Micro-monitoring As A Leadership Style

There are many ways how to classify leadership styles. In Situational Leadership I talked about classification done by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. They introduced four styles: telling, selling, participating, delegating and I would add empowering as fifth. The most often used classification is that of Daniel Goleman that deals with six emotional leadership styles. It builds and expands on the work of Kurt Lewin who identified three basic types of a leader (authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire).

Goleman’s six emotional leadership styles are:

Autocratic or authoritarian leaders provide clear expectations and guidance on what needs to be done, when, and how it should be done. This is very command and control type of leadership. In a modern workplace there are very few situations when this style really works and even then it is for a brief periods of time. Since it focuses on efficiency you would use this in emergency situations when things need to happen fast, there has to be no ambiguity of what needs to be done and you are the most knowledgeable person. Used long-term it creates a rather dysfunctional teams.

Paternalistic leaders are essentially father figures. They focus almost exclusively on building the relationships. They deeply care about individual team members, treat them almost like a family. The environment created under this leadership style is a great place to work. Often the team members become friends who spend time together even outside of work. This style works fine when things go well, the company is growing, and there is no pressure on delivery or cost savings. The moment environment puts the team and the leader under pressure this style often breaks since tough decisions needs to be done and expectations reset. There is also a high potential for the best people leaving the team if they see the leader treating everyone equally while not demanding equal performance.

Democratic or participative leadership is under most situations the most effective. Democratic leaders are truly part of the team. They listen to others, allow the group to participate in the decision making even though the leader still retains the final say. Since the team is involved in decision making process there is higher commitment to the common goals of the group. This leadership style is the most appropriate for most situations in a modern organization. It assumes a mature leader who is confident in his abilities, and team that is competent in what they do.

Laissez-faire or delegating leadership is almost no leadership at all. Leaders using this approach provide no guidance and leave decisions on the team. This leadership style may work for a specific situations, for example when you have a group of experts to agree on a solution to a problem that is well defined, or when the team is heavily invested in or passionate about the project. It also assumes very mature team members, experts in their fields, but at the same time willing to ask for help or direction when needed. If these basics are not met this leadership style results in a confused and directionless group where people blame each other for mistakes and where there is no accountability and personal responsibility.

Transactional leadership style can be seen as a two way agreement between the leader and the follower. This is the typical example of boss versus employee. “You do this task, and I will pay you salary for it.” This is also one of the reasons so many organizations are not able to reach their potential as they rely on managers who use this leadership style and believe that is all what is needed to get things done. This would be your prototypical carrot and stick approach to leadership.

Transformational leadership style is centered on the idea of inspiring and motivating others to direct positive change. Leaders using this style are passionate about what they do, emotionally intelligent so they can influence others and are committed to both the organization and the individual members to achieve their potential. The ultimate goal is not just to get things done but to transform the views and the needs of the team around. This is the leadership style you need to employ when you have a lots of negativity and non-performance in a team that consists of great individuals. Your role is to redirect their attention and thinking to positive outcomes and save them from self-destruction.

I’m a big believer in adjusting your leadership style to the environment, situation at hand, maturity of the team, and company culture. This if obviously rather difficult to achieve as it requires you to regularly step out of your comfort zone and act in a way that may not be the real you. At the same time I believe that as long as your core values are not attacked you can do this very well and you can be pretty authentic with any of these leadership styles.

And this brings me to micro-monitoring. At the outside it may look like a rather controversial approach to leadership but please bear with me while I explain what it all means. My goal is to show you in the next couple of paragraphs how this leadership style (possibly a combination of several of the styles mentioned above) can help you in certain situations achieve great results.

Micro-monitoring as a way of keeping focus

Tommy Weir in his book Leadership Dubai Style: The habits to achieve remarkable success talks about micro-monitoring as one of the components of a leadership style used to build the success of today’s Dubai. When you are micromanaging you essentially tell people how to get things done. We all agree that this is not particularly healthy management style in pretty much any settings (though exceptions exist). With micro-monitoring you don’t tell “how”, you tell “what” and you follow up often to provide near real-time feedback and create a sense of importance and urgency of the project and growth opportunities for the team. For this leadership style it is critical to provide a vision and clear goals of what needs to be accomplished, why, and to what date.

When trying to use this leadership style it is important to explain to your team what your behavior will be and why you will pay increased attention to results and will ask lots of questions. In fact, the really critical in this leadership style to be successful not just with delivering the project, but also in creating a healthy working atmosphere, is the mindset. You need to have the understanding internally and with the team that you are micro-monitoring not to make sure things are done your way (once again, that is micromanagement), or that you don’t trust the team. You are micro-monitoring to help the team succeed. This is a style of work that allows you to proactively and informally ensure your team stays focused on what is important so at the end they reap the benefits.

If you live in software development world and are familiar with terms like agile methodologies or SCRUM you may even argue that micro-monitoring is built into these processes. How would you call a sprint demo where you regularly show what was accomplished and allow your customer and other stakeholders to provide feedback and course correct? Even the daily stand up meetings are a way for the team to micro-monitor themselves.

What does micro-monitoring bring?

  • It creates a sense of urgency and focus – if the team understands what you are trying to accomplish and why, that will help them to focus on the right thing. This applies especially in environments with many competing priorities, where things change often, and where keeping the true north is difficult.
  • It creates opportunities for near real-time feedback – nothing beats in-time feedback. If you want your team to grow you need to provide them feedback and help them to act on it. How do you provide day-to-day feedback when you have no clue what’s going on? You need to get really hands-on, micro-monitor and then you can help others to grow significantly faster.
  • It creates opportunities to shape behavior – I know that many textbooks frown on “monitoring” and would tell you that you as a leader should set vision, clear goals, provide tools and then let the team get things done. But realistically, how often this really works? As a leader it is your responsibility to not only get things done but to build organization and help the team to be successful. Once again, the most effective way to do this is by having enough insights to know where to focus so you can provide coaching and mentoring as needed.
  • It creates opportunities for celebrating small wins – it feels good to celebrate release of a new product after years of work. It feels even better to celebrate small wins along the way. Did the team just accomplished a minor milestone, build a small features, or got a kudos from customers? Time to celebrate, time to appreciate the work done so far and build excitement for the next steps. Regular praise is a powerful way to keep the team focused and motivated.
  • It creates opportunities for course corrections – if you monitor what is being done it allows you to react in timely manner and ask for course corrections. There is nothing worse than coming to the end of the project only to discover you built the wrong thing.

What does micro-monitoring take away?

  • It could take away accountability and sense of ownership – you need to be crystal clear with the team that even though you are asking questions and want to know what’s going on it is still them who are accountable for success of the project. You are here as a resource who provides feedback, help removing obstacles and help to keep focus on the right stuff. It is the team’s responsibility to deliver.
  • It could turn into micromanagement – this really depends on your maturity as a leader. Once you know about the details it is very tempting to start meddling into “how” are things done and you end up micromanaging. You don’t want to go there if you have a strong and competent team. It would quickly lead to demotivated bunch of people who would do only what you tell them to do, while looking for another job. The best way to tackle this is to have agreement with the team at the beginning of the project, explaining them what you are doing, and giving them the power to stop you if you cross the line.

So what does it all mean for you?

The key takeaway for you is to understand that there is not a single perfect leadership style. You may believe that democratic style is the one to go with, and very often you would be right. But there are many situations when employing a different style will bring bigger benefits to you, the team, and the project. I would argue that when it comes to high-stake situations where you need the project delivered on time, where there is lots of ambiguity and competing priorities, and where the team is competent in their respective fields, using the micro-monitoring approach can provide the necessary focus and sense of urgency while having a healthy working environment. And to quote Stephen R. Covey “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”


What is your thought on the micro-monitoring concept? Does it fit your leadership style? When would you use it or do you believe that as a concept it is utterly flawed?

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

How To Influence Others To Act

What defines a leader? You have as many definitions as there are people. I would argue that one of the best ways to define a leader is “someone who can influence others to unite for a common goal and get it done”. To be able to influence others you don’t need to be formally in charge. In fact, leaders often emerge through the ranks of employees naturally and are getting more their power formalized only after they showed their leadership abilities.

Some time ago I wrote a set of articles about influence: The Art Of Influencing Others – Lesson 1, Lesson 2, and Lesson 3. I talked about how you can exert influence with people around you and how you can push change that is needed to move your team in a direction that the business requires by working directly with them, through other people and by shaping the physical environment. Today I would like to introduce couple of principles outlined by Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck. They present a framework, a set of principles, that when used can greatly enhance your message and help you influence others and change the environment around you. These principles deal only with the message in forms of stories you tell to influence others and extend what I wrote in Lesson 1. The six principles are:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

1. Simplicity

You might have heard about the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Originally used in the US Navy the principle states that most systems work best when we keep them as simple as possible (less things to break and easier to fix), so the goal of any design should be removing unnecessary complexity and keeping things as simple as possible.

The same applies to communication. If you want your message to be understood and remembered (leaving impact) you need to work on making it as simple as possible. When you communicate an idea focus on few critical aspects and leave out all the other points that are not critical to your message.

Let’s say you want to explain a difference between a whale and a cat. They are both animals, mammals, one is bigger than the other, one has fur the other doesn’t, one eats mostly plankton, the other eats bunch of stuff including meat, one is being kept as a pet, the other roams free, and so on. But how would you design a message that would be easy to remember? What about, a whale weights 150 tons and lives in the ocean while a five kilograms cat lives in your bedroom.

It is about finding the “core” message and making it really “compact”. Proverbs work like that. You get a key wisdom compressed into a short soundbite that is easy to remember. Just look at these examples:

  • “The pen is mightier than the sword.” (Trying to convince people with words and ideas is often more effective than forcing them to do what you want.)
  • “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” (Very useful advice when you travel or even join a new company with different culture. Observe and learn from others around you to adapt and fit in.)
  • “Easy come, easy go.” (Usually related to money. When you get something without expending much effort you don’t value it and you often lose it quickly.)

The core message, in the army called the Commander’s intent summarizes the goal you are trying to achieve. “Commander’s intent (CSI) plays a central role in military decision making and planning. CSI acts as a basis for staffs and subordinates to develop their own plans and orders to transform thought into action, while maintaining the overall intention of their commander. The commander’s intent links the mission and concept of operations. It describes the end state and key tasks that, along with the mission, are the basis for subordinates’ initiative.”

“We will take the enemy’s position 182 by noon tomorrow”. It is clear and concise enough that it cannot be miscommunicated or misunderstood and can provide enough guidance even for units (teams) that become suddenly cut from their chain of command (management).

2. Unexpectedness

It is not just simplicity that will help you to get the message across to your audience and influence the right outcome. Before you can even attempt this you need to get attention of the people you want to influence. How do you do it? By violating people’s expectations. By doing or saying something unexpected or even counterintuitive. Humans are curious by nature so making people curious about where you are heading with your message is a powerful tool. Just think about why so many people love detective stories and will stick with the book or movie to the very end to learn who’s done it.

Within the professional circles a great way to pick up an interest and make people curious is to highlight the knowledge gap. Start with something that people have general understanding of and interest in and make it clear that they don’t know the whole story and there is some interesting fact coming up. “You all know that we had a good year but you would be surprised on how much we actually grew. Before I get to the numbers let me remind you some of the key successes that got us here.” Now, if you are at least little big curious human being you will listen with interest and to wait till the end to learn the actual numbers.

3. Concreteness

Abstract ideas are really difficult to get across and to be remembered. If you want your message to stick you need to make it as concrete as possible. Let’s look again at proverbs. Just compare these two statements both describing the same concept. First being very literary but too abstract “People from different cultures, different educational background, different positions and wealth may have different priorities and ideas about what is valuable and what not.” The other being a proverb making the abstract idea very tangible and concrete “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Which one will you remember?

Curiously enough talking about numbers may not make the message concrete enough but, in fact, the opposite. “We have spent one thousand dollars on snacks for the office this year.” What does it tell you? Yes, you know it was thousand dollars but what exactly does it mean? Compare it to “The team consumed a thousand chocolate bars this year. That is a hundred for each of you.” In this case the dollar value even though correct and precise is less tangible than the actual number of chocolate bars in your hand.

4. Credibility

People won’t believe a message unless they feel it comes from a credible source and sounds sort of credible. Let’s say that two people come to you and make this announcement “orange juice is really bad to your health”. One would be a medical doctor in white while the other is an accountant from your company. Who would you believe more readily? You would of course make bunch of assumptions about the guy in white. He is a doctor, studied for it, practices the craft, follows the latest research, and knows what he is talking about. You would follow his advice rather than the pale guy from finance department. You would again make an assumption. What does an accountant know about health and oranges?

There is the same danger as in previous principle. Most of us see hard numbers as a proof that you know what you are talking about, that you did your research and have your facts straight. However, there is still the danger of losing the message in numbers that are too abstract for others to follow or remember.

5. Emotions

You might think that emotions have no place in business but you couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to leadership. You just need to use emotions strategically. How do you ensure others care about you and your idea? Well, caring means feeling something. Why do you think so many politicians start hugging children before an election day? They are trying to show that they care. But how do you show that you care about a nation? That is a too abstract concept, rather you hug a single child which will symbolize that you care about everyone. For people it is easier to feel something when it gets very specific, a single cute child, rather than a nation.

This tactics works very well in many charitable endeavors. Hearing about thousands dead in some conflict or natural disaster is too difficult to grasp and it doesn’t have the same emotional impact (it is just a statistics) as a picture of a single child crying over his dead mother. This will immediately trigger emotions since you can picture yourself in the same position and it will immediately move you into an action. Something must be done!

There are also many other ways how to involve emotions in pushing your message. In the professional world there are couple of tactics that often work. You can appeal to self-interest of your audience or even better to their identity. Let’s say you talk with your management team and you need to eliminate a habit of people changing their minds all the time that is spreading through the company and makes it an environment full of uncertainty. The message you may want to go with would be along the lines “great managers stand by their decisions”. The emotion you would play at is the fact that all your managers believe that they are great managers and would feel offended that someone would think otherwise. Because of that emotion they would start paying more attention to this behavior and get better at it.

6. Stories

The best way to get people not only hear the message but to act on it is a combination of invoking emotion while telling a compelling story. Hearing a story helps people visualize the action and the ultimate outcome. This then leads to reducing worry that they don’t know what to do or that things may not go as planned. This type of story will help people to understand how to act. Imagine you are in a technical support department. Every customer who call will have a slightly different problem, will explain it in a different way, will have a different environment or the way to use your product. But the underlying technology is the same and these problems often have lots in common. By regularly talking with your fellow support engineers and exchanging stories about what problem customers had and how you solved it will help the whole group to learn from each other in a way that is very natural. You can influence the quality of work your colleagues and you provide just by telling stories.

The other type of story you may employ is a story to energize the team, to explain why to act. For a story to be truly inspiring it should be somehow relevant and relatable to the audience. This is often used in mentoring discussions when more experienced mentor tells a story about how he dealt with a difficult situation and succeeded to inspire his mentee to get the courage and deal with the problem at hand. Real leaders would also use the inspiring stories to rally the forces to march towards the same vision. They will create in your head a picture of the outcome that makes you excited to follow them.

So how does it all come together?

Regardless of your formal position you can have a huge impact if you learn to communicate the way that will touch both the hearts and minds of those you want to convince. You can use this framework during one on one conversations, in your writing or in big public presentations. The key is to understand who your audience is and to tweak the message accordingly. You also need to realize that it is not just the message but also the messenger who counts. Even the best message delivered by a leader who has no credibility, who regularly misleads his followers, or who is known to say one thing and do the other will not have the desired effect.


What are your thoughts on how to influence others? What do you do when asked to present an important proposal to get approval, push through some idea, or when marshalling your team to perform a task they are not too keen on?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Promoted To Management? Too Bad!

It is something that many of us aspire to get to. Being promoted to management position. In most cultures, with a formal management role comes higher social status, more money, more “formal power” and it increases your self-worth. But as any superhero would tell you “with great power comes great responsibility”. Suddenly, your opportunity to impact lives of others has increased dramatically. Once you get yourself promoted to management you quickly discover (if you are lucky) that it wasn’t a promotion, but in fact, you got a completely new job that requires completely different mindset, skills, attitude, approach to relationships in the workplace and the view of the organization. You have just moved from a valuable individual contributor and expert to junior manager who needs to re-learn everything he knew about workplace and people. So how do you deal with this transition?

Mindset: You need to start caring about business

Changing the way of thinking from “I care mostly about my tasks and the impact decisions have on me personally and my ability to deliver my part,” to “I care about the company business and the impact my decisions have on my team, our ability to achieve the business goals, and the wider company environment” is a major shift. You are not “one of the guys” anymore. You not only represent the team, you also represent the company management towards the team. This is a rather difficult transition to make for most people. In individual contributor role it is too easy to keep complaining about management, other departments, or your co-workers, but this stops the moment you get the management title!

Once you are one of the managers you just can’t do that anymore. You need to build a feeling of one team, one company, one vision and prevent any “us and them” thoughts brewing in the team. You are also charged by the company to make decisions and to keep explaining decisions of higher ups to your team. “Sense making”, the ability to explain decisions done by others to your team so they make sense to them, is an integral part of your job. You should always fight for what you believe needs to happen with your boss, but towards the team you speak the company line. If you are not comfortable doing it, if you don’t buy into a company culture or mission, then you shouldn’t be in the company and definitely not in any management role.

Relationships: You need to focus on people

Until now you probably needed other people a bit to do your job, but starting in management you are totally dependent on other people around you. Communication with others has become a major part of your job. You are here to listen, explain, mentor, coach, provide a vision, set expectations, clarify questions, and to remove obstacles (which usually means talking to other groups not reporting to you). Every single aspect of your job means dealing with people. If that is not something you are enthusiastic about you shouldn’t be in this job. You can still maintain a friendly relationship with your team, in fact that is the best way to have a healthy culture, but you need to ensure that you also keep a healthy distance and be impartial. The worst thing that can happen is that you play favoritism. Even being suspect of preferring one person over others will hurt your credibility.

Attitude: You need to learn to make and own decisions

One of the key competences to learn is to be able and willing to make decisions and then own these decisions in front of the team. When you look around, you will be surprised how many managers are actually not able to make a decision and how even bigger number is not able to stand by a decision (their own or those made by higher up in the organization). This then leads to all sorts of problems within the team starting from complains about “we can’t decide anything” and ending with creating “us and them” culture. Ultimately it hurts everyone. You, for being seen as week, your bosses for being seen as controlling, and the team for feeling powerless. And it all starts with you not being clear and firm with your team. I love the 3F acronym (Fair, Firm, Focused). You need to be fair in your dealings with team members, listen and keep an open mind. You need to be focused and keep the team focused on the right things. And you need to be firm in your messages to the team and in your beliefs.

You also need to accept that you and your team are not the center of the universe and pick the battles you should fight with others. For example, it is understandable you want to grow your team and provide them with fancy training, but if there is another team who will have bigger impact on the good of the business if they get it first you should accept and even advocate that position. This part of the attitude comes from realization that your team are not only people reporting to you but that your first team are people at the same level or higher who work towards the same company goal. You can read more on these ideas in Is Your Team A Living Game Of Thrones?, or pick up one of the books of Patrick M. Lencioni.

Skills: You need to get back to school

All the things mentioned until now also mean that you need to work on a new skillset. Chances are that if you don’t give it the same effort to learn and constantly improve as if you were learning new technologies or techniques in your individual contributor role you will sooner or later plateau. You will stagnate in your own growth and what is more important you won’t be able to make your team better either. Unfortunately, the team’s potential is being dictated by its leader. If the leader has a low potential it puts a natural cap on what the team can accomplish. If the leader is constantly growing his abilities that naturally leads to growth in abilities of the team too.

So how do you ensure constant learning and growth?

  • There are tons of management and leadership books, blogs, and articles out there that summarize current research in the field of management and experiences of others who went through what you are going through. But be careful. You can’t believe everything you read and you always need to digest new information with a skeptical mind and critical thinking. What works for one person in a specific situation may not work for you in your workplace, but just by gathering stories from others you expand your library of “what options do I have to deal with the situation at hand”
  • On the job learning is probably the best way to get confident and comfortable in a management role. Relentlessly practicing, not shying away from difficult tasks and situations and constantly gathering feedback is how you really grow. For example, I remember the first time I had to fire someone. I was really nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before, but ultimately I was sort of looking forward to it since I understood that being able to make tough choices and have difficult conversations is part of the job. If I can’t do it, and do it well, I will very quickly reach limits of what opportunities I can get. And what is more if I don’t do it there will be negative impact on performance of my team.
  • Getting a mentor is a must if you want to grow and don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Having someone more experienced to bounce ideas off, to discuss difficult situations you are facing and just get some live wisdom from is an incredible help. It can be your boss, but considering that you probably didn’t pick your boss, chances are he or she may not be the best mentor for you. You should reach out to people across the company or even outside who you see as role models and ask them for help. Before you do that you should identify what skill or behavior you want to work on and pick a mentor who can really bring value in that area. You should also understand that if the mentor decides to spend time with you he or she may also be looking for getting something out of it. It can be something as mundane as being able to practice mentoring, but keep it in mind when talking to those you see as potential mentors.
  • Participating in a formal training is an obvious one. It is a good way how to get started especially at the onset of your career but keep in mind that most of the training courses in the corporate environment are not done in a way that ensures continuous learning. You participate on two or three days long training course and after getting back to the office you forget everything in two weeks. If you want to get formal training pay attention to what skills you will learn and how you will be able to immediately use them in action. If you can’t use them, it is a waste of time. Second thing to keep an eye on is whether there is a regular follow up after the training. This is critical to keep what you learned fresh in your mind and push you to implement it in your everyday life.
  • Building a network of like-minded people from other departments or industries to share stories is a nice way to expand the toolset you have to deal with problems. I know that this can be a tricky proposition especially for introverted leaders but you shouldn’t underestimate its value. When I was working on my MBA one of the biggest values I got from the program was the opportunity to meet senior leaders from industries very different from IT. In many of the discussions we had in the class their view of the problem and solutions they came up with really helped me to expand my own, at that time very narrow, view of the management world.
  • Going above and beyond is important if you want to excel at pretty much anything. Nothing can replace hard work, and effort you spend not just on doing your job but specifically on a very deliberate focus on getting better will definitely pay off.

So what does it all mean for you?

Moving into a management role is a rather dramatic change in your life and if it is not, then you are not doing it right! You should take it very seriously otherwise you will very quickly plateau and will be stuck in a junior management role forever or even worse may get promoted to even higher position by pure luck and then sit in a role that you can’t perform. So the first question you should ask yourself is “Why did I take the management job in the first place and am I willing what it takes to be successful?” If the answer is along the lines “I want to help others grow, I want to drive the business forward, and I’m ready and willing to learn,” you are on the right track and given the right effort you will be fine.


What was the most difficult thing you had to adjust to when moved to management role? Do you believe that being smart and hard-working is enough to become a great manager?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Active Questions As A Way To Trigger Change

Have you ever wondered why so many people are unhappy with where they are even though when compared with others they should feel happy and lucky? Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a positive and lasting change for yourself and others? In fact, have you ever felt that things go bad for you, other people are trying to hurt you, your boss is an idiot, your team mates don’t appreciate you enough, your kids are purposefully getting on your nerves, and generally the universe conspires against you? Well, it may not be the universe who fights you, it might be you fighting yourself.

It is about mindset and attitude

As you can expect being happy is a matter of personal preference. Even in the most difficult situations you can still chose to be happy and positive about life. I will never forget my experience from rural Kenya when visiting some of the villages when the locals had to walk many miles to get fresh water, with no electricity, really harsh environment, very little to live on and still, they were smiling, working together, their kids truly appreciating every little thing in life. When I came back from that trip many people commented on changes in my behavior. I guess I just realized how lucky I’m that I live in the middle of Europe and that life is actually good.

Considering the fact that I was rather depressed youngster and always worried about something and today I would define myself as an eternal optimist and always positive person I strongly believe you can learn to be happy. Just make these little habits your daily routine:

  • Always see the silver lining on any problem you encounter – believe me, there always is something positive you can take from any experience. If it comes to worst there are at least some lessons learned that will help you in the future.
  • Always assume that others mean well and work to the best of their abilities – assuming anything is never particularly smart, but if you have to, assume that the other person means well. What’s the point of thinking that everyone you meet is trying to screw you or is lazy or just trying to use you all the time? Life is much more enjoyable when you learn to trust people. Of course you don’t want to let other people actually walk over you but very few really want to, so why to let that influence how you feel about others? And if someone really does you harm make sure that you learn from it and don’t allow him to repeat that. You know, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” type of stuff.
  • Always enjoy the small wins and learn to appreciate details – you don’t need a big promotion or win a lottery to appreciate what you’ve got. Just learn to pay attention to small details you encounter every single day. Did you just had a stroke of luck and got home in ten minutes because of no traffic? Nice! Is there your favorite movie on TV tonight? Excellent! Did just your boss thanked you for a good job? Superb! There are so many things that go well for you, just learn to recognize them and appreciated.
  • Always keep smiling and use positive vocabulary – as a student of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) I learned quickly enough how powerful words really are. If you keep telling yourself that things go always wrong, people are after you, life is bad, guess what? Things will really go always wrong, people will not like your presence and life will be bad. The story we tell ourselves in our heads is reflecting on our mood, on body language, and on the way how we interact with our environment. If you keep telling yourself that things are great, given time, they will be. And the funny thing is they don’t even need to change. What will change is you, your attitude, and your view of the world. Ultimately, you are the only person you have control over.

The moment you are in a leadership role the importance of positive attitude cannot be overstated. As John C. Maxwell writes in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership “Attitude is one of the most contagious qualities a human being possesses. People with good attitudes tend to make people around them feel more positive. Those with a terrible attitude tend to bring others down.” So if you want to get independent and objective feedback on what your attitude is just look at your team. Are they positive and upbeat, seeing obstacles as a way to learn and opportunity to shine or do they blame the world around them for their mishaps? They are an excellent mirror to your own attitude and to leadership you provide.

Passive versus active questions

It sounds simple but not easy. So what tools do you have at your disposal to really get where you want to be? What can you do to create these wins, finish your goals, and see a visible progress to be able to feel good about yourself? I recently finished reading Triggers: Sparking positive change and making it last by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter and I found it very helpful to learn some tools and ways to trigger a change in yourself and to release your full potential. Specifically, I love the concept of active questions.

Goldsmith and Reiter introduce concept of passive and active questions. Passive questions are essentially describing a static condition and thus don’t have the power to trigger change:

  • “Do you have clear goals?”
  • “Do you know what you want in life?”
  • “Did you exercise as you promised?”
  • “Do you know what company strategy is?”

When you think about these questions you realize a tendency of blaming others or the environment for negative outcomes:

  • “My boss didn’t give me clear goals.”
  • “My parents want me to marry and settle down.”
  • “It was a crazy day and there wasn’t time to exercise.”
  • “We don’t have strategy. My manager never told me. CEO needs to come up with a better plan.”

You can see that with answers like these you are voluntarily giving the power to influence your own life to other people. You are losing influence and you are blaming others for it. This of course leads to you feeling miserable and not in control.

On the other side are the active questions. These are questions that force you to think about how you personally can impact the world around you, how you personally can influence what is happing to you. Just consider the previous questions reworded like this:

  • “Did I do my best to have clear goals?”
  • “Did I do my best to figure out what I want from life?”
  • “Did I do my best to exercise today?”
  • “Did I do my best to learn what company strategy is?”

You are moving the action from others (who are not under your control) to the only human being you have 100% influence over = you. “Did I do my best to exercise today? Hmm, I guess not, since I missed my usual workout in the morning and didn’t bother to figure out an alternative plan. I have some time now, so here I go!”

Goldsmith has introduced a very simple way to help you trigger a change in yourself. I have used the table below for couple of weeks to find out what my real priorities are and to push myself focus on what really matters. Every evening I would rate myself from 0 to 10 on whether I did my best in several categories I deemed important at the time. You can see that I very deliberately put there some tangible goals but also some questions more targeted towards my attitude. It sounds simple, but I can tell you it is not easy to see every evening how little you do on things you thought are important. As Goldsmith says “we may not hit our goals every time but there is no excuse for not trying,” and I was amazed how little I was trying on some of the areas.

Did I do my best?

So how does it come all together?

The active questions are a great way how to realize what your inner motivation is, how self-disciplined you are and can help you improve your self-discipline by reminding you what is important. If this exercise itself is not enough, realistically it may not be, it is a good idea to get a coach who will help you through this tough time by holding you accountable to your words.

The key ingredient to be able to change is not only to know what you want to achieve but to realize that they only way you can trigger a positive change is with a positive attitude. And if you are in a leadership role your attitude is the most important tool you have for influencing your team.


Have you ever worked with the active questions? What is your take on the importance of positive attitude and how do you think it varies across cultures?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader