Pervasive Relativism Stymies Leadership

15 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

Creativity blossoms out of individual and innovative thinking, a variety of viewpoints, and personal and professional confidence.  And no leader in their right mind would minimize the need for their team members to be thinking independently in order to pursue the company’s goals and objectives.

On the other side of that same coin is often the belief of individuals that they are entitled to act on their opinions, should be able to do things their own way, and do not need to be burdened with unnecessary rules and restrictions.  The incredible rise of pervasive relativism, defined by dictionary.com as “any theory holding that criteria of judgment are relative, varying with individuals and their environments,” has made it significantly more difficult to lead a group of people to achieve the company’s goals and adhere to company values and mission.

Relativism, as it rears its head in the workplace, does not recognize right or wrong, and believes more in the value of the individual’s preferences and style.

The problem is that when you, as the leader, have a powerful vision of how you want your company to operate, how you want to do business and how you will treat your customers – there is a right and wrong way to do things.  Your powerful vision is not only your passion in business terms, but also enables you to define a niche which is what provides competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Is it the only right way?  Not necessarily.  But it is the way you have decided your company or department will operate.  And within that, creativity can blossom. (Check out blog post on Processes are Strong Basis for Creative Thinking)

There is a right way and a wrong way to take care of a customer.  At times, an employee will do it the wrong way.  Excuses such as, “That is just my approach; the customer took it the wrong way,” or “They should not have approached me with that attitude,” are not okay.  The employee may have tried their best, but the fact is, it was not good enough.  It doesn’t mean they have to be fired, but they do need to realize that they did not act in a way that the company deems acceptable.

For example, Chick-fil-A believes it is right to smile and say, “My pleasure,” when a customer says, “Thank you.”  An employee could do the same thing at McDonald’s if they wanted to.  However, at Chick-fil-A, it is expected and the only right way to take care of the customer.

If you have an employee who demands to be able to do things their way, and it is directly in contrast to the behavior that you as the leader have communicated as acceptable, then their behavior is unacceptable and they must change.  This seems so simple.  Yet, over and over, I see situations where the pervasive cultural focus on relativism is brutally pushing companies to mediocrity.

What do you see?

My Way – Why do I have to fight for it?

01 May
by Bridget DiCello

As an owner or leader, do you find yourself defending, selling or fighting for your standards, expectations and values? There is a fine line between demanding and expecting compliance, and creating a team of intelligent people who are thinking and engaged, yet still executing on the vision and plan you have for your department or business.

Passionately Share Clear Expectations


It’s hard to get upset with a boss who is authentically passionate about customers, taking great care of them, and doing business in the right way. You must avoid expecting compliance because it’s the rule or just because you said so. Your team members must understand why it’s important, but not be allowed the liberty to grill you with questions about every plan, process or method you implement.


So often expectations are in a leader’s head, but are not shared, not shared often enough, or not shared in a way that others really understand them. Team members need to engage – think about, talk about, report on and execute on their tasks, and why they are important to your customers and company values. And they need to hear your expectations over and over in a variety of different ways – and see those values in what you do and how you spend your time.


The distance from your head to your mouth is very long, and you may not be as clear as you think you are, and as you need to be. Expectations fall prey to assumptions, assumed agreement, what they think you really mean, and what they think is really best for you and the business. If you leave ambiguity, others will do what they think best, sometimes what is easiest and what enables them to stay in their comfort zone.


Without micromanaging, what you expect must be communicated, starting with job descriptions, processes/procedures and evaluations, and continuing with ongoing coaching conversations and accountability through measuring metrics and regular reporting. Answering the question, “What do you want me to do?” can be difficult and is more often communicated as what you don’t want someone to do. What do I do when I don’t have what I need? Yell at who was supposed to give it to me? Make do without? Go find it myself? What is the proper protocol?

Business is not a democracy!

The owner’s or leader’s vision is incredibly important. It is this individual vision that makes the business successful – generic businesses that do it like everyone else don’t last. If a leader envisions a very collaborative culture, that’s fine and will work if that is what they passionately believe in, but that’s not the only or best answer in every situation.

The employees’ role is to execute the vision, and use their expertise, wisdom, knowledge and intelligence to execute well and share insights and ideas of how to do that better – not to disagree with the vision and fight it every step of the way.

Test Understanding – The Secret to Accountability

16 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

If you want to be able to hold others’ accountable, you must have something concrete to hold them accountable to.  Most of the time, people are held accountable to what you expect them to do or how you expect them to act.

This requires that your explanation of your expectations is very clear in the first place.  You can plan what you will say, outline your expectations and speak clearly and concisely, but you will not know if your message has been understood unless you test understanding.

The best way to test understanding is to get the other person to talk about what you believe they agree.  You could ask them to just repeat it back to you, but that is demeaning and doesn’t necessarily mean they really understand it.

Instead, ask open ended questions in a curious and nurturing way to get them talking so you can see what they are thinking:

  • What do you think is the best way to approach this?
  • What is the first piece you are going to tackle?  What is the first step you will take?  The next step?
  • What is your biggest concern about that?
  • When would you expect to have that part completed?
  • What do you need from me?
  • It needs to be done in 30 days; can you map out how you plan to schedule the work?
  • What is it that I can do to help/support you?
  • Why don’t you email me with your status update on Friday?
  • Is Tuesday after lunch a good time to stop into my office to share a progress report.
  • What do you expect to be the hardest/most difficult part?
  • What questions do you have?
  • If… then questions:  We can realistically expect [obstacle] to be an obstacle.  If that happens, what is your plan to address it?
  • What will you need to do differently than what you have been doing?
  • How will you approach this differently than the last project like this?
  • How do you feel we can do this even better/more successfully?

This does not mean that we fail to allow our employees to make intelligent decisions or have some freedom in how they operate. It does however, mean that if they are not doing what we expect, when we expect it, we must first go back and audit our own style of delivering the message in the first place.

By asking even just a few of these questions, you may either be pleasantly surprised with the plan in their head or shocked at how little they really understood the urgency, important milestones and timeline.

Making Progress on Goals Important to You

26 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

You can verbally communicate a goal to some employees and they will get it done.  Others need to see a goal in writing.  Others feel that goals are out there somewhere, but do not direct their daily work.  Ambitious employees feel that working hard today will lead to accomplishing the goal, but don’t see the pathway.  Big picture thinkers can hear your company goal and set their own goals for their team or themselves.

The best thing you can do as the leader is have clear goals communicated in writing to your team.

Yearly  – It is important they understand where the company and team is headed in the longer term.  They may not know what they need to do today to accomplish that goal, but realize that the discussion will continue on progress made towards the yearly goal.

Monthly – Based on what you want to accomplish in 12 months, and therefore, what you expect to accomplish this quarter, departments and individuals need to clearly understand their top priorities for the month.  To some people, this is intuitive, for others it is not.

Company/Department Monthly Goals – Do you know your company’s/department’s top goals for the month?  Are they way too ambitious for even a team twice the size of yours to achieve in 30 days?  Is the list lengthy?  Overly ambitious goals that are routinely not reached will become a demotivator and employees will lose their focus and drive.

Write 3-5 monthly goals that are the most important things your team needs to accomplish within the next 30 days.  This is in addition to routine work.  This is not all that you and your team will do.  You may make much more progress than this.  But, if you were to narrow it down, these are the most important things to get done.


  1.  Hire a salesperson.
  2. Evaluate and make a decision on the new software program.
  3. Establish key company metrics and a method to measure them routinely.  (It’s amazing how many companies or departments don’t have them.)
  4. Complete 50% (8 of 16) of current backlog of projects.

Individual Monthly Goals – Does each employee know the top 3 to 5 goals they need to accomplish this month?  “Keep working really hard on everything on my plate, stay focused and make some progress.”  That’s a scary statement to a leader, but may be the answer from much of your team.  This ambitious employee, who means well, may still frustrate the manager and hold the team back.

Have each individual draft their own 3 to 5 goals for the month, based on your company’s monthly goals.  Ensure they know this is a draft and you will add your input and may make changes.  If you feel the employee does not have a grasp of what they need to do, skip their draft at first, and write the monthly goals for them.


  1. Complete the tutorials for three software programs and evaluate them based on the following criteria (end user ease of use, inclusion of our main data points, compatibility with our accounting software and outputs).
  2. Complete performance evaluations on your three direct reports, including obtaining their self-assessment and drafting goals for each.
  3. Schedule time in your calendar each day and work on the backlog of projects, based on an agreed upon priority list, completing four projects by month end, while adding no new projects to the overdue list.

You will not see the results your team is capable of achieving if they are not focused and directed in their efforts.  Their daily efforts need to be focused on monthly goals they are striving to achieve, which are created in order to reach your company’s monthly goals.  Remember, to some employees, setting their individual monthly goals is intuitive and to some it is not.