Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

3 Reasons You Should Encourage Your Top Performers to Interview

Office Space

I know what you’re thinking. Wait, what? You want my best performers to interview for other jobs? Are you crazy? What if they leave?

All fair questions. You have to first start with the premise your role as a leader is not to keep your best talent. Your role is to develop them. If you don’t believe in that premise, let me spare you the next few minutes. Feel free to hit the back button or close the window.

But, if you do believe that your most important role as a leader is to make your team better and help them achieve their career ambitions, then here are 3 reasons why you should encourage them to interview.

  1. It’s Unclear What They Want to do Next: It’s hard to know what you want to do, let alone helping someone else figure out what they should do next. A good development plan should touch on what’s next. Now, what’s next doesn’t mean the next title, the next job, or even the next role. But, when you consider “what’s next” could be so vast, it’s difficult to narrow the focus. Interviewing for other roles helps open up what’s possible, while also helping to drive a clear interest.
  2. An Incremental Gap Analysis would be Helpful: Maybe I should have listed this first. It’s probably one of the most beneficial aspects of an interview. Whether you get the job or you don’t get the job, you’ll receive constructive feedback, from a completely different source, about what to work on. Sometimes a different voice is needed. We need to hear feedback from someone else for the feedback to make an impact. This happens all the time in the office, at home, in between the lines, and elsewhere.
  3. The End of the Line has been Reached: Org designs should always trump most anything else related to an organizational structure decision. Theoretically, a natural progression for a role might be Specialist, Manager, Director, Vice President, Sr. Vice President, and Chief. What happens if the org design doesn’t call for a Director of X, but you have someone who’s ready for that role and responsibility? First, take a 2nd look at your org design. If that role really doesn’t fit, it’s your responsibility to let your team member know and encourage them to evaluate other roles. Holding on to that team member, because they’re a top-performer while holding them back from the recognition they deserve isn’t just bad leadership. It’s also selfish and mean.

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully it was worth the read. Remember, your role as a leader is to develop talent. Developing that talent means eventually they will move on to new roles. We shouldn’t look at someone interviewing as a risk they might leave. Quite the opposite. We should look at it as an opportunity to make the overall organization stronger placing the right team members in the right roles.

The Soft Edges of Evaluating Success

From YouTube.com

Have you ever watched competitive figure skating? What people can do on skates is nothing short of amazing. In watching, have you ever shook your head at a low score and yelled at the TV, “how could that only be a 4.7???”

Well, did you know, there’s a very complicated scoring system – broken into 2 parts? The first part is simple, straight-forward, and mathematically sound. It’s called the “Technical Score.”

Each element of the program is assigned a base value, which gives skaters credit for every element they perform. Some elements, such as spins and step sequences, have levels of difficulty on which the base values are established.

Judges grade the quality of each element using a grade of execution score within a range of -5 to +5, which is added to or deducted from the base value. GOEs are proportional to the base value of each element.

The highest and lowest scores for each element are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged to determine the final GOE for each element. The GOE is then added to or subtracted from the base value for each element, and the sum of the scores for all elements forms the technical score.

Like nearly all rule books, it took 3 paragraphs to basically say, a skater earns points for the actual technical skills they execute. Each skill move has a definition. Those moves have specific point values attached to them. Here’s a great example of how this plays out.

Each row is a skill move that’s been executed and you can clearly see the points earned. Simple, or as simple as it’s going to get.

In business language, let’s think of each row as a type of ad you’re running, and each column as a metric with the “Base Value” column being the industry benchmark/average for that ad unit. For example, the industry benchmark for an ad’s click-thru rate might be 0.05%.

If this was the only evaluation criteria, it would be incredibly easy to know who performed well and who didn’t. It would also be very difficult to cheat.

But, alas, like life and the workplace, figure skating doesn’t stop at clear, well-defined, and consistent evaluative metrics. The second part of the scoring system is called “Program Components.” Here’s how it works according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association:

The judges will award points on a scale from 0.25 to 10 (in increments of 0.25) for five program components to grade overall presentation. As with GOEs, the highest and lowest scores for each component are thrown out, and the remaining scores are averaged. The final program components scores are then multiplied by a set factor to ensure the technical score and program components score are balanced.

The five program components are:

Skating Skills – Overall skating quality, including edge control and flow over the ice surface (edges, steps, turns, speed, etc.), clarity of technique and use of effortless power to accelerate and vary speed.

Transitions – The varied and/or intricate footwork, positions, movement and holds that link all elements.

Performance – The involvement of the skater physically, emotionally and intellectually in translating the music and choreography.

Composition – An intentional, developed and/or original arrangement of all types of movements according to the principles of proportion, unity, space, pattern, structure and phrasing.

Interpretation of Music – The personal and creative translation of the music to the movement on the ice.

That’s a lot. Wow. Basically, rather than just let objective, clearly-defined, and measurable scoring criteria be the only method for scoring a performance, they added in 5 elements that basically equal subjectivity.

In the business world, this would mean rather than look at clicks, downloads, and views – things that can be quantified – we would treat with equal weighting, things like look, feel, tone, and voice.

By every piece of objective logic, this is insanity. And yet, time and again, we see bad decisions made for these bad reasons. Marketers and Communicators hate “ugly” creative…even when it performs. Think about it; there’s a reason that despite the relative inability of Super Bowl ads to drive sales, companies still spend $5M+ for a 30-second spot. These decisions are often made on “feel”, not data.

The simple truth is, content that lacks the tone, voice, personality, look, or feel that we prefer, may actually perform better. The box office is a great example of how this plays out routinely. No one would ever credibly argue that Armageddon was a better movie than The Shawshank Redemption. Acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert had this to say about Shawshank, after giving it 4 out of 4 stars:

It is deeper than most films; about continuity in a lifetime, based on friendship and hope.

As for Armageddon, a movie he awarded only 1 star, he had this offer:

The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained.

Ouch. Got it. Shawshank is a better movie from a taste perspective. But, by every measure, Armageddon was a far more successful movie – especially where it matters the most. Movies are a business. Their creation is funded to create revenue. The Shawshank Redemption made $16M during its initial theatrical run, against a budget of $25M. You don’t need a calculator to see that’s a $9M loss. But, Armageddon, while costing $140M to make, generated $553M+. That’s a 4X return.

The last time I checked, I’d rather have a 4X return on my investment than a 36% loss.

The Shawshank Redemption is a better movie than Armageddon, but let’s be clear – it’s not more successful. If your organization favors the soft edges of success, you might have content that looks prettier and words that seem like poetry, but is it actually more successful than ugly content?

Coaching Trees and What to Look for in a Leader, When Making a Career Change

My pitch to candidates who might join my team is generally fairly simple. Yes, I talk about the team. And, yes, I talk about the organization. And, yes, I talk about our culture. But, for those who are going to be my direct reports, I also tell give them a version of this monologue.

Making a career change is daunting. There’s a number of unknowns. There’s a number of promises. I don’t want you to join based on my promises. I want you to join based on my track record. Over the last decade, my direct reports have gone on to lead, develop, and grow organizations. If you join my team, I will make you better. And when you leave, because we all eventually leave, you will leave to run a team, a department, or an organization. And while I may not be able to teach you certain things that improve your technical skills, I will teach you how to navigate organizations, drive change, and transform teams.

That’s it. That’s my pitch. And, as the kids say, I have the “receipts” to prove it. I tell them, in the same way we conduct reference checks on them, they should conduct reference checks on me.

Roughly 10 years ago I started to change what mattered the most to me in my role. It wasn’t money. It wasn’t a title. It was how much I was learning and how much time my leader was investing in me to make me better. That’s it. All I want to do is get better.

This isn’t a new concept. Sports calls this the “coaching tree” and the most famous coaching tree is Bill Walsh.

When people debate the best coaches they can look at championships, rings, wins, losses, memorable seasons, and a number of other points of criteria. But, more and more, the strength of the coaching tree matters. As a coach, and let’s be honest, so much of being a leader is being a coach – your ability to develop others is critical. It’s how you build depth, how you stop trying to do it all, and how you make organizations better.

As a job seeker, I would urge you to give more weight to the quality of the manager you’ll be working for, than you probably currently are. Ask them, “what’s your approach to developing leaders?” Implore them to provide examples of the leaders they’ve developed and what they’re doing now.

Ask for the receipts. It’s your career. You deserve to see them.

Vanity Projects


Vanity Projects are creative works that are, ostensibly, showcases of ability, but fail miserably to achieve their goal.

The book and subsequent HBO miniseries, ‘Band of Brothers’, was a remarkable example of rich, honest, and thought-provoking storytelling. The characters were well rounded, the recollections were vivid, and the lessons were profound.

Episode 8, titled, ‘The Last Patrol’, takes us toward the end of the war. The i’s still need to be dotted and t’s need to be crossed, but there’s an inevitability of what will happen – the Allies will win the war. The soldiers are burnt out. They’re exhausted – physically and mentally. With a clear conclusion in sight, everyone, the Germans included, simply want to avoid any risk that might prohibit them from coming home. 

But, leadership has determined that a visit across the river, into enemy lines, for the chance that some additional intel that won’t change the outcome of the war, is needed. Needless to say, the soldiers aren’t thrilled. But, orders are orders. That evening, they go across the river. What do they gain? A handful of prisoners that offer nothing of tangible value. What do they lose? One of their own dies during the firefight.

You would think, a lesson would have been learned here. But, alas, leadership dictates that another patrol will take place. The soldiers are disgruntled to the point where a mutiny seems likely. But, orders are orders, right? Not this time. Their direct manager, Captain Winters meets with the men and tells them that they will not go on the patrol. They will not follow the orders of leaders in love with their own ideas who simply want to demonstrate activity, even if it provides no actual accomplishment. Nope, they won’t do it, but Captain Winters will issue a report indicating they, in fact, did go on the patrol and were unable to bring any prisoners back.

Winters, yes, defies orders. He ignores the culture of a chain of command. But, Winters lacks vanity and has the ability to see the bigger picture. Could they have executed another patrol? Yes. Might it have yielded some intel? Perhaps. But, at what cost, when the outcome was already determined?

I recently watched Christopher Nolan’s movie, ‘The Prestige.” It was one of dad’s favorite movies. Midway through the movie the following exchange takes place.

Nikola Tesla: Mr. Angier, have you considered the cost of such a machine?

Robert Angier: Price is not an object.

Nikola Tesla: Perhaps not, but have you considered the *cost*?

And that is the problem with a vanity project. It can surely be done. But, at what cost?

The Last Dance Has Been Epic

The Last Dance - Michael Jordan

In a zero sports world, sports junkies like me are looking for anything that resembles professional sports. I’ve watched and rewatched classic Manchester City matches, Michael Johnson win the 200M and the 400M in the 1996 Summer Olympics, and I might have watched far too many montages of Tiger Woods winning on Sundays. But, none of them have had my attention like the “Last Dance” documentary. It is one of the rare shows that I’m watching live. It is must-see TV. And, the second-screen experience on Twitter is maybe even better.

Last night, episodes 7 and 8 ran back-to-back. I don’t know how episodes 9 and 10 top them. Specifically, episode 7 may be the single best chapter of a documentary that I’ve ever seen. Yes, even better than Tiger King’s riveting episodes. The end of episode 7 had me with all the feels:

Watching it, I felt a certain connection to the underlying points Michael was making in episode 7:

  1. He would never ask of others what he wasn’t willing to or already doing. That’s leadership 101. The best leaders I’ve worked with are just as willing to do the work of person right out of school as the person…right out of school.
  2. It’s hard to maintain a high level of motivation; so much so, that you sometimes need to invent reasons to be motivated.
  3. The only thing more enjoyable than winning is the enjoyment that comes from watching someone who doubted you lose.

Taking those three points into consideration, on the drive in this morning, I thought about my favorite athletes. All of them pass this litmus test.

Steve Prefontaine: He ran and won on a freshly stitched foot!

Carli Lloyd: In her own words, “But for me, that moment was the moment. I had spent my whole life blaming other people. I had spent my whole life saying, “poor me.” But once I got to that place in 2012, that was the turning point in my career. I started including visualizing in my preparation for the first time ever in my career, and I started to believe in myself more and more. I was just insanely focused.”

Tiger Woods: Was it more enjoyable to win The Masters or have Phil lose after talking all that smack?

We love winners, generally. Seriously. Don’t take my word for it, take General George S. Patton’s. He said it better than I could, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war.”

But, it’s not just that you win, that matters. What we really love and admire are winners who embody the personality, spirit, and mindset of the best winners. I don’t think this is limited to sports. Our love affair with sports is often because sports emulate life and life emulates sport. It’s a circle. They’re connected.

Are You Where You Should Be?

Lost in the desert

Careers are a funny thing. You’re given an idea that there’s some set of hurdles to clear, boxes to check, and hills to climb – and if you do them, you get to the next step. But, what is the next step? If you look to the left and to the right, you’ll see peers, colleagues, and friends. And they’re running the same “race” you are. You might be tempted to compare yourself to them. Do they have a better title? Maybe, more scope? Higher budget?

But, this a game you can’t win. Took me a while to figure it out. How did I arrive at this epiphany? I figured out what losing looks like. So, let me tell you what losing looks like and then you’ll know if where you are is where you should be.

Are You Learning?: If you’re not learning something new, something that makes you think differently, something that teaches you a new skill, something that makes you reconsider what you think you know, or if you’re not learning how to problem solve differently…you’re not where you should be.

Are You Appreciated? If you don’t feel a sense of gratitude from those you work with or a sense that what you do matters and makes a difference, you’re not where you should be.

Are You Miserable?: When you come home and talk to your spouse, significant other, mother, father, friend, dog, or pet rock, are the first words out of your mouth, “today, you’ll never believe what my boss did”; or, “I hate my boss…”…well, you’re not where you should be.

That’s it. Simple. Well, as simple as it’s going to get. Why those three? No clue. This isn’t a McKinsey deck, where I’m going to show you how I looked at 1,000 different models and arrived at this one. These three came about over time. After 20+ years of great companies, great managers, and great opportunities; and more importantly bad leaders, mean leaders, narrow opportunities, rudderless organizations these rose to the top as constant reminders of when I was the most lost.

But, while not a Big 6 Consulting model, every person I’ve mentored, career-counseled, seems to think it works. It’s also helped me stay objective. Maybe, you don’t like the work you’re doing or the initiative you’re being asked to lead. But, are you learning? Is the work you’re doing appreciated? Are you miserable?

To be clear, bummed is not miserable. Disappointed, is not miserable. Irritated, is not miserable. Getting into a disagreement with your boss, is not miserable. Miserable goes beyond all of those.

So, again, I ask you – are you learning, are you appreciated, and are you miserable? Because, if you are, you aren’t where you should be.

Managing Mistakes

Spilled Coffee on Keyboard - Image Source, ReadersDigest.com

You will make mistakes. Your teams will make mistakes. This is going to happen. It happens to everyone. Making a mistake often fills people with anxiety and angst. But, it doesn’t have to. Once a mistake has been made, you can’t undo it. There is no placing of a genie back into a bottle. But, how you manage the mistake can change everything.

Let me start with the 3 critical things that must happen when you make a mistake:

  1. Speed: Information about mistakes should travel faster than information about successes. You shouldn’t have to provide all the details. There will be time for that. But, ensuring the right people are aware of a mistake, quickly, is critical to navigating what happens next.
  2. The Truth: Be 100% honest about what happened, when it happened, and why it happened. The “what” helps everyone understand the potential impact. The “when” sets the clock for how much time there is to mitigate the mistake. And, the “why” frames up if it was avoidable, how to fix this instance, and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  3. A Plan: You’ve made the mistake. You know what happened. You know when it happened. And, you know why it happened. So, how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again? Proactively bringing this to the table shows you’ve taken accountability and you’re committed to ensuring we don’t repeat avoidable mistakes.

Mistakes happen for a number of reasons. There needs to be accountability from the person or team that made the mistake. But, there also needs to be accountability from managers, leaders, and the organization. The very first question I ask myself when a mistake is made on my watch, by my team is, “Were they placed in a position to succeed?” It’s a simple question, but it changes the course of everything moving forward and how you address those who made the mistake.

What does that question really mean though? Here’s a few examples:

  • Resourcing: Did they have the right resources? Maybe your team has been requesting resources for 6 months and they’ve been unable to get them. A mistake due to lack of resources is as much your mistake as a leader as it is the team who made the mistake because of a lack of resources.
  • Process: Was the process followed? Maybe in a desire to do something quickly, the team was asked to skip or accelerate certain steps. When that happens, mistakes are more likely to happen. If you requested that change in process or you elected not to follow the process, you are just as accountable as the team who made the mistake.
  • Timing: Was the timing realistic and necessary? There’s nothing worse than an accelerated timeline born out of an arbitrary reason. Got it – your CEO wants X to happen immediately. But, you know it takes 8 hours to do X. You have two choices here. You could protect your team and ensure flawless execution by managing up to the CEO. Or, you could simply do as asked and in doing so increase the likelihood that mistakes will happen. If you choose to do as asked, you have to own the mistake as much as the team that asked.

Everything stems from that one question. If you didn’t place them in a position to succeed your first words when notified about a mistake should be, “Thank you. I’m sorry I placed you in a position to not be successful. I bear as much responsibility for what happened as you did. Let’s work together to figure out how we avoid this from happening in the future.”

A core tenant of leadership is accountability. Before casting blame, pointing the finger, and getting angry, you must first evaluate what you could have done better.

What I Look For When Interviewing Candidates

Office Space

So, you’re interviewing? Not happy with the current job? Don’t like your boss? Recently let go? Just time for a change? There’s a myriad of reasons you might be looking for a new job.

I was on a phone call recently, offering some advice to a colleague getting ready to interview for a new role. Midway through the conversation, he exclaimed, “you should be selling this advice!” My response was straightforward, “I’ve done a lot of hiring over my career; I’m just telling you what I would be looking for.”

My LinkedIn feed is full of friends, colleagues, and connections all looking for their next role. Most of them would have preferred to stay with their previous employer but were recently impacted by COVID-19 decisions. Given that, I felt there was no better time to offer some advice to current job seekers.

  1. Are you running toward “this” role, or are you running “from” your current role? The former is far more appealing to me. I want to know why this role is the role you want. Don’t tell me about how bad your current boss, team, role, or company are. Tell me why my role is the only role that’s motivating you to look for new opportunities.
  2. Beyond the job description and resume, what makes you uniquely qualified for this role? Are there things you bring to the table that no one else would? This is wide-ranging. It could be you’ve served in the military or you were an athlete. It could also be that you’ve worked for a key competitor in the past or maybe you’ve lived in 10 countries and had to learn 6 languages to navigate new experiences.
  3. Make your questions self-validating. “From reading the job description and from our short discussion, it sounds like this role requires someone who’s comfortable with ambiguity. Would that be a fair assessment.” If the answer is, “yes”, you have a window to now explain how you are adept at dealing with ambiguity.
  4. Ask, “what haven’t you found in the candidates you’ve met with so far?” This is the single best and most revealing question. It will offer you a wide range of knowledge. Let’s say I offer an answer like, “Good question. We’re at the beginning of this search. I can’t really offer an answer.” Now you have some great insight. You can set the pace. You can start to forecast how long the search is likely to take. You can ask a follow-up question like, “Thanks. What would the ideal candidate look like?” If the answer to the original question is a list of traits, characteristics, and requirements, you now have an opportunity to frame yourself as the person who checks all those boxes.
  5. The resume itself is mostly irrelevant, but how you map what you’ve done to what I’m looking for is priceless. If you’re meeting with me, you’re qualified. You submitted an application. Someone reviewed it. Someone else shortlisted you. If I’m the hiring manager, I’ve already reviewed it and deemed, on paper, you’re a fit. When we meet, skip the biography, but use our time together to interject examples from your experience that speak to what I’m looking for in a candidate.

If you’re looking for a new role, I wish you success. I hope my pieces of advice are helpful in your search. The job search process is taxing, often lengthy, and usually lacking in transparency. I’m sure it’s an even more stressful process right now. Good luck and never hesitate to reach out to me directly for some coaching, advice, or feedback.

Navigating COVID as a Restaurant Owner

Food - Credit Consumer Reports

Let me open with, I’ve never owned a restaurant, bar, eatery, or food truck. Also, other than a very brief stop working at a Dairy Queen when I was 13, I’ve never worked in the food industry. That said, I’ve eaten out a lot, I love food, and the one thing I do know really well – economics.

There’s no doubt that the shelter in place policies that have been enacted by local leaders to help combat COVID-19 are crushing the restaurant industry. Some places are getting crushed because they were already in a poor economic place. Others because they relied on seasonal foot traffic; think of all the places that surround ballparks. There are others that didn’t embrace digital channels fast enough or at all – there are restaurants that are still cash only, for example.

For a guy that’s never been involved in the food industry, I sure do have a lot of friends and colleagues that own, partially own, or are part of family-owned eateries and bars. I’ve had some thought-provoking conversations with many of them and I’ve observed a lot of their decisions/actions to position their businesses to survive COVID-19 measures.

I’ve found the conversations and observations to be riveting. They’ve been a really nice break from the things I normally ponder, consider, and get involved with. Based on the collection of all the wisdom, I set my brain to work with a hypothetical scenario – what would I do if I owned a restaurant? How would I try to survive and thrive on the other side of the COVID-19 measures that are currently in place across the country?

To start with, the problem that exists for most restaurants is fairly simple to articulate, but no simple to solve. The monthly fixed costs for owning a restaurant can be marginally reduced, but for the most part exist in whole, despite not having the appropriate monthly revenue needed to offset those costs. Let’s use some round numbers to work with. The fixed costs are loosely:

  • Bank Loan
  • Rent
  • Food
  • Labor
  • Taxes
  • Utilities

You can reduce the food, labor, and utilities, but it’s really hard to reduce the bank loan, rent, and taxes.

Let’s say our goal is to break even, not generate profit – over the months that COVID-19 measures are in place. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume 6 months of fixed costs on the annual revenue of $1M is roughly $200K. This post has some great details on startup and ongoing costs for restaurants. Said differently, we need to solve for $200K.

The real question is how can we create revenue that’s not tied to costs (e.g. labor). We don’t want to simply pull forward revenue. For example, if I buy a $100 gift card now, but it’s only usable in 6 months, the $100 looks like short-term revenue, but it’s actually debt and will eventually need to convert into a real cost (e.g. food and labor) when presented.

Here’s my thoughts on what I’d do:

  1. Naming Rights: “Norm!!!!” The iconic bellowing in Cheers was indicative of, in fact, everyone knowing his name, but also everyone knew which seat was Norm’s. If I had a place, I’d look to sell the “rights” to specific elements. For example, “Adam’s” parking spot – as the owner, this costs me nothing, but it carries with it, some perceived value. What about a specific bar seat? Maybe, we’re a sports bar and I have jerseys on the wall, do you want your jersey on the wall? Cool, I’m happy to sell the space.
  2. Menu Management: You’ve eaten at a place before where you’ve thought, here’s how I would make this item better. I’ve always had this concept of a “fair” strategy for restaurants. When you get a burger, it comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. If I want bacon or cheese, it costs me more. That makes sense. But, it doesn’t cost me any less if I subtract the lettuce. Fair would mean, I should pay less when I subtract. But, I digress. What if you sold slots on the menu. For example, If Lisa wanted her burger on the menu, great! There would be a slotting fee, she’d pay. BUT – I’d return a % of the profits back to her, for each burger sold after we re-open. After all, it was her idea and her menu item.
  3. Shares: We’re not going public, but we’re going to take a page out of the Green Bay Packers playbook and sell shares in our restaurant. The shares cost money and while they don’t offer you controlling rights, maybe they offer you the ability to vote on decisions, receive 1 free meal a quarter, or be part of special events (e.g. a tasting).

I’m not the expert. I don’t know the first thing about running a restaurant. The people who do own them are doing their very best to take care of their team members, customers, family, and community. Knowing so many of them personally, it really is something admirable to watch.

Hopefully, my out of the box ideas offer some additional help to the wide assortment of recommendations, options, and actions they’re already considering. As an avid eater and fan of many local eateries, I’d sign up for all of the above if offered.

If you’ve read this far, let me make an ask of you. Do what you can do to support your favorite local eateries. Where you can, call them directly and cut out the Grubhub, Door Dash, and other platforms. While they give you a bit of convenience, they take a significant amount of money out of the pockets of those local restaurants. Take the extra step and order direct, where you can.

Smart, Nice, and Effective – Pick 2

Good. Fast. Cheap

For as I long as I can recall, the “pick 2” joke has been referenced as a shining of example of what you can’t have. I spent the first half of my career working for ad agencies and nearly every client I have ever had believed they could get something good, fast, AND cheap. But, alas, we all know, you must pick 2.

There’s a leader version of this that probably isn’t as well known. Smart, nice, and invested, pick 2. The internet is filled with stories and lists about bad bosses. I’m not going to cover the ground that’s well worn. But, for a second, think about the best and worst leaders you’ve worked for. How many of them have been:

  • Smart: They’re knowledgeable, not just in their craft, but they’ve seen enough to know enough about how to help you navigate the myriad of landmines and situations you’re going to encounter. Their subject matter expertise gives them credibility and how they approach even the most challenging situations, makes you believe they must be able to see the future. Smart leaders don’t create work to show activity, they focus on the work that drives accomplishment. It’s a subtle nuance, but invaluable.
  • Nice: This characteristic seems to be high in demand, but hard to find. I mentor and coach ~10 early career men and women each year. At the top of their list for counsel is often something to the effect of, my boss is just mean, how do I deal with that? I don’t think there’s an expectation that our managers are our best friends. But, I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect your leaders to be nice. Here’s the thing about “nice”, the opposite isn’t mean. The opposite can be everything from vindictive to abusive and condescending to accusatory. There’s a range. I tend to think nice is far more about the “how” someone goes about things. To find someone that’s genuinely nice, today, well, that is a rarity.
  • Effective: I was placed into an accelerated leadership program for future Sr. leaders of Walgreens. I learned a lot. On day 1, the facilitator asked the room to think about the traits of good leaders. Then we were asked to share them. The facilitator wrote them down on a whiteboard. At the tail end of the session, the facilitator read the list and then asked, what’s missing? We were left scratching our heads. After all, words like smart, nice, kind, compassionate, honest, efficient, etc. were on the board. The facilitator then said, what about “effective” – if a leader is all the things on the board, but they aren’t effective, are they actually a good leader?

Over 20 years, I’ve seen just about every type of leader. I’ve worked for leaders that were very nice, but not very smart or effective. Think, Jimmy Carter. I’ve worked for leaders that were smart and effective, but not particularly nice. Think General Patton. Of course, there were those that were smart and nice, but not particularly effective. This was someone like Ron Johnson.

Leaders come in all flavors. I’ve tried to be one that’s smart, nice, and effective. Without using those words, they’re characteristics I try to impart on my leaders.

I’ve also been fortunate to work for a handful of leaders that are smart, nice, and effective. Those are the leaders I still call in for advice. They’re the ones who offer me helpful constructive feedback. They’re the ones I’d work for again.

Smart, nice and effective – pick 2.