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The Leaders Guide to Mediocrity—Less Than a Million Ways to Maintain the Status Quo

“Proceed with caution in the direction of your hopes, and live safely, the life have.” —Hank Dave Locke

Mediocre is a good. Moderate quality is ok. “Average is the norm,” as Yogi Berra might say.

300x300Today’s world is complicated—every segment of society is continually changing and very little seems to be certain anymore, like it was two hundred years ago. No amount strategy, planning, or consulting can change this reality.

The great challenge for today’s leader at work, in sports, at home, or in academia, is to help everyone just hold on through the chaos and hope that things turn out for the good. We need to lower our expectations on what “greatness” really is. Our primary focus as leaders today is to maintain the status quo and not allow innovation, excellence, or a utopian idea of high-performance disrupt people from allowing people to get their job done the way they always have—for the most part.

The following are a host (who really counts how many points there are in articles like this anymore?) of ideas, or habits, or secrets, that will help leaders around the world avoid the stress caused by the quest for “higher levels” of performance and help maintain the status quo within your spheres of influence—if you have any.

Don’t Have a Vision

Visions are nothing more than “pie in the sky” dreams about the way things should be, not the way things really are. Having a vision for your organization only stresses people out and puts too high of expectations on them—expectations that are impossible to live up to in the end. And besides everybody forgets the vision after the town hall meeting anyway. So leaders need to save everyone the stress—don’t create a vision.

Don’t Set GoalsIMG_0517

Like vision, goals are a big stress in any area of life. People don’t need really need goals; it only sets you up for failure and disappointment. People come to work and know what they’re supposed to do and should be left alone to get it done—they don’t need a goal to tell them what they need to do. Without the stress of goals we don’t have to plan our week or take time every day to think about our activities we need to do. Without the burden of goals, people are free to just get straight to working—on something!

Don’t Give Feedback—And Never Ever Ask for Feedback

Feedback is just an illusion. It’s just someone else’s perception. By offering feedback you’re suggesting that something could be actually done a certain way—that’s pretty judgmental if you think about it. The reality is that everybody has their own way about going about doing things. By giving feedback to someone you’re know judging them, you’re insinuating that things could be done even better, and this is very disruptive to an organization—especially when you give feedback to someone that’s been leading people for 20 or more years. By asking for feedback you’re insinuating that someone knows how to do it better than you. That’s a no-no. You’ll look like a fool and people may begin to think that you don’t know how to do your job if you ask for feedback

Don’t Listen

There’s only so much time in a day that you can sit around and listen to people’s complaints and problems. A leader that wants to maintain the
status quo and promote mediocrity, keep things flowing, should have no part of listening to somebody else’s challenges concerns or feedback. Time is of the
essence so don’t waste time listening to people’s concerns, and they’ll figure it out on their own—probably.

Don’t Solve Problems—Today

Like listening, problem-solving is another big waste of time. Problems exist, they always will, so what’s the point of trying to solve a problem when the reality is there will be 10 more, at least, that will spring up the next day. And if you really must try to solve a problem, sometimes you do, than the best strategy is to put it off until tomorrow. An average leader instinctively knows that today is all we have, and today’s troubles will take care of themselves; tomorrow.

Don’t Measure Performance

Yardstick-500x375Our society is beginning to understand this at a youth sports level—it’s time to understand this at a corporate level. If you hand out trophies and reward people for a “excellent” performance, what does that say to the rest of the organization? Measuring performance is just another way to discourage those who want to show up and work and just collect a paycheck. It’s another way to create distrust of the executives. Remember, your mission is to help your people survive, it’s not up to you to help them thrive—making the “scoreboard” irrelevant.

Feed Them Coffee and Donuts

This is a no brainer. Pavlov proved long ago that food, and now today, coffee, is a real good way to keep people satisfied. As long as people can come to work and know that donuts and coffee will be available, they will keep showing up. Sure it didn’t really work out with the orca whales at that Entertainment Park, but then again people aren’t really whales—food defiantly will satisfy humans. It’s not that complicated.

Which brings us full circle. Today’s leaders need to provide a safe environment with moderate expectations. The primary purpose of leadership is to help people survive and get through life in one piece—and enjoy the weekend. Leaders who follow these simple guiding principles will more than likely produce a culture of mediocrity and maintain a steady balance and certainty in an otherwise uncertain world.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a leadership consultant for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action a real time, real work, leaning experience that develops effective communication and collaboration skills for individuals in the workplace. He works with Fortune 500 Companies, Small Business, and Start Ups developing Performance Intelligence strategies that are linked to research based, leadership development curriculums and cutting edge application software.

Is It Time To Take A Break?

After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working – Kenneth Grahame

wooden signboard on tropical beach

I’m going on holiday next week. If you’re one of my friends, or colleagues, you probably can’t wait for me to go – I haven’t shut up about it for weeks. It’s my first holiday in four years. I’m nearly ready to go. I’ve handed over keys, projects, and back-up contact details. I’m writing my out of office message now.

I’m terrified.

Of course, I am looking forward to getting away; but I enjoy my job, and I take pride in the things that I achieve. I enjoy ticking things off of my ‘To Do’ list, and love delivering great customer service, and working closely with my teams and clients. So, of course, I’m scared about what will happen if I jet off abroad, and my colleagues aren’t able to deliver the same level of service. Or, even worse, what if there’s a disaster back here that I need to deal with? Do I trust my team members to handle things in the right way?

I’m thankful, of course, that I do have a wonderful team covering for me, and I know that they’ll be able to handle any curve-ball that might come in their direction whilst I’m topping up my tan. However, it is the moment that every leader dreads: they’re lying back on the sun lounger, about to jump in for a swim, and there’s a crisis back home.

This fear is clearly demonstrated in politics. As the BBC so rightly points out: in a world of 24 hour news political leaders are under public pressure to be back at work in a moments’ notice – many even ditch their holidays and return to work. This doesn’t extend only to politics. Former BP CEO, Tony Hayward, was heavily criticized for going sailing just after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed over 1200 leaders, and uncovered some startling figures:

  • Over half of all managers work whilst they are on annual leave.
  • 71% of leaders feel more stressed in the run up to a holiday; and 17% return from holiday more stressed than when they left.
  • 80% of managers checked their smart phone on holiday.

Should leaders be working on holiday?

This is a tricky balance. On one hand, they need to show that they aren’t chained to their desk; and accept that it is ok to take a break occasionally. They may, however, find that they still need to take the lead if something goes wrong. Timing is critical. Whilst leaders don’t need to be checking their e-mails every day on the beach, they should also not to appear to be dragged back to work “kicking and screaming”.

Will it make a difference?

Overworked leaders need relaxation more than ever, but the existence of mobile phones, cheap wireless internet connection, and 24-hour rolling news means someone can do their job just as well from almost anywhere in the world.

The general media seem to think holidays are a bad thing – remember our politicians being forced to return home? It seems they expect the Prime Minister to be running the country from his BlackBerry. The Training Journal, however, points out that all the research suggests people should be taking breaks. They identify that the opportunity of clearing out clutter and rubbish whilst on holiday is typically under-used. They also identify that, by delegating key responsibilities to their team members and not interfering too much, new leaders can step up and get an experience of running the show; deputies can step up and experience what holding the reins actually feels like. They might surprise you. Even if things do go a little pear shaped, it’s a chance to identify space for personal and professional development.

So, perhaps having no mobile signal can be a blessing?

Aside from your friends back home thanking you for not uploading hundreds of #Holiday #BeachSelfie’s to social media, the chance of an interruption-free holiday might be exactly what leaders need to do, both to recharge their own batteries, and to challenge others to step into their shoes.

This knowledge doesn’t stop the pre-handover stress.

You can plan for your absence, and work on cutting down your holiday related stress levels:

  • Create handover notes about the status of your work or projects, and if you have people reporting to you, give them clear guidelines on tasks they need to complete while you’re away.
  • Tie up any loose ends before you go on leave. Aim not to leave anything half-finished. Even if that means identifying where something won’t be completed until you return.
  • Identify everything likely to require attention in your absence and who will be responsible for each – Brief those who will be acting in your absence and be clear about what their role is. They can probably do more than you think. Then, crucially, let them get on with it!
  • Make sure that you inform your key contacts that you will be away – this will cut down on the number of messages you are sent in your absence.
  • If you are planning to check work e-mails, establish ground rules: only do so once or twice a day, and switch off your laptop or iPhone in between.
  • Set up a detailed out-of-office response for both your e-mail and phone line. Include the dates you’ll be away and a person that can be contacted in your absence.
  • Do not open your e-mail account straight away upon your return – catch-up meetings with team members might be a better alternative, and save you time trawling through e-mails. Remember to appreciate where people have used their initiative and made decisions, even if these weren’t perfect.

With all of these tips in mind, I think I’m ready. There’s a sun-lounger on a Greek beach with my name towel on it. All I need to stress about now, is what factor sun lotion I need, and which bikini’s to pack!

HR’s Seat At The Table

Many moons ago the HR role was seen as an administrative role, looking at the rules and processes that govern the organization. Nowadays HR is much more than that, HR is (or should be) a strategic partner to an organization and can help an organization leverage human capital to the maximum. However some organization’s still see HR departments as cost centers and refuse to give them what is needed. HR are a core part of any business and should occupy a seat at the C-suite table.


So how does HR get a seat at the table?

Get to know your business – Understand your business and what makes it tick. What is your organization trying to achieve? What constraints are managers under? The structure and decision power in your organizations. Learning about what is important to the business will help you plan and prioritize what needs to be done in HR.

Knowledge is power – HR professionals need to have a vast understanding of the world around them. It’s not only important to understand what is going on in the world of HR but also to understand the environment, the industry. HR skill-set’s also need to be evaluated, are the team equipped with the necessary skills to work at a strategic level?

Develop key relationships – Network within your organization, drop in ways the HR department can help with problems people might have. Offer advice to managers informally. Be present!

HR tools – Research what tools are out there to help you show how you turn results into meaningful actions. Google’s HR division (at Google HR is called People operation’s) is tuned in with what the business needs and provides it. It has a data driven HR function, that works with analytic’s and data rather than subjective decision making. If you want to learn more about how Google use this data please check out Dr. John Sullivan’s blog post (Click Here).

Bottom Line – HR need to link their strategic plans to the organizational goal and business needs. If HR actions are linked to a business need it will be easier to demonstrate how it has contributed to the bottom line. Until this happens HR will continue to be seen as a cost center.

Unfortunately when budgets are cut, it seems to be the HR budget that is hit first. HR need to prove their worth to the organization in order to gain a seat at the table.

The 5 A’s to Dealing With Problems

As a millennial, I’ve grown into a world where people expect things to be dealt with quickly, and they want as much information as they can get in the process. Just look at Domino’s pizza tracker. Why just wait for your pizza, when you can check when it’s being prepped, in the oven, and out for delivery?

This speed, and thirst for information, is transposed onto complaints and problems. According to a Lithium-commissioned study by Millward Brown Digital, survey, 72 percent of people expect a response to a Twitter complaint to a company in less than an hour.

To make sure I’m always ready with a response when someone complains, I like to remind myself of “The Five A’s to Dealing With Problems”. They provide a simple process that I can follow to connect with the disgruntled person in front of me, make them feel better about the issue, and then actually do something about it there and then.

A scrabble tile

Acknowledge the problem – try to really understand why someone is complaining. Stop listening to them complain, and start hearing what the issue actually is.

Apologize – you can directly apologise if there’s something that you’ve done wrong; or you can make the apology generic. Try: “I’m sorry that you feel that way”. Either way, the apology needs to be genuine. “Don’t ruin an apology with an excuse”. Don’t apologise, and then say “…but”.

Analyze the issue –find the cause of the problem. Complaints contain insight, so listen to the feedback – it should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you’re still not clear what remedy the person stood in front of you is looking for, involve them in your resolution decision-making – use questions such as: “What do you think would be fair?”

Act – tell them what you are going to do about the problem. If it’s an obvious solution, you might be able to tell them there and then. However, sometimes it’s not as simple – if that’s the case, we can still provide an immediate response just by being up front and honest – if you need to get someone else’s input, explain that, and then give them an idea of when you might be able to give them a solution.

Appreciate the situation – check in with the person that complained, and invite their feedback to verify that you have solved the problem. Even if it is obvious that the situation has been corrected; the fact that you care enough to follow up makes people feel valued.


I use these “Five A’s” as a tool to building trust and effective relationships with, and ensure that no one is left with an unresolved problem. They provide a valuable insight into continuous improvement, by inviting feedback – and then people know you’ll take the feedback on board and do something about it. It’s a useful skill to have in your leadership portfolio – because, even with the best intentions – your team members won’t be happy all of the time. If they know that you’re willing to listen to their problem, apologise if you haven’t achieved and accept your own mistakes (or at least acknowledge how their feeling about things and empathize), and then take action on it – they can know that they can come to you with problems; and you’ll continually be able to grow and develop and take the feedback on board to improve.

That, or you could just buy your team pizza. I’ve just checked on my app, and mine’s “Out for Delivery”….


Jemma Garraghan is a Project Manager for EMEA at The Ken Blanchard Companies, and can be contacted on

Create Your Own Placebo Effect

Blog Pic - Placebo 4

I was talking with a group of individuals at my running club and one of the ladies said, ‘isn’t it strange how you feel you can run faster when you’ve tied your shoelaces tighter’.

Other runners mentioned feeling increased performance after a decent warm up, pre-race rituals or times when a ritual abandoned before a run left them feeling heavy legged and lethargic.

So I was interested to read a column in Runners World (May 2015) by Sam Murphy on placebos. She mentioned a study by the University of Glasgow where volunteers injected what they were told was a new drug that mimicked a banned substance that boosted endurance. The performance of the runners over a 3K distance increased by 1.2% (9.7 seconds) and they perceived their effort to be lower. It turns out the volunteers were injecting a saline solution, providing zero benefits to their performance.

I have also heard similar examples of people with terminal illnesses who, when given a placebo, improved dramatically. Their symptoms decreased and some seemingly made miraculous recoveries. When they found out they were taking a dummy drug their symptoms returned.

This got me thinking about how our minds work and the effect this has on our performance, both in the sporting world but also in the world of work. I certainly feel my concentration decreases at work without a morning coffee, but would I have still had the same level of performance if someone switched my coffee for a decaff without telling me?

So, is it then possible to train the brain to make you believe you can perform at an optimum level every day? I think it is.

About a year ago Lily Guthrie, Office of the Future Executive Assistant at the Ken Blanchard Companies, provided a group of us with a virtual session on ‘Creating Healthy Habits’. This was mainly focused on habit forming activities in order to keep fit, eat well and increase the health and alertness of your brain. Applying this concept to your work day would also provide structure and your brain will believe these habits are fundamental to good performance.

If you always have a healthy breakfast, keep water by your desk and write a ‘to do’ list every morning before even opening your emails would this fundamentally increase your productivity? Possibly it would, as you are hydrated, won’t be hungry and are organised.

It could also be said that these habits make you feel more productive too – it’s a little placebo at the start of your day. Without these daily habits you might not feel you are working optimally, but with these habits you feel you have started the day as you should and are ready to face any challenges that lie ahead.

I would challenge yourself to think about your ‘best’ days; when do you feel in control, creative, productive and organised? This could mean recording in a diary or somewhere on your computer what you did each day and how you felt. Make your own placebo – take the best parts of your week and make them a reality every day.

Blog Pic - Placebo 3

Lisa is the EMEA Client Services Manager at the Ken Blanchard Companies. The Client Services Team specialise in delivery; Project Management, Learning Services (virtual learning and online assessments) and Staffing (trainer allocation).


Got Skills?

One summer afternoon, on the way to his favorite fishing hole, my grandfather took a short rest in the middle of a field behind house. He gazed upon his modest crop of corn that he had planted earlier in the spring as if he were Cortez, first looking upon the Pacific Ocean.

“You ain’t a man unless you own some land,” he spoke softly, as if it were a proclamation to the heavens, rather than an attempt to impart wisdom to his grandson.

Intellectual PropertyIntellectual Property

It wasn’t until recently when I heard a colleague and friend of mine, Dana Robinson, a professor of law at the University of San Diego School of Law and author of several learning courses at, talk about a new form of equity in our knowledge based economy—Intellectual Property.

“You probably know something about personal property. Your house or the things you probably have in your house. These are tangible things. That’s how we think of property in most cases, but what about intangible property? What about the things that are invisible that we want to consider property? We call those things “intellectual property.”

(See Dana Robinson’s course on Intellectual Property Law at

For generations, like my grandfather’s, land ownership was a significant and tangible asset to either provide or supplement a means to a living for much of the world. To this day, owning a home or physical property is still a valuable economic resource for individuals and families. But over the past quarter century, technology has pushed the light of the dawning knowledge revolution high into sky, dramatically shifting precious resources from the fertile fields of physical property, to the wellspring that reside in the minds of individuals throughout every level of today’s workforce—intellectual property.

40 years ago, the typical American company had about 20% of its assets in intellectual property or intangible assets. Today that number is more like 80%. Leveraging the 80% of today’s intangible assets within an organization is as great of a challenge as it is an opportunity for leaders and individuals.skills_cloud

Knowledge into Action

But intellectual property is not just about knowledge, it’s about how organizations and individuals leverage corporate and employee knowledge into action as a means to create revenue. If the acquisition of by LinkedIn last week (LinkedIn to Buy , NY Times) did not send sock waves through the business world last week from the sheer numbers, 1.5 Billion, than the fact that LinkedIn is preparing to transcend beyond the FaceBook of business and a real time resume resource, into becoming the leading provider of real time skills to polish up your LinkedIn profile, than you’re not paying attention to how the world of business is changing.

Gone are the days when executive leaders can simply make a decision and pass it down the chain of command for implementation. Gone are the days where you punch a clock, push some buttons, pull some levers and the company generates revenue like a well-oiled machine. And even perhaps more importantly, gone are the days when we hire and retain employees based solely on where they received their degree, or the level they attainted at a university, or the years of experience they have in the workplace—but rather how they can turn their theoretical knowledge from the halls of academia or years of experience into action through demonstrated real time skills that cultivate tangible assets for today’s knowledge economy.

Skills are the New Currency

In today’s highly technical job market, skills are quickly becoming the new currency for new hire selection and on the job performance. Mastery of job skills is more critical to personal and organizational success than degrees and certificates. The right set skills matched to the right job function is the difference between excellence and mediocrity in today’s workforce. Skills are the new currency of today’s workforce.

Perhaps while on the way to the local fishing hole this summer, I’ll take a rest with my son, pull out my iPhone, and open up my LinkedIn profile and look toward the sky’s and proclaim, “You can’t pay the bills unless you got the skills,” as he shakes his head at me with displeasure.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant for The Ken Blanchard Companies and Cofounder of DiamondHawk Leadership & Media. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a powerful learning experience designed to help individual contributors to excel at work and in their career through critical leadership and business skills. 


5 Simple Leadership Lessons I Learned from Ken Blanchard

When I first entered the workforce 15 years ago, I had the great honor of working directly with best-selling business book author Ken Blanchard. At the time, I had little knowledge of his work or his reputation as one of the most influential thought leaders in the business world. I knew even less about his numerous best-selling business books, including one of the most successful business books of all time, The One Minute Manager.

Don Shula, Jason Diamond Arnold, Ken Blanchard

Don Shula, Jason Diamond Arnold, Ken Blanchard

Shortly after working with Ken on book endorsements, and helping him organize and publish The Little Book of Coaching with Don Shula, I quickly came to realize how worthy Dr. Blanchard was of his celebrity status. Ken Blanchard has a way of making you feel like you’re the most important person in the room, whether you are one-on-one with him in his office or a captivated member of a 5000-person audience. Ken is one of the most down-to-earth and compassionate people I have ever met.

This January, I graduated from the Ken Blanchard Companies, taking with me a wealth of knowledge and experience applicable to my own leadership development and media firm. There are five key leadership and career principals I learned from working with Ken Blanchard during my 15-year apprenticeship with the company that bears his name and helped start a leadership revolution.

“Take a minute to set goals.” 

Not only is goal setting the first secret in The One Minute Manager, it is also the first skill of one the world’s most influential leadership models, Situational Leadership II. Most leaders and individuals have goals set in their minds, but few leaders and individual contributors actually write those goals down and actively use them to manage performance. Ken often quotes fondly the enigmatic Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Goal Setting is a foundational business skill, whether you are a leader of others or a self-led leader. Setting clear outcomes makes your path more certain and productive.

“Catch people doing things right.”

If one lasting legacy of Ken Blanchard will be passed on for generations, it will be the practice of catching people doing things right. We all have a tendency to focus on the negative—to point out what’s going wrong rather than what’s working well and thus making the adjustments to improve. Great leaders build upon others’ strengths. They lift up and encourage the people they’re trying to influence toward peak performance. Once people have goals set and desired outcomes determined, the leader’s role is to encourage them to achieve those goals—not micromanage them by emphasizing the details of their shortcomings and failures on the path to achieving those goals.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

The best way to encourage others is by praising or redirecting toward the desired outcomes. Feedback is the conduit through which we provide the praise or redirection necessary on the path to excellence. Most leaders don’t think of feedback as a skill, but studies highlight the importance of effective feedback in motivating and building trust in the people you’re trying to influence. Great leaders understand how to give effective feedback. Excellent individuals learn how to seek feedback from leaders and anyone that can help them advances their goals.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

There is perhaps no greater truth in today’s knowledge-based workforce than the wisdom of the crowd. When people try to solve problems on their own, go Lone Wolf on tasks and goals, or keep acting as the gatekeepers of knowledge, they not only disrupt the outcomes of projects critical to organizational success, they isolate themselves from real solutions and the support of others. Great leaders seek wise counsel and seek input by empowering people to create solutions to everyday business challenges and employ strategic initiatives. Today’s most influential leaders and successful individual contributors understand the importance of collaborating with others for organizational and personal excellence.

“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

This is one of the most influential concepts I learned from Ken Blanchard. People often think of themselves too highly or, conversely, suffer from low self-esteem. Being humble may be more about a person’s attitude than an actual skill, but people who think about themselves less and focus on the needs of others often build trust and have a greater influence on the people they lead. Humility is not as difficult as it seems when you have a healthy self-awareness of your place in the world at large. Not only is humility a great character attribute, it’s a powerful leadership concept that will elevate the success of your team and your career.

Thank You, Ken Blanchard

The lessons I learned from Ken Blanchard are worth more than a Ph.D. in leadership. These five Key Leadership Lessons are valuable life skills that, if embraced, will guide you on your own journey toward professional and personal excellence. Whether you are serving clients through your own company or within the organization that employees you, clear direction, positive praise, consistent feedback, collaboration with others, and humility will all go a long way to ensure lasting success in all your endeavors. Ken Blanchard is a thought leader in the business world because he has learned to tap into the timeless truths that have inspired people to flourish throughout human history. I hope you will consider these five simple truths this day as you engage in your daily tasks and interactions with others.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant for The Ken Blanchard Companies and Cofounder of DiamondHawk Leadership & Media. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a powerful learning experience designed to help individual contributors to excel at work and in their career through critical leadership and business skills.


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