Management, hands-off leadership and the line

Time to read: 3 mins.

Jocko Willink

No employee wants to be micromanaged.  At the same time, offering employees complete freedom with little guidance can lead to chaos without the organisation’s vision and goals being realised.  The balance between micromanagement and hands-off leadership is the line that leaders walk on when managing teams.

Defining micromanagement

Micromanagement is an extreme form of management.  It involves not only trying to control the actions of others but even their thoughts. When micromanagement exists, people are passive and wait to be told what to do next.  After a while, it inhibits their personal growth. The initiative for action and deep thought fades. Eventually those individuals are not able to bring the value and innovation that organisations crave.  It’s easy to see why micromanagement has a negative association. It’s particularly frustrating for those who are accustom to working autonomously in high performing teams

Defining hands-off leadership

Hands-off leadership also comes with its own set of problems.  With hands-off leadership, leaders can fail to provide clear and specific direction as to what needs to be achieved.  This results in team members thinking too much and forming their own plans and strategies. Without proper guidance, the plans that are formed are outside of a teams boundaries, beyond their capabilities and the strategies rarely align with that of the organisation.  Without any coordination from the top, they move in different directions and disrupt and do not support other projects that are already in flight.

The line

The solution is to walk the line between management and hands-off leadership.  While there is no secret formula, finding the right balance comes from gauging individuals and the team as a whole. Here are some signs to look out for.  They can inform you on whether there is too much management or too much hands-off leadership.

Warning signs of micromanagement

  • There is a lack of initiative.
  • The team doesn’t seek out solutions to problems (the wait to be told about a solution).
  • In an emergency, the team does not mobilise and take action.
  • Bold and aggressive action becomes rare.
  • Creativity comes to a halt.
  • The team tends to stay within their own silo. They are not willing to step out ans coordinate with other teams out of fear overstepping.

Too much management (i.e. micromanagement) requires you to provide less detail and direction.  Instead, just describe the end state and why it is important.

Warning signs of hands off management

  • Lack of vision in what the team is trying to do.
  • Lack of coordination between between teams.
  • They have created their own initiatives that overstep the bound of authority.
  • The team is focused on priorities that are not aligned with the greater strategic vision.
  • There are too many people trying to lead and not enough people there to execute.

When there is not enough management (i.e. hands-off leadership) it requires that you give clear guidance.  Your team must understand where the boundaries are. You also need to assign roles, responsibilities and a chain of command.

Take some time to think about the warning signs as mentioned above.  Maybe you can see the signs within your own team, a team that you manage or more alarmingly within yourself. In either case, it may be time to bring these issue up to the leadership team or address the issue yourself.

 This article was inspired by the book The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin


The people around us


Barrack Obama (in the 80’s)

Time to read: 2 mins.

Last night I watched the movie Barry.  A quick synopsis: Barrack Obama arrives in New York City in the early eighties as a college student at Columbia University as he tries to find his own identity and his place in life.   To be honest I found the movie a little underwhelming. At least those were my initial thoughts on the movie…


Barry covers themes of identity, race, perceptions and how we label others.  One of the biggest takeaways was how Barrack was surrounded by a wide array of people early on in his life, wealthy, poor, educated and lost. And while these people have some influence on him, Barry never conforms to anyone’s philosophy or way of living.


There are numerous long scene’s that don’t drive the narrative forward. Instead, it shows Barrack getting lost in his own thoughts where he is either sitting on a park bench, looking out on to the cityscape, smoking a cigarette, or reading a book in the library;



The people around us

As many bad influences that are around Barry, he also had some good ones. He is able to see people them for who they are, the circumstances that they are in and what drives them.


In those scenes that I mentioned above, I wondered what Barrack is thinking about.  Was it his own background?  And should that determine what his own direction going forward? Without that clarity and definition of who he is, Barrack struggles to connect with anyone around him.



Finding you and connect with others

As I tried to relate to Barrack in the 1980’s, I found that our situation is analogous to what we see in the movie Barry.  That’s if we are interested in connecting with others.  In Melbourne, 49% are either born overseas or have at least one parent who is born overseas. We come from more than 200 countries, speak over 250 languages and dialects and follow over 130 religions.


Like Barrack in the early 80’s in New York, we should evaluate the unique experiences that we bring as individuals and the values we hold. In the same light, we should also seek the insights that others can provide us not just in the workplace but also in life.

Assertiveness & Saying No


Damon Zahariades

Time to read: 3 min.

What I have commonly observed with friends and family and in the workplace, is that the kindest and nicest of all people often have a difficult time saying no.  Yet, saying no is a critical skill.  It’s a skill that can save us time, raises our status as a leader and improves our self-worth.


If you often find yourself saying yes, when you should really be saying no.  Then this article is for you.



Associations with the word no.

Words are important.  How we define, internalise and give words meaning determines how we feel and experience the world around us.


Most of us have a negative association with the word no.  If we reflect on situations where we have had to say no or heard the word, its generally associated with a negative emotion.



The fear of saying no

These negative associations stems from fear.  We can fear how others will react.  Some can react with frustration, anger and disappointment.  When others react this way, it can leave us with feelings of guilt and shame; as it’s natural to long for the approval of others.


After having seen people reacting poorly (and more than once), the wisdom that I can share is that when there is an opportunity to set an expectation early, then take the time to prepare the requestor for the response that they may not want to hear.


Sometimes there is no avoiding a poor reaction.  The important thing to remember, is that it is not your role to appease the requestor. Harmony is not always possible and in these situation conflict maybe unavoidable.




Another aspect of why we have trouble saying no is from the fear of missing out.  There are meetings you could attend, people that you should meet and groups that you should participate in.  I’m not saying that these activities are not beneficial, but we have to be selective of the opportunities that we choose to take on.


When you say yes to something, you are indirectly saying no to something else.  If you are in the ‘nice and kind’ category, then often it’s you own goals, interest and aspirations that are being pushed back and neglected.


Take some time to think about the message you send to yourself when this is done on a consistent basis.  Aren’t your goals, interests and aspirations just as valuable as everyone else’s?


There is a right way to say no.  A way that allows you to keep your self-worth without coming off as being rude or aggressive.


The right way to say no

Assertiveness.  In the context of saying no, assertiveness means expressing your point of view with grace.


Assertiveness is demonstrated when you are able to say no in the right manner, tone, with purpose and poise.  When you are assertive it means you are not looking for external validation or the approval of others.


When you are not looking for validation or approval; You can say no confidently because your actions align with your convictions.  It’s like having a planned response.


A planned response shows that you are prudent, thoughtful and considerate because you let the requestor know why you are saying no. You may even suggest an alternative avenue to pursue.  There is no need for stalling, lying or giving an “I can’t” excuse. You say no, because it’s your decision to say no.


Over time being assertive when saying no will gain you the respect and trust of others.  You will eventually feel better for it and start to see the benefits.  You may even change a once negative association to a positive one J



For a more in-depth look into this topic, I would recommend The Art of Saying No by Damon Zahariades.

Housekeepers and being physically​ active at work



Alica Crum


We spend a third of our time at work.  For most of us, that time is spent either sitting down at a desk or in meetings. This post will feature tips on how to stay physically healthy in the workplace.



Being Mindful of your Movements

Before reading the tips below, it’s good to think and note down the physical activities that you’re already engaged in while in the office.  Walking to the kitchen, to your next meeting, or outside to get some a coffee; all of these counts as being physically active.


Just being more mindful of your physical activity can have a positive impact on your health.  I’ll circle back to this point later in the article.



Increasing physical activity at work

For now, here are some additional changes that you can adopt to increase your level of physical activity at work.


  1. Active Melbourne City Sports

There are a number of sports being organised around the city on a weekly basis: Soccer, Basketball, Dodgeball, Running, Netball and Cricket just to name a few.  Check out the Active Melbourne City Sports and to see how you can get started.



  1. Stairs

Instead of using the elevator try take the stairs.  This can be done when attending meetings or you even use the bathrooms that are on a different level.  Making a trip up and down the stairs burns a little over 5 calories.



  1. Chat services are great, but…

Chat services are great when you need a quick and short response to question or to broadcast a message to a team; but if a conversation is taking longer than 2-3 minutes, then having a face to face conversation may be more appropriate.  Face to face conversations requires you to move away from your desk and take a short walk across the office.



  1. Nice kicks

If you are fortunate enough to work in an office with a relaxed dress code; wearing comfortable clothes and shoes encourages you to be more active.  It’s a lot easier to get up a flight of stair in flats, than in high heels (I assume).



The Mindful Housekeepers

A study was conducted to test if one’s mindset along with exercise could have an effect on health variables such as weight, blood pressure, body fat and BMI. 84 housekeepers from 7 different hotels were split into two groups and were measured on the previous health variables mentioned above.


The first group was informed that the work they engage in daily (i.e. cleaning hotel rooms) is a good form of exercise and attributes to an active and healthy lifestyle.  The common work tasks that they performed were shown as examples of exercise.


The second group of housekeepers kept in the dark.


After four weeks, the same health variable was measured again for both groups.  The informed group showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat and BMI as compared to the control group.


The research conducted by Alia Crum and Ellen Langer shows that changing one’s perception of the of physical activities at work can be enough to affect your health in a positive way.


Combining a change in mindset along with increasing physical activity at work would be even better 🙂





No Days off


Mahatma Gandhi

Time to Read: 2 mins

What a busy weekend! On Saturday I played with my 5-year son, finished Firewatch (great game) and watched Dough (an entertaining movie). On Sunday we went to visit a few winery’s, went to the strawberry farm and then stopped by my parent’s house for dinner.

I have committed to completing 5 daily activities to help improve my emotional, mental and spiritual state.

But over that weekend I managed to complete 1 out of the 5 daily activities that I usually commit to every day. Outside of having a fabulous weekend, what did I learn from skipping over these activities?

I learned that taking days off kills your momentum. We all need time off now and again to break away from our normal day to day activities. But when we’re trying to build habits, the truth is that days off hurt. This is especially true in the early stages of habit formation.

No days off
Committing to daily practice reminded me of the statement: ‘No days off’. And so, I wanted to explore what types of feelings and beliefs we have around this statement. Who is it typically used by, if it’s the approach towards excellence and whether it is even achievable.

Having a quick search around the web, you will find that the ‘no days off’ line is typically associated with either, gym junkies or in rap music. The other instance where it is commonly used is in sports. For the most part and statement comes off and very cliche.

It infers that an individual is exerting so much will power to make sure that they arrive at a destination or goal first. It’s hard, it’s competitive and that only means that you simply can’t afford to take a day off.

For someone to take on this view and approach is impressive. But how long can you last?

If you find a task difficult and unenjoyable, how long can you possibly keep at it? If the only thing that keeps you going is motivation, I have some bad news. Motivation (like our ability to focus) is finite. But some people have been able to keep it going.

Choose your Habit’s wisely
No days off simply means that you have established a habit. A habit that is so ingrained that it’s no longer a chore, motivation is no longer required, you don’t even think about it, it just happens, and is a part of who you are. So choose your habits wisely.

Daily habit is all about mastery, but before you get there somewhere along the way you decided that it was important. It was important enough that you decided to come back to it day after day.

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

– Mahatma Gandhi

How to use Buffers

Time to Read: 3 mins

Sakichi Toyoda was the founder of Toyota and is considered to be the father of industrial revolution in Japan. The industrial revolution moved us away from hand made goods, to mass manufacturing of goods by machines.

In manufacturing, buffers are used to keep the assembly line running with any interruption; It’s described as having enough supply to keep the assembly running and helps to compensate for any variations in the production process.

We also use buffers in certain aspects of our lives. We add them to our budgets, when we need to travel to an important destination and can visible in all of the ‘stuff’ that we accumulate.


Why buffers make sense
In the context of running an assembly line, buffers make sense. If you find one part that is faulty, if can be quickly discarded (because you have a buffer of spare parts) the spare part is used and the assembly line keeps on moving.

At a surface level, it seems that buffers are a smart safe guard, which clearly has its merits. But a valuable exercise to try is to operate life without any buffers.


A life with our buffers
Living life without buffers can uncover problems that are difficult to identify. When our buffers are always being used and depleted; it indicates that a real problem exists that isn’t just an anomaly.

Sakichi Toyoda knew that buffers were a necessity to compensate for small anomalies, but he also knew that without regular examination, buffers would only be covering up bigger problems.

Using the assembly line as an example; If a large number of parts are being discarded (because they are faulty), then it may be time to speak to the supplier about the quality controls they have in place.


Digging a little deeper
Taking the time to dig deeper can help us to discover why buffers exist in the first place, as opposed to just accept the status quo.

The Toyota assembly line is renounced for the hundreds of small improvements it makes to its assembly line each year. All of those tiny improvements results in a reduction in cost and time to process.

Those who take the time to dip deeper and find the reasons could be called perfectionists and have a somewhat obsessive nature with what they do.


The right approach
Admittedly some problems feel like they are easily dealt with the use of buffers, they give us a certain feeling of safety and readiness.

But we can get closer to a better process by removing the buffers and examining how something work, looking at a cause and effect relationships.

Once the process is improved, we can then put the buffers back in place, because ideally they shouldn’t be part of the process or be used to hide a bigger problem; but should only act as a safe guard for events we can’t control.

Seeing both sides, with Empathy

img_0187Time to read: 3 mins

A while ago (a long time ago) I watched an episode of Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee.  As the title suggests, the show is about comedians in cars getting coffee with the host Jerry Seinfeld.  It’s a good combination of cars, comedy and coffee.

I watched an episode where the guest was Chris Rock.  Jerry picked him up in a 1969 Lamborghini 400s Miura. The dialogue and comedy were great.  Then there were some remarks about arguing both sided that got my attention.

A dialogue with Chris Rock
Chris: The ability to talk to a lot of people is freakish
Chris: Anyplace where there is a microphone people want me to speak, a funeral and book signing someone’s birthday. It doesn’t matter where I am.

Jerry: There is no subject that you can’t handle, you (as a comedian) have given some thought to almost everything.

Chris: We are professional arguers.  Not only can we argue, but we argue either sides.
Chris: If you walked into a school and saw your kid talking to 500 kids you think your kid was possessed.

A Freakish Ability
For Chris, the ability to speak to a lot of people and successfully holds their attention comes down to being able to see both sides.  He demonstrated this when hosting the 2016 Oscar Awards.

Despite the protests for the lack of diversity of the Nominees, he was able to entertain the majority of actors while still acknowledging the issues that lead to other actors boycotting the event.  It was a difficult situation; to talk in front of your peers about a very sensitive topic, where anyone could have been easily offended.

Seeing both sides
When solving a problem that involves negotiating or mediation.  We usually don’t spend enough time on the other side of the fence.  We may be able to see things from another person’s perspective but only for a short period of time.

By only briefly acknowledging someone else point of view; we can only briefly break out of our own biases before we return to own arguments and points of views that we are comfortable and familiar with.

Less time on the other side
Some of the reasons why we avoid ‘the other side’ is due to our inbuilt biases.  A point of view different from our own may cause some discomfort or may contradict our own beliefs.  This is known as Selective Perception (i.e. the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs)

We also have a tendency to tune out when listening because we assume we know how others feel. This bias is known as the Illusion of Transparency (i.e. The tendency to overestimate how well we understand the personal mental states of others)

More time on the other side
By spending more time on the other side we can move from sympathy (a glib acknowledgment) to empathy (a personal understanding).

Having empathy builds trust between two parties and helps to build an environment that is collaborative, supportive, inclusive and sustainable. Having empathy also makes you feel good!

The only question is, which side is smart enough to go first?