone does something nice for you, they expect gratitude—and they think less of you for withholding it. Just think about the last time you gave someone a gift. If they forgot to thank you for it, how did you feel about them? A fine human being? Or ungrateful s.o.b.?

  • In the late 1970s and early 1980s, New York City’s Mayor Ed Koch was famous for touring the five boroughs of New York and asking everyone he met, “How’m I doing?” To the untrained eye, Koch’s question seemed like unbridled egotism, a weary hangover from the “Me Decade.” Koch knew better. With the gut instinct of a master politician who understood people and perceptions, Koch was executing a crude but fairly sophisticated strategy of follow-up to create change, not only in the city but in its citizens’ perception of their mayor. By asking people, “How’m I doing?” he was advertising the fact that he was trying; that he cared. By phrasing it as a question, rather than asserting, “I’m doing great,” Koch was both including and involving the citizens, telling them in effect that his fate rested in their hands. By repeating the question—turning “How’m I doing” into his personal slogan—Koch was imprinting his efforts in the citizens’ minds and reminding them that improving New York City was an ongoing process, not an overnight miracle (which helps explain why he was New York’s last three-term mayor). Most important, “How’m I doing” forced Koch to “walk the talk.” If he asked the question and people answered, “Not so great,” he had to deal with the answer so he wouldn’t hear it the next time he asked, “How’m I doing?” Follow-up is the most protracted part of the process of changing for the better. It goes on for 12 to 18 months. Fittingly, it’s the difference-maker in the process. Follow-up is how you measure your progress. Follow-up is how we remind people that we’re making an effort to change and that they are helping us. Follow-up is how our efforts eventually get imprinted on our colleagues’ minds. Follow-up is how we erase our coworkers’ skepticism that we can change. Follow-up is how we acknowledge to ourselves and others that getting better is an ongoing process, not a temporary religious conversion. More than anything, follow-up makes us do it. It gives us the momentum, even the courage, to go beyond understanding what we need to do to change and actually do it because in engaging in the follow-up process, we are changing.

  • Feedforward asks you to do four simple steps:
    1. Pick the one behavior that you would like to change which would make a significant, positive difference in your life. For example, I want to be a better listener.
    2. Describe this objective in a one-on-one dialogue with anyone you know. It could be your wife, kids, boss, best friend, or coworker. It could even be a stranger. The person you choose is irrelevant. He or she doesn’t have to be an expert on the subject. For example, you say, I want to be a better listener. Almost anyone in an organization knows what this means. You don’t have to be an “expert” on listening to know what good listening means to you. Likewise, he or she doesn’t have to be an expert on you. If you’ve ever found yourself on a long flight seated next to a perfect stranger and proceeded to engage in an earnest, heartfelt, and honest discussion of your problems with that stranger—or vice versa—you know this is true. Some of the truest advice can come from strangers. We are all human beings. We know what is true. And when a useful idea comes along, we don’t care who the source is. (If you think about it, a stranger—someone who has no past with you and who cannot possibly hold your past failings against you or, for that matter, even bring them up—maybe your ideal feedforward “partner.”)
    3. Ask that person for two suggestions for the future that might help you achieve a positive change in your selected behavior—in this case, becoming a better listener. If you’re talking to someone who knows you or who has worked with you in the past, the only ground rule is that there can be no mention of the past. Everything is about the future. For example, you say, I want to be a better listener. Would you suggest two ideas that I can implement in the future that will help me become a better listener? The other person suggests, First, focus all your attention on the other person. Get in a physical position, the “listening position,” such as sitting on the edge of your seat or leaning forward toward the individual. Second, don’t interrupt, no matter how much you disagree with what you’re hearing. These two ideas represent feedforward.
    4. Listen attentively to the suggestions. Take notes if you like. Your only ground rule: You are not allowed to judge, rate, or critique the suggestions in any way. You can’t even say something positive, such as, “That’s a good idea.” The only response you’re permitted is, Thank you. That’s it. Ask for two ideas. Listen. Say thank you. Then repeat the process with someone else.
  • Feedforward is feedback going in the opposite direction. That is, if feedback, both positive and negative, reports on how you functioned in the past, then feedforward comes in the form of ideas that you can put into practice in the future. If feedback is past tense, then feedforward is future perfect.

  • Telling staff how to handle the boss is admirable, but it doesn’t completely solve one of the great unappreciated ironies of the boss vs. bossed dynamic. It is this: A lot of managers assume that their staff should be exactly like them—in behavior, in enthusiasm, in intelligence, and most especially, in how they apply that brainpower. You can’t blame them. If I were a super-successful boss, I’d be inclined to populate my organization with clones of . . . me. What better way to assure that everything gets done my way? This, by the way, is a perfectly natural inclination. Given the choice, we all favor hiring people who closely resemble the person we see in the mirror every day. At the same time, we’re also smart enough to know that an organization stocked with clones marching in lockstep doesn’t create diversity in an organization. You need different voices, different mindsets, different personalities in the mix. In my experience, it’s the odd out-of-left-field dissenting voices, the ones challenging groupthink and the status quo, that make an organization hum and thrive. Also, a staff of clones does not guarantee fluid teamwork.

  • “The only thing you’re guilty of,” I said, “was checking the box!” “Huh?” he said. “You thought your job was done when you articulated the mission and wrote the memo—as if it were one more item on your to-do list for the day. You checked the box, and you moved on. Next.” I could see the scales slowly lifting from his eyes, so I pressed on with my theory about what may be the most egregious source of corporate dysfunction: the failure of managers to see the enormous disconnect between understanding and doing. Most leadership development revolves around one huge false assumption—that if people understand then they will do. That’s not true. Most of us understand, we just don’t do.

  • Casey Stengel liked to point out that on any baseball team, one-third of the players loved the manager, one third hated him, and one third were undecided. “The secret to managing a baseball club,” said Stengel, “was to keep the third who hated you from getting together with the third who were undecided.”

  • In the same way that some of your problems do not need fixing because they are an issue to only a small minority of people, as a boss you should stop trying to change people who don’t want to change. This may sound harsh, but some people are unsalvageable. You’re only banging your head against a wall if you think you can fix them.