HIPO programs suck

There. I said it. High-potential programs suck. I thought about being less direct and more refined in describing how I feel about most “high-potential” programs.

Maybe I could make S-U-C-K a clever acronym for Stupid, Unfair, Counterproductive, and Kindless? But kindless isn’t a word, and I couldn’t find another appropriate K-word to describe programs geared to promote an elite group of employees who have been identified as up-and-comers. So, I decided to describe it as I see it: HIPO programs need to be eliminated or overhauled.

Most HIPO programs are designed to improve productivity and build bench strength. Well-meaning HR professionals with limited budgets for developing people are encouraged by research claiming that the top 5% of employees are worth the investment because they are most likely to reach positions of responsibility and power.

Evidently, data points to HIPOs producing 91% more valuable work for the company, as they exert 21% more effort than non-HIPOs. But, data also shows that 93% of HIPO programs fail. Success seems to boil down to refining your process: identify better HIPOs, externally benchmark against the competition and give them better development opportunities.

I say hogwash. And here’s why.

If you’re not a HIPO, what are you?

Supposedly, 1 out of 7 employees are HIPOs. That means six of every seven employees are low-potentials. Ask such LOPOs how they feel about HIPO programs, and you’re likely to hear words such as "demoralized," "abandoned" and "disconnected." If someone’s confidence is holding them back, not being selected as a HIPO is a nail in their self-esteem coffin. If a LOPO was prone to using discretionary effort on behalf of the organization, demonstrate citizenship behaviors, endorse the organization or perform at above-expected standards — intentions of an employee with work passion — you can almost bet those good intentions have evaporated.

What I find even more telling is how HIPOs feel about their elite status. In interviews, HIPOs have expressed feeling confused, embarrassed and, oftentimes, unworthy. They are thrust into a position of status that stimulates suboptimal motivation —when you are motivated by status, you can’t experience the sense of relatedness, belonging and connection that human beings need to flourish.

It’s a matter of justice

Ask HIPOs why they were selected over their peers, and most of them can’t tell you. Ask the powerful people what criteria they used to select HIPOs and they most likely don’t know. Often, the process consists of managers getting in a room and picking people they like, or people like them. Neither HIPOs nor LOPOs feel the process that selected them (or weeded them out) was fair or just.

What makes you a HIPO and me a LOPO?

Consulting companies who want to sell you assessments to better identify HIPOs, claim they know how to help you select the best of the best. For example, make sure a candidate has a drive for results or is motivated by the power to exercise, influence and shape how things are done. What they fail to consider is the candidate’s reason for being driven or why they desire power.

Assessing drive and energy without understanding the values underlying a person’s drive is one reason we keep getting organizational leaders who are willing to ignore higher-based values in pursuit of the bottom line. We need to reconsider what good leadership looks like and the values we want from those in positions of leadership.

3 potential fixes to HIPO programs that suck

I believe in developing people. What I don’t believe in is an arbitrary selection process that results in an elitist group that does more harm than good, is devoid of fairness, and doesn’t take into consideration the science of human motivation or employee work passion. I hope you might consider these alternatives.

Change the name. Having a select group of people who are high-potentials automatically classifies a much larger group of low-potentials. If you need to call a program something, consider a more aspirational, transcendent and values-based name.

Be transparent. Clarify the criteria and communicate the skills, ability, mindset and motivational values you believe are necessary to be both an effective transactional manager and a transformational leader. Describe a robust process with the implications for the time and dedication required to participate and succeed in the program.

Give people the choice. After clarifying and communicating the criteria and process, open the program up to all employees. Allow leadership to emerge from people who raise their hands for the job. Be sure to ask why they are raising their hand. If they are interested in power, more money or status, help them identify higher-level values. If they are interested in growth, learning, being of service or searching for excellence, help them embrace their values consciously. If you have too many hands and need to choose from a group of enrollees, be clear about why a person gets chosen. If someone is not chosen, be honest about why and offer a development plan.

Whether you are a HIPO, LOPO or the person who determines who’s in or who’s out, I hope you’ll begin advocating for a transparent, fair, and robust process for developing leaders with the values required to nurture organizations where people flourish. When it comes to developing leaders, we can’t afford programs that suck.


Susan Fowler is the co-author of the newly revised "Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard and Laurence Hawkins, and lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Self Leadership product line. She is also the author of the bestseller "Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does." Fowler is a senior consulting partner at The Ken Blanchard Cos. and a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.

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“Sit still, look pretty”: Women’s fight for gender equality in the workplace

A blonde CEO, despite having launched a successful, accomplished startup in Silicon Valley, didn’t always show her true locks: She used to dye her hair brown so the men she worked with took her more seriously, especially when it came to making more money.

“I was told for this raise [of funds], that it would be to my benefit to dye my hair brown because there was a stronger pattern recognition of brunette women CEOs," said Eileen Carey, the CEO of Glassbreakers.

The saddest part? Almost every woman in the working world can tell you a similar tale.

I certainly can.

When I was 18, I applied for a job at a car dealership because the ad in the paper said women were encouraged to do so, regardless of experience. The day I showed up, middle-aged men surrounded me; they’d applied for the same position. “What do you know about selling cars?” they asked me. “Very little,” I replied, “but I’m willing to learn.”

The next line (from the employer, no less) would be one of many sexist remarks I’d hear in my career: “Listen, we want to be very clear: We don’t report sexual harassment — we grade it here. Get used to it.”

I got the job but kept my mouth shut and outperformed my peers, despite sexist sabotage around every corner.

And so it goes: Women are (and have always been) at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to advancing in a career, let alone making the same salary as men. That’s just one of many fights we’ve yet to win, and I believe it’s due, largely, to the inherent and blatant sexism that plagues our system.

Still, there's a small light at the end of this age-old tunnel, and it comes from within us: Stop listening to the sexists of the world; start listening to our hearts and our heads. It'll drive us to places our mothers and grandmothers only dreamed of.

This is (still) a man’s world

When I was seeking VC funding to start my company, I was so fed up with men asking whether I was single or married that I bought a diamond ring to put on my left ring finger. I thought it would deter them from focusing on anything other than my numbers and my merit.

I was wrong.

My pitch, my transactions, and my operation were solid, but it didn’t matter. I was told instead to consider finding a co-founder, preferably a male. And while the feeling of defeat was instant, it was also fleeting. I knew then, more than ever, that I’d have to fight for what I wanted. And though I succeeded in the end, I shouldn’t have had to climb an arduous, male-dominated mountain to get there. No woman should.

It’s time to break the glass ceiling

While a study from McKinsey & Co. suggested that companies’ commitment to promoting gender diversity is the highest it’s ever been, there’s still so much room for improvement. Though the ratio of females to males in the workplace is actually pretty even, the rate at which one gender climbs the ranks is not.

In fact, by the time employees reach C-suite status, a staggering 81% are men, according to McKinsey.

So what do we do, ladies?

1. Don't take "no" for an answer. I've been told "no" more than 100,000 times in my career. Could you imagine if I actually believed each and every rejection? I wouldn't be writing this article and sharing my successes. Never believe the naysayers — just move on in your endless search for a solid "yes."

2. Know your worth, and be your No. 1 cheerleader. They will try to knock you down, squash your ego and stop you in your tracks, but when you know your worth, it won't be effective. Believe in yourself, dig deep, and find your authentic voice. Then shout it from the rooftops (even if they tell you to be quiet).

3. Practice nonattachment. This is an important mental yoga move. When you're feeling impatient and frustrated, lean into nonattachment. Remember: We are not our feelings, nor are we the stories others say about us. We are creating our own experiences, and the less time we attach to the words and actions of others, the more time we'll have to taste freedom!

4. Learn from every experience, whether it's good or bad. New experiences shape our world, so choose them wisely. Through each encounter, there is opportunity to overcome doubt and grow as a result. The process of self-actualization is something no one can ever take away from you. Trust me, these lessons will eventually add up to a lot, and you'll become an expert in your own domain as a result.

The bottom line? Stop looking to convince others of your greatness; find it in yourself, and reach for the stars. You’ll get there, despite any mansplaining that told you otherwise.


Kassandra Rose founded Rent My Way in 2014. Based in Seattle, Rent My Way serves as a rental relationship management tool for landlords, property managers, and renters that assists in matching inventory to client needs and manages their experiences with transparency for all parties.

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The leadership killer

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Bill Treasurer. 

Leadership is seductive. When you’re in a leadership role, it’s easy to slip into the idea that you’re better, smarter, and more special.

Why wouldn’t you think that, after all, given all the cues you get telling you how great you are? First, not everyone gets to be a leader, so the fact that you are one sends the message that there’s something special about you. Second, leaders get more perks. When you’re a leader, you get bigger titles, bigger workspaces, and a bigger salary. Finally, leaders get a lot more behavioral latitude. Nobody challenges you when you show up late for a meeting, interrupt people, or skirt company policies that lower level employees have to abide by.

Given the special treatment you get as a leader, some leaders start internalizing their superiority, believing that they are above the people their leading. Leadership comes with power, and few people are capable of handling power in a levelheaded way. Instead, power ends up inflating the leader’s ego, and even people who were kind and just before moving into a leadership role can develop an inflated view of their worth. You’ve seen it before. That diminutive guy who did a competent job managing a key project becomes a little Napoleon when he is assigned his own team.

Recently I had a conversation about the dangers of leadership deduction with my college buddy, retired Capt. John Havlik. John spend 29 years as a Navy SEAL, and has seen the damage that cocky leaders can cause.

“The thing that will get a leader into trouble every time is hubris," he said. "When focus shifts from the mission and the team onto the leader, that mission and that team are going to be in big trouble.”

Havlik rightly points out that all you have to do is pick up the paper each day to see examples of leadership hubris. A recent example is the resignation of Uber’s cocky CEO, Travis Kalanick. He’s ego was on display for the world to see when a video of him arguing with an Uber driver went viral. After an avalanche of sexual harassment and other allegations, he was forced out. Uber is now challenged with cleaning up the damage that the “bro culture” Kalanick created.

As Uber’s example shows, even in hipster tech companies aren’t immune to leadership hubris. Drinking craft beer, wear skinny jeans and a bespoke tee-shirt, and sporting a beard won’t prevent hubris from harming your leadership. In July, David McClure, founder of the mentorship program 500 Startups, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. The title of the blog post he wrote after resigning says it all: "I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry."

Even in the military, where you’d hope that leaders would be expected to embody nobility and principled behavior, leaders have succumbed to hubris. Wayne Grigsby, a two-star general, was stripped of a star and forced to resign for having an inappropriate relationship with one of his staff members, a female captain. Grigsby became the first division commander to be relieved of his duties in over 45 years.

More recently, seven chief petty officers of the Navy, all deployed to the same cruise missile destroyer, were punished for misconduct ranging from adultery to public drunkenness.

Taking sexual liberties with others is often the most egregious display of leadership hubris. Four-star Army Ret. Gen. David Petraeus resigned as the head of the CIA after admitting to an affair with his biographer. He also showed her classified documents. Robert Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama and agreed never to seek public office again after a number of state employees claimed that they had been threatened not to reveal an affair he eventually acknowledged having.

In my conversation with Havlik, he stressed the importance of keeping your ego in check.

“A leader always needs to remember that he or she is there to serve the mission and the team. Period. Your influence on people and situations comes from your ability to be a role model," Pavlik said. "You need to be the standard-bearer of the values that you expect the team to live by. You’ve got to get your ego out of the way, because it’s constantly wanting to take over. The thing that will neutralize hubris is humility.”

Hubris narrows a leader’s center of focus to himself, ultimately making him selfish. Humility does the opposite; it focuses first on the needs of others. Preventing hubris means remembering that you’re no better than others, regardless of what cues you’re getting about how special you are because you’ve been tasked with leading others. Serving others in the best possible way means getting out of yourself.

Captain Havlik suggests heeding the advice of another ship leader. “Spock, from 'Star Trek,' had it right when he said ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ When you’re a leader, you’d do well to remember that leadership is about everybody else, not you.”


Bill Treasurer is chief encouragement officer of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company. For over two decades, Treasurer has worked with thousands of leaders across the globe, strengthening their leadership influence. His newest book, "A Leadership Kick in the Ass," provides practical tips for building confidence and humility. Bill frequently talks on leadership with Ret. Capt. John Havlik, Navy SEAL. To inquire about having Treasurer and Havlik strengthen your leaders, go to CourageBuilding.com.

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Why it’s up to you to create a civil workplace

Did you know that nearly half of the people in your organization are afraid to be civil to one another? According to Georgetown University researcher Christine Porath, more than 40% of employees say they hesitate to show civility at work because they fear people will take advantage of them.

Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and author of "Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace," has studied incivility in the workplace for nearly two decades. A great deal of incivility is due to a lack of awareness about our actions, not necessarily evil intent, explains Porath.

The workplace, with its reliance on technology as a primary means for communication, increasingly distances us from face-to-face interactions. This, in turn, makes many of us a bit rusty on the social niceties necessary for a high-functioning workplace.  

Has your office become a less civil place to work? If you’re in a leadership role, you have far more influence than you might realize regarding how others treat one another. Here are three things to consider when it comes to creating a more respectful workplace.

What norms are you setting around civility?  

Leaders set the norms for their organizations. People watch what you do and determine what passes as acceptable behavior. Leaders who step up and “go first” in terms of acknowledging their civility shortcomings experience better success in creating a respectful environment than those who simply send employees to civility training (yes, that’s actually a thing.)

Porath cites an example of an international law firm whose head partner brought in Porath to provide training on civility. Not only did the head partner participate in the training, the firm’s chairman of the board participated.

“About a year and a half after we began our work together, the firm won a Best Place to Work award,” notes Porath, something that would have been unlikely just a couple of years earlier.

Beware the contagion of incivility

Unfortunately, bad behaviors can be as contagious as a flu bug. Research has shown that we unconsciously mimic behaviors of those around us, including rude behavior. Start with your own actions: reflect on your emails, texts and in-person communication with your team. You may think you’re in the clear, but perhaps your attempt at being a good role model is being sabotaged.

Next, consider your entire team. Heads up: It’s not just the rude folks who are spreading the malaise. Porath’s studies found that even if people aren’t personally rude, they can be “carriers” of the scourge. People who observe incivility are three times less likely to be helpful to others and 50% less likely to share resources.

Civility is good for you and your team

The good news is that civility is just as easy to spread as incivility. Simple gestures such as smiling, saying “please,” “thank you”, and “I’m sorry” help pave the way to a more civil workplace. Extending courtesy also help keeps you healthy.

According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, you benefit physically and emotionally  when you show basic courtesy to others. Kindness also has a “domino” effect: research shows that when a group of people witness a positive act of kindness, everyone’s mood is improved, thereby making them more likely to pass along another act of kindness. This means that as a leader, your courteous acts when in team meetings and other group settings are amplified. It takes very little of your time to “get the ball rolling” and set a positive example of respect.

Writer Christian Nestell Bovee is credited with the words, “The small courtesies sweeten life; the greater ennoble it.” Are your actions as a leader ennobling or eroding the daily life of others in your workplace?


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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Opening with a negative may be a positive

All of us have heard negative comments when a new initiative comes our way. We are good at coming up with reasons for avoiding new work. It’s part of human nature. So if this is true, then why not address the concerns in the room at the outset?

Let your people vent their feelings first before giving them a new assignment. It is good to confront the issues in the room -- head on.

Once the explaining is done – by the manager, the employees or both -- it will fall to the manager to make things happen by handing out assignments. Before doing so, however, it would be wise to ask employees what they can stop doing so they have time to focus on the new project.

Asking employees to give up work to take on other work is not novel. Such an approach is rooted in lean thinking, where you pare away tasks that have no added value. Eliminating them frees up employees to do more without adding to their workload.

One final note. Be positive. Position the new project as an opportunity.

So next time your team is tasked with a major undertaking, consider opening on a negative (allowing people to vent) as a means to getting to the positive (a fully engaged team).

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2017, Trust Across America named him a Top Thought Leader in Trust for the fourth consecutive year. Global Gurus ranked John No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named John to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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Where brewers saw waste, this entrepreneur saw a business

Lead Human
SmartBrief illustration

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?"

If you are a beer drinker, doesn’t the idea of being able to eat it sound cool? That is exactly what Dan Kurzrock and his friend Jordan Schwartz thought when they started ReGrained and created their first product, a bar made from the “spent” grain from the brewing process.

Well, it was more of a realization. Kurzrock was an avid home brewer and he noticed how much grain was left after the brewing process. For the small brewer and even for the larger craft brewer this grain was waste. He felt there had to be some way to close the loop

In this interview, we talk about entrepreneurship, the food system, and upcycling what was once thought of as “spent” grain.

How did the idea for ReGrained originate?

"I learned how to make beer when I was 19 and fell in love with the hobby. I was only making five gallons of beer, but filling up coolers 20-30 pounds of grain. I would soak it in water, drain that liquid and continue with my brew day. At the end of the day, we'd have to do something with the giant vat of food. It occurred to us: Beer leaves food behind." 

"This stuff smelled like bread. It tasted kind of like oatmeal, mild, not super sweet but definitely not bad. We didn't know much about the nutrition at the time, but we knew that we were left with something that shouldn't be considered trash, yet was ending up in the dumpster. I was raised to care about our planet and its limited resources. So, I wanted to think of something clever to do with the leftovers. I had an entrepreneurial mindset, and while I couldn't sell my beer to my friends, I figured that if I could sell food made from the waste from my beer-making process. If I could get them excited enough about that, every week I could brew beer for free!"

"The original concept was to have a closed-loop brewery/bakery. But, as we started doing our research by interviewing brewers and paying attention to what's happening in this space, we realized our idea could be much more meaningful. Sure, we could create a novel brewpub, but we also identified a larger opportunity to build a platform between the brewing industry and the food system. Craft beer had started to boom. As of today, there are more than two new brewers opening per day. A lot of these breweries are opening in cities, which is a different ecosystem than a brewery that's in a more rural area."

“What we learned is that they, like us as homebrewers, are left with a lot of grain and not a lot of demand for it. Whereas most big breweries, can sell their spent grain to farmers. It really highlighted for us that the opportunity went far beyond our passion for making great beer. There was this emerging waste problem that could be reframed as food opportunity.”

“We discovered a rich history of home brewers making their own bread, and other baked treats. We found scientific literature about the benefits of this 'spent' grain, how it's high in protein, high in fiber, because once it's been used to brew, it's lower in sugar. We saw an opportunity to try and really create a market for this as a supergrain ingredient. It's a very old idea to not waste. You look at a cheese making, and the byproduct that they have, which is whey, that used to end up in waste streams. Now it's a huge source of revenue for cheese makers. I once had an expert tell me that many cheese makers now produce the cheese as the byproduct of whey.”

What’s your vision for ReGrained?

“My vision for ReGrained is to close the nutrient loop between the brewing industry and the food system, at scale. What I mean by that is that we are going to be the go-to solution for breweries, for upcycling their edible byproduct, and we're going to be the platform between them and consumers. ReGrained is going to become a household name for the next supergrain that pairs superior nutrition with taste and environmental impact. We see ReGrained as this vehicle for enabling our food system to do more with less, and being one of the shining lights of example of what the circular economy looks like for food.”

What keeps you up at night?

“Oh man, lots of things. I worry that we're not moving fast enough all the time. Sometimes I worry that we're moving too fast. That one cuts both ways. Right now, we're up against making a co-packer transition. I worry all the time that something will go wrong with that. Really what it comes down to when I think about what I'm actually concerned with, it's that we know that we are the first brand to put out a consumer product with this upcycled grain at its core. This is really exciting, but we're still a small company, and I hope we can continue to stay out in front."

What’s been the biggest obstacle?

“One of the things that has been really interesting is how you frame a food waste product to your customers. It's less an obstacle and more of a challenge. We make healthy, really delicious products that are also sustainable. We want our customers to know that every bar that they buy is making an impact, but we also don't want to yuck their yum.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

“Walk across to the other side of campus and find a food science person to be one of your co- founders with you and Jordan,” Kuzrock said with a chuckle. 

Would you do it again?

“Oh yeah, for sure. I love what I do. It's great. I can't imagine doing anything else. People ask me all the time, ‘Do you think you're going to start a bunch of companies?’ If this fails, sure, I'd probably start another company. I try to come up with ideas all the time, I love it, but I really believe in this one. I believe wholeheartedly that someone is going to successfully close this loop, and that it will be us. The ReGrained concept makes way too much sense. It's something that is so black and white in my mind that I could never imagine going back and not pursuing this opportunity." 


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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution, build velocity, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive.

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How to recognize and stop toxic time-wasters

Every workplace has a little drama, but knowing how to identify and stop drama is key to elevating your own productivity. 

The first step is to define the three toxic time-wasters: blindsiding, monopolizing, and negativity. The second step is to identify the common behaviors so that you can take charge of the situation. This article offers a description, a checklist and what to do if you get engaged with one of the top three toxic time-wasters.


Those who blindside use timing to their advantage, not to yours. For example, they smile before telling you something that sounds like vicious gossip, like you are the laughingstock of the office. They finish with “I just thought you needed to know.” Or they invite you to a friendly lunch but have a hidden agenda. For example, early in my career, I was invited to lunch by a friend who said he wanted to introduce me to someone who would benefit by some of my corporate training. The real intention was to get me into a network marketing downline.

A five-point checklist to identify blindsiding

  1. You are often caught off-guard by the conversation or the language.
  2. The other person discounts or belittles you.
  3. You don’t feel safe around this person.
  4. You don’t trust this person.
  5. The person gossips about others behind their backs.

What to do: Ask for the agenda before the conversation. If you are invited to a phone call or a lunch meeting, ask in advance, “What is our objective for the meeting?” Then at the phone call or meeting if you see the conversation heading in another direction, say this: “I thought our agenda was to discuss ...” When caught off-guard, take a five-second pause and then question the intention of their statement. Take control of blindsiding by preparing in advance.


The Monopolizer is long winded and can’t get to his point.  You wonder if there’s an end to the story. Caller ID was created for those who want to avoid the Monopolizer. If you ask the Monopolizer a “yes or no” question, he starts out with “It depends," and then goes into a 20-minute story before the story. You can yawn, you can tap your fingers but the Monopolizer is like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going.

A five-point checklist to identify monopolizing

  1. You use caller ID to avoid this person.
  2. This person often wastes your time or interrupts your agenda.
  3. Your energy feels depleted after being in this person’s high energy.
  4. You’ve heard the same stories time and again.
  5. You can’t get in a word edgewise.

What to do: Before calling this person, say “I only have five minutes and I have a question that requires either a yes or no.” Also, set good boundaries when you are interrupted. Say, “I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back at 2? When you call back, model the behavior you want from them by saying, “Is this still a good time? Great, I only have five minutes, but …”

Good boundaries and setting appropriate expectations empower you and diminish your negative emotions toward this person.


Negative Nellie always has a complaint. Every conversation is about what is not working and what someone else did wrong. If you try to help solve the problem they defend the problem, telling you that you don’t understand, and they’ve already tried everything you have suggested. They make you feel obligated to listen when they say that venting helps them feel better.

A five-point checklist to identify negativity

  1. You know the problem inside and out.
  2. There’s never a win, only complaints.
  3. You feel drained being in this person’s presence.
  4. “I already know that” or “I’ve already tried that” is their mantra.
  5. Their problem has become their identity.

What to do: Stop feeding the beast. Don’t give advice, and don’t discount. Simply say, “I’m sorry. It sounds frustrating.” Avoid the urge to make it better or to listen more than five minutes.

The reality is that venting only creates new neuro-connections for the purpose of venting. Don’t fuel the fire by joining in, advising or discounting. When they are ready for solutions, you can coach them to empowerment, but if they are dead-set on beating the drum of their problems, you need to be one less band member.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011) and the author of "No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her website, and connect via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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Confronting the jerk: What else can we do?

Accounts of egregious workplace behavior are suddenly all over the news – again. Harvey Weinstein and Mark Halperin are just two of the more notable figures recently identified of being guilty of such behavior.

Does such behavior exist in all organizations? Consider the male manager who’s known to be a ladies’ man, a bit of a flirt. But he’s harmless, right? Not necessarily. Then there’s the manager who’s a “bit” of a bully, who can harshly cut down people he doesn’t like.

So just stay on his (or her) good side and no harm done, right? Not necessarily. While this behavior may not sink to the level of Weinstein’s or Bill O’Reilly’s behavior, it’s there and it’s egregious, nevertheless.

Whether it’s sexual harassment, sexual assault or bullying, all of these behaviors have one thing in common -- power or perceived power, and the perpetrators are engaging in power plays, big time. Individuals who engage in such behavior are abusing their power or perceived power. Does that mean that everyone else is powerless? No.

Organizations can start by heightening awareness. Training won’t necessarily stop the behavior, which is often more pervasive than individual employees realize.  In sexual harassment training, the obvious behaviors are often discussed. In open conversations, the subtleties should be discussed.

Instead of training sessions, leaders have to encourage open conversations and nurture cultures where everyone -- employees and managers alike -- are encouraged to be up-standers. These are people who speak up and take a stand, rather than bystanders, people who observe the behavior but ignore it or do nothing.

Comments and behaviors that make anyone uncomfortable should not be accepted. Not accepting destructive behavior, denies the actors the license to engage in them. Let people know that it’s OK to respectfully confront both the behavior and the individual. For example:

  • I don’t appreciate it when you do/say that.
  • I don’t appreciate being spoken to in that manner.
  • Those comments border on vulgarity. Please stop.
  • Comments like the ones you just made are demeaning and belittling. You must stop making them, even in private.
  • We can’t accept this type of behavior at work. It attacks the very base of who we are as an organization.

What about policies on sexual harassment or bullying for example? Is having policies in place enough? Not necessarily -- not if there is no enforcement of the policies. Anti-harassment and bullying policies, for example should include, among other things, a clear complaint process and a clear investigation process to assure there is no excuse for ignorance on the part of management.

To strengthen these processes, organization can consider contracting with, for example, third-party whistleblowing firms to assist employees who report behavior. Outside investigators -- independent consultants or law firms -- can provide an objective look into the reports.

Anti-harassment policies should also include assurances of corrective action when harassment is found to have occurred. There is an obligation to remediate the behavior, to fix the problem. If the behavior doesn’t change -- can’t or won’t be fixed -- termination of the employee responsible may be the only option. If these things occur, and employees witness them occurring, then the anti-harassment policy becomes more than just a paperwork and compliance exercise.

Destructive people in the workplace have costs. Spell out the costs. Harassment and bullying behavior may be controversial, but it’s important, for starters, to understand the financial jeopardy with such behavior. Put a dollar figure to it. The costs associate with legal fees an litigation may be obvious, but before an organization gets to that point, there are costs of egregious behavior.

They include costs associated with:

  • absenteeism if victims are avoiding coming to work to avoid the perpetrators;
  • lost productivity and eroding employee morale;
  • turnover, especially frequent turnover;
  • health care -- egregious behavior has an effect on the victim’s health and welfare;
  • investigating complaints -- a use of managers' time, employees’ time, HR’s time;

Beyond the above costs, there are the costs associated with negative public relations if accounts of the behavior go public. You want to assure that your organization does not become a business-school case study in how ignoring the bad acts of employees can put an enormous strain, not to mention liability, on your organization.

The reputational blowback can be vast within your industry and community. It can affect client and customer loyalty as well as your brand.

Don’t excuse bad workplace behavior. Don’t accept ignorance of the behaviors or turn a blind eye to them just because the employee is key or a rainmaker for the organization. Step up and take action both as individual leaders and as organizations.


Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem are the authors of "The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book" (2017) and "The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook" (2015). Gamlem is president of GEMS Group. Mitchell is managing partner of The Mitchell Group.

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Make your inner voice your friend, not your foe

The Lead Change Group is a global, virtual community dedicated to instigating a leadership revolution, one leader at a time. Lead Change Group, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Brenda Wensil.

Our career journeys encounter many obstacles. Surprisingly, the biggest of these is not the external kind: money, resources, time. These are significant. But turns out it’s the internal barriers that can make us or break us. These are thinking patterns that create doubt or downright inaccurate perceptions of ourselves and our situations. 

This internal barrier is our inner voice. And it can be our biggest foe. It is the voice in our heads that sends messages, sometimes subtle other times blatant, that sound like this: “What if I fail?” “What if I’m not ready or not good enough?” “What if I can’t handle this?” “What if I’m not as smart as the next person (insert any name here)?” 

We call these messages limiting beliefs because they can hold us back from achieving our goals and operating as our best selves. A leading authority on the power of positive intelligence, Shirzad Chamine, says beliefs and how they influence our behavior is why only 20% of team and individuals actually achieve their true potential. Or rather, why 80% do not.

A woman we recently coached was in line for the next chief operating officer role for a large technology organization. Despite being the lead candidate for the role, she seemed hesitant. When asked what was holding her back, she said she didn’t think she’d had enough experience in her current role and that her colleague Ted, who was also in the running for the job, had more time with the company and knew the C-suite. He might be a better fit for the job, she determined. 

Her limiting belief of “I’m not qualified, not ready, and someone else is better” nearly eliminated her from the role before she’d even stepped into the opportunity.  Fortunately, she changed those beliefs to “I have great experience with this company and know the industry as well or better than anyone else. I am the best choice for this role.” She began to “see” success on her own terms. She was promoted into the role and has operated at a high level with less anxiety for some time.

The mind affects behavior. Our thinking patterns are like well-developed muscles. It takes time and focus to train and adjust them to new movements, new thoughts and messages.

Make your inner voice your friend by changing out the old messages for newer, more powerful and enabling ones. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Think back to a time when you were successful. Remember what it took on your part to create that success. Write down the key message or takeaway from that success, such as, “I am really good at leading the team” or “I bring years of experience in this area (strategic thinking, or planning, or risk management, whatever area you see).”
  • Pull out old feedback or a 360-degree report. Read through and focus on what others have identified as your strengths. Craft a new message to replace an old limiting belief.
  • Keep an accomplishments log. Do you have a "brag folder" or a place where you can save glowing/complimentary feedback emails? If not, start one. If so, pull them out and read. Develop new and empowering messages. Each time the old, limiting messages surface in your head, stop and insert the new message.

We are bombarded with negativity, and those tapes are easy to hear especially when we are stressed or facing big challenges and opportunities. You have to go in search of the good stuff. So, find it, have it ready, craft a new tape, and let it make you more confident and assertive.

Don’t let the old tapes limit you. There are more than enough external hurdles in our path.

Prevent your thinking patterns from being the formidable foes they can be. Make your inner voice your friend -- and win.


Brenda Wensil, a partner with Flynn Heath Holt, is an executive leader and certified and accredited coach with expertise in building collaborative partnerships, developing teams and leveraging cross organizational structures to improve leader performance and drive results. Flynn Health Holt’s new book, "The Influence Effect: A New Path to Power for Women Leaders," explores the effect of self-doubt and other barriers while providing strategies to women to drive their success.

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What will you do when things go bad?

There’s a lot to be worried about in business: the political climate, robots and automation, the future of entrepreneurism and innovation, the promise or peril of the gig economy. But imagine if we weren’t in an economy that’s been growing for years!

Like it or not, these are the good times, and that should make us concerned about how prepared we are, as leaders and companies, for the inevitable downturn. Maybe that time won’t arrive tomorrow or this year or even this decade, but it will. There’s always a downturn.

Why am I starting this post with such dire thoughts? Because leadership in these times is easy. You hire, you expand, you can talk all about motivating for excellence, building industries and helping people find a career and maybe a fortune. Technology is only a force for good (and productivity)!

This is also the time where you see many articles, books and TED talks about great leaders talking about why they are so great. Notably, they'll throw in some tale of hardship, but it's mostly about only success going forward, sprinkled with positivity and win-wins, maybe even win-win-wins.

In the bad times, none of that is the case. Revenue and profit suddenly are harder to come by. Customers leave you, if they even survive. You might be getting smoked by the competition, but that competition isn’t necessarily peer companies. It could be upstarts, regulation, foreign actors, a financial crisis, technological upheaval or even just terrible luck. Worst case, maybe you have no idea why things have gone bad.

Then, you’ve got to cut costs. That means laying off people, and not just the “bad” ones. Maybe your organization tries some new strategies and tactics, with varying levels of business intelligence behind these moves. All throughout, you’ve got to somehow keep yourself going, your team united and your company a going concern, when there isn’t a whole lot of optimism bubbling about.

Anyone can build and execute a strategy when money seems to be falling from the sky. It’s harder when none of the fundamentals seem to be going your way and everyone is distracted, angry, demoralized or all three.

On a personal level, how great is it to manage stars who do no wrong? A little more difficult when you need to ask the impossible of them because times are tough, when you need to lay off a good performer who’s done nothing wrong. How about when you have to pull back on perks, or training, or bonuses, or career growth? How about when you are automating their job – and they know it?

What to do before the crisis

Unfortunately, there aren’t easy answers, or else there’d never be recessions, bankruptcies or panics. All I can say is, start preparing now. This isn't about being pessimistic just because. Enjoy the good times! Grow, invest, develop, and go big! But also, try and examine contingencies while deciding what kind of leader you’ll be in tough times.

At a strategic level, try thinking about mindsets, questions to ask and self-examination (Steve McKee’s series is a good place to start). Think about what you’d do if your organization started losing customers, or if a new competitor rose up or threatened to displace you. What if revenue fell by 15% and your main product was being commoditized? Would you just slash costs and people while grasping at any new product? Or, would you think about a better, more sustainable way to fight through tough times and come out ahead?

Likewise, play out similar scenarios that could hit you and your direct reports. What if automation could do 50% of your job, or your team’s? What are your options? What if you or your organization started losing great talent because of bad managers, or a lack of growth potential, or because they don't believe in the organization anymore? What if you weren't allowed to replace the next two people who leave?

Will you let frustration or doomsday thinking reign? Or, will you get to asking questions, trying new things, being that creative force that a leader is supposed to be? (Julie Winkle Giulioni’s written about career opportunity, the difference between robots and humans, and overcoming bad systems.)

Preparation is a big part of why people can keep calm during a crisis. Start now so that you can lessen the pain of hard times  -- not just for yourself, but for many others.


James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief's leadership newsletter and blog content, as well as newsletters for distributors, manufacturers and other professions. Before SmartBrief, he worked in newspapers for four years, where he witnessed the industry's ongoing struggles with digital amid the great recession. Find him at @SBLeaders or email him.