The One Thing Your Team Won’t Tell You

Imagine going into your boss’ office, closing the door, and leading off with this:

“So, first, I just wanted to say “thank you” for fitting this into your schedule. I know you are busy and that this meeting is a bit of a mystery, but I think it’s important that we talk, because we’ve got a problem.”

“Based on feedback from the team, you’re not getting the job done, and it’s something that we have to take steps to correct, now. If we don’t deal with this, the momentum around our biggest projects is at risk.”

For most people, that discussion is backwards…it’s the kind of discussion that managers have with team members, not the other way around. Just the thought of it is enough to cause people to turn pale and feel short of breath. Although it’s unthinkable in many work settings, the ability to have hard, really tough discussions on ANY topic is the hallmark of highly effective organizations.

One of the most poignant ways I’ve heard that expressed came from a sales manager I worked with who told me “My job is easy, but working here is hard”, because it’s so difficult to have open, honest discussions about the future of the company. The typical response from management is “My door is always open”, but for a lot of reasons, very few people actually accept that invitation, walk through the open door and engage in a purposeful discussion about what’s wrong, and just as importantly, what’s possible.

I had a recent experience on social media that inadvertently supports this point – the contention that information about our performance, especially when we’re failing – is trapped in the organization by a variety of social taboos and defensiveness.

Here’s what happened – I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for years, and have built up a sizable community of my own – thousands of individuals who are experienced, well-educated and represent a cross-section of operational disciplines – sales, engineering, product development and senior leadership. A typical post of mine generates a click-through of roughly 1% of my connections- so I was shocked when a recent post had a click-through of over 30% in the first 24 hours.

That post? It was a quote from a recent podcast where I said “If you are a poor leader, the LAST people who are going to tell you are the ones whose lives you’re making miserable.” When I posted that, my LinkedIn account went crazy. The truly shocking thing for me was that 3% of those click-throughs came from CEOs, 6% from corporate strategists and nearly 20% came from sales people – our eyes and ears in the market, the people who are explaining to our customers who we are, what we do, and the value we provide.

Deconstruct that feedback and here’s the apparent lesson - when leadership is failing – not providing direction, not laying out a vision of a future worth caring about, and not engaging the team constructively – our best people appear to agree that no one in their right mind would EVER provide that information to senior management.

That problem – our inability to capitalize on that hidden feedback loop from the market – from our customers and prospects and business partners – is what deconstruction is designed to get at.

If you would like to learn more about Deconstruction and how it can impact your organization, contact me at or check out

Five Steps to Deconstruct Your World

If you’ve got the feeling that the world’s problems are outstripping our collective ability to cope with them, you’re not alone. Volatility has returned to the stock market, and for many of us it matches a feeling we have in our professional and personal lives – that things are just a little bit more out of control every day.

As a way to deal with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and uncertainty of our daily lives, I have developed a system that I call Deconstruction. It’s a systematic process that challenges the beliefs and assumptions we have about who we are, what we’re capable of, and what potential futures we can imagine and make real. It’s a system that combines the lessons I learned as a Navy tactician, flying missions from US aircraft carriers around the world, and as a professional innovator, leading teams that launched new products and services in global markets for most of his career.

Now that may sound complicated, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a straight-forward, five step process.


Deconstruction begins with a Declaration – it’s like deciding what to put on the neon sign out front. It happens when someone decides we are going to “go there” – we are either going to get to the bottom of an issue, or accomplish something important, or both. As far as you and your organization are concerned, it’s your Purpose, and if there is a sacred duty for any leader, it is to clarify Purpose in their organization, because Purpose Inspires Change, and Change, in turn, Energizes Purpose.


Next up is Dissection. Many people question whether it’s worth the effort, but most companies that are aiming to create value by disrupting the competition begin the process by dissecting the current market, customer needs, suppliers, cost structures, sales channels and more. Dissection reawakens our natural curiosity and puts us in a position of power over the knowledge around us.


Discovery can take many forms, from the solitary inventor to a team driven to find a breakthrough that will change the world. The most important thing is that, whatever the approach, Discovery encourages a pro-active, “is this our best work?” mindset. It rewards experimentation and curiosity, incents unconventional combinations that add the unexpected or subtract the commonplace. It is all about challenging existing perspectives for the sake of imaging new possibilities.


Many people assume that Delivery is about ensuring that a new technical capability is in place, but in reality, this is when the systems thinking of the team is tested – how will this change affect other systems and processes and people, and how will they react? Think about your last really great customer experience and imagine the care that was taken to ensure you walked away feeling good. That’s what we’re talking about here.


And that takes us to our final step, in which we Zoom back out, Assess how well we have hit the mark, and remind ourselves that this is a Process that that we will be firing up again, soon, based on what we take away as we digest our experience. This step, the ZAP – Zoom out – Assess our results – consider what comes next in the Process – is what makes learning and innovation habitual in certain organizations.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand, fearful of the immediate consequences of failure, and maybe just a little bit angry about unrealistic expectations and the limited resources you have to get them done, give Deconstruction a try.