A women explaining herself to her supervisor

Manager: Why didn’t you complete that task? 

Employee:  Because… I ran out of time; I didn’t have enough information; I plan to have it done tomorrow; I didn’t know where to start; Why are you micromanaging me? 

Manager: Stop making excuses and just finish it up (either said out loud, under their breath, or to HR). 

We’ve all been involved in conversations like the above. It is no doubt frustrating when expectations go unmet and explanations sound like another excuse. However, asking people what they need or why something didn’t happen doesn’t mean you’re accepting excuses. Truly listening to the explanation can help you better engage with your team in order to help them be successful.

Turn the Tables

Let’s turn the tables around. Think of a time when someone asked you to do something and it didn’t go smoothly. Did you want to explain yourself? What went wrong or kept you from moving forward? Did you disagree with the directive? Were you missing information? Was the deadline unclear? Is it possible the person on the receiving end of those questions/reasons saw your explanation or delay as an excuse? 

Many of us have too much to do and not enough time, people or resources to do it. We hear the “excuses”, roll our eyes and wonder what happened to good ol’ common sense. I get it, remember I was a leader in corporate America and also had three kids; I heard every excuse in the book. I remember struggling in a role. I remember trying to ask questions or explain why I did something. I remember feeling like I wasn’t being heard. And when that happened, I either got more assertive or became frustrated and disengaged.

What People Need

It is human nature to want to be heard and to feel understood. As leaders, if we can pause and really listen, we can learn so much about what someone needs to be successful.

Do they need: 

  • More information:
    • High S need for structure/plan/details
    • Low E need more data
    • High E need affirmation they’re on the right track
  • More time to complete:
    • High P need to plan the work/work the plan
    • High S made too many commitments (sense of duty) and now are buried
    • High E made too many commitments (please others) and now are buried

Often times, slight adjustments can be made help meet their needs. For example, can you share more information (high S), listen to them “think out loud” (high E), or give them time to research and think independently (low E)?

When it’s Not Working

There are times, despite the best effort on the leader and employee, when what the person needs is not possible in the role.

A misalignment of needs and strengths might sound like:

  •  A highly detailed person (high S) who needs to make more decisions without having all of the details
  • The highly assertive person (high A) who doesn’t want/can’t complete all of the details 
  • The highly extroverted person (high E) who can’t stand staring at a computer all day. 

While this explains the behavior, it doesn’t excuse it if it is critical and necessary in the role. So now what? What strategies can be put into place to help the person be successful? Some possibilities may be:

  • Job re-balancing – shifting duties across the team to align better with the individuals strengths within the team
  • Job sharing – identify when certain duties can be handed off to someone else with those strengths
  • Role change – if they’re a good organization fit, are there other opportunities that would align better with their needs? Not to move a “problem”, but to re-position a team member for success.

Right Person, Right Role

In the end, knowing your authentic needs doesn’t give someone an excuse from being held accountable to the expectations. The question is, are you asking someone to stretch a little or are you trying to teach a duck to be a great sprinter? If you’re trying to get someone to operate drastically different than their natural self, you’ll probably hurt their little webbed feet and they’ll become frustrated and disengaged.

The best leaders and organizations take time to know the needs of the role and the strengths/weaknesses of the employees before they hire them. This allows them to put strategies in place for supporting their weaknesses in a way that is realistic and helps lead to the long term success and engagement of the employee.

Supply and Demand

Anyone else remember Economics 101 in high school or college? My professor was the stereotypical economics nerd. While the topics of bonds and the impact of interest rates on inflation made my extroverted head explode, I vividly remember the lesson on supply and demand. When supply is greater than demand, the price of the goods/services decreases. Flip the equation and when the supply is less than demand, the price of goods/services increases. We’re all living this reality from the price of gas, to building supplies, to housing – you name it, the price has gone up.

Employment Economics

This same theory applies to employment. 

In 1990 I was hired for my first professional HR position. My boss stepped into my office and asked that I file the 250 resumes of the people who applied for my job.  This was a subliminal message was, “if you screw up, there are 250 people who want your job.” I was grateful for this amazing opportunity and I did whatever it took to be exceptional in the role. 

Later, in the mid-90’s, we had the novel idea of an interview day. Literally 100’s of people showed up and we were completely overwhelmed. It was a high-class problem as the supply of workers far outweighed the number of jobs. 

Fast Forward to 2022

Today’s workforce (tenured and young) is a result of supply and demand. There are six able workers for every 10 jobs and not all six will choose to be in the workforce. The days of excess labor supply are gone. Sprinkle in technology where people can find a job within minutes, enlightened ways of leading and communicating and the result is a workforce that’s vastly different.  

There are six able workers for every 10 jobs and not all six will choose to be in the workforce.

To be successful we HAVE to lead and manage our workforce differently. It’s the only way our organizations will survive and thrive. Here are a few tips: 

  1. Consider a new mindset of hiring sharp (spikey) individuals to make a well-rounded team. Everyone wants to be valued and respected for their individual traits and how they can compliment the team. If you try to “round” each out so they are pretty good at everything, that high structured person will go where their attention to detail is valued, the assertive person will find a job where they can take full ownership for a new idea and someone else handles the details. 
  2. Review what needs to be done and redistribute the assignments so each employee can spend most (doesn’t have to be all) of their time in their spikiness (unique trait). This is hard! It’s much easier to expect everyone on your team to follow the same job responsibilities. 
  3. Hire for potential and train accordingly. You won’t find a unicorn in today’s competitive labor market. Hire people whose behavior (aka personality traits) is aligned with the required behavior of the role and invest in helping them develop the necessary skills to deliver the results. 
  4. And most importantly, get your leadership’s attention to this new reality. Hiring and managing the same way as the past and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. It’s hard to take time to change when you’re in the middle of a crisis and yet it is necessary to adapt in order to stay competitive, fill empty seats and retain great employees.  

Let Us Help You

In conclusion, if this were easy, everyone would do it. Even those of us who love change and novel ideas struggle to put new ideas into practice. However, if you work as a team toward the same goal – in words and actions – you will have the most engaged workforces and job joy:) 

Please take advantage of the annual strategy session that we offer as part of your MPO program to help you with this! We are your partner in this new economic environment. 

How full is your bucket

As a mom I often catch myself reminding my children all the things they need to do. Pick up your shoes, put your dishes in the dishwasher, put your laundry in the hamper, pick up the toys you are not playing with. Do your reading. Practice your spelling.  I see what needs to be done and ask them to take care of it.  

One morning, my son said to me, “Mom, all you do is tell us what needs to be done. Do you not see all that we did already?” His innocent question stopped me in my tracks. Of course I appreciated their work! How had I missed the simple opportunity to acknowledge their efforts and express gratitude for their contribution to keeping our home in order?  While unintentional, my actions were making them feel like they weren’t seen or appreciated.

Appreciation and emotional buckets

Tom Rath and Donald Clifton explain in their book, How Full is Your Bucket, that each person has an invisible emotional bucket. When it is full, we feel positive, hopeful, optimistic and when it is empty we feel awful, tired, and negative. Every interaction we have can fill or empty our buckets, and in turn, our response towards others can fill or empty their buckets.  Many of us don’t realize where our bucket level is at or the importance of having a full bucket.  In my story, the infrequent recognition of my children’s efforts was emptying their buckets.

Every interaction we have can fill or empty our buckets, and in turn, our response towards others can fill or empty their buckets.

I think we can all agree the last couple of years have taken a toll on us. We are asked to do more with less resources. We are asked to approach things in new ways. We have new challenges to overcome. All the while we have more on our plates outside of work, new stressors and uncertainties to maneuver.  Many people are running on empty buckets. 

Be a bucket filler

Are we doing enough as employers, leaders and a society to fill each other’s buckets?  Imagine the difference it would make if we were intentional about expressing genuine gratitude and acknowledgement of each individual’s contribution on a daily basis.  Through the simple act of gratitude, we can help our people feel seen and heard. In a world where we are short supplied and short staffed, imagine the impact of helping people feel like they’re enough.  Imagine the impact of a full bucket.

Through the simple act of gratitude, we can help our people feel seen and heard.

For my family, being intentional about acknowledging the work my kids did helped them feel appreciated and, in some cases, even caused them to do their work without reminders. Their sense of pride and the smiles on their faces is evidence of their full buckets and seeing this helps fill my bucket too.  

So, how full is your bucket today? How can you fill the bucket of those you interact with today?


The MPO tool is all about getting to the core of how you’re authentically wired. By understanding and spending more time in your areas of strength, you’ll be stronger for the activities that are a weakness. It’s important to not stay in the area of weakness for too long or it will make one physically, mentally, and emotionally weak.

Often the paradox is in knowing when something is a weakness or a challenge.

What has been the biggest challenge of your life? For me, the year was 2011 and at 45, I decided to tackle RAGBRAI; a 7-day bike ride across Iowa, with 15k other riders. Two things to know about RAGBRAI; Iowa is NOT flat, and the route is not a direct route from the west to the east border. This is ~500 miles across rolling hills during the hottest and most humid week of the year.

So, with my mind set, I bought a great bike, trained for six months and on the third Saturday in July my husband drove me to the west side of the state to join my team for our adventure. For the next seven days/nights, I would live out of a tote, sleep in a tent and focus on staying right and upright.

I’ll always remember climbing onto my bike the first day as the sun was rising, the air was still, and my teammates were like dogs at the gate of a big race. Everyone was excited to embark on our 70-mile day, which started with the traditional dip of the back tire in the Missouri River. Three miles into the ride my legs started to cramp, my back started to ache, and I thought to myself, “what the heck was I thinking?” The negative narrative began to spiral, and I wondered if I could convince my husband to make the four-hour trek back to pick me up.

Pride took over and I decided to focus on one rotation of the pedals at a time. Just make it over the next hill, to the next town, to the end of the day. Whew – one day down, six more to go! I was promised that the next day would be easier. However, two hours into the next day, I realized that “easier” didn’t mean “easy”. Again, I focused on one rotation of the pedals at a time, yet there were times that tears were rolling down my face from sheer exhaustion.

By the third day, I was more comfortable with the pain and the sweat pouring down my face and back. On day five, I actually smiled and began to enjoy the scenery and camaraderie. And, by day seven, the last hill no longer seemed like a mountain. The 90-degree humid air on my face was a sign of progress. And the final stretch was an easy coast to the Mississippi River, where I dipped my front tire into the water to symbolize the final leg of the journey!

There were many things I learned over those seven days that translate to everyday life:

  • Great equipment and tools are key (like MPO in the business world)
  • Amazing colleagues/friends and support crew make every journey easier (though maybe not “easy”)
  • The common denominator for all who accomplished their goal was the belief and determination to do it!

For thousands of people, this experience provides an adrenaline rush that propels them to ride RAGBRAI year after year.

Not me.

It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the thought of doing it again makes me a little nauseous.

From a work perspective, I could take on the “challenge” of mastering my analytical skills. However, I have learned that a challenge worth pursuing lights a fire in my gut. It makes me uncomfortable, but I’m drawn to it. It is harder to NOT do it than to do it. It’s something I know I’ll regret if I don’t try. The thought of mastering my analytical skills makes my stomach hurt. My body repels against it and no amount of encouragement, training classes or someone showing me how they do it, will flip that switch. I have achieved a level of basic competence and that’s where I’ll stay.

What great challenge do you dream about? Something that seems harder and harder to not do, than to do. That is the challenge you should pursue. Please listen closely to others to understand their dreams, which are likely different than yours. This will help you to understand and encourage their dream that lights a fire in their gut, and not focus on their weaknesses.

Congratulations to those who are on their final stretch of RAGBRAI; either literally or figuratively. Enjoy the accomplishment of an incredible challenge!