Silence from the Black Box








It’s easier to remain silent.

We learn this  in our earliest and most foundational relationships:

  • Don’t talk back to your father (child/parent)
  • Don’t talk in class (student/teacher)
  • It’s my way or the highway (athlete/coach)

This socialization, combined with the wiring in our brains that makes us highly tuned to how other people feel about us, make it easier to remain silent.  More so in hierarchical environments, like the workplace, where many people feel vulnerable to the whims of their boss or team leader.  Despite their experience and training, the default is usually acquiescence.  After all, no one ever got fired for staying silent.

But what if you worked somewhere that silence could lead to death?  Like in the cockpit of an airplane.  The recent news of Boeing 737 crashes has reminded me that silence, deference or deafness in the cockpit is a leading cause of preventable airline crashes.  In this article from 2018, a retired airline captain reviews some of the crashes that lead to the creation of Crew Resource Management (CRM), a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have a devastating effect.

Learn more about Crew Resource Management

In describing two crashes from the late 1970’s he states “Neither accident should have happened because some of the crewmembers knew things were going wrong but could not persuade the captain.”  Now CRM, is a major component of every airline safety program.

Every pilot is taught the skills of leadership, followership and effective communication

Followership might not be a word in the English dictionary that we are familiar with, but it should be a skill that every manager tries to master.  It starts by giving a voice to everyone on the team and communicating with them in a style that works for them.  Some are extroverts, comfortable in large groups and are OK talking over each other in a meeting.  Others will need time to think, consider the options and craft a complete and thorough response.  It’s a manager’s job to hear them all and eliminate the silence that kills.

We are all working to the same goal – whether that be landing a plane safely, completing an open heart surgery or making our revenue targets – and everyone is responsible for that goal. If we learn from the CRM playbook, we can still be the captains of our team at the same time we are being responsible to the concerns and needs of our fellow crewmembers.

If you’d like to discuss your followership, click here to Pick My Brain for free.



Should a Good Manager Take Criticism Personally?

Do any of us take criticism well?

For me, I expect to be able to take it better than I do.  I know that it’s needed and important to my growth as a person and in my career.  I know that it’s important that my decisions and behaviours are course corrected when necessary by someone who I like and trust.  Sometimes that’s my boss.  Sometimes it’s a friend.

But criticism still hurts because it’s personal.

It doesn’t matter that it’s delivered professionally and compassionately and privately by someone that I trust. It’s a rebuke of my behaviour and that is personal.

And that’s OK.

I am going to refer to Trevor Regan‘s   post called “Choose the Wild” quite a bit here, as much of what he has to say is relevant to taking criticism.  So please read his post and watch the video at the end as I cannot do him justice with my paraphrasing.

If you live in a world where no one criticizes you, you are a tiger living in a zoo.  All safe and easy. There is no struggle. In fact, you are hiding from the struggle, the fear and the failure that a jungle tiger lives with every day.

In the world of the mid-level manager, the fear of criticism and the failure it represents is one of the scariest things you will experience in the workplace jungle.  Because that project, that sale, that event, that new product is a reflection of you and if it fails, you fail.  And failure is very personal.

But it’s also part of the jungle life.  You know who never fails?  The zoo tiger.  The manager who does the minimum to keep his job.  The guy who says the right things and performs in front of the big boss but checks out with everyone else.  He’s not growing his team, pushing out new products, hunting for new clients or volunteering for a new project.  He’s hiding in his comfort zone where there is no chance he will be criticized or fail.

So if you’ve chosen to be the jungle tiger, how should you deal with criticism?

Take a moment to acknowledge the failure and to take it personally.

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That’s right, I want you to take it personally in whatever form that is for you and give it time to hurt.  I encourage you to take criticism personally because you are a person and not a cog in a machine.  If you care about your work, criticism should sting a little and hurt your pride.  In the moment, you need to acknowledge the failure and own it.

For me, taking it personally means calling the boss names under my breath and challenging their intelligence as I talk to myself on the drive home.  I think about the running list of petty grievances that I have with the world.  And I give myself time, usually until the next day, to let it sink in.

As a manager, remember how personal criticism is when delivering it to someone on your team and do it professionally, compassionately and privately.  Give them space to take it personally, even if that means they have to leave the office.  If you were in their shoes, you’d appreciate the understanding and so will they.

If someone doesn’t take it personally, that will tell you something as well.  Start to see if other signs of a zoo tiger are present in that person – hiding, being checked out, performing, or making excuses.  It might be time to force the cage open and drop them into the wild.  Or lend them to another zoo.

After you have given yourself time to take it personally, then get over it and start moving forward again.  Once you’ve made the pitch, launched the product or started manufacturing, it’s all out there with your name on it and it won’t be perfect.  Recognize that criticism and failure are part of being in the jungle.  Acknowledge the intent behind the criticism and make the changes suggested.  Fix the problem.  Go to version 1.1.

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The experience will have made you better and next time, because there’s always a next time in the jungle, the critics will be fewer and the failures will be minor.  And you will be ready for the next challenge.

Read another post about Becoming a Better Mgr

The Martyr as Manager

Too many managers are martyrs and that holds them back from being great leaders.

I should know.  I was one of them.

Merriam-Webster defines a martyr as :  “a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle     For martyrs that are managers, the principle that they are beholden to is some variation of “the company can’t survive without me” and the things of great value that they sacrifice are their health, their relationships at work and home, their sleep, their peace of mind and the future of their career.

In my case, my martyrdom revealed itself around vacations.  I took the days, but never planned them and most years didn’t take all the days allotted.  Two phrases that I used when vacations came up  were “I like being at work too much” (for co-workers) and “the thing the company counts on the most is that I am there every day” (to myself and family).  And in the time off I did take,  I was rarely taking it off for actual vacations.  I’d take the first week of school off, to further my martyrdom by helping my wife, who works in education, and my kids adjust to the first week back.  It was help they did not need and I was happy to play the martyr there, too.

My friend Sheldon knows all about it:

I was proud of the fact that I was rarely missed work, even when mildly sick , and looked down on people that took what I deemed excessive sick days.  I was three years without a sick day in 2012 when I landed in the hospital for 10 days with a bilateral pulmonary embolism.  But I was back to work part time a month later, when most take six months to recover I told people, and a year later almost worked myself back into the hospital by not taking vacations or sick time.

It’s a crazy spiral that only drags you and your career down.  In the moment, you may think that the big bosses can’t help but notice your dedication to the company and will reward your sacrifice with promotions and raises and praise.  But they didn’t in my case and they likely won’t in yours because martyrs are a pain in the ass and promoting you will only encourage that behaviour in yourself and in others.

So take some time at the beginning of the year to plan all your vacations for the next 12 months and include your family in the planning.

This simple act keeps your work life in perspective and keeps you looking forward instead of getting mired in the present. Your family will thank you, your team will thank you  and your company will thank you, for bringing the best version of yourself to work and being a good role model for others.

Fearing the Closed Door

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fundraising event that featured Jim Treliving as the keynote speaker.  Jim is the founder of Boston Pizza and one of the original Dragons on the business pitch show Dragon’s Den.

One of the pearls of business wisdom he shared was that he doesn’t have a door on his office and neither does his business partner.  Not just an open door, but no door.

In a recent interview, he explained that no door ensures the openness between them.  At the event last week, he expanded on that to say that when he started his career as a Mountie, a closed door meeting was almost always bad – it meant you were being fired or being transferred – and I am sure everyone in the station knew it.

He did go on to say that there is an office with doors they do use when needed.  Despite his intentions to create an atmosphere unlike what he experienced with the RCMP, I would bet that his whole office knows what happens when a door closes.   In an office with no doors, making a point to meet in a special room behind a closed door will be seen as an extreme circumstance, and it will ripple through the building in a negative way.  Conclusions will be drawn, narratives will be formed, work will not get done.

A better approach might be to make a closed door meeting so common place, that your team neither fears it or gossips about it.

The best way to do that is regularly meet with team members, either individually or in teams, behind a closed door.   Have weekly manager meetings behind a closed door.  Invite key clients in for presentations and close the door.  Remove the stigma that closed is bad (click here to read a previous post on this topic)

There is legitimate, important, future of the company kind of work that needs to be done in privacy and some of the most important work that a manager does will happen with the door closed, as they provide counsel, protection and guidance for their team members.

Every person who has needed a place of refuge and a person they can trust can only get it behind a closed door.



Anyone Can Be a Good Manager

That’s right, anyone.

It does not matter how much experience you have, your age, your level of education, your communication style or your personality.  You can be a good manager.

Because being a good manager is a process.  And this process has steps and concrete things you can learn and apply that are universal to managers everywhere, no matter the size of company or the country it’s located in or the industry it serves.

The process begins by MANAGING NOT DOING.  When you move from a “doing” job into your “managing” job it’s important to remember that the managing is the work, and your habits should reflect that.  Spend 50% of your time on your team – coaching, training, praising in public and working the big boss and the system to make sure they get the resources and the love they need.  But let them do the work.  You may have been the best sales person, CSR or accounting clerk before you were promoted, but now your success depends on their ability to perform.  Imagine what they can do with a superstar manager.

Your long term success as a manager depends entirely on the next part of the process, getting your team to KNOW, LIKE AND TRUST you.  This requires you to consistently be yourself – whether introverted or extroverted, numbers driven or big picture dreaming – so your staff can count on you being the same person every day. It matters less about who you are and more about being that person consistently and authentically.  Brooding and locked in your office on Monday and giving high fives and playing rock music on Tuesday will only confuse them.

While they are getting to KNOW you, you can get to know them by paying attention to them as individuals and listening to what they have to say.

People are hard wired to LIKE other people that are interested in who we are and what we care about – and all it takes is regular, careful listening.

The final component is TRUST  – hardest and longest to win and the easiest to lose.  You will be trusted if you do what you say you will do and deliver for your team and the team as individuals exactly as promised.  Great things have been accomplished on the backs of making sure someone has the exact colour post-its they feel they need for the job.

The final step in the process is living a managerial life dedicated to SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  You can always tell a bad manager because it’s always about them. In the meetings with the big boss they refer to themselves and not the team, they suck the oxygen out the room during meetings, deliver sermons from on high and assign themselves the key accounts and the high profile clients.  A good manager is about the team – first, last and always.

Time to stop doing.  Time to start the process and Become a Better Manager.

Good Manager Bad Manager – Jurassic World

Her clothes say it all.  They are professional, tailored, expensive and perfect for an executive at a large clothing retailer.  So why is she wearing them at a dinosaur theme park?

Because it’s all about Claire – who she thinks she has to be. Who she wants to be. How she wants to be perceived.  Which are all signs of a Bad Manager.

It should be about the guy with 20 toy dinos lining the top of his workstation and the retro Jurassic Park t-shirt – he is not just collecting a paycheck.  He is in it for the Dino love.

So Claire, drop the corporate armor and the bad shoes and get yourself a Khaki shirt and some hiking boots, then ask the Dino guy the names of the dinos on his desk.  You will get to know him and he may start to like you.  Trust is not far behind.

Good managing is all about the people that work for you.