Lavish in your praise

In Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to win friends and influence people, Mr Carnegie highlights one of the principles of good human interactions and that of successful people as being “Lavish in your praise and hearty in approbation”. I love that. Not only are the words from the beginning of the 20th century so beautiful, they show consideration. They just don’t translate in modern language in the same way.
Lavish in your praise; Find positive elements in what the other is doing and saying. Recognise these, be ‘lavish’; don’t hold back. Of course it needs to be sincere and genuine. Faked praise is insulting and mostly has the adverse effect of what you are trying to achieve. If you try hard, you can always find something positive, something worthy of praise.
Do this in your teams, not only to each other but to other teams in your business, to your clients and to your suppliers. If something was delivered on time and to spec, say so, and how much you appreciate it.
The rule of thumb is to be 10x more lavish with your praise, than you are with your approbation. When you do, you’ll find that the approbation will be required even less.

In the zone

When I was speaking with one of our team members recently we talked about ‘getting in the zone’ or as the High School Musical song goes : ‘Get your head in the game’. He is a competitive sprinter, and normally before a race the competitors will be seen wondering round in their own space. Michael Phelps does it before swims, Andy Roddick before a tennis match; they psyche themselves up by listening to certain music. Soldiers do it before they go into battle. Whether you use headphones or just close your eyes and focus; getting your head in game is important.
A meeting, a phone call, a sales call or a proposal; take a minute to prepare mentally, get in the zone. The zone where you know you can perform at your best.
I have various playlists on my iPod to help me get in the zone. They range from high adrenalin rock songs to mellow surf sounds and latin. It doesn’t really matter. It needs to work for you. What matters is that you shouldn’t rush into a performance without getting your mind in the zone. Some people even might prefer absolute silence to concentrate on the task.

Shoot the hostage

One of my favourite TV moments is when a hostage situation is defused by the good guys shooting the hostage (not really, they typically shoot the hostage in the shoulder or leg and miraculously they walk away).
‘Shooting the hostage’ has become a synonym for problem solving in the teams I work with. Often we all get hung up about ‘what if’, ‘yes, but’ or other hypothetical situations. Recently we needed to let go of a dysfunctional team member. This is never an easy decision, but the evidence was stacked against him. There were, however, two big projects that this team member was working on.
What would happen with these projects if we said goodbye to this team member ? The answer was clear when we took the (brave) step to assess the situation as if there were no projects . Suddenly the answer was obvious. Get rid of him, now! We were not prepared to let the hostage (in this case the potential projects) dictate what was clearly in the best interest of the team. We could not let the situation get in the way of the bigger picture. This team member was disrupting the balance in the team (and with our clients) and was affecting everyone else negatively. Without the projects, (the hostage) we had an easy decision.
It meant a lot of hard work for everyone, but by taking the two projects out of the equation we could see very clearly what we had to do. ‘Shooting the hostage’, is the best way to create clarity. Even if you don’t really shoot the hostage, you can pretend. You assess a situation as if the hostage (the problem, the lack of funds, the control over a project or a client) isn’t actually there. Doing so brings enormous clarity for your decision making.
Shoot the hostage is a powerful tool to solve problems. Not for any individual but for you, together, as a team.

PS : If you can shoot the hostage taker (ie resolve the problem, get the cash, nail the project, …) then of course you should do so!


One of our team members is training to partake in the Olympics. His dedication and commitment to his training, diet and mental attitude are amazing. In fact we are all inspired by him and try to apply the same attitude to our work individually and as a team.
In top sports visualisation of your success is hugely important, running the race in your head, muscles tensed, mind relaxed is almost as important as running the race on the day. In your mind you can rewind, restart, repeat and plan without the physical exhaustion and risk of injury.
In our team talks we use this when we visualise what our success is going to be. Whether it is an important meeting, a sales call, a project delivery…. What does it look like? How are we going to get there? What does that look like? We run through the scenarios and ‘see’ what we have to do, plan for it, deliver it.
When you visualise you ‘see’ the good outcome, how you want it to be. The more clarity you can give this, the more detail you can see before it happens, the more prepared you are. Success is not haphazard, it is planned and pictured long before it happens.


Plan B?

You’ll hear it often; ‘Lets go to plan B’. Usually what this means is that everyone is in a panic, scrambling around to come up with a plausible action because the original plan has had to be abandoned. The irony is that often there is no plan B at all, and the Plan B is usually a variant of Plan A.
Good teams work on multiple plans simultaneously. You obviously have a Master Plan. This is the one that everyone understands and the one that you have been tasked to complete. If you want to be prepared and avoid running around in a panic when circumstances change (and they will). So good teams anticipate and run a ‘what-if’ plan. The ‘what-if’ plan is there so that you all know what you are going to do, when the ‘if’ happens. These changes can then happen smoothly, without panic, finger pointing, apportioning blame or delay.
There is probably not one ‘what-if’ plan, because there IS more than one ‘if’. What if the budget is halved ? What if the timescales change (usually adversely) ? What if the customer is unhappy ? As a team leader you probably know some of this instinctively. You know you really need to share them in an open discussion with the team and make them stakeholders in the what-if plans, document them and manage them ongoing.
Who needs a Plan B, when you have more than one Plan A ?