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Old and New . . . A leadership story of attribution errors.

John? Is that you? Photo by  Jenny Hill  on  Unsplash

John? Is that you? Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Are leaders born or made?

Old Guard and New Vanguard

“Newbie,” John thought as he rounded the track and watched Tyler animatedly talk to one after another runner about his “love” of being a runner. He noted Tyler’s Salmon “Ultra Pro” blue and red shoes, neon-green Fitbit, Rockay running socks, Smart Wool running gloves, and matching headband.John looked down at his own clothes . . . dependable Nike shoes, almost five years old, a no-name line of shorts, tee-shirt, and stocking cap. He’d bet that his whole wardrobe, bought at a “big-box store,” maybe with the shoes excepted, cost less than the price Tyler forked over to Smart Wool.

Tyler barely gave John a thought. Oh, John was always there, this 50-somethingish road-ghoul, finishing his morning run with a few final laps and warm-down on the track. John looked, to Tyler, like a burned-out, uninviting, “road warrior” who wasn’t likely to be a source of encouragement or inspiration—simply someone doing what he did, for some unknown, but internally-motivated reason—without a sense of the great synergy of involvement in a broader running community.

Tyler, a 30-ish millennial, who came to running as a pastime last year, could draw a crowd. His animated excitement—whether talking about his observations on running shoes, the latest on Runblogger, or heart rate variability—was palpable and infectious. Other’s attempting to re-engage with a more active life-style or to develop a love of running loved to come along side and listen.

If pushed, John might admit that he held some distain for Tyler. He might have, in his less charitable moments, thought, “We’ll see how long he lasts.” Tyler conversely may also, if his psyche were plumbed, acknowledge that John, to him, was the embodiment of what he did not want his running to become—one more joyless chore he did because it was “good for him.”

Leaders—Old and New

Too often, this is the picture of leadership—where generational differences turn into “attribution errors;” ie; “John is burned out and no longer has a passion for running!” (Really? How will you look after decades of running?), or “Tyler is a flash in the pan, and not serious!” (Were you not excited when you first started?)

I got to watch this play out annually when I was growing up. As the son of the Academic Vice President of a small college (enrollment of 500) I watched wave after wave of new students come to college, young leaders emerge, and the annual tug-of-war—sometimes in minor ways, sometimes in a noisy visible crash—between the generations play out. I also saw, behind the scenes, the dedicated service of the staff, faculty, and leadership as they sought to guide, harness, and lead these energized and idealistic youth into success—with patience and understanding of the “youngster’s needs to find their own way.” At times it wasn’t pretty.

One student, whose passion at the time was an electric guitar—and today, is a retired grandpa—told me about how my Dad was called out of bed at 3 in the morning due to neighbors complaining about the loud rock music blaring from on campus. My father, all 6’3” probably bristling from head to toe—strode into a performance hall, unplugged the speakers, and announced, “Now, do want to clear out this equipment, or do you want me to confiscate it?” The student admits this led to a “dust up” with my Dad, (which he lost and eventually, decided it was prudent to dismantle the equipment himself). I remember the tears in this grandpa’s eyes when, upon my Dad’s death, he commented that it was my Dad, among others, who taught him, how to be a man of integrity. (BTW- Dad was the source of the greatest leadership act I ever witnessed--doing nothing!)

This week, I was back “home” where I grew up. A guy stopped me, introduced himself, and asked who I was. I told him. “Your father and your brother Kirk changed my life,” he told me. Your Dad’s class and your brother’s example as my Resident Assistant in the dorm showed me something I hadn’t experienced before—caring and strength.” I know. Both of them, my Dad and my brother, would not compromise on two things--caring for the person and following their principles. At least where young men were concerned, they knew how to see beyond the behavior and see the person, in context, and with an understanding of what was needed at that time . . . an encouraging word or a kick in the amp.

Lesson for Old or New (Don’t manage by fear or control!)

Maybe somebody has said what I am writing below, or something similar, somewhere . . . but I couldn’t find it on-line. So here is my shot at a “truism” about what happens too often between the old and new leaders (someone should make into a profound and pithy quote).

“We blame those we cannot understand, attributing to them motivations we create, and judging those motivations insufficient, incorrect, or morally deficient; thus, invalidating their right to choose and proclaiming our right to judge.” ~ Bryan Miller

It take great courage, strength, and wisdom to lead when others think you are headed in the wrong direction. It is when the “heat is on” or a crisis manifests itself that leaders are most severely judged—for good or bad. The disagreements may be the result of something as simple as a difference in age, philosophy, learning history, or other factors—like how loud music should be played at 3 am. Creating respect comes through the strength of presenting a caring and principled approach that will, in the long-run, garner the support and the following leaders need to “grow up” new leaders who can maximize their human systems to reach organizational or team goals.

Additional resources:

Lessons Learned Around the World: People-centered leadership. A. Keith Miller, Major, USAF (Ret.)

Engage Your Team: A framework for leading “difficult” people. Bryan G. Miller, Ph.D.

Contact us with questions. Thanks for sharing and commenting!



Are leaders born or made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

I remember the summer I came home from camp and my brother was standing in the kitchen, alternately bouncing then "palming" a basketball with each hand. I knew my days of being the "top dog" on the basketball court were numbered . . . he had hit his growth spurt that would make him my "superior" in height and value as a player. Still, it is almost less of a shock to find out that your younger sibling will out grow you than it is to find out that they have acquired wisdom that you don't possess. Such is the case as I work with Keith after his long military career. As we sit down with owners and managers, Keith's practical, operational, and personal focus helps us advise our clients to create effective and well-functioning teams. 

So, I invite you to hear my "little brother" talk about Leadership . . . then get the accumulated wisdom or 21 years of leadership.

As a retired Major in the Air Force, Keith spend 21 years leading professional men and women to accomplish critical tasks as part of his career. But Keith is not your "typical" command-and-control type. Keith's success has come from his genuine heart for people and this concern shows in his leadership style.. So, take a moment to watch our short video and listen to him reflect on whether leaders are born or made. Then check out below his leadership manual Lessons Learned Around the World. You will not regret it.

Are leaders born . . . or are they made?  Major (Ret.) USAF Aubrey Keith Miller talks about what contributes to people becoming leaders in a new video.

Keith also has developed a manual for leaders called Lessons Learned Around the World: People-Centered Leadership that we have used to train managers on how to become person-centered, emotionally intelligent leader. For the cost of a cup of coffee, Keith shares the knowledge of his 21 years of leadership across the globe--challenging leaders to engage in a person-centered style that will make them more effective and minimize the challenging of managing people.

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Special Eary-Bird Opportunity: The first three people to get Lessons Learned Around the World may enter the code word "learn" and take off an extra $2, bringing the price down to only $2.99.

HSC also offers free resources to subscribers like Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people and Family Legacy: Protecting family in the family business. 




Work to live . . . or work and live?

Unsplash Photo: Credit to Laura Lafurgey-Smith

Unsplash Photo: Credit to Laura Lafurgey-Smith


A recent Gallup publication identified a number of "changing traits" of today's employees; including:

  • They want their work to have meaning and purpose.
  • They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day.
  • They want to learn and develop.
  • They want their job to fit their life.
  • And they're willing to look for a company whose mission and culture reflect and reinforce their values. (Gallup: State of the American Workplace preview)

For some of us from earlier cohorts--the Baby Boomer generation in my case--most of these items are familiar, motivations that we would have embraced as young people. In fact, it is only the last two that seem to represent a real change. There does seem to be a shift in focus that could be characterized as a move from an attitude of "work to live" toward a construct of "live and work." The choices--and demands--that younger workers are making, combined with the changing skill-set needed in the workplace today, is definitely revolutionizing many corporate policies and practices.

Yet, I can't help wondering if these younger workers have "jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire." Yes, they are getting a "Pixar--Google" work culture, unlimited vacation, remote work . . . and lots of other perks to help fit work into their lives. Corporations continue efforts of "going green," becoming "For Benefit Corporations," and embracing a corporate activism unheard of in the past. But many of these "youngsters" are, never-the-less, still dependent upon a corporate culture which will effect their experiences with all the bullet items above.

So . . . What happens when their particular market sector turns down? What happens when the demand for their skill-set falls? What if the political winds change? Who really controls the satiation of their needs and wants?

It may be "old fashioned" but it seems that the surest way to have control of these factors is to embrace the idea of being your own boss. It be sure, being your own boss, especially in the early days may mean that the job "controls your life" instead of fitting into your life. Many entrepreneurs report working 90 or more hours a week in the critical early days of a start up. Stress management, anxiety, and security can be big challenges. The job at this early stage may not fit at all into the life that a young person dreams of having. But, in the long run, it may still be the most reliable means of providing a level of freedom and life-fit unattainable when working for someone else.

But, this is not easy for many people. Accepting responsibility for your own "fate" requires a willingness to face one's own demons. No longer can you blame a lack of work-life balance on the capitalist system, corporate self-interest, or a boss's lack of understanding or empathy. For now you are the boss, the corporation, the capitalist.

This quickly brings you to deal with another level of personal "demons."

Do you like to avoid issues? You may be forced to face them. Do you face issues but react with anger or feeling overwhelmed or defeated? You may have to find more adaptive ways to cope. It is a journey that will test you, challenging your real values, your personal integrity, your tolerance for risk, your prioritizing your responsibilities, as well as your need for meaning and creating something of value. It can be quite a ride.

In some ways, being your own boss is like a taking a canoe trip down the "rapids" . . . where at times you feel like everything but you is in control. But being your own boss is a trip in which, at least, you get to choose the river you travel, the companions you invite along, and the benefits of sharing the experience.

If you are a leader, check out our free eBook: Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.



Two Factors in the Erosion of Relationship

Photo by Topich on Unsplash

Photo by Topich on Unsplash

A friend recently reminded me of the work of Kerry Patterson and the defining work "Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high," a good general introduction for those who have not been accustomed to working in environments where high emotion and the need for good communication commingle.

This is the environment however that you work in every day if you have engaged with individuals and groups as a human systems consultant. Whether it is a family-based business, a non-profit, or a conflict resolution situation the emotion can make having productive communication very difficult. People "walk on egg shells," avoid conversations, or try and use external controls to prevent further damage. Seldom does it work.

At its core, there is often one of two factors at play. One is a paralyzation due to the fear of losing the relationship. The other is an attempt to control the situation to prevent further damage. Neither one helps the core relationship to grow and strengthen. 

A classic example of the fear motivation is the old story of the "emperor's new clothes." You know the story, the emperor is bamboozled into walking around naked having been "sold" and invisible suit. everyone praises the suit, afraid to tell the emperor the truth until, a child, states the obvious and ends the embarrassing charade.

Many people walk in fear of being truthful. 

The second, is attempting to control a situation to prevent harm. I am always reminded on the executive who refused to leave the room when the executive council wanted to talk about his job performance or wages stating, "Nothing good ever happens when I am out of the room!" His attempt to control a situation which had caused a lot of hurt only exacerbated the problem. Frequently people in relationships struggles ask me--often in subtle ways--"How can I get in control of  this situation?" Often the truthful answer is simply, "You can't."

In my example, the goal was clear, the attempt was to control the team to enable trust and prevent further conflict. It wasn't working. I pointed out that the behavior was sending a strong message of his lack of trust for his team and one that may have been a strong indicator that his influence was already heavily damaged.

There is a "siren's call" to give into fear and control. They both, in their own ways, seem like a path to safety. In reality, they have a negative effect on relationships. Fear breeds mistrust, impulsive, reactionary responses to perceived threats. Control breeds resentment, suspicion, rebellion, antagonism, and conflict.

Honest, relationship building, conversations only happen in a safe environment where one or both parties can maintain a non-anxious presence and humbly work toward a solution or mutual respect in disagreement. Anything less is likely to be a bandaid on a festering wound.




Leaders: Experts at "What" confused about "Why."

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Several years ago, I was asked by a local church to give an introductory talk about the different types of "love languages" for a class that was kicking off a study of Gary Chapman's popular book. As part of the preparation, I decided to retake Chapman's quiz and re-identify my preferences. Then I decided that I should take a shot at predicting my wife love languages in ranked order fashion (I guess I was feeling particularly brave that day!). Later, I asked my wife to take the quiz. She consented, took it and I compared my rank order "guess" with her results. It wasn't bad. I switched two items in the middle of the list but otherwise was on target.

(Now, before you think I am overly-self congratulatory . . . I should have done pretty well. I am a trained marriage and family therapist. I worked for years with couples in a clinical setting. No new territory here.)

What was surprising was when I asked my wife what she thought my primary love language was. "Gifts," she said confidently. Nope. Not even close. Now, I'm not trying to be hard on my wife. She is not a marriage and family therapist. She has not studied, spent hour upon hour thinking about, and struggling, to understand couples. But her answer did raise my curiosity, so I asked, "Why did you think it was gifts?" "I remember," she said, "when your brother and sister-in-law gave you a gift and how moved you were by it!" She's right. I was.

What she didn't know, because I never told her, was why I was so moved.

More about this in a moment. However, this basic misunderstanding of confusing what with why is a primary problem, not only with couples, but with leaders as well.

When interviewing employees I often find it common for them to have a naive belief that the managers/supervisors really don't know "what is going on." They are usually wrong. Even when the environment is hostile, closed, secretive, or even "toxic" the managers typically have a pretty good understanding of what has happened and what is currently happening that contribute to the issues they face.

If those employees could sit in on the discussions with those leaders they would find that the description of what has, and is, happening is usually pretty close to what the employees themselves tell us in interviews we have with them.

But, leaders are less adept and telling me "why" things are the way they are. Why is this you wonder? It can be for numerous reasons . . . fear, projection, past history, generational shifts . . . you name it. So when leaders have the wrong idea about "why" there attempts to fix "what" often fails.

These leaders need a process where employees can safely and confidentially tell them 'why" things are the way they are. Leaders need a radical commitment to hearing this so that they do not operate of a false premise and waste time, effort, and lose the good will of them employees--who will see it as one more example of how leadership doesn't know "what" is going on.

Want to understand your team better? Download our Free eBook: Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.



Don't leaders know?

What is it You Do?

When I explain to people what we do . . . use intensive interviewing to understand work teams and assist leaders through the development and implementation of action plans  . . . I often get the question, "Don't leaders already know what is going on with their employees?”  Good question. I think implicit in this question is a common misunderstanding.  I think what is being asked in this case is often something like, "Do you really think that there are a lot of leaders out there with no idea of what is going on with their employees?"  If this, revised, question is closer to what they are really asking, then the answer is an emphatic, "No!"

In fact, I trust that most leaders have a good idea of what is going on with employees. I believe that the majority have spent significant amounts of time trying to understand their employees and the impact of their leadership decisions on those employees.  (This is why I think that consulting approaches that do not see the role of the consultant as a collaborative one are often misguided!) But . . . consider this . . .

Parents, arguably, know more about their children than anyone, yet often "what they know" can become the seeds of problems between them and their offspring.  "You don't understand!" is a common complaint among those children. People are complex. Couples, likewise, know more about their partner than they know about any other of their relationships . . . and often have more trouble. Regularly it is at least partially because their knowledge invites them to assign blame and an unwillingness to make changes. Each person’s history of learning to cope and maintain their own psychological safely is unique and employee’s learn to lie . . . to themselves and others.

Knowing isn’t Understanding . . . Or a Plan of Action!

No, simply "knowing" is not enough. Leaders need to continue to challenge what they know--testing it to check it's validity. Leaders need a vision of where they want to go but they also need a clear understanding of where they are--without the polarizing lenses of self-deceiving "knowledge."  The gap in a leader's "knowing" is reflected when a leader proclaims of his/her team "we are a family" only to have an employee mutter "a dysfunctional family."

Examples of Things Leader’s “Know” that Sustain Problems

 Here is a list of things that leaders "knew" when we were contacted by them or began working with them. In each case, this knowledge proved to be a barrier to knowing rather than an accurate understanding of the situation.  

  • people understand my irritability because I come from a different part of the country . . . it shouldn't effect how they view me as a leader

  • we provide information about employee benefits in a number of ways and times so employees can't have issue with that

  • if we tell employees about the financial status of the company they will have worse attitudes than they do now

  • my daughter is just stressed but she still appreciates working in the family business

  • the way we interact with employees works . . . its these particular employees attitudes that are the problem

  • we have a plan that all the leaders have agreed to and support

  • if I'm not in the room bad things happen (leader who refused to leave when board talked about his job performance, salary, etc.)

  • we already fane a (financial) consultant we can just use him to help us figure out the people issues

  • our family can handle these issues without getting an "outsider" involved (family business member now in litigation with siblings)

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Learn more . . .

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Playing with words

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I love words.  I love twisting them and enjoying the nuances of language.  I like the way it invites us to look at things from a new perspective.  Lately I have been collecting words the help me to rethink how I see leadership, organizations, and consulting with those leaders and teams. So, just for the fun of it here are some words-=and how I see the connection--that hopefully will stretch you and make you think . . . 

Leaderchipped: the state or effect of wear and tear on people in managerial positions. Leaders tend to get burned out, "used up," or even traumatized in their roles.  They're "Leaderchipped."

Connexus: being together with a central point or important place; a process of being together with two or more intersecting points; making interactive relationships among people. From the Latin con to "be with" and nexus this is the heart of working with organizations and leaders. Consultants need to join with and be in the central "nerve center" of the organization to have an effect. They need "connects."

LeadHer, Guydance, DirectHer, ManagHer: the act of leading, guiding, directing or managing from a gender-specific viewpoint. Are there words to emphasize the differences and similarities experienced by leaders from different genders?  I don't know. I haven't found a good one yet.

ExSample: a process of demonstrating the effect of having an outside viewpoint.  In Consulting the data-gathering process (interviews in our process) often occurs before leaders recognize the value of having the outside perspective.  In a sense the data-collection is an "ExSample" of how the outside perspective adds value to the organization. 

OrganIzation: term used to demonstrate that the individual contribution, the I in organization, is an important consideration. As opposed to the adage "their is no I in Team" this emphasizes that the organization is, by necessity, made up of a multitude of individuals, and the auction of each "I" is critical to the organization as a whole. 

Hegemony/Harmony: a dichotomy placing necessary command and control functions of management agains the desire for peace and avoiding conflict. Leaders and followers must navigate the tensions of structure/regulations/processes/people in ways that value the need for good practice and humane treatment.  It is a challenging dichotomy to maintain.

A-sin-dency (Ascendency): attitude that projects ill-will or intent on people who desire to progress or succeed especially if that success appears driven by a financial or power/influence motive. For those, like myself, who have come out of the human services world there can be this attitude that makes entrepreneurial, business-owner, concepts an uncomfortable role.  We must transcend the "money is evil" mindset.

Ampliflowcation; the process of increasing the amount of communication within a team or organization. Individuals within teams often avoid communicating, do not communicate enough, or begin to "scream out' their frustrations when there is a crisis.  Ampliflowcation is often needed to begin to address the issues and find a new path--the communication needs to increase and be changed into something usable by the team.

Look, I didn't say I was good at playing with words. Just that I like playing with words. The most important part to me is that it is a tool to think about common experiences in ways that stretch my thinking.  Now, those of you who are good at playing with words . . . what do you got?

 Free ebook Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.




Management by fear!

Management by Fear

It happens more often than most managers think. After all, we are not talking about unskilled or uneducated people. Most of us intuitively know, or have learned through experience, that to make decision "based on our fears" leads to poor outcomes. So, it is rare that you will find any leader who acknowledges that at the present moment they are managing out of fear. If they realized it they would probably do something different. But, in truth, if you listen careful to leaders, it is often done anyway.  Often it inflicts some of the "best and brightest"--those who truly care about the affects their decisions will have on the the people in their organization. Often they are trapped by the fear or attempting to avoid the fear.

What do I mean by "trapped?"  I mean that these leaders begin to make decisions based on what they are afraid will happen if they make a different, or wrong, choice.  I have experienced it at all levels and across industries.  It happened in the case of one executive who wouldn't leave meetings when they talked about his position because "nothing good ever comes from it." It was there in the meeting with a group of senior managers who admitted that the new manufacturing emphasis on "getting out the most product" had, in fact, driven up the waste costs when minor problems were not fixed and the entire machine was scrapped . . . but they had not communicated or addressed the problem with the owners.  

It has been present in many senior leadership teams or individuals whose rational for not doing something different has been "it might make things worse." while admitting that things were already trending toward "worse" in most cases. While fear has it's place (After all it helps us run very fast if we encounter a threat) it can move quickly from being a useful "friend" . . . to being a powerful enemy. It may have started as a warning us about approaching danger.  But it may have become a road block, stopping us from removing the thorn that is the source of our pain or frustration.

Fear and Acting

I came home one night years ago and when I entered the house I heard what I can only describe as a "wailing."  I followed the sound to my 10 year old son's bedroom.  There sat my wife holding my son who had a toothpick protruding from his heel. My son had driven it deep enough that my wife could not extract it.  She told me that she had called her father and he was on his way over and there they sat waiting for help.

Help had arrived. I told my son that I would remove the toothpick. "No!," he pleaded. "I can just walk on my toes!" he argued.  "I don't mind it," he retorted to my firm insistence that it must be removed.  Fear.  Pure fear. But I, of course, persisted. Sadly, it took not only my strength but a pair of pliers to remedy the situation. But, as you might suspect, things improved greatly with the plank removed.

Moving toward Fear

We've all done it. Let our fears stop us. Taking away our best tools . . . reason, risk-taking, learning by doing, asking for feedback or advice. We've all kicked ourselves later for not facing it sooner. How can a leader protect themselves from managing by fear? Part of the answer is in having good "collegial checks" to your management decisions.  This can be a spouse, a board, a mentor or friend, and yes, it can be a "hired gun"--a consultant or coach-- whose primary concern is to help you keep on track. It's also helpful to plan for the time, and participate in events that encourage you, to do a little self-reflection about what is motivating your decisions.

What situations is your organization avoiding? What will happen if you continue to avoid dealing with them? Will you be "kicking yourself" for not acting in spite of the fear?

The best articles of the month on management, consulting, churches, and some fun/curious items can be found on out Toast & Jam posts.  Check out one here!



When a leader needs help . . .

Leaders have problems. Others in the organization have to figure out how to help them. It can be difficult. Do they need more training? Perhaps a referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Is this simply a disciplinary issue? Or perhaps a complex personality trait? Maybe it's none of the above, it is simply a business problem.

It is not uncommon for leaders to wrestle with "what to do" when one of their managers or senior leaders is struggling. Below is a decision chart designed to help clarify your thinking and give you a direction to pursue. (You can download the file off our resources page.) I hope you find it helpful.

Please note: Every situation is unique and the chart is meant only to help you with your thought process. It should not be used as a final determinant as each individual person deserves a fair and thoughtful consideration of their unique situation.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.



When you mess up my order . . . .

I have a son whose nickname is "Mac." I found this in New Zealand.

I have a son whose nickname is "Mac." I found this in New Zealand.

When you mess up my order . . . and you will . . . here is what I expect.

This rant starts with a meal I recently ordered in an airport --fast food for myself and my son. Our order was not difficult.  Two hamburgers. One with ketchup and pickles for my son.  One with ketchup, mustard, lettuce and onions for me.  What we got instead was one hamburger with ketchup and mustard, no pickles, and one cheeseburger with tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, and mayo. Not the worst "muck up" I've ever experienced but still decidedly wrong . . . and far too common. If you, like I do, engage in patronizing these places, then I ask you, "Have you noticed the slippage in the ability of employees to get orders right?"  It seems to have changed remarkably in the past couple of decades.  (Are we having more receptive language issues? Is this a case of English as a second language? Or, am I just becoming a grumpy old man?) But what surprises me even more is the response . . . or more correctly, the lack of response, to being informed that they have messed up your order!

Not long ago I was eating at a fast food place that really does seem to take customer service seriously. But, as we all know, everybody makes mistakes and they got something wrong in my order. What surprised me, and then surprised me that I was surprised, was that when I informed them of the error the person actually seemed to feel a sense of shame or guilt (unintended on my part), made me feel like she really was sorry and cared that it wasn't correct, then brought me something extra for my trouble.  I realized how different this was from my typical experience.

What is the typical experience?  Maybe a shrug. Taking the bag and dropping it into the trash. Informing the cook, flatly or sarcastically of the mistake, and then . . . silence.  Maybe a muttered "sorry" when the correct food comes but it certainly does NOT feel like the apology is heartfelt or that errors are considered "bad" and intent is to make them infrequent for that matter. The predominant feeling I think is one of indifference . . . if not out right irritation (at me, the coworker, their life?). Maybe its a new business model . . . waste is a cost of doing business . . . but I doubt most owners or upper managers look at it that way.

What do you expect when someone messes up?

In order to be clear about what I expect let me, first, tell you what I do not expect in my service providers. After that I will list what I do expect and then after presenting these bullet lists I will finish with what I think is the perfect story to illustrate the point I have been trying to make.

Here are things I don't expect:

  • You to really care (acting like it is good enough)
  • To perform without errors
  • Heart-felt shame or guilt
  • Defending your misunderstanding, communication, processes, etc.
  • Something free for my "inconvenience" (I mean really how inconvenient is it to wait two minutes to get the food ordered to your perfect expectations. If you still think this is a big deal . . . do some research on the third world as a reality check.)
  • Any preferential treatment in the future


Here's what I do expect:

  • Look me in the eyes and apologize first
  • Take the time to understand what was incorrect so there is not a "third time" to get it right
  • Do not be sarcastic, demeaning, or critical of your coworkers even if it was their mistake (you see if you are nice to me as a customer and mean to a co-worker I no longer trust that you really care about me . . . you are just putting up a front to get my business)
  • Let me go sit down and bring me the correct replacement
  • Apologize again when you bring the correct item, thank me for my patience (I try to always be patient), and ask if there is anything else you can do

Hey, well, there are the lists.  Now for the disappointment . . . or so I image it will be a disappointment.  There is no story.  You see, I messed up.  Although in my case it was intentional. I want to illustrate the idea of failing to meet expectations. Yes, the promise of the story was simply a writer's trick. The truth is there is, and never was, a story. I do feel bad about playing this little trick on you, my readers, and I promise not to do it again. Notice how your expectations play a role in how you react to my little ruse . . . and how I should respond.

As always, I would love to hear any comments you have or any suggestions for topics you would like me to address.  Once again, sorry about the lame ending.

Thanks for reading and especially for those who take the time to respond!

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.