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One of the more common phrases I have heard from managers struggling with what appears to be a failing employee, is “I will just have to manage them out.”

This idea has always puzzled me. What they are effectively saying is that they will have to go through the required steps of ‘performance management’ in order to get rid of this person. In other words, the decision is made, so now we just have to build a paper trail and get rid of them without getting into trouble.

With this singular change of mindset, we have moved from using coaching as a tool to gain improvement, to a hollow sham, required to terminate someone’s employment without getting sued.

By necessity this involves deception, as the employee thinks they are getting help when in fact the leader is just ‘going through the motions’ towards a predetermined outcome. I have never understood how any business can justify this kind of behaviour and still claim to have a good leadership culture. It is utter nonsense and also completely unnecessary.

Over the years, when I have been asked to coach a manager struggling with this process, I have usually found that the reason they are stressed is that they know they have not offered the employee the kind of coaching or mentoring that they should have. Maybe they don’t have the skills or just haven’t prioritised it highly enough but now the pressure is on and they don’t know what to do.

I usually begin the session with a series of diagnostic questions. So Allison, let’s start with the records of their training, the coaching you have done, their probationary reports and annual reviews and see what we have.”

Awkward silence usually follows.

“Ahh, I think I have some diary notes somewhere.” Shuffle, shuffle. More silence”

And don’t think this only happens with small businesses. I have sat across the table from HR Directors at very large companies, asking the same questions, asking them to show me evidence of what policies applied and what was done to help the employee only to have the same result. Even large companies with outwardly good reputations and ‘values’ (brands you would know) struggle to have any kind of consistency in how they deal with their people.

Companies that use robust recruiting methods (behavioural profiling, job profiling and properly trained interviewers) start off on the right track but it has to be followed up. During the probation period which us usually 6 months, the ‘new hire’ needs regular coaching sessions with their leader to ensure they are on the right track and have all the support they need.

In Australia, a Learner Driver needs 100 hours of active mentoring in varied road conditions before being given a licence and even then, has restrictions on them for years afterwards yet some companies are happy to hand over a job to someone after a tour of the office and the tea room. Training will be offered if the job has a technical element but often it is just a case of ‘get on with the job’ and opportunities to shape the performance of the new person are lost. Importantly they are often left to interpret the workplace culture without any help, so it’s no wonder many struggle through their first year…

In most cases if the leader carries out effective and thorough probation coaching and mentoring, it will be clear if the person is not suited to the job, long before the company ‘owns’ them. It will also be clear to the employee and they may leave of their own accord, which is as it should be.

Effective leadership and coaching can also catch problems long before they become serious enough to consider ‘managing someone out. Most problems can be corrected and can even be prevented if we ask ourselves as leaders, “Could anyone else have made the same mistake or had the same problem?”  If the answer is yes, then we have a ‘system problem’ not an employee one and getting rid of this person won’t make any difference.

In any case, prevention is the always best option and that starts with effective leadership and coaching from Day 1, not just when the calendar pings and tells you it’s time for their annual review. (If you have to think about what to write at annual review time, it means you haven’t been paying attention.)

However, if you get to the point that you have offered the employee all the help and assistance there is available, have documented your efforts and their commitment to improve and their performance is still not satisfactory, you might find that again, they leave voluntarily but if not, you can let them go, knowing you have done everything you can.

As a bonus the steps you have gone through to help them, also take care of your obligations to offer assistance and support.

Importantly, your other employees will see this and know you are a person of integrity and that can only be good…



A friend of mine has a coffee cup which displays the pithy caption “I see Dumb people”- a lovely play on The Sixth Sense but seemingly, more and more appropriate if we pay attention to the conversation in some parts of the media and public discourse.

The impulse to contribute our ‘two cents worth’ is intrinsic in all humans and I suspect that I am not the only person shaking my head at the incredibly ill-informed things that some people say. Still there is hope in that the more well-travelled, better educated or widely read (and I might say many of the younger people today) have an improved sense of the world not being binary in a way that contrasts the “If you’re not with us you’re against us” mentality held by some, yet it is often these black/white, us/them people who have the loudest voices and manage to play on fear to convince people that what they are saying is the ‘truth’.

The world and the 7 billion or so if us who share it make a complex and changing mix and if we are to navigate the human jungle in a productive way, it is more important than ever to be well-informed and open-minded.

Perhaps it is fear of this change that has caused some people to retreat into fixed positions regardless of the mountain of evidence that shows their approach to be untenable and unsustainable. The world is passing them by and they don’t know how to respond.

The enormous amount of information available on the World Wide Web has both improved and worsened this phenomenon.

There is an enormous benefit in the democratisation of information. The wealth of knowledge of generations, is available at a click of a button but so is every nutter conspiracy theory ever devised and anyone adept at using clever web-based software can make it harder to distinguish between the two.

We can now indulge our natural human tendency for pattern matching to find ‘evidence’ that supports our beliefs no matter how irrational.

It is not necessary for me to offer a comprehensive list of the thoroughly debunked beliefs that some people cling to, regardless of the mountain of proof to the contrary staring them in the face. We all believe what we believe because we are constructing the world we perceive in our head as we go along.

Our perception is never reality. It is our version of reality.

In the world there are established facts. There are things that are researched, repeatable, demonstrable and reliable. Then there are theories. People often confuse a Theory with a Hypothesis. A Hypothesis is a guess as to a cause. A Theory is an explanation that has come from testing a hypothesis. Theories are supported by evidence and are refined and improved upon until they have sufficient evidence to be accepted as the explanation for something.

Science is a great example of a process where the accepted ideas are never safe from challenge. It is built on peer review which consists of every other scientist in your field trying to shoot down your theory. If it is survives peer review it is considered reliable but it always remains subject to challenge.

Perhaps our opinions should be subject to the same process. Even more so with the media from where many develop their own opinions.

In years gone by, newspapers and TV News had real journalists fact-checking their stories and opinions were confined to the Editorial Section or clearly labelled as Opinion pieces. This surge towards News as a ‘retail product’ rather than a public service has seen a whole industry of ‘Fact Check’ organisations emerge for the express purpose of verifying or debunking “News” stories.

Perhaps we need specific consumer labelling laws applied to News organisations where Newspapers and nightly News shows must display clear disclaimers stating “Assembled from local and imported opinions. May contain traces of Fact”

Facts matter. Reason matters. Intelligent debate matters. It is what has brought us from the plains of Africa to the modern world.

Just like a Hypothesis, a belief or opinion is a place to start not a position to hold against all odds.

When confronted by an opinion with clear faults, you can choose to ignore it or if you feel the need to engage, use a questioning approach like: “That is interesting – what report/statistics/research is that based on?” and “Do you think that is always true?” or “The last time you were there is that how you found the people?”

Unfounded opinions usually melt in the glare of a question asking for verification.

Emotion blinds logic and rationality. The trend towards conspiracy theories and ‘denialism’* in some quarters is evidence of this.

So what has this to do with leadership and the working world?

Well as leaders it is crucial for us to be objective and to not allow our emotions to interfere with our judgement – particularly with regard to employees and to recognise that the stronger we feel emotionally about something, the more we should investigate and critique our own opinions before we speak or act.

If we are to be credible as leaders and fair to our people (which is a fundamental necessity to ensure their support) we have to work diligently to ensure that what we say is based on the most accurate information available and where new information becomes available, to present it honestly and when appropriate adjust our course.

In every performance management case where I have advocated for an employee, the Management has failed to be objective, know their own policies and procedures, had decided the outcome before commencing the investigation (and before meeting with the employee) and did not look at how their own behaviour, culture, practices and policies contributed to the employee error or behaviour.

In each case the Management had to overturn its decision and in some cases reinstate and/or pay compensation to the employee.

Completely unnecessary and just plain dumb.

A pause to reflect or research is always preferable to a self-inflicted mouthpocalypse…


*If you are interested in the Denialism phenomenon, I highly recommend two books:

Denialism by Michael Specter

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore )

Over the years in blogs, workshops and talks, I have explored the art of being wrong and why it is so healthy. It seems it is time yet again, to shine a light on the rightness of our wrongness.

It is a fact that progress, such as humans have made it – has been ever driven not by being right but by being wrong, recognising it and adjusting our trajectory.

In centuries past, few people had access to information at all and those that did often used it as political or religious tool to exert control over the masses.(Whether the information was correct is another story.)

We all like to think we are well informed and not prone to outdated or erroneous thinking, so when I say emphatically that being wrong is healthy, people often look at me like I’m a little bit odd.

It has taken the whole of human history to arrive at a point where we can instantly compare our world view to known facts and correct ourselves but for some people it has also provided the capability to be convincingly wrong by searching the Web and finding legions of others who believe in the same nonsense.

The Internet has at once, provided source knowledge to the seeker and validation to the vacuous. For the latter, ‘Groupthink’ has become their new ‘happy place’.

Some time ago I was watching one of my favourite satirical news shows “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” where he was featuring a book called ‘Wiser’ and interviewing the author Cass Sunstein.

Stewart has a knack for dissecting US and World news and often eviscerating, with humour, disingenuous politicians and public figures usually by showing clips of them exhibiting self-serving and intellectually bankrupt behaviour by changing their political positions and ‘heartfelt beliefs’ for personal gain.

Mind you, I am not talking about gaining new information, realising you are wrong and changing your mind, rather it is when position change is adopted as a form of cynical manipulation, in order to take advantage of the brief nature of public memory.

In ‘Wiser – Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter’ Sunstein explores the influence of our personal networks on how we see the world and what struck me was not any startling new insight but rather the stunningly unsurprising conclusions researchers have reached about human behaviour and how we form or change our opinions.

The research he quotes, found that in a group with diverse opinions, the overall mentality and range of opinions will be moderated to a more centrist approach but when people are separated into like-minded groups they tend to veer fairly rapidly towards the extreme version of their belief systems.

If you tend to conservative thinking you will become more so and vice versa.

So is it “Well done Captain Obvious?” Not so fast.

Radical mobs and witch hunters have been demonstrating this behaviour for centuries but in the modern age, it is somewhat surprising to see it still so entrenched.

It seems that having more information available to us, particularly via the Internet has for some people, not made them more able to evaluate the validity of their own opinions by seeking reliable facts but rather able to seek out people who agree with them in order to make them more comfortable in a world that may be at odds with their current reality.

People can find any amount of seemingly credible information to support their views and this can lead to unnecessary arguments.

Standing on either side of a wall lobbing epithets or bombs at each-other is a stupid and fundamentally unproductive way of finding solutions to problems, be they industrial, social or political.

Negotiation and compromise or bargaining is the only way to gain long term benefit for the population at large because the vast majority of us have everything in common and live at the centre of the political spectrum not the fringes.

There is value in understanding the arguments of both sides of political, industrial and economic debates but this can only be found if we take the first step by realising that our current belief systems may not be correct or well-informed enough.

The irony of some extreme viewpoints is that they are terrified of evidence-based science and solidly established facts and often imagine vast conspiracies of evil (but oddly relatively poorly-paid) scientists coordinating vast disinformation campaigns to enslave ‘the people’ (how is unclear) yet Science is one of the only areas of human endeavour where people MAKE their careers and reputations by finding evidence to prove that the current position is incorrect.

They actually earn Degrees in Debunking! This is called The Scientific Method and relies on demonstrable evidence – not personal beliefs.

Any new theory has to make it through a Peer Review process where other scientists do their very best to destroy it by finding conflicting evidence or flaws in the process but if after this intellectual feeding frenzy has run its course the evidence still stacks up, it becomes the new factual basis for the next stage of research.

The key is that ‘opinions’ or ‘interpretations’ don’t cut it.

In science a cornerstone belief system can be shattered with a single new discovery and the scientific community picks itself up, dusts itself off and moves on to using this new information to expand our knowledge.

Scientists have to be prepared to be wrong. Very publically wrong – their theories, published papers and books debunked and yet take the new information, suck it up and keep going.

If only the rest of us could be so enlightened.

Unfortunately, the self-perpetuating ‘Groupthink’ that Sunstein describes in ‘Wiser’ seems to be much more pervasive than we may realise.

Pavlovian headlines shout for us all to act as one – that is to suspend critical thinking and act with our hearts and not our heads.

Instead when we feel instinctively emotional about an event, this visceral stab into the core of our emotions should be a warning sign to us to take a breath and investigate – not to swallow whole the hype. The more it hurts the more we should wait and think and investigate.

When the truth comes out, we then need to evaluate it against our previously held position and learn from any discrepancy. If it requires changing our opinions or correcting our statements, then so be it. It is a mark of integrity to say “I was wrong’ and a mark of cowardice to remain silent or cling to an untenable position..

If leaders do not have the courage to change their opinions based on new evidence, then our society is in real danger but here’s the rub – we as thinking people, must allow them to room to make corrections without being pilloried.

Remember, it took until 1992 (382 years) for the Catholic Church to admit that Galileo was right because it was fearful of diminishing its authority by showing it was fallible…

Any time an institution, society or individual seeks to preserve its power, wealth or position rather than acknowledging it is in error, it begins a process of dishonesty and corruption that will end in its downfall.

Interestingly, when we have the courage to re-evaluate our beliefs, no matter how strongly held, based on new information we become stronger not weaker.

So what do we do when we encounter people advocating clearly erroneous thinking?

I mean, haven’t we all been told that we have to respect other people’s beliefs?

Well that is part of the problem.We do not have to, nor should we – respect other people beliefs. Beliefs are not facts.

There are people out there who believe they are doing ‘Gods work’ by murdering others and I certainly do not respect their beliefs. They are clearly insane.

Rather, in a democratic society we must respect the right of all citizens to hold whatever beliefs they choose because this is a fundamental feature of free speech and freedom of expression but it does not protect them from critique. In fact challenging beliefs is the basis for democracy.

When we encounter people peddling what is clearly nonsense the best thing to do is play Socrates and ask lots of questions like: What evidence do you have to support that? or “Who told you that was true? and “Who told them?” Or ‘Did you know that the evidence shows that to be incorrect?”

As thoughtful members of society, parents, employees and humans, we must be willing to calmly challenge our own beliefs and those of others as new information becomes available. It is the only path to progress, peace and stability.

In an age where we can instantly compare our current beliefs against an enormity of reliable research and factual rational sources, there is no excuse not to prove ourselves wrong on a regular basis.

After all, how many adults still believe in Santa Clause?


Anyone who has been involved in a serious change project knows the challenges this can involve. (If you really want to step into the fire, try doing change management as a profession!)

I have had the interesting experience of carrying out or consulting on, a number of change projects and it seems to me, they fall into two distinct categories:

  • Urgent change on which the survival of the company depends
  • Incremental change / transformation that is future-focussed.

Nothing surprising there, so which should be simpler to execute?

A reasonable person would assume that urgent change should be the easiest to get under way, yet it is often the most challenging to carry out successfully.

While this might be counter-intuitive (If the change is urgent shouldn’t it get everyone’s support?) there are stranger things at play.

Usually, by the time a company decides that it needs ‘urgent change’ to stave off catastrophe, the ‘denial delay’ has seen lots of time wasted and by now, things are very serious.

At this point many organisations bring in change management consultants or appoint an internal manager from another division to lead the change.

Logically, a fresh set of eyes and someone without any political investment/alliances/baggage can quickly see what needs to be done.

Serious company problems can result from a variety of factors such as:

  • The internal focus on innovation, customer service and value has been lost and market share has declined or;
  • External economic or competitive factors have emerged and the company must work much harder to retain customer loyalty and deliver quality, even in the face of price or cost pressures

If this is combined with a situation where the agility and focus that created the initial success has been left to atrophy during the ‘good times’, corporate inertia can make change almost impossible to generate quickly enough to save the organisation.

Many companies large and small, even previously dominant brands, have through poor leadership and management, succumbed to this disease and are no more. (how many can you name?)

So if you are confronted with an organisation that has suffered from years of complacency, accumulated fat and consequent employee lethargy, is there a place for organisational emergency surgery or should the victim be unplugged from life support?

No surprise if I (as a consultant) say there is usually a possibility of survival and growth but with a caveat:

You must determine as thoroughly as possible:

Is the patient willing- really willing, to do what it takes?

“Why wouldn’t they be?” Ahhh but there’s the rub. Human nature can be quite perverse.

One only needs to observe otherwise intelligent people who are clearly aware of the dire consequences of smoking (read death) but cannot summon the will and persistence to quit!

Rationalisation and denial (often in concert) are key hallmarks of human behaviour, so it is no surprise when the members of the management team, who by inaction or incompetence, have for years been complicit in driving the company towards a cliff (these things rarely happen quickly) see the leader (CEO/MD) get the chop and collectively breathe a sigh of relief, chanting in unison “We never agreed with his policies”.

Having survived the spill,they will then often appear to embrace the new leader/change-maker to show the senior leadership or the Board that they are all for the change, after all as Churchill once observed:  “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

However, when leader/change-maker begins to identify the causes of the problems and some of them point to existing managers, procedures and behaviours, the mood can quickly turn hostile and be demonstrated in passive-aggressive behaviour.  

Unsurprisingly, some managers are far too attached to the comfort of their positions to want to commit to change – even if the company is at stake.

Sometimes people will even turn on each-other or the change-maker because after all, if the change effort succeeds, then by definition, they were part of the problem and are likely next for the chop.

So before commencing any change project, several big questions need to be asked and answered:

  • Is the new CEO or senior leader willing to lead the change and be brave enough to withstand the resistance that comes with it?
  • If the new CEO has hired a change maker, are they willing to support this person or organisation, as they do what must be done?
  • Is there solid support from the Board or governing authority?

I have asked these very questions and been assured of full support only later to be disappointed, so I have developed a few rules to help in deciding whether to take on a change project:

Rule 1: 

If the change sponsors don’t have the courage for the task, you are better off walking away.

  • There is nothing worse than watching the ‘change champion/s’ turning to water when things get tough because as soon as the doubters smell wavering they will run for the ‘safety of inaction’ and the impetus for change visibly dissolves around you.

But let’s say that you and your change team are guaranteed full support to execute your mission; well there are some other things to consider:

Rule 2:

In order to create urgent change there must be a commitment to boldness of action and persistence of purpose. 

Things to consider:

1  Rapid change when needed, can work very effectively as long as the ‘Boss’ offers effective communication before and after the urgent tasks have been handled.

2  Virtually all change doctrines stress ‘bringing everyone along’ with the change but when things are desperate, there is often not enough time to massage egos and in the process, you can guarantee that you are going to hurt feelings and cause insecurity. 

3  People naturally resist change (organisational inertia) but in the heat of battle you can’t form a committee to discuss everyone’s feelings, you just have to get on with the job. (In an emergency, you won’t see pilots taking a passenger survey on what to do next )

4  Most will go along with urgent change if there is a compelling reason to do so and the new direction has been expressed unambiguously.

5  If you have been given the job (as a consultant or internal manager) and are leading the charge to save the company, the senior leader must commit to ‘covering your back’.

Rule 3

Don’t assume that initial successes mean that the need for change is over.

Change initiatives whether personal or corporate can suffer from ‘the antibiotic effect’.

  • In medicine, this is cause for enormous concern. When a patient on a course of Antibiotics begins to feel better, they often stop taking the medicine, assuming that it has done the job. The problem is that the drugs have only killed off the majority of weak bacteria and stopping the medicine means that the drug doesn’t have time to wipe out all of the more resistant bacteria and as a result, we create super bugs.
  • Because change is painful, everyone wants it to stop as soon as possible, so when leaders ‘chicken out’ and fail to persist in bringing about lasting change, the seeds of the original condition can remain and they often return to haunt us.

The company may appear to be healed only to lapse into disarray at the first stressor.

This is why some companies just seem to lurch from crisis to crisis.

Any kind of change takes a robust understanding of human nature and a strong dose of realism accompanied by courage and persistence, or it is doomed to failure.

Sometimes ‘slowly, slowly’ isn’t appropriate and there is no other option but bold action.

As WW1 British Prime Minister David Lloyd George once said (quoting an old maxim)

“There is no greater mistake than to try to leap an abyss in two jumps.”



In some organisations there seems to be a love-fest with saying things that mean nothing or using entirely the wrong words or phrases to describe what you want to do.

Add in the wide variety of corporate jargon and you can have a recipe for confusion and inaction.

Recently I saw an apt cartoon that read “Seriously, if I hear the word Strategic one more time I am going to hurl!”

I agree! What people misusing terms like this don’t realise, is the corporate cringe that accompanies it. (Slap forehead-Not again!)

Strategic is LONG term Structural planning, Tactical is SHORT term actionable. You don’t solve the problem of a photocopier out of paper by developing a team strategy… You just fix it…

Many years ago working in the US, I learned a game to play at management team meetings. (You may have a version you have used) each of the department managers would pick a several terms of jargon prior to the meeting and then as each one was used, it was subtly marked off the list. The first person to complete their list whispered ‘Bingo’.

It was a fun way to remain aware of ‘nothing’ words or phrases. Politicians are famous for speaking a lot and saying nothing but they are often left in the dust by corporate leaders.

I have, over the years, noted that the issuance of this kind of waffle has a direct relationship to distance from the front line – effectively the further from where the money is made, the more waffle. (I am thinking of calling it ‘Bentley’s theorem’)

Here are some gems I have heard in the past:

“Re-crystalising our objectives”:

Translation: What the hell do we do now?

 “Reinvigorating team synergy”:

Translation: “How do I stop you people fighting?”

 “Feedback is a gift”:                      

Translation: “I think your work is crap but I don’t have the moral courage to actually say that and then help you get better. By the way it’s not re-giftable so don’t you dare give any to me!“

And my favourite:

Paradigm shift: Defined by Urban Dictionary[1] as:

Has no real meaning, but people like to pretend it does.

E.g. “Now that I am the manager, we are going to experience a paradigm shift in the marketing department”

If you want to have fun in a meeting you can politely say: “I’m not really sure what that means – can you explain please?”

If they waffle again you can ask: “Can you help me with a way to explain that in plain language to my front-line people?”

This kind of language is often used to disguise the fact that the person speaking has no idea what to do or how to do it.

When questioned they will often say:

 ‘Let’s take this off-line and discuss after the meeting”

“Translation:  “I don’t know what it means, so I can’t explain it to you”

As a leader it is best to avoid any kind of jargon. If you can’t say it in plain language then don’t say it. You need you people to trust you so being straightforward, even if the news is bad, is the way to go.

While some good, in terms of behavioural awareness came out of the ‘self-help craze’, people who walk around spouting Guru talk are usually not acting on any of the principles they espouse or misunderstand them completely.

As the old saying goes-“Beware of the man on the street corner saying his prayers” because isn’t it funny how the most pious/conservative/rigid/judgemental people often turn out to be the most corrupt…

You don’t need to walk around using catch phrases, jargon, corporate affirmations or frothing company values.

People are smarter than you may think and you will get a reputation as someone to be ignored or parodied.

If you lead well and people trust you, they will absorb the company values (provided that they actually mean something and apply to everyone in their jobs).

Avoid talking about your philosophy or beliefs, instead incorporate them into your everyday behaviour.

That’s what being Naked is all about.


I was on one of the many  People/Business/HR forums I monitor  and came across a post asking how to deal with ‘insubordinate employees’. What a loaded question!

How could a Naked Leader not respond to that! Here is my little rant.Enjoy!

“Firstly – define insubordinate…  Just the use of this terminology indicates that the leader’s ego is engaged and not in a good way.

Far too many leaders get precious about feedback. If your people cannot be open and honest with you-even blunt-you have failed already.

One of my favourite quotes is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (but is actually much older than that): To paraphrase it- “No-one can insult you without your permission.”

If you are an effective, emotionally mature leader (or human) it will be almost impossible to be offended by anyone. The fact that you feel offended or see their behaviour as ‘insubordinate’ means that you have made the transaction about you – not the problem at hand.

Here’s a clue from Naked Leadership®: Leadership is not about you it is about them…

The term insubordinate means literally that you perceive that they are no longer ‘subordinate to you’ i.e. they have dared to address you as an equal. This smacks of insecurity and arrogance.

What I suggest to all of my clients and seminar attendees is that if one of your employees walks up to you and says: “You suck!” Or words to that effect, rather than getting all upset, you simply reply: ”Thanks for the feedback. Can you explain in exactly what way I suck?”

This has two immediate effects: it reflects back to the person what they have just said and disarms them because they are expecting a fight and it allows you to question them further to find out the source of their discontent. No normal person takes this kind of extreme (and almost certainly job threatening) action without a very good reason.

A good leader practices mental Aikido. They move out of the way of the attack and assess their adversary.

It has been my experience over quite a few decades as a leader and as a coach that if we engage the complainers rather than reacting to them, we might find that they are the only people willing to tell us the truth. I stress to my clients that they seek out what we here call the ‘whingers’ and find out what is bothering them. It is rarely without justification.

The aviation industry long ago learned to decrease as much as possible, the ‘power gradient’ between the Captain and the rest of the crew. A power gradient builds mistrust, fear of speaking up and creates an inability to determine a problem before is has negative effects. It can directly lead to accidents with catastrophic results.

A leader must have the ability to take all manner of feedback and dispassionately evaluate it. We have to be open to the idea that we can be wrong.

So the question is: If you are easily offended by employee comments-should you really be a leader? I would suggest that the answer is no.

If you take the time to Ask Questions and Shut up and Listen (Naked Clue #2)® you may find that there is key information in their discontent.

As a leader you have to be the Coach and the Umpire. You have to be emotionally Disconnected from any situation in order to make good judgements.

If people can trust you enough to be honest, even brutally so, you have an opportunity to fix whatever is wrong before it spreads the damage – in effect: to get out in front of the challenge and focus on prevention.

In other words… to Lead….

This personal extension of Descartes’ moment of illumination has begun to be more apparent to me as the years go by.

(Make yourself a coffee – this is going to be a long one)

Over the last decade, I have become more acutely aware that we are being conditioned to think less and less or at least, to avoid thinking critically and this enables all manner of injustice to be perpetuated with little outcry.

Case in point: At present in my state, the government has begun a ‘war on motorcycle gangs’ and has banned many such organisations from gathering together. Mind you, they don’t have to be gathering to commit a crime, just getting together.

This, according to some media, has widespread support in the community and clearly the government has ‘shown leadership’ by taking action to curb a crime wave initiated by these individuals.

As my personal motto is ‘Question everything’ I decided to explore for myself, what surely must be some significant justification for the government to pre-emptively remove the rights of some of its citizens. Surely the widespread fear of these rampaging violent criminals so frequently reported in the media, must validate all possible methods to keep us safe?

Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long to realise that this appears to be another case of A war on….(insert distraction of the month here)’  Yep – another ‘war on terror’ which turned out to be a tragic farce built on falsehoods which made the world a much less safe place.

Bur please don’t believe me, according to the state police’s own statistics[1] these ‘gang members’ account for .04% of the crime in the state.[2]

So let’s do a little thought experiment and use these numbers to look at an activity that these ‘violent criminals’ are most likely to be involved in.

According to official statistics, there were 5338 reported ‘violent acts’ (not convictions mind you) in 2011-12. Now applying the governments percentage of crimes carried out by ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’ we can deduce that these individuals could accused of – wait for it – 2 violent acts’. That’s right 2.

Now of course this is a statistical average and a portion of total crime but even if we allowed 10 times this rate there would still only be 20. If we multiplied this rate by 100 there would still only be 200 alleged violent acts and even police admit that this is usually amongst clubs, not with the public. 

Even if this 100 times multiple was true, it would still be 200 alleged acts in a state population of 4.5 million. Yet the current government has cleverly manufactured a climate of fear where a citizen’s right to freedom of association can be removed based on who their friends are… Fear is a powerful logic anaesthetic.

Crime wave? It’s not even a ripple but someone wants you to believe it is… Why is that?

Was P.T Barnum right? Are suckers really born every minute? Unfortunately yes…

Why? Because as humans, we react much more quickly and with much more vigour to our emotions than to logic. It is part of our survival mechanism that evolved over aeons but in the 21st century should our emotions still be leading us by the nose, even subconsciously?

What’s the harm? I mean really – logic is such a party pooper, a spoiler, a wet blanket. It is the person who sits behind you in the theatre and whispers “Vader is Luke’s father” or “The kid sees dead people so Bruce Willis must be dead” or “Red John is….” (just kidding).

What’s wrong with reacting emotionally? Well nothing – if it is for entertainment or fun or love or kindness or any other of the wonderful experiences that allow us to fully experience the richness of life but what about when weighing up truth or falsehood? Or seeing though media hype (If it bleeds it leads) to realise that what is happening is wrong? What about when administering justice or ensuring fairness?

That’s when we have to take a cold shower – even more so when we hold leadership positions. Leaders have the leverage and opportunity to promote a personal agenda or demonstrate our dislike of someone if we choose. This is because employees are vulnerable and not all leaders are objective.

As an employee, when we go to work for a company we exchange certain freedoms for a salary. This is a normal contractual type of arrangement and of course is voluntary. If we don’t like it we can leave. However, the unseen leverage begins the moment we become reliant on the financial security that a job often provides. This ‘security’ quietly permeates all areas of our lives and relationships and over time, particularly if we have children or do not have a partner earning enough to support the whole family, begins to open a door through which all kinds of nasty things can enter.

If we didn’t ‘need’ our jobs, bullying would be almost non-existent. We could invoke the vernacular cry ‘take your job and shove it’ and walk out.

In the real world however, this is often not an option. Unscrupulous, immature or low EQ[3] leaders can use all kinds of methods to ‘control’ their employees, to their satisfaction. For example, if the leader prefers quiet, they can insist that all the team whisper or pass notes in order to communicate. Sound ridiculous? I know someone to whom this happened. Team morale plummets and work becomes like a prison. You hate it but you can’t escape.

If there is one who stands up or protests, the same leader/s can describe this person unfavourably to other leaders and generally poison the well. Pretty soon an environment is created that is emotionally hostile to this person and because a number of others now share this opinion (not based on experience but hearsay) it makes the environment intolerable and what would ordinarily be an outstanding employee leaves or becomes ill with stress.

That is why we leaders we have both a practical and moral duty to think critically and clearly about everything we hear and see, in order to remain objective.  We must remain, (as I have said for many years in Naked Leadership sessions) The Coach and the Umpire’ – in this case the Umpire function being critical.

If we are told unfavourable stories about an employee we are inheriting, it is tempting to accept these as ‘real’ experiences from another leader’s perspective and treat them as accurate because as humans we are wired to enjoy a gritty story or scandal otherwise those Kardashians would be unemployed!

As the great 20th century philosopher Henley once observed: “This year notoriety got all confused with fame” and this is because gossip strongly appeals to our emotions and feels ‘real’.

In reality though, I have found that the people spoken most unfavourably of by their former manager, inevitably turned out to be my best most productive team members when give a fair chance.

People described as ‘adversarial’ ‘unprofessional’ or ‘difficult’ usually turn out to be the thinkers who can add real value to the organisation by exposing the ‘dumb stuff’ or at the least prompting a fresh look at what we are doing and how. As I relay in Naked Leadership®, whether I am consulting to or working within an organisation, I will go to the ‘whiners/whingers/complainers’ first and ask them to tell me all of their issues.

Often they are the only ones with the courage or relative freedom (they don’t need the job) to do so.

I can confidently say that in the vast majority of my experiences over the last decade and a half, it has turned out to be the leader, not the employee that is the problem

So how to deal with this and other issues where things that appear to be ‘facts’ are nothing more than distortions, myths, fabrications or simply lies?

Well personally, I rely on the cornerstone of the Naked philosophy which I nakedly adapted from Socrates. Ask questions then shut up and listen.

When someone uses a non-specific term like ‘adversarial’ ask them specifically how the employee demonstrates this. If the term ‘difficult’ or the like is used, again ask for a specific list of actions and situations so you can understand what is actually occurring.

Keep going until you have asked for detailed descriptions of every alleged behaviour. It will usually become clear after one or two questions that the leader is the problem and often they will suddenly have other things to do rather than stay and ply you with tales of miscreant employees.

Our world has changed. News has changed from reliable information into ‘infotainment’, the Internet both provides information for critical analysis and a platform for loonies and these days a whole range of media outlets can be owned by one person or corporation who decides to which viewpoint the journalists conform.

So do we give up or become hermits?

No. But rather than ranting at the perpetrators, when we feel our emotions being engaged unproductively we can snap out of it and ask ourselves:

”Why am I watching/listening to/accepting this crap?” Change the channel, stop reading that paper and practice being thoughtful about everything that is important.

Humans should have embedded in our DNA somewhere the impulse to question everything until we are comfortable that we have looked at all points of view, discerned what is accurate and what is not and made an informed judgement. (That’s why I don’t let my university students use Wiki as a reference!) Then keep an open mind and seek things that challenge your beliefs, so you examine them often.

A word of warning though; many people are comfortable living in denial or blissful/wilful ignorance or being complicit in injustice by ‘keeping their heads down’ and those leaders who use manipulation and oppression to rule, do not want you peeking behind the curtain to see the truth.

If you seek objectivity, honesty and fairness, you may have trouble finding a company you want to stay with.

Perhaps that is why most thought-leaders, philosopher/authors and creative champions (people like Godin, Pink, Gladwell, Ronson and others) work for themselves or only with other likeminded people and consult to companies in the hope that some of what they say may stir change for the better.

I am very grateful I have a beautiful and intelligent partner who seeks to understand people and their actions from a critical and objective viewpoint and also seeks to right wrongs.

Until I met her, I thought therefore I was lonely…

Well it looks like it is safe to blog again.

The Australian election is over and the US has managed to kick the can down the road again with the debt ceiling and budget.

In watching the spectacle facing our cousins in the U.S., it struck me how challenging is can be for a leader dealing with intransigence.

U.S. President Barack Obama, having convincingly defeated his opposition in the last election was faced with a far-right faction that had taken control of the Republican Party.

Republicans, seemingly hostage to its ‘Tea Party’ members whose spokespeople such as Congresswoman Michelle Bachman have perfected the non-sequitur, the logical fallacy and just plain bizarre behaviour (witness her patronising comments during a visit to Egypt) apparently sought to re-run the election they lost by imitating a 6 year old.

“I’m going to hold my breath until you say I won!” (and repeal Obamacare!)

Most moderate Republicans were aghast at this behaviour but seem to be able to do little about it.

In some ways, (ironically given their position on the political spectrum) this seemed to mirror the rabid Union organisations in 1970’s Britain who seemed to have a strike every other week because they could and never mind the damage.

As someone who lived and worked in the US for nearly a decade, I am somewhat familiar with the US political system but for most outsiders this behaviour was simply incomprehensible.

Despite some of the silliness in our own recent election, Australia really does have a benign system – mainly because it is compulsory to vote. In having this law, we basically marginalise the fringe elements while still allowing them a voice. It is simply not possible for an extreme faction like the Tea Party to function in our system in the same way as they do in the US. They would be drowned out by the majority of us who live more or less in the middle of the political scale.

So how is this leadership issue?

Well it was fascinating to me to watch President Obama stay out of this fight. Rather than giving the extremists legitimacy he basically ignored them and through his intermediaries, called their bluff.

Gutsy but it worked… After all he had a mandate from the electorate and more specifically, a mandate for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) which was front and centre during the election campaign.

The subsequent Government shutdown with all its consequences forced moderate Republicans to face their extreme elements and force a surrender to common sense. While in disarray, they now have a chance to rebuild the party as one that can work with the government to actually get things done.

As anyone who has read Naked Leadership knows, I advocate actively seeking common ground, parking your ego and working with people but sometimes after hard negotiation or solution seeking, and having come to a decision for your organisation, you have to stay the course.

Winston Churchill, a very conservative (and often wrong-headed) leader who did many things right in the crucial moments, once declared:

“Never give in, never give in; never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in –  Except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Sometimes people forget that last bit.­

When faced with unreasonable intransigence, a Naked Leader will make an assessment as to the value of further negotiation, consider the overall good of the organisation, regardless of the personal or political cost – and do the right thing.

Doing the right thing can be the hardest course and can cost a leader much stress, anxiety and even their job – but it is always the right course.

We can attempt to rationalise away selling out to extremists but the damage we do to ourselves and the long term health of our organisation and its people is immense.

Sometime No means No and you must stand firm and hang on for the ride…

It is why you’re a leader…


Leaders can often find themselves in difficult positions. Circumstances may dictate a change of direction, re-evaluation of an approach or a change in a program for the benefit of the business and of course, some people will complain if it is not explained properly and some will complain regardless but this is not usually a big deal and it is mostly business as usual within a short time. Spare a thought however, for politicians. (What?  Sympathy for pollies?) Well think about it – we elect them to represent us and our wishes in a general sense, in the management of our country, state or city but life in the public arena can make you a big target. As I watch the US election process and to a ‘less strange’ extent ours here at home, I find myself noting that we can sometimes put our leaders in an impossible situation.

If they make a campaign promise which because of political opposition or economic circumstances cannot be fulfilled, they are a ‘promise breaker’ and not to be trusted. If they change their mind following a vigorous debate or public opposition they are a ‘flip flopper’ and not to be trusted. If they press on to execute a decision that has now become unpopular they are arrogant or indifferent to the public’s wishes and not to be trusted. If they should have a lapse of character or judgement they are not worthy of public office but that begs the question: Can you hold public officials to a higher standard and if so, what is that standard? Surely as our representatives they represent us in more ways that numbers. They are also representative of our beliefs, feelings on matters, likes and dislikes and national character and – as they are human – our flaws… That is, they are likely to fall in the normal range of behaviours that can be expected from the public at large but when they do we want them strung up and at the same time their story splashed all over the media and repeated for as long as they are in office

I believe that we are often too harsh in our assessment of our elected representatives. If we are continually critical when unpopular but essentially correct decisions are made, we risk driving them into a position where they make only politically acceptable decisions and we end up getting nothing done and the country suffers. (See the recent US challenge with attempting to reduce their deficit.)  Sometimes painful and unpopular choices have to be made for the long-term good and leaders have to stick to their guns despite the opposition and the damage it may do to their re-election chances – but isn’t that why we elect them?