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Author: Ashley

Roadblocks and Dynamite: On initiative and why saying no may be hazardous to your health 

Roadblocks and Dynamite: On initiative and why saying no may be hazardous to your health 

Last month, we talked about the impact of a direct manager and leadership team can have on an individual (I fired my company!)….  over 60% of employees leave your organization because of the manager and 90% because of the leadership team in general.  Many of you responded with your own viewpoint, and continue to share on your personal experience.

However, leaving your job doesn’t happen overnight (well almost never) – and, for the most part, it may take a while for you to decide to pull the plug….

What if there was a way to prevent you from making that decision? From having to find something new – that could be better, but may be worse?

What if there was a way to dynamite the roadblocks that are slowing you down at work?

Several years ago, a corporate director came to my building to do a walk through inspection and evaluate us on how ready we were for our peak season. We walked him through the building, pointing out all the things we had done well over the year since he had been there last, skipping over the things we hadn’t addressed (or, to be honest, didn’t want to bring his attention to).

Of course, he didn’t get to his position for accepting what he was told, and after a few times, he asked about one of our processes. We explained that the process was a one-off – we were different than other buildings, so basically we couldn’t be compared to other buildings.

He stopped us right there and asked if we did the basic process (similar to “do you breathe every day?”). We did. Then we were asked if it made any difference how we “breathed” – we still did it, and needed to figure out a way to get it done – in this case, in a faster, more efficient way.

We needed to take initiative.

Our team had been hiding behind all of the excuses of why we were different, how we shouldn’t be compared to anyone else – instead of realizing we were just “variations on a theme” and took initiative to find a way.

In the survey, over 80% of employees said they left their company because of a lack of advancement, not feeling connected to an organization, or problems with the work environment.

Is it possible that you could find a way around some of those roadblocks that could be very real – and make your own dynamite to take a different path, make a different road?

Initiative is about taking responsibility for your work, and making it your job to make it excellent (Millikin, 2016). Instead of “What am I required to do at work”, you say “How I can best help my peers, managers, company be the best they can be?”

So… let’s do it, you’ve said. How do I blow up these roadblocks that’s holding me back?. 

  • Put yourself in YOUR customer’s shoes. Who is your customer? It may not be the external customer at all – but the accountant that needs your report by Thursday, so she can meet a deadline – and you get to it when you can. Your customer isn’t happy – but could you change that?
  • What problems exist? You probably already know several in your workplace. What are the issues? What do you just put band-aids on because you feel you are engaged or your team doesn’t support you? It doesn’t matter. If  you can get it done – then do it. Don’t wait for support from someone else if you have the power to make it better (See #1 above). You’ll be surprised at what gets done when YOU start it.
  • Find a better way. If you do a number of tasks you find menial or boring – brainstorm. Understand the reasons the tasks need to be done, and if so, find ways to make them more efficient. There could be a chance that you are NOT the best person to do it – and if you took on something that was more suitable to your strengths and job requirements, then you can get back to taking care of #1 (your customer, of course!)

Note this does NOT give you the right to march into your boss’s office and say I’m too important to be doing data entry. It DOES mean you should think about the implications, the cause and effect of your actions, and think about how you can better impact the team and organization.

Take a chance. Take initiative. Blow up those roadblocks that are keeping you from being what you know you’re capable.

About the Author

Ashley P. Lesko, PhD is a navy veteran and President of Square Peg Solutions, which is focused on helping companies discover (and take advantage of) their greatest unknown assets – their people. She also teaches at Queens University in Charlotte, NC and Harvard Extension School, based in Boston, MA. Her growing body of work on new and front line manager leadership and talent engagement has been presented to the Society of Human Resource Management, Charlotte Business Journal, Elite Training Day Loss Prevention Executive Conference, and will be featured in February 2017 at the Innovision Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Dr. Lesko can be reached via e-mail at: ashley@squarepegsolutions.org and welcomes your ideas and challenges about what getting more out of your people by giving them more means to you.

I didn’t quit my job, I fired my company: Lessons to leaders on saving the best assets you didn’t know you had

I didn’t quit my job, I fired my company: Lessons to leaders on saving the best assets you didn’t know you had

A few months ago, I asked a simple question – have you ever quit a job? The responses came in fast and furious – but what was more interesting – were the reasons why people quit their jobs – and how many of them would have stayed if given the chance. In the pilot study, one of the key statistics that stuck out was….

92% of people said they quit because of management.

Think about it. It wasn’t the food, the benefits, the salary, or even their coworkers. The top reason that people quit was because of the management team. What’s even more scary than that? (Artwork by Rachel Christine Nowicki)

60% said that they quit because of their immediate manager.

Think about that for a second. Let’s say that you and 9 other people in your company have a $50,000 job. Your company is large, greater than 10,000 employees, and 10 of you quit in the year. No big deal, right? The average cost of turnover for someone in your range is about 150% – so that’s going to cost the company $750,000. If the average turnover in a company is 15% – meaning up to 1500 people would leave in a same year – well, you get the picture.

In the pilot survey, it didn’t matter what position the individuals were in (approximately half managed others, and half were individual contributors) or how long they had been with the company (20% had quit with less than 1 years’ experience with the company, > 50%  had been with the company 2-4 years, and 25% had been there more than 5 years).

I hear what you’re saying… I know this. I don’t want my (good) people to leave my company. What can I do about it?

First, congrats. No, I’m not being condescending but the fact that you actually want to do something about it – from your chair, from your position right there – puts you ahead of half of the crowd. There is a lot you can do about it…. And the first step is recognizing that your employees may not feel like they NEED you as much as they used to.

  1. Participate in Career Advancement with your employees = developing Career Engagement

Employees don’t want to be another cog on the wheel, something slightly better than a glorified robot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a manual labor construction job or a VP. More than 25% of employees said they wanted to have career engagement – an ability to engage at different levels of their career, and have both input and output about what they can do.

One senior level manager mentioned that he had been moved several times into positions that he had “no input or choice”.  He didn’t feel in control of where he was going, and thought leaving for higher ground was better than staying and waiting for what happened next


  1. Listen to your employees. That’s it. Just listen.

It’s amazing what someone will do when they know someone else is listening. When someone is paying attention to what their strengths are, where their problems are, and whether the manager really understands what they are saying.  One person said she quit because the manager had unrealistic expectations, and were not given the tools needed to succeed, despite repeated requests of the employees.  Another mentioned the regional managers couldn’t “effectively communicate company goals” and instead of listening to understand what was going on, they “blamed local managers for performance”. It can be uncomfortable to hear what your people have to say. It is even more uncomfortable to lose the person because they fired YOU, their manager.

  1. Know who you are. And know who your people are.

This may sound a bit wishy-washy, but it’s not. Nearly 40% of those polled said that the environment and/or the culture of the firm led them to handing the shoes to their companies and saying “fill these”.

You hire people for a job description. Accountant, buyer, sales rep. You may even have several – 20, 30 or more in each position. Each one of them are different. They have their own talents, their own strengths – and ones that are outside of their job description, but INSIDE the company’s strategic goals and values. Finding out what their strengths and talents are and using them to the company’s (and employee’s) advantage is called Talent Engagement and it is a very powerful tool that helps you as a manager and leader of your company get more out of your employees by giving them more.

Most of the time, people do not look forward to quitting their jobs OR firing their companies…. And are looking for ways to stay.

Understand your assets – help them stay – help everyone win.

Do you know how to celebrate your birthday?

Do you know how to celebrate your birthday?


So… this month is my birthday. And it has been…. For a few years

Each year, we celebrate the passing of one more year. One more year that we’ve lived 525,600 minutes (thank you, Rent), drank milk, ate our lunch, worked, had some fun, worked some more, thought about vacation, had some fun, and a few other things.

What about the other things? The peaks and the valleys, the highs and the lows? The breakups and the successes, the OMG and the Holy $#%^? The new friends and the near misses?

How do you celebrate your birthday?

For me, a birthday is a celebration. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what’s going on in your life. It’s a time for others to celebrate YOU. Whether Facebook or their iPhone tell your friends, family and colleagues that it’s your special day, or if they just plain old fashioned remembered – it’s a time to celebrate you.  You get taken out to dinner. You receive a gift, maybe even have a Chucky Cheese party (if you’re that kind of person) – all for you. People tell you “Happy Birthday”, and you say “Thank you”. You may even hear from friends you haven’t heard in a while, to see how you are.

For one day, it’s all about you. And making YOU feel special.

Which leads me to the question – do you know how to celebrate your people’s “birthdays”?

I’m not just talking about cake and flowers, and maybe a bottle of wine if you’re a REALLY nice boss. I’m talking about the celebration part. The “thank you for doing a great job” part. The “today, you should be special, because you did this” part.  The “I don’t even know what kind of sacrifice you made to get this done, but I recognize it, and I thank you for it”.

Get my drift?

Celebrate successes. Make them feel special. Even little baby successes – like learning how to complete that first power point without correction by the VP –  that may not seem much to you. THANK your people. It’s the basis of TWO of the 3 pillars of NOT having a miserable job – Anonymity AND Immeasurability (Lencioni, 2007), so obviously if you’re not doing it, then I won’t even charge you for the guidance and tell you that your people probably think you suck a little bit (ok, giving it to you straight, probably a lot).

And you’ve probably already seen this coming … why stop at birthdays?

For the people that work for you, day in and day out – that get it done every day – CELEBRATE successes. Finish a project that was 90% great, but 10% needs improvement? DO NOT only focus on the improvements (and yes, I’m honest, I still struggle with this!). Sing Happy Birthday to those that made it great (aka “make them feel special and appreciated”) and then the next day (when it’s NOT their “birthday”) tackle the 10% and raise the mark.

Try it. It won’t hurt. It may feel a little funny at first, but your people will like it.

Have your own way you celebrate “birthdays”? Share them with me – would love to hear them. (As long as you’ve said it to your team first!)


Is it time to debut your “Unseen Picasso”?

Is it time to debut your “Unseen Picasso”?

A few months ago, I was watching one of my favorite shows, CBS’s “Scorpion”, and one of the characters, almost in passing, suggested that the other character had an “Unseen Picasso”.

Those two words, “Unseen Picasso”, grabbed my attention, and I began to reflect on what he meant by calling that out in the other character – and how it applies in real life – and at work.

In May of 2015, an actual unseen Picasso work of art from 2009 was revealed in the UK (see link for more info) and the art world received a gift in the form of a work of art from one of the greatest artists of last century.

Do you have an Unseen Picasso?

Stop a second. What do you do really well? If you could do this skill, that strength – for the majority of your job – you would just rock it out? Are you a builder of relationships? A salesperson or competitor to the nth degree? A developer of others? I’m not looking at your job title, I’m looking at skills sets, soft skills, talents.

We all have talents. There is something that you do that only you know how to do, to think or to say. It’s due to your lifetime experiences, your training, your personality – or maybe a combination. No one has lived your life. You could have “real” or tangible talents – amazing singer, an accountant that is a whiz with numbers, or those harder to see – such as motivator, leader, or learner.

What talents or strengths do you have right now –  but you’re not using? Do you have a hidden talent, and would like to use it? Is there a way you can use it in your day to day? Could you find a way?

A few years ago, I decided to go back to school (again) to get my PhD. It wasn’t the easiest thing – I changed my life once again, full time job, family, kids. I found that I not only liked to teach – I LOVED it. It was my Unseen Picasso.

To help others learn a topic, or see a concept in a different light based on their own experiences – was an amazing experience for me. However, I was not in a training/teaching position – and didn’t have the opportunity at the time to change over. I talked to my manager about a way to teach his department, and he agreed – I would train them, over the course of several months – in a short leadership development program to help them learn more about themselves and others.

It was a great experience – for all involved. I got to embrace my Unknown Picasso – something I had a talent for, and worked on my own time if I needed – which motivated me in my regular job as well. The department got to benefit from training and talent development when they would have had none. My manager took a chance on me, and I appreciate to this day what his trust in me did for my motivation at the time.

So I bring it back to you. You may have to take a chance. For yourself, for your team… or maybe even both.

What is your Unseen Picasso?

Change your 10% – Lead from where you stand

Change your 10% – Lead from where you stand

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a commencement address to students starting out on their careers. I am always honored to be able to talk to those that are starting something that is new, and potentially make a pivotal change in their lives.

I wanted to give a talk of inspiration… but I didn’t want to be corny. Something that made sense for the here and now, not wishy washy stuff.  I reflected on one of the key pieces I learned in the Navy: Change your 10%. Focus on what you have the ability to impact.

Uh… what? Here are some of the highlights…..

The Story of 10%

I spent several years active duty as a Naval Officer; I still continue my service in the reserves. I’m proud of my service not only to my country, but also, and sometimes more importantly, to the sailors that I worked with on the ships that I served.

I went to boot camp in Newport, RI, and was assigned to Charlie Company and its very own Gunnery Sergeant. Now, for those of you that have never been in boot camp, never met a Gunnery Sergeant, but have watched a few movies on either – well – Hollywood did not make it up.

I was yelled at, got up early, ran until I was sick (literally… and congratulated on getting to that point), did a million sit ups, pushups, ran everywhere, and learned the other military motto. The Marines had “Semper Fidelis” or “Always Faithful” – in Boot Camp, we have another motto “Semper Gumby” – always flexible. We would run everywhere, and then wait – until the Mess Hall Opened, until it was time to go upstairs to our rooms, or just until the Gunny’s decided we’d waited enough!

It was a challenging place to be for a 19-year-old who thought she knew everything. It was humbling, but it became something else. Throughout the extremely trying days, it was also invigorating. In the evenings, if we had a few minutes of down time between running (and waiting) for the next exercise, Gunnery Sergeant would sit my 60 plus member Charlie company down and talk to us about what was really ahead of us – what was NOT advertised on the recruitment forms.

For we were all going to be leaders or impact players of our organizations – in some way, every one of us would be leading a ship, a squadron, a platoon at some point, at some level. We would be faced with a variety of challenges – from the basics of developing people to prepare for their next level, the next promotion, or (hopefully) even one day having our employees take our own job (which is a great accomplishment for ANY leader). We would face dealing with difficult people (both above and below and AT our level in the organization), deal with challenging bureaucracies, and try to get things done when there were 100 things to do.

How would we do it? How would we know which one to start first? What if there were 100 different problems that we recognized when we checked in? How would I know which one to start? What’s most important? The more he talked, the more concerned we found ourselves as the gravity of our jobs, as leaders or not, loomed larger by the minute.

And then… he said something that made it all possible. Something, that – if you listened, truly listened to what he said, to how he said it – and thought about it in your own words and experiences – you realized you could make it happen.

It was this: Change your 10%. Focus on the areas of your work that you can make a change, make an impact, and let go of the ones that you can’t.

Isn’t that a little defeatist? Doesn’t that basically mean that you are just giving up on areas that needed help – that needed work and your support as well?

No – not at all. I guarantee you when you go off to your next job, your next task, if you haven’t already felt it – you’ll see a number of challenges or problems that you’ll want to fix.  Have you already been there?

So do it. Don’t be afraid. You have the ability to make that impact – to make that change. When I say Change your 10% – I want you to focus on your immediate area – where can you make the biggest impact? Impact that area make it happen.

If you focus on areas that you can’t impact (right now) – because you don’t have the responsibility level or it’s in another department, you could find frustration and become unmotivated or unengaged. Instead, where could you better spend that time and energy? Focusing on your 10%! And you know what? If you focus on your 10%, and I focus on my 10%…. then eventually we will make the impact together.

How do I change my 10%?

You’re not just a cog in the wheel of a company – you’re not just a pebble on the company’s road to riches. You have the ability to make an impact in your job right here, right now.

Just an analyst? No way. You are the main person diving into the data, making sense of a bunch of numbers and spreadsheets. No one else is going to look at it the way you do. No one else has the EXACT knowledge, experience, and understanding as you do.

Just a front line manager? Not a chance. You have the ability to impact others in their professional lives, their personal lives – and their careers. You are an important piece of the puzzle, and perhaps changing your 10% means impacting a person that finds a career that sets them on a trajectory they never imagined.

Will you get it wrong? Sure, sometimes. That’s fine. In fact, no, that’s not fine – that’s GREAT. If you’re not getting it wrong, if you’re not applying yourself, challenging yourself, pushing yourself out of the box – you’re not doing it right. Thomas Edison once said that “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Push yourself outside of your comfort zone every now and then – you may be surprised just how much is right outside your door.

Don’t like what you’re doing? That’s ok – deal with it. Changing your 10% means you know what you have the ability to impact and leaving alone the areas you can’t change. For some of you – that means that although the job you have right now isn’t what you want right now, or in the field of this just finished hard earned degree – with focus, you can find what it is that you do enjoy, you do well, and/or makes you happy.

If you can’t change your job or position right away – then consider this advice: Bloom where you’re planted. It doesn’t mean you’ll be there forever. But if you’re in position now – make the best of it – because you could be amazed at how it gets you where you want to go. Maybe someone will see you do amazing work for a job that was underestimated. Maybe they will notice how hard you work, regardless of what you do. Do great things now, reap the rewards later. Bloom where you’re planted.

Today, you are my 10%.  I have written this today to help you see beyond yourself and remind you that you have possibilities and opportunities in front of you that you don’t even know of yet. Tomorrow, change your 10%.

Ashley Lesko, PhD

President & Talent Engagement Officer


Square Peg Solutions: Helping Companies discover their greatest unknown assets

Does your leadership make others want to “promote themselves to customer”?  

Does your leadership make others want to “promote themselves to customer”?  

Warning. If you have read any of my work by now, you know that I tend not to have a filter.

And oh, by the way? You don’t need the filter. In fact, if you’re like most, you probably NEED someone to tell it to you straight. Because many are afraid to hurt your feelings. Or you don’t want to hear it. Or don’t want to believe it.

Or – by golly, it’s just good to get some feedback every once in a while to make you better.

However – feedback to leaders is for another day. Today we’re going to talk about you.  I’ve asked a few different ways in months past… but now I’ll ask you a slightly different question:

Does your leadership encourage your people to promote themselves to customer? Put another way – do you drive your employees away – to the point that they are seriously thinking of jumping off the cliff – going somewhere else – anywhere else – even out of the company – to get away from you?

Do you even know if that’s the case? If they are thinking about it? I’d think twice before saying no. Research has proven that over 50% of people quit because of their IMMEDIATE manager. That could be you.

But of course… there are things that you can do. Now. So you don’t become that statistic.

  • One on one’s – Meeting with your people. Almost every company has it in their mission somewhere to know your customer. In this case, it’s your people. How well do you know them? How often do you meet with them? Doesn’t matter if you’re a virtual boss or not – you should meet with each individual at least 1 time per month. I’d recommend 2x per month, and even weekly if possible. Knowing is half the battle.

Don’t know what to say? Email me. I’ll give you some great un-filtered tips. You could start by tapping into their ‘what’s next’ drivers – what motivates them where do they want to go?

  • Do what you say. Say what you do. It’s simple and it’s what everyone needs – dogs, kids, employees. Doesn’t mean you have to reward with dog treats. I do NOT condone that!! But it does mean – follow up. If you say you’re going to do it – then do it.

Forgetful like me? No problem. Tell your people – if you forget you said “A” and then tell them to do “B” a week later – have them call you out on it. Helps in communication and transparency. Sounds crazy, works well.

  • Ask questions. Don’t be surprised by anything. Just like evals – they shouldn’t be surprised by anything you say in evals, you shouldn’t be surprised if they decide to leave.

One final note – You will still have people leave (spouse gets another job, goes back to school) – but the reasons that will revolve around you would be significantly reduced or disappear.

Oh – and since we’re talking about it…  have you ever quit a job?

On a similar thread, we’re doing some digging to find out some of the reasons why people fire their company. If you have 5 minutes – please fill this survey, and have a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card. Your information will remain anonymous, and I will share the results with you.

Survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/QuitMyJob

Ever quit a job?

Ever quit a job because of a manager?


Your Coup d’oeil is showing

Your Coup d’oeil is showing

While reading for a course I am taking, I came across a term that gave me pause for thought – “Coup d’oeil”. (pronounced ‘coo dwell’) Literally translated from French, it means “Stroke of the eye”, or in general, a glance or a look.

However, theorists from several different centuries have taken it further, and used it to describe a strategy, or ability to see things at a glance. (if you really want to dig into that chunk of meat- check out the notes at the end). I won’t get into it, but basically great generals tend to have it.

Indeed, after reading more about the term, I would even sum it up more simply – in that a coup d’oeil is “a summary glance in which meaning is drawn”.

Ok, fancy pants. What does that mean?

Ha ha… I think I even impressed myself with this one. It means – in one look, you can see beyond what’s there. Reading between the lines. Seeing things that others don’t.

So… what does it mean to say your coup d’oeil is showing? I’ll ask you to give it some thought as you go through the ways you can improve your leadership by strengthening your “coup d’oeil”:

  • You only get a first chance to make a first impression – You know how this ends. People take an average of 7 seconds to figure out who you are, or will be, to them (Goman, 2011). You do the same thing. What do you learn from that glance? Attitude, personality? Do they smile or make eye contact?


Using your “coup d’oeil”, or summary glance, take those items into account when meeting, cultivating and growing relationships. Be aware that you are making these snap judgements without even thinking about them. Be cognizant of the fact that these judgements of others may not always be right… and your perceptions can be directed more by YOUR own experiences or what’s happening in your life.


These perceptions could give your “coup d’oeil” a foggy perspective. Make sure to clear the lenses off to make sure you’re seeing clearly what’s really around you.


  • Knowledge is power. Learn it. Remember those “The more you know” commercials on TV years ago? There was truth to it. The more you learn or know about a situation, the more you can recognize patterns by experiencing situations, trying or experimenting – the better prepared you will be for the unknown.

Think of your local firefighters. You think the alarm going off ringing “Fire” is the first time they have fought a fire? Not by a long shot. They practice. And practice – they do drills – and do them in different ways – different problems – sometimes even different equipment (or maybe with some that doesn’t work).

The more you learn of different situations, the better you’ll be able to use your “coup d’oeil” to recognize a situation. Perhaps trying a different way to talk to your difficult employee – or working with a senior manager that always seems to have a cloud over his head. Maybe it’s trying a strategy that worked in marketing (and you’re in finance).

What can you prepare ahead of time that helps you recognize new (or challenging) situations faster – aka “coup d’oeil”?

  • Contrary to popular belief, your “Coup d’oeil” can be made (they aren’t just assigned at birth) – if you read deeply in the books on military leaders, you’ll find some folks that have said that generals that were great just knew things – they had insight that no one taught them, and no one else ever had.

Yes – people are born with talents. Some are better singers, some can make a mean apple pie without looking at a recipe, and others are natural leaders. The “coup d’oeil” is strong with them. But it can be strong with you, too. Just as you are developing your leadership of employees, peers and others – developing your insight can be done through experience, experimentation and practice.

Oh, and not giving up. You will most likely grasp failure once or twice – but your “coup d’oeil” strengths every time you use it.

I went a bit off my normal monthly conversations this time – but I think you need to every once in a while. You have to try something new – it may even take you somewhere new, too. 😉

Are there others out there? I still have questions and feel a bit alone…

Join the discussion on LinkedIn focusing on “New & Front Line Managers – Toolkit for Success” – you’ll meet others that are going through similar situations, or learning how to manage with others


Have a great week, and you’re on your way to being a better manager!

More about Coup d’oeil

  • Clausewitz, Carl von.  (1989) On War.  Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds. and trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Handel, Michael I. (2001)  Masters of War:  Classical Strategic Thought.  Third, Revised and Expanded Edition.  London:  Cass Publication.
  • Fredrick the Great, (2005) Instructions for His Generals, Dover Publications; Mineola, New York.
How to hire your own manager: Questions to help you tie the knot

How to hire your own manager: Questions to help you tie the knot

Ever work for a manager that, shall we say, didn’t really work with you?

Ever wish you had the chance to find a better one?

Fully 31% of people quit their jobs because they didn’t like the manager they had to report to everyday. When you consider that it costs a company an average of 100-150% of that person’s salary that quits, you’re talking about a lot of money leaving a company because of a bad boss.

What if you could change that?

In past months, we’ve talked about managing down, but there’s another level to this – managing up. Having your boss “work” for you. No, it doesn’t mean that he (or she) is boss in name only, but it does mean that you have the ability to influence (aka lead) your manager to help make you a better employee (we could say person, but I don’t want to go TOO far).

When talking to a former employee of mine, Anita Miller, on a recent visit to Washington DC, she shared a few practices that she has used. She’s currently in a rotational program and has some flexibility in selection of the teams that she work for during that rotation.  She is looking for managers that will help push her (in the right direction) as well as help her forward her career. It’s not just about her – it’s important to be a strong part of a small team, and she’s ready (and willing!) to do that as well.

When “interviewing” potential managers for her next rotation, she tends to ask 3 questions:

  • What do you do over the weekend?

Short, simple and to the point. It gets the manager to open up a bit, and you get a bit of insight in their “other” life (Remember when you first ran into your school teacher in the grocery story?? They have an outside life? What!?). Another point, Miller says, is that it helps clarify workload and hours expectations. If the person laughs and says “Well, I spend my time here, of course! Where else?” – you know you may have a problem

  • What are your career aspirations?

You want to follow someone who’s moving. Somewhere. They could have a protean career (a career that follows a pattern of interests and opportunities, not ladders. Look it up, it could describe you) – or they could want to be CEO by the time they are 40. If they don’t have goals, or “haven’t thought about them much” – then that’s probably a good indication they won’t be thinking about yours, says Miller. It doesn’t mean you will be stuck; you can do it alone, but do you want to fight an uphill battle?

  • What are some of the challenges your team is facing?

Again, it seems like an easy question – but all too often, managers can disengage themselves from the day to day – especially if they have a lot of requirements and deadlines looming from those above them. Are you ok with someone who is disconnected from their team? In Miller’s experience, frustration can set in when a manager doesn’t understand what you really do. Recommendations for promotion or even annual reviews could suffer if their knowledge with what you really do (for them AND the company) don’t align.

How do you use these? Simple. Next time  you apply for a job (and I know you’re out there, because about 33% of the US population will do so) or when you’re looking for what’s next – think of these questions or others that really get to the meat of who you are – and more important – who they are. Because – you know as well as I do – having a great manager is the beginning of a great job.

Are there more questions you could ask? Probably. In fact – I bet you have one in your head right now. These questions don’t answer everything about a manager’s style, but they’re a start. What would you ask a manager (the one you have now, if you could, or the next one) – if you could interview them? Share your response questions here

Original Post: March 2016

You’re a leader, you just don’t know it.

You’re a leader, you just don’t know it.

Last week, I had the chance to present to a large group of front line and new managers. In addition, a number of HR leaders and managers of those groups attended my presentation called “How not to Suck as a Manager”. Besides the catchy title that some said they signed up for the title alone (no joke! I mean, wouldn’t you?) , we spent an hour talking about several topics on improving as a manager.

The best part? I didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know.

Well… ok. That’s not true. If it were, then why was I there yapping, and why were they there, paying me to yap?  But the baseline is true. What I say is not rocket science…but guess what? Leading isn’t rocket science either. The secret?

You have what it takes to be a leader.

…. You just don’t know it.  Have you experienced the benefits of a great or amazing manager? How did that make you feel? How much more engaged or productive were you? Have you ever had the unfortunate chance to work for someone who was less than stellar… or, better put – sucked as a manager? Didn’t even try? What did they do? Or not do? Did they even know you had a dog and that you love project work, even though you’re in accounting? Or that you’d love the opportunity to cross train – you’d even work extra hours – if only they’d ask?

Last week, Chloe Andrews from CCS Construction Staffing, commented on the session, “I learned things I knew, but I didn’t act upon”. We talked about some of the things that front line managers really want (communication, feedback and training, not necessarily in that order) – again NOT rocket science.

Why the heck is it so hard?

1- Because we don’t realize what we have

You’ve got at least 20 years of experience right now. No? How many times have you interacted with someone? Gotten someone to do something else? Followed up on a promise? Even by the time you graduate from high school (with about 15 years of experience, let’s say) – you’ve done a lot of it. What worked? What didn’t? Use your knowledge. Leading is getting folks to do what you want them to do – and have THEM want to do it.

2- Because we don’t know what’s important

Another attendee mentioned at the session we “touched base on topics that we [managers] sometimes assume is known but [realizing] there is a definite positive impact by stating it aloud”. You are inundated with information all day long. And those frickin’ Smartphones aren’t helping. What’s good information? How can you use it to benefit yourself and your team?

When you find yourself in a “new” leadership situation, start by asking yourself these simple question, “What does this look like? How is it similar to what I’ve experienced in the past?”. You may realize you have the answer, you just need a different perspective… your own.

3- Because we think we’re alone in our problems


Bet you can answer this one now. You are most definitely NOT alone. In fact, you are surrounded. There are many people like you. One participant noted with a bit of relief (and potentially joyful glee) – “I’m not alone [in the way I’m] feeling that I’m not prepared for management”. There are others out there that have been there or are going through it now. Asking for advice is not weakness. It’s strength.

Reach out. Do not pass go or collect $200. Do it now. You could be shocked (or just a little gleeful!) for the results.


Bottom line. You have the experiences. You’re not alone. You just haven’t put all the pieces together – yet. Confidence is a big factor, and we’ll talk about that too… But just realizing that by trying to be a better leader…. you already are.

Why do New and Front Line Managers (NFL-M) matter?

Why do New and Front Line Managers (NFL-M) matter?

What’s so important about new and front line managers, anyway?  They are just a bunch of people that were promoted into positions of authority because they either a) did something right b) we needed the spot filled, and there was no one else c) got tired of their complaining. Right?

New and Front Line Managers (NFL-M) are the heart of any organization. Big or small. Don’t believe me? Think about your company. Think about how many of them there are. And then think if they disappeared tomorrow. Yeah. Like, walked out, were all hit by a bus, fell off the planet (that last one is my personal favorite). Your middle managers and executives would walk in, ready to be strategic; ready to tell their front line folks exactly what to do (strategically) – and let those other managers take the time to figure out how the heck to get it done.  Right? But wait… there’s no one to do it.

Could the middle managers do it? Perhaps. But it may have been a while. They may have been corporate folks that have never been out in the field. The front line employees will know in about two minutes (strike that, about 2 seconds) that these corporate managers have never seen the inside of their field office. They may have been in the field, but have forgotten. Yup, it happens.

Being a front line manager (with direct reports that are NOT managers) or a new manager (typically also a front line manager, but with less than five years of experience) is one of THE HARDEST roles to have. Why? Because you have not one but TWO groups to please. Make happy. Check the box.  You have the managers – the senior team we just talked about… and you have the employees. Your bread and butter. The ones that you are now responsible for – their success, their development, their next career steps. If you’re lucky, you may have realized that they make you something greater than you are. If not, you may be wondering how you’re going to survive with these people that want to see you gone and/or take your job at the first opportunity.

Some newsletters take their time in drawing you in and pushing something on you that they want you to see, want you to relate to you. This one isn’t in that group.  You’re subscribing to this newsletter because you’re in that group of managers that are the first group of managers – you see what your team is, and want to help it be everything it can be. That also means everything YOU can be as a manager. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re part of 95% of new and frontline managers that are not ready for the job (Lesko, 2015).

In upcoming months, we’ll talk about the areas to help you improve – one month at a time, step by step. Training. Development. Timing, Feedback. Just a few.

If you want to jumpstart this process and be a better manager now – because you know you don’t have the time to waste – good for you. Good for your employees. Email Ashley@squarepegsolutions.org  to get started. We have both a webinar and in-class session starting soon. It’s based on current research and actual stories – the best of both worlds – and it won’t suck. In fact, that’s the name of it. How Not to SUCK as a New Manager.

So let’s get started.