What Causes A Leader’s Paint To Chip?


Here are 10 reasons why leaders make things unnecessarily complicated for themselves and those they work with…

  1. Too many leaders don’t handle conflict particularly well – What is leadership, after all, but the ability to get smart, capable people to want to to stop working on their priorities and work on yours, instead? And that, my friends, is often all about conflict.
  2. Too many leaders think that leadership is only about managing ‘down’ the chain – But try getting something truly meaningful done without the full, ongoing support from your boss, peers, and others inside (and out) of the organization. In all probability, you can’t. Not if it’s something really worth doing, anyway.
  3. Too many leaders fail to hold themselves accountable as they would others – Sure, they may think they do, they may even pretend they do, but we know differently. We see differently, don’t we?
  4. Too many leaders don’t give nearly enough attention to their own leadership skills – Leadership development doesn’t happen by osmosis, it takes both intention and attention. As it says on my business card, “Becoming a better leader is an intentional activity.”
  5. Too many leaders fail to connect their actions to their company’s core business metrics – Sure, they’re busy, but what are they really achieving that’s above-and-beyond the basic responsibilities of the job?
  6. Too many leaders insist they don’t have time to further educate themselves – The latest Wall Street Journal tagline really nails it: “People who don’t have time make time to read The Wall Street Journal.” Too, there’s always Leadership Haiku, my book. It’s my attempt to creatively, engagingly, and thought-provokingly demystify the art, science, and practice of exemplary leadership – 3 lines and 17 syllables at a time.
  7. Too many leaders measure their success with the wrong criteria – Money? Power? Prestige? Sure. But how much fun are they having? How aligned is what they do with their core values? How grateful are they to be able to truly make a difference in other people’s lives? How physically, emotionally, creatively, and courageously fit are they? And, of course, how vibrant are their relationships at home and outside of work?
  8. Too many leaders work on the wrong things – I call it ‘productive procrastination’, when we confuse the work we happen to be doing with the work we really need to be doing. Similar, maybe, but more often than not, decidedly different. (Examples: Catching up on your emails during a conference call, instead of actively contributing; firefighting the latest surprise news instead of creating channels to learn about the priority changes being considered.)
  9. Too many leaders rarely say anything interesting enough for people to even want to follow their lead – Years ago I heard a great description of middle managers: “Store and forward devices, with filters.” Anyone who just apes the company line without first making sense of it is missing a huge leadership opportunity.
  10. Too many leaders are not resilient enough – Stress is a non-optional part of most jobs, but how we handle stress, and the strain we do or do not feel as a result – that is, our hardiness, resilience, and ability to manage crises – can most definitely be learned and better managed.

What to DO about this?

If you recognize any of these affects in the leaders around you, buy them a cup of coffee (or a beer) and engage in a little downtime. Just getting to know them a little better can go a long way. Why? Because people are sometimes so stuck in their roles that they forget to be human and increasingly isolate themselves, from others, which further exacerbates the dysfunction. But when someone reaches out to them, there’s often a wonderful humanizing effect that kicks in. It’s worth trying to help make that happen.

If, on the other hand, you’ve started to recognize some of these attitudes and behaviors in yourself, buy yourself that coffee or beer – yes, you’ll want to do something about your ‘peeling paint,’ but you also deserve to celebrate this important moment in your self-awareness, too.


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Is “Constructive Criticism” an Oxymoron?

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The Financial Post’s recent article, “Constructive criticism is an oxymoron we should do away with,” is absolutely absurd. It not only misses the point of what constructive criticism is all about, it’s ridiculous and naïve.

While cloaking negative criticism as constructive feedback is surely suboptimal, to suggest that all constructive criticism is negative, as it does, is both misleading and inaccurate.

Each and every day there are countless instances of bosses (and colleagues) providing meaningful, thoughtful, feedback to people about how they can improve – and that counsel is received, and embraced, in the constructive spirit in which it was intended.

The Point of Constructive Criticism

The point of performance feedback is this: To inform someone about an aspect of their performance that they may, or may not, be aware of that is diluting their impact and influence.

Whether the feedback is positive or negative, constructive or destructive, right or wrong, or already known about or not, is entirely irrelevant — IT IS WHAT IT IS.

HOW We Receive Criticism

HOW we react/respond to such criticism is telling, though. “Levels of Leadership Success,” a self-study leadership tutorial on the LeadershipTraction website,  speaks to this very point:

  • Level 1 Leaders – those relatively inexperienced as leaders – tend to treat feedback as something to be DISPUTED.
  • Level 2 Leaders – more savvy and upwardly-mobile leaders –tend to treat feedback as something to be ACCEPTED
  • Level 3 Leaders – the most mature and advanced leaders – tend to treat feedback as something to be SOUGHT

The point is this: You will likely be judged AS MUCH IF NOT MORE on how you RECEIVE the criticism than what you do with it. (But you do have to do something with it.)

Let me repeat this for emphasis: You will likely be judged AS MUCH IF NOT MORE on how you RECEIVE the criticism than what you do with it. (But you do have to do something with it.)

Bosses are Often “Right for the Wrong Reasons”

But what if you really DO dispute the feedback? Or what if it really ISN’T constructive? What then?

The short answer is this: Figure out how to make it constructive.

My very first “real” job out of college was at Blue Cross/Blue Shield. One of my bosses there told me that my “problem” was that my desk was too messy and THAT was why I was missing deadlines and submitting substandard deliverables.

Huh?! Because my desk was a mess?!

Was it a mess? Well yes, but that wasn’t why my performance was falling short. It was falling short because I could never figure out what, exactly, my boss was asking me to do. He talked in code!

But it wasn’t until he gave me the WRONG reason – that my desk was a mess – that I took the time to realize the ACTUAL reason – that I wasn’t asking the questions I needed to ask, on the FRONT end, to find out what the heck he was wanting.

So even though the feedback was delivered poorly, and was factually inaccurate, it turned out to be surprisingly constructive, as well.

Similarly, when at the Merc, one of my bosses told me that my “problem” was that I didn’t know how to prioritize and THAT was why certain problems lingered for longer than necessary. In that moment, I realized two things:

  • Thing One – I actually did know how to prioritize
  • Thing Two – I wasn’t having powerful enough conversations with my staff and vendor personnel about how to solve these problems SOONER.

Again, the feedback was “wrong,” and really, really helpful.

In Conclusion

While I surely disagree with the premise and conclusions of The Financial Post’s piece, I appreciate how it both stimulated and clarified my thinking.

“Anything constructive is associated with growth, which requires a person to be open, not in a defensive state of mind,” it said. I Agree. And that’s as good a piece of advice for both the feedback RECEIVER and feedback GIVER, alike.

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An Open Letter to Dr. Pepper

Dear Dr. Pepper:

I’m a BIG diet DP fan – and a guy – so I thought I’d try Dr. Pepper TEN. But what’s up with that label?! Ten BOLD Tasting calories (per 8 FL OZ) but 20 calories per bottle (serving size: 1 bottle)?! Why not say 5 calories per 4 FL OZ serving, or 2 1/2 per 2  FL OZ serving, or something similarly absurd?!

Also of the 20 FL OZ per bottle, you’re saying that ONLY 10 are actually BOLD tasting?! What are the OTHER 10, TIMID tasting?! COWARDLY tasting?!

Makes me wonder: 10 BOLD tasting calories + 10 MEEK tasting calories blend into what, 20 NONDESCRIPT tasting calories?! Is that really the best you could do?!


Since high school (which was quite a while ago) the Dr.P brand has been sacrosanct for me. “Dr. Pepper: It’s like drinking nectar,” I’ve been known to say. Your labeling strategy for DP TEN, though, is unabashedly duplicitous.

Mostly, though, it’s just heart-breaking. ☹

So shame on you and your two-faced, two-timing, two-calorie (per 1.6 FL OZ serving) marketing brass for letting these labels go to market like this. Shame on you.

Disappointingly yours,

Barry Zweibel
Previously-ARDENT Dr. Pepper Fan

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