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What Would Your Own “Nixon Tapes” Reveal?

In December 2010, the secretly-recorded audiotapes of US President Richard M. Nixon were in the news again. Additional recordings (another 265 hours worth) were released earlier this month which found Nixon making disparaging remarks about ethical groups, foreign powers, and worse.

Ignoring the ethics of recording conversations of any number of White House staff, congress members, foreign dignitaries, etc. without their knowledge or permission, I wonder how our workplace behaviors would stand up to such scrutiny.

Imagine your every conversation, your every word, recorded and immediately posted on the web for your employees, family, and friends to hear. Would your behavior, your treatment of others, your tone, etc. – recorded 24/7 – reveal that you:

  1. Value and trust others?
  2. Respect others’ contributions and opinions?
  3. Expect the best from others?
  4. Give others the benefit of the doubt?

. . . or, might those recordings reveal that you sometimes stray into unfair judgment, gossip, humor at others’ expense . . . or worse?

Not a Proud Moment

An example might illustrate the “unintended” impact of our behavior. Years ago, in one of my first ever “supervising others” roles, I found that I managed some staff easily, others took a bit of effort, and a few were a complete mystery. I basically was learning “on the job” how to be a good manager.

One of my “complete mystery” staff members was a terrific contributor. Let’s call her Kelly. Her skills were exceptional and her interactions with customers were appropriate and pleasant. However, Kelly’s interactions with her staff peers and her bosses were driven by biting sarcasm, rolling of eyes at others’ comments or ideas, etc. I tried a number of approaches to raise the issue and close this gap, but Kelly never listened nor did she agree that there was any problem with her behavior.

Kelly also worked in another department, managed by a colleague. He had the same experience with her attitude and was equally frustrated.

One important complication – Kelly was the daughter of one of our board members. That dynamic caused me hours of consternation, trying to figure out what to do with my “mystery” and to do so without disappointing a key board member at the same time. I was exhausted.

The Conversation

I decided to take the bull by the horns. My colleague and I set up a meeting with Kelly to discuss our concerns. I explained the purpose of the meeting by boldly stating, “Kelly, your performance is great, but you have a %^$@% attitude.”

Silence followed. A long silence. My use of that curse word shocked her – and she barely said a word through the 10-minute meeting. I explained the inappropriate behaviors we had observed and asked her to change those behaviors ASAP. She agreed and left.

Later that evening I got a call from my boss . . . who had heard from Kelly’s dad, our board member. My boss expressed his frustration with my approach and my language. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was in the wrong, and that I owed Kelly and her Dad an apology. I called them within minutes and did just that.

My good intentions didn’t help at all. I blew it, big time – and Kelly’s and my relationship never improved. If (hypothetically) I knew I was being tape recorded, I would have never used that kind of language.

Act as If Your Every Word was Being Broadcast

Ultimately, our leadership responsibility is to create a caring, supportive work environment where goals are accomplished by passionate employees. Your influencing efforts – your words, actions, tone, and attitude – either build or erode trust and respect.


Subscribe to Chris’ twice a month updates! Text VALUES to 66866 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Genuine Leadership, On and Off the Field

In December 2010, Sports Illustrated recognized Drew Brees, the quarterback of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, as their 2010 Sportsman of the Year. It is an award well-earned for Brees, who came into the Saints organization a bruised and battered player . . . and into a region that was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I understand that sports metaphors don’t translated well for many. AND, I believe there is much we can learn from Brees’ effective approach to leading this team and this region.

Strong Values

Brees is an American sports celebrity, which means he is in the public eye 24/7. In the Internet Age, personal foibles become headlines in moments. Brees boldly lives the values of fidelity, fatherhood, service, selflessness, and sportsmanship. Brees and his wife Brittany came to New Orleans feeling a faith-based calling – and both have immersed themselves in helping recovery occur.

A telling quote from the article describes how vital Brees has become to the region. Veteran Saints tackle Jon Stinchcomb says, “People come up to Drew and don’t say ‘Congratulations.’ They say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for coming here.'”

Demonstrated Accomplishment

The Saints needed a quarterback – and Brees has delivered, big time. In 2006, his first season with the team, he threw for a league-high 4,418 yards. In ’08, he became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. In 2009, Brees completed 70.62% of his throws and lead the team to the first Super Bowl win in the Saints’ 44-year history.

Brees is relentless in his efforts to build his skills, stamina, and savvy-ness. He works his body, his mind, and his spirit to be an effective leader on and off the playing field. Those efforts have created a terrific athlete and a brilliant quarterback, surrounded by a team that would follow him to hell and back.

Selfless Service

In 2003, Brees established the Brees Dream Foundation to support cancer research and the care and education of children in need. Since that time his foundation has contributed over $6 million in Louisiana, San Diego, and West Lafayette, IN (the home of his alma mater, Purdue).

Brees gives time, talent, and treasure, even during the football season. The foundation has helped nearly 50 New Orleans schools and organizations, and Brees supports many schools with visits and individualized attention. He developed a “Quarterback Club” made up of nine New Orleans businessmen Brees brought together to leverage their creativity and wealth (each member contributes at least $25K annually to the foundation). In addition, Brees has made five NFL-sponsored USO visits to troops all over the globe.

Personal Connection

Brees cares about his teammates AND holds them accountable for their responsibilities. He spends time daily – during the season and off-season – building the “communal faith” that makes the modern passing offense work. Slot receiver Lance Moore said, “The biggest thing Drew ever said to me is, ‘I trust you.’ When Drew trusts you, you can get the ball anytime.” Wide receiver Marques Colston said, “Just being around so great a player, a guy who works so hard . . . it makes you feel like you have to raise the level of your game.”

Insights from this Genuine Leader

  1. Be bold about your values and about the behaviors you must demonstrate to live your values. Share them. Ask your staff to help you live them.
  2. Demonstrate your skills in the workplace and help others build their skills. Be bold about the skills you DON’T have, yet, and ask for coaching from players who do have those skills.
  3. Commit time, talent, and treasure to personal and company philanthropy. Share what you have with those less fortunate, not just during the holidays, but all year long.
  4. Connect to each of your team members. Learn and support their plans, hopes, and dreams. Let people know you care – and they will care right back.


Subscribe to Chris’ twice a month updates! Text VALUES to 66866 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Culture Leadership Requires Courage

Many of you have honey in your kitchens. Think for a moment about how honey is created. It starts with worker bees completely and wholeheartedly dedicated to the success of both the hive and the queen bee’s vision. The worker bees trust the queen bee absolutely. Usually, the hive is able to thrive, even in a difficult environment (check out the USDA’s examination of “colony collapse disorder“).

Creating high levels of employee drive and commitment is what makes a culture leader truly effective. Blanchard’s research indicates that when employees trust and respect their leaders, it increases their willingness and commitment to apply their “heads, hearts, and hands” in the service of the company’s goals and values.

Engaging employees’ skills and spirit is complicated by a culture change, because the process of refining an organization’s culture often requires changing embedded structures, services, systems, and even power and control. Trust and respect can be difficult to create or maintain if staff believe they are giving up more than they gain.

Culture Leaders Need to Have the Courage to ASK How Changes Are Perceived

If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, I’d love for you to), you know that my tweets guide leaders to be more available, more transparent, and more connected to their staff and customers. In the midst of culture refinement, this approach is even more critical. There is nothing worse than a leader who is disconnected from their employee’s experiences, who doesn’t know the frustrations that employees experience trying to get their company’s product or service delivered.

Two proven methodologies can keep leaders connected: truth-tellers and scouts. Truth-tellers are players that the leader trusts to tell the leader the truth – boldly and assertively – about what the buzz is in the organization about policies, practices, changes, etc. Sometimes those truths are not “self-evident.” Sometimes those truths are hard for a leader to hear. Truth-tellers are trusted advisers who can help the leader understand employee perceptions, understand how policies or procedures are viewed, and understand employee frustrations.

Truth-tellers can include direct reports, executive coaches, and even front-line staff who are unafraid to bring the leader their perceptions.

Leaders must have the courage to embrace the information truth-tellers provide, and to modify actions and communications to reflect the reality across their organization. Leaders who “shoot the messenger” – who chastise the truth-teller for telling the truth – will find themselves isolated from reality, getting only “good news” from subordinates who are afraid to tell the truth.

Scouts serve a similar role. Scouts are players dispersed across the organization (literally and figuratively) who are responsible for letting senior leadership team members know the buzz from the front lines. Scouts might be seen as “truth-tellers in training,” because if they do their job well, they earn senior leaders’ trust and respect over time.

These informal yet vital channels help the culture leader stay “in tune” with how staff across the organization see leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions – and if they are aligned with the organization’s stated vision, purpose, and values.

Do You Have the Courage to Learn Everyday?

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, actor Garry Shandling was discussing the powerful impact that his acting teacher had on Shandling’s “craft.” Years ago, this teacher asked Shandling, “Do you have the courage to learn something about yourself when the cameras are rolling?”

Effective leaders – and culture leaders, particularly –  have the courage to learn something about themselves while they are actively guiding the efforts of organizational members.

To increase your leadership effectiveness, seek the truth and modify your organization’s practices to align with it’s espoused vision, purpose, and values.


Subscribe to Chris’ twice a month updates! Text VALUES to 66866 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ooops! Atoning for A Mistake

Ever made a mistake at work? No? Then you’re one of the few, lucky players. I’ve made some really big ones in my career, but I’ve tried to not make the same mistake twice.

Years ago I was delivering a culture keynote, twice in back-to-back sessions. The client was a sales group and, to prepare, I had done some research on their organization. Their company had been fined a year before for what was described as an “ethical lapse.” I thought that I might refer to this  lapse when we discussed values alignment during my program.

The first session went beautifully with participants delving into discussions and sharing insights about our culture change process. They welcomed the chance to look at the past year’s issue from the perspective of how potential customers or employees might think of their organization’s values.

The second session was going equally well . . . until I raised the issue of the “ethical lapse.” The reaction was powerful and immediate. Participants told me that raising that issue was unfair, they had moved past it, and they were not at all interested in looking at it any further. The success of the first session’s discussion gave me confidence to push them harder to apply learnings from the lapse. It blew up in my face! They left my session, right then and there, en masse.

I was totally surprised at their reaction AND I knew I had wrongly discounted their initial reaction. If I had read that resistance more effectively, I could easily have moved to another example to make my point. I didn’t do that, and left them no alternative (from their perspective).

I apologized to the client (who had observed both sessions). I immediately contacted the salesperson to let them know what happened. After the salesperson discussed the situation with the main client contact, we agreed to not charge the client for any of my services that day. It was the right thing to do in this circumstance.

It was an expensive lesson. I’ve never made that mistake again – and believe that I am a much better “listener” and “reader” of my audiences because of that mistake.

Mistakes can happen when:

  • we underestimate the time necessary to deliver what was promised,
  • we overestimate our expertise to deliver what was promised,
  • we discount the reality around us (this is what happened to me in the scenario above),
  • we’re trying brand new solutions to a problem, or
  • we’re not fully present when working on the goal or task.

When mistakes are made when you are blazing new trails, they’re part of the learning process. Those aren’t the type of mistakes that we’re discussing here.

Once a mistake is made, the temptation to “cover it up” can be great. The best solution is to, as quickly as possible, share what happened and what you plan to do to address the situation.

You may have to negotiate for more time, or, if that’s not possible, you may have to spend the required time to meet the deadline with a high quality product or service. This kind of resolution can make for long nights – but it’s the right thing to do.

You may have to cover costs of your mistake – maybe not you personally but your team or department may have to take the hit.

Your mistake may cost others time, energy, and even reputation – that’s why you must “come clean” as soon as possible, and rectify your mistake as soon as possible.

Team members value honesty and integrity from their peers. Mistakes will be made. Do the right thing to explain the situation, describe your plan to address it, and then deliver on that plan.


Subscribe to Chris’ twice a month updates! Text VALUES to 66866 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Learnings from W.L. Gore: Compensate for Contribution

In 1995 I was invited to join a design team, charged with 1) examining how the Ken Blanchard Cos. operates and 2) facilitating large company meetings to build consensus and inspire action to make agreed to refinements. The project took 14 months of hard work. It was a tremendous learning experience with my five design team colleagues, and absolutely made me a better consultant!

One of the companies we studied was W.L. Gore, widely regarded as one of the best companies on the planet to work for. Best known for Gore-Tex – though most of their revenue comes from medical devices and medical clean room technology – today Gore is a $2.4billion global business with just over 8,000 associates.

Design team members were fascinated with many of the aspects of Gore’s culture and business (it was hard to differentiate between them, which is a big reason why the company is so highly regarded). Three of their approaches stand out to me, now 15 years later:

  1. They have a very flat organization, with no hierarchy or formal bosses. Founder Bill Gore called it a “lattice organization,” where committed, competent people worked with each other to create products that solve customer problems. They didn’t need a “boss” to direct their work.
  2. They keep facilities small to enable employee connections and employee influence of decisions and actions. Typically when a facility (which usually combines sales, R&D, and manufacturing) reaches 300 associates, they begin planning to split the facility into two smaller facilities. Why? Bill Gore said that once you reach 300 people on a site, you lose personal connections. The Gore culture highly values employee involvement, and smaller facilities helps that happen.
  3. They separate compensation from contribution. Associates are ranked by their peers for their contributions, and compensation is based upon the company’s success that fiscal year and on the associate’s ranking.

To learn more about the W.L. Gore company, please read WSJ’s Gary Hamel’s excellent two-part interview with Gore CEO Terri Kelly and the Great Place to Work Institute‘s overview of Gore, a 2009 “Great Place to Work” award winner.

A recent conversation with a client refreshed my memory of Gore’s unique compensation approach. The client’s organization had a classic performance appraisal structure, where employees were placed in a normal distribution of performance rankings. She has five exceptional performers across her 10-person team, yet because of the normal distribution, only ONE of those exceptional performers would be granted a “five out of five” rating. The “5 star” ranked players receive the greatest pay increase. “It’s so frustrating,” she related. “Why should four of my five great performers have their contribution capped because of this stupid system?!?”

I shared Gore’s successful approach of separating compensation from contribution. I explained that every associate at Gore is expected to commit to projects and goals, and to contribute to the company’s success by delivering on their commitments. Annually, their contribution is ranked by associates and compensation decreed by a cross-functional committee. My client loved the idea – but wasn’t sure if her company would consider such a significant shift in their compensation plan.

Many companies are tied to this antiquated approach that ties compensation to a normal distribution. But consider this: can you imagine how much greater performance and higher employee work passion would result if you had a team of all “A+” performers? You can – by separating compensation from contribution.

Evaluate employee contribution FIRST – let them know where they stand compared to benchmark performers. Give them a contribution ranking on a 1-10 or 1-5 scale. THEN explain, given the company’s recent fiscal year performance, how their contribution ranking translates into the upcoming year’s compensation plan.

You know, this just might work!


Subscribe to Chris’ twice a month updates! Text VALUES to 66866 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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