The Coaching Effect Blog

The Coaching Effect Blog

    “You Have To Change Or Else______!” (Filling In the Leadership Blank)

    by Bill Eckstrom / December 12, 2013

    describe the imageSales leaders of the world I have some tough news for you:  When frustrating immaturity is present around you, you are playing a significant role.   And you often can’t see it.

    If you think you are innocent, listen to what Winston Churchill said about his own team after the most violent conflagration in human history, WWII:

    “The malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous.”


    What kind of frustrating immaturity am I talking about?  I’m referring to irresponsible behavior such as:

    • Disinterest in learning a new way
    • Careless professionalism
    • More interest in being right than in growing

    I’m also talking about behaviors that disrupt or weaken teams such as:

    • Habitual blaming of others
    • Teammate bashing behind the back
    • Selfishly weak investment in helping others grow

    One of the best movies I ever watched on this subject was shown by the scientist Dr. Barbara King.  Dr. King studies monkey communication at The College of William and Mary.  At a national conference I attended she showed film of a mother monkey who was trying to wean her youngster.  These animals aren’t subtle.  The little monkey would run up to her and leap at her trying to latch on to her chest.  Each time mom would push him back unceremoniously.  Monkey mom seemed frustrated, like many of the leaders I know.  In the audience we wondered “Why doesn’t Curious George get the message?”  Then Dr. King did the thing I’ll never forget.  She slowed down the tape and asked us to watch the mother.  As frame changed to frame, she pointed out that just prior to each frustrating approach by her child, the mother made the same gesture.  She’d be looking away from him, and then, like a worried boss, she turned her gaze back to check on him.  Then she did it.  She opened her palm toward him.  Immediately, the little guy responded by rushing toward her. 

    This little movie has proved instructive to frustrated people across the nation, from managers looking for more dynamic sales to parents looking for cleaner bedrooms to wives looking for more foreplay.

    If that monkey mom had the ability to control her palm, she’d be living large.  But it is not just monkeys who mix signals.  The leaders I work with display the same basic tendency to invite what they deplore.  When frustrated, they sharpen their focus on what the OTHER is doing.  I’m asking you to slow down and study the tape, paying particular attention to YOUR ROLE in it.

    I would like to say that again:

    1. Slow down
    2. Study YOUR ROLE

    This simple mental technique has proven itself again and again in my work.  Let me give you some clues about what to look for:

    • Whimpy Triangling:  Talking to others about the frustration, while avoiding the person involved.
    • Hidden Apology:  A tone of voice that says “I’m sorry to have to bring this up.”
    • The Volcano:  Loud lectures they can count on to blow over.
    • The Leadership Blank:  Communicating “You have to change or else ______!”  (Leaving out the end of the sentence.)

    If I had to pick one item on the above list that seems to successfully challenge almost any leader, it would be that last one, The Leadership Blank.  When immaturity is rampant in any organization, whether a sales team, a family, a church, government or nation, there is a leader at the top who is leaving it blank.  He has not clearly defined what he will or won’t do about it.

    In many situations, The Leadership Blank actually guarantees that there will be no change.

    In my next blog, I’m going to share with you some examples of leaders who filled in The Leadership Blank and got dramatic results for their team. 

    But since I’m not interested in doing too much of your work for you, here is an assignment to consider.  Take 20 minutes.  Shut off your phone, minimize your email, and pull out a pen and answer these questions:

    1.  What is the most frustrating example of irresponsible behavior occurring below me in my organization or family?
    2. What actions or non-actions do I regularly engage in that allow this behavior to thrive?
    3. What three poised changes to what I regularly do could have the effect of making it more difficult for this irresponsible behavior to survive?
    4. Of these three changes, which should I act upon this month?

    Erik Thompson is the founder of Thompson Leadership Development.
    Erik can be reached at or visit his website at

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    Bill Eckstrom

    Bill Eckstrom

    William Eckstrom is the CEO and Founder of the EcSell Institute. Bill has spent his entire career in the sales management and leadership arena. In 2008, he founded the EcSell Institute to fill a void he witnessed and personally experienced in the sales leadership profession. He's went on to present a viral TEDx Talk and co-authored the best-selling book, "The Coaching Effect."

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