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The #1 Leadership Communication Program Preventing Your Employees From Doing Exactly What You Want


Communication is a “catch-all” phrase for things that go wrong in companies and relationships. Unfortunately, the concept is too ambiguous to do anything constructive to fix it. 
I’ve identified seven communication mistakes that lead to mis-understandings, and cause conflicts between co-workers, and bosses and their subordinates which lead to low morale and toxic work environments. I call them “The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication.”
The least understood and most common of the sins is communicating with a lack of specificity. 
The “Law of Specificity” states, “the level to which communication lacks specificity is the level to which individuals are required to become mind readers.”
 Three of the most common areas for non-specific communication are:
* Lack of Specific Details
* Lack of Specific Direction 
* Lack of Specific Meaning
Lack of Specific Details
This is one of the most regularly violated. It’s a simple as leaving out dates, times, and locations, etc. when making a request. Here is an actual client example:
“Steve, I need you to get me details of all of our vendor and sub-contractor relationships by the end of next week so I can evaluate them for next year’s budgets I’m submitting.”
This request seems straight forward, but Steve did not meet the expectations of his boss. 
Steve took “the end of next week” to mean by “the end of the day next Friday.” His boss meant that he was submitting his budget proposal by the end of the day the following Friday and therefore needed Steve’s information by the first thing Friday morning, or preferably Thursday.
As you might imagine, this caused a conflict between the boss and his direct report. It wasn’t the first time. I had to coach both on ensuring more specificity was included in future requests. 
I suggested a statement like this, “
“Steve, I need to submit our budget proposal by the end of next week. So I need a detailed report on our vendor and sub-contractor relationships by Thursday at 5 p.m. This way I can use those figures in my proposal, which I will be finalizing next Friday. Based on your present priorities is that a timeframe you can make happen?” 
This request has much more specificity. It is also very respectful of the other party’s priorities. It doesn’t assume that he or she can just drop everything to fulfill this request. It allows for honest and open negotiation so both parties feel supported and expectations can be met.
Lack of Specific Direction 
In this situation my client, a CEO, had a habit of moving things off his desk by putting them in his office manager’s “in-basket.” 
Because of his position, the office manager assumed that if he was giving her something “it must be important.” Every time she would immediately stop what she was doing to work on the latest thing he had given her.
On the surface this seems like very proactive assistant getting things done. The challenge is that it was frustrating the office manager as it prevented her from getting other priorities accomplished. She was becoming stressed by her inability to keep up with her workload and that of her boss.
I solved the problem in 30-seconds. I asked my client, the CEO, if everything he put in her in-box was an urgent priority that required immediate attention. 
He said, “no,” that he was just trying to get stuff off his desk. 
I coached him to put a note on the top of any item identifying the level of urgency the item required. This allowed the office manager to prioritize and schedule those items around her work without having to assume and mind-read. 
Lack of Specific Meaning
My wife recently accused me of leaving the front door to our home “open” when I come from appointments during the day. Her meaning for the word “open,” as it pertained to the front door of our home, and mine are very different.
Upon further discussion we learned she meant that the door was not “locked” so as to seal the door to keep the cold winter air from seeping through the weather stripping. My meaning for an “open” front door was that the latch was not shut and the door was truly open so you could see outside.
Words have different meanings to different people in different contexts. Often times we assume the person has our same point of reference. That is often not the case causing misunderstandings and trust to break down.
If you or others on your team may be making these leadership communication mistakes I invite you to go to and get my free special report “The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication” where I will show you how to fix these sins, communicate like a champion and build a championship organization.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication


Upon completing a recent project I took my client to lunch to thank him for his business. We reminisced about how we first met at my End Procrastination NOW! Workshop and how he realized at that time he was tired of tolerating things in his business.

Among the problems with which he was becoming increasingly frustrated were senior team members and frontline employees who…

  • Were not taking responsibility for their jobs
  • Needed constant prodding to get things done
  • Were not responsive to client requests
  • Did not return phone messages
  • Were throwing their fellow employees “under the bus”
  • Were having shouting matches in the office and on project sites
  • Using profanity when communicating with co-workers, clients and vendors
  • Procrastinated on following through on business opportunities
  • Were showing up late or leaving early with no explanation
  • Had negative attitudes
  • Complained about customers and co-workers
  • Were “disappearing” during the day

I began my project searching for the real underlying cause of these issues by:

  • interviewing the entire staff of 25
  • holding a series of focus groups
  • observing interactions and conversations between the business owner and his people.

What I learned in just two short weeks could fill a book.

My new client was violating virtually every leadership communication mistake. To simplify the project moving forward I categorized them into what I now call “The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication:”

  • Communication Sin #1: Lack of Specificity
    This causes people on the receiving end of a communication to have to mind-read or guess as to what is being requested of them. Details are left out or are at best, vague. The recipient, for many reasons, fails to ask follow up questions to get specifics and have to figure it out on their own.
  • Communication Sin #2: Lack of Focus on Desirable Behaviors
    People are great at saying what they don’t want or what they don’t want others to do, but have challenges identifying the behaviors they want instead. Where your focus goes, grows. As such, people are getting more of what they don’t want than ever before because they continue to focus on it.
  • Communication Sin #3: Lack of Directness
    This is where people go behind the backs of co-workers, peers, bosses and subordinates with water cooler gossip. Another example is the leader who tries to fix a problem that should be addressed to one person but calls a team meeting offering a blanket directive. A third is when co-workers tell managers the mistakes their co-workers make, hoping to look good at someone else’s expense.
  • Communication Sin #4: Lack of Immediacy
    This is procrastination. This is when communication is avoided because the conversations are difficult and leaders don’t know how to approach the offending party, so they choose not to.
  • Communication Sin #5: Lack of Appropriate Tone
    Ever had someone in a professional setting raise their voice at you in a condescending or threatening manner? How about responding in a sarcastic tone? These are just two of the ways inappropriate tone ruin relationships and trust in company cultures.
  • Communication Sin #6: Lack of Focused Attention
    In this day of technology and multi-tasking too many office conversations occur while one person is checking/responding to e-mails, or talking to us while they are on hold waiting for someone they will more likely deem more important than us once they come on the phone. This fosters disrespect and low trust in organizations.
  • Communication Sin #7: Lack of Respectful Rebuttals
    This may be the most common and subconscious of all seven leadership communication sins. It’s the conversations when someone agrees with you, or provides you with positive feedback in one breath, only to be followed by “but.” After the “but” comes the other shoe and you end up feeling misled and disappointed.

These behaviors caused significant damage to my client’s 25-year-old, $15 million business with 25 employees over the past ten years. My client estimated that allowing these communication issues to build up over ten years had cost him about $5 million.

That’s real money for some people.

If you are making these same leadership communication mistakes I invite you to go to and get my free special report The 7 Deadly Sins of Organizational Leadership Communication where I will show you how to fix these sins, communicate like a champion and begin building a championship organization.



Six Components of a Dynamic Workplace That Every Leader Needs to Know


The Six Components of a Dynamic Workplace That Every Leader Needs to Know

Do you want employees who love to do their best work, and customers who bang down your doors to do business with you? If your answer is yes, it’s time you use your dynamic leadership skills, and use the six “I”s, to create that dynamic workplace where employees love to go and customers love to buy.

The six “I”s are:




4-Individualized convenience Perks



My best clients are constantly improving their leadership skills and growing their businesses. These dynamic leaders are at different “I”levels, but all of them began with, and consistently still use their insight.

# 1- Insight

My colleague, Keith Chapman, retired executive with Diageo, spoke to me about the importance of insight, “an organization built on insights about their employees will be inclusive and productive - insights can only be gained by taking time with one's team members - and also giving them an insight on you!

• Dynamic leaders use insight, to assess the current needs of their employees,

organization and customers. They know they there is always room to improve in order to differentiate their products and services from their competition.

• Dynamic leaders are also not afraid to use their insight for themselves, and assess their own leadership skills. Their employees respect them because they are not afraid to admit mistakes, are willing to apologize when they are wrong, and are open to listen to employee’s ideas and give them the right kind of recognition.

• Leaders of stagnant organizations are not leaders, but are “bosses.”  They are reluctant to take time to use their insight because it may mean they have to take responsibility, be accountable, and be willing to let go of old obsolete ideas.

• Determine your “I”level. Do your employees leave their house ready to do their best work, and do your customers love doing business with you, or have your employees retired in place, and your ex-customers have blogs that say “your organization sucks.”

Why not take the time to stop for a moment and use your insight?  You might be on the road to success beyond your wildest dreams.


Simma Lieberman

"The Inclusionist"
Creating workplaces where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business
Simma Lieberman Associates
Fax: 510.527/0723 
1185 Solano Ave. PMB 142 
Albany, CA 94706  
Call us about our New Remote On-Call Executive Coaching Program
visit my Fast Company expert blog 
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Recently inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame
Follow me  www.twitter/theinclusionist

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Contact Simma to speak at your next conference, meeting or event, if you want your employees to love to do their best work, and customers love to do business

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Are there times when you don't want to invest in a long-term process but need an expert sounding board to help you deal with an issue, make a decision or handle a conflict? Join our new Remote Situational Coaching Program.

Call us at 510-527-0700 or email for more information and to schedule a complimentary fifteen minute session.

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How Exclusivity Creates Inclusive Workplaces



Is Your Workplace an Exclusive Club? If not, maybe it should be

What??  A diversity and inclusion expert promoting exclusion in the workplace??? Has she gone over to the dark side?

There are still a lot of stressed out people going to work everyday. Some of them may be entering your workplace. They’re worried about the economy, health care, and their family. They are anxious about the future, and sometimes feel alone. They wonder if they’ll have a job, and are afraid to make mistakes, so they become afraid to take risks and their genius hides behind a thin smile.

In today’s economy, with so many employees feeling so uncertain, and solo in their silo, you can create an environment where people feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves or their  “job.”

With all the research validating the fact that “engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees are more productive and make their customers happy,” (duh) you have the opportunity to engage your employees for little or no financial investment.

Employees will flourish if they have a sense of belonging to a community, or the “exclusive club,” where they are appreciated for the talents, skills and experience. Whether they are at work for four, eight or ten hours, if they feel secure, trusted and an essential part of your organization, they will be more focused, willing to share ideas and resources, and make your customers feel that they are part of the exclusive club called “your business.”

In fact, even if people don’t particularly like what they do, they can still feel good about coming to work, and even move into another position that they do like.

The more included employees feel, the more they’ll be engaged and we know the rest. As they make your customers feel more included and taken care of by your “exclusive club,” the more they’ll want to return and bring their friends, families and colleagues to share the experience.

Start by creating a culture of community with your leadership team and hold everyone accountable for implementing the culture by getting to know employees at every level. Become more accessible, less critical, and enlist the whole organization to become part of the change.

Give formal and informal recognition of good work, excellent customer feedback, and innovative ideas. Find out how your employees like to be rewarded.

Create more opportunities for employees from different work functions to interact with each other, and empower them to help each other, and learn from each other. If you don’t have one, develop a newsletter that features employees, and managers so people can be seen as more than the job they do.

By developing a culture of community, you’ll get more done, be more focused and your employees will be more focused on their work each moment of the day. They’ll feel good about coming to work and be less stressed and home, and your customers will be made to feel personally served and included in the exclusive club called “your business.”


Creating workplaces where people love to do their best work and customers love to do business
Simma Lieberman Associates
Fax: 510.527/0723 
1185 Solano Ave. PMB 142 
Albany, CA 94706  
Call us about our New Remote On-Call Executive Coaching Program
visit my Fast Company expert blog 
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Recently inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame
Follow me  www.twitter/theinclusionist

Twelve Leadership Questions for 2010

Published January 5, 2010 in BusinessWeek

Start the new year by asking yourself these simple yet profoundly important questions about yourself as a manager

By Gayle Lantz

If you're like most business leaders, you spent much of 2009 feeling down and just about out—an often-inescapable result of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Odds are, you grappled with numerous challenges, uncertainties, and "don't want to, but have to" decisions. As one weary bank CEO confided, "We're barely hanging on, just trying to survive." He wasn't alone, either. Many executives and leadership teams shared similar sentiments with me. It was a difficult year, period.

Now, 2010 is here, and in the earliest days of the economic recovery it's time to take the bull by the horns. Smart leaders will bypass the predictable New Year's resolutions and, instead, start the decade with 12 essential questions:

1. What matters most?

The good news is, there's no right or wrong answer. Yet, what was most important a year or two ago may not be the driving force in the business today. Press the reset button and, together with your leadership team, clarify priorities and commit to keeping them in focus.

2. What can I let go?

Adopting new strategies and approaches can require letting go of some old attitudes, habits, or behaviors. If something isn't serving the business well, be willing to give it up. There is great power in purging, and you'll make room for better ways of working.

3. What is one "problem" I can turn into an opportunity?

No need for rose-colored glasses—just view a current challenge through a lens of opportunity. Think about past successes in the business and figure out how to apply those skills to the issue at hand. Fact is, you grow by building on strengths, not "fixing" weaknesses.

4. What would really inspire employees?

Be careful about sending the message that you need people to hear. Think from your employees' point of view—if they don't feel understood, they won't listen to you anyway—and resist the urge to tell them how they "should" think or feel. Also, inspiration doesn't come only from motivational speeches to the masses. It starts with a leader who simply shows he or she cares.

5. What is our customers' greatest pain?

Be relentless about knowing and meeting that need. Test your assumptions, but skip the complicated surveys. Instead, pick up the phone and ask. Listen and understand first—then get busy offering solutions.

6. What new business relationships will I pursue?

New opportunities come from new relationships. Inside and outside your industry, seek opportunities where there is potential for mutual benefit—not just "what's in it for me?" Remember, too, that even in these boom days of social media, significant business relationships begin with real dialogue, not a tweet.

7. How can I think more strategically?

Skip the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) exercise. Strategic planning isn't an event; it's a discipline. Get serious about setting direction, always starting with a big-picture view of the possibilities. Resist the urge to discuss and deal with tactics, until you're clear on what you want to accomplish. Even then, don't check strategy off your list. Put it into daily practice.

8. How can I make swift yet smart decisions?

Now more than ever, you can't afford to overanalyze. Clear the clutter—the "mind clutter" that plagues even the best leaders—and make way for swift, smart decision-making. Hint: Slow down your thinking on the front end—during the planning process—so you can make faster and better decisions later.

9. What leadership skill can—and should—I get better at?

Truth is, your personal effectiveness affects the success of the business. Pick the leadership skill that most needs your attention—listening, coaching, or problem solving, perhaps—and commit to improvement. Small changes really can make a big difference. Just ask your team and others on the receiving end.

10. What is my role, really?

Your success as a leader is largely based on how you view your role. Use the New Year as an opportunity to assess and adjust. If you want to raise your game, determine how you'll play differently from now on. Envision yourself performing at the highest level. What will the "new" you do?

11. How will I recognize success?

You won't know whether the business is on the right track if you haven't determined some key markers or indicators. What's more, not all measures of success are quantitative, so consider how you'll know when a result "feels right."

12. What is my biggest fear, and how will I face it?

Name it, and claim it. If you don't, it can be damaging, even deadly, to you and the business. After all, what you resist, you empower. Own your fear before it owns you, and decide how you'll confront it.

New year, new thinking. With smart leadership questions, you can find smart answers in 2010.

Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant and author of Take the Bull by the Horns: The Busy Leader's Action Guide to Growing Your Business…and Yourself. She is founder and president of the consulting firm WorkMatters.


Has The Pendulum Swung Too Far On Seeking Consensus?


Are CEOs, senior executives, business owners, and managers of all stripes seeking consensus too often?

The demise of top down, arrogant, autocratic management is cause for celebration. Many executives and managers have seen the light and now treat their employees with more respect. They have come to realize that employees with differing expertise, experience, and positions within the company can provide valuable and varied input and ideas that facilitate problem solving, improve decisions, lead to more sustainable improvements, and save time. Furthermore, they now realize that involving employees in the organization's challenges doesn't just enhance that one particular situation, it also energizes employees, stimulates good ideas, improves employee judgment, and saves time throughout the organization on a daily basis. They also realize there is no shame in not having all the answers themselves and real danger in making important decisions without getting critical input from others.

Some old school managers still adhere to the old top down practices. Most people I know abhor working for such companies and leave when the opportunity presents itself. I don't want to say anything to suggest that companies return to this style, however, I believe the pendulum has swung too far in many companies. Many executives are now proud of having evolved to being consensus driven and they now do everything by consensus. And that is where the problem lies.

I encounter executives and managers daily who no longer seem able to make a decision by themselves. I see CEOs take a decision first to one group, then another, and maybe more. The decision drags out for months. The process resembles a fishing expedition, casting here and there, motoring around to different corners of the lake. The result is similar too: another day gone.

In a random, wandering process, decisions are rerouted or derailed entirely for all the wrong reasons and tremendous time is wasted while too many people are involved and endless meetings are held.

There is a huge difference between appreciating the value of achieving consensus and doing everything by consensus. Being consensus driven is the opposite, and equally extreme, position to being autocratic. Both are wasteful and problematic in any organization. A consensus driven manager takes pride in gathering people and running meetings, but they likely spend more money evaluating a purchase than the purchase price, more time talking about an option than it would take to just try it, more anxiety hoping to pave the way for a change than it would take to deal with the consequences. But the goal is not to be consensus driven; the goal is to achieve great results.

Being autocratic versus consensus driven is not a matter of personal style. There are times when managers should be autocratic, make a decision, and get on with things, and there are times when managers should delegate the entire decision to a group and get out of the picture completely. In between, there are countless variations. The point is to choose the approach that best fits the circumstances.

In making that choice, factors to consider are:

  • Time Available

    If the window of opportunity is short, a quick decision is essential. Sometimes it is more important to act than to wait for more information. For example, when a customer complains, the organization that can address the concern on the spot, makes the customer happiest. Or perhaps an opportunity pops up that requires an immediate response. He who deliberates loses. You may wish you could get more input but collecting information takes time.

    Ask yourself how the passage of time affects the situation and be sure you decide as quickly as needed.

  • Significance of the Decision

    The most important decisions deserve the best resources, the most rigorous process, and adequate time. The least important deserve as little as possible. You simply don't want to devote more resources than the decision warrants. You don't want expensive resources making trivial decisions. You don't want large groups leaving more important work to make decisions of limited consequence. And, even on an important decision, you don't want to devote resources to debating options A and B if the differences are inconsequential.

    How much money does it make sense to devote to the decision at hand? Allocate resources accordingly. A thorough understanding of the steps of the decision process will help you choose and allocate your resources effectively.

  • Knowledge

    If you don't possess the knowledge needed to make a decision, you have no choice but to get input from others or live with the consequences. This is where the arrogance of autocrats leads to stupid decisions. They make decisions they know nothing about. This is where the consensus driven managers waste time and money; they often fish for more opinions without thinking through the best way to identify and collect the most important knowledge and opinions. You will never have all the knowledge you need because their will always be unknowns.

    Who can best shed light on the most important aspects of the decision? Involve and focus those people accordingly. Just don't exceed the investment you decided was appropriate for the decision.

  • Need for Commitment

    Employees usually accept decisions, whether they agree with them or not, if they believe the decision process was fair and informed. To be seen as fair, a decision requires honest, open, and reasonable objectives and decision-makers who are dedicated to those objectives. To be seen as informed, the decision-makers must take into consideration important factors such as the impact on those affected by the decision.

    This does not mean every affected employee needs to be involved, but it does mean they need to believe their interests were well represented. Furthermore, it does not mean that everyone involved in a decision must be involved in every step of the decision. For example, senior management may establish priorities and limitations that will govern a decision (strategy and budgets), but others need to be involved in identifying the best implementation options.

    Who will be impacted, how they will be impacted, where is their input needed, and how can you obtain it? 

  • Employee Development

    Involving employees in decisions is a great way to develop their skills and understanding of the business. Furthermore, it can pave the way to delegating decisions entirely, which helps you move decisions lower in the organization where they likely belong.

    This may sound like an invitation to involve everyone in every decision but that would be at the expense of everything else they are supposed to be doing and impossible to follow up on effectively. Where does it makes sense to invest in employee development? What's the best way to achieve it? How much can you tackle at once? 

    Note: If you want to teach employees to become better decision-makers, be sure you model good decision-making practices yourself. This is particularly important with group decisions. There is no point in teaching employees how to flounder through decisions.

If you have gotten in the habit of making all decisions by consensus, it is time to step back and consider the cost each time you assemble a group for another rambling, inclusive meeting.

Related Articles:

5 Reasons Employees Avoid Making Decisions


© 2010 Ann Latham. All Rights Reserved.


Safety Accountability and Culture




The Gap Between Safety Rhetoric & Safety Commitment

By Barbara Semeniuk

Safety is like the weather. Folks love to talk about it but they don’t do much to change it. At least that’s the way with a lot of people in the business world. So when I hear management go out of their way to proclaim safety as the primary goal, I can only roll my eyes. As safety professionals, we need to ensure that the clients we serve back rhetoric with real action.

Safety Actions Speak Louder than Empty Words

I remember doing an audit at a major waste management company that was losing about $550 million a year from accidents. Workers were regularly getting killed on the job. The president of this company came out with a program: "Zero accidents is our goal." Let’s just say I was a bit skeptical.

They hired a crack team of safety experts in Canada who had CRSPs and a passion for doing the right thing. I admired their enthusiasm and optimism. And I figured they’d last 6 months. They actually made it to 9. Then they were all fired. Sadly, they were the victim of their own success. You see, they really were making a difference and doing what they believed they had been hired to do.

And that was the problem. They were working at a company with a culture that valued production goals over safety. In management’s eyes, $550 million and the loss of a few lives was a price worth paying. Even if they had been sincere about turning things around, the Zero Accidents thing was almost doomed to fail. Companies just don’t go from half a billion in losses to zero accidents in one fell swoop—unless they’re incredibly lucky. Sure enough, by January when the first accident occurred, the Zero Accident objective was out of reach. Appropriate, really.

Safety Performance Is About Results

Sadly, I’ve seen the scenario lots of times before. Another company in the tire business tried to convince me for 6 years that they really cared about health and safety. They had pictures of lions eating their prey and compared sales results to this process. I tried over and over again to persuade them to chase their safety numbers as aggressively as their sales quotas. I told them if they dedicated even a fraction of the same energy to safety, they’d be one of the best rather than worst safety performers in the industry.

It all fell on deaf ears. The company had a wonderful H&S officer who took exception to my audacity in actually questioning her safety program. Why, ours is the best safety program in the business, she insisted—KPIs, the latest theories in effective safety management, you name it.

But for all of the bells and whistles, workers were still getting injured on a regular basis. She became very angry when I pointed this out. You’re measuring the stores on sales, not safety numbers, I said. That’s why safety results aren’t reaching down to the store level. But we fine them $250 a month if they don’t comply with our H&S standards, she retorted. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Companies that don’t put their money where their mouth is when it comes to safety have a tendency to engage in audit shopping. They don’t believe auditors who point out the flaws in their programs and are persuaded that there must be something wrong with the audit process itself. So they look around for auditors who deliver the message they want to hear. Of course, that’s a message no honest auditor should ever be willing to deliver.


Safety is about results and accountability, not fancy policies and procedures. Heck, Enron had some of the finest corporate policies ever written against dishonesty and management malfeasance and we all know how that turned out. As a safety consultant, I can’t help but be cynical after all these years. And I fire clients. I only work for the companies that really do care about safety—the ones that measure performance objectively and hold people in the organization accountable for results. Thank goodness, there are still a few of those companies around.

What is your opinion about this issue? Is this a challenge? What are 10 of your biggest challenges in Health and Safety?

Please feel free to contact me with your feed-back. I can be reached at



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