What a leader should do when it’s awkward…


If I say “awkward,” what’s the first thing you think of?  A first date?  A painful social interaction?  What about a job interview or a work conversation?

You figured once you “arrived” into management, your days of awkward conversations were coming to an end, right?  Welp, if you haven’t figured out already this is not the case, you will soon…

You know what?  I hope you embrace it!  Yes, that’s right! Embrace awkwardness in leadership.  It is a challenge, for sure – but it will allow you to build your own leadership capability, and demonstrate true firmness as a leader (a very important attribute).

Why?  Because leadership is not comfortable.  

You will need to acknowledge awkward conversations, prepare for them, and tackle them head on.  One of the most damaging thing to credibility and trust, as you manage your team, is to always take the easy way out.  To always say or do what makes things comfortable.  It’s the wrong way to go.  “Management awkwardness” is potentially a very important way for you to gain ground as a leader.

Let’s play out “management awkwardness” in a few different scenarios:

Scenario 1:  giving employee important coaching/feedback on some points of improvement.  He immediately starts arguing – making excuses, blaming, or (worst of all) pointing our your flaws and shortcomings as a leader.  What do you do?

Natural response: you ‘hedge your bet,’ either softening the feedback message, adding in some positive elements, or even retreating altogether.

Correct response:  wait.  Endure the awkward silence, but hold fast to your previous comments (which, I’m going to assume, were substantive, fair and objective).  Don’t back off.  Instead, listen to understand what makes them feel this way, then request to continue the discussion at a later date.  Don’t ‘keep trying’ to get your point across; they aren’t listening anyway by that point.

Scenario 2:  all-star employee, high performer asks to meet with you to discuss career development.  He/she expresses concern at not knowing what his/her direction and future will be with the company.  What do you do? Continue reading

Lessons I Learned from a Rock on the Beach

A few weeks ago, I was walking on Indian Beach along the Oregon coast.  A spectacular, beautiful day, looking much like the picture above (and yes, that is a picture of Indian Beach).  As my wife and I walked down the beach as the waves rolled in, we were looking for shells that had been washed ashore, that we could take home to show the kids.

Suddenly, I saw it.  The most perfect black rock you’ve ever seen.  It was a little smaller than a golf ball and was glistening perfectly in the sun.  Perfectly clean, perfectly black and perfectly smooth.  It looked as though it belonged in this family of rocks:


My mind immediately started thinking:  “how did this rock get so perfectly smooth?”

The answer was simple:  waves and sand, smoothing out the stone over a long period of time.  It definitely took a long time, I concluded.  Awesome.  I was very pleased with my meaningful souvenir and shoved it in my pocket as we continued walking down the beach.

However, I didn’t expect some additional lessons that I would learn from this ‘perfect’ rock…

At the base of the trail to leave the beach, there is an immediate uphill climb (where the forest meets the sand, the left-hand side of the picture), there was a whole bunch of black rocks just like the one I had claimed as my perfect rock.  They were all sizes and various shapes – but all smooth.  All worn by the waves and the sand.  Suddenly my perfect rock wasn’t feeling so special…

My next realization came when we got home.  I got out my perfect rock, but for some reason, it wasn’t what I remembered.  It wasn’t quite as perfect, as smooth, as black.  Now that it was dry, and not glistening in the sunlight anymore, the luster had faded away.

But this is still “my rock” and I still love it, because it has taught me a few very important lessons:

  1. The principle about waves and water making a stone smooth?  Absolutely true.  In our careers, becoming the smooth stone we all want to be will take time, and it will require experiences (sometimes rough).  Stay patient.  Stay positive.
  2. If I consider myself the black rock I found on the beach, safe to say that co-workers and associates are the other group of black rocks by the trail head.  We are all in it together.  We are all just trying to smooth ourselves over the course of our careers.  Leaders remember this, and recognize it in others.
  3. My perfect rock wasn’t so perfect in the end.  Leaders are well served to remember that sometimes things aren’t as perfect as they seem.  Take some time, let the luster fade a little bit to understand the real beauty of the ‘rock’.

So now my rock sits on my desk as a constant reminder of these important lessons:

rock at desk


Maybe it is the perfect rock after all.