What is a lesser-known red flag in a new hire?

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What is a lesser-known red flag in a new hire?

1. Lack of positivity

While some people may be quiet, you can still tell the difference between reserved and just an overall lack of enthusiasm for the idea of work or the new job. If you don't see smiles and some type of positive language from a new hire, you might need to worry if they are going to go the distance or not. -- John Rampton, Due

2. Inability to provide hard data

If the candidate cannot back the accomplishments and other talents described in their resume with actual facts and quantifiable data, they could be fudging when it comes to talking about their work history. That could come back to bite you if you don't dig a little deeper. -- Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

3. Not asking questions

I expect new hires to not know everything and to have questions. If someone doesn't have any questions during the interview process or during the initial weeks of working for your company, chances are they aren't really understanding things and they're either too afraid to say something or think they can get by without asking. -- Kelsey Meyer, Influence & Co.

4. Slower pace

Some job applicants look good on paper but can't handle a fast-paced environment. Before you extend a job offer, get a sense of how quickly your candidate can start on projects and complete them. Understand how they handle roadblocks and how fast they realistically expect to deliver value to your company. Avoid hiring talent that frequently drags their feet and becomes a bottleneck to growth. -- Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

5. Inflexibility

Change is what keeps a business moving forward and successful. An inflexible person can't see the opportunity to improve when faced with challenges and problems. You want a new hire who is open to change and continuous improvement to help you build a team that's not afraid to agilely make changes for the better. -- Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

6. B-level work

Especially if you're crunched for time and talent, it can be tempting to hire B-level players to fill desks. However, I've found that "good" is a world of difference from "great." Every employee matters, and although B-players can deliver acceptable work, they often don't take the initiative to go above and beyond. Being exceptional is necessary as a startup, and that all starts with your team. -- Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital

7. A bad impression on others

When you notice that a lot of people are not feeling the new hire, there's a red flag. Often, one or two people may not get along, but when many people start to feel uncomfortable with the new hire or mention things to you, there is a concern. -- Drew Hendricks, Buttercup

8. Lack of curiosity

Curiosity (i.e., someone who asks "why?") is one of the most important traits in a new hire. Curiosity indicates a vested interest in the underlying “why” that drives what we're doing. -- Brian David Crane, Caller Smart Inc.

9. Long periods without advancement

A good history of promotions is often a good sign, while a complete lack of them can be an important red flag. While some don't advance because they like a particular task or because their previous business didn't manage talent well, long periods without a promotion can also point to a lack of direction or a disinterest in performing duties at the highest level. -- Matt Doyle, Excel Builders

10. Poor health habits

Hire people who actively take care of their health, either through dietary diligence, regular exercise, or team sports. In them, you'll find employees who are diligent, persevering, and collaborative team members. If they have goals that have them working hard in their personal lives, they will bring the same energy and drive for results at work. -- Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile

11. Perfect candidates

The perfect candidate can often be the biggest red flag; you're rarely going to find someone that fits the bill to the letter, so when you do, you should be diligent about really digging in and checking the validity of their resume, experience, and competencies. The perfect candidate is often too-good-to-be-true, and you're likely to end up with a less capable employee than advertised. -- Blair Thomas, First American Merchant

12. Unwillingness to learn

A major red flag for me is if a new hire has a dismissive attitude towards reviewing important documents such as the company procedure manuals. If they are not willing to put in the effort initially to learn, and grasp all the company’s various policies then it’s likely that their career with the company will be only short-term. -- Luigi Wewege, Vivier Group

13. Lack of initiative

I expect new hires to take time to understand the company before pushing things forward on their own, but that doesn't mean they can wait for responsibilities to come to them. If they don't actively pursue their own onboarding and learning and aren't striving to assume duties, it's often a sign that they will never be someone who drives initiatives. That is not someone who will succeed. -- Kevin Yamazaki, Sidebench

14. No self-awareness

You know that the right hire won't be great at everything under the sun. Ask an applicant what they know they're not good at, and they should be able to answer this questions quickly and specifically. Generic answers will tell you that they have weak self-awareness. Hires who don't already know their own weak points require heavy management, because they won't know when to stop and ask for help. -- Roger Lee, Captain401

15. Personality nuances

Personality is key for me. Even if a candidate may exceed expectations on paper, that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is the best fit for the job. This is especially true with us being such a close-knit company. In particular, if someone shows a short fuse, is easily annoyed, or has difficulty working closely with others, these are glaring red flags that will usually lead to problems. -- Justin Lefkovitch, Mirrored Media

16. Pretending to understand or know something when they don't

When I interview people I always bring up something random that does not actually exist, such as a book, company, or publications. I will ask the person if they have heard of it and if they say yes, I immediately remove them from the list of potential hires. If a person will play along with me to get a job, then they will probably do the same to keep it and I need to know when I am wrong. -- Renato Libric, Bouxtie Inc

Why are managers such lousy motivators?


My team and I went to SavvyRoo, a cool site where people can enter their question and rank other people’s posts, and we asked leaders for their top question about workplace motivation.

Out of hundreds of questions, this one surfaced in the top 10: Why are managers such lousy motivators? Most of the entries asked about how to motivate people. But this question tugged at the deeper issue of why motivation is such a challenge. There’s good science to explain why managers are typically lousy at motivation.

The big disconnect

You may be familiar with Ken Kovach’s seminal research. Individuals rank 10 workplace motivators. Their answers are compared to rankings of what their managers think motivates them. The results reflect how most employees feel: My manager doesn’t know what motivates me.

Managers tend to attribute external motivation to employees — such as good wages, promotions, and job security. (External motivators are not within the employees’ control.)

On the other hand, employees prefer more internal motivation — such as interesting work, growth, and learning. (Internal motivators are within the employees’ control.)

Kovach’s research has been replicated and validated over the past four decades, and while employees’ rankings of the motivators changed as workplaces evolved, a fascinating phenomenon emerged. The gap between managers and employee responses didn’t change. Managers simply do not understand what motivates the people they lead.

Why the big disconnect? Here are four potential reasons. I made up the names of the syndromes, but they are based on contemporary science that confirms many of Kovach’s early suspicions and provides new motivational insights.

"I don't see you" syndrome

Many managers may be high achievers who prefer concrete measures, such as money, that reflect on performance. Money may serve as a quantifiable way of keeping score. Thus, even though good wages might rank in the middle of employees’ motivators, it almost always appears at the top of managers’ lists of what they think motivates employees.

A more likely explanation for the gap is that leaders cannot see into the minds or hearts of their employees. Managers do not have access to an employee’s internal state of motivation, only their own. Thus, managers tend to attribute internal motivations to themselves while judging others to be externally motivated. And once you start looking at the nature of remote employees, whose managers literally don’t see them face-to-face on a regular basis, it becomes nearly impossible to determine what might motivate them.

Is it any wonder that managers tend to default to external motivators such as incentives, bonuses, raises, prizes, and rewards -- despite compelling evidence they don’t motivate people in a way that improves productivity, creativity, well-being, or sustained performance? This leads to the next syndrome.

"Passing the buck" syndrome

Managers choose to believe that what motivates people are things outside the manager’s control. For example, pay raises are usually determined by formalized organizational policies, not by personal relationships between managers and employees. Thus, managers can “pass the buck” when it comes time to assign blame for poor levels of employee motivation.

“I can’t give you a raise.” “I’m not authorized to give you a bonus.” “I don’t control who gets promoted.” If it’s not within the managers’ power to award monetary rewards, and that is what managers think motivates people, it’s no wonder they are considered lousy motivators.

"Don't ask, don't tell" syndrome

Managers depend on their observations of external behaviors and conditions to evaluate their employees’ motivation. Unfortunately, many leaders are not perceptive observers, nor are they wise interpreters of what they see. It’s not (yet) common practice to sit down with your employees and ask them what motivates them. And it certainly isn’t common practice for employees to tell their leaders what their internal motivators are. Until those conversations are built into reviews and regular one-on-one meetings, people can’t expect much to change. Understanding someone else’s internal state of motivation by observing their external behavior is almost impossible.

"Old-world beliefs" syndrome

Unfortunately, many people in leadership simply have a misunderstanding of the nature of human motivation. They rose to positions of power with underlying beliefs they haven’t explored in light of the evidence. For example, science says people want to thrive, they appreciate a meaningful challenge, and they want to contribute. But, many managers believe people are basically lazy and naturally disengaged.

Science says that relationships, emotions, and well-being are at the heart of productivity. But, many managers believe business is not personal. Even the most senior leaders often hold old-world beliefs that are in sharp contrast to the truth of human motivation.

It's not all your fault

Despite all the syndromes, the motivation disconnect between managers and employees isn’t all the manager’s fault. Employees don’t understand the nature of their own motivation either. They haven’t been educated about the three psychological needs required for them to thrive (autonomy, relatedness, and competence).

So, when an employee is unhappy at work, she is inclined to ask for more money while saying under her breath, “They don’t pay me enough to put up with this.” She longs for something, but without insight into the true nature of motivation, she calls her longing money. Managers are left with the impression that to be happy at work, employees require more money. People can’t ask for what they don’t know they need.

The most well-intentioned leader cannot know what motivates others without developing the skill to conduct motivational outlook conversations if you embrace the new science of motivation and can avoid the motivation syndromes, you might never have to answer the question, “Why is my manager such a lousy motivator?”


Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains "Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of by-lined articles, peer-reviewed research, and six books, including the bestselling "Self Leadership" and the "One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com

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What it’s like to run a personal finance website

Lead Human
SmartBrief illustration by James daSilva

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

Have you ever experienced that intuitive sense that a person you’ve just met is merely at the beginning and is destined for bigger and better things? That is exactly how I felt after this interview with Kyle Taylor, founder, and CEO of The Penny Hoarder.

Taylor has taken The Penny Hoarder, whose mission is to put more money into people’s pockets, from a personal blog to one of the largest publications on the web. He has created a new kind of personal finance media with stories about real people. The Penny Hoarder offers actionable money tips that focus on making a difference in their millions of monthly readers’ budgets. It’s an awesome mission being led by an emerging young leader. I hope you enjoy this interview.

Kyle Taylor

What keeps you up at night?

“Everything!” he laughed

“I think, fundamentally, the thing that you worry about the most is taking care of your employees. And, even though we've been fortunate enough to make sure that we've never had to worry about a payroll, it's the thing that I think about the most. Like, if something were to go wrong, I'm first and foremost letting down these 60 people.”

Taylor added that he also worries about the speed of change.

“In digital media, it's changing so rapidly. Business models that worked just a couple of years ago no longer work today, and traffic acquisition strategies that worked a couple of years ago no longer work. So, there’s a constant need to keep pivoting and keep adapting.”

How do you deal with fear and doubt?

We spent quite a bit of time on this question. Taylor told me, “This is kind of my favorite topic to talk about.”

“I've been very open and honest about the fact that I think we all, in some way, face ‘imposter syndrome,’ myself included. Prior to opening an office 18 months ago, I’d been running this solo for four and a half years, and for the two years prior to that was making decent money. I was on a runway to do several million dollars, and I still hadn't hired anyone, for no other answer than fear. I was scared to take on the liability, as I mentioned at the top about making sure I could pay somebody each month. I was also a little nervous about whether I had what it took to be a leader and a manager.”

“I still have that today, imposter syndrome, but in different ways. I no longer wonder if I can be a good leader or a good manager, I feel confident in that. But now, I think about, okay, I'm running the 87th largest publisher in the country -- or whatever the number is today -- do I really have what it takes to be in the top 5? Do I have what it takes to be a BuzzFeed? I still face that."

"And the one thing that helps me get past it -- well, two things -- one is talking about it openly I feel marginalizes it, makes it smaller. And then the second thing is, when I'm in a situation like that, I try to picture those CEOs that I admire, and I say, 'Did Jeff Bezos know how to create the largest distribution company in the world 10 years ago?' And the answer is no. 'Did Mark Zuckerberg know anything about S-1 filings and going public 10 years ago?' No. They learned it along the way, and I can do the same.”

What do you do when you make a bad decision?

“Well, I think it depends on how bad of a decision I've made. If it's a decision that, let's say, totally ruined a part of the company, or that has some real long-lasting effects, I think it's important to give yourself permission to take a short sulk. For a long time, I would beat myself up about that and say, 'You can't focus on this, get back in it.' And I stopped doing that because I think it's pretty human to feel a certain sense of regret, or just feel sadness, or whatever it is when something doesn't go the way you had hoped.

"I don't dwell on it forever, but I do sort of allow myself to feel that for a little while. And then I think back to all the other times where something hasn't gone my way, and we eventually figured it out, and that's usually the part where I can start to turn it around and start to think about what we can do differently.”

Taylor went on to add, “If it's a small loss, or a poor decision that didn't go well, I think first, if it affected other people, apologize for it, and then try to move on as quickly as possible. Because, that small stuff, I think, is what can sort of eat up your day and keep you from doing big things.”

How do you make time for yourself?

“It’s pretty breakneck for me, but I have set up a couple of hard-and-fast rules. One is, I take every Thursday afternoon off work. I turn off Slack, I turn off email, and I hang out with my friends and my nephew.”

His second hard-and fast-rule: “Saturdays at our house are reading days, so we'll crack a bottle of champagne and we read all day. That's the thing that re-energizes me for the week and gets my mind thinking.”

What have been some surprising leadership lessons?

“My words carry a lot more weight than they used to, and I think that's been one of the more difficult things. I'm naturally a kidder, a class clown, and I realize now, over the last 18 months, that just saying something off-handed, or a throwaway comment, other people take that very seriously. I've recognized that a couple of times on the strategy front, where we'll talk about an idea or a design or something and I'll say something like "oh that's kind of cool" and realizing that that's not just me thinking that's cool, that's a green light to move forward with a project.”

What have you learned about connecting with, motivating and engaging people?

“Not to sound like a cliché here, but I think a shared mission is important and probably the thing that's made this work the best. Our mission at The Penny Hoarder is to put more money in people's pockets and we talk about it ad nauseam. Everything we do, we say, even ... I'm in an advertising meeting every day where we talk about the advertisers that want to work with us. We talk about it in that context. ‘Will the advertiser put money in people's pockets?’ I think by constantly bringing it back to that, not only has it become a shared goal, but it helps self-motivate everybody because we realize that we're all working towards the same thing, and we're all really trying to make a difference. We're not just trying to make a dollar.”

What do you wish your current self could tell your former self?

“I would tell myself, "You're capable of way more than what you think." I suspect my future, future self will tell me that as well. All those little limitations that you put on yourself, aren't real. Those are limitations in your head.”


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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group. He serves as a consultant and thinking partner helping emerging food and beverage brands gain the distribution and win the share of stomach they need to grow. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Business2Community.

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How often are you held back by self-limiting beliefs?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

How often are you held back by self-limiting beliefs?

  • Never -- I believe I can do anything: 10% 
  • Sometimes -- A few of my beliefs hold me back: 61%
  • Often -- Self-limiting beliefs get in my way frequently: 23%
  • Always -- I'm the biggest barrier to my own success: 5%

Set yourself free. Self-limiting beliefs rob you of opportunities and keep your organization from being as great as it could. When you run into these situations, consider the source of the belief, the likelihood of bad things happening if you take the action you’re afraid of, and the upside of overcoming that fear. Ask yourself if the source of your fear is realistic or rational. Once you get to the root of that fear, it’s much easier to overcome. After you confront the fear and take action, you can build momentum when you see your fears haven’t played out like you thought. It’s this constant positive reinforcement that will help you overcome your self-imposed limits.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box," and "The Elegant Pitch."

Handle employee conflicts with confidence

Credit: Pixabay

Few people like conflict. But, as a leader, it’s part of your job to deal with issues and conflicts employees create in your workplace. You ignore them at your peril.

And when you create a system for dealing with disputes, you can handle them faster, easier, and with less fall-out. Follow this checklist to minimize the conflicts among your employees.

Recognize the conflicts

Be aware of your employees and their disputes. Tune your antenna for tension in the ranks. Once you see the potential problems, ask yourself: Can they be solved by themselves, or do you need to step in?

Do your employees have the tools or desire to solve the problem themselves? If so, empower them to resolve their own problems. If not, can some small guidance by you help them solve it on their own?

Understand the nature of the conflict

Conflicts come from different sources. Are they caused by personality differences or issues with the business organization?

Personality problems may be resolved by counseling to create a more professional environment. It may also work to put some distance between the people or to adjust the job descriptions for clear boundaries.

Try to avoid the quagmire of “he said, she said” accusations. But, also, monitor the tension to see that the problem has not merely gone underground.

Issues with the business organization may come from unclear job descriptions or company policies themselves. Conflict could arise from employees not being clear on the company policy, or it may be that the policies create perceived or real unfairness.

You may need to review promotion guidelines, job descriptions or other areas. Then, clarify or modify them to reduce potential conflicts.

Bring quick and fair resolution to conflict

Regardless of the cause, don’t let the problem fester. Act as soon as you have hard evidence of a conflict or problem between employees.

There are always emotions in these problems. It’s up to you as a leader to minimize the emotion. You can do that as you:

  • See past the drama to the essence of the problem
  • Don’t play favorites. Really look to see all sides of the issue
  • Search for manipulation or self-serving behavior that tries to bias the issues

It often helps to define acceptable behavior. When you frame it as a company standard, it reduces the possibility of it sounding critical or biased. For example:

In this company, we treat everyone with respect. We expect professional behavior both in person and in emails.

Communicate clearly and directly

Simply communicating clearly can sometimes help resolve problems. Did the conflict result from a misunderstanding between employees or the company?

  • Review your communications for accuracy
  • Hear out your employees. They respect you as you listen to their concerns
  • Create an atmosphere of trust and respect so they come with problems when they are still small
  • Give your directions for the solution with accuracy and authority so there are no misunderstandings or wiggle room

As you resolve the problem make sure everyone understands the outcome. Ask employees to repeat back what they understand as the solution. Then set up a follow-up plan to confirm the problem has truly been resolved, or to re-address it as necessary.

When you are aware of employee conflicts, step in quickly, and act in a fair manner to resolve disputes you create a more productive and harmonious workplace. Clear communication and follow-through helps employees respect you and want to follow you.


Joel Garfinkle conducts executive business coaching and is the author of Difficult Conversations: Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication and Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. Recently, he worked with a VP who had to confront three employee performance problems and dramatically improve relationships cross-functionally throughout the company. Contact Joel for executive coaching for yourself or your leaders. Over 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book 41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!


Here’s who is stalling your culture efforts

Workplace culture efforts are often directed toward lower-level employees and those on the frontlines with customers, but midlevel managers are usually the ones who hold culture change back.

Whether building a new culture or revitalizing or redirecting an existing one, an emphasis on the lowest levels of your organization makes sense. Many companies experience turnover at these levels, and most of these employees have direct interactions with your customers, so you must engage them with your purpose and values in order to retain them and keep them on track. But a midlevel manager whose attitudes, behaviors or decisions are not aligned with your desired culture can wreak far more havoc on your organization.

Midlevel managers wield the most influence on employees' daily experiences. The adage “people leave managers, not companies” speaks to the central relationship between manager and employee.

Middle managers can either be positive culture role models and coaches for their people by showing them which attitudes and behaviors are on-brand and communicating why they and what they do matters, or they can sabotage organizational cultures by acting inconsistently with the company's core values and withholding the information and support employees need to get aligned and engaged. 

In word and deed, middle managers are uniquely positioned to convey to employees what the organization really values.

Yet, middle managers are often the most disengaged and dissatisfied people in an organization. According to researchers at Columbia University, they suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety than those at the top or bottom of organizations. Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, found that middle managers were the most common employees whose engagement and commitment scores were in the bottom 5% of its study.  

Middle management is usually the least engaged in culture-building efforts. It may be because these people are burdened with day-to-day operations that distract them from attending to responsibilities that seem longer-term or less defined. Sometimes organizations think of middle managers more as employees who need to be influenced than as the powerful influencers that they are, so they don't give them the training and resources necessary to reinforce and interpret the desired culture. 

When your middle managers are disengaged from your culture, it has a compounding effect on the rest of the organization. Your culture is likely to be stalled by what one of my clients called the "frozen middle."


The company hired me to help it achieve more traction on its diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts and more tangible improvement in the results that D&I produced. Support at the very top levels of the organization was clearly evident. The CEO set D&I as a top priority for the organization and he and the rest of the executive committee regularly communicated about it and actively championed initiatives to support it.

Grassroots support was also strong, with employees across the company participating in affinity groups, forums and trainings.

Despite all that forward movement, middle management had been left behind. It was particularly hard for middle managers, who were predominantly white males, to internalize the value of D&I. Even those who understood it intellectually didn’t understand how to operationalize those values on a daily basis.

This "frozen middle" was holding the company back from tapping into the innovation and fresh thinking that greater D&I would deliver -- and that in turn was limiting the company's ability to address its changing demand landscape. 

We set our sights on increasing D&I engagement and adoption within the ranks of middle management, which meant thinking about, and then conveying, the value of D&I from a middle manager's perspective. First, we formulated a rational appeal. We reiterated the business case and other data that would tie D&I to the specific results the managers were accountable for.  Rather than talking at a high level about the company's goals, we connected the dots between D&I and successful hires, group productivity, and error reduction.

To address mid-level managers' hearts and to motivate them emotionally, we assembled inspiring, relevant success stories from their peers. Hearing from people at their level not only made them feel more personally engaged, but also communicated that the organization valued contributions and insights from middle management -- a message that needs reinforcement at most organizations.  

And, to instruct them on how to embed D&I into their daily operating activities and reap its benefits, we looked at tools such as diversity action plans, which included templates, examples and recommended timing, and which could be implemented in the company's standard performance-planning process. Middle managers are more likely to adopt methods when they are designed to effortlessly integrate into existing processes.

By thawing the "frozen middle" at the company, we were able to shift attitudes and generate increased momentum for D&I among all levels of the organization.

Middle managers must be engaged, empowered, and equipped to cultivate your desired culture as much as are their higher- and lower-level counterparts. Every manager at every level is a link in the leadership chain that connects culture to results.


Denise Lee Yohn is an author and brand expert who has become an in-demand keynote speaker, inspiring business leaders around the world to improve their brands. Her keynote presentations have captivated international audiences at conferences including the Consumer Electronics Show, The Art of Marketing, the National Restaurant Show, and American Marketing Association, among others. Visit her blog, sign up for her newsletter, buy her book and connect with her on Twitter.

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The problem with problem-solving

How many times have you solved a problem only to have it resurface weeks or months later? Unfortunately, this happens too often. The problem with problem-solving is that we have a very thin definition of “solved.”

If a problem resurfaces, it was never solved.

So, how can we be sure a problem is solved? I think of this as a two-step process.

First, you must attack the root cause of the real problem, not just the symptoms. Assuming you have sufficiently addressed the root, you can move to phase two; this is the part most people miss.

To exile a problem forever, you must sustain the gains

The world always appears to drift toward disorder. I’m sure there is a law of the universe at play here somewhere. Sustaining activities mitigate this pull toward chaos.

Let me illustrate.

I talked with a business owner who wanted to improve the performance of his front-line employees. His solution was a deep-dive, immersive training experience. Guess what? It worked -- for a while. When performance numbers signaled his success, he mistakenly thought he had won -- problem solved!

Six months later, the problem returned. As he told me the story, he was at a loss regarding what had happened. I asked him if he had added any new front-line associates during the previous six months. He said yes. My follow-up question: Did you provide the same in-depth, intensive training for the new employees that you did for the previous group? His response: No.

In this example, the initial improved performance created a false positive. His problem was not solved. Only when he went back and revamped his new-hire training did the problem evaporate.

The next time you think you’ve found a solution to a problem, ask yourself: What will it take to sustain these gains?


Mark Miller is the best-selling author of six books, an in-demand speaker and the vice president of high performance leadership at Chick-Fil-A. His latest book, "Leaders Made Here," describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

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10 hard skills to learn that will last a lifetime


To survive growing up on a remote cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming, I needed to be scrappy, gritty, and tenacious. If I wasn’t keeping an eye out for rattle snakes, I was avoiding horned bulls from charging my horse as I tried to cut them from a herd of cows.

I learned many important life lessons on that ranch, not the least is that it takes hard work, sweat, and mental toughness to get to the top and stay there. I took many of those lessons with me into the FBI as an undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years.

Here are 10 hard skills to learn that will last you a lifetime:

1. Hunt the good stuff

Positive thinkers are not optimists. Positive thinkers believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believing their circumstances will change; optimists believe their circumstances will eventually change for the better.

FBI agents are not optimists who hope or expect an arrest to go without a hitch; they prepare for the worst and practice ahead of time. When they do come across adversity, they don’t wait and hope things will change for the better. They adapt quickly to the new situation and remain flexible -- choosing to remain positive -- so that they will find a solution.

Tip: The greatest mental toughness tool we have is our ability to choose one thought over another.

2. Become emotionally competent

We all know lots of people who are intelligent but not necessarily competent. If you can’t empathize with other people, you will never develop the emotional skills needed to get along with them.

As an FBI agent, I learned that empathy is not feeling sorry for others but rather relating to what others feel. Empathy helped create a team spirit within our squad and motivated agents to try harder.

As a leader or entrepreneur, you need to develop empathy to become a leader who can push people beyond their own apathy and to think about something bigger than themselves. Emotional competency also requires you to develop the skills necessary to communicate accurately with people. This includes understanding the importance of verbal and non-verbal cues.

Tip: You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but if you can’t explain them to others, you will never be anything more than an educated loser.

3. Know what makes you tick

Successful people spend their time thinking about what they want to do and how to make it happen. They know what is important to them; they have a vision and a set of goals to get them there.

In other words, it’s hitting your stride because you’ve found what makes you tick. The FBI hires second-career professionals because they want to know that the individual is making a deliberate and well-thought move from their first successful career.

It doesn’t just take talent to meet goals. Instead, success needs "flow." Flow is described by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihalyi as a state of deep absorption in the activity during which performance seems to happen effortlessly and automatically.

Tip: Ignorance of your competition makes you vulnerable; ignorance of yourself makes you stupid.

4. Have the confidence to fail

Unfortunately, most of us fear failure so much that we shuffle along in life until we accidentally stumble onto something at which we are good. Success can be misleading because it often is not what really fuels us. Such success is based in complacency because we are too scared of failure to pursue the type of work that would provide value and meaning.

It takes confidence to look failure in the face and keep moving forward because, if we are confident in ourselves and our ability, we look at failure as part of the fine-tuning process.

Most of my FBI investigations met many failures, as I continually looked for the soft underbelly of the puzzle in front of me. Each failure educated me more about how to keep moving forward to solve the investigation.

Tip: The way in which you deal with failure determines how you will achieve success.

5. Identify self-limiting beliefs

Our memory is not always reliable. Instead, we extract the gist of the experience and store it in ways that makes the most sense to us. That’s why different people witnessing the same event often have different versions.

We already know that we are biased toward anything that confirms our own beliefs, but it’s important to realize that your brain has its own built-in confirmation bias. This means it stores information that is consistent with your own beliefs, values, and self-image.

For example, if you have low self-esteem, your brain tends to store information which confirms your lack of confidence. That will be all you remember about a specific event.

Tip: When you have doubts about your abilities and have self-limiting beliefs about what you can do in life, never rely on memory to give you accurace feedback, especially if the feedback is negative.

6. Stretch toward peak performance

Unless you know your limits, you will not be able to prepare either your mind or your body to move past them. To move toward peak performance, you need to stretch your current skill level, but not so hard that you want to give up.

At the FBI Academy, if coaches didn’t push every agent past their comfort zone every day, they weren’t doing their jobs.

Experts agree that this magic stretch is 4% greater than our skill. Anything more will discourage you from trying harder; anything less will not push you hard enough to move forward. However, it's important to keep that continual tension between stretch and skill if we want to move toward our peak performance.

Tip: Smart leaders focus on developing peak performance by continually moving into their discomfort zone.

7. Manage time wisely

Find a system that works for you and stick to it. Not everyone is a morning person, so perhaps you’re most alert after you’ve exercised or taken a nap. The idea is to schedule the tasks that take the most energy for when your brain is fresh and alert.

Visuals are a great way to activate the mind. That’s why storytelling, pictures and metaphors work so well -- they generate an image.

Visuals are laden with information. They provide color, shape, size, context, etc. Since they take less energy than words, they are efficient ways for the brain to process information.

Tip: Grab a pen and paper and write down your prioritized projects for the day. This saves your brain from the need to recall and review each one. Save your energy for getting those tasks done!

8. Use positive self-talk

The internal conversations we have with ourselves, called self-talk, can go on for days, and sometimes through our nights as well. Many of us know how vicious that inner critic can be. Often, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others. It’s not because we want to be, it’s because we don’t know how to manage our negative self-talk.

Energy follows attention -- wherever your attention is focused, your energy will follow. If your inner critic is beating you up about a failure, your failing will be the one thing you focus on.

Tip: The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others

9. Make room for your emotions

Mental toughness is managing our emotions in ways that will set us up for success. Instead of denying uncomfortable emotions, acknowledge them.

Researcher David Rock believes that labeling our negative emotions is an effective way of short-circuiting their hold over us. So give your inner critic a name or call it out for what it really is: jealousy, insecurity, fear, etc.

You can keep the name in your head, but Rock believes that saying it aloud activates a more robust short circuit to help break the emotional hold.

Tip: Destroy negative thoughts when they first show up and are at their weakest.

10. Find your tribe

Sebastian Junger wrote in his book “Tribe" that “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding -- tribes.”

The FBI Academy created a tribe when it refused to let new agents leave for the first several weeks. We grew to depend upon each other, and it was habit that we took with us into the field as we looked out for fellow agents

When you are a member of a tribe, you have an acute sense of belonging -- you feel accepted and safe when things go wrong. Many of us are lucky enough to feel that our biological families are our tribe, but usually tribes are founded around groups of people with shared values, ideas and experiences.

In the competitive world of business, it is not always easy to feel safe and accepted. When things go wrong, you fear losing your company, your job, and maybe even your health.

Tip:  In times of stress, it’s easy to feel neglected. It’s impossible to instantly create deep bonds of familiarity and trust. Don’t wait until things go wrong to start finding your tribe. Start now.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

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Why employees think there’s no chance for growth at your company

Credit: Pixabay

When it comes to advancing their careers, employees aren’t feeling the love.

That’s a key finding from a recent white paper produced by TINYPulse, a firm that specializes in gathering data on employee engagement and satisfaction. Only 26% of employees surveyed felt they had adequate opportunities for career growth. The managers of these same employees were more optimistic: 50% of managers surveyed felt there was adequate opportunity for professional development at their organizations. Talk about a disconnect in perceptions!

This gap in perception is costing companies in turnover and hiring costs, not to mention the loss of talented employees’ skills. Many managers fail to see how the way they communicate about career development has a big impact on how employees perceive growth opportunities.

“When it comes to career development, many managers think only in terms of the company’s official policies regarding career advancement” says Julie Winkle Giulioni, author of "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want."

That’s a mistake, says Winkle Giulioni, because careers are developed more organically. Career development is far more than just checking off the boxes in a performance development plan. Moreover, managers have a lot more influence than they realize when it comes to helping employees grow.

“Careers are developed one conversation at a time, over time,” adds Winkle Giulioni.

Is there a career development perception gap at your organization? Here are five possible reasons that a gap may exist:

Fear of turnover

Most leaders worry about the void created when a talented team member departs. It’s one thing to dread the hassle of replacing a valued team member and quite another to actively avoid developing employees’ talents because you don’t want to deal with their departure. When people believe they have no future at an organization, they leave--especially the top talent. Rather than withhold career development for fear of losing good people, take a proactive approach.

“The most effective leaders demonstrate a mindset of abundance. They’d prefer that good people go down the hallway rather than down that highway,” says Winkle Giulioni.

One-and-done career discussions

When was the last time you talked with your team members about their career trajectory? If the only time you chat with your team about their career growth is during annual performance review time, you’re creating a huge communication vacuum. In the absence of information, people tend to make stuff up. If they aren’t hearing from their leader about how to grow their skills, they may decide there’s no future for them at your company.

Lack of clarity about “growth opportunity.”

When conducting career development discussions, leaders miss a big opportunity when they frame “career growth” only in terms of “promotion” or “advancement.” The reality is, the opportunities for promotion are limited. But the opportunity for developing one’s skills is limitless. Managers must broaden career discussions to help show employees how education, training, and work on specific projects add to a person’s portfolio of skills.

Complete hands-off on development

If you’re lucky enough to work for an organization with a robust self-serve learning architecture, you have access to an excellent career development asset. But it’s not enough to simply say, “Here’s the log-in to the account. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!” Employees need need you to provide a framework of expectations, accountability and check-ins to make individualized learning work. They also need time off to engage with the digital learning process.

Substituting praise as coaching for growth

When employees ask what they need to do to progress, it’s not enough to give them praise such as, “You’re doing a great job. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” That lacks the specificity needed to help them advance their skills.

Instead, say, “Here are three strengths that will serve you well in your next role. The area that I think you need to focus on developing is X. So let’s talk about how to give you the opportunities to grow that skill set.”

The good news about the career development gap is that it’s easily closed. The remedies aren’t costly in terms of time or money. But first, you need to see the gap. What would your team say about their perception of their chances to grow professionally on your team?

Once you have that answer, you’ll  know if you have to get to work closing the gap with additional discussions, training and setting of expectations.


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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How willing are you to make sacrifices for your team?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

How willing are you to make sacrifices for your team?

  • Very -- They get everything I have regardless of the cost to me: 23% 
  • Mostly -- I'll make sacrifices for them up to a point: 68%
  • Kind of -- I'll make a sacrifice if it isn't too painful: 5%
  • Not very -- I'll make sacrifices in rare instances: 1%
  • Not at all -- I don't get paid enough to make sacrifices: 3% 

Leaders sacrifice… to a point. The vast majority of you put yourselves out there for your teams. We love our people, right? Nothing we wouldn’t do for them! All around us are role models for sacrifice. We aspire to be that leader who gives their all for the team. Just be careful – remember your organization doesn’t love you as much as you love it. Your sacrifices can take a toll on your health and require extraordinary resilience on your part. If your sacrifices aren’t appreciated, you run the risk of being resentful. I'm not saying not to make sacrifices. I’m simply encouraging you to be mindful of the consequences of those choices.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box," and "The Elegant Pitch."