Worry Is Rust Upon Your Blade

Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.

When people call to ask me to speak in their organizations, one of the issues they frequently mention is morale. It’s just not as good as it should be. Or as the tip implies, it feels as though they’ve got more enemies than friends back on the job.

Then I’ll ask them a number of questions to get at the heart of the problem. I want to find out if morale is the “real” issue before I attempt to “fix” it.


As Barbara Glanz wrote in “CARE Packages For The Workplace,” pronouns “can speak volumes about their commitment and morale.” If you hear your employees talking a great deal about “they” and “them,” you have some morale boosting to do. But if you hear mostly “we” and “us,” that’s a good sign that your employees are proud to be “part of the organization.”

So what are you hearing? More “they” and “them” or “we” and “us?” It is important.


For years, I’ve talked about this in my programs. And in many cases, my audience members are surprised that that is even a part of their job.

Indeed it is. Patrick Mileham and Keith Spacie in “Transforming Corporate Leadership,” said “Knowing people as three-dimensional individuals is an important leadership quality.” They went on to say that “The embarrassed lack of knowledge shown by some leaders … matched up with poor team performance.”

So here’s a little four-question test you can take if you call yourself a manager or leader. Think of four different people in your work group, and see if you can answer these simple questions about each of them.

* What does this person do in his or her spare time?

* What is this person’s family circumstances?

* At what stage are this person’s children?

* When is this person’s birthday?

How well did you score on this little awareness test? If you don’t know your people as well as you should, I suggest you get a copy of my book on “Brave Questions.” Get a copy immediately, and use it.

The book gives you 400 questions, most of which could be great meeting starters. Just pick out a single question and ask it at the beginning of a meeting. Go around the table and let each person answer the question if he/she wishes and how he/she wishes. The few minutes you devote to such questions will go a long ways towards morale boosting and team building.


Of course, some of you are wondering what a “defining moment” is. And others of you may think it sounds too “touchy-feely.” I like Brent Filson’s definition in his book, “Defining Moments: Motivating People To Take Action.” Filson says your “defining moment” is the moment you decided to excel. It’s an experience in your past, “your most excellent and wonderful moment, ” the moment that helped define who you are now and what you’re trying to do.

Using this technique of sharing defining moments, one executive told his staff about the time his squad in Vietnam was ambushed. He alone survived. Hiding in the grass, he watched the small Viet Cong unit file off into the jungle. One by one the Viet Cong soldiers filed past without seeing him.

But the last one turned and looked right at him. For a terrible moment, they stared at each other. “All he had to do was pull the trigger and I was dead,” the executive said. “But then he did something that astonished me. He turned away and kept walking. He gave me my life.”

“Because of that moment,” the executive went on to tell his team, “all the years since, every day I give as much as I can to people.”

By sharing his “defining moment,” the executive inspired his associates to give as much as they could to their coworkers and customers. The question is — are you doing that kind of sharing in your organization?

One of the best ways to inspire people to excel is let them share the moment that changed their lives. It has an uncanny, motivational, trust-building quality about it.

That’s what one new CEO found out a few years ago. As the new leader of a large service company, he was preparing his first presentation for the national manager’s meeting. To make things more difficult, he was facing an angry and distrustful audience because of a number of arbitrary decisions made by the previous CEO.

Filson persuaded the new CEO to make trust the theme of his talk rather than give detailed predictions about the company’s future. So the CEO told the group about his defining moment coming in a softball game several decades before. He had been a champion sprinter in high school, but he had broken his leg skiing, and it had never healed properly. A year later, when playing in that softball game, he hit a single to right field — and was thrown out at first base!

“Until that moment,” the new CEO told the managers, “I had not let myself realize that I was washed up. But when I was thrown out, it hit me that the person I had been — a track star — no longer existed. I had to find a new me.”

“I realized I couldn’t succeed without other people. I went from ‘stardom’ to ‘teamdom.’ I realized that to rely on other people I had to trust them and they had to trust me.”

By sharing his defining moment, the CEO helped to establish some of the trust he would need to lead his team forward.

Years ago, I would have doubted the power of sharing defining moments. After all, I figured, when I lost the three most important people in my life in one weekend, what right did I have to teach other people how to communicate. I kept it all inside until one of my students commented on the personal tragedies in my life.

I took a risk. I opened up. I shared how that experience changed my life and what I learned from it. And almost instantly, I found my classes turn into communities and my business audiences turn into teams.

Perhaps it’s time for you and your team to share some of your defining moments — and watch the morale of your organization rise to new and higher levels.

Action:  Listen to the pronouns people are using in your organization. Are you hearing more “they” and “them” or “we” and “us?” If it’s more of the former, it’s time to get to know your people as people.

Start each meeting with a “Brave Question” and listen carefully to what each person is saying. You’ll get to feel more and more like you’re part of the same team.