Rethinking Rock Stars: The Hidden Dangers of Toxic High Performers

Image of a crowd of people watching a rock concert, lights flashing on stage towards the viewer. Photo courtesy Microsoft 365 Stock Images
Photo courtesy Microsoft 365 Stock Images

TL;DR: Often, rock stars are not the kind of employees you’d want on your team or in your organization. What if the real cost of such toxic wunderkind is far greater than their apparent contribution? Research suggests that such toxic cultures are one of the biggest predictors of attrition. Don’t reward these short-term gains that ultimately inflict long-term damage on your company’s culture. It’s not just about retaining talent: it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels valued.

I’ve encountered rock stars with incredible egos, standing out from the crowd and act as if they have all the answers, never needing to rethink their assumptions or learn from feedback. (In college and early in my career, I worked with actual rock stars – a long story, so thank you, Rubin Fogel.) They are driven by that ego, not by curiosity or generosity. Essentially, they’re “takers”: people who try to get more than they give, and who often end up hurting themselves and others in the process.

(There are many exceptions to this generalization, people who are very gracious performers and genuine entertainers. I’m reminded of those I encountered early in my career to be some of the nicest and most respectable people touring in the industry. Examples such as the incomparable Lux and Ivy, who were more interested in genuinely listening than dominating a discussion.)

While the term has generally left the recruiting lexicon, I still encounter it from time to time: today, I was asked if I could recommend a “rock star” for a high-profile executive role. It hit a nerve.

In business, there’s a breed of high performers that have come to be known as “toxic rock stars,” the ones who deliver results at just about any cost. As noted in Leaders, Stop Rewarding Toxic Rock Stars ( Deepa Purushothaman and Lisen Stromberg (She/Her) found that their behavior, often bordering on bullying, creates a hostile environment that’s particularly detrimental from a D&I perspective.

“At one client company, turnover in the sales division was as high as 48%. The reason? A head of sales who delivered the numbers but who was killing the very culture the new CEO was trying to establish. As the well-meaning CEO explained, “I know he’s a problem, but he delivers the results our shareholders want to see. How can I fire him when we have revenue goals we need to meet?”

Consider this: what if the real cost of such toxic rock stars is far greater than their apparent contribution? Research at MIT suggests that such toxic cultures are the single biggest predictor of attrition during the first six months of The Great Resignation ( the Great Resignation. In that 2021 report from MIT, researchers found that for employees in the States who left their employer for any reason, toxic culture was a significant factor driving attrition, with some rates above 30%.

As noted in an article by Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, PCM on SHRM

“…seemingly innocuous terms as “rock star,” “ninja” or “competitive” can inadvertently keep some candidates from applying for a job — particularly women.” — Victoria Archer

It’s a wake-up call to organizations: the fight for talent (and even diversity) isn’t just about attracting the best—it’s about nurturing a culture where everyone can thrive.

Leaders: stop rewarding the short-term gains that ultimately are overshadowed by the long-term damage such rock stars inflict on a company’s culture. It’s not just about retaining talent: it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels valued and respected and fostering an environment where originality can flourish.

#D&I #talent #EX #rockstars #culture #diversity #leadership

(Also posted on LinkedIn)


When “I Understand” is Lost in Translation

From 2003's "Lost in Translation" written and directed by Sofia Coppola, with Bill Murray as Bob Harris
From 2003’s “Lost in Translation” written and directed by Sofia Coppola, with Bill Murray as Bob Harris

Tl;dr: This week, a conversation with an executive underscored the complexities of communication and understanding in the workplace. I recalled that misunderstandings can lead to ineffective execution, and the ripple effects can be far-reaching and profound.

Talking past each other: Hidden pitfalls in workplace communications

I work with a number of managers and executives as a sounding board of sorts (mentor and coach are overused terms these days), and one of my friends in this category recently recounted a frustrating story working with their leadership team. As they embarked on a new project, they found themselves in a quagmire of miscommunication and misalignment. At the heart of the issue was the inability to establish clear asks and commitments among the various factions.

In their discussions, they wrestled with articulating expectations and securing consensus on deliverables. It was as if one team was speaking in French and the other in Italian – both beautiful languages, but with enough differences to cause confusion (particularly if you’re not bilingual). One team would outline and define work that was contingent on another group, but would fall short of ensuring that the latter knew of the requests and (more importantly) had accepted the challenges, or called out the bandwidth or capacity constraints that would make it impossible to do the work in the required timeframe.

It was as though they were ships passing in the night – both recognizing the importance of their tasks but unable to make needed concessions and commitments. Overall, disconnection was born out of poor communication, in part due to the challenges in a simple phrase that was bandied about:

“I understand.”

This scenario underscores the critical need for clear communication and mutual understanding in the workplace. Without it, even teams with the best intentions can find themselves at a crossroad, frustrated that the tasks don’t have a shared and understood commitment to get stuff done. It’s a stark reminder that in the world of work, clarity is not just about speaking, but ensuring our words are understood as we intended.

From Hollywood to Tokyo: Lesson in communication

I often share and leverage stories and scenarios found in popular books, cinema and television (we’ll leave my passion for Star Trek and Star Wars for another discussion, which you can see on full display in my post ‘To Boldly Go…’ from earlier this year.) The parables and analogies from these shared cultural experiences can help describe and illustrate key points. One of my favourites is from the film “Lost in Translation” which provides a poignant illustration of the complexities of cross-cultural communication.

Picture this: Bill Murray’s character, the famous actor Bob Harris, is on set on a Tokyo soundstage for a Japanese whiskey commercial. The director passionately articulates a series of intricate instructions… all in Japanese, which the translator then distills into a mere handful of English instructions. Bob is left adrift in a sea of confusion, unsure of his role and approach based on the sparse translation offered.

Director Sofia Coppola masterfully crafted the exchange in this scene, underscoring the challenges and idiosyncrasies navigating completely foreign language landscapes. She originally wrote the scene in English, had it translated into Japanese, and then purposefully kept Bill Murray in the dark about what the actual dialogue meant to capture his honest and transparent reaction.

This one moment encapsulates the essence of feeling “lost in translation” – and serves as a reminder that effective communication is more than just the words exchanged: you need to have an understanding and appreciation of context.

Communicating and learning on the job

Similarly, communication in the workplace can be hard, certainly more so when trying to cross cultural and time zone boundaries where we often find ourselves navigating a maze of nuances. I’ve often said that it’s easy to make something difficult to understand, but hard to make something simple and easily understood.

During one of my first business trips to Japan early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with and spend a great deal of social time with representatives from JETRO, Japan’s External Trade Organization. Before my trip, I’d read several books on Japanese phrases, business and cultural customs, and social events. I learned about the exchange of business cards, the art of the formal bow (and how low to go), and most importantly, nomikai – essentially, Japanese business dinners that are a fundamental part of Japanese culture. Think of it as a party where business colleagues eat and drink meals together (emphasis on the drinking), much as you may experience in the West but would be way beyond accepted HR margins. It’s a way to build relationships and develop trust, and there’s a lot of Japanese sake and beer at hand that helps serve as the mortar of these foundational meetings.

I’d developed a good relationship (which began months ahead of the visit over faxes and phone calls) with one of my counterparts. After several days and nights of areas of investment, cultural exchanges, and far too much sake, I shared there was a common phrase that many in our English-speaking delegation had heard from our Japanese hosts several times during the visit, but might misunderstand how it was used: “I understand”.

There’s a nuance in the interpretation of that simple phrase. In the Western world, it’s a synonym for agreement, and a quick nod of approval. But I’d come to learn in my trip preparations that “I understand” (in Japanese, loosely “wakari mash ta” ) was used in Japan more to acknowledge what you said was heard and comprehended… but not necessarily that there was any agreement.

Such a subtle difference can lead to misunderstandings when we bring different interpretations into the mix. And they don’t just happen overseas, but can occur when we miss subtle cues and misinterpret intentions.

“I Understand” can be a seemingly harmless landmine

After all, when it comes to bridging cultural divides, it’s not just about understanding each other; it’s about understanding each other better. Such subtle differences can be a source of confusion in teams, and not just multicultural ones. In the case of the simple phrase “I understand” (which many from outside the States have said is second only to the popular use of the common American response “No problem”), it’s like two ships passing in the night, unaware that they’re sailing on different courses.

In this case, the result was a lack of consensus, inefficient and frustrating communications riddled with inadvertent misunderstandings, all resulting in unclear commitments and deliverables. Bridging these gaps in meaning requires a blend of human insight and interpretation – as well as good old-fashioned engagement and precision questioning.

It’s also where the art of rethinking comes into play. We need to challenge our assumptions, question our interpretations, and most importantly, seek clarification. In doing so, we can bridge the gap between “I hear you” and “I agree with you”, fostering better understanding and collaboration in our diverse workplaces.

You may not be as good a communicator as you think

Effective communication in the workplace is the lifeblood of any organization, ensuring that everyone is equipped with the data and insights they need to be effective, foster a positive and collaborative work environment, improve trust, and eliminate inefficiencies. Without clear communication, misunderstandings can arise, leading to confusion, frustration, and decreased productivity.

And it can have an exorbitant cost.

In 10 Tips For Effective Communication In The Workplace, Christiana Jolaoso-Oloyede notes that ineffective communication can be costly for businesses. In the States, that check comes to $12,506 per employee per year, and a staggering $1.2 trillion annually, according to a report from Grammarly on the State of Business Communications. This underscores the importance of clear and effective communication in ensuring smooth operations and preventing unnecessary losses. (Jolaoso also includes the top tips for more effective communications and key skills you may need to incorporate.)

In his article Half Of All Meetings Are A Waste Of Time – Here’s How To Improve Them, Peter High discusses the inefficiency of many workplace meetings, citing that with ~55 million meetings happening every day, at least half of them don’t accomplish very much. Steven Rogelberg, a management professor at UNC Charlotte, suggests that many of the people leading the meetings think that they are better at communicating the goals and running meetings than they really are, significant blind spots that many don’t see. Improving the understanding of the W5 for meetings (particularly the why and the what) would help improve effectiveness and productivity.

Clear Communication in Workplace: Key to Success on emphasizes that the critical role of understanding what’s communicated is a crucial aspect of effective communications. It helps ensure expectations are clear and enabled constructive feedback to be provided, particularly in how leaders drive and endorse the effort.

“The breakdown in collaboration and coordination can give way to missed deadlines, duplication of work, and decreased productivity. Employees may become frustrated with their colleagues, feel that their voices are not being heard, or that they do not have access to the information needed to complete their tasks. Furthermore, poor communication direct impacts customer satisfaction.”

When employees understand the what, they can contribute to the how: improving processes, solving problems, driving productivity, and building a strong organizational reputation. When everyone in an organization understands their roles, responsibilities, and expectations WRT shared outcomes, it helps creates a better and more effective work environment conducive to success.

So, the next time you find yourself getting lost in translation, take a step back. Take the time to understand not just the words spoken, but the intent behind them. Every conversation is an opportunity to learn and grow: embrace the differences and use them to be clear and communicate more effectively. After all, it’s not just about understanding each other; it’s about understanding each other better and building truly effective, inclusive, and productive relationships.

And at dinner in Japan, remember to fill your neighbour’s cup, but don’t fill your own.

#Rethink #Diversity #LostInTranslation #Communication

(Originally posted on LinkedIn)


Nemawashi: The Japanese Art of Making Change Happen

Image of a samurai holding swords in a field, looking out at a Japanese interpretation of a windmill, Artwork courtesy Stable Diffusion
Artwork courtesy Stable Diffusion

(Preface: Some will recall that I published a large OneNote resource of articles and publications assembled over the years, complete with PowerPoints and Word white papers – if you’re still on the Microsoft network, you may find it still there. And I plan to share some of those ideas and musings from there, or at least as much as I can recall.)

Change is inevitable, but it is also often difficult and stressful.

I recounted this stress once again with the recent death of a cousin over the summer. I’d connected and emotionally supported Chance as he bravely (and with a smile and good humour) fought a cancer that had come back to haunt him. (I thought a lot about change over the summer, and – perhaps somewhat surprisingly to many – in the same breath, death: one of the most universal and inevitable experiences that we all face. I’ll talk about his in more detail in my next post. Yay. I promise it will be more uplifting and positive than you might imagine.)

Not everything in business our professional lives is life and death, but we often face challenging obstacles that we strive to overcome. In business, it can be the resistance or opposition we encounter when we try to introduce a new idea or perspective, or when we want to implement a new project or plan – windmills I tended to tilt at a lot in my last role at Microsoft, representing the needs of our global customers and partners balanced with the goals of a public company, delivering improved revenue, consumption and market share.

How can we overcome these challenges and make change smoother and more successful?

One possible answer: nemawashi.

Nemawashi is a term my teams, peers, and leaders heard me use time and time again (apologies 😉 when I’d explain how I gotten something (often, quite challenging politically and operationally) accomplished. It’s a concept that can help us rethink how we approach change, and stems from the Japanese word for “going around the roots”, referring to a gardening technique of preparing a plant for transplantation by carefully digging and trimming its roots.

It was explained to me by a long time Toyota executive that the term originated with bansai tree masters as their effort to cultivate prime specimens. There’s an interesting summary on nemawashi in The Toyota Way, here, and here on the approach, and a practical guide to apply it in in your day-to-day work. In the kaizen (continuous improvement) of business management, it’s about building and getting consensus on a project in advance and then acting quickly.

Tl:dr: nemawashi makes it easier for the plant to adapt to a new soil and thrive in a different environment. And so, it can help you be more successful in getting to consensus and synthesizing new ideas and direction from others.

In the business world, nemawashi is a strategy of building consensus and support for a proposed change or project by talking to the people who are affected or involved in the decision-making process. Think of it to gather feedback and suggestions from various stakeholders before making a formal announcement or presentation, or the “meetings before the meeting” where the work is formally agreed to or memorialized. It helps avoid conflicts and resistance by making people feel more comfortable and confident about the change and its benefits.

Nemawashi is not only a useful technique for managing change in organizations, but also for changing minds in general. When we want to persuade someone to adopt a new idea or perspective, we often make the mistake of assuming that they will be convinced by our logic and evidence. I’ve read and heard that people are more likely to resist or reject information that challenges their existing beliefs or opinions… especially if they feel threatened or attacked by it.

To overcome this impediment, nemawashi can be practiced in our conversations and interactions to listen to their concerns and understand their perspectives rather than having them feel we’re trying to prove them wrong or force them to agree with us (seen much too often in competitive and stack-ranked organizations). Showing people that we respect their opinions and value their input to improve or modify the proposals or approach makes them feel more a part of the solution, not the problem.

By doing nemawashi, we can create a more open and constructive dialogue with others, where we can exchange information and opinions without being defensive or hostile. We can also learn from each other and discover new insights and possibilities that we might have overlooked or ignored. Nemawashi can help us foster collaboration and trust among the people we want to influence or persuade, as well as among ourselves. And it can help us think again about how we handle change and how we change minds.

How has such an approach helped you? Tell me what you’ve found and think in the comments.

(Also on LinkedIn)


Your Company isn’t Family (Unless it’s Your Family’s Company)

Two fencers dressed in white on a black background, one lunging the other parrying.

TL;DR: Many leaders aspire to create a workplace that feels like a family. They believe that by fostering a sense of belonging and loyalty among their employees, they can boost their performance and happiness. But is this really the best way to run a business? Or is it a recipe for disaster?

To avoid the pitfalls of the workplace family, you need to be aware, clear, respectful, positive, and assertive in your work relationships. And be thoughtful on the metaphors you choose.

In recent discussions with many employees across a wide spectrum of roles and seniority in the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about comraderie and the concept of a “work family”, and how important it is to challenge the common assumption that your company is your family. Drawing on the insights of several different leaders, I believe that this approach and using the term “family” can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between employers and employees. There are better metaphors for the people in your (increasingly hybrid) workplace – similarly, I’ve used the term “team”, never family.

I’ve heard how employees experienced firsthand negative consequences of working with their “family”, feeling exploited, manipulated, and betrayed by leaders and colleagues. In some cases, people shared that they struggled to balance their personal and professional lives, and to maintain integrity and identity. I’m hopeful that it makes you think and consider how to avoid the pitfalls of the workplace “family”.

“Like family” at work isn’t family.

Reid Hoffman once wrote that…

“… when CEOs describe their company as being “like family,” we think they mean well. But using the term family makes it easy for misunderstandings to arise. They’re searching for a model that represents the kind of relationships they want to have with their employees—a lifetime relationship with a sense of belonging.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

Reid and his co-authors outline that companies are not families, but teams, sharing that while families are based on unconditional acceptance, teams are based on conditional contribution. You have unconditional love and support from your relatives no matter what happens. Teams share some similar attributes, in the expectations staff and peers have as you all contribute to a common goal while holding one another accountable for their actions.

Some similar emotional bonds you have with family can be overlaid on employees, and this can lead to tolerating poor performance, undermining leadership, and creating a sense of entitlement. And while families are static, we’ve seen recently (particularly with the broad wave of layoffs) how teams are dynamic and can be just as easily broken apart as they are constituted.

Consider this excerpt from one of Michael Gervaisrecent podcast episodes (emphasis mine)…

“…where I think it breaks down is [when] the organization talks about family… I find that to be manipulative, off putting. Some families are really traumatic, some are amazing. It’s a bit of a manipulation to try to create a deeper care. In business, like I don’t get it at all.”

I agree with Dr. Mike, even (and especially) when leaders strive to create strong family-like, emotional bonds at work.

Saera Khan and Lauren C. Howe wrote that “55% said they would prefer companies with a family feel, held together by tradition and loyalty.”

But I’ve learned from working with and creating high performing teams and in employee development at Microsoft over the last couple of decades that overzealous loyalty that would normally be reserved for my immediate family members can make you vulnerable to exploitation.

You might end up working 60+ hour weeks, over weekend, breaking away from true family events to just check in – all for the good for the blurred company / family boundaries. Joshua A. Luna covered this in his article about “family” corporate cultures:

“When employees work under this mentality, it’s only a matter of time until performance and productivity drop due to burnout, leading to conversations w/ managers or HR about what they did wrong. This creates a perception for employees to believe they’re not doing their part. Left unaddressed, employers could foster an environment where burnout is the norm and ultimately impacts the bottom line through employee attrition and lost productivity.”

Some leaders try to sell the workplace as a foster “family” to create loyalty and belonging. They like to think of their workplaces as families and sell it as such. They use this metaphor to foster a sense of loyalty and belonging among their employees.

But this can have serious drawbacks for their happiness, productivity, and even their morality. When work becomes family, the lines between personal and professional, work and life, blur. Employees may feel pressured to conform, sacrifice, or compromise for the sake of the “family”. They may also lose sight of their own goals, values, and boundaries.

So how can you avoid falling into the trap of the workplace family? As an employee and as a leader, you need to be aware of how this culture can be oversold. You need to clarify your expectations, maintain healthy boundaries, highlight positive examples, and speak up against abuse. You need to rethink your relationship with your work — and with your family.

I’m interested to know what you think, and about your own experiences.

  • Have you ever worked in a company that claimed to be like a family? How did it affect you?
  • What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of using the family metaphor in the workplace?
  • How do you set and maintain healthy boundaries with your work and your real family?

#worklifebalance #EmployeeExperience #EX #companyculture #growthmindset #health


From Start to Finish: Sharing what I learned during my career at Microsoft

An often-shared slides describing "what I do"​ at Microsoft, with various photos that describe what various people think of my role.
One of my often-shared slides WRT “what I do”​

Here’s a question: have you thought about how you leave a lasting impact on your customers and colleagues?

Over the last few years in dozens if not hundreds of meetings and discussions at Microsoft, I’ve shared some of the guidance and thoughts by the incredible Bill Buxton, which I’ve kept at the top of my OneNote notebook:

  • Ideas are a dime a dozen (or you are doing it wrong)
  • Complementary, not competitive
  • Work together, not in silos
  • Everyone has their own problems to solve and opportunities to make a creative contribution to the final product
  • Reviewing past games (case studies) can be a good place to start

Impact is something that’s been on my mind over the last several weeks as I’ve leaned in to help others after a layoff (both those departing and those who remain), some to find new roles, answer their questions, help plan on how to address new opportunities and concerns at work, assuage their concerns, and generally be there for them.

And one red thread through all of these conversations has been an ask for advice, much of which has boiled down to this.


In a nutshell, it’s not about being the smartest or the most talented, it’s about being truly customer-driven and obsessed – not just lip service or a corporate tag line. It’s about knowing what makes our customers truly successful and achieving their business goals inside and out, using data and insights over opinions, and partnering with other groups to close the loop. It’s about speaking truth to power (always in a most respectful but provocative way) and finding work-life integration. And above all, it’s about leveraging and building on such practices every day.

As I retire today (a little earlier than planned given the wave of industry layoffs, but a little later than originally scheduled and just as welcomed) and look back on my time at Microsoft, let me share some advice that has served me well and often shared with others over the years.

Be customer-driven and obsessed

Always put the customer first and strive to understand their needs and wants. This will help you deliver exceptional service and build strong relationships. If people remember one thing about my time in the industry, let it be how I promoted this cause and effect each day.

Being customer-driven means putting the needs and wants of the customer at the forefront of everything you do. This involves understanding their pain points and working towards finding solutions that address them. One way to achieve this is by actively seeking feedback from customers and using it to improve your products or services.

“No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.”

Those are powerful words from Daniel Kahneman on wrong numbers ( It’s not enough to simply collect data on our customers: we have to do better to really and truly understand their needs and wants so we can deliver the exceptional service they deserve and build strong relationships that last beyond a sales cycle. By being customer-driven and obsessed, we can create meaningful connections that drive success for both our customers and our company. This is also one of the steps towards creating successful habits that Charles Duhigg has written about (in his book, The Power of Habit), and a key to understanding what drives customer behaviours. When you take the time to get to know your customers, you can use that knowledge to drive your actions that benefits you both.

Be an impartial voice for customers

Advocate for the customer and ensure their voice is heard within the company, as it will help improve the customer experience and drive loyalty.

As an employee, it’s critical to act as an advocate for customers within your company. This means speaking up on their behalf to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed – listen, act, and drive impact (more on the OODA loop in a moment). I’m reminded by Marcus Buckingham that the best managers know that their job is to help people fall in love with the work they do. (See also What Great Managers Do on By being an impartial voice for our customers and advocating for their needs, you improve the overall customer’s experience and drive loyalty.

But it’s not just about meeting their needs, it’s about creating a connection that inspires them to love what we do. When you truly advocate for the customer and take the steps towards improving CX, loyalty, brand love (more on that from Microsoft’s CMO Chris Capossela in Selene Suau‘s post), you find those key factors in what Richard Holden (author of Loveability) said…

“… the most successful companies are those that listen to their customers and act on their feedback.”

Some of the best in the business have shown that listening to customers is also key to company comebacks (, so there’s never a bad time to ensure you’re listening to your customers and using their feedback to improve.

Know what makes the customer successful, inside and out

To truly understand your customers, it’s important to know what drives their success. This involves understanding their business goals and objectives as well as their challenges and pain points. By having this knowledge, you can provide tailored solutions that meet their unique needs. Today I was discussing Angela Duckworth’s book (author of Grit) with one of the folks on my team at lunch and her maxim:

“Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then a lifetime of deepening.”

By taking the time to truly understand your customers and what makes them successful, you can develop and deepen your relationship with them to provide solutions that not only meet their needs but exceed their expectations. That’s often a delicate balance: you may find that you’re defined by what you’re willing to struggle or wrestle with when it comes to truly understand customers. It’s imperative to know what drives their success: it’s not just about meeting their needs, but about understanding their struggles and helping them overcome them. By knowing what makes our customers successful inside and out, we can build stronger relationships and deliver exceptional service.

Data and insights over opinions

This is something that I heard once again from key executives at Microsoft when we embarked on a new and ambitious project just a few years ago. They told me quite pointedly that to affect change and show credibility, we needed to use and frame customer data and insights to inform decisions rather than representing or relying on opinions. I came to learn that it helps you make more informed decisions and drive towards better outcomes, presenting key points and recommendations backed by evidence. That’s one way that employees can consider and bring all options to the table before making a decision. As Duhigg once said…

“Data can tell us what we need to know. It’s our job to turn that data into insights.”

By relying on data and insights rather than personal opinions, employees can make more informed decisions that benefit both themselves and the company.

The words from Daniel Kahneman are also quite clear in my head: “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” In this case, it reminds us that it’s easy to fall into the trap of relying solely on our opinions when making decisions. But by using data and insights to inform our choices, we can make more informed decisions that drive better outcomes. And egos may need to be pushed aside: it’s not just about being right but being rigorous in our thinking and open to new information. (Also see “We Are Blind To The Obvious And Blind To Our Blindness”)

Make the connections, close the (OODA) loop

I’ve shared a lot about the OODA loop at work (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, referenced previously), and it’s one of the strengths when it comes to navigating a company of the size of Microsoft over the last two decades. Leveraging the model of the #OODA loop provided a framework to connect with other teams across Microsoft, to share information and collaborate on initiatives. It helped me and my teams drive the “close the loop” efforts we needed to be more effective, and ultimately ferret out issues and leverage new opportunities that contributed to revenue, consumption, and share. These connections and collaboration across varied and sometimes different teams was essential in closing the OODA loop, leading to better decisions, increasing agility (which is tough with more than 200,000 people) and making us act with a greater sense of urgency. As Stephen Covey said:

“Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.”

Partner with other groups

Building strong partnerships with other groups across Microsoft has been key to driving collaboration and innovation, and probably should’ve been near the top of this list. By working together and sharing ideas, teams can achieve more than they can alone. And this can help employees leverage a broad, collective knowledge and expertise across their own company to achieve great things. Some of the benefits I’ve experienced:

  • Greater investments in time and attention: Partnerships can help us access more resources and attention to projects and initiatives.
  • Bringing new perspectives and varied expertise: Connecting can help us learn from different viewpoints and skill sets that complement our own.
  • Support when we need it: It can help overcome challenges and difficulties by providing emotional and practical support, gaining insight and guidance from their experiences. Partnerships also help diversify our views and reduce risks.
  • Sharing the costs, material and psychological: Bringing teams together to solve big problems can reduce costs by sharing the load of the work as we drive solutions.

As I’ve found in listening to and reading Adam Grant, as people help each other they improve their collaboration, creating a culture of cooperation and mutual support. Grant argues that helping others is not only good for them but also good for ourselves. He calls this “givers gain”, meaning that those who give more than they take tend to achieve more success and happiness in the long run. Grant suggests a few different ways to foster a culture of giving across teams:

  • Be proactive: Don’t wait for others to ask for help – offer it before they need it.
  • Be specific: Don’t just say “let me know if you need anything” – offer concrete ways you can help.
  • Be generous: Don’t limit your help to those who can reciprocate – help those who can’t or won’t as well.
  • Be humble: Don’t brag about your contributions, the ego monster remains with others long after you’ve left the building – acknowledge the contributions of others.

(Reminds me also of 📚 Michael Bungay Stanier’s three principles: Be Lazy, Be Curious, Be Often. Read more on

Work-life integration

Striving for a healthy balance between work and personal life is essential for overall well-being, and by integrating these in a way that works for you can lead to greater satisfaction and fulfillment in many different areas of life. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as work-life balance: there’s work, and there’s life, but rarely is their balance. I’ve shared that instead there’s a level of integration that you can strive to achieve, as it can be challenging to find the right balance between our professional and personal lives. Striving for integration rather than separation enables you to create a healthier balance that works. It’s not just about finding time for both, it’s about finding meaning in both. Stephen Covey said…

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

By focusing on what truly matters and finding ways to integrate work and personal life, you and your teams can get a healthy balance that benefits both themselves and the company – and it’s up to you to maintain and reinforce it.

Speak truth to power

This is a big one for me (perhaps I should’ve listed it first), and probably the one I’ve echoed more in the last few months and quarters/years than the rest of my career combined. I attribute that more to the wisdom that comes from experience, less about bravado or ego.

IMHO, it’s critical that you lose the fear to speak up when something isn’t right, runs off the rails (or as one favourite and passionate exec shared with me, asleep at the switch), or when you have an idea of ways to improve things. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, you need courage to practice other virtues consistently. By having the courage to speak up and share your thoughts and ideas, you can help create positive change within the company. As Adam Grant wrote in ‘Originals,’ you have to…

“Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.”

I get it: it can be intimidating – even career limiting – to speak truth to power, but it’s essential for driving change and fostering innovation. By speaking up when something isn’t right or when we have an idea that could improve things, we can make a difference. Plus, it’s not just about being heard, it’s about being courageous in our convictions and open to feedback. (See also ways to develop a work culture that values respectful dissent).

Rinse, lather, repeat

Continuous learning is essential for personal and professional growth. By learning from your experiences and applying those lessons moving forward, you can achieve greater success and fulfillment. As Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset), said…

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.”

By embracing challenges and learning from mistakes, employees can continuously improve and achieve their full potential. Also from Grant’s Originals, “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” It’s essential to continuously learn from our experiences and apply those lessons moving forward. By rinsing, lathering, and repeating, we can drive innovation and growth. It’s not just about doing things differently, but more about doing things better.


I hope this is beneficial and enables you to do things a little better in your career and life, as it has served me so far in mine. Let me know your feedback (being a learn-it-all 😉 and feel free to share the advice that has helped you in your career. In the immortal words of Lou Reed: “You can depend on the worst always happening. You need a busload of faith to get by.”

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