Enlightened Conflict

wonder how the same thing can be both

February 7th, 2017

good bad best worst think do life be



“I’m always finding humans at their best and worst.

I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”




<in “The Book Thief”>





This quote is said by Death.



Death is suggesting he considers humans beautiful … as well as everything else that we are … all the while resting comfortably in his chair awaiting the opportunity to end it all.


We all know we're going to die, but it's one of the few human experiences we don't like talking about. How can we change that?

I admit.


The thought seems slightly counter-intuitive, but I like thinking the thought that Death is a lot more complicated than we may think.


I like thinking that Death sees us … and assesses us … and maybe even judges us a little … as not one-dimensional things to say ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down.’


I like thinking of death as not some grim reaper but rather a thoughtful person who has a job to do. One who contemplates the fact that some days will be good and some days just won’t be so fun.


I like thinking of Death One who can see the best and worst … acknowledging that good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to good people.


And, I imagine, I like thinking of Death as … well … intelligent and not simply some mindless executioner wandering about seeking his next victim.


For sure this quote reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote about intelligence:


“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”



I believe it was Keats who called this ‘negative capability.’


best worst faces life people good badAs he explained <or tried to > “it is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”


In other words … you understand, or least come to grips with, that there is a shitload of inconsistency and uncertainty in Life and, yet, you deal with it and do what you need to do.


<that’s my translation>


The truth in Life is that we really don’t have to be one thing because you’re not another thing – or not be something if you are something <you get it>.


It may seem impossible to appear to be a contradiction and, yet, be quite a successful, happy, productive bundle of contradictions.


Not only do you not have to be one thing forever but you can actually be a couple of things now … at the same time … in this time & place.


I sometime believe individual happiness is found more often than not in our ‘negative capability’ intelligence. In other words … how smartly we can navigate the contradictions in Life as well as the contradiction of what is within who & what we are. If we don’t learn negative capability then we must seem to inevitably seek to isolate being one thing and one thing only as a judge of whether we are living Life well, productively and with focus.


And maybe that is why I believe Death was, and is, intelligent — it has mastered negative capability. Death has embraced the contradiction of being one thing and yet living another seemingly contradictory idea.

If Death can see beauty in that which it will inevitably have to end with its own hand surely we can see good in bad … as well as be both bad & good ourselves.




It seems like there is a lesson in here for all of us. And maybe the lesson is, unfortunately, not that simple.


Death looks, on the surface, as one thing … and yet … is most likely another.


Death does one thing … and yet … most likely thinks many other things.


We view Death as one thing and avoid him … and yet … should we meet him on the street on his way to meet someone other than us … he may greet us with a smile.


While Death’s perception challenge  is actually called “affective fallacy” <confusion between what it is and what it does> this is a challenge we all face in Life.


I imagine, in the end, the lesson is a simple one … sometimes Life just isn’t that simple.




Ditch the ‘sometimes.’best worst good bad life complicated


Life is never that simple.


We are more than one thing … we are a sum of all our parts … we are part of everyone we have met <and will meet> … and we are, at our core, a reflection of a multi-faceted character containing aspects of all which we desire to be as well as some aspects which we view slightly glumly as ‘the aspects I do not desire to be … but am.’


We either embrace the contradictions or … well … we will most likely suck at dealing with Life and living Life.




What I do know is that I wish someone taught “negative capabilities 101” because we should all sign up for that class. It would be a better world if we were all competent in negative capabilities.





“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting.

When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”


Neil Gaiman



responsible for what you tame

January 25th, 2017

responsible for what you tame leadership people employees



“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.”



The Little Prince





I cannot play with you,” the fox replies. “I am not tamed.”


“What does that mean – to tame?”


It means to establish ties. To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…please, tame me!”


I want to, very much,” the Little Prince replied, “but I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”


“One only understands the things that one tames,” the fox said.






afraid to grow into your heights life loseLeaders have a tough job.


We call it managing but in reality it is taming. You tame the independent wildness and tame the ability & potential so you can understand it, and it can understand itself, so that eventually there is a mutual progress to play the game as well as it can be played.

Please note that nowhere in there have I suggested “blind obedience.” Taming, in this view, is reaching true understanding so that real personal growth occurs.


That said … in that metaphorical expression of leadership … you own what you tame.


I say that because far too often we leaders & managers view management as something we do for the benefit of the organization and, hopefully, the benefit of the people … but we ‘own’ no responsibility for the individual in terms of actions or who they become — and certainly not ‘forever.’


Some of us view ourselves as shapers in some form or fashion but lean back against the belief we only dent the surface of who and what the person is and will become.


We view what we do as possibly taming but within the purview of just a chapter in their lives … not an entire story.


In some ways we do this simply as an act of self-survival.


The truth is that investing too much personally into your business; the organization and the employees can … well … kill you.



Maybe not literally kill you … but figuratively it can become a daily strain on your psychological health.


Many of us, out of pragmatism, eye our relationship with employees as a story with a finite end – be it positive, sad, joyful, disappointing or ambiguous – but it is, in reality, just the end of a chapter.


The story keeps going.

Ours and theirs.

business inclusiveness

And while we may represent only a chapter in a larger narrative … well … we own what we tame. This is an inclusive way of leading & managing.


You include yourself in someone’s Life and … well … you own what part you tame.




Of course … this can also swing to the opposite more dangerous side – an exclusive leadership side.


This is ‘ownership’, not owning, of what you tame.


You don’t become part of them you simply offer a voice to them – I sometimes call this ‘pack mentality leadership’.


These are the leaders who say “on my team <or in other words “mine”> forever.”


Leave and my wrath is upon you.


Not want to be tamed by me? you are “un” whatever it is I stand for.


And this is where exclusive leadership truly rears its ugly head.


There is little vision, there is a lot of ‘features’ in the offering <more money, more jobs, more titles, more wins, more whatever> and therefore the incentives do the work and not any persuasive direction or vision. The ‘pack attitude’ is a means to an end and a vision in and of itself.




“Managers tend to use compensation as a crutch.

After all, it is far easier to design an incentive system that will do management’s work than it is to articulate a direction persuasively, develop agreement about goals and problems, and confront difficulties when they arise.”

Michael Beer, Harvard professor of business administration



chaos team alignmentThe features, the actions & behavior of those who belong on this team, are how they speak of unity and teamwork, i.e., “everyone should act this way … but we are the ones who do.”


Or how about this?


“The only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything.” <Trump used these words once awhile back>


In other words … the only people who truly count are the ones who are in this leader’s team.


Even worse?

They use the ‘us versus them’ polarization as a means to suggest “team personality & character” all the while these types of leaders actually do it to create their own power structure.


They don’t desire to include anyone else nor do they tend to reach out to others <albeit they make some inclusive noises on occasion> they desire to build a construct where people ask to join <because they should, of course, have to ask> and are not asked to join.


Excluding leaders love the ‘us versus them’ aspect. They love being derided and they love opposition. All these things do is solidify the team’s belief they are different & better & know more than the others.


The team becomes what represents what is real & right and the leader controls what is real & right. The leader’s people are truly the only people that count and the leader hasn’t tamed ability but rather attitude.


And here is where the ownership of what you tamed hits a dangerous spot.asshole bad manager


The leader has tamed an attitude but feels little ownership of the people themselves. Therefore should the leader decide to move on or get tired of whatever it is they are doing at the moment they feel no remorse in leaving people behind <who still harbor the attitude he/she tamed>.


The pack remains, the pack mentality still seethes, but the pack leader is no longer there.




Let me close with some thoughts.


I think it is a healthy thought for every manager & leader to ponder ‘you own what you tame.’


Leadership and leading is never easy and I have the scars to show to prove it.


Bad we help thatI found it naturally tempting to build a quasi-pack mentality in my groups as a younger leader & manager.

I was, and have always been, a more aggressive business person – I am not fond of status quo and not particularly fond of ‘the safe road.’


I can absolutely state that as a manager you can feed off of the ‘pack mentality’ attitude. It is exhilarating and almost like a drug … and maybe more dangerous … it can feed into a self-belief aspect that can edge upon arrogance and obliviousness to the greater good.


I don’t think I ever fell off the cliff on this but I certainly got a glimpse of the edge.


As I gained more experience I saw the danger in doing so <to my team member, to my organization & to myself> and sought to find some balance.


You can tame your people’s ability & attitude and they, and you, will benefit at the time and in the future <whether you are still working together or not>.


fall winter and finding meaning in death

December 1st, 2016




“What I fear I avoid.

What I fear I pretend does not exist.

What I fear is quietly killing me.


Would there were a festival for my fears, a ritual burning of what is coward in me, what is lost in me.


Let the light in before it is too late. “



 Jeanette Winterson from “The Green Man”



“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.”




(via ginger-and-preppy)





Well <part 1>.


I just read a an article in one of those local papers you can pick up at Healthy Grocery stores which attempted to discuss how this time of the year <October/November/December> is the season of ‘decay and death’ … and how it was a potent time to connect with the dead <and highlighted several celebrations around the world which do just that>.

This thought was combined with the thought we human folk balk at connecting with death because it … well … seems morbid to do so.



and summer regrets

               getting rid

       of winter wishes


summer and i




Well <part 2>.


I balk at the whole concept of ‘decay & death’ as well as the ‘morbid‘ thought.


Simplistically, seasons remind of us the cycle of Life <not death> and that death, in and of itself a sad event, contains at its very core the very simple concept that without Death, there is no Life.


This was immortalized in pop culture by Blood Sweat & Tears in their absolutely fabulous song “and when I die”:



And when I die and when I’m dead, dead and gone,
there’ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on.

I’m not scared of dying and I don’t really care.
If it’s peace you find in dying, well, then let the time be near.
If it’s peace you find in dying, when dying time is here,
just bundle up my coffin cause it’s cold way down there,
I hear that’s it’s cold way down there, yeah, crazy cold way down there.
And when I die and when I’m gone,
there’ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on.



While each Life is a stepping stone for every future generation each death represents a stepping stone for … well … the future.

dialogue with pain


I don’t need any Eastern religion wisdom to remind me of this … I think we all know this.

Now … I will admit that connecting with this thought is much much easier for us when we remove any personalized death and accept it as simply a turning of generations. Therefore … one of the reasons we do not celebrate death is because it can get too personal. And if that is a reason … it sure as hell is a good one.


But death itself?


While death is something we dislike, facing seasons remain something we must face year in and year out. It is a constant affirmation of the turning of time and that some things we may have gained will most likely be inevitably lost in the natural turn of time.


And, yes, as today is December 1st I am reminded that Winter is the time of Life’s strategic retreat and conservation of what gives it all life.


It is not death. And it is not decay.


It is Life’s thoughtful way to insure its existence and survival.


It is the time of incubation and rest and restoration for all things to come in the following year.


I could also suggest that winter is a time of reflection and … well … comfort. In winter’s dark nights the stars are at their clearest and we have the opportunity to see them as the sparks of potential and wishes and dreams and … well … Life. Uhm. And dreaming is never a bad thing … particularly during the ‘ebb tide of seasonal Life.’


I will not argue that as Life recedes in autumn and rests in winter we do, at least emotionally, get closer to connecting with death … but I do balk at thinking of autumn & winter as ‘things associated with death.’


.... a time to Reflect ......

…. a time to Reflect ……

I would argue it actually does a nice job of reminding us we need to let go of things. and, sure, maybe we connect with ‘the dead’ better at this time because … well … it reminds us to celebrate what we had and embrace letting go.


And that is the thing about winter … it demands to not only be felt but also that you meet it on its terms. Even better … Winter demands us to let go of things we most typically hold onto with ragged claws.


You cannot refuse its existence and you cannot ignore what was because what is … is … well … is starkly different. Where Life was once obvious it is now starkly absent.


I would note that all Eastern mysticism and ‘being in touch with the universe’ and the ‘natural ebb of the earth’ and all that stuff, at its core, just suggests that we pay attention. Pay attention to whatever energy seasons give us … and more often than not that energy it gives us is … uhm … just good ole fashioned thinking. It gives us the energy to think about our lives, lives lost and lives yet to be lived.


Acknowledgement of all of that increases your overall connection not just with ‘the universe’ but rather to the eternal pattern of life and invests a sense of energy into pretty much everything <yourself and Life>.


And just as Death breaks things down to the bare essence, winter does the same.

And maybe that is the connection.


When things are at their barest, when we are drawn closer to endings rather than beginnings, we inevitably ponder the ‘great perhaps.’


Back in September I wrote this on the first day of Fall:




I think we all seek a great perhaps of “what I know can be”. I think we all know what a better world really looks like. I think we all want to see the beauty that can be found in what is better in everyone.


And maybe it is within Fall and the falling leaves we begin to better grasp that failed plans and failed dreams can beget new plans and new dreams. And maybe it is within Winter where , in ts barest of bare essences, we are forced to begin envisioning what could be in plans and dreams because it is left to us standing in the bare environment around us.




What I do know about all seasons is that they are markers of Time … and poetically speaking … Time is always hungry for many of the things we dearly want to endure and do.


This makes Time both beautiful and doomed. Yeah. Time is beautiful and doomed. And that is where I really believe the whole ‘morbid time of the year’ goes astray.



for it seems all of Fall’s stars

                       have fallen

and often summer and i

run through the last warm days

through the cool grass

       gathering stars caught in people’s dreams

with the intent

           to toss them to Winter

through windows of dawn.


Summer & i




We, especially in the West, hunger for time.

Conversely, time itself <to us Western folk> has a hunger and its hunger is for ‘things.’

It is a nasty emptiness waiting to be filled.




If there is one thing humans are fucking great at … it is filling time and stuffing whatever we can into any emptiness we can find.


Death and dying makes us reflect. It forces us to do so. Just as the bare often starkness of Winter does.

And it makes us reflect on what ‘stuff’ we have crammed into whatever Time we have had.


Oh. Maybe what it really forces us to do is reflect upon time. and that is where death truly makes us feel uncomfortable … not any morbid feeling but rather it’s just being dead livingthat we have been indoctrinated to focus on living … living life to its fullest, not wasting any time, to do lists that never get completed and just doing shit <just do it>.


Nowhere in that list of shit I just shared does death have a place. In fact. Death represents the exact opposite of everything society & our culture almost demands we think about 24/7.


And when forced to face death, or feel a need to connect, we are much less likely to celebrate but rather assess … assess our doing mantra versus ‘stop.’




Most of us don’t purposefully ignore connecting with death and those who have passed away because of sadness <because if it were we would be more likely to actually do it because the opposite of sadness is reflecting upon the inevitable happiness> but rather because death and past lives force us to reflect upon our ‘doing accomplishment’ <as well as it forces us to stop … which compounds the feeling of ‘shit, I haven’t done enough and I am not doing anything now>.



If you can get beyond the ‘doing’ aspect inherently death is more about sadness <loss of something or someone or time> more so than morbidity. Conquer the sadness and you have conquered death.


And all of this is just not that difficult <if you are willing to actually think about it>.


winter-fall-snow-season-change-lifeSeveral cultures do celebrate the autumnal solstice as the time life & death is closest. I would argue it is less a celebration but rather recognition of that which came before, and that which is dying, so that what will be will come forth.

Generations beget generations just as falls beget springs.


Death begets life.


This doesn’t mean we should celebrate impending death but rather recognize, even in sadness, life & beauty resides in the future.


Fall is of beautiful dying.

Winter is of starkness of death.

Spring is of rebirth from death.


This doesn’t mean you can find beautiful things to enjoy throughout any season.  Seasons simply remind us of the fact time does not stand still and no matter how hard we try and fill up the emptiness time offers us day in and day out … leaves fall, winter comes and spring arises.


I believe it is the Celtic wheel of the year describes this time of the year as Samhain … “the veil between the worlds is thin.” Just as several other cultures they use his time to reflect upon “that which was.” In my pea like brain … it is a celebration of navel gazing. It is an intentional event to purposefully explore the valuable relationship not only between Life and Death but the past and the future.


Listen to the cry of falling leaves,

            but winter breaks the silence

and warms us with words

of how to change it all

      before the Fall completely ends.

So, So



reflect brain things


I don’t believe we do not celebrate death and dying because we think it is morbid. I tend to believe we do not traditionally do so because we, as in Western civilization versus Eastern, don’t celebrate reflection.

We treat reflection more as  a personal thing and not a larger more public event and celebration.


Should we celebrate reflection? Shit. I don’t know. But understanding that seasons can offer us enlightening thoughts about how we actually think about death & Life & holding on & letting go is surely not a bad thing.


As for Fall and Winter? I do not think of death and decay. I actually think of flowers. Huh?


I credit Mark Strand for making me think Winter is the time to bring flowers into your Life as he describes Winter in his poem called Blizzard of One:


“A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that …”

Mark Strand <Blizzard of One>

Every funeral deserves flowers. Every Winter deserves thoughts of Life.

Don’t give me sob stories

September 3rd, 2016


this is business sob story



“Don’t give me sob stories,” she ordered me with sudden vehemence, striking the key words for emphasis.


“Every day people appeal to my emotions.

You can’t govern that way.

It simply isn’t fair.”



Margaret Thatcher to John Le Carre





want need sign hard easyRunning a country is hard. Very hard.


Running a business is hard. Very hard.


It doesn’t mean you don’t have good days and it doesn’t mean that all the ‘hard’ doesn’t reap some benefits and joy but … well … hard is hard.


And maybe, just possibly, the hardest part is managing the emotional appeals you are faced with on an almost daily basis.


And I say that while ignoring the inevitable larger events & stories which compound the emotional aspects of leader decision making.


Leading is mostly about the day in and day out responsibility to the greater good and the greater whole. This certainly doesn’t mean you don’t look at the parts and how the parts & pieces are affected but you can’t get too close to individual aspects for fear of … well … a couple of reasons:


First is the functional responsibility a leader has.

The greater responsibility is to the whole and insuring the whole is fair, respected and healthy. There is certainly a responsibility to parts, the germs & healthy cells roaming the lifeblood of the whole, but sometimes I let a germ live because it has lesser consequences to the health of the whole than if I invest in something that makes the already healthier cells even more healthy.


Second is basic perspective.

Research studies clearly show that emotional decisions are often quite irrational and often quite … well … bad <or maybe better said … less than optimal>. A leader has the difficult responsibility to maintain perspective … even in the face of a crescendo of criticisms demanding ‘this situation is unique.” The optics of a good leader often looks bad.


Aloof. Disconnected. Unempathetic.


The greater responsibility is to the whole perspective and insuring what is fair and respectful to the whole.


This is going to sound bad … really bad in fact.


<… I am taking a deep breath here>

this too shall pass tough time choices decisions


But good leaders have a sense for “this too will pass” and simply pass on engaging with the individual engagement demand of the moment.

Yes. You acknowledge it and then ignore it.


To be clear. You don’t always make the right call and you don’t always get it right but the intent is 99% of the time purposefully not engaging to maintain perspective.



All that said.


Disconnecting from the emotional sob story, while still remaining connected to empathetic reasoning, may be one of the most difficult aspects of leading.


I don’t care if its 350 million people, 350 people or 35 people this tug of war between caring but not caring too much is constant and challenging. In addition it is a constant battle for self survival.


When thinking about this … inevitably what I believe most of us every day schmucks struggle to understand is the perspective.


Most people view things “I” up … and a leader has to look “we” down.


In other words … “I” has specific needs and I am willing to think about insuring other “I’s” have the same needs met. There is nothing wrong with this and it certainly can insure some healthy altruistic attitudes & behavior. But it does not reflect good leadership thinking.


In other words … “we” have larger needs and I am willing to sacrifice some of what some “I’s” want <and even, unfortunately, need in some cases> to insure the “we” needs are met. There is nothing wrong with this and, when done well, the greater whole prospers and is, in general, happy.


But it isn’t easy.

It is really hard.


And suffice it to say “ruling” by ignoring emotional appeals is more fair but it is still emotionally draining to a good leader.


Whether the 350 million, 350 or the 35 recognize it … there are many days when the 1, the leader, leaves the office with a heavy heart. And it is not heavy because 349,999,900 people, 341 people or 34 people went to sleep that day feeling pretty good about their day and their needs & wants & hopes … but because the few with a true sob story went to sleep that day sobbing.


You govern and lead by what is fair to the whole.


That’s just the way it is.


And just as Margaret Thatcher did … I would vehemently emphasize this business truth to anyone.


But.just do your best

That doesn’t mean I don’t think she went home some nights with the weight of someone’s emotional appeal on her mind.


That’s what I thought about today after I read this quote from Margaret Thatcher.




And I also thought about whether I was fair and maintained the balance as a leader. I am not sure. I take some solace in the belief that almost every leader wonders the same thing.


believing and non-believing management

July 18th, 2016


people management psychology believe do business



Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”


e.e. cummings




“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.

Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”


Golda Meir




Today I am rambling about the psychology of managing employees … specifically an aspect of managing that I would call “believe and non-believing management.”



This is not about motivating employees.


free employees of themselves believeThis is more about unlocking employees – unlocking potential.


This is more about that seemingly nonstop discussion you have with employees where you curb the overreaching confidence in some … and instill some confidence in others. In my mind … this is the ongoing discussion you have with your employees with the intent to set the best version of themselves free.


To be sure.


If you talk with enough people who have managed groups & companies and you will notice that at some point someone will bring up “I have to be a psychologist.”


To be clear.


Do business managers have to be psychologists to be effective? No. not really.

But being a psychologist on occasion certainly doesn’t hurt.


I am fairly sure what I am discussing has some high falutin’ organizational behavior ‘management principles’ published and formal white papers with long esoteric discussions on employee personality types and some personality testing voodoo.


I am also fairly sure, okay … certain, it is possible to be a competent if not good leader without understanding all that personality crap. in fact … I could argue, and I have argued, that personality tests trap individuals into some defined box in which if any of their behaviors don’t fit that box from that point on they will be mismanaged because … well … they aren’t doing what the box said they would do.




Most good managers clearly understand that different people are motivated by different things and that different things can inhibit the potential of each employee.


Suffice it to say, in my mind, it really all comes down to one basic management principle: possibilities & pragmatism management. Unlocking each employee’s potential is almost always a balance of pragmatic doing and getting them to employee believe non believe business lead manageenvision what they are possible of.


Simplistically your objective is always to free your employee to be their best and do their best. But in order to achieve that … well … sometimes this means stripping something away … and sometimes this means adding something.


And that is where my whole ‘believing & nonbelieving management’ comes into the discussion.


More often than not while you are teaching & coaching skills and pragmatic ‘here is what you need to do’ crap you will find yourself facing an employee who is either bursting with belief in themselves and their abilities or semi-frozen in an ‘unsure of what to do and if I can do it’ attitude.


Both need some attitudinal adjustments.


The ‘belief’ employees run the gamut from the young employee who is sure they are smarter and better than you <or others around them> to a senior sales guy who hasn’t met a sale he couldn’t make <doing it his way if only the company would get out of the way>.


The ‘nonbelievers’ also run the gamut from young & inexperienced to older doing it for the first time or even mid level employees dealing with something completely unrelated that has pricked their confidence bubble in some way.


And, no, I certainly do not consider any of this ‘cheerleader engagement.’ In fact … I would suggest that any manager who does needs to rethink their thinking.


Managing people certainly can contain some aspects of ‘enthusiasm management’ but one of the most basic manager self-survival techniques you learn <or die> is how to manage without too much investment of self. Therefore I have always viewed this aspect of employee management as simply assessing work together believe employee talk leadtheir ‘believe level’ and adjusting appropriately to enable the true potential to be there when it counts.


As a manager you always hunker down on the pragmatic aspects of what needs to be done first.



It is kind of your heuristic trick to assess any attitudinal challenges to getting the frickin’ pragmatic aspect done.


But you always keep an eye, and an ear, open during the pragmatic assessing the ‘possibilities of whether the shit will actually get done … and done as well as it can be done.’

This is the place where you look at the employee and assess the ‘belief factor.’


Some are easy to read. Some are a little more difficult. And, no, I cannot offer some trite generalism here.


Exuding belief believers can come in all shapes & sizes & behaviors.

Nonbelievers can come in all shapes & sizes & attitudes.


And it can get even trickier.


Tricky because the same employee who was bursting with blind belief one day will be the same employee sitting in front of you the next day discussing a completely different project or task … semi-frozen in non-belief.




The fundamentals of effective management are pretty much the same everywhere.

But this ‘possibilities & pragmatism management’ thing I am discussing takes some commitment. It doesn’t take being a psychologist … you just have to be committed to managing the individual ‘believe’ gauge. And this means being committed to both stripping away some unnecessary <or risky> belief and bolting on some belief where needed.


Unfortunately this can sometimes take a fine subtle touch … and most of us everyday manager schmucks aren’t always subtle. Nor are we particularly talented at balancing both possibilities & pragmatism.


I imagine I wrote this not to offer any “how to” guide to anyone. I wrote it because I just faced it and thought about it.


In one day I had to ponder the talented more senior sales person almost blinded with belief charging ahead <not particularly aligned with what the company thought was best practice> and an extremely talented younger person threaded with the burden of nonbelief.


In one day I had to ponder how to deftly encourage a little less blind belief and thrust some belief upon another.


And that is most likely a typical day for a manager.


I didn’t care about personality type.


I didn’t confer with any HR people.


I didn’t go online searching for ‘communications techniques.’


I didn’t do so not because I didn’t want to … but because managers mostly don’t one on one employee believe business managehave time for that shit.


You gotta deal with what is in front of you and get shit done and get the best out of your employees.


Believing and non believing management.


Possibilities and pragmatism management.


Kind of two sides of the same management coin.

negativity, motivation and business

April 18th, 2016

negative positive employees



“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”



Anna Karenina







I admit. I don’t have many conversations with business leaders about managing negativity in their businesses.




I admit. I have so many emails in my junk mail about “how to effectively manage negative employee situations” or “managing negativity in the workplace” it must be an issue.




I am not convinced negativity in the workplace is a huge issue if you know your business shit as a leader & manager.


To be clear. In my mind … managing negativity in the workplace consists of a look attention listensimple two step program:



  • Do not ignore any negativity


  • Talk with any negative employee





Maybe I could do an email program on that.

<Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … business building idea ….>


Here is why negativity, real counterproductive negativity and not simple daily bitching & moaning, is rarely a big issue.


More often than not we business people in management muddle through understanding that in any organization with any significant number of employees someone will be unhappy about something at any given time.


All businesses have some aspect of dysfunction, some weird employees and odd situations which compel employees to have opinions on everything. As a leader … you recognize that all employees are yours, you love them the best you can, you try and not hate them the best you can and try and create an environment in which they feel welcome and be productive.


You don’t ignore the negativity but you also don’t invest gobs of energy trying to make everyone happy.


I say that and, yet,  there is an entire industry of people having weird discussions and offering some weird advice with regard to negativity and motivation.


Because this advice giving industry seems to have some viable place in the business word I have to imagine there is some meaningfully sized cadre of business leaders or managers who cannot discern between a difficult employee and a larger negative thread running through an organization.work negative business bullshit employee


My guess, though, is that many leaders just don’t have the time & patience for the glimmers of negativity which flash in and out like a dying light bulb and just delegate responsibility to deal with it to someone else.


And in delegating it … well … all of a sudden there becomes this weird Crazy Ivan shift from simply managing the negativity to instead examining how to motivate people. As if negativity can be reversed into motivation <or something like that>.


And inevitably this “what do I do” discussion devolves into some simplistic reward positive behavior versus discipline negative behavior initiative discussion.


Basically … this means a lot of people invest a lot of energy trying to change negative attitudes to positive attitudes.


<please note that i think that is a little crazy>





While I suggested some negativity is a given in any organization when I fall into a discussion about perceived negativity in an organization and probe the leaders a little it seems like there are some common spaces in which the discussion falls:


  • We went through a rapid expansion and hired a shitload of new people <and now we are dealing with the fallout and the normal curve of good hires to less than good hires>


  • We have had relatively flat sales and a consistent business <stagnancy & staleness breeds some questioning … bitching … worrying which creates second guessing>


  • We made a business strategic shift <strategy shifts create change … and not all employees will embrace change>.



The easy thing to say now is that more than likely high level decisions or company vision type things were not communicated well.


Let’s assume this is correct. If so I don’t need to motivate I need to communicate … and I certainly don’t need to discipline.


But let’s say there is a real problem.


Many of these discussions begin off the wrong foot. Many business leaders <in fact the older they are the more what I say is most likely true> don’t even acknowledge the extent of the problem.


And by that I mean while everyone kind of accepts the fact you cannot have everyone, or make everyone, happy 100% of the time they are reticent to acknowledge pockets of negativity or threads of negativity – they are more likely to suggest it is just individuals. And while that may conceptually be so I will suggest farther on that emotions and the emotional construct of your total employee base is where everyone should begin.


It is really really easy to do one of two wrong or misguided  things as a leader:

attention pay no to

  • Mentally suggest the issue is individuals: the biggest flaw in this is that many negative attitude employees can actually be high performers. In their external negativity they are internally motivating themselves to do good shit. In other words … not all pain-in-the-ass employees are created equal.


  • Mentally bucket the solution into “employee initiative” <because it is a perceived employee poor behavior>: the biggest flaw in this is that the harsh truth is if there is any significant negative thread in an organization … it is more often a derivative of something the leader is doing, or not doing, than it is a real employee issue.



So leaders actually have to address the really really hard thing … and ‘mentally’ is actually the key word here.


Negativity, and motivation by the way, is a mental thing <attitudinal>. Forget the compensation and rewarding and disciplining crap for a while and focus on the mental attitudinal stuff.


This creates a huge challenge if you do so because … well … some personal attitudes are next to impossible to change. Cynicism is cynicism just as overly optimistic is overly optimistic.

But you can affect attitudes with regard to the organization itself. Morale in an organization is almost inextricably linked not to individual stuff but greater good stuff <without losing sight of some balance between individual needs and greater good>.


Interdepartmental bitching is aggravating but rarely the ring of the death knell for an organization … but the insidious hallway sniping of the organization, or the leadership, itself is the stuff that undermines productivity and f productivity is undermined … well … the entire business becomes at risk.




I will admit. I am not a big “carrot & stick” organizational motivation fan or believer. When I hear about disgruntled employees or negativity whispers in the hallways I very rarely begin thinking or discussing “what can we do to create a more positive culture in the organization” but rather turn the microscope on the leadership and ask “what are you saying? What are you doing?”


I believe to be an effective, respected leader you are the one who has to rein in any out of line negativity and it is up to you to get your organizations’ heads on straight and productivity back on track.




I believe it is foolish to believe every work day can be met with passionate smile negative employee business fakeenthusiasm. There are far too many things that can affect the moods of the individuals let alone the mood of the organization to believe everyday should be, let alone could be, 100%.


You really only worry if the “less than optimal” mood is persistent … or if it affects a specific day in which negativity has to be shelved for the moment.


But motivating employees day in and day out? Yikes.


Motivation is intrinsic. The fact is that someone is motivated or they aren’t.

That doesn’t mean you cannot tailor some management techniques to specific individuals but organizational motivation is not an initiative nor is it some “list of things we are going to do.”


Motivation, just like negativity and being positive, is an internal engine.


As a leader you need to recognize that there truly is only one high grade gas you can put in this engine – the organizational vision, the cultural soul & … well … truth <not transparency … but truth>.


If an employee believes in the organization & believes the leadership, any negativity they may have is semantics. It more often than not just means that part of their gig is bitching & moaning.




This all adds up to an ability to feel the pulse of an organization.


This is as easy and as difficult as anything in business.

The reasons it should be easy is because … well … if you are even worth half a shit you kind of know your organization, know your team, know the employee desires <not necessarily the employees themselves> and you know when it feels “right.”


The reasons it should be difficult is because … well … business shit and people shit are two different kinds of shit. As a manager and leader you are being barraged day in and day out with real business shit – sales, expenses, meetings, distribution problems, results, questions, the crisis of the day, etc. – and with all of this you can sometimes get a little numbed to the people shit. This does not mean you are any less aware of what the people are feeling … it is just that sometimes you lose your sense of how big or how small the people shit is.


There are absolutely tools you can implement to try and keep a finger on the pulse and even some tools which may kind of feel like lurking or spying on your employees but can be slightly helpful in identifying any negative symptoms before it has the opportunity to grow into some morale demoralizing consequences which damage the workplace.

But they are tools.




Two step program:


  • Do not ignore negativity


  • Talk with the employee


Sad place.

You must address the issues. If you don’t … well … just imagine the worst. It is a pain in the ass to resolve negativity once it has grown some roots or has gathered some momentum.


And it may seem not very time efficient to implement my two step program but it actually is.






Face to face handled well creates at least a thread of positive … “I still have a negative attitude but I will give you credit with the rest of the organization for listening and addressing it face to face.”




Face to face gives you the opportunity to do the deeper dive into the real negativity issue.


While I do not believe you can eliminate all negativity and you certainly do not want to fire anyone simply because they can have a negative attitude < with exceptions – severely negative persons who purposefully disturb the work environment despite all your efforts need to be shown there are consequences for the negativity> I think it helps to focus not on the negativity but rather the root of it … because most times a negative attitude is derived from negative emotional feelings … rather than simple negative situations/scenarios. This is a slightly contrarian point of view as you are most likely to view managers and leaders trying to address simple “stimulus – response” negative situations.

But I tend to believe the hierarchy of organizational/employee negativity is negative emotions in a person create negative perceptions of the situation or what is going on around them and then ultimately these perceptions drive a negative attitude.


I suggest that because this would mean you wouldn’t necessarily focus on situations <like “lay offs” per se> but rather focus on negative emotions associated with “lay offs.”

Only a face to face can uncover this kind of stuff.




While negativity in individuals can almost take on a larger amoeba form way beyond the actual issue … negativity is like a magnet. In a face to face with a negative person you actually hear ALL the possible negativity threads within the organization. Some people call this gossip … I do not. I call it the unplanned hallway conversations, which I never hear because … well … I am a manager and it just doesn’t happen, which are kind of the pulse of the organization.


A negative person more often than not, if you listen well, will give you some thoughtful thoughts which you can use to head off some other issues as well as proactively





I think I view negativity in the workplace a little differently than many other business people.


I believe humans are not born with either positive or negative attitudes … and organizations are not created with ether positive or negative attitudes <although someone can enter an organization with some well-grounded perceptions>.


The positive or negative attitude is the outcome of perceptions about the situations, events etc., which one experiences.


Attitudes develop over a period of time. and attitudes can often be changed over time.

It all begins with creating a foundation of positive emotions <or the most positive you can create> which will inevitably lead to developing positive perceptions with regard to what is happening around them and thereby creating positive attitudes.


And that being said I believe any negativity in the workplace is <99% of the time> directly linked to leadership behavior & attitudes <what they do or do not say and what they do and do not do>.


You have to insure the management team models whatever behavior is desired … this includes positive. Far too often management looks to charisma in leading an organization positively. They believe that charisma inspires people to new heights of belief and passion and positive motivation.


I do not agree.world better place improve hate love




“The three most charismatic leaders in this century inflicted more suffering on the human race than almost any trio in history: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

What matters is not the leader’s charisma. What matters is the leader’s mission.”


Peter F. Drucker





Integrity. Treating others with dignity.


And a purpose dynamic beyond … well … the simple nuts & bolts of what the business does.


If you, as a leader, build a campfire employees will naturally gather around it and warm their hands, hearts & minds.

If you do that? Well. How could negativity prosper in that environment?

Enlightened Conflict