Be an Agent of Change. The Worse It Is, The More Impact You Can Make.

I was speaking earlier today to a former colleague. She recently joined a company with a prestigious name, yet her particular work environment is less than motivating. She is exposed to what sounds to me like serious dysfunction in mid-level management while her immediate subordinates have developed a low-standard mindset. She can be an Agent of change. The worse it is, the more impact you can make.

This friend has a great work ethic, an excellent attitude, and street common sense. So she works hard, is positive, and is sharp.

She is wondering if she needs to accept this new reality where she is part of a team that is not really driven. Dumb down her expectations. Apply the soft bigotry of low expectations.

This woman has experience on a high functioning team, where one had to bring her game every day just to represent. A team dynamic where everyone understood that their role mattered, and that colleagues expected each other’s best. An environment where developing one’s skills was admired. A work place where positive performance was rewarded with upward mobility. A team.

Our conversation got cut short and I didn’t have a chance to relate this to my friend, but I think she has such an epic opportunity. Start small with her own subordinates. Create a little enclave where it is cool to strive.

A single thread is easy to break. Consider how weak an individual thread off the spool is. You can snap it easily. But you don’t have to braid very many threads together to create a firm and hard-to-break cord. Have you ever seen a tug of war where the rope snapped? Me neither. Have you ever pulled on both ends of a rope and had the slightest sensation that the rope gave a crap that you were pulling on it? No, you haven’t.

Get your team braided. Transform them into a rope. It will not happen overnight, but it can be done. Addressing your new office’s culture might fall in your not-urgent/important quadrant. Don’t let that happen. Act now. When you are new is the best time to outline your filter for all work behaviors.

As an aside, I wrote about first impression strategies with your team and it can be found at

Being part of a high performing team can be intoxicating. But it has to start somewhere, and my friend has a great chance to light the fire. One by one, she needs to build allies. Colleagues who will understand that the strength of the pack is the wolf. And the strength of the wolf is the pack.

My wife watches Dancing With The Stars. Football players almost always do well; they can take coaching. Couple years ago, my wife was rooting for Antonio Brown big time because of an interview halfway through the season. The professional dancer paired with Antonio made some flattering comments about the chances of one of the other Stars to win the mirror ball.

Antonio’s reaction is hard to describe. An appealing mix of disappointment, sadness, and confusion when he heard his partner’s comments. At that point in the competition he understood he was unrefined, but he also knew they were getting better. It was not an Antonio thing, it was a they thing. A partner thing. A team thing.  He and the professional dancer were a unit. Indivisible. It would never have occurred to him that she could even think that way, much less verbalize it. That someone else might win?

He ultimately came in first place that season and from what I could tell, deserved it.

Not that I am watching Dancing With The Stars.

Once you’ve been on a high-performing team, you notice and regret when you are not part of a team with a shared purpose, without high standards. Indeed, it is a misnomer to call any group a team if the group does not share the same goals.
Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr believes “there’s a make-up in every player who has ever played, that if you get to touch the ball and you get to be a part of the action-whether it’s as an assist man, ball mover, shooter, dribbler- the more people who are involved in the offense, the more powerful it becomes.”

Everyone wants to be part of something.

So my colleague is in this new job where managers of significant departments do not lead. Her subordinates are blah. Lost the passion, if passion was there to start with. She must not accept this. She must not wash her hands of the expectation that SHE lead. What she needs to do is manage in exactly the manner she would expect in a high-performance environment.

My friend will glow when she acts on behalf of her employees and her clients; as one who invests in her colleagues’ development; as one who notices quality in others and gently nudges with a helping hand those who fail to deliver an excellent work product. Others might not see the glow for a while, but in time that will be the outcome.

Going into a management job where loads of cultural issues need to be fixed is such an opportunity! I am sort of jealous of her. Because you just do it. You verbalize the expectations one by one, build equal-partner apostles and you walk the walk. I hate to use that expression because I know it can come off as trite, but the positive, productive, fresh and enthusiastic boss is catching. When the boss walks the walk, the modeling of the behaviors expected acts as its own reinforcement.

I will close by reminding all bosses of a uniquely helpful question. I’ve written this before so some of you know what it is: “What more can you do?” Ask that of colleagues when you have your raps. Ask it of yourself occasionally too. Leaders need to be out front. You cannot establish mediocrity as your goal and for long prosper as a leader. If your goals are mediocre, attaining your goals will lack significance. How you lead your life is the lesson you teach.

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