Archive for November, 2010

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Strategic Complimenting

A commenter inquired why the “good job” compliment isn’t intrinsic since “doing that good job comes from inside a person (an experience, or a value); it’s not something that can be taken away.” There are three main reasons. They also serve to explain why the compliment, while acceptable, is inferior to other compliments.

First, “doing a good job” is different from the “desire to do a good job.” Performance exists outside of us, desire within. People perform well for many reasons beyond the desire to do a good job: money, recognition, promotion, peer pressure etc. For example, two children can read the same difficult book; however, there is a difference between the child who reads the book for a promised candy bar and the other child who reads it for the love of reading.

Second, the determination of a good job is subjective; it varies by the person establishing standards and evaluating outcomes against those standards. You can “take away” a good performance by simply using a different evaluator. For example, other teachers might not consider the above book’s difficulty worthy of compliments.

Third, the product of a good job can be erased. A good painting could be destroyed, a good program terminated, and a good sales year erased with the start of a new one. “What have you done for me lately,” exemplifies the negation of performances. In the above example, the child’s reading of the difficult book might elevate his grade this period but won’t for the next one. However, the love of reading continues on.

Yes, the “good job” compliment is adequate. However, “Reading that book shows that you have a natural love for reading,” is far better. Again, it’s because we are complimenting a quality of the person (intrinsic) versus an outcome (extrinsic).

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This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Leadership vs. Management: The Difference

On the Harvard Business Review site, I read the posting “True Leaders Are Also Managers” by Robert I. Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He commented, “I kept bumping into an old and popular distinction that has always bugged me: leading versus managing.” While I liked his main point linking good leadership to good management, he didn’t resolve the intuitive deficiencies I find in academic attempts to make a distinction between the two.

Figure 1: Good Leadership is Based Upon Good Management

Figure 1: Good Leadership is Based Upon Good Management

First, they overlook that leadership is an affect: an emotion in the follower producing an affinity for the leader. The subjective and personal nature of leadership is clearly expressed when we consider that we can manage things such as resources, investments and processes but we can only lead people. This affect transforms management into leadership, metaphorically in the same way we turn a house into a home. Figure 1 expresses the dependent nature of leadership on management as suggested by Professor Sutton. Thus, the difference between leading and managing is emotional.

Figure 2: Change Difference between Leadership & Management

Figure 2: Change Difference between Leadership & Management

Second, academia tends to overlook that leadership is about change. It’s derived from lead which implies motion and in turn change – moving from one point to another. As Figure 2 shows, the greater degree of change we require, the more important leadership becomes; good management alone likely won’t be enough. For instance, we don’t say “They’re managing a revolution (extreme change),” we tend to say, “Leading a revolution.” When others respond to how they’re doing with “I’m managing” it implies “keeping up” or “going with the flow.” It doesn’t come close to implying any dynamic attempt of effecting change.

Just as economics is being transformed by behavioral economics, those same psychological influences need to begin transforming an impractical, out-dated, academic perspective of leadership.



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This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Real-time Personality Assessment

Here’s a friend’s story. It’s an example of what we can hypothesize about people from everyday comments. They are a starting point from which we can probe, learn and build relationships.


My friend, as part of a touring group, visited a contemporary art gallery. She was talking to a man in the group who said he prefers artists who “stab him in the gut.” She asked him what a mainly black piece composed of bark and charcoal meant to him. He said it was “very cleansing” and that the black pieces on the canvas “represent all the dark and negative energy in the room being absorbed.” For him, it made the room light and “cleansed of all negative energy.” My friend found two other pieces that he liked disturbing.


Possibly, the pieces of black wood and charcoal might not only be pulling negative energy from the room but also from him. This is further supported by preference for artists who “stab him in the gut.” Feelings of mutilation can often be prompted by negative energy from within. Moreover, knowing my friend, she would not want artists (or anyone for that matter) to stab her in the gut, a disturbing thought. On the other hand, since feelings help us feel alive, the man might value intense, almost shocking feelings.


In building a rapport with him, I would initially:

  • Allow him to “shock” me
  • Avoid expressing disapproval
  • Show extreme interest
  • Encourage him to do most of the talking

If he appeared disinterested with this approach, my alternative path would involve direct and edgy questions and remarks. I would also consider expressing, in a positive way, how unique he was for holding such views.

Note: Details of the original story have been changed. Any relationship to specific people is coincidental.

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This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Strategic Complimenting

Compliments are an extremely effective way to build morale and relationships. However, they are not as easy to employ as one might think. It’s not just a matter of saying something nice; it’s a matter of saying something positive about something that is important to the other person. There are two broad types, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic compliments refer to things “outside” of someone and intrinsic “inside.” Intrinsic compliments will tend to make a greater impact than extrinsic ones. Their disadvantage is that they tend to be harder to pinpoint and describe. For some, intrinsic compliments are more difficult to deliver because they require a higher level of sensitivity.


Four Basic Types of Compliments


Extrinsic Compliments

1.    Things: compliment what they have.

2.    Job: compliment what they did.


Intrinsic Compliments

3.    Values: compliment what they believe.

4.    Talents: compliment their innate qualities.






  • You have a nice car.
  • You look good in that dress.
  • You have a good laptop.
  • That’s a neat picture you have.



  • Your values of paying attention to the details saved us.
  • You have a super work ethic.
  • Your honesty is refreshing.
  • I’m glad you believe you shouldn’t take advantage of those types of situations.

  • You did a great job on that project.
  • You did real well on that assignment.
  • That was some good advice you gave.
  • Those people really felt you helped them.

  • You have a unique talent for that work.
  • You have an innate ability to defuse those types of situations.
  • You have a special quality that allows you to really help us here.
  • That’s a real gift you have.


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“In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” -Bertrand Russell, from his essay ‘The Triumph of Stupidity’, published in 1933.

Professors Justin Kruger and David Dunning provide supporting research. Their findings are categorically called the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE). In my earlier post about lying, we saw liars using confidence to encourage lies to take hold. Since confidence is a feeling that taps into our security needs, it naturally attracts us. Thus, a mother’s embrace is to a child what confidence is to an adult.

It seems natural though that those who are most competent should have the most confidence; but why does DKE claim the opposite? The incompetent don’t really know what they don’t know.

Imagine two generals. One sends his scouts out and finds no enemy forces. Another does the same and finds a force twice his size. Which general is going to feel more confident about his situation, the one with no enemy around or the one with? However, we then find out that the first general only sent his scouts out five miles while the second fifty miles. Which now? The answer doesn’t change because the first general didn’t know his scouts should have gone out fifty miles.

However, measuring competency isn’t as easy as measuring how far scouts ventured. The potential problems that concern the competent are staging far beyond a horizon the incompetent can’t see or don’t know exists. Thus, ignorance is not only blissful but confident.

Want proof? Next time you’re before a group of CEO’s ask how many of them believe their earnings growth over the last year is in the lower half of the group? You’ll get a number far less than 50% . . . maybe even 25%.

Related link: Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence

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We often hear that good sales people don’t make good sales managers. While incorrect, the transition is admittedly difficult. However, few give reasons. I have identified three major attributes that distinguish a good sales person who can be a good sales manager from one who can’t be: patience, adaptability and introspection.

Good sales people by habit are not patient; if one prospect says, “no,” they go onto another. We can’t rollover sales people as quickly as we can prospects. As for adaptability, good sales people usually find a workable style and stick with it; they rarely need to try others. Contrastingly, as managers, we have to deal with multiple selling styles. Lastly, many good sales people will run their processes without knowing why they work; often they don’t need to know. Sales managers need to understand the “why’s” so they can solve problems and duplicate successes.

As a result, good sales people who become sales managers tend to have developed little patience, adaptability or introspection. They will tend to push their people into a single style, usually the one that worked for them, and reprimand those who don’t implement quickly or successfully. In effect, they are sales administrators not coaches.

Experientially, this means that the best sales managers who were good sales people are likely to be those who had to struggle to be good. Perhaps they had to try a lot of different things until they found their style. This might have included a real close look at what they were doing and why some things worked and others didn’t. Finally, they learned to have patience with their own development.

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Beauty as Power

By Mike Lehr

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Beauty as Power

Looking at beauty as power is important in understanding and appreciating intuitive approaches because it dramatically expands the influences and solutions we see. However, as I mentioned in the A Blue Heron Instructs on Patience, we tend to be prejudiced toward action; therefore, we will often overlook beauty as power because it’s not an active force. Thus, it helps if we initially think of beauty as attractive because the verb “attract” implies some kind of active force.

For example, suppose we saw a metal ball rolling on a level table toward a wall. We might initially think that there was something about the ball that caused movement. However, suppose later we find out that a powerful magnet was implanted in the wall. Now, we begin to see the wall as the active force.

Another problem we tend to have is that we look at beauty very superficially, as something physically feminine. However, beauty can exist in anything, including intangible things. For instance, consider the movie A Beautiful Mind; also consider the attraction of beautiful ideas, prices, cars, paintings, formulae, advertisements, parks, scenery, etc. Anything that attracts us has some level of beauty in it; even power is beautiful to many.

So, if a car dealer stocks his showroom with a car that he knows is likely to attract us enough to buy it, who is really applying the active force: the buyer or the dealer? Similarly, when the Indians attracted General George Custer into the trap on Battle of Little Big Horn because he thought he had a beautiful opportunity to defeat them, who was playing the active force: Custer who rushed in or the Indians who created the attractive situation?

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Once, a woman who had just joined a bank wanted to meet with me since I had experience working at a bank. After asking many questions, she apologized and said, “I just want to make sure I do a good job.” I responded, “Well, first, you have to realize that just doing a good job is no guarantee of keeping your job even if no one is being laid off. Focus more on the relationships you have with your co-workers and most importantly your boss.”

Influencing others is a form of power and as is being increasingly shown simply being good at what you do isn’t the best way to expand your power at work. Consider Schumpeter’s commentary, The Will to Power, of the September 11, 2010 issue of The Economist. He references Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book Paths to Power in which he claims attributes “such as the ability to project drive and self-confidence” as being more important. Note he said “ability to project” and not “have.”

How many times have we all heard someone (or ourselves) say, “Well, I just don’t play politics,” or “I’m not good at the politics”? Yes, the negative connotation of politics implies that these are positive attributes and gives us positive feelings for rationalizing bad experiences. On the other hand, politics is really about managing our interpersonal relationships. When they are ones we enjoy we call it teamwork; when they are ones we don’t we call it politics.

No matter what we call it, if we don’t do it well, we risk not only the diminishing of our power at work but our jobs.

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This technique is one of the most effective for dealing with angry and anxious business situations. It has helped me and those I’ve instructed tremendously. Encouraging people to talk can help them feel better and present a better environment to present solutions. The diagram visualizes the technique for us. Its nickname is “sucking out the venom,” for we are extracting people’s anger and anxiety.

Venting Process – General Concept


  • Avoid stifling venting; you want to clean the air for your solution so you can present it on good ground.
  • Encourage venting through your questions and demonstration of interest in their situation.
  • Empathize with them by saying something like, “If that happened to me, I would be upset too.”
  • Apologize if possible.  Depending upon the situation though, apologies can carry legal ramifications so a good apology can be along the lines of “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”  Consult your legal counsel if need be.
  • Present your solution after the venting wanes; presenting it too early might leave deeper resentments unaddressed.
  • Don’t worry about solving the problem; sometimes, all it takes is listening.

Translating the diagram into specific steps, we arrive at this:

Venting Process – Steps
  1. Receiver (red square) expresses a negative thought or emotion to the presenter
  2. Presenter (blue circle) pulls the negative expressions from the receiver by using open questions and encouragement (intensity of the feelings will likely increase for a short period)
  3. Eventually, the presenter will begin to feel the negative energy dissipate in the form of cessation of talking, longer pauses, or quieter voice tones by the receiver
  4. The presenter begins to isolate the negativity by clarifying details and  summarizing points
  5. The presenter presents a plan (if possible) to address the problem
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