Category Archives: Management

Photo essay: Breaking the Dam


Underneath the dreamy pleasure of sunny freeze-thaw icicles trimming a snow-laden roof, there lays the nightmarish pain of ice dams and massive interior water damage.


Sharp, sparkling rows of glass stalactites may look ornate and perfect, but to be managed well, they require a firm hand. The dam must be broken.



Dam –  n. – A large reservoir of stuff trapped inside a person’s psyche: ideas, energy, and aspirations; concerns, criteria and conditions; wants, desires and passions. Normally these feed in and flow out reliably. However from time to time the floodgate gets frozen shut and a self-reinforcing build-up occurs. As the blockage persists, intervention becomes increasingly necessary.


The first rule of being an Ice Dam Master (or Mistress):  At first, you will fail.  You will not completely subdue the ice dam. You will also cause physical damage to the building and possibly to yourself as the intervener.


This does not diminish you – in fact it provides you with the starting point of your credibility. Know that the vast majority of people won’t even step up and try their hand. They’ll call you crazy, but pay them no heed. The title ‘Master’ is one that is continually earned, continually improved upon.


There is a difference between being ‘dominant’ and being ‘domineering.’   The icy core of confidence is a deep sense of humility and fearlessness. True confidence is a big part of that difference.

There is also the critical difference of having compassion and a purpose that is greater than yourself. A compassionate, purposeful focus on others makes (almost) all the difference.


As you sculpt the ice and strip away its unnecessary blockages,

know that it does those things for you, too.



A Mountain of Inspirational Quotations

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
– Zig Ziglar

This post (#4 of 27) concisely and more elegantly revisits ideas laid out in a TL;DR-worthy post entitled: “Situational self-leadership: Raising the ceiling and floor of performance.”

In a nutshell:  The literature and practice of self-motivation consists of multiple and seemingly contradictory messages that we’re supposed to tell ourselves. While there is truth in all of these messages, there’s an art to knowing which message is most useful for any given situation.

In the last post I organized the different messages of motivation using a graph.  That was all right.

In this post I’m going to organize the different messages of motivation using a collage of famous people. This will be better.*

(* better for three reasons: more concise, more memorable, and doesn’t look like it’s pretending to be science.) 

Here’s the earlier graph:

Situational Self-Leadership and Motivation Model

Here’s the collage version:

Situational Motivators

What follows below is the names of the people in the image, along with some quotes from them.  These are people whose personas we can channel and whose message we can tell ourselves at different moments in our lives.

Identifying with an ideal vision: Muhammad Ali

“The person with no imagination has no wings.”

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Striving for a personal best: Oprah Winfrey

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”

Building on a strong performance: Madonna Ciccone

“I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want.”

“One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not the owner of my talent; I’m the manager of it.”

Working through a mediocre moment: Paul Brown

“Football is a game of errors. The team that makes the fewest errors in a game usually wins.”

“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.”

Overcoming a weak performance: Winston Churchill

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Persevering through a personal worst: Helen Keller

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

Maintaining dignity, even at rock bottom: Viktor Frankl

“The last of human freedoms – the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

In summary

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

– Lao Tzu

…and don’t forget…

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”

– Katherine Hepburn

Thought du Jour, Constructivist Edition

If, as a facilitator, all you do is manage their state and nudge them towards what they already have the capacity to do, then they will win.

That’s why they call it facilitation.

Time sheets: It’s Not About a Salary, It’s All About Reality

There are people who dislike doing time sheets — filling out little grids of numbers which quantify the amount of time one has spent on given tasks, projects, activity types, client accounts, etc.    I am one of those people who dislikes doing time sheets — intensely —  though I have been known to use them very exactingly when (a) starting on a new job / type of project, as a way to calibrate my own sense of how long things take to do; or (b) when absolutely required by contract.

The act of completing a time sheet can feel tedious, especially if one is not  set up with a convenient real-time tracker such as a mobile app, a paper (yes, paper!) notepad, or even a set of Lego bricks.  Using your Sent Mail box in Outlook as an audit trail for how long you worked on a series of documents?   Yeah, been there, done that.  It’s both wearisome and worrying to be in a position of needing to reconstruct and quantify fleeting memories of hours spent working… or not really working… all the while having to discern the distorted temporal effects of hours spent with intense, productive Flow versus those dilated hours of torpid, lackadaisical sloth.

..and that’s a big part of the problem with time sheets:  Some time (and some efforts) are better spent than others!  Simply “logging your hours” doesn’t say anything about performance or results.

On the one hand, there’s a good reason many organizations use a system of salary-and-minimum-required-hours (paycheck and punch clock).  It simplifies planning, scales well, and is (sometimes, even) effective. The trouble is, an organization’s time sheet is often not as simple to use as a punch clock, and so that time sheet process creates friction and inefficiency.

My proposition:  If your organization uses time sheets as a way of measuring productivity, either get rid of them completely, or up the ante and do them really, really well:

  1. Make the time sheet process incredibly easy to use, with a state of the art user interface
  2. Set the system up so that people receive automated/instant feedback on their own productivity metrics

In other words, if the person is going to make the effort of both quantifying and qualifying how they spend their time, don’t add insult to injury of making the process feel unproductive and pointless.

On the second point, above:  By analyzing and synthesizing their input into a relevant statistics (E.g., % hours spent client facing,  # hours spent on average to move a project from stage A to stage B, etc.) — these can be done for the person themselves and/or with a a group benchmark to compare against… although be careful with the latter as it may lead to dysfunctional hyper competitive team dynamics if done without the right level of nuance and foresight.  Ultimately, this needs to be about instilling a sense of continuous improvement for the individual — people are deeply motivated by a sense of growth and mastery in their work —  as opposed to merely “scoring” or “grading” them.

There are literally thousands of time tracking systems out there….  and here’s my idea for a next generation user interface:


Imagine if something like that was your time sheet software.  You wouldn’t just be logging hours… you’d be seeing your progress as you logged them and have a sense of both purpose and accomplishment. 

(Yup, that’s right, it’s just a snapshot of the screen from a piece of gym equipment.  I’ve got a future blog post planned which will analyze the motivational differences between various visualization graphics used on LifeFitness™ cardio equipment… but for now, let’s just roll with this, okay?)

For a lot of companies, time sheets are here to stay… so let’s at least make those time sheets less annoying and more meaningful.

The Art of Handling Difficult Behavior

The art of handling difficult behavior begins with the realization that every behavior has a positive intention, for the person doing it… and that intention can be boiled down to certain basic needs.

In his popular TED Talk, “Why We Do What We Do,” Anthony Robbins shares his distillation of what he considers to be the four universal, basic human needs :

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love

..and two more spiritual needs:

  • Growth
  • Contribution


(For less concise distillations of fundamental human needs, see Abraham Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef, and Donald Brown. among others. Brown’s list of Human Universals has been effectively analyzed and applied by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate. In The One Thing You Need to Know, Marcus Buckingham extracts five fear-need pairings from Brown: Death-Security, Outsiders-Community; Future-Clarity; Chaos-Authority; Insignificance-Respect. )

I’m a fan of Robbin’s list of 6 basic human needs, in that it is succinct and yet comprehensive, with an interesting interplay between the elements on the list. I would just add the concept of fulfilling a “life script” into the mix — i.e., we not only seek to fulfill certain needs, but we also seek to confirm a set a beliefs about who we are and what is our life story. What we seek and how we seek it are what characterize our deepest patterns of behavior.  (Robbins and others would assert that one can challenge and rewrite a life script — and I’d agree — but let’s save that discussion for another day.)

In any case, one of the ways to effectively deal with another person’s difficult behavior is to

  1. determine the positive intention behind that behavior; and then
  2. lead them towards a better way of fulfilling that intention.

The rest, as they say, is mere commentary.

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