Alignment /execute

10 Apr

Interesting concept! I have a few questions, probably more questions than things to add.

Before that, a clarification. I intended “top-down, bottom-up, and lateral”  as communication style categories rather than as management systems. These styles are largely dictated by the individuals place in an organization. A busboy can’t issue top-down communications, and CEO’s can’t issue bottom-up communications. Or maybe they can. The ideas of communication and management are very mixed up in each other, especially when thinking of the communication of expectation. Usually when someone communicates an expectation to me, it reads as a command.

Are there differences between “communication of expectation” and command? Where do legitimacy, competency, and authority fit in? If you can clarify the concept of command beyond my questions please do.

I like the idea of combining command and consensus by order and emphasis. In a way it reminds me of D&D alignment tables.

1:Com-com    2:Com-con

3:Con-com    4:Con-Con


Each of these Management alignments could be assigned a default communication-to-execution style.

1:Pure Top-down                                         2:Top-down, bottom-up(with lateral)

3:Bottom-up(with lateral), top-down     4:Pure lateral


Around the world different cultures have different alignments. I imagine that some even employ communication styles other than their default settings. Could each culture have an optimal alignment? Culture and alignment are intertwined… but not always in proper alignment with each other. Is one easier to change than the other?

It may still be fuzzy, because there are different sizes of culture and alignments mixed within each other, and different expectations, and different communications of those expectations all mixed up in a way that makes it difficult to get my head around it.

Is it better for a company to have a mixed cultural background, but a same group culture, with similar alignments and different communication styles? Are rogue elements (individuals whose alignment does not match the group) potentially an asset to a group’s success? If not, which alignment is least likely to breed loose cannons?

Yes, this could most definitely be a book on its own.





Explicit Content

13 Feb

“You mentioned clear expectations.

What do you do when clear expectations haven’t been set and that gut feel says that implicit expectations haven’t been met?”

When I relayed your question to Jen, she sais something along the lines of: “That’s what my job is like on a daily basis! I usually have no idea what is expected of me. How am I supposed to meet expectations at all if I don’t even know what they are!”

I had to chuckle a little bit, because (implicitly) I knew that you were coming at the issue from the other side. In a way this is good news, because it illustrates that it’s not only leaders who struggle with conveying expectations to their followers, but followers are equally frustrated when expectations are unclear. There have been several times in my life where I thought I was doing a good job. And maybe I was. But I was doing the wrong job.


So how do we find clarity?


When implicit expectations aren’t being met, it could be time to make them explicit by rewriting the handbook. This may be going overboard in some cases, and having too many rules can quickly kill creativity and flexibility. At my work, we have a very clear list of standards of service that we are expected to meet. However, on top of knowing the rules, our managers expect us to know when to bend (and sometimes break) them for the good of the guest/team.

I suppose it really depends on the severity of the transgression. For example: The handbook states that when I clock into work, I do so in my designated uniform. If I were to show up to work with my pants on backwards, I sincerely doubt management would re-write the book to address pant-orientation. For more serious (usually ethical) violations of implicit expectations, I have seen the offending party subject to serious disciplinary measures up to termination. Shortly after this happens, we are all asked to sign updated versions of our employment agreement. And the implicit it made explicit.

To confront chaos and restore order, there are three directions of communication. I’ll call them “top down”, “bottom up”, and “lateral”.

Yearly or quarterly reviews are great for top down communication. My company recently switched the scoring on our yearly reviews to a 5 tier system. 1: does not meet expectations, 2: approaches expectations, 3: meets expectations, 4:exceeds expectations, 5: nobody gets a 5. I forget what 5 really is, but lets just say “superhuman”. Before my review is posted on my record my manager goes over it with me and we discuss each expectation. Another form of top down communication is the “see me in my office” approach. This is for when an individual, or a few individuals, are causing the problem. It’s not always best to single people out though.

Department meetings are a good mix of top down and bottom up communication. Managers can inform the entire team of where expectations are not being met, and employees have the opportunity to explain why that is the case. Here it is almost always a bad idea to single people out, usually everyone knows who they are already. Manager: “We expect everyone to deliver drinks to the table using trays, this expectation is not being met.” Employee: “Yes we agree, however; there are five of us on at a time, and we only have four trays.” In this case, it is the manager who missed the implicit expectation of the staff to supply proper tools to do their job well. Most of our meetings end with an open floor, where staff can raise concerns. Meeting minutes are taken and emailed out to staff along with a list of resolutions to problems agreed on by the team.

Lateral communication: while I have zero authority over my peers at work, communication of expectations is still extremely important. A while back, a simple communication breakdown became toxic. It split us apart and nearly destroyed our once very close knit team. Eventually our manager called a meeting. When we showed up, he told us that we were all adults and could figure it out on our own. And we did. When we realized that all the resentment and hostility was the result of a miscommunication, we immediately pledged to over-communicate in the future. The very next day we started using a handover log book. In it we communicate things like “I didn’t get X done because of Y, we should have product in tomorrow, please make sure it gets done.” If you are aware that you have not met expectations, it’s not a bad idea to own up to it. That way people will know that you are at least aware of your mistakes.

All three of these forms of communication are designed to express expectations in a very clear way. And since they are on record, they can be referred to at a later time.

It’s important to communicate expectations in a respectful way. Be sure that you are heard and understood, but more importantly, be sure that you hear and understand the other.

Again. Over-communicate. Stating that an expectation isn’t being met implies that it is expected to be met in the future. I recommend setting a follow-up date to check for the desired improvements. Agree on metrics and measure periodically. What gets measured gets managed.



As a leader, how do you deal with pushback without resorting to the “because I said so and I’m the boss of you” card? What situations, if any, call for this? Is it effective? Do you recommend different protocols between the roles of boss, husband and father?

Redshirts and stuff.

5 Jan

“How do you identify leaders who can lead people? And if they’re not a good fit, how can they move to a place where they do fit without shame, loss, demotion, or defeat?”

I’ll split this up into three categories. These categories aren’t perfect, there is some crossover, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s just a few things that really stick out to me.

Personal character, hard skills, and soft skills. For most leadership positions I think this is the order of importance. No amount of skill can compensate for a lack of integrity.


Do they have a healthy amount of self doubt? Good leaders aren’t always right, but they are able to admit when they are wrong. Enough self doubt allows a leaders followers to call them into question on issues they may have been blind to. Do they admit personal failures in order to ensure the teams success? Or when their hard skills are not sufficient, do they sweep problems under the rug? Mistakes shouldn’t be hidden, and when an underling points out a potential problem, they should not be quickly dismissed. Humility trumps arrogance in the long run every time.

Do they keep commitments? At one of my first jobs out of college I was promised that after a probationary period I would receive a raise if I met certain expectations. I met and exceeded expectations, but when the time came for the promised raise, I was brushed off. I left (fired that boss) as soon as I could.

Years later, I was brought in (elsewhere) as a third party consultant. A few weeks into the job, the guy who hired me said that he couldn’t pay me, because the other party was not paying him. A few months later, he approached me with another job offer. I should have either declined or protected myself contractually. But here’s the thing: you shouldn’t need a contract to trust a leader. A leaders word is their own self-enforced and sacred bond.

Do they treat the redshirts well? Some leaders show up to the front lines, other ones send in the redshirts. This may be because the leader is stronger suited for strategic operations than tactical. Or it may be because the leader holds their own safety above their crew. A good leader, front line or not, assures the crew that the interests of all are taken into account. You may recall a certain angry restaurant manager shouting through a rage filled vein bulgy neck: “And when James gets back: TELL HIM TO PICK UP THAT LIME!”

Hard skills:

Hard skills are so varied from job to job that I almost didn’t even make this a category. But there are a few things to be said. “Fix it or buy a new one” falls loosely under the umbrella of hard skills. If a leader keeps bad eggs around for too long, that’s not good for the team. If a leader repeatedly fires new hires without even trying to foster growth, that’s even worse.

Some hard skills are easy to acquire, some are… hard. I’ve worked with some leaders who didn’t have the necessary hard skills to be so close to the front line operations, but upper leadership saw in them the capacity for more “big picture” management. That leader was not demoted for their “shortcomings”, instead: promoted. Also, lets not confuse the word promotion with the word reward. More often than not, a promotion means getting thrown into the deep end. Usually without floaties.

I think it was Richard Branson who once picked several perfectly qualified candidates (as far as hard skills go) for the same job. The final test was to see who was kindest to the driver between the airport and his office.


Soft skills:

Do they make their underlings feel included and valued as integral parts of the team and mission? If you don’t feel like part of the team, you probably won’t act like one. And what employee would feel inclined to add value if none comes back on them?

Do they foster growth? Leaders aren’t the only ones who can sense stagnation. Employees know when they are working a dead end job, no matter what level they have reached. And the old trope “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” has grown and not died out for a reason.

Do they listen to the experienced gut feels? After doing the same or similar thing many times, you will develop a “gut feel” where you can’t really put your finger on it, but somethings seems just not right. There have been a few times where I had the gut feel and ignored it, and the situation spiraled out of control. There have been other times where I listened to my gut and brought it to the attention of my managers only to have them tell me to continue as usual. Most of the time that didn’t turn out well. Good leaders don’t only listen to their own guts, but the guts of their more experienced redshirts.

Are they good at giving and taking feedback? Humility and a little knowledge of the hard skills are needed for giving and taking feedback. If a leader is unable to properly communicate a problem to an employee, that’s a problem. If a leader is unable to hear that they may be the source of the problem… iceberg ahead.

We all know that hard skills can be developed. But until recently the soft skills have been regarded as genetic and static. This is simply not true.


“And if they’re not a good fit, how can they move to a place where they do fit without shame, loss, demotion, or defeat?”

I think the key to avoiding shame/defeat here is to keep the professional and personal separate. You could do a two sided evaluation where the evaluator and evaluatee both do the same evaluation on how they are performing in different aspects of their job. Of course, performance expectations should have been set out clearly from the beginning. Some leaders may think they are absolutely crushing it in certain categories, where their supervisors may completely disagree. It’s not that a certain leader is a bad person, or that you don’t like them, it’s that they aren’t meeting certain professional standards. This is where upper management can say something like: “You’re not very good at this thing, but you are outstanding at this other thing. Would you like to work on your weaknesses, or would you like to focus on your strengths and move to where they would benefit the team/clients most?”


This issue has been bothering me for a while, it’s about instilling motivation. I’m against both the stick and the carrot when it comes to this issue, (see Barry Schwartz “on our loss of wisdom”) and believe that intrinsic motivation is superior to both by far. I have seen too many teams fail because they were fixated on rewards, or obsessed with not being “made an example of”, instead of prioritizing the mission. But how in the world do you incept intrinsic motivation in employees, co-workers, or even superiors?

Arriving to departure.

18 Nov

Ok, here we go. Hopefully firefox will be kinder to my work than Microsoft edge has been. This rewrite will be a little bit scattered, but I hope it will be cogent. I just want to get it all out, we can edit it later.

I really like this question, and this will be a difficult one to answer, we will absolutely have to revisit this topic later on. It’s hard for me to even think about quitting because, to me, it implies some sort of failure. I think people give up too soon without enough consideration. However, I am aware that there is such a thing as failing to admit failure, the sunk cost fallacy is a real thing and not to be taken for granted.

“Give me a place to stand, a lever long enough and a fulcrum and I will move the Earth.” -Archimedes

The first thing I would recommend when encountering any sort of difficulty is to ask this simple question: “Is it me?” If you are the cause of whatever problem you are encountering this is great news, because it is infinitely easier to change one’s own thoughts, perceptions and behaviors than it is to change those of others. It is useful to have a trusted partner who can point out the plank in our eye that is warping our perspective of reality where we only see a speck. Sometimes all we really need to do is develop a higher tolerance for whatever is (at the moment) intolerable. Imagine meeting someone who had just quit his job at an aviary to work on a pig farm because he didn’t like dealing with bird poop! I have come across countless people who leapfrog from failed relationship to failed relationship, bemoaning their bad luck and readily finding fault in their partners, decades into this pattern they finally come to the hard/easy question: “Is it me?” Remember, leaving doesn’t solve the problem. You will either leave the problem behind for someone else to deal with, or you will take it with you. I’m not sure which is worse, but I can say with certainty which is more easily avoidable.

If you can rule out yourself as the problem, (and I recommend never doing so permanently) you will have a place to stand. Now it’s time to gain leverage in the form of tools and skills. The other day I came across a problem: the sleeve button of my favorite flannel shirt had popped off. Luckily for me I had a sewing kit handy, and adequate sewing skills for the task at hand. If I hadn’t had a sewing kit, it may have been worth it to buy the tools. However, I can’t say it would have been worth it to take sewing lessons. How frequent and pervasive are the problems you are encountering in your given vocation? Are the costs of gaining the tools and skills necessary to address the problems prohibitively high? You can’t always “get a new one”. Consider the job of jungle bush pilot. While mechanical emergencies are relatively rare due to maintenance, they do occur. And when they do, both the tools and skills of an airplane mechanic are vital. Try your darndest to plan ahead and gain tools and skills before they are called to task.

Fulcrum time! We don’t all have to be mechanics to get up in the air. Many problems can be outsourced. If you do not have the tools/skills to tackle a given problem, odds are somebody you know does. Or at least somebody you know knows somebody who does. Persuasiveness and diplomacy are great skills to have for the purpose of conscripting the aid and advice of others. If you can’t solve a problem on your own; find like minded people, build alliances, put together a posse. Leverage that leverage!

If all of the above doesn’t work, consider a corporate style template. Verbal warnings, write-ups, suspensions leading to termination. It’s important to have this documented in writing to avoid surprises. There’s a reason it’s called wrongful termination: it’s wrong. Each step of this type of process allows the other party the opportunity to ask the hard/easy question I talked about earlier. Each step increases the severity or the situation. They can self assess or refuse to self assess. They can try to improve or refuse to improve. The assessment may not be accurate, and the attempts at improvement may fail. This takes patience. If people refuse to improve or even consider that they may be in the wrong, termination may be in order. Obviously there are varying levels of offense. If an employee pulls a knife on a coworker and threatens bodily harm I’d say it’s safe to skip over the verbal warning phase. As a side note (and I hope an obvious one) if the problem is with an individual it will be easier to deal with than a group, and group problems are easier to deal with than cultural problems.

Before leaving: Be clear about the reasons for your departure. There’s a chance that this will cause the problem to be addressed after you leave instead of leaving it behind for someone else to discover. Be nice about it though, I’ve never heard of bridge burning as a recommended policy. Also: communicate your views to someone who can actually do something about the problem. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. At least you tried to help. Take inventory, be clear with yourself why you are leaving. Know the problems, and know what tools and skills you need for your next venture.

Lastly, failing is costly. All that blood, sweat, tears, time and money you put into this thing you are leaving and you don’t even get a t-shirt! But you do get to take your lessons with you moving forward.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” -Marcus Aurelius


I’m not technology enough to do the linky comment thing yet. These are skills I aim to gain.

Question: What are some useful and detrimental constraints, self imposed or otherwise? I’m leaving this one wide open as a bit of a joke.

If I am not for myself.

9 Nov

Brother, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything outside shorthand food and drink orders and requisition forms. Please overlook the glaring grammar and punctuation errors. Don’t let Tommy see this!

A while back I heard a quote: “If I am only for myself, who am I? But if I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

Being wholly selfish leads to a loss of identity, with no shared goal or purpose. But as we have all seen at some point in our lives, being entirely selfless without an advocate leaves us prime candidates for Doormat of the Year.

I have seen very successful groups where underlings are generally selfless, and management takes on the role of advocate. I have also seen the opposite: where employees are not team oriented, and management is the antagonist…   “every man for himself” is the unspoken rule of law.

Both sides of this equation create a feedback loop/spiral.Downwards: When employees are selfish, management becomes the adversary. When management is not looking out for the employees interests, employees become selfish. Upwards: When employees act in the interest of the group, management is able to confidently advocate for their interests. When employees know management is looking out for them, they can serve the team selflessly without fear of being taken advantage of.

These cycles gain momentum like freight trains over time, and eventually they seem unstoppable. But things were good once before they went bad. And many thing which were once bad are now good. From the leadership side; what advice would you give for turning a vicious cycle virtuous, and for preventing a good thing from turning bad?


Does the Christmas tree have roots?

24 Nov

A few days after Thanksgiving day and the trees are already up. What a wonderful holiday tradition! And aren’t traditions wonderful? They serve to unite and build communities and uplift our spirits. The singing of the national anthem before a game, numerous wedding traditions, graduation ceremonies, Thanksgiving dinner, anniversaries, the list goes on and on. Traditions are there as reminders of our past, some sort of recognition or celebration, and sometimes they even point to a future hope. In short, they tell us who we are and where we are going.

So where do the roots of the Christmas tree lie? Last night I took a few minutes to nerd out on the significance of the Christmas tree. I found numerous explanations, most I have heard before, but I also found a “new” one.

There is the one where the Christmas tree is a borrowed custom from pagan rites commemorating the feast of saturnalia, where the evergreen symbolizes life even in the midst of death. That would be a bit of a bummer, IF it were the real story behind the Christmas tree.
Maybe it is an interpretation of the yule log of Germanic paganism. Snopes.
Some explain that the tree has three corners, symbolizing the trinity. Geometrically speaking; that’s just not true, unless there is some breed of conifer I’ve never heard of.
There is the theory that the tree points to the sky, reminding us of things above our human situation. Ever seen a tree that does not point up?

No satisfactory explanations of the Christmas tree tradition could be found. Nothing really pointed to the past or towards the future, nothing in these theories helps the tree significantly anchor our identity.
Around 1650 Lutheran theologian Johann Dannhauer wrote in his The Milk of the Catechism that “the Christmas or fir tree, which people set up in their houses, hang with dolls and sweets, and afterwards shake and deflower. . . Whence comes this custom I know not; it is child’s play . . .”
Seems pointless… but wait for it.

“Karas has amply demonstrated that evergreens have been a symbol of rebirth from ancient times. Bringing greenery into one’s home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans decked their homes with evergreens and other greenery during the Kalends of January. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old German feast of Yule, which originally was a two-month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home. However, the evidence just does not exist which shows that Christians first used trees at Christmas as a symbol of rebirth, nor that the Christmas tree was a direct descendent of the Yule tree. On the contrary, the evidence that we have points in another direction. The Christmas tree appears to be a descendent of the Paradise tree and the Christmas light of the late Middle Ages.
From the eleventh century, religious plays called “mystery plays” became quite popular throughout Europe. These plays were performed outdoors and in churches. One of the most prevalent of these plays was the “Paradise play.” The play depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The play would end with the promise of the coming Savior and His Incarnation (cf. Gen. 3:15). The Paradise play was simple by today’s standards. The only prop on stage was the “Paradise tree,” a fir tree adorned with apples. From this tree, at the appropriate time in the play, Eve would take the fruit, eat it, and give it to Adam.”

Finally!!! So now we have a decent story of the Christmas tree. But how did it get off the stage and into our homes? Easy, someone banned the plays. But by then they were such a part of the tradition that people just cut down trees and put them in their homes. They would decorate the trees with apples (symbolizing the fruit of sin) and homemade wafers (symbolizing the fruit of life).
There you have it; the Christmas tree is a powerful tradition, full of reminders of the past and celebration of the future.

We Didn’t DO anything! (kaizen)

11 Nov

It was my wife who encouraged me to begin writing again, and so I thought it fitting that I begin with writing a letter of encouragement for her.
Jen, My Lady, this one’s for you.

The name of my blog came from a movie, here I will explain why I chose it.

A divorce-what have I done! I haven’t done anything- What have I done!
Larry, don’t be a child. You haven’t “done” anything. I haven’t “done” anything.
Yes! Yes! We haven’t done anything!

You might remember this somewhat humorous exchange between Larry Gopnik and his wife Judith.

We live in a broken world; things don’t stay the way they are, and everything is in a constant state of decay. We are either growing or dying. Improving or decaying. Larry and Judith didn’t necessarily “do anything” wrong, but it seems obvious that they had not been “doing anything” to maintain their marriage.

The same goes for pretty much everything in life. Left on their own; gardens don’t stay watered and pest free, bicycle tires do not stay full of air, dishes do not stay clean, repetitive jobs do not stay exciting, coffee does not stay warm, and beds do not stay made. In short: life is messy.

How’s that for encouraging? Don’t worry, that’s only half the story.
The good news is the Gospel. We have been forgiven much. Christ loved/loves us, enabling us to love each other, and to love others. How does that love materialize? So many ways! That’s the exciting part. There are thousands upon thousands of ways that you and I can reflect the love of Christ into this dark and dying world.
We’ve already talked a little bit about how a holy/loving marriage is a huge blessing to others. Did you know that working hard with a good attitude can do the same thing? It’s something I struggle with acting out, but people notice it. If they don’t, God does. Work can be an act of worship, a service to Christ. A graceful response where a slap in the face is warranted, a small personal act of service where none was required, a large and cheerful sacrifice where none was asked for. These things do not come naturally, to quote Chris Lazzo, who I think was quoting someone else: “we do not drift into holiness”. Active pursuit is necessary, and never forget that we have access to the Creator of the universe, who is able to do more than anything we could imagine. (Eph 3:20, Romans 8:26) Also: I’m here for you too. 🙂

There is a Japanese term “kaizen” that I’ve been thinking of. It means something along the lines of “continuous/daily improvement”. The idea is that perfection is never reached, there is always something to be improved on. The same concept can be applied to our pursuit of Christ and each other.

While the idea of kaizen may be discouraging to many, it should be a source of joy for us.
Because kaizen just says there are obstacles, but the gospel says we can overcome them!
ALL of them!!!!!

“Run, Daniel, run,” the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands.
Yet better news the gospel brings;
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

As I write this, I am thinking of you alone behind that desk, praying that your day goes well.

Eph 3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Hello world!

11 Nov

Welcome to! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!