Egg Crates for Sherry

He opened the kitchen drawer and shook his head. He opened another, looked at me and said,“What’s with all the empty egg crates?
I looked up and explained, “Oh I keep them for Sherry. She sells eggs. I keep the crates for her.”
He tried to keep a straight face, “ When last did you give her crates? They are all over the place.”
A week later, as I was cleaning the house, I realized just how many egg crates I was keeping for Sherry. That made me stop and pause.
Sherry works at my last place of formal employment. I left that place 18 months ago. Since then I have been back at that office twice. I have no reason to return there and the office’s location is not on my regular route.
Yet, I convinced myself that I was going to pass and drop off these egg crates. Even better, I convinced myself that Sherry really needed my crates. I was sure that Sherry needed egg crates specifically from me.
In that moment, I realized that I was holding on to the past and hadn’t let go. Part of me still wanted to have use, and relevance to a story that was over 18 months ago.
With that awareness, I went from drawer to drawer, retrieving egg crates and putting them in a garbage bag.
I know for sure that Sherry will survive without them.

What’s your egg crate? What are you holding on to?

Maxine Attong is an Organizational Development Consultant, author and coach. If you enjoyed this post, please share with you colleagues, friends and network.


3 Leadership Tips from Starbucks Settlement

By now you would have heard the news: the two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who were discriminated against by the Starbucks barista, accepted a settlement of USD1 each and got the city’s commitment to fund a USD200,000 grant program for high school students aspiring to become entrepreneurs.
As I read  their decisions and listened to their interviews I noted three tips, that would assist leaders to effectively lead their teams and to make better decisions.

Tip 1 : Leaders have long term vision – Nelson and Robinson are college students who undoubtedly could use the money. Yet, instead of cashing in on the situation they looked ahead, a little further down the road at their bigger vision. The swiftness of their decision, the manner in which they navigated this murky and dramatic situation suggested to me that these guys had a vision long before the event occurred. It was therefore easy for them to turn a negative into a positive since they viewed the event as an opportunity to move one step closer to their overall vision.

Leaders are also asked to have a long term vision. How many of us have a long term vision for ourselves and for our teams? The leader who has a long term vision is not distracted by what happens, she uses her long term vision to temper the effects of the present situation. Her vision becomes a barometer and the question she asks herself when difficult situations arise is “How can this situation serve my long term vision?”

Tip 2: Leaders are focused on others and not self– The decision to set up a fund for entrepreneurs moves the spotlight from Nelson and Robinson to other unnamed and unseen parties. They are creating opportunities for others to shine. They are building a legacy by providing a service to others.

How many of us as leaders have created opportunities for team members to grow? How many of us turn the spotlight on team members or put things in place for them to achieve their dreams? Leadership is about others and as the leader leads he also serves. While there may be a personal long term benefit for the leader who builds a legacy, it is often done by willingly sharing the spot light in the short term. As leaders we need to encourage others to build their skills, to increase their capabilities and to become leaders.

Tip 3: Leaders make economically sound decisions. – In one interview Nelson and Robinson explained that there is cost to a lawsuit, both in money and time. They consciously made an economic decision to accept the fund for USD200,000, even though there was a high probability that a lawsuit would result in more money.  They are also sharply aware that the USD 200,000 grant is only for one year and have begun discussing how to sustain the grant beyond the first year.

Every decision that we make as leaders directly or indirectly impacts on our companies’ bottom line. Do you think about the bottom line when making decisions? Our leadership does not exist in a vacuum, it exists in the context of an organization that has a mission and vision therefore our decisions should also reflect these. Those of us who work in for-profit organizations, have a responsibility to ensure that our decisions make a positive contribution to the company’s bottom line and that secure the company’s sustainability over the long term. This aspect of leadership is not often discussed, but leaders cannot be economically naive.  We have an economic responsibility to our companies and the teams that we lead.

 What thoughts did you have as you watched the Starbucks settlement unfold?

If you are a leader and want to increase the effectiveness of your team and your personal contributions as a leader, then drop me a line. I’m here in service.

(image by TriniChow)

7 Questions from the Chamber of Commerce

Two weeks ago, I attended the Chamber of Industry and Commerce AGM and luncheon This was a sold out event and I understood why.  The occasion was an opportunity to (re)connect with persons whom I knew, to meet new people, to learn about what others were doing and to share a bit about myself.
As I listened to the presenters share about their new projects, I identified 7 questions that they asked themselves to determine their next steps and to make decisions. I thought that today I would share these questions with you:

1) What is my Vision? – This speaks to your overall vision for yourself, for your business or for your family.

2) How do I want to live? Determine the quality of life that you want for you and your loved ones. Identify what a day in your life looks like – what you are doing, where you are doing it and with whom you are doing it

3) What do I want? – Determine what you want physically, emotionally and spiritually

4) What is my core? Identify the skills, competencies and talents that you have at this time

5) How can I expand my core? Decide how you can easily build on your existing skills to increase the probability of getting what you want

6) What are my low hanging fruits? Think about what is easy for you to access right now that will take you one step closer to your vision or to what you want.

7) What am I doing now for five years in the future? Decide where all of this is leading you to. This is your pull factor that will keep you going.

Which of these questions resonated with you?  Which of these questions were the most difficult to answer?

I answered these questions myself and some of my answers were insightful, setting me on a new path and different directions.  It was good to stop and stick a pin and look at the way ahead.

If you need assistance answering these questions then feel free to give me a call.  I will be happy to assist you to answer these questions.

How to Fire a Client in 5 steps

When I decided to walk away from the client, my intentions were clear – I wanted to remain in right relations with the client and I wanted to extricate myself from the contract. With those two thoughts in mind I set about ensuring that my actions did not expose the client or myself to any bad press and that are the end of the conversation we could walk away with little acrimony between us. I realised that some of the things that I naturally put in place with every contract served me in good stead to take the necessary action.
1) Plan an exit strategy – I emphasise to clients, that they have choice in service providers and can exercise their options at any point during the contract. This is documented in the contract terms and conditions stated as “either party can terminate the agreement with x amount of days notice”. A list of reasons for termination may be provided as well as the carte blanche statement “for any reason”. This establishes that the service provider has the same rights to terminate as the client.

2. Ensure payment terms leave you cash neutral – I can’t imagine under what circumstances a client will willingly cut a cheque for a service provider who has decided to walk. As a result, when I terminated the contract, I issued the client a final invoice that showed that the money received was the money worked for and that he owed me nothing. All contracts state payment terms which include a mobilisation fee with balloon/ milestone payments. In this way. the client never owes me (too much) money if I have to leave.

3. Document the reason why you are leaving – When leaving the client, prepare a termination letter with the final invoice. The letter refers to the termination clause as stated in the contract, and one of the reasons as stated under this clause is quoted, hence the need for “or any other reason”. Set a meeting with the client and hand the client the letter, explaining your reason for leaving. Sincerely thank the client for his business and apologise for your departure.

4. Offer the client a bone – You can sweeten the leaving for the client, by extending a free gesture of goodwill. Offer written recommendations for the business, or a free training session for the staff or a report that is relevant to his business. Chances are that the client wants little/ nothing to do with you when you leave so he will hardly take up any offer that brings you on his premises.

5. It is about me – When I decided to leave the client, it was my decision. Therefore I took responsibility and ensured that the client remained blameless in the matter. What I thought of his business practices or his associates were my personal opinions and therefore I kept those to myself. The client did not hire me to make these assessments, he contracted me to do a job. It is I who decided that I did not want to complete the job, under the existing conditions. Therefore I cannot make statements that are judgemental, or inflammatory, or accusatory or derogatory about the client or the client’s business to the client or to anyone else.  I also took responsibility for the tone of the meeting, and ensured that I treated the client with dignity and was compassionate in the delivery of the news.

Have you ever fired a client? What would you have done differently?


Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

Five reasons to fire a client

I fired a client today and my soul rejoiced.
I was hired to complete a project that was stalled for two years. This was a good contract. The work was challenging, the duration was to year end and the contract price would comfortably cover all my expenses well into the new year. It seemed serendipitous since I declared the week before that I needed a client to see me through the end of the year. Like a lot of good things in my life, this contract was effortlessly attained. A third party introduced us, the client, his staff and I had several meetings, I submitted a proposal, we signed a contract and I started to work.
When the work started, I started observing the client’s behaviour, listening to the staff and seeing patterns emerge. Slowly, I became aware that this was not the client for me, not did I want to serve the client, he was just not the client for me. As I reflect on the experience I realised that there were signs all along that shouted at me, even though I took a few weeks to listen to the messages.

Client has a pattern of changing consultants– When I reviewed the artefacts left behind by the previous consultants, I noticed that the client half-answered or evaded questions about the the same dubious practices. When I reviewed the files, I noticed that there were several references and recommendations about the same issues, which voided the argument that the client’s practices were due to ignorance.

The client’s business partners are not your type – Even though I was not directly doing business with the client’s partners, they were not people that I wanted to associate with or be associated with. Professional circles are small and the client notified several of his external stakeholders about my involvement in the project. Therefore by association I would be seen as dealing with the same characters as my client was.

Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde – My client presented a squeaky clean image, spoke a lot about God, and was polite and reverent in his responses to me. Yet the documents and his dealings with staff told a different story. The data did not line up with the client’s version of the truth, and the staff told tales of a short tempered man, who was harsh in his criticisms. The staff confessed that they were only staying for the duration of the project since they believed that they would benefit from interacting with me.

You bring the client home – When my sister confronted me and said, “ You talk about him a lot,” I realised that even though I was not complaining, the client, the staff and the staff’s tales were weighing heavily on my mind. I was not happy with the situation.

Forget about the money – Ah the money. It’s hard to ignore the lure of a pay-cheque when you’re not seeing another to replace it. I had to instruct myself “ Pretend that there is no money. Will you want to work with the client?” When I answered a resounding, “No”. I knew that it was time to remove myself from that equation.

It’s not about me – It is hard for me to walk away from a client, because I’ve been trained to complete what I have started, and to give service when it is needed. I sincerely believe that the collective intelligence and creativity (of me and my clients) are enough to solve almost any problem and that most people want to do better, and will do better once shown how.  This client reminded me that it’s not just about me. Regardless of my principles , my vision and my purpose I have to accept that people are entitled to their own agendas. Therefore when the client’s agenda does not mesh with mine I can make some choices – change my agenda to mesh with his, stay and promote my agenda or leave. In this case I chose to leave.

What clients do you need to fire? What would you do differently if the money was not part of your decision?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win. She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

3 ways Leaders help teams do great work

Steve Jobs, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be satisfied, is to do what you believe is great work”

This quote from Steve Jobs resonates deeply with me. There was a time that I felt that the work that I did was not great. It was accurate, and well received, but I didn’t feel that it made a difference – to the company nor to the people with whom I worked. I didn’t feel heard or seen and I didn’t think that anyone was particularly interested in my ideas ( At times, I was told that no one was interested.)
These experiences set me off on a lifelong journey – to find meaningful work. Work that will pay the bills, work that will leave me with a deep sense of achievement, and work that will make a difference to the people around me. Thus began an exciting, tumultuous journey during which I discovered my happy and sweet spot.
Many leaders have similar stories that explain the careers they enjoy. They can trace the decisions and choices, the roads that they took and the paths that they denied to get to the career/ role that fulfils them on a daily basis.
Leaders, let’s extend this sense of satisfaction to our teams.  As we stand in front of our teams, this week, I ask that we take a look at the faces before us, listen to the comments and observe the relationships, and ask ourselves – Are team members doing great work?
As we harness the creativity and intelligence of our teams in pursuit of our leadership, we can assist team members to do great work, or find the work that they believe is great work.
While it’s a matter of personal choice and how you view your leadership, I ask you to consider with whom do you prefer work? Do you want to work with team members who believe that they are doing great work or those who are working in misery, wishing that they were doing something else or that they were working differently?
I guarantee that it’s much easier to achieve team objectives when the people we work with believe that they are doing great work.  I can share with you three tips that I have successfully used to help team members to find satisfaction in the work they do and to believe that they are doing great work.

  1. Help team members set personal vision – Just as a journey starts with a destination, the personal vision, becomes a compass point that provides guidance.  It simplifies decision making as we are on the path as only one question becomes important – “Will this action help me achieve vision?” Team members can realign personal and professional choices to vision, to discover what great work means to them.
  2. Share your experiences – We learn what is possible from hearing the experiences of others. We can mimic their actions, or we can build on the foundation set or we can be inspired to be bold, to take a risk or to do something different. Leaders note that tone ,timing and intention are important considerations when sharing. This will keep us from boasting or bombarding team members with stories at inappropriate or unwelcome times or pretending that our journey was a simple or easy affair, or that we knew everything at every step of the way. As we share our story we can honestly tell of our failures and successes, what prompted decisions  and the benefits, the fallouts, and the repercussions of the choices we made.
  3. Listen to them – As team members are figuring out the way forward, or establishing their personal vision, they need to talk, to explore, to understand where they are at. They will need a non-judgemental neutral ear that listens from a place of deep compassion and curiosity. The leaders stance during these interactions is critical for the team member to dare to set a personal vision. The leader’s encouraging ear gives the team member the freedom to explore and the confidence to think beyond his current expectations.

Sometimes to find great work the team member’s job may need to change, or they may need to join another team or another organisation. One of the best gifts that a leader can give his team is the belief that great work exists and that they have the means to find it.

How can you help team members do great work?  What will it take for your team members to believe that they are doing great work?

Maxine Attong is the author of two books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead Your Team to Win.  She works with leaders to create more effective and efficient organisations. She is a Keynote Speaker, a Gestalt Organisational  Development Consultant, a Certified Professional Facilitation, Evidence Based Coach and a Certified Accountant.

3 reasons why we lead

There was a time that I refused to lead.. I left my professional accounting career and worked as a consultant, or as a part-time or full-time contractor. In those roles, I worked with conglomerates, SMEs and multinationals, in the oil & gas, insurance, trade union, financial, hotel and retail sectors. From this external position, i had a wonderful vantage point to observe a wide and large cross section of leaders and teams. During those 11 years, I listened to employees and managers share their frustrations about leading or being led, and I realised that I was part of the problem – because I refused to take up the leadership mantle. And so, I determined to return to leadership within an organisation, so that I could develop and experiment with leadership. From my discussions with other leaders, my experiences and my observations I determined that there are three reasons why people decide to lead.

  1. We want to – Leadership offers the unique opportunity, to fulfil our loftier ambitions. When we decide to lead, we determine to move beyond management even while required to coordinate, organise and plan the work of others. These technical aspects of the job become mundane and are no longer enough to satisfy us; we feel the need to provide something more for our team members and to ask more of ourselves. Leadership allowed me frequent occasions to live my personal vision of “enhancing the lifes of people with whom I make contact”. On a daily basis, I was offered the potential to make a difference, to enhance a life, and to be the person whom I envisioned myself to be.  On a daily basis I could do as I wanted, to lead, that is, to harness the intelligence and creativity of the team.
  2. We need to – As I work with organisations, I notice that there is a dearth of leadership as well as an amazing bunch of talented leaders. I also noticed that not all leaders hold leadership roles on the company’s organisational chart. Yet, I see these men and women happily provide leadership to their teams. Yes, I am talking about the oft dreaded ‘informal’ leader. When asked why do they do it, they reply that, “Someone needs to do something,” or “If I do nothing I will be part of the problem” or they cast aspersions on the status quo. These leaders have identified the intangible qualities that are missing in the organisation and they decide, to provide or be what is missing in the system ( in their own way). They lead because they feel or think there is a void and they take responsibility for filling that void. In so doing, they issue a silent challenge to all of us – Lead from where you are, because the organisation needs you to. What better reason is there?
  3. We are placed in a leadership position – A lot of us never thought about leadership until hired or promoted to such a position. We have all seen it – the high performer or a technical expert who protested being placed in a leadership position.  It is easy for us to blame “management” for not listening, but what then is the onus of the new appointee?   Let’s face it, (s)he could have said “No”, or declined the job or resigned or found another job. Instead, (s)he said yes to all that the new job brings – which includes the perks and leadership. Once the promotion has been accepted then he appointee needs to live up to hi/her part of the bargain and be deliberate in his/ber intention to lead

Now dear reader let’s focus the light on you: Your leadership is important. What is the reason for your leadership? What is your new reason for leadership? Drop me a line, I would love to know.

Maxine Attong is the author of two business books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead your Team to Win.  She is a speaker, coach, Organisational Development consultant and of course an accountant.

3 reasons why Leadership is important

I’ve pondered the question,” Why is leadership important? throughout my career. The answer eluded me until I developed my definition of leadership as the harnessing of the creativity and the intelligence of people – then  I clearly understood why leadership is important.

There are many analogies of the leader – as surgeon, conductor, etc. –  that essentially share the importance of the leaders. (They direct team members, assign tasks according to the level of skill and competency, have a helicopter’s view of the team,  assists members to fulfil their roles and responsibilities, and the list goes on.)

What if we shift focus and narrow in on team members? Why do team members think leadership is important?

When I answer these questions from the team members’ perspective, the reasons become more nuanced, more social and less about business. I believe that when leadership acts as a harness, it  has the potential to allow each team member to be part of something bigger, to tap into members innate desire to be led and to provide members the opportunity to dwell in community. Let me explain:

We want to be part of something bigger – Each of us matters. Each of us wants to matter. While our current situation may not reflect our deepest desire, we each want our life to mean something. This desire for meaning also extends to the hours spent earning our keep. Effective Leadership helps us to link daily tasks, our roles and our responsibilities to a bigger vision, a larger purpose and a grander scheme. Leadership paints a vivid picture, that engenders our belief that what we are doing is important and often critical to the success of the team, of the organisation and of our individual selves. We want leadership to connect us to something beyond the mundane, other than ordinary, and into something bigger.

We want to be led – Why do people “keep up with the Kardashians”? Why do they adopt their fashion, behaviour and mannerisms? Because they want to be led. We’ve seen this before with great political, religious and thought leaders who have commanded large audiences, willing us to be more, and encouraging us to believe that more is possible. We want a voice to speak for us, we want someone to emulate, we want a champion and we want to be part of their world. Effective leadership, satisfies these needs on a regular basis as their image reflects the great in us, and as it acknowledges that we are not sheep.

We want to be in community –  Man has always lived in community – for protection, for food, for spiritual and other reasons. This is an old need of ours – to be of a community, to be in community. We want to belong to a group, that respects us, that we respect, that shares similar beliefs and holds complimentary values. Leadership allows us this sense of community when it corrals the various perspectives, personal agendas, skills and competencies of the team members to achieve a common purpose. Leadership is the glue that holds the various thoughts, opinions and ambitions of the team members together and guides them in a common direction. There is no loss of or squashing of or disrespecting of independent thought, instead there is a tacit agreement that for the common objective to be achieved we will move forward in this direction.

Now dear reader let’s turn the lens on you. Why do you want to be a leader? Why is your leadership important?

P.S. Drop me a line and share you thoughts.

Maxine Attong is the author of two business books – Change or Die – The Business Process Improvement Manual and Lead your Team to Win.  She is a speaker, coach, Organisational Development consultant and of course an accountant.

3 Employee Engagement Tips

I’ve been writing about #EmployeeEngagement for the month and the most questions that I receive are about HOW?  How do we engage employees, as leaders?
I like these questions – not only because I can answer them – but because the emphasis is on the leader’s role.
Very often we speak of the employees being intellectually and mentally connected to the organization, but the organization is a thing and cannot of its own, take action.  The first line of connection that an employee has with the company is often and sometimes solely through the person to whom they report. It is the Manager, Leader, Supervisor, Team Leader who is the organization’s forward in delivering the #EmployeeEngagement goal. Unfortunately the leader , manager, supervisor or team  does not always actively think that engagement is part of his/her role.
When I lead teams I know that it is my responsibility to provide the conditions for employees to connect with the work that they do and by extension the organization. I use the three below tips to help engage employees.

  1. What’s in it for me? We are motivated when we think that our actions will bring us closer to what we want.  Each employee works for different reasons – some  want job security, others want to rack up achievements, while some want money to pursue their dreams, take care of families or build a business. Each employee has a reason for working even though they may not be able to, or want to, or are afraid of articulating it.  When I understood the personal desires of  each employee I was able to delegate tasks, develop career paths, offer relevant training and sometimes advise the employee to move on. Employees that I worked with did not always like me, nor me them, but they were connected to what they were doing because they were clear about the indelible link between their job and  their desire.
  2. One-on-One – How does a manager/ leader know what employees want? I have one-on-one meetings with employees. The intention of these meeting is to understand what makes the employee tick.  One-on-ones last for 30 minutes. In the first 10 minutes the employee talks about what’s on his mind, the second 10 minutes the manager asks “WHAT “ and “HOW” questions to  clarify the information received from the employees and to help the employee work through the issues presented.  The last 10 minutes are spent with the employee summarizing the meeting and thinking about the next steps. These sessions are voluntary so employees may not always attend or follow the proposed structure. I’ve lead teams whose members all refused to attend one-on-one sessions. Over time, some of these team members popped into my office, closed the door and began to talk. (Regular team meetings were used as avenues to engage others) Learning about the employee does not happen overnight, as employees are often tentative of such engagements – especially if this is a first for them. Initial sessions may be awkward and it will take several sessions for both the employee and leader to feel comfortable. These meetings allowed me to understand the dreams, the desires, the ambitions, the fears, the challenges and the dashed hopes of employees.  I was always left with a better appreciation  of their life priorities and what tasks to assign so that they remain motivated and achieved some aspect of their personal ambition because of the work that they do.
  3. What type of leader are you? Let’s be real – can you honour a one-on-one? When employees reveal themselves and their ambitions to you what do you do with this? I sift through the information to glean the bits that are relevant to the job and ignore the rest. I don’t fool myself – the person in front of me is a complex, adult, human being and chooses to show me only one side of his/herself. I only get a glimpse of the employee’s  personal affairs, and I cannot verify the information, follow up or give advice., nor can I take any action based on personal information revealed in the one-on-one ( unless the employee plans to hurt her/himself or someone else).  The personal information is a backdrop, my focus is only on how this information provides guidance about task assignment. It allows me an avenue for agreeing with the employee how the job and their ambitions can be aligned despite the challenges or limitations that may be present. Nothing else that they say is relevant to this, despite how juicy it may be.  So let’s be honest.
    One-on-Ones are not for you, if you
    * Can’t maintain confidence
    *Share what you hear,
    *Think life should/ must/ has to  be lived one way
    *Have little tolerance for differences

Put one-on-ones in your toolkit if you
* Can manage your judgements ( we all have them)
*Are willing to broaden your world view
*Are aware that you do not know the employee even if they share deeply
*Can compartmentalize and select only relevant information

One-on-Ones work when employees build trust in their leader and the leader respects the trust that has been built. This is not an overnight process.

In my book- Lead Your Team to Win – I share even more engagement tips.

P.S. I have  encountered  employees who do not want to connect with the job – some are marking time or passing through. When I encounter these persons I collaborate with them to identify what they can do while they are part of the team and work with them for a transfer to another team or help them get another job.

Do you agree that employee engagement is part of the Manager/ Leader’s responsibility?
How do you engage the employees who report to you?