LME013 – Powerful feedback – Interview with Jill Schiefelbein

Today we talk all about powerful feedback in business. It‘s not easy, is it?

Therefore, I invited Jill Schiefelbein to talk with me about dynamic communication and especially about how to give feedback.

Jill Schiefelbein

Delivering powerful feedback with Jill Schiefelbein

Delivering powerful feedback with Jill Schiefelbein

Jill Schiefelbein is an award winning business owner, speaker and author.

She taught business communication at Arizona State university for 11 years. She analyzed terrorist documents to help provide counter-terrorism messaging strategies to the military and she was a pioneer in the online education space.

How to give powerful feedback

Dynamic Communication: 27 strategies to grow, lead and manage your business by Jill Schiefelbein

She knows about communication. Today Jill is called the Dynamic Communicator. She creates and executes communication strategies for all kind of organisations.

Her latest book has the title: „Dynamic Communication: 27 strategies to grow, lead and manage your business.“ And it’s really worth reading if you watn to learn about poerful feedback. I’m happy to have her on my podcast today.

We are talking about the biggest mistakes when people give feedback in the workplace. But we also cover problems like:

  • How can managers successfully criticese without being rude or offending?
  • How can they still make a clear statement?
  • What do you need to take care of when doing a formal performance review?
  • How can an employee criticise his or her boss without hurting the relationship?

Here is my interview with Jill Schiefelbein talking about powerful feedback.


The inspiring quote

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernhard Shaw

Links for further information


The transcript of my interview with Jill Schiefelbein:


Jill, most people will agree that feedback is essential when successfully working together. Now, I would like to know from you, what are the biggest mistakes when people give feedback in the workspace?


You know to me Bernd, feedback it’s really kind of like the motor oil that keeps a car’s engine running and without it, you’re going to break down and things will you know, stuff will build up over time, things won’t run as smoothly. And eventually it’s just chaos.




Or it fails to work at all. So, for me feedback, the mistake that I see a lot of people in organizations making is limiting feedback to more formal channels. So, you have maybe your annual performance reviews or you have you know, maybe you have a bi-annual performance review.

But, things that are more formalized instead of focusing on the minor feedback day to day. Or even you know, semiformal feedback that maybe you could do every bi-weekly or every month that would be more like maintenance instead of going in and having the whole engine taking out, you just have to change the oil routinely.


So, if I understand you correctly Jill, feedback is something which you need to do more or less daily if possible?


Ja, I think there’s always a place for it. And especially with the younger generations entering the workplace in force, I mean millennials are already a stronghold in the workplace. If we look at what comes next with Generation Z and beyond, it’s very much the expectation is regular feedback and not necessarily just daily but, almost every task that is completed.

And I’m not talking about the routine tasks, but if you’re given an assignment and you complete the assignment and your supervisor or manager gives you no feedback other than a thanks you don’t know what to do next. And so, we need to be very conscious that whenever there is completion on something or wherever there is clear progress made that we need to have opportunities for feedback conversations.


Ja, we have here in Germany a saying of one part in Germany if you don’t say anything that’s good enough, and I think that’s totally wrong. I think you will agree on that, correct?


It is one of my favorite axioms or sayings. Comes from a book that was written in 1975 by theorists, by the names of Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson, and in this book the pragmatics of human communication, they put out the idea that, one cannot not communicate.

Which means that it is impossible to not communicate and your silence actually communicates something. So, the lack of providing feedback actually communicates a lack of caring in many situations.


Ja, I fully agree. Now, how should managers if they give negative feedbacks, so it’s criticism, how should they take care that the criticism is really – comes over in the right way? So, that it’s without being rude or offending if you criticize your employee, but you still want to make clear that, this needs to be changed or that someone needs to do that in a different way in the future. How we should managers do that correctly in your opinion?


Well, for me I have three very clear rules to follow when giving feedback. And they work for both negative and positive feedback situations. And in fact, I’m going to go on a small tangent right now to kind of set up this answer if that’s okay with you?


Ja, sure.


Studies are showing that managers who believe that they are giving even positive feedback on a regular basis, but who don’t follow these three rules that I’m about to lay out for you will actually see either a stagnation, or a decline in productivity.

And that is when feedback isn’t directed, owned, avoiding disclaimers, and specific, we take it just kind of as a status quo. So for example, if I have a manager who is constantly saying, “Good job Jill, keep up the good work Jill. Nice work, awesome. You’re great, fantastic.” The manager thinks I’m an awesome manager, I’m providing positive feedback all the time.

Whereas, I don’t know what exactly I’m doing great, I don’t know why exactly I’m awesome. And so, the human nature would be, “Okay, I’m doing great. So, I don’t need to push harder.” So, I just kind of let it rest. #


It’s very generalized. So, I don’t know really what is it really I’m doing well? Correct?


Exactly. And when you don’t know what you’re doing well, you are just going to assume until you’re told otherwise that, “Okay, well I guess I’m just doing everything well so, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.” And I don’t actively look for will opportunities to improve because, okay great.

It’s just like even in school when you’d get a good mark on a paper, but you wouldn’t get any feedback. So, you’d make it a perfect score, but there’s no feedback about how you could develop or how you could push it even further.

You don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So, one of the three rules and I’ll be happy to give the other two as well is make sure that any feedback you give positive or negative is focused and specific, not generalized but very specific. And that it’s specific focused on a behavior and not a characteristic. This is important because characteristics we often don’t have in our immediate control to change. But, behaviors we can change.

So for example, if a characteristic of your personality is that you are a bit shy changing that or giving feedback on that is not going to be as impactful as giving feedback on a specific situation in which the shyness had an impact. And so, really being as specific as you can to the exact behavior and the variable surrounding that behavior is one of the three main rules that I have for giving good feedback.


Ja, that makes absolutely sense ja. Because the behavior you can change real characteristic of yourself. If you have a very high voice for example, and well you can’t change it. So ja, it makes absolutely sense ja, very good and specific. Ja.


It does. And the other two rules. The first one of which, and this is one of the things that I find people are doing wrong. So, more often than not and it’s such a simple change in a single word. But, a lot of times when people start off feedback conversations especially when they are corrective feedback conversations, they start with the word that verbally points a finger at someone and immediately puts them on the defensive.

And that word is you. You need to do this. You aren’t doing this right. You should do this. All of those things, but it takes us back to when we were young children. And I don’t know if it’s the same way in Germany, but in the United States if your parents yell at you using both your first and middle names, you know you’re in trouble, right, like you know.


Ja, no, that’s similar. Ja, I agree.


It’s not just, “Jill, get down here.” It’s, “Jill Schiefelbein.” And then you know you are in so much trouble. But, we have those things. And so, parents will use a name. But, other people who aren’t as close to you, it’s kind of this same thing as pointing that finger and saying, “You need to do this.” And whenever we hear that, the little kids inside of us, you know just kind of curl up. And we immediately go on the defensive.

So, what you need to do – I just even said that. What you need to do, if you’d like to improve your feedback in this situation, the thing to do is substitute the word I for the word you, and then put a descriptor in there. So, I realize. I know. I believe. I feel. I’ve observed. I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that you – and then lay out something specific.

It just sets a tone of a conversation in such a different way. And that ability for someone to be more receptive of what you have to say, especially when you need corrective action is very important.


It’s more a subjective way how you open the other person if I understand that correctly. If you say, “You need to do this.” They’re getting defensive. If you say, “Well, I recognize that you’ve done this and this and I felt that this was doing in this and this way.” Then it’s a totally different feedback. It’s more like a present to give to someone to see how I see him. Is that the way you would go in with this more?


That’s absolutely one way to interpret it. The other way to interpret it is that you’re opening up a conversation. When you start with the word you, you’re giving a command.

But, if you start with I it opens a conversation and in many cases you can actually get down to the root cause of why that behavior happened in the first place. But, if you start off by pointing a finger, you’re not likely to get there.


Ja, it makes absolute sense. Now I’m very interested for the third one.


Ja, so the next one is – so the other three. So, we have the you know, own your feedback. That’s what I call the first rule like using I instead of you.

And being specific and behavioral in the feedback we’ve talked about. The other one is avoid disclaimers and apologizing. And this may not be as common in other parts of the world, but in the United States, in North America, in general, I find people apologizing for nothing. “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Sorry to bother you.” “Sorry to do this.” When there’s actually no reason to be sorry.

Because for example, if I would say, “Sorry to interrupt you, but I need –” No, knock on the door. “Excuse me, I need.” There’s no, “Sorry to bother you.” Because if you were really sorry you would have found another way to get the information.

So, it’s really when you say things like, “I’m sorry” or “I just wanted to see if” or “I’m not sure if you feel the same way but” those things are all forms of apologies and disclaimers that actually take the power of the corrective effect away from your feedback opportunity.


Ja, it weakens the feedback. Ja, I understand.


It does. And when we also say those things, people don’t take us seriously everything that comes after that disclaimer or after that apology. Because if I say, “Bernd, I’m sorry we have to meet today, but we need to discuss” it sets up a completely different tone than you know, “Bernd, thanks for being here, we need to discuss.”

Very, very different, but yet it’s just so commonplace to use those words without even thinking about it. So, we have to be very conscious of what we’re saying in these situations.


Ja, there’s one thing what I was a missing in your three major mistakes. And I would like to hear your take on it and that’s if you really give feedback to someone, I feel that it’s more and more successful to do that if it’s under four eyes. So, if no one else is in the room, then I can give other kinds of feedback than if others are in the room, would you agree with that?


In most situations, yes. It always depends on the team culture and how the expectations have been set up within an organization. But in general, yes. I like to say we criticize in private, we praise in public.

So, when people are being praised in public and again in a very specific and behavior focused way, it can serve as a motivator for the team. But, even in that situation having those praise conversations one on one are also very, very important because you can go into a little more depth with the person on exactly what you appreciate, where you could be a little more general at the team level.


Ja, I agree. What I also would like to know if you’re a communication expert, what is it about this kind of giving feedback in a sandwich way? So, you know this, “Oh, you’re such a great person, you’re such a great employee, but ja, you need to slightly make it better.” But then, “You’re great.” What’s your take on this kind of sandwich feedback?


So, there’s two different perspectives on it. And for me the literal interpretation that most people understand just like what you said and how a lot of people train on is actually more damaging than helpful.

Because what follows the, but, is not often listened to. So, “Yay, this is such a great podcast. I love being on the show, but you know what I’m happy to do this.” We don’t remember the disclaimers. It kind of even ties back into my rules, right?

It’s a disclaimer that’s going at the beginning before you get to the course of action. Now, where I believe the sentiment of the theory comes from and I don’t think this is clearly explained anywhere, the sentiment is that over time we should focus on giving more positive than negative feedback, over time. Now, that’s not what the sandwich model says.

But, I believe that to kind of be at the heart of it, is that if all we’re ever receiving from a manager is negative feedback, it’s going to impact us negatively. But, that’s why the saying that you said earlier like if I don’t hear anything, I assume everything’s fine is actually detrimental. Because then when you do hear something, the only time you hear things is when it’s negative and that builds up on a person’s psyche.

So, to me the sandwich model in individual feedback instances, no, it’s actually more harmful and more damaging than good. But, the idea of giving just as much if not more positive feedback that again is owned avoids disclaimers and is specific and behavioral over time. That is the spirit of it.


Ja, I fully agree with that. That’s also my take on that. We already spoke about the performance reviews, which in some companies I think that’s the same here in Germany. That you just say, “Okay, we have to do that every year with our employee and he gets the feedback.” And these kinds of performance reviews in my feel are very often not very useful.

And you already said it that it’s we should give feedback much more often. I found it very interesting, this kind of one on ones where you really plan with your employee once a week or every two weeks, a really 20 minutes where you only talk precisely on not just feedback, but to build a personal relationship. What do you think about this kind of planned one on ones?


I think we need to have them built in. And I think they need to be things that are taken seriously in organizations and not a meeting that can be just passed off like, “Oh, you know it’s not essential to our day to day operations.” But, in reality it is essential because if you’re not again, keeping the engine running smoothly, the day to day operations are going to break down.

And so, what I would like to see implemented in organizations across the world is a more semi-formal monthly conversation where those data points are documented and collected, which then make the annual reviews for the raises for the board of directors for the things that we need to do.

Especially in public companies, government institutions, etcetera, all of those things where we have these antiquated, but still existing systems of having to put these annual performance reviews forward. You know, but we’re building them 12 months in the making.

Not just, “Wow, this last quarter was bad and it’s going to adversely impact how I’m viewing the performance review.” Just for the happen stance that that happens to show up in a bad quarter. And that’s not fair to anyone involved. But, when you have more documented data that you can analyze over time and see where people are at, it helps.

The other purpose of these weekly, oh sorry excuse me, monthly meetings it’s not just from a feedback standpoint, but it’s also how are the employees tracking towards their own personal and professional development goals? So, it’s not just the, “Oh here’s what you’re doing well and here’s what needs to be improved.” It’s “Alright, what have you done this month to actively push towards the goal that you stated when you first started working here that you want to be involved in x, y, z procedure?”

And managers who get employees who stay around longer are invested in both their professional and their personal development and finding ways to be able to implement that and integrate that within those monthly conversations I feel is very important.


Ja, I agree with that. I also see a third point here with the one on ones which full beside if they are not done, which I observed here in Germany very often you get a deeper relationship with your employee if you really do that at least once a month. Because it’s time you spend as a manager or executive which you really invest in your employee.

And if what I recognize is all the people have under very much of stress. And time is a very problem for most of the people to spend. And if they don’t do it in the calendar for this kind of one on ones, it could be that after half a year they say, “Oh ja, I haven’t spoken to John for a long time.”

So, I think it’s also a point that they get a closer relationship and a deeper understanding which is important for the trust level between the employee and the supervisor. Would you agree with that?


I completely agree with that. And one of the things and the pushback I get when talking with managers about this is, “Well, 20 minutes a month that’s a lot of time.” Well okay, so 20 minutes a month is an hour a quarter, which means four hours a year. If you have to replace that person, you’re going to be spending significantly more than four hours training and getting a new person up to speed.

And we know that the number one reason people leave jobs is management, not money. So, not investing in this you know, four hours a year per employee. If you do a 20 minute monthly meeting is going to cost you way more time and money in the long run. But, typically we don’t think about that. We think, “Wow, I’m losing this time now.” Not “Well, by doing this I’m gaining a lot of time in the future.”


Ja, it’s always the problem that if you’re doing this kind of leadership, it’s the long-term benefits you get. Short-term, if you don’t do it, you have short-term, you’ll have more time. But, in the long-term you lose a lot of time. You lose credibility. You lose trust. Ja, I absolutely agree.

Jill, I have one issue here with speaking a lot about how to give feedback to the employee. Now let’s go to the other side. Should an employee criticize his or her boss? And if yes, how can an employee give feedback to the boss without hurting the relationship or getting into trouble?


It’s a very, very good question. And I will shift the term criticism and just say giving feedback. We’ll just keep it kind of a neutral term because conflict for example, the word conflict most people feel as a negative term. But, conflict in fact is inevitable when you have more than one person working on something because we’re not the same.

Now, how conflict is handled takes it from being a neutral term to being either positive or negative. And I think the same is true for feedback. So, making sure – and this is something that I’ve studied a lot and there’s actually a chapter in my book on this and I call it directional communication, is you need to know what direction your communication is going.

And this is from an organizational hierarchical perspective or a perceived hierarchy. So, if someone for example perceives that they have power over you and you’re having trouble getting through to them, it’s probably because you’re communicating at them like a peer or maybe like some an employee instead of someone like a boss. So, there’s three levels, there’s upward, downward and lateral or peer level communication.

And if you have feedback or issues that you need to bring up to your manager, you’re communicating in this upward direction. So, it’s really important to go into these meetings with certain frames of mind. You want to go in with an amount of politeness and respect to the authority.

So, you know for example, “Thank you for meeting with me today Bernd. I know you know, at your level, at your job, whatever you have a packed schedule. And I’m really grateful you had time to see me, to talk about –” And then get right to the point, specific issue that you want to talk about.

And then also when giving that feedback, balancing it out. Again, using the three roles we talked about earlier, but also taking into consideration more of the company needs, the mission, the vision, the values, the purpose of the company. And so, whatever you’re going to suggest if there’s a confusion of how maybe it doesn’t fit, make sure you’re tying in bigger organizational picture issues to that conversation. And that’s a strategy in terms of communicating upward.

And unfortunately some companies don’t have that culture where that’s easily allowed. But, the other thing you can do if you don’t have that culture set up or if you’re not sure, you know, “Thank you for meeting with me. I would like to speak about this. Do I have your permission to give you my unfiltered observations?” Asking for permission to do that.

And then it’s on the manager to say, “No, I actually don’t want to hear that. Here’s what I want to hear about.” And guide the conversation, which is within their full rights to do. And that can actually be very impactful. They can say, “No.” Which very clearly communicate something or they can say “Yes.”

It’s one of three options that you’re going to get. Two of those three are going to advance the conversation forward. The third one, there’s probably a much deeper rooted issue at play.


Ja, and what’s at least here in Germany, I suppose it will be similar in the US you can say to your boss a lot of things, but do it under four eyes. Because he also plays a role so, if you do that when others are in the room, it is much more difficult even if you’re using the terms, asking for permission. Because a lot of people feel that they have to defend themselves and they don’t want to do that in a group very often. Is that similar in your opinion?


Yes. It’s so very true. And it’s again it’s anything that could potentially be perceived as negative, keep that private. Keep it between the two people or whoever is involved only. And you know it’s coming to people to solve a problem is also fine as well. I think about a supervisor I had when I was in the academic space. And this supervisor misspoke at a meeting.

At the time I was leading a massive online education effort and the dean of the college that I was working within was my direct boss. We both went to a meeting together. And he actually misspoke in the meeting, something that was factually incorrect about what we’re doing. And there’s one of those options. Do you right there in the meeting correct? In this case it was a him, correct him right in the meeting? Or do you sit and wait later?

And so, what I did was not counter him in the meeting. I just said, “And another perspective to this is. So, if you have questions you can talk to both of us about this.” Outside of the meeting approached him and said, “Jack, I want you to know why I said the different perspectives is because with the new system the university just integrated, what you said is no longer factually correct. And I’m sure you just didn’t know that.”

You know and he goes, “Oh, thank you so much for telling me. I’m really glad you spoke up.” But, if I would have said, “Actually Jack, that’s not correct” in front of the whole faculty babies that would not have been the best move.


Ja, so you took care that he didn’t lose his face.


Exactly. And sometimes it’s just a simple phrase or making a more factually correct statement if it’s public. So, you know he said one statement then I could say, “And within the new system that we just adopted, here is how this functions” instead. You know, it’s just still stating facts. And you can state facts. And you can state differences opinion without putting someone down.


Ja. I like especially the wording you used, and instead of, but. Just these small words already make a big difference. That’s great. I love that.


I am obsessed with the small simple semantic changes that you can make in language that really make a big difference over time. So, much so that they’re so – the word we would use is incipient. You don’t even know they’re hiding there, but they have this power. And it’s not you know, relevant and like obvious to everybody. But, when you do it over time with consistency, you’ll see a notable difference in your culture.


Ja. Now, using this kind of wording I would like to hear your take on my last question. And that’s what were you doing if you were in a project meeting and well, the going gets tough, you’re more in the lateral area with colleagues and one of your colleagues verbally attacks you. How should you behave? What’s an appropriate response in such situations?


The best thing you can do from my perspective, especially when someone’s mad at you in a public setting, is number one, recognize their frustration. In some way, shape, or form the worst thing you can do is ignore and move on. Because then a person who’s already mad is going to now feel mad and ignored. And that’s just not a good place for anyone to be.

So, let’s pretend you know that my manager well, we’ll just go back to Jackson. Since I used that term so, Jack is very upset with me in a meeting and kind of you know, publicly defaces me. What I can do is go back to those three rules of feedback that I gave you and say, “I understand from what you just said, that you’re frustrated with –” and name something specific. Is that accurate?

So, really own it. Say, “I understand” or “I heard” or you know, “From what you just said, I believe that you feel” you know, owning those statements as much as you can. And then put it back as a question. It’s a de-escalation technique.

You know, let’s say you and I were arguing Bernd and I said, “I believe I understand what you’re saying Bernd, is that you’re very frustrated that I wanted to do this and that didn’t fit within the model that you had laid out for the team. Am I understanding that correctly?”


Ja, that’s cool. So, you recognize my anger and you try to by giving me this kind of a feedback board you understand, you try to deescalate the situation.


You do. And what happens oftentimes in a group is if one person is having a hard time cooling down if I’ve handled it professionally in that way and I ask a question, “Am I understanding that correctly?” You either have a yes or a no response. And if it’s a no, then we can get down to the bottom of it. If it’s a yes, likely then people recognize it’s been a little deescalated.

And then I can if you don’t respond back, I could say. “Okay, I’m glad I understand correctly. In your opinion, what should the next step be then” Or in your opinion, what one thing should be changed first?” Again, getting very specific with the questions so that it’s not a, I’m not on the defensive. I call it I’m on the discovery.

And if you take that position from curiosity and being willing to discover what is making someone really upset, it positions you in a place of power and control and it lets you now steer the conversation. So, it’s a strategic move on two parts.


Ja, so the first one is recognize it. And then give the ball back and try to discover more in depth what is it really we’re talking about? Why are you so mad on me, or something like that, correct?


Exactly. And at some point other people can get involved in the conversation too, but the mistake I feel people make right off the bat is let’s say you say something very not nice to me in a meeting and I slammed down my hands and say, “Well, do the rest of you feel that way too?”

And there’s nothing productive that’s going to come immediately from that. So, you first have to make sure everyone is on the same page with what the disagreement is actually on. And then you can move forward in that conversation.


Ja, makes sense. Oh, I think we got a lot of great insights regarding feedback. I liked especially what we talked about in the beginning the three major mistakes. If you’re not specific, if you’re not focused, if you do give feedback, better say I instead of you.

And it’s very important to avoid the disclaimers. No sorry’s, no apologies if there’s nothing to apologize. I liked that very much. And Jill, I like to thank you very much for being on the podcast and giving us great tips for better communication for dynamic communication. Thank you.


Thank you so much for having me.


LME012 – How to give feedback.

As a manager, you need to know how to give feedback. It‘s your job to help your employees to develop and to improve. They need constructive feedback on their performance as well as on their behaviour – both positive and negative.

Listen to the podcast version

How to give feedback

How to give feedback?
Image: pressmaster/ Resource: www.bigstock.com


The Problem often: How to give feedback?

Understandably, many executives try to avoid giving feedback. They often don’t now how to give feedback and it is often not easy to give it openly. Also, many find it difficult to ask for feedback. But feedback is most important in leadership. It’s the best tool to help your staff to develop and it is a great way to support employee motivation – if done correctly.

Finally, if you critize, you might trigger rejection, displeasure and anger. It can be painful and it can lead to embarrassing situations, especially if people’s self-perception is challenged or you confront someone with unpleasant truths.

Feedback situations are therefore a challenge for both the one who gives feedback and the other who receives the feedback.

Do you mind if I give you feedback?

Everyone loves to be praised and to be confirmed. Who doesn‘t like to be praised?

With criticism, on the other hand, it’s different. If someone asks you,

“Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”

You’ll probably say

“No, of course not!”

… and you ask for the feedback. But deep inside of you, it’s hard for you to hear negative feedback. And let’s face it: it will be negative.

Praise and criticism

If someone explicitly asks for permission to give you feedback, he doesn‘t just want to praise, he mostly wants to criticize. But criticism questions our self-esteem. It triggers our defense mechanisms, because we believe our reputation is in danger. Actually, we want to be praised, but not judged.

That’s why when you give feedback, it’s less important what you say than how you say it.

Formulate feedback subjectively

Therefore, formulate your feedback subjectively as far as possible.

Instead of:

“John, you weren‘t well prepared in this conversation with our major customer. You answered his questions quite evasively!”

This statement claims objectivity.

“It’s the way I say it. John was not prepared.”

It would be better to formulate the feedback in an “I“-statement:

“John, I had the impression that you weren‘t well prepared for the conversation with our major customer. It also seemed to me as if you had answered his questions evasively.”

An “I“-statement doesn‘t claim to be the absolute truth. It only reflects what you have felt, seen, heard or experienced. These kind of statements are received as:

“That’s how I perceived you.”

Don’t critize in public

Feedback is intended to help the other person to reconcile his self-perception and his external perception, and to change the future behavior when necessary. You can much easier achieve this with “I“-statements.

I still remember my school days vividly. I was very good at maths and physics. However, I was lousy with learning languages, especially English. My grades in English mostly fluctuated between 4 and 5. In our German school system the grade „1“ is the best and 5 and 6 are the worst. Compared to the US grade system a „1“ would be an „A“ and a „5“ would correspond to a “D“, “E“ or “F“.

As you can surely imagine, I was terrified of having to write English class papers. But the worst was getting the paper back from the teacher. That was deeply demotivating and humiliating.

The process was always the same: all students were in the classroom. The teacher called the name of the student. Then he went through the rows and handed over the corrected paper and he shouted the grade loud and clear:

John – 3+

Brian  – 2-

Bernd –  5“

Simultanously, when he looked at me and shouted my grade, he mostly shook his head.

Don‘t do that. If you criticize someone, please don‘t do it in front of others.

To be criticized is almost always offensive to the criticized, even if it‘s well intentioned. That’s why you criticize, if possible, always in private and not in public.

Feedback should be constructive.

Praise as well as criticise. Standardised praise as well as generalizing criticism aren‘t helpful.

“John, your reports are always far too long. It doesn’t work like that.”

John has no practical use from this feedback. Are all his reports really far too long? Any report he has made so far? Wasn’t there this interim report a year ago. That was only one page long – so, John thinks: my boss is incorrect: my reports aren‘t always too long.

The better way to give this feedback is:

“John, your final report in this project is over 200 pages long. Our customer doesn‘t want and doesn’t need such an in depth analysis. In future, 20 pages will be fully sufficient for such final reports.”

Now John knows what he can improve. That is conctructive feedback.

The same also applies to praise:

“John, you’re doing a great job here with us!”

It’s a positive feedback. It‘s a compliment, but it’s very vague. Does the boss say this only to create a favourable climate? Does he really know exactly what I’m doing?

A constructive compliment is much more helpful and honest:

“John, you recently solved this interface problem for the MLG group very quickly. Excellent work. Helping our biggest client in such a short time has left a lasting impression on them – and also on me. You did a great job.”

This praise helps much more because it‘s constructive. Now John understands precisely what he did well.

Don’t critize too many points!

Very often managers critize too many point at once

If you give negative feedback, don‘t criticize too much at once. Otherwise, the person is overwhelmed and doesn’t know how to start improving.

Here’s an example: John has just made an important presentation for a customer. His boss gives him the following feedback:

“John, this was all too fast for me. You talked so quickly. There were far too many slides, too much text and only few pictures. Then you also made jumps, so I couldn‘t follow. And then, you constantly looked at the slides instead of looking to the people –  and the design of your slides: Our CI was missing. Our logo was not visible at all… “

And he’s going on like that.

This feedback isn‘t helpful. It overwhelms John with information. What is it exactly he needs to change the next time he’s going to do a presentation like this? With what should he start to improve? Apparently he did everything wrong.

It would be better to tell him only about one of the important mistakes, for example:

“John, I couldn‘t follow your presentation. I was lost after five minutes. What I observed is, that the other participants also seemed to have problems to understand what you were talking about. We were simply overwhelmed by the high number of slides in such a short time.”

The feedback here is: too many slides. This allows John to improve his next presentation.Also very important:

Give timely feedback!

If you give feedback – be it praise or criticism – do it in a timely manner. Then the situation is still fresh in memory.

However, the one who receives feedback must be able to accept it. His mind must be open to understand and to accept it. Especially when it comes to criticism.

Assume your employee has just made a big mistake – a huge blunder – he recognizes it and is – understandably – depressed and devastated. Then it may be timely, but it‘s not the right time to criticize him right now. Sensitivity is needed when giving him feedback.

In principle: There’s a time for everything. Find the right time: The criticized must be open to feedback. Otherwise it will not help. But don‘t let too much time pass between the behavior and your feedback. The more timely the feedback the more helpful it is.

5 important tips how to give feedback

Let me summarize what you should pay attention to when giving feedback:

  • Formulate Feedback in an „I“ statement
  • Give Feedback, especially criticism, preferably in privat.
  • Make it specific and contructive.
  • Don‘t give too much feedback at once.
  • Give feedback promptly, but only if the other person is open to it.


The inspiring quote

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”

Frank A. Clark

LME011 – Self awareness and how to build better teams – Interview with Jessica Pettitt

With Jessica Pettitt I’ll talk about self awareness and how to build better teams.

Self awareness

Self awareness is most important for a good leader. Having the ability to recognize what you are good at and where you’re not so good at or where you’re even lousy – is crucial if you want to be a good leader.

If you want to lead, if you want to inspire others you need to be self aware. You need to be open to work on yourself.

Jessica Pettitt

Jessica Pettitt

Jessica Pettitt

That’s why I invited Jessica Pettitt for an interview. We are talking about self awareness and about how this influences building and leading teams.

Jessica lives in New York. She is a speaker and author and has been stirring up difficult conversations for over a decade.

She performed as a stand-up comedian, spoke on stage as a diversity educator, and today she is moving teams from abstract to action. Jessica is a member of the National Speakers Association and is a Certified Speaking Professional.

In her book „Good enough now“ she ties together best practices of conversations, team building and inclusive climates.


The inspiring quote

If I could sell a formula made up of gratitude, empathy, and self-awareness it would be my billion-dollar coconut water idea.”

Gary Vaynerchuk

Links for further information


The transcript of my interview with Jessica Pettitt:


Jessica, leaders want to lead others, they want to inspire others and they want to influence others, but what’s often forgotten is, first of all, as a leader I need to take responsibility for who I am and how I am. I recently heard Gary Vaynerchuk pointing that out and he said,

“There is something that is really talked about in the business world and that’s self-awareness.”

In the first part of your great book Good Enough Now, you speak exactly about this self-awareness. What exactly is your definition of it and why is self-awareness so crucial?


Well, first off, thank you for having me and a great question to start off with. Self-awareness is the hardest and last thing we are likely to do, and the irony is that it’s free and it doesn’t take any additional tools or schooling to begin.

Ultimately, it’s about taking responsibility for who and how you are, and when you start noticing how you show up in relationships, or what your response patterns are, when you take responsibility for it you can keep the parts you really like about yourself. You can work on to develop or edit or change the parts of yourself you don’t like and then you can become aware of the incongruent pieces floating out in the middle.


But to do that, I think you need to go very deep and ask you, well, sometimes not very nice questions, at least, in some areas. What I would like to know from you, Jessica, is what can we do to become more self-aware? How do we do that?


It’s an interesting question because out of habit there’s a piece of us almost like a magic trick. When you see a magician perform you’re like: Whoa, how did that happen? And then there’s always that guy in the audience who’s like, “Oh, I know how it happened, first you do this, second you do this, third you do this, results magic trick.”

Self-awareness work is like a magic trick in the sense that from the outside it’s like, “How is this person so authentic, vulnerable, self-aware or confident? I don’t understand how they get that way.” And then somebody else is like, “Well.” When you start listing off what self-awareness steps are, it’s even worse than ruining a magic trick because to be self-aware means that you’re actually reflective. It means you’re listening and asking questions to people who know you better than you know you; you’re actually listening and responding to the answers that they give you – and that’s not as sexy as the magic trick.

Self-reflection literally means paying attention to how you show up and usually we can’t do it for ourselves at first consistently, so it means listening to other people. When people give you feedback, usually it’s negative feedback and the first thing we do is dismiss them. And then if someone gives you positive feedback, the first thing we do is deflect it because we don’t accept compliments. Both of those are places to start: stop deflecting and stop being defensive and really listen for patterns.


Yes, I understand that but isn’t it different from who’s giving the feedback?


In theory, I think depending on who it is, it depends how likely we are to validate the feedback or listen to it.


If I understand you correctly, you would say: But at least start with it and take it like a present if someone gives you this kind of feedback, independent if it’s “You’re doing great here,” or if it’s constructive feedback. Is that right?


Yes. What’s interesting is constructive feedback can come at you all the time and you can still blow it off as if it isn’t important, feedback that may or may not actually have anything to do with you, it may have to do with the person who’s giving the feedback’s personal agenda, maybe something that you really take in or are able to blow off, but you have to be able to notice those patterns to be able to pick and choose what to keep and what to throw out.


What I also observe very often is that people very long are not self-aware unless something happens in their life, something which changes their life totally. Maybe their partner left them or they were fired from their job and then something happens that they start to think more about themselves. Is that something which you also observe?


It took me getting fired three different times in order to actually. The first time it was totally their fault, the second time I was super defensive and like, “I don’t get why this happened,” and then the third time, I was like, “Alright, there’s one common denominator in all three of these situations,” that was me. “Did I have anything to do with this?” And it’s a hard question to ask but you are ultimately the common denominator of everything that has gone right and everything that has gone wrong in your own life. So then we get back to you already have the tools to do this. It’s just really hard work. What if it’s not anybody’s fault? What it it’s you?


Very often it is at least helpful to think: Okay, it seems to be me, at least, if it comes the third time. Correct? It’s also some kind of feedback, if you like.


Yes. I think what happens as you work the self-reflection muscles is that the feedback can come from you and actually be constructive eventually, at some point. If we give ourselves feedback it’s usually puffy accolades or it’s being really hard on ourselves until we realise how important a skill self-reflection is. Then you can start saying, “Wait, wait, wait, what happened here? Did I do that thing again?” Or, “Did this thing get me upset again? Did I jump to conclusions?” Did I react in a way that’s from my lived-experience and not what actually happened in the actual moment? And then you can go from there.


If I don’t change myself and think why the hell do I always get the same results? That’s logic in itself. Right?




What I also very often observe are managers who think they know exactly what needs to be done in their company or in their department but their team, their employees, just don’t get it. They think their team needs to change, the employees need to change their behaviour, they need to change their work ethic and it’s going on.

They want them to change but rarely do they accept they need to change first. You’re an expert on this kind of change. What are typical excuses why we generally think we don’t need to change, and what are your tips to become more open and more aware that we, that I, need to start changing first?


This is the ultimate question and the reason why is that at the root of it, a person who does not practice self-reflection doesn’t actually feel like they need to change, so we’re in a predicament where obviously something needs to be happening. We look outside of ourselves – me included. I wrote a book about it and I still do this, I just now have to catch myself. Right?

So, we look outside of ourself for blame or reasoning, or something like that, as if we have any control over anything outside ourselves so then nothing changes and it’s not our fault. Bad situations, break-ups, poor relationships, things like that are complicated and it often can take somebody else other than you to get into the predicament, you would actually have general control over yourself. So, if you actually want to take responsibility or improve a relationship, or benefit a culture, well, what can I do with this; what pieces of this do I have control over? “Oh, look, it’s me.”

Then you can flip all those kind of laser beams that are outbound to other people that you blame everything on and put them towards yourself – not to instantly blame yourself but take those laser beams and focus them on yourself with-, the language I use is “genuine curiosity,” – listen to yourself, the multiple layers of the voices in your head and determine: What did I just do? Really, what did I just do? Take responsibility for it. Keep the parts that you like. Notice if there are parts of things of how you just responded – which maybe in action or silence, or something like that, it doesn’t always have to be something big and bold and external. How did you respond? Is that what you intended to do? – then you start noticing your role in making a connection with someone else, and that’s actually inside of our control – at least some of the time.



Yes, I fully agree with that. What I also see very often is that people want things from others which they don’t bring to the table. Like, if I want all my team to be on time, 9 o’clock sharp, but I have excuses because I’m the boss, I can once in a while come late five minutes but they are not allowed to come late. Then the whole thing is not working, why should they change?


Not only is it bad role-modelling, but how much of your ego lands on them for the five or seven minutes while they’re waiting on you and you’re spouting the importance of timeliness? How much of your ego splatters on them with that incongruence? You’re doing that to yourself, that’s not them.


When we’re talking about teams and managers, most of these managers want to have their employees working as a high-performing team with great results etc. What are the ingredients for such a high performing team, in your view?


Even the concept of “Ooh, look, there’s a high-performing team,” – some high-performing teams are successfully working in massive levels of dysfunction. The “high-performing” means the few variables you’re looking at are measuring up in the way you want them to but you’re not looking at other variables, so they may actually still be dysfunctional.


Do I understand you correctly? You say from the outside, yes, they have great results but they are not really a high performing team, only regarding the results, but inside, it’s a mess. Is that what you’re saying?


Let’s go back to the boss that’s five minutes late who spouts the importance of timeliness. There is a possibility that if every one of those people began to show up to work on time the supervisor would think they have a high-functioning team, but once you check that off you’re now not paying attention to any of the group dynamics that are happening in the team.

What could be happening is that every single one of those employees has made a pact to job-search together and then the supervisor is going to be completely blind-sided by the very timely resignation letters of their entire team. So then the supervisor’s going to go from: I have this high-functioning team I show off, to being blind-sided by the truth. In that scenario, who actually has the control of not being blind-sided?


It’s the manager who thinks he has a high performing team, but he hasn’t.


Right. I would say to answer your question, if you want a high performing team, first off, that definition probably should be developed by the team. What are you measuring high performance: is it just sales and just numbers but the team has an extraordinarily high amount of personal illness and sick days? Or mental health is really bad because everybody’s so stressed out but their sales numbers are great?

On a human level, as a manager, what does a high performing person in your responsibility look like? As a team member, flatten the hierarchy out of it. As a team member, everyone including you as a supervisor or manager, how do you define ‘high performing?’ Get all of those variable out – maybe over the next 365 days no-one gets divorced, no-one is surprised by someone having to go to rehab, no-one begins to job-search, every single person has found at least one person they wanted to recruit to be part of the team so, as a manager, you’re overflowing with really incredible options of new talent.

Whatever you decide is high-functioning of the group that you were trying to get to be high-functioning, now you have collective definitions to hold each other accountable to. Including yourself. You create an accountability system within that group that everyone is equally in charge of.


To start something like that, if I understand you correctly, it’s important that the manager starts with doing a group meeting and telling: Well, that’s my expectations. He needs to open and then he has a good chance that the others will follow him and talk about their expectations. Is that correct?


Sure. When we go back to self-reflection, there’s a really good chance that some manager or supervisor is going to walk into the staff meeting and be like: Hey, I read this book, great idea, we’re going to flatten the hierarchy and redefine things. And the people sitting around the table are going to have a meeting after the meeting like: What was that about, because I don’t believe you because you didn’t have a healthy relationship to begin with.


So it will take time. If you start this journey and you’ve done things wrong in the past, it will take time until your employees will open for this. Correct?


Yes, absolutely. I remember very early in my speaking career, a manager or supervisor kind of person, we were doing a pretty intensive retreat around staff dynamics and the supervisor came up with one rule, and the one rule was going to be: Speak your truth with care. Now, if you look at it at face value that sounds pretty good, right?

Always state your truth. Everyone else is going to assume that your intention is positive and you need to be responsible and take care that whenever you say your truth, it may hurt somebody else’s feelings, like, Oh, great! That’s sounds wonderful. But it was so inauthentic and so counter to how this manager actually related to anybody on their staff that when I checked in about six months after doing this training-, and I’m a consultant so I fly in and fly out, about six months later I happened to be in town and set up a lunch with some of the employees, anybody who wanted to come just to check in and see how things were going, and they all showed up wearing these t-shirts.

They had secretly made t-shirts that mocked this rule. On their t-shirts was: Speak your truth with care, and it became this mocking tagline because this supervisor really wasn’t doing it and when other people were doing it they were getting in trouble for speaking their mind. He would make insubordinate letters and things like this. So the role-modelling piece of it, what that means is that you’ve taken responsibility to be reflective enough to actually do what you’re asking other people to do. His staff were completely unified against him more six months after doing a training than they were when I was first there because he had just gotten that much more controlling, that much more inauthentic and that much more out of touch with his own employees.


So, could you do anything about it later on?


I talked to the employees about it and I was like: If you’re this unhappy, what are you doing? They said what’s interesting is that morale is at an all-time high because they were able to unify around the ludicrousness of their supervisor, so they actually weren’t looking to change jobs, they just had no respect. And if you don’t have any respect then your innovation and your creativity are completely stifled. You’ll keep cashing your pay checks because you like your co-workers.


But you’re not really doing a good job any longer.


Yes. And for some people who aren’t paying attention that looks like a high functioning team.


I get what you say, yes. It comes back to the beginning that this manager, this supervisor you mentioned, seems not to have the self-awareness because, I understood, he might think that everything is going correctly. Right?


Right. Like: No, sir, you’re really wrong.


Okay. So he needs some kind of different feedback. Jessica, if we’re talking about teams, what’s your take on diversity? I know you’re a diversity trainer, how diverse is normally a good team?


Well, that’s a great question, too. I do come from a diversity training background and, certainly, I would say that my topic area is around diversity and inclusion. The trick to your question, going back to magic tricks, is often, organisations in their strategic plans or governing documents or something, will declare, with their fist in the air, they will declare that: We will make things 10% more diverse than they currently are. And what’s problematic with that is twofold: 1) By when and how; can I get some specifics? And, 2) If you don’t actually know how diverse your current team is, increasing it by 10% is impossible.


Yes, I agree.


If you haven’t had a real conversation about what does diversity and inclusion mean in this group, then you can’t increase it by 10% Often we immediately default to gender and race. That’s it. But you can have a very diverse group of people across gender and race and still have a very unsuccessful inclusive-based culture. It just depends. Again, I think this is a definition that needs to be created by everyone it impacts but the first step of inclusion is acknowledging: Who is not welcome here? Who are the outliers of the people that already exist and why is that the case?

If you have a staff of introverts, the really perky extrovert who brings cake for everybody’s birthday and has mandatory fun things set up, is going to be an outlier even though they may have the external skills that again somebody somewhere in a Sales Book said is a high-functioning person. So the subjectivity of fit needs to be discovered as to what “fit” actually means currently with the team, and what needs to improve with that.


Would you say a team itself would do that, the kind of team culture we have? Or is it even bigger that the company has to do that first, in your view?


Yes. The answer is yes.




If the higher level echelons-, Let’s take some megalomaniac company like Amazon. If the top five people sitting at a table were to determine how they’re going to make Amazon more diverse, how is that going to trickle down to their 6 million employees around the world?


It’s a challenge.


Right. I will cash that check, I will help you have that conversation but you are probably not going to be successful at it because you don’t have the relationships with the people who are directly impacted by the policies you’re making, because they make you feel good. Now flip it around. If 6 million employees, let’s say they have a union, or they have an employee resource group where they have leaders of multiple employee resource groups, who can then trickle and communicate a joint message against the bulk of the people who are involved in these employee resource groups;

they may not hit 6 million people but let’s say they hit 200,000 people and out of those 200,000 people back-and-forth keeps happening and the 200,000 people trust these six people who are in leadership of these employee resource groups, and those six people collaborate and communicate back-and-forth to the people they represent, and then a collective definition, or a collective list of things that need to occur, is developed and then that gets passed up. The top five people sitting at some very polished table could receive that list. Are they confident enough and are they self-reflective enough to receive that list and go: Oh, wow, thanks for all that work. This is amazing. We’ll get right on this.


I would say, maybe 20% with 80% of the top management, I would assume, are not able to do that.


I’m surprised you stopped at 80. I think it’s very hard, out of context, to take a list and not see a list as some kind of ransom demands. You get really defensive, you’re like: What are you talking about? – and more importantly, in a lot of corporate structures, you turn to Denise because it’s Denise’s job to make sure that these things are handled.

But Denise does not have the community or the social capital or the resources or, likely, the full respect from the other people at the shiny table to be able to address the situation and, if anything, she gets blamed for these things so then nothing happens. So, we’ve created these living, corporate organisms and we expect one person, or one particular outlet, to basically:

Don’t get the company sued. And that’s not an environment of self-reflection, that’s not an environment of responsibility and betterment, that’s an environment for capital gains. I mean, I’m a controversial person but even Starbucks recently did a company-wide anti-racism training in response to one situation that made the news, at least here in the United States, and the training they did was two hours long-, and you can’t fix bias, unconscious bias, conscious bias, racism – you can’t fix that in two hours but, as a company, they closed down and had a company-wide two hour training, which is an amazing initiative.


It’s a first step, isn’t it?


Yes. And if the goal is, in this case, I think the primarily upper-class white people who feel safe at Starbucks, who no longer can get in their Subaru’s with their “co-exist” bumper stickers and feel like a progressive liberal because Starbucks is a bad place – closing down for two hours to make those progressive, liberal white folks feel like they can go back to Starbucks, that’s good for business. But does it actually address racism and anti-bias, and is it starting a self-reflective conversation to role-model with other major corporations about what they’re doing around anti-racism work? That is yet to be seen.


If I understand you correctly, it can be a first step but in the end it has to come from all the people inside the company? So we’re back on that. Even as a manager or a supervisor of one of your teams, if you start that and others will follow, it can change. Even if it’s slow working, at least in some of the teams, right?


Yes. You’re touching on the most critical part. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and just be, “Well, how am I supposed to get everybody to do this? Well, never mind.” Yes, it’s really overwhelming, and sometimes doing individual self-reflection work is really underwhelming so neither of them happens. But you have control over yourself. If you’ve decided this is important and you start your own work, eventually that will shift the culture and it will shift how you show up in those relationships enough that other people might start doing it.


Yes. That’s also what I see very often that managers say “Well, what can I do? I only have my team here of ten people but the company is 10,000 people, I cannot change anything.” But that’s not true. If you change at least in your way, in your small universe, if others do that aswell then things can change.


Yes. And if you look at whoever your role models are, whoever your role model is, at the heart of it is one individual person who hits news, has had some horrible break-ups, probably has some addiction issues and is not liked by every human being they like but they’re still doing good work, they just have to do the self-reflection work to balance those things out.


Jessica, we were talking about more serious and tough issues which are normal if we’re thinking about the corporate world. There seems to be no place, very often, for funny things and jokes, etc. You know how to be in this serious business world, but I also saw that you were not just a professional speaker but also you’ve done stand-up comedy.

You’re an expert on stand-up comedy aswell, and I would like to know from you, what’s your take on how to get more humour into this very serious business world? What can a typical manager do to make a lot of boring meetings and sometimes tough work a little bit more easy and enjoyable with some kind of humour? What tips to you have here?


I think that’s an incredibly important asset in my own work, and what I find is that humour is the great equaliser. It has to be the right humour with the right people, at the right way, at the right time. And that’s the really hard part. So I don’t have any super secrets on what that is except when you try a joke and it doesn’t work, take responsibility for it, and really reflect on the joke: Is it at someone else’s expense?

Is it self-deprecating in a way that you really shared too much about yourself with someone else? Or do you not have the relationship with the people you’re trying to do the humour with so they don’t understand how to react? Some people’s leadership style – my language, is so tyrannical that when a tyrant cracks a joke, you don’t know if you’re supposed to laugh or not.


Then it’s not working at all. Yes, I understand.


Right. So if you have more authentic conversations and more authentic, vulnerable connections with other people, then you can actually bring their sense of humour out. You don’t have to be the person to stick it into the room all the time. You could provide a space for people to play and joke, and if they’re not currently doing it at that really boring staff meeting, it’s because you’re in the room, the person with the power. As soon as you leave, they’ll start cracking jokes again.


It clicked with me because I was thinking if I’m not a very humorous person how can I still work with humour? And I think you’ve said it very rightly. If you give a situation, if you give the room that people who are very funny can be funny, or funny is not the right word – then this is also a way to bring in the humour without being very funny by yourself.


Yes. Take television and the late night shows. The later they get the funnier they tend to be. Not everybody on those shows is funny 100% of the time and you watch those shows expecting funny, so even when a skit or something like that doesn’t land on you, or it’s not particularly funny, you keep watching because you have a relationship with that program that it is going to be humorous. If that foundational relationship doesn’t exist, then humour can often be like:

What? Where did that come from? What is going on? You don’t start off at a ten, and I think that’s really important. Oftentimes, humour gets into a kind of scary zone because people are worried about sexual harassment or saying the wrong thing or being offensive, and humour has an edge to it and, depending on what kind of relationships you have in the workplace, you might need to stay far away from certain edges. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be light-hearted.

If I were to give advice to a leader of how do you bring some of that into the space, don’t lead with personal, vulnerable questions but start sharing some personal, vulnerable things. It might take people a while to adjust to: Why is this happening? – but if you start talking about this really amazing, funny thing that you saw one of your employee’s kids do on the kid’s soccer field and you’re highlighting how great somebody’s kid is, unless you threaten violence or potentially come off like a stalker: What were you doing at the soccer game? – there’s something familial about that that will allow more room for humour to exist. There is no topic that I have found where humour can’t have some presence.


Jessica, thank you very much for a lot of insights regarding team, regarding diversity and especially also regarding humour. It was a pleasure to have you in this interview. Thank you very much.


Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.


LME010 – Feedback about employee performance

Feedback about employee performance can be difficult. How can you make a clear statment without hurting people’s feelings?

As a supervisor or manager it’s your task to give regular feedback about employee performance. If you do this, especially if you criticize, you want to achieve something: you want to help your employee, for example, to improve his behaviour.

However, in order to help him accepting your feedback, you should be appreciative and respectful – and yet clear and distinct. It’s not that easy.

Listen to the podcast version

Useless feedback about employee performance


Here’s an example on how feedback went wrong and can destroy employee motivation:

John has been working as a service engineer for your company for three years. He’s a lot out there at the customer’s site to repair machines. You’re his boss. You appreciate John, because he works carefully and has a high level of expertise.

However, John is working very slowly. On average he needs twice as long for comparable repair work as his colleagues. Recently, a customer complained about a repair again because it took too long.

You want to help John to do the repair work faster. However, if he will not improve in the next 6 months, you will have John transfered to the internal custom service department.

That’s why you have a talk with John. You need to make a clear statement. Maybe you’ll say something like:

“John, again one of our customers has complained about you. You worked too slowly. You need to improve your working speed significantly.

If you don’t manage to handle the repairs in the same speed like your colleagues, then I will have to transfer you to the internal service department.

You need to improve in the next 6 months. I hope you understand. So make sure to get the repairs done faster.

Come on. In the end, it’s not really that difficult.”


That’s a clear statement. But does it show appreciation? Not at all. Such feedback hurts.

Wrong feedback destroys self confidence.

With such a critique you destroy Johns self confidence. It’s a terrible leadership mistake to give feedback in such a way. You only criticized him by generalizing – John‘s just too slow! – and you did not offer any help.

With feedback about employee performance you want to help but with this wrong feedback you just threatened your employee with the tough consequence if he doesn‘t change and works faster. This isn‘t constructive. This isn‘t supportive but it‘s leading with fear. That doesn‘t help at all.

How could you make this feedback about employee perfomance even worse? Give this feedback in public – in front of the team. That will be most destructive to Johns self-confidence. – Don’t do it.

When you criticize in this harsh way, you don’t get any positive change in behaviour! What you achieve instead is that John becomes totally insecure. He probably doesn’t know how to work faster without reducing quality. But will he ask his boss for help? Never. He fears you and therefore he doesn‘t trust that you will help him.

Respectful feedback is not enough…

Now, you may say:

“Exactly, once I had such a boss as well. You shouldn’t behave like that. If you critize you have to do it respectfully and offer help.“

Yes that’s true. But please don‘t fall into the other extreme: Some managers focus only on appreciation and respect, but don‘t dare to make a clear statement at the same time.

“John, I am very satisfied with your working quality. It‘s an outstanding quality you deliver to our customers. Really excellent.

Of course, I am aware that high quality takes time. High expertise is needed and a lot of things need to be checked. You have to work carefully. And you are working carefully. I absolutely appreciate this.”

John loves hearing this. He understands that his boss is very satisfied with his work.

“But I still have a little something: you know, the customers always want high quality but the time and the costs always keep pushing. You know what pressure customers sometimes build up.

It would therefore be good if you could carry out the repair work a little bit faster. If you need any help, just let me know. As I said, the quality of your work is excellent. You just need to work a little bit on your speed. – We understand each other, don’t we?”

Do you think that John understood what his boss had tried to tell him? I believe that John only got the positive message, not the underlying criticism.

In the evening, John comes home to his wife and tells her that his boss praised him.

“Darling, my boss is very satisfied with my work. He especially appreciates my high expertise and the excellent quality I deliver with my work.”

John only remembers what he wanted to hear. OK, he needs to be a little bit  faster with his work, but that‘s not decisive for him. He’s repressing it.

After 6 months, John is staken completely by surprise when his boss – i.e. you – put him into the internal service departement – supposedly without prior warning.

What went wrong with this feedback about employee performance? You recognize it: The boss has not dared to say clearly what the matter is.

Successful feedback about employee performance

Here is a correct statement, you as his boss should have made:

“John, I appreciate your high level of expertise and I also appreciate your high quality work when doing the repairs.

However, on average you need twice as long as your colleagues. I am sorry, but that is not acceptable. As you know, different customers already have complained about your work being much too slow.

If you don’t improve your working speed significantly in the next 6 months, I am sorry, but then I have to transfer you to the internal service department. I don’t want that and I know you don’t want that, either.

Now, how can I help you? What do you need from me so that you can do the work in a similar speed like your colleagues?”

That’s good feedback about John’s performance. Now he knows what his boss appreciates in his work. But he also understands that he has to be faster if he wants to keep his job. At the same time, the boss offers to support him.

Clear statement, but appreciative, respectful and with the offer to help:

How can I help you? What do you need from me so that you can do the work in a similar speed like your colleagues?”

If you give feedback about employee performance take care that you appreciate their good work, but tell them clearly what they need to improve. And offer them your help. That’s a good way to make a clear statement without hurting people’s feelings.

LME009 – The Image of Leadership – Interview with Sylvie di Giusto

Today we talk about the image of leadership. How can you develop your professional imprint and become the leader that you deserve to be? I invited the expert on this topic for an interview: Sylvie di Giusto

Image of Leadership: The first seconds count.

During the fist few seconds when others first see you, they judge you. Whether it’s at a meeting, on the job, or at an interview.

The people may have some prior knowledge of you, but this is the first time they actually lay eyes on you. This is the first impression you make – and it’s damned important because people make up their minds very quickly. Not just about you as a person but also about your leadership potential, and based on their judgement they either open the door for you or slam it shut.

Your first impression

What can you do to make a great first impression as a person and especially as a leader?

For this topic I invited Sylvie di Giusto on my podcast show to talk about the image of leaders and about the first impression you give as a leader.

Sylvie di Guisto

Sylvie di Giusto on image of leadership

Sylvie di Giusto

Sylvie has twenty years of corporate experience educating and inspiring thousands of clients around the world. She has become a recognized member of the international business community because she worked with and performed for more or less every kind of management and leaders from CEOs to young executives within all kind of industries.

She has long been fascinated by the power of image and the way people can use their personal brand to positively influence their own career.

Her Book: The Image of Leadership

Image of leadershipShe wrote the book “The image of leadership“.

It‘s the result of Sylvie‘s journey through two career paths: one in the field of human resources, the other one as a professional image consultant.

The title „The image of leadership“ reflects the reality that true leadership manifests itself in ways that are both seen and unseen.

Sylvie is an exceptional speaker, an effective trainer and an enthusiastic coach – and – as you will hear  in the podcast interview – she has a dog and she loves dogs. That’s something both of us have in common.


The inspiring quote

“If you don’t care about yourself, people don’t think that you have the ability to care of them.”

Sylvie di Guisto

Links for further information

The transcript of my interview with Sylvie di Giusto:


Sylvie, in your book The Image of Leadership, you emphasize that the first impression counts. So, to be precise when people meet someone for the first time, they judge him during the first seven seconds. That’s a very short time, seven seconds. So, what is it? What counts during these first seven seconds? What should we pay attention to in order to make a good first impression as a leader?


That’s a fantastic question Bernd. And I want you to understand that the number itself, the seven really doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if it happens in one second, in seven seconds, in 10 seconds, I just chose one of the many studies that is out there.

Where there is proof that we make immediate decisions about each of us. And there are different studies, it happens in a blink of an eye and it has nothing to do if you’re a good human or a bad human, if you’re a good leader or a bad leader, it is simply brain performance. It is happening automatically and that is why we cannot stop it.

So, there is proof that in milliseconds or seven seconds our brain makes immediate decisions. For example, is somebody knowledgeable? Is somebody trustworthy? Is somebody reliable? Is somebody successful?

Those are all decisions we make in a blink of an eye and afterwards unfortunately something called confirming bias is working either against us or for us because our brain wants to be right. So, to answer your question, what is it exactly what we look for in those seconds, it’s something I call the A, B, C, D of your imprint. Very simple concept, A stands for your appearance. People look at you. How do you look like? What do I see in your visual appearance?


So, also what’s my wardrobe, what I – the clothes everything?


Yes, everything. So much more than just your clothes, your body image, are you tall? Are you short? Are you overweight? Are you underweight?

Are you in shape or not? Does your body look healthy? Your accessories, your makeup, everything that we see. But to be very clear, looking good is not enough. It is great to look good but it is not enough because then the second one stands for your B for your behaviour. At one point you’re going to behave.

Your body language, your gestures, your posture, your attitude, how do you behave? And then there is the C for communication and it is what you say and how you say it. Your voice is a very powerful tool and it is important for you to understand that what you say plays a major role in how you start conversations. Last but not least, there is the D for digital footprint because most of nowadays, we make a first impression not in person anymore, we make it in some kind of digital way, via email, via social media for example.


So, even before someone knows me, if he Googles me or if he looked on LinkedIn then he see if that doesn’t fit to my behaviour or appearance then there is some kind of misfit, right?


Yes. We know that every single day you have around 3,000 contact points, 3,000 times in average you get judged or you judge somebody else but most of those 3,000 contact points happen in the digital world because you send out an email days ago. You nowadays don’t even know where that email ends up because people could have forwarded it and forwarded it. And people make assumptions just based on what they read about you or what you post on social media.

You know your footprint travels and you leave a conscious footprint, the actions that you are aware of, but there is also an unconscious footprint, how often are you online? How many hours do you spend on Facebook? What do you like? Who likes your posts? So, there are things in-between the lines that people take into consideration when judging you.


And that’s not just to – if you are self-employed or if you want to be a speaker like the two of us but is especially also too if you’re an employed manager, people will judge you by that.


Yes absolutely. In my trainings I show a lot of example where individuals thinking that they are in a private environment on the internet posted something and it had an impact on the company they have been working for, because other people they do not, you know they do not split up who is the – who is the private Bernd that I experience online and who is the corporate Bernd. For them, it’s just one person and they wonder, “What? Bernd is working for this company? What?”

So, I always compare it with politics. That politicians have campaign teams. Everybody in the campaign team will be impacted by the digital footprint of the politician and vice versa. If the politicians like we have a lot of examples ruined campaigns by posting something inappropriate, something unprofessional, the entire campaign team lost their job and everybody thought you were working for that politician and vice versa.

And the same is true for your company. You have a campaign team in your company too. Those are your colleagues, that includes your boss, that includes all employees who represent that corporate brand.


You described that very nicely with A, B, C, D. So, we just spoke about the digital footprint right now. I would like to focus more on the first A, on the appearance.

I understand that if I’m tall or if I’m small, is important but I also understand that my outfit is very important especially if that’s something I can change. So, if I want to make a different impression, I can change my outfit in a certain way. I mean but this – it depends on the situation but also on the industry we are in, what kind of things do people wear in that industry in certain situations. But in general, what kind of dress code should I follow as a leader? What are the goals and no goals if it comes to dress code?


So, well, you started your question with in general and the challenge is there is no in general anymore. Years ago it was easy to say that everybody who went to work in a corporation had to wear a suit, period.




But years ago, our world was not as open-minded, as diverse, as beautiful as it is nowadays. One size fits all formulas just don’t work anymore because we don’t have one size fits all leaders anymore. Right?




They come in all different sizes and shapes, they come in all different colours and cultural backgrounds. So, there is no one size fits all formula and no typical dress code anymore. So, and when I work with leaders, I help them understand that they instead should look into three different areas. Area number one, what makes you feel comfortable?




You know?




Confidence is your best designer.

How would you like to represent yourself and it has nothing to do if you work in finance or if you work in IT. If you work in media or if you are a lawyer. What makes you the individual most comfortable? For some it’s a suit, for others it isn’t. You cannot only look into yourself because you are serving somebody else. Right?




So, what makes your host feel comfortable? How can you wear something that doesn’t have an impact on your host, how he or she sees you?

Your host can be a meeting planner, your host can be a client that you visit. Right?

Your host is the other person across you. And how would they love you to be representing yourself and them? The central are the guests, others, audience members as a speaker for example. So, I would always work in that triangle and balance it out.

And for some, this could be a suit, for some this could be a suit without a tie, for some this could be a sports checkered with a pair of denims, for some women it could be a dress, for others it could be a jumpsuit, it, there is a variety but there is a solution for everybody. I simply believe that it is not good to dress up and to wear something just because an old-fashioned rule requires you to wear it.


Okay. But on the other side, I just think about situations where I said okay, I have nice clothes on. It’s jeans and very casual. Now I came to a meeting and everyone else has a tie on, a nice suit. I believe I would then feel uncomfortable and the other guys would look at me and say, “Well, what kind of guy is that? Doesn’t he know the dress code?”


But then you didn’t do your homework.




Because then you didn’t follow those three principles. Even if you say for yourself jeans and a shirt is something that makes you feel comfortable-,

If you would have looked before what is your host going to wear, what are his or her guests are going to wear?

If you would have done your homework you would never have entered the situation this way.

So, I encourage people, do your homework and it is so easy nowadays. Go on their website, go on their social media profiles, research their hashtags and you’re going to see people, humans who are working for that company, right? You’re going to see them-,


Okay. Right.


And it is easy for you to guess what they are going to wear and how you can show yourself some respect and to them by adjusting accordingly.


Ja. I remember 10 years ago when I was working for a company we had to do with a lot of paper mills for example.

And the problem was that you had one guy who was the managing director and he wears suit. So, when I went to that company, I always had two kind of suits with me. One suit or one wardrobe where I had tie, a suit, talking to the general manager and then I had to go to the operations, down to the blue collar workers and there I had different clothes.

So that if I work with the blue collar workers and I have a tie on, I am totally overdressed, they will not really talk with me.


You are exactly following what I just explained to you. You did something that made you still feel okay. Right?




But also something that doesn’t make your host or his or her guest which would be the employees at this point make feel uncomfortable. That’s exactly how you should do it.


I found a very interesting statement about you when I read a little bit about you in the internet, digital footprint.

Austrian by birth, French in her heart, Italian in her kitchen, German in her work ethic and American by choice. So, if I read that, I suppose you know all the cultures pretty well.


I do. Which one is your favourite? Is it the Austrian by birth, the French or the Italian in the kitchen, the German or the American? Which one is your favourite?


The Italian in the kitchen is really cool. I love that. I suppose you know all of these cultures pretty well that’s why my question is, do you see a difference regarding how to dress if you’re in the United States or if you’re in Europe?


Yes and no. That’s a very great question again but the reality is, so I live in the United States since 10 years now and you have to understand that traveling the United States and distance is a very different and similar on the other hand than in Europe. So, if I’m on the East Coast, I’m located in New York City and I only go on a plane for one hour, I enter a totally different world.

It’s like I’m on a different planet. Right?




I work from New York to South Dakota, to Florida, to California, to Nevada, to Utah, different planets.

But it’s just because our country here is so big that when I travel just for one hour I enter a different culture. So, but the same is kind of true for Europe. Right?

When you are in Germany and you enter a plane and you go somewhere for one hour, you probably you end up somewhere in France or Italy or a little bit longer you go to London and you will already see that there are differences. Right?


Right. Ja, that’s true.


It’s not the same. So, there are cultural differences, the reality is just that you do the distances here in the United States and the variety of people we have living here and the different religious backgrounds and the different cultural backgrounds, it is like a flowerpot. And I wouldn’t know what I should compare with in Europe because we have the variety all here.

And of course, there is a difference between living in New York and dressing in New York where on the one hand, the rich and famous are and are willing to invest but on the other hand if you go on to the streets of New York, you will find such a variety of people with so many different styles which is the biggest challenge for corporations and leaders here.




Because there is no rule. You can do whatever you want in New York. And then you travel to Miami, where it in average it has 105 degrees so don’t talk with them about wearing a suit every single day at work because the temperatures are just different.

And then you travel to Utah, where we have Mormons living who have religious backgrounds and cultural statements to make that also impact their visual appearance. So, the – it is just the differences that the distances here, the variety of people we have living in the United States is so colourful so it’s difficult for me to compare them to Europe because you have nothing to compare [crosstalk]


Ja, I understand that. So, I think it is very similar when I compare that if I go to Italy, I have to adjust.

They are looking much more on a suit or some things like that like I would do here in Germany. People in general I would say Italian people for example are, were much better focused more on a good clothe than we are in Germany in general.

So, I think it’s very – so, it comes back to what you said, we need to be – we need to prepare before we meet someone and check out what’s the case, what should I wear regarding this? If I think about that, I would like to have your opinion on should a company have then some kind of official policies, some kind of written paper describing in detail then an expected dress code, doesn’t that make sense?


Absolutely, for several reasons. And the first reason is people want to have guidelines. Employees do better if you give them a guideline, if they’re feeling there is a guideline that they can follow then you just let them out in the blue and don’t give them guidelines.

Second, we have many examples in America and probably also European organisations where they’re always on defined line of a discrimination case. To avoid those, it’s better to have written guidelines that make everybody aware that there are specific things that we cannot do because we would discriminate somebody based on his or her gender, based on his or her religion, based on his or her sexual orientation or whatever it is. So, that’s why they are so important.

The challenge though is that most companies choose in their guidelines to describe what is not allowed, what is not allowed. Right?

That’s what happens, very simple. Psychological brain performance going on. If I tell people what is not allowed, they immediately look for excuses. Right? They immediately look for an exception. What can I do? How far can I expect it?




I compared with the parking sign, if you tell people that you are not allowed to park here from Sunday 9:00 to 12:00 and from Saturday 4:00 to 8:00, they forgot about those hours, they just focus on all the other hours and what they could do to park there. Make sense?


Yeah. It makes sense to me. It’s similar like don’t think about a yellow elephant.


Yes exactly. Yeah? So, and if I consult with companies, I recommend to them to the opposite because describe what is allowed.

Tell them what isn’t and everything that you don’t describe is just not allowed because you didn’t offer it to them. Right? So, tell them what they can do and everything else they just cannot do. So, if I’m with company that changed a little bit their mindset of using language and those policies that tells people what is okay to do and not what is not okay to do. An example, so, we had a case where it says it is not okay to have visible tattoos on the neck.

On the neck, but somebody in the hospitality industry and then one of the employees came back from a vacation and had a tattoo on his back of the neck. So, not at the front, on the back. Right? And it was a long discussion is this according to the policies or not? Can we do something? This is a discrimination case if you fire him. But it is very unclear because you just told them what they’re not allowed to do. So, I would rather give them the exact spots where we accept them and everything else is not allowed.


Okay. Ja, I understand. You have the A, B, C, D for the first impression. Let’s go over to B, the behaviour. How should someone behave for the first seven seconds to be accepted especially as a leader if you want to have this impression? What kind of behaviour would be also counterproductive. What should you avoid?


So, I think one of the major things you can do to improve your behaviour is to have consistent behaviour. Consistent is key and consistently in your behaviour itself that people learn based on your behaviour who you are and what they can expect and don’t experience surprises but not consistent to the other elements, to the A and to the C and to the D.

Those are not tumbles that live independent of each other. You cannot appear as the best dressed person in the room and then behave like the least appropriate person in the room. Right?

You cannot look great online and look like a jerk offline. So, they are connected to each other so consistency in your A, B, C, D including your behaviour is a winning factor.

And when I describe behaviour for leaders, I always put the word respect to the forefront and respect in terms of respecting yourself. The most important person in your life, the most important person in your career, the most important person in your leadership is you, yourself and I, nobody else. Right?

So, show yourself a little bit of respect and show them also in the behaviour in the way you represent yourself. And then there are the others. Respect, show them respect in your behaviour by respecting that there are different genders, there is gender neutrality that there are different ages, different generations in front of you, different cultures, people with different dreams and beliefs and try to always be respectful.


Mm-hmm. That fits quite well in what I think about that. It makes sense for me.


And counterproductive if you’re inauthentic. If you try to be somebody who you are not one of those people who very often criticised trainings and methods where we try to make something out of people that they are not, body language trainers are a very good example for me. Only a few body language trainer understands the art of really changing their body language so that it comes out naturally.

At most, if you cookie-cutter approach it and say, “You should stand on this feet and not on that feet, you should hold this in your hand and not this in your hand, you should move your arms this way and not this way. Even if that’s taught behaviour after a while, if it doesn’t come over authentic and something you would really naturally do with your body, everybody is going to experience that.


Ja. You feel uncomfortable and then the people see that.

It’s not, it doesn’t fit. I understand that. Regarding communication, what kind of mistakes can ruin there the first impression? I mean there are some people who have let’s say a very high voice and what can they do to still have a good first impression? What is your take on that?


Well, it’s about how you said and what you said. Let’s start with how you say. Your voice as you said is a very powerful tool and most people do not know if they have a good voice or a voice that we enjoy listening or not. Most people don’t even know what they say or whether they – so if there’s one practical tip I can give you. At the next meeting you go in, I encourage you to use your mobile device and to just record yourself.


That’s cool.


For one minute and then listen to the things that you said and how you said it and how your voice sounds compared to the other voices in the room. Is it too loud? Is it too silent? Is your voice somehow different? So, analyse your voice, around your voice coaches out there where you can record a short message you read something off their website and you send them this message and they give you feedback on your voice. So, don’t underestimate the power of your voice.

We know that the first eleven words in every single conversation are the most important ones.

People are going to remember you for the first eleven words that you say. So, in the United States, usually we start conversations with how are you doing? But in Germany people [GERMAN].




What? So, there is nothing wrong about asking somebody how they are doing but it’s also not the most impressive conversation starter that you can have.


Now I’m interested. How do you start it?




How do you do it?


So, I always start with something that is not average because how are you doing? Or [GERMAN] is average. That’s just average wording. Right?


Right, right.


Start, do your homework, research the person, find out something about the person in front of you, the company they work for, read the press releases. Did they have a major success to celebrate the person in front of you will be so impressed if you immediately show with your words you did your homework, you are prepared.


Mm-hmm. It’s again like we had in the beginning, it’s always the preparation. You need to know-,




How to be behave.


Preparation is key.


What kind of wardrobe, it’s so important. Ja?

I can understand that. That makes absolutely sense. Very good, I also like very much your tip that you just record yourself. There’s very often maybe one thing we need to add here, you always sound different like you think you hear yourself. That’s not a different point.


No, it’s not.


It’s important what do you say? Are you too loud? Are you too – or are you too – not too loud? These kinds of things are important right?


Mm-hmm. And keep in mind there are average meetings maybe you are at a meeting where you shouldn’t record because otherwise you could get in trouble when you record it but then it would also be as a leader at an organisation where we oftenly do presentations, here you can take it even to the next level, something I do with every single speech I give, even after being eight years in that business every single time I have a little Canon camera.

It doesn’t matter that it’s Canon, it just matters that it’s small. I put it in the back of the room, the sound quality is not the best, the video quality is not the best but I put it in the back of the room and I record myself presenting the entire session.

On the way home, I go through a very painful process most of the time. The first time I watched a video without sound, I just focused on the visual.

And you’re going to find things that your body does you had no idea, it’s hilarious.

It’s painful very often when you see specific gestures or postures or how you stand or how you walk or that you walk all the time or you know you had your hands. So, if you just can focus on the visuals, it’s amazing what you’re going to find.

Then on the second step I turn off the video and do the audio. Then I just listen, I have the missing element of visuals and I just listen. How would somebody experience that in the room who couldn’t see me?

When did I pause? When did I use a loud voice? When did I get more quiet? Right? And then the third step if you’re a really brave human being and I’m not always this brave, you take that audio and send it to a friend.




Somebody who was not in the room and say, “Can you give me feedback on that?” So, somebody who didn’t experience the atmosphere in the room.

And if you have that 360 degree view, you’re going to learn so many things about yourself and the way you present yourself. And from there you can just get better and start improving.


Ja. I think that’s a very great tip to do that. Also as you said, it is tough especially if you do it the first time. I remember that I’ve done things like that as well and you feel sometimes so embarrassed from yourself by yourself that you don’t – you have a totally different view on yourself and if you see the reality sometimes it’s very hard. But I think it’s the only way how you really can improve if you do it like that.




Coming to the end of our interview, I would like to ask you one last question.

Some people they don’t care so much about their first impression, they wear a sloppy outfit or they communicate purely but they will tell you then they don’t care really and they say they want to be authentic and it’s authentic that they have a sloppy outfit and they think that the inner values count and you know long-term, not the first impression, what’s your answer to that?



Well, so, there are two types of people out there who say things like that. The first one, the first group they really don’t care.

Say, “I don’t care.” Well, if that’s your authentic you, then go for it and let’s see how far it’s going to go.


How far do you come.


Go, go for it, give it a try.

If a sloppy person is your authentic you then go for it. I can’t help you. But the other thing that I can tell you is there is a very simple leadership principle and that is that if you do not care about yourself, people do not think that you have the ability to care of them.

So, when I work with leaders or especially with politicians, we always start with them. If you’re a politician if you do not care for yourself first, voters do not think you have the ability to take care of them. Very simple.


That makes sense. Ja.


So, if that is your authentic you, go for it. Run for it as far as you can. But then there is the second group, and very often people mix them in not realising that the second group does it on purpose. But the second group, they don’t care anymore, they don’t have to care anymore because they earned that look. I give you a few examples. When you read my book, The Image of Leadership, you might have noticed that Jeffrey Hayzlett wrote the forward.




Jeffrey Hayzlett, we call him the cowboy of the boardrooms. He walks into the most powerful boardrooms in the entire world wearing a cowboy hat, jeans, cowboy boots. He has this rough and tough voice, he curses and he acts like he doesn’t care.

The reality is he earned that look over the years. He didn’t always look like this. He earned it. He made it his look, his brand, everything is authentic because he combined his appearance with his behaviour, with his communication, you will see him online everywhere this way. He’s one of the nicest guys that I know if you know him. Right?

But it is part of his story and he earns it because he deserves it. Another example, Mark Zuckerberg.

As long as you didn’t invent a multibillion dollar company in your garage, you do not have the right to wear flip-flops at work. You do not have the right to wear a hoodie at work.

And by the way, we see Mark Zuckerberg more often in a suit than you see him in a hoodie because whenever Mark Zuckerberg needs money, he thinks a suit is a very good idea. Or Steve Jobs is another example that you know he created that uniform being a pair of jeans and a black turtle neck because he was such a creative mind and didn’t have the time to care about his appearance.

I can tell you, I can tell you that those black turtle necks are handmade custom-made $800 a piece.

That doesn’t sound to me like somebody who doesn’t care.


That’s true.


So, be very careful between those who really don’t care, group number one, right? Go for it, let them run, you can’t help. We’re going to see how far they come and the second group that doesn’t have to care anymore or that make it part of their brand that they care about themselves in a different way that looks very casual to us because same is true for Jeffrey. Those are a handmade cowboy boots, his sports jackets are custom-made, he’s wearing the most expensive accessories and the general viewer only sees the cowboy but we see what he invests to create that look and brand.


Sylvie, that was very interesting for me to hear that. And it was a pleasure to talk with you about the image of leaders and especially how important it is to have this consistency also already in the first seven seconds and the preparation before you meet someone the first time. So, thank you very much for that great talk. Thank you.


Thank you very much Bernd for having me. I truly appreciate you.


LME008 – Performance Based Bonus – What you ought to know about it.

Performance based bonus

Performance based bonus:
image: zastavkin/ resource: www.bigstock.com

Does a performance based bonus really work?

Of course, as a manager and entrepreneur you are constantly looking for new ways to improve your operation. Your employee’s job is to support this and to pull on the same string with you.

For this reason, nearly all large companies pay their managers performance based bonuses.

Their annual income is split into a fixed and a variable portion. The company intends to motivates with the variable compensation. Therefore, they link it to the attainment of individual objectives.

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Does performance based bonus work for small companies?

You may now be asking yourself:

“Should we not also pay our sales team performance based bonuses? There must be something to it since all the other successful large companies are doing this as well.”

Wait a minute. First, let’s take a look and see whether variable compensation truly delivers on its promise:

Objectives of performance based salaries

Variable compensation is often referred to as performance based salary or performance related pay. What is the underlying idea behind it?

The company or the supervisor and the employee agree to objectives. The intent is to get the employee focused on the objectives.

To ensure this, the company only pays a portion of the employees income if he attains his objectives. The company hopes to motivate the employee into acting in the company’s interests.

If he is particularly diligent, he can even outperform his objective. The employee then receives even more than 100% of the agreed to variable income portion.

The proponents of performance related pay primarily list the following benefits:

  • The variable portion motivates the employees.
  • The company pays the employees for performance.
  • Compensation management effort costs little, but gets good returns.

Do you also believe that variable compensation allows you to get more out of your employees? Well, let’s take a look at this in detail:

Employee motivation

I find it astonishing that companies feel that they need to motivate their employees to act in the interests of the company. I thought, the employee has an employment contract. In this contract he signed the obligation to perform this service. The company pays him his salary for it.

Now the company assumes that the employee is likely to only perform a portion of his productive output. The company’s position is that the employee will not honor his contract. Why would the company even employ someone who is very likely to not honor his contract?

Compensation structures in large companies

But it gets even more confusing:
Let’s take a look at the compensation structure in a large cooperation. This is how it works:

The higher the employee within the hierarchy, the higher their income, and the higher is also their performance based pay.

For instance, the variable income portion of a department head is typically between 10% to 20%.

However, the variable income portion of an Executive Board member can be 50% or more.

Watch my YouTube video on performance based salary of managers:

Motivation of CEOs

Performance based bonus for a CEO?

Performance based compensation for CEOs? Photo: goodynewshoes/ Resource www.bigstock.com

It gets even more extreme for the variable portion of a Chief Executive Officer working for a company listed on the stock market. The stock options and other bonus payments are in the millions.

Come on: Does somebody like that really have to be motivated to do his job properly in order to honor his contract? Is this truly necessary?

Amazing: The CEO already earns a base income of EUR 500,000 and still has to be “motivated” with a variable income portion, stock options and other bonus payments to the tune of several million dollars.

Please do not take this the wrong way: The company should generously compensate the CEO  if he is doing a good job. This should even be several million EUROS.

But a person like that does not have to be motivated! Either, he is intrinsically motivated, or he should be sent to hell!

Motivating lower-level employees

They are doing an outstanding job – although their organisations only pay a small fraction compared to the base pay of a CEO. Never mind a bonus and variable income portion.

Performance based bonus for elderly care takers?

Elderly caretakers are not paid performance based!
Photo: alexraths/ Resource: www.bigstock.com

What’s about the motivation of nurses, elderly caretakers, police men or soldiers? To the best of my knowledge variable income portions don’t motivate these people. Much more likely, these people are frequently highly motivated on their own.

As an aside: Even Presidents and Cabinet Secretaries are not motivated by variable income portions. That would really be beyond the pale!

Agree to objectives

During my 9 years as an employed Managing Director in a large international industrial cooperation, my compensation also included a variable component. My employees as well were paid based on performance.

Originally, I too was convinced that this performance based salary is fair and correct. But over time I became increasingly suspicious that something wasn’t working properly:

At the beginning of each year, I had a long meetings and objective discussions with each of my department heads. The meetings were always very important to me. Ultimately, we wanted to use these discussions to jointly paint a picture of the future, and to explore the options for the company’s and department’s direction. The idea was to find out what is feasible. The objectives from this were intended to be challenging but attainable.

The discussions actually went quite well with several employees. But in many cases the meetings were difficult because the employees sandbagged the objectives. They were not genuinely interested in finding out what was possible, and to set motivating objectives. Instead, they wanted to lower the bar for their personal objectives, in order to be assured of a maximum income with the least amount of effort.

Objective discussions turn into income negotiations

The more of these employee discussions I conducted, the clearer it became to me:

If an employee has a variable income portion,
every objective discussion is also an income negotiation.

This is counterproductive. As soon as the own income depends on objectives, most people are not motivated to even consider challenging objectives. I don’t even blame them. This is ultimately not in their interest. It even violates their underlying personal goals.

Employees become income optimizers!

Today, I am convinced that tying variable income to personal objectives is a waste. It frequently demotivates employees. In many cases, this linkage even has a more negative impact.

Let me tell you a terrific example for the damaging effect of a well intended objective that is coupled to income:

The Executive Board for a large telephone company issued a new customer bonus. Sales employees were to receive an additional bonus if they generated sales revenues with new customers.

What did the salespeople do? They prompted their long-standing customers to cancel the contracts, in order to sign them up as new customers. Instead of focusing on actual new business, they preferred to benefit from easily realized pseudo-new business.

When you create financial incentives you should not be surprised if your employees do not focus on the company’s success, but rather on how to maximize the incentive.

When bonus systems can be useful

The expectation of a bonus is only motivating and purposeful when routine assignments are processed according to 3 points:

  • Simple rules apply.
  • A clear-cut objective is set.
  • The path is clearly described and easily understood.

But this is rarely the case especially in todays world. Here, you need employees who are creative, who think on their own feet and contribute, accept ownership, and are reliable.

You therefore need employees who are self-motivated, i.e. intrinsically motivated. They need to understand the purpose of their work. You should therefore not attempt to increase employee motivation with a compensation scheme! The individual sense of purpose will fall by the wayside. Do not attempt to compensate for deficient leadership by means of a compensation scheme!

How should you structure an alternative compensation scheme?

Treat your employees fairly and pay fairly and avoid common leadership mistakes.

Especially in a small company, you don’t need a complicated compensation scheme for this. All you need is common sense and empathy.

Take the following rules to heart regarding your employee’s incomes:

  • Lead with objectives, but don’t tie the income to the objectives!
  • Agree to a fixed income that correlates with the employee’s performance!
  • If the employee demonstrates consistently good performance, you can increase his income!
  • If the employee consistently underperforms in spite of support, you should reduce his income or separate from the employee.
  • At the end of the year, pay a bonus to all employees if the company made good profits. If the company is doing well, then the employees should participate in this. That is fair. If the company is doing poorly, then it is also clear that a bonus cannot be paid.

LME007 – Employee motivation: How does it work and how can you improve it?

I recently spoke to a young high-tech entrepreneurabout employee motivation. He was complaining about his employees. They didn’t contribute, lacked motivation, but were always looking for better pay. He rolled his eyes and asked me in a depressed mood:

“All I want is to have motivated employees showing commitment. Is that asking too much? “

No, it’s not. You will only achieve long-term success with motivated employees.

As a manager you impact the employee motivation and employee commitment in your company – but in ways other than what you may think.

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Could you possibly improve employee motivation?

This will work in the short-term, but it’s a dangerous game. Money may be attractive, but it has no sustained impact on employee motivation nor on employee commitment!

Please don’t take this the wrong way. If you don’t pay your employees an adequate income, then you’ll demotivate your employees! They will not be commited to work for you.

But the inverse conclusion will only work on an exception basis: If you pay an above average income, this will by no means result in your employees being more motivated or more commited over the long haul.

The crux with bonus payments

Some believe that they can master and control their employee’s motivation with bonus systems so called performance based bonus. A bonus is paid if the employee attains a certain performance. – How odd. Why does companies do this? Doesn’t the employee have an employment contract obligating him to perform this service, while the company is paying his income to do so?

If you wish to motivate with money, then you’re accusing the employee of not giving their best effort. You believe that he’s sandbagging a portion of his work performance. For example, then you are therefore only paying him 80%. By enticing him with a 20% bonus payment at the end of the year, you want to close this gap in his work performance, provided he performs.

The German motivation expert Reinhard K. Sprenger accurately called this type of bonus payment a mistrust discount. By making this type of bonus payment, you are suspecting your employees of an unwillingness to perform. This doesn’t exactly instill a trusting relationship. Does it motivate? Does this lead to real commitment? – Not really.

Then what exactly is employee motivation?

Employee motivation is one of those hard to grasp concepts. When is an employee motivated?

Generally put, my understanding of motivation is:

“The force of our psyche that drives and controls our behavior.”

Motivation then is the reason behind a person’s particular behavior. Motivational science differentiates between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic employee motivation

If you hold a carrot to a donkey’s nose, this is extrinsic motivation. This is how you would motivate the donkey to continue walking and carrying loads.

Employee Motivation?

Employee Motivation?
Image partly: deDMazay & phodopus/ source: www.bigstock.com

Applied to the business world: You simply replace the carrot with a financial enticement, a bonus or a promotion. Now you’re on your way to motivating extrinsically. By the way: if you threaten your employee with punishment, you are also motivating extrinsically, for instance:

“John, if you don’t start showing up at work on time at 7:00 a.m., you’ll get fired!”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a reward or a punishment: Extrinsic motivations involve actions that are initiated from the outside. Put bluntly: an extrinsically motivated employee will think:

“I’ll do it because I have to, otherwise …“

Intrinsic employee motivation

If someone takes an action for the action’s sake, he’s intrinsically motivated. He’s commited to his work. He either simply enjoys the activity, he believes it’s worth doing, or it represents an interesting challenge for him.

An intrinsically motivated employee thinks:

“I’m doing this because I want to! “

Extrinsic motivation is a source of focus

The expectation of a reward, but also the avoidance of a punishment is always dependent on the situation. Extrinsic motivation allows you to establish a focus.

But the extrinsic motivation will only last while the reward is anticipated, or the force is applied. When you motivate extrinsically, your employees aren’t working for the sake of the issue! They aren’t really commited.

But if an employee’s intrinsically motivated, no external controlling influences are needed. If you value creativity, self-reliance and reliability, then you need intrinsically motivated employees.

The anticipation of a reward or threat of punishment will only – and only then – motivate and be sensible if

  • Routine tasks need to be performed by following simple rules.
  • A clear-cut objective is set, and the path to achieving it is easily achieved.

A classic example for this is piece-work on an assembly line. It is quite possible to motivate employees to do such work extrinsically.

But extrinsic motivation squelches creativity!

However, extrinsic motivation will not work

  • with any task that is not routine
  • requires thoughts because the way to the solution is not clear
  • for tasks that call for creativity

Extrinsic employee motivation may even be counter-productive. The anticipation of a reward or threat of punishment will cause the employee to focus strictly on this reward or punishment. But the focus should be on creativity, right?

If you need commited, creative employees, you should not put them under pressure. Pressure kills creativity, regardless of whether it is in negative form as a punishment, or in positive form as a reward.

What kind of employee motivation do I need in my company?

Under normal business conditions, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation works in parallel. But the higher the intrinsic motivation, the better.

Why? For the most part, routine activity has fallen by the wayside in most companies. In today’s environment, companies automated most routine activities. They’re being performed by machines, not employees. This is why you need people who contribute, who work independently:

Employees who operate your expensive equipment.

Or are you able to specify each manual intervention and to show your employees in detail how they should operate the equipment?

Employees who call on your customers on your behalf.

You don’t want them to sell as many of your products at all costs. You need them to serve your customer in such a way that he will buy from you again.

Employees in the R&D department.

If they are not creative and develop new products, what will your company sell in the near future?

How can I motivate my employees intrinsically?

You can’t. I my opinion, Daniel H. Pink put his finger on it quite pointedly. He states that intrinsically motivated people have the following characteristics.

1. Desire for self-determination

They want to work independently on a task with the greatest possible elbow room.

2. Strive for excellence

Intrinsic motivated people want to grow with the task. They want to continue improving themselves on an issue that they feel is important to them.

3. Purpose

The things they do must have a purpose. In performing their task, they want to be part of something larger than themselves.

Watch that great video of Daniel H. Pink about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Awesome!

What can you do for your employee motivation?

Don’t spend so much time thinking about how to motivate your employees. But instead, spend time making sure that you don’t demotivate your employees.

  • Don’t skimp on their pay! Pay your employees adequately and fairly.
  • Be consistent and predictable.
  • Do not micromanage!
  • Give your employees decision making authority and manage with objectives and trust.
  • Support your employees in their personal development and their desire to improve themselves.
  • Answer the question why your company is a great place to work. Have a great business vision, emplyoees can connect with.

If you behave in this way, I assure you you have motivated and commited employees in the long term.

The inspiring quote

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Theodore M. Hesburgh

LME006 – How to create a vision statement for your company.

5 points how to create a vision statement

5 points how to create a vision statement

What’s needed to create a business vision statement and what’s needed for the vision to work? I’ll give you 5 crucial points which make a great business vision.

In the previous episode we spoke about why you should have a true business vision. Today we’ll focus on what makes a great business vision and what’s needed for the vision to work successfully.

Let’s think about why some corporate visions are perceived as strong and useful and others aren’t.

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What makes a vision successful?

What does really matters? Most managers agree: In today’s world, we need employees who are motivated, self-reliant and independent. We need employees who we don’t have to force to work and who think along with us.

We are talking here about intrinsically motivated employees. That means employees who’re motivated by themselves, cooperate and think creatively. Here a true business vision is a huge asset in helping to get intrinsically motivated employees.

Let me explain why: There are three points that are important to an intrinsically motivated employee:

1st autonomy

An intrinsically motivated person has a desire for autonomy. He says

“Give me a destination, tell me where we want to go, but please let me set the path.”

That’s what’s fun for him, he wants to decide for himself how to get there.

2nd striving for championship

An intrinsically motivated person has the inner need to become better and better at what he does.

3rd Purpose

“What I do must make sense to me and has to have a meaning for me.”

The intrinsically motivated person sees meaning in what he or she does.

Support autonomy, striving for championship and purpose

As a manager, you should therefore make sure that you support these three points in order to have intrinsically motivated employees: Autonomy, striving for mastery and meaning or purpose.

Of course, you cannot instill purpose into your employees. But you can proffer meaning and purpose in a true vision. If the vision is attractive to them you have a good chance that they connect and see the purpose behind the vision as useful and important. It’s their decision if they connect to the vision or if they don’t. You can’t force them to. But you can enthusiastically talk about it and help them to understand.

Viktor Frankl, a well-known psychiatrist said,

“The question of meaning never depends on what we expect from the world, but on what the world expects of us.”

In other words, meaning should always be linked to benefits for others. It isn’t just a benefit to us. It’s usually considered useful when it brings benefits to others.

The purpose isn’t money.

Therefore, It’s important to state: Contrary to popular belief, the real purpose of a company is never simply to earn money. Rather, it is about benefiting others – namely the customer. A company receives its money for this, but its purpose is not money.

Please don’t get me wrong: The companies need money in order to be able to operate, to function, to pay suppliers and employees and to provide interest and returns for the investors – shareholders as well as banks – otherwise it won’t survive.

But money is not the purpose of a company. Just as it is not the purpose of a person to simply earn money. The purpose of every company is to help customers, whether with a product or with a service. Only then does the company have a right to exist. Otherwise, this company would simply be a parasite in our society.

The answer to the question “why?” and clearly knowing the purpose of the company is cruicial. The business strategy with the company vision or corporate mission is closely linked to this.

The vision statement usually describes the future. That’s where we’re going. The big guiding star, so to speak. And the mission defines what  our task is. Many say:

“The mission is important to the outside world. It tells why we exist and what our job is.”

Personally, I don’t think this distinction is particularly useful, because people keep confusing mission and vision. In my opinion, it’s also not helpful to say that the mission is rather for the outside, while the vision is for us inside the company.

In my opinion, the smartest way to combine mission and vision is to say there is a vision and it has to answer both. That way I don’t need to make this distinction,either.

5 points to create a vision statement

Whether vision or mission: one thing is imperative. When I speak of a vision, I mean a guiding star, something that is vague but emotional. It describes a great picture for the future. It’s something people can connect to that you can inspire people with.

How to create a vision statement? What characterizes a good vision? In my view, there are five characteristic points.

1) The vision must be emotionally charged.

It must inspire, at least it must address a certain type of people and exactly the one I want to pick up with it. And that’s how it gives energy.

2. The vision sets a direction.

…but no details.

3. The vision paints a picture of the future.

“I have a dream.”


“I have a plan.”

Although it does not provide any details, it is nevertheless unmistakable. It positions and distinguishes from others.

Statements like:

“We will become the No. 1 in our market and offer the best quality at the lowest prices.”

are not only nonsense, because nobody can deliver the lowest prices at the best quality in the long
run. No, it’s also interchangeable. Such a statement does not position. It does not explain the “why”.

4. The vision is not fixed in time.

It has no deadline.

5. The vision is a desirable improvement of the current situation.

It includes and expresses a clear customer benefit. In the best case, it provides significant added value not just for a customer segment but for societyas a whole. This makes it desirable for a large number of people and they can connect with this vision.

These five points are the hallmarks of a good corporate vision. As a positive example for this I gladly take again and again the vision of Wikipedia.

“Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”

This is a vision. It’s emotionally charged. It may not inspire all people, but some who then say:

“I think that’s great when everyone has access to all human knowledge. I want to support this or even be a part of this project.”

This vision sets a direction, but no details. It is not fixed in time. There’s no deadline. It clearly expresses the benefits and it’s a really high added value for society.

Why is it, that some business visions don’t work?

… even if they meet the 5 points I’ve set up?

If you as the company owner want your business vision to really function as a guiding star, then as a person who sets up the vision, you have to live this vision 100 %. You have to live the values that this vision implies.

For example: You want your company to be innovative. Your business vision implies innovation. Then you have to set an example. Your actions must reflect that you really want innovation – with all the consequences.

Let’s assume, that you are someone who attaches great importance to precise processes, goals and systems in your company. For you it’s very important that everyone behaves in accordance with the rules and everything is regulated and specified in detail.

For example, you want your employees to strictly abide by an 80 page guideline, which describes in detail how travel expenses are to be settled. – Well, then that doesn’t go with innovation.

This contradicts the value of creativity. If you want innovation, you cannot tell your employees exactly every step what they have to do. You need to have trust in your employees.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, you can have rules. And these rules need to be followed. But an 80 page guideline just for the travel expenses? Come on!

“If the values lived don’t correspond to those in the vision, the vision is doomed to fail.”

You have to stand identify with and be behind your vision 100% – and that has some serious implications. If you have a big vision, then this has implications for your behavior. You need to be consistent.

The vision must have consequences…

Like Steve Jobs, for example, when he returned to Apple in 1996. Sales had fallen sharply, Apple was no longer profitable. Something simply had to happen. Steve Jobs had a vision with the development of iMac, iTunes and iPod.

However, implementing this vision meant that the company had to position itself and focus clearly. For this reason, he quickly closed 22 out of 24 product areas. This was a tough decision, but consistently aligned with his vision. He focused only on the two areas that were important for implementing the vision.

What we can learn here is this:

When you have a clear vision, then this must have consequences. All existing processes and rules in your company must be questioned. What aligns with the vision, and what doesn’t?

But keep in mind: If you want to consistently align your company with your vision, you need a lot of energy – and as business owner or CEO you probably only have this energy if your vision really is 100 % in line with your own values and your motivation.

The bigger the company, the more difficult this is. It’s usually easier if the entrepreneur is still in the company and is still in charge – at least if he really is a visionary. Because the company will at least initially be very strongly influenced by the entrepreneur.

Who is driving the vision?

However, as soon as a company grows, goes into the 2nd or 3rd generation, or goes public, it becomes difficult. Usually the formative visionary is then no longer there – or at least he no longer has a say in decisive matters and generally lacks influence.

The company’s focus and perspective, and with it the company’s culture, are gradually changing. Instead of an entrepreneur, employed managers rule now. It is less and less about customer benefit and the long-term goals and growth of the company.

Rather, managers – and even the CEO – are measured by achieving short-term goals. Sales, profit, quarterly results and the share price determine what the managers have to do.

Beware of Pseudo visions!

If high bonuses are paid for reaching short-term financial goals then it’s understandable that managers focus on just that. The words customer relations, long-term vision as well as longterm strategy degenerate to empty phrases in such enterprises. Usually such companies no longer have any real vision but only pseudo visions like:

“We want to be market leader!”


“We’ll be number one in our market segment and aim for a 15% profit!”

Benefits for the customer or for society? Not really our focus. Our shareholders want to make a good profit.

This is not to say that there can’t be any true visions in such large corporate companies or that real customer orientation isn’t possible. But my impression is that if only employed managers are in charge, a true business vision is hard to Sustain for the long-term.

How to agree on goals after having a clear vision

When you created your vision, take care that you also agree on goals with your employees using the vision. There is a lot of things you can get wrong.

Therefore, you might be interested in reading this post: “How to set goals with your employees the right way.” or watch this video:



The inspiring quote

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.”

Carl Jung


LME005 – What is a vision statement and do you really need one?

Do you really need a business vision statement? What can a business vision do for you? We’ll have some good and some bad examples of vision statements.

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Do you need a business vision statement for your company?

business vision statement

Business vision Statements are important!
Image: nruboc/ Resource: www.bigstock.com

I think so. With a good vision you can unleash the power of your team.

With a vision you paint a vivid picture of the future. You describe where you’re heading – both as a team and as a company. A true vision inspires people and creates a common understanding.

Do you have a business vision statement for your company? Do you know about a vision in your company?

I mean this kind of statement or phrase or description, which tells where your business is heading, what you want to achieve and why your company exists?

Pseudo Visions

Don’t get confused with those pseudo vision statements of big companies in the corporate world. Business visions like:

“As a reliable partner for our customers, we count on innovation, creativity and consistent customer focus as well as on top performance in all areas.“

Blablabla. Sorry, but that is just a bunch of buzz words. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t say anything. How does this statement helps to distinguish your company from others? It doesn’t. Everyone wants to be a reliable partner. Every company wants to be customer focused.

Want another example of bad vision statements in the corporate world?

“We work hard to be a Company that Our Shareholders, Customers and Society Want!”

Oh, come on: That’s boring: That’s so generic: That can be true for almost every company.

Here is another “great business vision”:

“We will be the No1 in our industry and strive for double digit sales and profit growth over the next 5 years.”

What? Maybe the investors like this statement. But what’s about the customers, the employees and partners of this company? Does this statement inspires, energizes or motivates anyone? No, it certainly doesn’t!

The business vision isn’t about money.

Hardly anyone is inspired by helping someone else make money. Why would employees put their heart and soul into such a thing?

Sorry to all the CEOs in the corporate world who developed this kind of pseudo visions: These business vision statements are totally useless.

Difference between mission and vision statement

So what’s a good business vision then? Often people get confused with what the difference is between vision and mission.

Let’s answer that briefly: As part of a business strategy the vision tells where you are going and a mission tells why your business exists. But don’t think too much about these definitions and which one’s which.

Two important questions

If you are an entrepreneur and running a small business or if you are a manager in charge of parts of a business you should focus on these two questions:
1.           Why does your business exist?
2.           Where do you want your business to go?

Just to make it crystal clear. The first question is by far the most important one!

Why does your business exist?

What’s the purpose of your company?

There is a great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek about the why and about the purpose of a company. It’s called: “How great leaders inspire action.” It’s my favorite TedTalk. Simon describes in a wonderful understandable way how great leaders think, act and communicate and how important the “Why” is.

What makes a well-conceived business vision statement?

Successful entrepreneurs, such as Richard Branson or Steve Jobs live for real visions. They are or were not primarily driven by making money.

These entrepreneurs are in pursuit of other objectives and visions that are bigger than themselves. These are frequently business visions that carry a social or ecological value for the rest of humanity.

Some inspiring vision statements

Take Microsoft’s first business vision statement as a case in point. Microsoft’s revolutionary founding vision in 1975 was:

“Our vision is a computer on every desk and in every home.”

Probably, it addressed only a limited number of people back then. But they enthusiastically supported it. They were intrinsically motivated to contribute to this vision, which was viewed by these people as socially relevant.

Here are some other examples of great business vision statements:

The company Scooter:

“Our vision is to provide freedom and independence to people with limited mobility.”

Or Wikipedia

“Imagine a world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”

Just by listening to these visions, can you hear the difference to those pseudo visions?

What is a true vision statement?

If an entrepreneur or a company have a true business vision then they ultimately pursue an objective that is larger than themselves. The business owner isn’t just working to satisfy his ego and the company doesn’t purely exist to earn money.

A true business vision shows that the entrepreneur or the company strive to solve a meaningful problem. It is not about money, it is about solving a problem which makes the world a better place, which helps people.

And that’ll inspire other people. They’ll feel that the vision is important and useful.

And that’s why they want to support this business vision and be part of it – as an employee, as a customer or as a supplier.

What’s about making good money?

As an aside, this doesn’t mean that the company or an entrepreneur cannot make good money. On the contrary. In order to attain the purpose, to achieve something of value for the world, the entrepreneur as well as the company should and must make money.

If it’s important to the entrepreneur to live in a beautiful home and drive a luxury Porsche, then that’s ok. It may be necessary for him to be satisfied and content. The luxury then becomes a means to an end if he’s focused on his true vision.

His true vision is striving to solve a meaningful problem. It is not about money, but money is a means to an end. It’s about solving a problem which makes the world a better place.

What‘s your business vision statement?

What problem is your company solving to make the world a better place? If you don’t have a true vision yet or if you only have a pseudo vision in your company so far, don’t worry. You can work on it. Just click here to learn what exactly is needed to create an inspiring business vision.

The inspiring quote

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

LME004 – Upward Delegation: How to avoid this kind of monkey business

We are talking about how to avoid upword delegation, often also refered to as back delegation or reverse delegation. It’s a problem a lot of managers suffer from.

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upward delegation - monkey business

Upward delegation

When a task that you have delegated to an employee comes back to you – and you complete it. This is called reverse delegation or monkey business.

If you – as the boss – accept that an employee hands back the work given to him, then you do the work that your employee should actually be doing. That’s fatal, since you won’t have time for your own tasks.

In the following I’ll describe why so many executives have their problems with reverse delegation and how you can deal with it.

What exactly is upward delegation?

I can best explain it with an example:

Let’s assume that you delegated an important task to Jack last week. He was supposed to write the final report for Project XYZ by the end of next month. Jack knows this kind of project well and has all the information about it. You have complete confidence in him and in his abilities. That’s why you agreed with him that he only briefly reports back when he’s finished and sent the report.

Today you are very busy. You are on your way to an important meeting. Jack is talking to you in passing.

“Boss, I’m glad to see you. I’ve got a problem. I’m supposed to write that project report. I’ve put something together, but somehow I’m not getting anywhere. You know XYZ very well. Could you take a quick look at what I’ve written and perhaps add a few key words?”

So? How do you react?  In your mind you are actually somewhere else – namely already at your meeting. Yeah, sure. You’re the expert on Project XYZ, but you just can’t be bothered to do it right now. You just think:

“How do I get rid of Jack as quickly as possible?”

So you’re answering:

“OK. Jack, give it to me. I’ll deal with it later.”

Opps. – You have another task on your desk – a task that you had actually delegated to your employee, right?

Delegating back: Monkey Business

Many executives fall into this trap, called reverse delegation. As early as 1974 there was an article in the Harvard Business Review about it. The title:

“Management time: Who’s got the monkey?”

The authors compared tasks to be delegated with monkeys. Whoever is working on the task and who is responsible for it, is carrying the monkey on his shoulder. As long as he has the monkey he has to take care for him and feed him. This is expensive and takes time. If this becomes too much, you need to get rid of the monkey. Now the boss comes into play.

If the boss delegates a task, he puts the monkey on the shoulder of the employee. After a successful reverse delegation, the monkey sits again on the boss’ shoulder.

And if the boss has a lot of employees and does not resist, then very soon a lot of monkeys sit on his shoulder. Then he feels like a zookeeper. He’s in charge of feeding a lot of crazy monkeys.

The boss will then no longer be able to work properly on his tasks because he deals with tasks that he’s not supposed to do. He does the work of his employees.

The boss becomes the bottleneck.

It even goes as far as employees having to wait for their boss. The boss becomes the bottleneck. Then the employees complain:

“My boss can’t get anything done. He’s overdoing it. Our team can’t go on because we need his input but his work is piling up on his desk. He can’t manage at all. Who actually made this guy an executive?”

Why does reverse delegation take place? You have delegated a task and your employee tries to return the delegated task to you. The question is, why?

It can have many causes. For example, an employee is under a lot of time pressure, whether he’s just feeling it or not. The work just gets too much for him. He has taken on or promised too much, does not want to admit it and therefore tries to get rid of part of the work.

Perhaps the employee also has too little self-confidence in his abilities or feels overwhelmed. Here, too, he has accepted the task, but in the course of time he realizes it’s growing over his head.

In these cases your employee needs your help and support. But that doesn’t mean that you do his job.

What can you as a boss do?

Let’s assume you delegated the task correctly. You also made sure that the employee has the competence to solve the task. If there are problems, you told him, he can approach you – but not just in passing. You will help him, but always leave the responsibility with your employee and make an appointment to discuss the problem. Then ask:

“What would you do if I wasn’t there?”


“To solve the problem: what have you done so far?”


“What ideas do you have to solve the problem?”


“To make to solve the problem: What decisions do you need?”


“What exactly do you need from me now?”

With this kind of questions you coach your employee. In this way you ensure that he doesn’t remain on the problem side, but rather comes up with his own solutions.

Beware of your impulses.

Many managers are used to making quick decisions and thinking solution-oriented. However, in such a discussion with your employee you should suppress the impulse to work out the solution yourself.

If you solve the problem, it doesn’t train your employee’s solution behavior. You don’t really help him but you make him addicted. Because the next time he has a problem, he’d rather go straight to you than work on the solution himself. That’s not what you want, is it?

That’s why you support him with questions. Talk a little, explain a little, but ask. Help your employee by coaching him to find the solution. Suppress your problem-solving reflex.

Why are many managers being tricked into upward delegation?

Many managers fully understand the concept of reverse delegation, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. They keep finding out that they have somehow been tricked. Suddenly the monkey sits on the boss’s shoulder again. How could this have happened?

Some managers fear that if you do not solve the problem, their employees may consider you weak or incompetent. Others cannot say no, because you have a reflex of wanting to help or you are simply tempted to take on a complex task again.

Upward delegation because of incorrect behaviour

Sometimes, however, managers simply react incorrectly.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this:

You’ve been the expert in your field – and then you were promoted. Now you have the leading role and know that you should hand over the technical task to your employees. It is not your job to do the work of your employees. You realize that! But deep down inside you are proud to be perceived as an expert and not just a leader. You want to keep the status of an expert.

Normally, this need is not a problem for you. If you are concentrated or have enough time to think, you are safe. You decide rationally in favor of the leadership role and consistently hand over the technical work to your employees and you don’t allow reverse delegation.

However, it is different when you are under stress and have to make short-term decisions – without much thought – for instance when your thoughts are already in the next meeting and you are approached unprepared by your employee Jack on the corridor on the way there.

“Boss, can you take a look at this? I mean you are the expert. You know best about it…”

That’s something you love to hear from Jack. You enjoy the short-term good feeling of being perceived as an expert by your employees. It’s flattering. It’s good for your EGO, good to hear that you are needed and recognised as an expert. However, in the long run you have another monkey on your shoulder.

How can you avoid this upward delegation?

You could just block the conversation with the phrase:

“Do you want me to do your job?”

But this isn’t constructive. It’s frustrating and only leads to your employees feeling that they aren’t getting any support from you.

The solution is: You make an appointment with your employee to discuss the problem indepth:

“Jack, this is not a good time. I am already late for my meeting. But we can talk about it later in my office. Let’s say in half an hour. Is that ok with you?”

You kill two birds with one stone: On the one hand: You don’t let yourself be determined by Jack and you hold back your impulse slipping back into your expert role. On the other hand, you give your employee enough time to think again about his problem. Maybe he’ll find a solution without your help.

3 Tips on upward delegation

Let me give you some help when dealing with “monkey business”.

  1. Every monkey takes time!

Think very carefully about what you commit to. For example: If your employee asks you to participate in some unimportant project meeting because you are the expert. Don’t do it just because you want to please him or please your EGO. Think twice before you do it or before you make such promises. A meeting can quickly cost you several hours. Time you could probably make better use of.

  1. With every monkey comes a supervisor!

If you have accepted the task, very often you have someone who depends on your completion of this task. Therefore, if you take on the task, you become accountable to others. After all, you make a commitment – and it doesn’t matter on which hierarchical level your supervisor stands.

Think about it: If you take back a task then your employee becomes your supervisor. Now he has all the right to ask you:

“Have you finished the task yet?”

  1. A monkey rarely comes alone!

If you take on a task, your employee is rewarded for his or her behavior. He reverse delegated an unpleasant task to his boss. Now, he has more time for himself and is even allowed to supervise his boss according to the motto:

“Boss, have you finished the report yet?”

Oh, great! What’s happening? In the future, the employee will try to give you even more monkeys. That makes sense to him. That’s why I say: Don’t feed your employees’ monkeys!


Try to consistently avoid upward delegation. Not only in your interest but also in the interest of your employees.


The inspiring quote

“Delegating means letting others become the experts and hence the best.”

by Timothy Firnstahl