Reflections from a first time Operator

  • Leave Well

    It’s almost certain you will work for multiple companies throughout your career. All roles have a start and end date; that’s not a bad thing. And so, it’s likely that on multiple occasions you will have to quit your job. When you do, it’s in your best interest to Leave Well. While you will work for multiple companies, you only have one professional reputation.

    Here are a few elements of “Leaving Well”.

    • Provide generous notice. The amount of notice needs to be calibrated based on the seniority of your role and the scope of your responsibility. The more senior and more scope, the longer the notice period. For most junior, individual contributor roles, two weeks is the standard. I would recommend offering three, when possible. If you are in a Director/VP role or Head of a function, I would recommend a minimum of three, ideally four. If you are in the C-suite, you should offer four and be open to more as necessary as part of a transition discussion. What I’m referring to is what I would offer; in some cases, the company will prefer a shorter timeframe and that’s ok. If you can treat it as a conversation and start with a generous offer, you will immediately build goodwill. You’re signaling your intent to be supportive and helpful as you leave.
    • Transition your work. Do your best to set your future ex-colleagues and clients (if applicable) up for success. Leaving without any hidden skeletons or future fires is a good way to enhance the positive sentiment folks will have about you when you’re gone.
    • Work hard after you give notice. I know from personal experience this can be really challenging. After giving notice, your mind naturally shifts to what’s next, which makes it difficult to remain engaged or frankly care much about the work you’re doing for a company you’re leaving. That’s why you need to make a conscious effort to work hard, maybe even harder than you’ve worked the past six months, to garner a positive impression on the way out. Remind yourself it’s only a few weeks.
    • Maintain professionalism and express gratitude. Try to be gracious. Focus on the good and leave the bad. Express gratitude to those you can. Even if you don’t quite feel as positive as you show up, try to focus on the best parts of your experience. Never trash talk or speak negatively about people or the company as you leave.

    It’s common knowledge that first impressions are critical. Much less consideration is directed at last impressions, and they are almost as important as first ones. They represent the memory your former colleagues, boss, and leadership team will carry of you.

    Ideally, you want to leave a company and have your colleagues, your boss, and the leadership team all have a strong positive impression of you. It’s hard to predict when or how this will be important, but it is. It might be a blind reference for a future role you’re interested in; it might be how your name ends up as a recommendation for a future role at an entirely different company. Many folks you work with today will leave their roles at some point, and work for other companies, and so the “world is a small place” is particularly true within any given industry and geography. To leave with a positive perception will aid you in your career. And relative to the length of your career, the effort required to Leave Well is low.

    This advice is true regardless of whether you’re already positively perceived in the organization or not. If you’ve built a really strong reputation the past few years, don’t dilute it in the last few weeks. If you’ve had some bumps leading up to your resignation, try and enhance people’s perception of you as you exit.

    If you’re reading this and thinking, I am so sick of my company. That’s why I’m quitting. I can’t wait to be gone. They suck, the leadership sucks, most of my colleagues suck, why would I ever do THEM a favour on the way out, then I will re-iterate: this is about benefitting you. Take the high road out of self-interest. Like all principles, there are exceptions, and in particularly brutal work situations, maybe this doesn’t make sense. But those are rare. Generally, try your best to Leave Well.

    I was a bit hesitant to write this post. I have an inherent and conscious bias towards folks leaving well, given my role. But this advice is exactly what I would share with my wife, sister, or any of my closest friends. In my relatively short career, I have already seen how leaving well (or not) can impact someone and I genuinely believe it’s a relatively easy, often overlooked action that’s worth taking.

  • To finish the book or not

    I like to see things through. If I start something, I want to finish it.  Commitment, perseverance, and determination are all important values to me. And that applies to activities outside of work, such as reading; I feel I have to finish a book once I start it. Over the past five years, I can recall not finishing a book I’ve started only twice*.

    A few months ago, I read this quote by Adam Grant:

    “Public service announcement: You don’t have a moral obligation to finish every book you start. Stopping doesn’t mean you lack grit. It means you have the wisdom to let go of sunk costs. Reading is for entertainment and education. If it doesn’t bring joy or insight, move on.”

    In 2024, I’ve read several lengthy (700+ page) novels that have felt like ‘work’ to get through. And so, I’ve been thinking about his quote and considering whether I need to change my approach. But when I review my list of finished books that have felt like hard slogs, I’m happy to have finished almost all of them.** I also have a concern about loosening my commitment, which is that it introduces a new decision with every book: to finish or not? And there are many books I’ve really enjoyed that took a while to get into, but ultimately were great. If I had moved on too early, I may have missed out.  

    So, despite reflecting on my position, I plan to stick with my current approach and intent of starting a book to finish it. The one adjustment I plan to make is to increasingly be more diligent about what books I choose to start. There are so many fantastic, well reviewed and regarded books, I should be able to minimize the number of hard slog reads by being more selective upfront. Maybe that will satisfy my dilemma over time. We will see.

    If anyone has good insights or thoughts on this topic, please do share!

    *For those curious, one was “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker. I felt the book sleeve sufficiently captured the takeaways and I was reading a novel that could have been a short article. The other was “The Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks. Published in 1975 and focused on software development, a lot of the examples and references were so old it was a bit painful to read so I jumped around to a few chapters I was interested in and left it at that.

    **Ironically, I’m currently reading “mistakes were made (but not by me)” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, which discusses people’s proclivity towards self-justification. If it was hard to get through the book, but I was able to, I’m naturally more inclined to believe it was worth it.

  • Healthcare and Advocacy

    A few months ago, Julia made a comment to me about advocating on her behalf during labour. I was confused. Don’t we heed the advice of the physicians in the room and do what they tell us? They are the experts, after all. Afterwards, and mostly thanks to our participation in a “birth and babies” class run by Alberta Health, I was educated on the various decisions that typically occur during labour and how a partner’s advocacy on behalf of the birthing parent is critical. The birthing parent is so consumed by labour they may not be able to advocate for themselves.

    Our own labour experience involved a few decisions, which served as an important reminder that despite best intentions, deep expertise, and a desire to help, medical practitioners are no different than those in any other profession: they have their own biases, preferences, and opinions. Not to suggest that is a bad thing, but to acknowledge it as a reality. And decisions in healthcare can certainly be judgement based, involving a degree of subjectivity.

    If I reflect on my own interactions with healthcare professionals over the years, I believe I’ve generally taken a “passenger” approach and deferred to the authority of the professional I’ve seen. And I’m not sure that’s always been the best approach. I intend to take a more assertive approach in the future. No one is as incentivized or motivated to advocate on your behalf than yourself, including your physician, which is why it’s critical to advocate for yourself.

  • Henry

    On Wednesday, June 19, Julia and I welcomed our son, Henry Jack Owen Cord to this world. Fifteen days early! I had a long list of to-do’s I was hoping to work through before his due date and going on leave, including pre-writing some Blog content, which clearly didn’t happen! So that’s all I’ve got this week. It was a good week.

  • Admit it when you’re wrong. Be Accountable.

    There’s a consistent theme among the strongest performers and leaders I’ve worked with. And that is a complete willingness to both admit being wrong, and to take accountability for errors, mistakes, and poor performance. Even when those mistakes might only be partially the individual’s fault. Doing so indicates humility, self-awareness and confidence, and an accountability mindset.

    In contrast, when I work with a leader who often skirts accountability, or who is always ready with an explanation as to why they’ve been unsuccessful due to factors outside of their control, it can be a major red flag. And cultivating an accountability mindset becomes harder the more senior and the later someone is in their career. If a team member struggles to take accountability at age 50, I doubt they are going to get it by 60.

    Let’s use an example. You’re overseeing a large project to install and operate a new piece of manufacturing equipment in your plant. The equipment is delayed. Once it arrives, the installation representative from the manufacturer comes down with a flu and you lose two weeks while the equipment sits idle. Finally, it’s installed but the quality calibration is much more challenging than expected and you lose two months. Eventually, it’s installed, operating efficiently, and ready to produce parts. But the whole process has taken 8 months when the objective was to have it operational in 4.

    Here’s how a weak Operations manager might respond.  “We really did our best, but a series of unfortunate events happened. It’s really too bad, but sometimes, that’s the way it goes. Shelly in Procurement should have given us better information on the delivery date. I told Remy in Quality that we would need more time, but he didn’t listen. I did my best.”

    Here’s how an average Operations manager might respond. “We messed up on this one. We should have added more contingency time into the plan for all these unforeseen events. We won’t make that mistake again.”

    Here’s how an excellent Operations manager might respond. “We made a series of serious mistakes on this one. I take full accountability for the delay. First, we should have reviewed past data on actual vs. estimated delivery date for this manufacturer. Second, we should have had a planned, local backup for the installation. I’m not sure what happened on the calibration, but I’m going to work closely with Remy in Quality to learn what we can so I can plan better for next time.”

    Ultimately, the more you can embrace an ownership mindset and take accountability, the better you will become as a leader. Did someone on your team let you down? Your first thought might be “they suck”. But more importantly, could you have trained them better? Could you have hired better? Could you have set better expectations? It’s challenging but ultimately highly rewarding to take accountability, and your peers, direct reports, and boss will notice.

  • Clean desk, clean mind

    In anticipation of our baby arriving in four weeks, I moved from what was formerly my office and now baby room to Julia’s office. It happened quickly one morning to accommodate some carpentry work being done in my office, so Julia didn’t have time to vacate before I moved in. It was an amusing office change because Julia’s desk was a total shit show. It was covered in papers, sticky notes, half-burnt candles, and random unused electronics. Not a great environment to begin the working day.

    To rewind a few years, Onex underwent a major office renovation while I was working there. About two years in, the renovation was completed, and I moved into a gorgeous new private office at the top of Brookfield Place overlooking Toronto Island and the CN tower. It was a fantastic perk of working there. When we moved into the new offices, we were informed that Gerry (the founder) had one hard rule he expected everyone in a private office to follow: nothing was to be left out or be visible on the desks when you went home at night. This was met with eye rolling and frustration from most employees, myself included. A lot of my day was spent reading research, presentations, and taking written notes. I generally worked with a lot of hard copy paper and prior to moving into the new office most of my desktop real estate was occupied by stacks of it. If the expectation is I’m working into all hours of the evening then why should the senior team care how much stuff is on my desk?

    Despite my grumbling, I complied with the request to clear my desk each night. At first, I did the bare minimum: I would re-locate stacks of paper into a filing cabinet at night and pull them all out again and spread them across my desk every morning. This became tedious. So over time, I started to sort, dispose, and recycle contents more frequently so the volume of ‘stuff’ on my desk was more manageable.

    And then over the course of a few months, I began to really appreciate coming in and starting my day with a clean desk every morning. It turned into a habit I’ve maintained since. Having a clean and organized desk helps the mind feel clean and organized. At least it does for me. I’m grateful for being forced into the habit. If your desk looks like Julia’s, give it a try for a week and see how you feel.

  • The Joy of Movies & Golf

    Over the past few years, I have become increasingly drawn to the Movie theater and Golf. In our always connected world, I am more and more grateful and ascribe a bigger premium to activities where I’m able to be entirely present and undistracted. With Movies and Golf, I’m easily able to be present in a way that otherwise requires effort and intent. Even when the movie isn’t particularly good, I find it easy to be present. The same is true on the golf course, even though I’ll be lucky to break 100 this year.

    Recently, I ate at a restaurant that included a phone cubby at the table. I am curious and interested to see whether hospitality experiences increasingly optimize for presence in more deliberate ways. Certainly, with ever shrinking attention spans, I see the opportunity and need.

  • The value of hard constraints

    Hard constraints can be an incredibly powerful force and incentive. Though uncomfortable, putting them in place can force you to innovate and accelerate learning. Despite the benefits, we tend to avoid hard constraints. It’s generally easier to have more flexibility in our lives. This principle applies in work and personal settings.

    Here are a few personal examples to help illustrate.

    1. Learning and speaking a foreign language. When I moved to Dusseldorf in 2016, I was determined to learn German. I started using Duolingo daily and signed up for weekly 1-on-1 private tutoring with a local language instructor. I shared an office with an Austrian woman who spoke multiple languages comfortably. During the first few months, she would start each morning speaking to me in German; nothing work related, just simple questions (“how is your morning going? How was your drive?” etc.). I sort of stumbled through and was generally embarrassed about my lack of competency. I would routinely default back to English and after a while she gave up on the German. If I went out to a restaurant or café, I would start by speaking in German. I’m clearly a native English speaker and nine times out of ten, whoever I was speaking to would start responding in English. To ease my discomfort, I’d then continue in English. As a result, I really didn’t build any proficiency in German and the limited bit I learned has mostly been forgotten. I’m confident if I had imposed a hard constraint on myself, such as demanding my colleague exclusively speak to me in German, I would have vastly improved my skill despite it being uncomfortable. In this case, I relaxed any constraints and chose convenience and comfort at the expense of learning.

    2. Mastering excel and powerpoint shortcuts. A key competency in Investment Banking is mastering excel and powerpoint. To be most efficient requires you to use keyboard shortcuts instead of your mouse. Once you’ve mastered all the keyboard shortcuts, you’re able to produce work at a significantly faster pace. When I first started in banking in 2011, I was familiar with excel and powerpoint but mostly reliant on my mouse. I started to learn some shortcuts but was progressing slowly. Then one day, a more senior Analyst in my office unplugged my mouse and told me he would return it in a week. Suddenly, I had no other option but to use shortcuts for everything. At first, it was painful. Simple tasks took forever. But after a week, I was able to operate entirely using shortcuts. The fixed constraint (no mouse) dramatically accelerated my pace of learning and forced me to master a skill I’m confident otherwise would have taken many months.

    Having hard constraints imposed is uncomfortable. It’s also often necessary to unlock improvement. Generally, if you ask someone to create something in three weeks, they will take three weeks. If you ask someone to create something in one week, they will take one week. Imposing hard constraints is often a balance between uncomfortable and unreasonable and setting those lines is an art in of itself.

  • Avoid speaking negatively about others (even when it’s deserved)

    When you speak down about a person to a third party (i.e., someone who doesn’t know them), it will often reflect negatively on yourself. The weaker the relationship between you and the third party, the truer this is. If the person you’re speaking with hasn’t formed their own opinion, they are unlikely to believe you with certainty. And if they hear you speaking poorly about someone they haven’t informed an opinion on, they might wonder, will this person speak poorly about me to others?

    Here are some common examples.

    1. Speaking poorly about another colleague. Let’s say you work on the sales team, and Dan is an ineffective salesperson. He’s sloppy. He doesn’t close deals. If you’re Dan’s colleague, there might be a temptation to speak negatively about Dan to other team members. Either the person will know Dan and already have formed their own negative opinion of him, at which point hearing it from you will only make you seem like a bully. Or they won’t know Dan, and they’ll wonder why you’re speaking negatively about your colleague, regardless of whether it’s true.

    2. Speaking poorly about a former colleague. Let’s say you start a new job in customer support. During your onboarding, you’re paired with a colleague James who is consistently talking about how terrible a former team member – Taryn – was. Because you never met Taryn, and don’t have your own opinion about her, you’re likely to be skeptical and wonder why it’s a topic of discussion. Even if Taryn was really bad at her job, James is likely to seem gossipy or rude by making it a point of discussion.

    3. Speaking poorly about a former boss or employer in an interview. If you’re interviewing for a new job, it’s likely you’re dissatisfied with your current boss or company. But spending a lot of time in the interview speaking negatively about it isn’t likely to win any favours. That doesn’t mean you need to pretend a bad situation is great. But it does mean to avoid making the topic a focus of the interview.

    P.s., I’m making some domain and hosting changes to the blog. For the next few weeks, you won’t be able to reply directly to this email. If you want to send me a note, you’ll need to send it to directly. Thanks for your patience.

  • The Three T’s model for struggling employees

    Every people leader will be faced with the challenge of managing a chronically underperforming employee at some point. A lot of time and energy can be absorbed by underperformers. It can be tough to determine WHY someone is struggling. A myriad of reasons exists. Generally, it’s worth spending the time to try and identify the cause. If we understand the root cause, we can create a plan to address it. But sometimes it’s impossible to determine the why and we’re stuck struggling with what to do.

    Several years ago, I learned about a simple framework to help define a path forward for underperforming employees called the Three T’s, which stands for Train-Transfer-Terminate. The concept being, if someone is persistently underperforming in their role, in most cases you can pursue one of three options:

    1. Train them. Perhaps they are underperforming due to a lack of training and knowledge, which is preventing them from doing their job well, despite their best efforts. Investing time and energy in training is always worth the time; it’s a high return activity. Sometimes an employee won’t realize where their knowledge gap is and you’ll have to suss this out yourself. If you can tell someone is engaged and working hard, but continues to underperform, it may be a sign additional training is required.

    2. Transfer them. A very capable and engaged employee can struggle or fail when placed in the wrong role. Sometimes the problem isn’t the person, it’s the role they are in. If you can tell the person has the right attitude and capabilities, transitioning them into an alternative role can allow them to thrive. That could be a different role and accountabilities on the same team or a new role in an entirely different function within the organization.

    3. Terminate them. If training won’t solve the problem and you believe the person is in the right role, but they persistently underperform, then you must terminate them. Leaving someone who is failing in a role is unfair to them, unfair to their colleagues, and unfair to the company. Obviously, these are difficult decisions. They are not made easier by inaction.

    Because we are talking about people, situational context is critical and nuance exists. The “three T’s” model isn’t perfect. But it’s a relatively simple and easy to remember mental model to help diagnose the problem.

  • A Life Worth Living

    I like to alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction. Lately, I’ve been on a big biography kick for non-fiction. Mostly, I’ve been reading about successful entrepreneurs. I’ve always enjoyed stories about people’s lives and combined with my interest in learning about what makes certain businesses and operators successful, it’s a fitting combination. I recently finished “The Snowball” by Alice Schroeder, which is a biography of Warren Buffet. I really enjoyed it. She provides a more complete picture of his life than the carefully curated public image.

    In the book, a direct quote is included from Warren’s response to a student group asking about his greatest success and greatest failure. The quote really stuck out to me. I’ve included it here:

    “Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.

    I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them. If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don’t care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.

    That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. You can buy pamphlets that say how wonderful you are. But the only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”

    There’s some irony in reading that quote from someone who spent their life relentlessly accumulating wealth. Regardless, the spirit of the message certainly resonated with me, and in some ways, because of Buffet’s relentless and successful pursuit of wealth, he’s uniquely well positioned to make such a statement. You can never have too many reminders to prioritize those you love and the quality of your personal relationships above all else.

  • Getting feedback when you’re the Boss

    Receiving feedback when you’re the boss can be challenging. If you’re responsible for performance, compensation, and have the authority to fire someone, then you’re in a position of power. And if you’re in a position of power, you’re unlikely to get candid feedback from direct reports by asking them outright. Even if you’re not someone’s direct boss, but are in a leadership position, it can be challenging to get candid feedback by asking. And the bigger the gap in position, the more pronounced this is likely to be (e.g., the CEO can’t simply ask a junior employee for feedback and expect an authentic response).

    You can always pick up on implicit feedback indirectly through your interactions, but that’s less valuable than receiving explicit feedback. Some organizations have formalized processes in place to facilitate upwards feedback (e.g., ‘360 degree’ reviews), which can be valuable tools but are insufficient in totality. Whether you have a formalized 360 review process or not, there are some tactics I’ve found useful in facilitating a feedback conversation as the boss.

    1. Ask the question “what would you do differently in my shoes?”

      This feels safer to respond to than “what could I be doing better?”, even though you might receive a similar response. It can be asked generally and in reference to a specific topic or decision.

    2. If your direct report previously had a boss in a similar position, try “what are 1 to 3 things you admired about your previous boss that I might be able to learn from?”

      I’ve found this to be highly effective, albeit there’s some nuance in that your direct report might admire something you already do well or isn’t as relevant for you.

    3. If your direct report hasn’t had a boss in a similar position, you can try “Is there a previous leader you’ve particularly admired? If someone comes to mind, is there anything I could learn from their leadership qualities?”

      Similar but less useful than #2, as it becomes more general.

    4. Ask your direct report “What advice would you have for me on this topic?”

      This works well in drawing candour but is likely only in reference to a specific topic.

    5. Ask your direct report for 1-3 things you should ‘stop, start, and continue’.

      Phrasing it in a simple and common performance framework can make the question more approachable but I’ve had limited success with this one, likely because of the explicit nature.

    6. Ask them outright. “I’m keen to learn and improve. What are some areas for improvement you can share with me?”

      Due to the power imbalance and dynamic this may not uncover much. Even with folks you have a high degree of psychological safety and trust with. It may work better with more direct personalities.

    If you read this and have any other good suggestions to share, I’d love to hear them.

  • Don’t Settle

    When I moved to Calgary, one of my first tasks was to find a barber. I got a strong referral from Amin and ended up seeing a fellow who did a really good job cutting hair. But he was unbearable in a lot of ways. He’d consistently start ~15-20 minutes later than my appointment. He’d pause mid-haircut to take a phone call or text. He’d talk at me (not with me) for the entire appointment. I’d usually say less than 10 words but be in a ‘conversation’ for nearly 45 minutes. It was painful. And I went to him for almost three years.

    Even though I had intentions to make a change, I was lulled into complacency, because the haircut itself was good and it usually fell to the bottom of the priority list to seek something better. It took COVID as the catalyst for me to find someone new. And after I did, I was mad at myself for waiting so long. Now I get as good a cut and have a way better experience.

    The older you get, the more professional services people you start to accumulate in your life. I’m not that old, and my list is already long. I’ve got a family doctor, dentist, barber, accountant, veterinarian, massage therapist, real estate agent, contractor, carpenter, landscaper, bike service person, house cleaner, dog walker, and dog sitter. And I have probably five stories like the barber one, where finding someone great in the service category and leaving someone who wasn’t has made a huge difference.

    Nearly every time I’ve changed service providers, it’s been a result of some outside force – like my person moving – instead of something I’ve done deliberately. And every time I think, why didn’t I find an alternative sooner. Finding amazing professional service providers can have a meaningful impact on your life. I was reminded of that this week; don’t settle. It’s worth spending the time to seek someone great.

  • Always Connected

    Airplanes were a last bastion of being truly off grid. No service and completely inaccessible.  Sadly, that’s changing quickly. It seems the majority of planes are now equipped with WiFi, as well as free in-plane text messaging. The airlines are servicing our need and desire to always be connected.

    This makes me sad. I have always loved being disconnected on an airplane. There’s something calming about knowing you’re completely unreachable for a set period. No temptation to scroll or chat or respond to anyone. It’s an easy place to leave distractions behind and it’s always been one of my favourite places to read or get focused work done. So it’s a shame to see the last mile become connected. I know using connected services is a choice that requires opt-in but the more convenient the service becomes, the more deliberate a choice needs to be to avoid using it.

  • What role does Luck play?

    I had a wonderful professor in University, Denis Shackle, who facilitated a classroom survey on our belief in luck, destiny, and fate. You had to respond to questions like “I am able to influence the outcomes in my life” and “Fate plays a large role in whether I will be successful or not”. The higher your score, the more likely you were to attribute events and outcomes to fate, chance, luck, etc. Dr. Shackle used the survey to convey a message and a warning: Your mindset plays a major role in your ability to influence the outcomes in your life. And a low score is great, but a score of 1 might indicate an unconstrained ego.

    The average class score was ~20 and I scored ~5. I have always been a strong believer in an individual’s ability to significantly influence their life, almost to an extreme degree. I generally subscribe to his philosophy and line of thinking; if you have the mindset that your life will be dictated by luck and out-of-your-control chance, you’re less likely to take ownership for your actions. Conversely, if you believe in your ability to act and influence your life, you’re more likely to feel empowered to do so.

    Luck is defined as: success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. Yet, you hear people attribute outcomes to luck all the time. “I was lucky enough to get into the PhD program!”. Never mind the years of schooling, intense study efforts, and preparation required. “I’m so lucky I have a good boss. She finally gave me the promotion I’ve been hoping for!”. Forget the many projects you delivered with exceptionally high-quality, the times you went above and beyond for your clients, and the tremendous impact you had on the company.

    So does that mean the outcomes in people’s lives can entirely be explained by their actions alone? Not quite. There are tragic examples of bad luck, such as being diagnosed with a certain illness or cancer. And importantly, there is one hugely influential aspect of your life that I believe fits squarely in the definition of luck: your genetic makeup and the family you’re born into. You don’t get to pick your parents and your upbringing is entirely out of your control. And, you still have the power to influence your life regardless of how lucky (or not) you are on the family front.

  • Showing up for your team

    At some point in your professional career, your team will go through a challenging period. It’s natural for there to be ups and downs at work, as there are in life. Through some of my own mistakes and trial and error I’ve come to believe there are certain principles that resonate with teams when addressing challenges, regardless of the cause.

    1. Address the issue head on. Never shy away from a problem. If you see it, your team sees it. If you proactively address it, it will be better received than if your team has to raise it with you. Never put on an overly positive air or insinuate the situation is better than it is. Pretending it’s all good, if you don’t feel that way, is sure to be poorly received. People pick up on inauthenticity and it reduces trust in you and raises questions about your judgement.
    2. Be as transparent as possible. The more information you can share about the situation the better. Calibrate what you share based on the maturity of the team, and in some cases, limit information to respect people’s privacy. For example, if I’m speaking about financial performance with a more junior team, I will likely use higher level references and go into less detail than I might with a senior executive team. But generally, the more you can share the better. It contributes to the team’s professional development and breeds trust.
    3. Share how you’re feeling and discuss the plan. It’s ok to be vulnerable, even if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Vulnerability based trust is powerful. And if you’re feeling that way, the team has probably already picked up on it. But make sure to pair those feelings with a clear sense of direction and ideally an action plan. Hearing your leader say “I’m really, really stressed about the timeline for our new plant opening and I’m worried we might be delayed” is scary if that’s the end of the message. Hearing, “I’m really, really stressed about the timeline for our new plant opening and I’m worried we might be delayed. I’ve put in an order with two alternative suppliers for the key part we need and have reached out to our facilities in Mexico as an alternative backup. I should have more information next week on where we are” is better.

    Every leader will be put in the position of managing through a challenging time with their team. How you do so and communicate will leave a lasting impression. More so than how you navigate the good times.

  • Come Home Early

    For many years and trips, Julia and I maximized every minute of vacation. If we traveled by plane, we’d seek the last returning flight Sunday evening. We’d return from a trip, exhausted. Maybe unpack, maybe not. Go to bed and get right back to work the next morning. It always made for a rough re-introduction to the rhythm of work life. But we always got the most out of the trip – one more morning in the sun, one last good meal, or one more opportunity to explore our destination.

    Then a few years ago, I started to convince Julia to take an earlier Sunday return flight. Come home in the afternoon. Or at least the early evening. We’d have a bit of time to at least unpack, have dinner at home, and plan for the week ahead. Still a rushed turnaround but a softer transition.

    More recently, we started to take it one step further: return from vacation on the Saturday. Sacrifice one day of vacation travel for the benefit of an entire day at home to re-orient before returning to work. You get a full day at home and two good sleeps in your own bed. You have a whole day to fully unpack, do laundry, grocery shop, and complete whatever chores you have. You can review email, Teams/Slack, or whatever other work you need to, at a calm and leisurely pace. It makes the Monday morning return an easy one. We did this recently on return from vacation in Hawaii and while I feel less ‘fun’ admitting it, I love doing this. Coming home early is worth the sacrifice. I woke up Monday morning fired up and ready to be back.

  • One Year Anniversary

    This post marks the one year anniversary of publishing Dave’s Take. I am thankful to have started. While I have some gripes with the weekly cadence, described below, the experience has exceeded expectations.


  • Growing up

    When you’re a child, adults seem to have this air of authority about them. In addition to their large stature, they have many years of lived experience. They establish formative rules – bedtime at 9 pm, no dessert until you’ve eaten your broccoli. You ascribe a certain degree of credibility to them because they are adults. And you generally assume they have their life put together because they are old.

    Then at some point, as you mature and become an adult yourself, the shroud of authority starts to lift. You realize there are a whole bunch of completely clueless adults out there who are just doing their best to get by. This is one of the more fascinating transitions in life. You discover that age is in fact not correlated with maturity after a certain point, and you stop ascribing this higher sense of moral authority to old(er) people.  

    A close friend of mine, James, recently shared with me, “adults are just doing their best with the tools they have available to them. And sometimes those tools are inadequate for life’s work”. I really liked that. It’s a nice way of accepting that even gramps can be a reprobate.

  • No one likes a shit sandwich

    One of my first jobs was a Snowboard instructor. When I was 16, I spent my winter weekends teaching at Blue Mountain through a ski and snowboard club called Ravens, which transported kids to Collingwood from Toronto. During my first year, I taught beginners – mostly kids aged 8 to 12 who had never been on a snowboard before. Anyone who has learned to Snowboard knows the first few days really suck. You spend a lot of time on your bum, hands, and knees. It’s a lot of getting up and falling down while you get comfortable balancing on your edges.

    Instructing beginners involves demonstrating the basic elements of how to turn and providing a lot of feedback. You’re constantly pointing out what to do differently and trying various tips to see what lands with the learners. “Bend your knees!” “Keep your back straight!”

    Becoming a level 1 instructor is fairly easy. I had to demonstrate a basic-to-intermediate riding competency, and then learned varying techniques, tips, and training tricks as part of an instructor’s course. During the course, I received my first introduction to the shit sandwich feedback method. The shit sandwich feedback method goes like this: start by giving a compliment or saying something encouraging (top bun), then give some critical feedback (shit meat), before ending with some nice words (bottom bun). “Hey Sarah, you’re doing great out there! Next time, make sure your knees are wider than your ankles over the board. You’ve got this!”.

    Fast forward a few years. My first job after University was an Investment Banking Analyst and in my second year I was tasked with leading the summer intern training program. Before the interns arrived, I participated in a brief instructor’s session where I was surprised to be re-introduced to… you guessed it… the shit sandwich feedback method! Exact same concept, very different application.  “Hey Max, love that you’re digging through the company’s annual report! Next time, don’t forget to check if they have any Restricted Stock Units outstanding when you’re calculating the fully diluted share count. Great initiative though – you’ll get it next time!”

    If you’ve ever had a manager use the shit sandwich feedback method on you, you’ll know it gets old, fast. The pattern becomes obvious and as a result, you ignore the inauthentic initial compliment (top bun), the real feedback becomes diluted (shit meat), and the positive finisher doesn’t feel genuine (bottom bun). If you’re a manager, cut the buns and deliver the shit straight up. People generally want to improve and if you’re going to give someone valuable feedback, go bun free. There are plenty of other opportunities to share praise, encouraging comments, and positive feedback. At a minimum, remove one of the buns. Your team members will thank you for it.