Archive | June, 2010

How Tolerations Hinder the Values-Aligned Culture

As part of my work with Blanchard‘s coaching.com team, I was exposed to a very powerful concept: tolerations. This idea is critical to living a values-aligned life in your family, community, or workplace – and to creating the high performance, values-aligned culture.

The concept of tolerations was developed by Thomas Leonard, often called the creator of the life coaching movement. Thomas founded Coach U and the International Coaching Federation, and created many programs used by coaches worldwide to help clients be more effective in their lives. Thomas passed away suddenly in 2003, leaving a legacy of exceptional coaching methods and standards.

Here’s how Thomas positioned tolerations:

Let’s define tolerations as things that bug us, sap our energy, and could be eliminated! Tolerations are holes in your personal success cup; they drain away your contentment and good fortune. They drain YOU. They make you feel less attractive to yourself. Tolerations often represent compromises you’ve talked yourself into.

My focus in this article is on how senior leaders’ tolerations impact their organization’s culture. If senior leaders want a high performance, values-aligned culture yet tolerate behaviors that are inconsistent with desired valued behaviors, there are undesirable results that always occur:

  • Leader credibility is eroded – if senior leaders say they want a certain culture yet they tolerate poor behavior from organization leaders or members, then senior leaders’ words and commitments are not trusted.
  • Organization leaders and members are frustrated and disappointed because accountability is inconsistent, which erodes both performance and commitment to the organization, its customers, and its stakeholders.
  • The desired culture never gains traction.

Senior leaders are often blind to what they are tolerating in their culture and do not clearly see the negative impact of those tolerations. Tolerations create a frustrating work environment and inhibit performance and creativity. They drain energy and commitment and erode trust across the workforce. The costs are real.

The good news: controlling senior leader tolerations is about each senior leader’s choices and behavior – it’s not about fixing others around them. Sometimes partnering with a competent executive coach can help senior leaders see their culture from a new perspective, and help them identify the key tolerations that are causing frustration and holding their organization back.

Recognize and Address Your Tolerations

Whether you are a senior leader of a multi-million dollar company, a project team lead, or anyone in between, eliminating tolerations follows the same series of steps.

  1. Create a list of the things that bug you, that drain your energy, that compromise desired behaviors in your culture. Focus particularly on behaviors that are inconsistent with your organization’s desired valued behaviors.
  2. Prioritize your list so the issues that have the greatest negative impact can be addressed first. Being conscious of what you’ve tolerated in your culture helps you modify your choices and your behavior to no longer accept those tolerations.
  3. Have conversations with those players whose behavior you’ve been tolerating, one at a time. These are non-judgmental conversations – not emotional or explosive conversations. These people have been behaving in these ways for a long time because you have tolerated their behavior. Now, you have made a choice to not tolerate that behavior any more.
  4. Secure clear agreements about future behavior, and hold those players accountable for their commitments. Praise progress and accomplishment, and redirect players if they struggle with their new commitments. If players are unable to keep their commitments, lovingly set them free – help them out of the organization as they are unable to demonstrate desired valued behaviors.

As you eliminate tolerations in your culture, you will be amazed at the demonstration of increased energy, motivation, performance, and commitment by organization leaders and members.

What are you tolerating in your personal or professional life today? What experience do you have with growth after reducing tolerations? Share your comments below.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Power of Praise

Years ago I was a teacher and coach at a small Catholic girls high school in Southern California. I learned a valuable lesson while there that continues to guide my interactions with others to this day.

I was a volleyball player in high school and college – even USVBA-rated for a while – and assistant coached at the college level. When the opportunity arose to take a teaching position and serve as varsity volleyball coach at the high school, I jumped at it. (No pun intended.)

I began working with the team, building fundamental skills in passing, setting, hitting, and defense. I instituted a defensive system and offensive plays that leveraged the starter’s skills, and the team responded well. We began having successes (winning games!) after years of being the doormat team in a very competitive coastal league.

I had just married at the time and inherited two step-children – Karin, then 14 years old, and Andy, 10 years old. I never had kids of my own so I was a total newbie. Wife Diane tried to guide me – at times, I was teachable. Karin was a volleyball player, as well, so love of the game created some neat bonding opportunities for the two of us.

Once a week, Karin would finish her practices then scurry over to our gym where she helped run drills for my team for an hour or so. After practice, Karin and I would grab a quick bite to eat then head to the local recreation center for three hours of doubles play. The local community was filled with very good volleyball players – we lost more than we won. We got better as the season wore on but never were one of the top teams at the center.

A few months after our weekly “volleyball nights” began, I was driving Karin home after a very good showing one evening. We’d played well and took some matches against teams that regularly beat us. We were both pleased – and sweaty and tired.

Karin turned to me and said, “You’re a really good volleyball coach. You work hard to let your team members know what you expect of them. You break down skills into specific steps they can get good at, and praise them when they’re doing things the way you want them to.”

Wow! I was really pleased to hear Karin say that – and, I’ll admit, I puffed up a bit, thinking, “Yup, I’m a very good coach, and Karin’s lucky to have me in her life . . . ”

Then Karin said, “You never praise me.

Clunk. I stuttered a bit, and told her, “Well, I have higher standards of you.” Karin said, “That’s not fair.”

A couple of minutes of silence let me figure out what to say – and do! – next. I apologized, saying she was right, I wasn’t being fair. I remember trying to praise her for her efforts that evening, and got a small smile out of her. In the months (and years) following, I tried to be more aware of what Karin was doing right – on and off the volleyball court – and believe I improved in expressing my gratitude at her skills and contributions.

That conversation happened 30 years ago – nearly to the day. Karin’s insights helped me realize that I have a very well honed skill at catching people doing things WRONG. If I want to be an effective influencer, I need to catch people doing things RIGHT. I work on this every day, with clients, peers, and bosses. I’m not great at it yet, but I’m better. Practice makes perfect!

What helps prompt you to express thanks and gratitude for others’ efforts and contributions? Share your insights in the comments section below.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Moral Courage to conduct Difficult Conversations


I recently facilitated a culture change process kickoff with some of the finest men and women I’ve ever met – uniformed and former Marines who are engaged in a continuous process improvement effort across the Marine Corps. Blanchard has highlighted the US Marine Corps for years as one of the most values-aligned organizations on the planet. The Marine values of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment” are the foundation of every interaction, in and out of war zones, for every Marine. For life.

Yet, like all human organizations, sometimes the focus on productivity dilutes the commitment to values alignment. The incredible pressure of wartime and multiple fronts may be unique to our military, but the challenge of delivering consistent high performance while always modeling desired values is common across organizations worldwide.

In our session at the Marine base in Quantico, VA, one of the program’s leaders shared insights from one of his best bosses in the Corps. This officer helped Joel learn an important nuance of what courage means in the Marines. The officer differentiated two different kinds of courage: physical courage and moral courage. Physical courage is demonstrated when a physical reaction is required – pulling a wounded Marine out of harm’s way or jumping into the driver’s seat of a vehicle to move it out of the line of fire, for example. Moral courage is demonstrated when a Marine sees behavior that misses the Marine standard, and a difficult conversation is required.

Joel explained that physical courage is trained into the “body, mind, and spirit” of Marines so demonstrating it is simple, immediate. Joel’s best boss believed that moral courage is more difficult, and, without it, leaders are ultimately ineffective anywhere they serve.

It does not take moral courage to observe a Marine’s dress uniform askew; it takes moral courage to pull him or her aside and ask that it immediately be fixed. It does not take moral courage to observe a direct report deliver poor service to a customer; it takes moral courage to ask them to sit down, discuss what you observed, and help them commit to different behaviors that will “wow” their customer in the future.

A lack of moral courage means that accountability for expectations – both performance expectations or values expectations – is inconsistent at best and absent at worst. This “optional” culture typically translates into poor quality of products and services, inconsistent customer experiences, and unfair treatment of employees within the organization.

Moral courage does not mean that you deliver messages with anger, frustration, or a demeaning approach. It means that you conduct difficult conversations with care and caring, expecting the best from your follower, facilitating and coaching their clear understanding of both the expectation and the behavior required to meet that expectation.

If you want a high performance, values aligned culture, you must clarify performance and values expectations and then hold all leaders and staff accountable for meeting (or exceeding) those standards. Be bold with praise and encouragement when leaders and staff deliver performance the right way. Moral courage will help you conduct those needed difficult conversations along the path towards your desired culture.

What successful or not-quite-successful difficult conversations have you experienced over your career? Share your insights in the comments section below.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Culture Change Leader’s Secret: Consistency!

The journey to become a high performing, values aligned organization is both intense and gratifying. Senior leaders may not be aware of it, but they are both the sponsors and drivers of the organization’s current culture.

When leading a culture change initiative, scrutiny of senior leader plans, decisions, and actions increases heavily. I tell senior leaders that they’ll never be able to run a yellow light in a traffic signal in their town again! Yes, even senior leader behavior far from the workplace is scrutinized.

Here’s a great example. A client recently shared an interesting perspective about his boss, a gentleman he’d been working with for over a year. His boss – let’s call him Tom – is a fabulous champion of Blanchard’s culture change process. Tom has effectively led culture change initiatives at his last two organizations and has begun work to refine the culture of his current organization. Tom started with his senior leadership team by sharing his leadership point of view – his philosophy of leadership – and his values. He asked his direct reports to hold him accountable to those values and the valued behaviors Tom has defined.

In addition, Tom chartered his senior leadership team to refine that group’s purpose, values, behaviors, and norms to ensure everything they do helps the business grow and succeed and is consistent with their agreements.

The client’s comment unintentionally described the scrutiny Tom is under. He said, “I keep waiting for Tom to be inconsistent.” Two things are clear – Tom has really put himself on the line by declaring his values and asking his staff to hold him accountable for those values. And, for over a year, Tom hasn’t yet acted in conflict with his declared values. That’s really powerful!

Senior Leaders Must Model Declared Values

It is extremely important for senior leaders to model the desired values and valued behaviors – every day, with every interaction. Unless senior leaders embrace the new expectations, demonstrating valued behaviors, the change will not take hold – and senior leader credibility will suffer. Too often senior leaders “manage by announcements,” publishing a set of expectations or rules that they declare are to be embraced from that moment forward, yet they do not actively demonstrate those expectations themselves. No wonder leader credibility suffers in many organizations. Only when senior leaders model desired valued behaviors will the rest of the organization trust those leaders . . . follow those leaders . . . and model those desired valued behaviors themselves.

Does Your Culture Serve Customers, Employees, and Stakeholders Equally Well?

If the existing culture is not serving customers, employees, or stakeholders consistently, it may be time for a change.

Senior leaders can refine their organization’s existing culture by doing three things:

  • First, clarify performance expectations and gain employee agreement on those expectations.
  • Second, define values in behavioral terms and gain employee agreement to demonstrate those behaviors.
  • Finally, hold themselves and all organizational leaders, managers and staff accountable for both performance and values.

Most senior leaders have not experienced successful culture change. Even fewer, across the globe, have led successful culture change. When you are ready, we’re here to help.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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