The Power of Latino Leadership, History Lessons for Future Leadership

Latino Leadership

Can Latinos play a role in overcoming many of the challenges affecting our society? Can the rich, festive and collaborative heritage of the fastest growing segment of our population bring some PASSION and GUSTO to the workplace?

Last month I was asked to write a review for The Power of Latino Leadership by author and international speaker, Juana Bordas.

Reading the book has been an emotional roller coaster and a transformational experience for me.  I was in tears one minute,laughing aloud a few minutes later, and bursting with pride as I finished the book.

The tears came as Juana’s words taught me about the injustices the Hispanic people have suffered over the centuries, and the laughter came as I read about the funny things we do as a culture. The pride developed as I understood how our heritage as atinos can help us lead positive change, not only in the workplace, but in society as well.

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A must read for everyone!

Whether you are Latino or not, it is important to understand that an immense generational shift is occurring.

The Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in history and Latinos compose 20 percent of the Millennials.   In addition, one in five school children today is Hispanic, as is one in four newborns. Never before has an ethnic group made up so large a share of the youngest Americans.

The numbers are telling us that young Latinos will shape the twenty-first century.

Among other insights, Juana explains 4 intergenerational leadership practices that any business or community leader should understand in order to maximize the unique talents of the next generation of Hispanics.

L2L Discussion Please Vote

The 4 Practices are:

~ Change Mentors to Allies

This is the concept of being an ally or an “aliado” with those we teach.  Instead of mentoring and teaching, we should approach young Latinos as allies for mutual help, support and shared learning.

~ Develop Circular Relationships

Cooperation between generations requires older leaders to shake off a belief that they always know best or should be in charge. Young people must develop patience to learn from and respect the achievements of those who have come before them.

~ Promote Meaningful Participation

Hands-on participation increases skills development as well as a sense of commitment and ownership. For intergenerational leadership to be “real,” responsibility and power have to be distributed. Young people must share the decision-making power and be considered equal players.

~ Foster Social Action: 

Millennials, and the growing Latino youth population, will become the political and social activists of this century. In these pressing times, leaders are compelled to pass on their knowledge, perspectives, and experiences on how to promote social change to the younger generation so they have the tools to address the critical issues they will face.

Leading Beyond the Status Quo

As soon as I learned about Juana, I invited her as a guest on my weekly leadership podcast, Leading Beyond the Status Quo.  In the first of two shows, I asked Juana about her background as a leader and the importance to these intergenerational practices when it comes to working with up and coming Latino leaders. Listen here

As Juana explains, examining our ancestry, parents, family history, the circumstances of your birth, early experiences, significant events, talents, and inherent gifts or positive attributes can steer the way to a deeper understanding of our destiny, or destino.

On Destino and Conciencia

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As Juana explains, the principle of destino addresses the unique pattern of a leader’s life; it is sometimes referred to as a person’s calling or purpose.  When leaders have conciencia, they understand how their special talents, life events, passion, and interests integrate into their unique calling. Then by embracing their destino, their leadership path unfolds.

Destino is the integrating factor of a leader’s life.

One of the most important lessons for me was the actual meaning of the word Conciencia.  Conciencia is about understanding who am I as a person and what I can contribute as a leader.  Then based on that understanding, I pursue the contribution I can make to lead positive change in the workplace AND society.

This is important because many of us have learned the meaning of the word  Conciencia  as a synonym for remorse or as we say in spanish REMORDIMIENTO.

This is a secondary meaning, that, although important, misses the key area of leadership as an inner process and the bigger calling of leadership, or your ESSENCE of being which is to develop a stronger and more productive community by serving and helping other lead positive change.

If we misunderstand our conciencia we may pursue leadership as a way to make profit and succeed financially.  It may be easier to prioritize financial gain and professional advancement above and beyond the people we work with, the community we work in, and the environment.

I asked Juana about the broader meaning of leadership during our second interview. Listen here

Preparing us for the future…

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The picture above is one of my favorite family pictures. Not only does the image capture a magic moment of my father holding my daughter, the frame says so much about the role he and my late mother had in her upbringing.

As a second generation Latino, who missed so much critical information about our culture and why I am the way I am, why I do the things I do, I simply can’t recommend this book enough.  Whether Latino or not, The Power of Latino Leadership prepares us for our future by teaching us about the past.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web

Image Sources: Al Gonzalez

Defeating the Fear Monster! Part 2

Fear Monster Canyon

In my last article, Defeating the Fear Monster! Part 1, I listed the fears that make up what Jim Haudan, CEO and Founder or Root Inc, calls the Fear Monster. 

In Part 2, I will focus on two specific strategies that managers and supervisors can use to help all employees lead through the never-ending change we face at the workplace.

The strategies are:

 Using Visuals and Establishing a Common Language

As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words, so lets start with the visual.

Using Visuals

Take a moment and examine the stories found in “The Canyon” picture above.

As I mentioned in my first article, Root Inc’s ability to develop powerful imagery to simplify complex topics is truly superior.  The image above, called The Canyon, quickly shows why I feel so strongly about the many talents of Jim Haudan and his team of gifted artists.

First and foremost, does the Canyon depict a scary place?

Not only are the symbolic precipices scary, there is a huge tornado coming!

That tornado symbolizes CHANGE;  the main reason Jim accounts to our inability to feel safe at work.  Constant change…

Now let’s take a close look at the middle-manager for a moment.

Fear Monster Middle Manager

Not only is the middle manager about to get swallowed by the tornado, he is getting pulled apart by two forces that are not in alignment!

  • Does this image scare you?
  • Have you ever felt like this at work?
  • Not only have I felt like this for most of my career, many of my employees feel the same way!
  • In terms of feedback, do you think it is easy for a middle manager to explain to senior management that he that he finds himself pulled in two different directions?
  • That seems like a tough message to deliver, don’t you think?
  • Or, is it easier for middle managers to look at a visual like The Canyon when it is being shared by the senior executives and say, “We often feel like this.”

[More on this in the Common Language section of the article below.]

Engineered Brilliance

In his passionate and wise manner, Jim explains that well crafted visuals are:

“elegantly engineered brilliance… The brain gym for systemic thinking.”

Visuals can help us discuss and understand our shared situations.  By using visuals we can simplify context that helps us create a shared meaning with our audience.  In the case of The Canyon, the audience is the workforce.

While Root Inc. is in a class by itself when it comes to developing imagery that can capture the challenges facing an organization, we all can use images to help us find shared meaning with those who work with us.

Some of us may be able to develop graphics, while others can draw on boards, and, of course, there is always the internet, where I found The Canyon and shared it with my staff years ago.

Establishing a Common Language

Do you see some similarities between The Canyon and places where you have worked or your current workplace?

I see so many similarities!

Would it surprise you to know that The Canyon was first published over 20-years ago?

I was truly amazed when Jim told me this!  And the interesting part is – many of the same issues that were going on 20 years ago are still happening in organizations today! I asked Jim if The Canyon was based on one specific company and he explained that he had encountered these issues in company after company, after company.

Thanks to their learning design expertise and visual design skills, Jim and his team have been successful in helping companies develop a common language.   Jim explained that when teams find time to feel that they are in it together, all collaborators and accountable for the success of the organization, they develop partnerships and new standards.

Time after time teams have converted areas of dissatisfaction into shared future collaborations.

Defeating the Fear Monster 

As I mentioned in the example of the middle-manager, it is a lot easier and a lot less scary for all of us to share tough messages when there is a shared meaning.

I was recently involved in a conflict with a  manager whom I have worked with for more than 7 years.   I needed to find a safe way for us to work through the issue, so I emailed him The Canyon graphic and asked if he felt like the middle manager in the illustration.

The strategy worked exactly as I had hoped!

He replied with a smiley and explained that he felt I was the senior manager pulling in one direction and his staff was pulling him in the other.  The stress and tension we had both been feeling was over.  We then met and worked together to solve the issue in a spirit of collaboration.

Before, we were at odds.  He was afraid that I was going to be upset with him and I was afraid to tell him I didn’t know all the answers.

After I sent him the graphic and we met, we partnered and did the best we could do, together.

The visual helped us develop a common language.

We not only used this strategy to help the organization move forward, we were able to maintain our relationship!

Now it’s your turn…

Do you identify with The Canyon? If so, in which area to do find yourself? Were you surprised that Root Inc published the Canyon in 1992? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web

Image Sources: Root Inc.

Defeating the Fear Monster! Part 1

Fear Monster

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Haudan, CEO and co-founder of Root Inc.  Jim is a visionary leader whose company’s visual approach to learning and development is simply superior. 

Through its creative design methodology, Root does an exceptional job of helping organizations connect people with complex strategies by overcoming challenges such as disengaged employees, lack of trust, poor communications, and, most of all, FEAR.

During the interview, I asked Jim, “Why is it so hard for employees to feel safe?”

He quickly answered, “Change.”

According to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus,

“Nothing is permanent but change.”

Considering Heraclitus lived between 535 BC – 475 BC, I think it is safe to say that change will continue to be a constant challenge for future generations of leaders.

Jim explained that fear is often the first reaction we all have to change.  The first step in overcoming this challenge is to identify and describe some common types of fear we all experience at different times.

The following fears make up what Jim calls “the Fear Monster.”

The Fear Monster


Fear of indictment for past performance

If things need to change, many people fear that what they were doing in the past was wrong and they may be vulnerable now. This fear of indictment can be paralyzing and it is extremely hard to be creative and perform under these conditions.

There is a fear of being branded and punished for not being on-board.

This is a very serious issue because many employees fear they may come across as a whiner or insubordinate if they challenge a senior manager.  Many times, change agents need push-back as there may be serious risks ahead.  Fear of being seeing as not being on-board may be the cause for many issues that could have been prevented if employees had felt safe enough to push back.


Fear of not being accepted by the team

This fear is similar to the fear of being branded.  In this case, we may fear that we will be shunned by the team if we challenge an idea or change initiative.


Fear of offending a colleague

It can be difficult to separate issues from individuals and this leads many of us to hold our opinion because we may offend someone.  This is due to our inability to talk with candor about an issue and not the people involved.


Fear that speaking the truth will “zap” valuable time and not address the issue

Many times we know that something is going to be difficult but verbalizing that issue may “open up a can of worms.” The problem here is that we may not know how to deal with the issue and the same problem may continue to plague the organization’s ability to change and succeed.


Fear of sounding stupid

A very real fear that we all experience is that of being put down and not being valued if someone feels our idea is naive or may not work.


Fear of retribution for telling the truth

At times we feel we will “suffer the consequences” if we speak the truth. We fear the Big Boss will get mad if we talk about the elephant in the room.


Fear of not having it figured out

This is when we are afraid that others will know that we don’t have all the answers.  I have personally encountered this fear many times in management     positions.  It can be very scary when we have to lead teams when we don’t know all the answers.  It takes a lot of courage to let others know we don’t have it all figured out.

During the interview, Jim explained that the key to overcoming all these fears is to make it safe to talk about all the things we don’t know how to talk about.

We need to create a culture where employees can address the issues they don’t feel safe addressing.

Core Values & Skills

Truth telling as a core competency

Jim makes a strong case for what he calls “the truth-telling core competency.”

To develop this competency, we must overcome all fears and be willing to share vulnerability.  For example, managers need to feel safe telling their staff that they don’t have it all figured out, while staff members have to feel safe in “pushing back” without being labeled as insubordinate for asking the tough questions that require courage to ask.

The key to developing the truth-telling core competency in staff at all levels is the focus of my next article.  We will explore how visual tools can be used to develop a common language and engage employees at all levels in the process of addressing difficult issues without being held hostage by any of the fears listed above.

In those cases where visual aids establish common vocabulary and safety when discussing tough issues, truth-telling can be developed as an organizational core competency.

Until then, I am interested in your comments on the topics covered in this post.

Have your experienced any of the fears listed above?  If so, have you been able to overcome them? What are your thoughts about the truth-telling core competency?  Is it attainable?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web

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Understanding Leadership Lessons from the 6th Grade

6th Graders

Some of the most exciting and rewarding sessions I delivered this year were the ones I facilitated to sixth graders at a local school.  

These kids grasped as much about leadership as almost all of the adults I train.

Understanding Leadership Lessons

Each time I had the honor to work with these young leaders, I was amazed by how quickly they grasped the same leadership concepts that I share with adults during my leadership development seminars.

Whether talking about personality types and trust, or more complex concepts like managing conflict and providing honoring feedback, these pre-teen participants were able to understand the material and carry on in-depth discussions on how the material applied to their own relationships.

Understanding Youth

As a parent of a 12 year old myself, I have personally experienced the negative effects that bullying and conflict have had on my daughter.

I was expecting that concepts like using authority to bully others would make sense to them.

What I did not expect was to see them quickly and easily connect leadership with the ideas of managing or leading teams away from conflict and not letting our own negativity bias influence our actions.  To them, this seemed perfectly logical.

This is quite different from the skepticism and cynicism some adults, and even college students, express when they attend my sessions.

Understanding Truth

Instead of spending valuable time challenging me on basic concepts such as avoiding assumptions and being open to others’ strengths, these young leaders focused on finding parallels between the concepts we were discussing and historical figures like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

More importantly, they were open and motivated to lead in similar ways themselves!

Understanding Teachers

In bringing the leadership lessons to the classroom of 6th-graders, the teacher was fantastic!

It was wonderful to see how the sixth grade teacher Ms. Chapman jumped at the opportunity to contextualize the material and relate it to real projects and current issues in the class or the school.

She played a critical role as she incorporated the material into their curriculum before the session.

Once the session started, the students were completely prepared for the material and eager to engage.

Understanding Adults

These children provided another big contrast to some of the adults that come to my sessions, with their long faces and eagerness to tell me why the session will be a waste of time (after their bosses have invested hours of valuable time to help them prepare).

After each session, the teacher used the material for the rest of the semester and even used the leadership terminology during graduation. It was incredibly rewarding to see how she recognized the students’ ability to lead during the ceremony.

Her comments were funny at times, serious at others, and always meaningful.

Their comments were priceless!

Understanding the Big Picture

During the sessions, follow-up conversations, meetings and graduation, I was intrigued by many of the comments made by the students as they shared their views on leadership.  I made it a point to capture some of their most meaningful observations.

I have tried to quote them as closely as possible, as their choice of words made the remarks all the more special. I only wish you were able to hear these words in those gentle young voices.

Here are a few priceless comments from these wise leaders:

  • Leadership is showing that you can get others to accomplish something special or hard
  • Doing my best work at all times and being OK when I am not at my best
  • Seeing the best in others instead of being mean
  • Keep in mind a person’s strengths even when they make me mad
  • Collecting information in an organized way and performing well under pressure
  • If I am wrong, I learn something.
  • Social responsibility is being loyal to your friends
  • We had been complete BFFs when I was 10 and she was 11, and then she drifted apart… Now I am friends with her and all her friends too.
  • Leadership is getting things done and having fun

There are lessons we can only learn from children, and I learned many during these fantastic sessions.  One of the highlights of my year was when two parents came up to me at a school event with wide smiles and said:

“We are Warriors!!!  Our son told us all about what we do!”

Understanding Inspiration

They were referring to the Medicine Wheel activity I conducted with their son’s class.  Their words of encouragement and excitement about doing leadership development with students of this age group inspired me to maximize the number of sessions I facilitate with young students in 2013 and in the future.

I would love to know about any leadership lessons you may have learned from a child.  Do you have any good leadership stories that involve children?   Looking forward to your comments!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web

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When There Is Trust…The Dollars Flow


During a team-building activity a few years ago, I asked my team members to break into groups and work on two drawings.

  • The first drawing was to illustrate what it was like to work with people they trusted.
  • The second drawing was to illustrate what it was like to work with someone who they did not trust.

Developing Trust

It was an interesting activity because, even after focusing my attention on developing trust for a few years, some of my team members still did not trust each other. During the activity, some of these folks were on the same teams.

The activity culminated with the presentation of the drawings to the large group. We had many good illustrations of what it felt to work with people we trust or don’t trust and one specific drawing got my attention.

A project manager and a web developer drew a dollar sign on the “trust” side and a penny sign, on “no trust” side.

They simply described it as the following:

“When there is trust, the dollars flow, when there is no trust, the pennies trickle.”

On Dollars and Sense

This drawing captured the essence of the activity from a business perspective. If there is trust, your team will maximize its efficiency and the results will be superior.

If the team lacks trust, the team’s efficiency will be compromised, the results will be limited and, very often, inferior.
Some people question why developing trust is important.

Here are a few relevant questions for the skeptics:

  • Is the level of cynicism in your organization high or low when managers speak? If so, why is that the case?
  • Is there fear of retribution that causes you not to say what you think when you disagree with your management?
  • Are you and your colleagues consistently motivated to do the best by working as a team? Or, is the culture one of cliques and silos that don’t work well together?’

Leveraging Strategic Advantage

Trust is a strategic advantage and managers who do not foster trust in their teams are hindering their teams’ ability to consistently deliver their best results.

Sadly, I see the opposite of trust development too often. Too many managers use their rank to intimidate and bully their staff.

The scary thing is that these managers are unaware of their actions and see themselves as good leaders.

Developing and maintaining trust is the most difficult area of management I have experienced. As I mentioned, some of my team members did not trust each other.

This is particularly revealing because it had been my stated goal to establish an atmosphere of honesty, transparency and trust since I started working for that team years before.

Seeing Your Blind Spots

One of the factors that made it so difficult to build trust was my inability to understand how my own actions were viewed by the team and how my blind spots were hindering my own ability to develop authentic trust with my staff.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to improve until months after taking a new assignment.

Stating my goal of establishing trust, conducting team activities, and introducing trust building materials to the team was only a start.  I needed time for self-evaluation and reflection in order to change my behavior and lead others in the process of building trust.

Courageous honoring feedback from new and old staff helped me understand how I needed to change my overall leadership philosophy.

Only then was I able to start growing the organizational trust and using trust as a competitive advantage.

Recipe Not: Bullying

It took me years to figure out that I need to lead in the opposite way of what too many of us have experienced for years:
Bullying from the top

Sometimes the bullying is subtle and covert, other times it is blunt and in your face.

Unfortunately, I was good at both of these types of bullying. However, I was never as bad as some of the examples listed in this article about incivility in the workplace. These stories are scary but true!

It takes humility and willingness to admit mistakes to develop a culture of trust and safety.

Trust Maturity Model

Trust Maturity Model

To help managers and their teams, we developed the following infographic on the Trust Maturity Model.

As in other maturity models, the term “maturity” relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes, from ad hoc practices to active optimization of processes that enable trust.

The model can be used to identify the current organizational trust level and develop a plan to improve it.

Where does your organization rank in the model? Is your team struggling with chaos, learning and enabling, optimizing, or innovating? Let me know. I look forward to your comments!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez
Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web


Hearts and Minds: The Key to Employee Engagement

Hearts and Minds

When I was Director of Publications & Marketing at Cornell, my staff and I would focus on developing stories that would trigger an emotional reaction before diving into any subject matter that would request anything from our audiences.

Whether we were helping our partners in the educational development department reach their fundraising goals, or partnering with HR and Admissions to recruit the best talent, this was a defining part of our role as strategic communicators.

Through years of research, we knew that the key to motivating any action from target audience members was first to stir their emotions, and then to challenge their intellect.

We had a name for this strategy: “Hearts and Minds

Crucial Conversations

As a leadership consultant, I find that the same strategy applies to engaging staff members. Managers must communicate with staff as a critically important target audience.  Just like marketing professionals must engage their target audience to prompt the desired outcome, managers need to engage their staff in order to motivate them and maximize their performance.

Marketing professionals learn about the needs of their target audiences by asking questions about them.

As managers, leaders can do the same to understand what matters to their critically important audience: their employees.  Below is a series of specific questions managers can ask to understand the needs of their staff members.

Question #1

Are they afraid?

A lesson I learned as a competitive tennis player was not being afraid to lose.  Whenever that fear manifested, I would tense up and my game would suffer.  The best approach was to relax and enjoy the game.

Good follow-up questions to this one include:

  • Are your employees relaxed?
  • Do they enjoy their work?
  • Have you asked?

Chances are that there are factors or dynamics that affect the staff’s feeling of safety.  These factors can include collaborating with a difficult customer or colleague, possible layoffs, or simply talking to the boss.

As (strategic) communicators, managers need to know what is causing fear and plan their future communications to address these issues, whatever they are.

It is very difficult for anyone to reach our hearts when we are afraid.

Question #2

What’s the team culture?

A big factor that can affect our sense of safety is the team culture.

Here are some related questions:

  • Is the culture one of respect for others?
  • Do staff members feel confident and are willing to take risks?
  • Is the culture better defined by the opposite of the above characteristics?

If you want to get even more specific, you might also ask the following:

  • Does the “big boss” respect people’s time, or will she/he call people in at anytime without regard to what they are working on?
  • Are meetings organized?  Do managers listen, or do they interrupt before staff can finish a sentence?
  • Is it ok to make mistakes, or are people silently punished when they make one?

To get from our hearts to our minds, leaders need to establish a culture where staff members feel respected and organized.  Listening and understanding must be valued highly.  Also, staff should trust in others when they make mistakes.  This is the kind of culture where people want to work.

Question #3

Are people using their strengths?

When I started using the book Now Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton, a consultant asked this:

“Are your employees using their strengths?”

My answer was an arrogant:


I then explained:

“Designers are doing design, developers are writing code, and my project managers are managing projects!  What kind of stupid question is that?! “

On Arrogance and Ignorance

As usual, my arrogance was a sign of my ignorance.

I had no idea what “playing to someone’s strengths” meant.  As I learned shortly thereafter, in order to play to our staff’s strengths, we have to identify them!

Of course, I had never done that.  Like so many managers, I would focus on weaknesses and all performance plans were based on addressing weaknesses!  For example, I was terrible with numbers and spreadsheets, so I made myself work on budgets and went to training on Excel.

I hated it!!!

Focus on Strengths, Not Weaknesses

To engage staff, we must enable organizations where staff can be their best!  Focusing on  weaknesses until they become strengths is a myth.  Identifying and maximizing our strengths is the surest way to become the best at what we do. This may take some work but the good news is that there is an already established methodology.

Managers don’t have to invent this on their own.

By focusing on strengths, in a safe and organized culture, leaders can then work on inspiring their staff.  Without safety, respect and strengths, inspiration is very difficult.

Below is a basic table managers can use to plan communications and target specific challenges that prevent employee engagement.

Target Audience: Staff Members

Chart - Al Gonzalez 468

See LinksProcess for engaging staff during layoffs &  Strengths Dashboard

Costly Disengagement

As you may know, disengaged employees are costing our economy billions of dollars in lost productivity.
Gallup surveys show that the vast majority of workers are disengaged, with an estimated 23 million “actively disengaged.”
The cost to the U.S. economy has been pegged at over $300 billion annually.  This epidemic is something our leaders need to address quickly.

My strong advice: start by reaching the hearts and minds of your staff.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
Email | LinkedIn |  Twitter | Web

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On Leadership, Skepticism and Cynicism

While facilitating a session earlier this year, I was greeting the staff members as they arrived, and there he was:  The group’s cynic.

He proudly announced when I greeted him, “Hi, I am the cynic…”

Oh My…

As he was ignoring my request to fill out a name tag, his body language and demeanor warned me that he would not be engaging during the session. His colleagues, looking a bit embarrassed, quickly greeted me, thanked me for coming and asked me about the medicine wheel activity we were about to start in the next few minutes.

Fortunately, the cynic kept to himself through the session and was not abusive or openly critical. While he didn’t engage in the activities and mostly fell asleep on his chair, he didn’t disrupt others, as is often the case with cynics.

As you may know, there is usually a skeptic or cynic in every group.

Sometimes, in large groups, there are a few. One thing that I appreciated in this case was the cynic’s honesty. He accepted being a cynic. Many times, I encounter cynics who disguise themselves as skeptics and I find that the difference is very important.

Skeptic or Cynic: What’s the Difference?

Steve Pavlina, a respected expert on this topic, explains the difference on his personal blog:

Self-help cynics are those who’ve become totally disillusioned with anything associated to personal development. They feel the entire field is a sham populated by scammers and charlatans. Cynics don’t subscribe to the idea that people can actually change by conscious intent. They are who they are, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

As opposed to a cynic, a skeptic is doubtful but still open-minded and logical enough to consider new input. Skeptics primarily seek truth through the process of asking questions. Sometimes the real truth cannot be pinned down so easily, so the skeptic must learn to live with ambiguity and uncertainty much of the time.

For the cynic, however, the mere existence of doubt is immediate cause for labeling an entire field as erroneous. If you try to engage a cynic about his/her beliefs, you’ll usually receive some emotional and very close-minded arguments but little logic.


Defining Terms

cyn·ic [sin-ik] noun

1. a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view. ~

I find that many cynics are often bullies that don’t see any problem with their verbal attacks on others. If someone doesn’t like what they are saying, that is the other person’s problem.

skep·tic [skep-tik] noun

1. a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. ~

While skeptics are reserved about their opinions and very “matter of fact,” they tend to be very respectful and courteous.


Case In Point

While leading teams and proactively using organizational development tools over the past 16 years, I have worked with a few skeptics and some cynics. In my experience, they tend to be very different.

To illustrate the differences in their behavior and how they affect the people they work with, I developed two fictional characters based on skeptics and cynics I have managed and work with over the years.

Kendra and Listo

Kendra is what I call a deliberate thinker and describes herself as a skeptic when it comes to organizational development models and tools. She believes in logic and has a gift for asking detailed questions that help her understand the different variables of any situation.

Although she will reserve her judgement on many issues and mostly keeps to herself, her co-workers enjoy working with her. She is highly intelligent and her performance often meets or exceeds the expectations of her co-workers and management.

Kendra extends trust to others naturally. She believes that others can be trusted until they give her a reason not to trust them. Even when others break her trust, Kendra is respectful and does not actively try to put others down either directly or behind their back. Kendra mostly works on her assignments and continuously develops her considerable skills and strengths.

Listo also calls himself a skeptic as well when it comes to organization development. He is also highly intelligent and enjoys debating with others on many topics to ensure others know where he stands on an issue. Trust is not something Listo offers to others. In his mind, others have to earn his trust, which tends to be difficult for others to do.

Listo is capable of doing great work and at times will deliver great results. However, others find working with him exhausting because of the ongoing debates and his constant mockery of others. Listo does not see any problems with his attitude and derision of his colleagues.

When others have the courage to approach him with feedback, he quickly tells them not to “go there” with him. He thinks feedback and organization development is a waste of time and those who believe in that sort of thing are ignorant fools who think they can change others.

Which one is the skeptic? Which one is the cynic?

Being Polite

Cynicism is not a license to bully others. Work incivility and bullying appear to be on the rise and it can’t be tolerated.

As Anil Saxena points out in his article on work incivility, these behaviors negatively affect performance and it appears this is an international problem.

As a leader, it is important to understand whether you have a Kendra or a Listo on your staff. I understand if skeptics or cynics don’t “buy-in” when it comes to organization development models, but this is no excuse or license to be rude to others.

Work incivility must not be tolerated by the work culture as it impedes performance and makes an already challenging environment more difficult.

Do you have Listo or a Kendra in your team? Are the Listos of the world a minority or majority in your team? Is the influence of the Listos in your team positive or negative?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Al Gonzalez is Founding Partner at GIVE Leadership
He helps clients develop trust and leverage the strengths of all team members
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