The Leader’s Treasure Map in Navigating Business Cultures


How many times have you wondered whether the person you were talking with really grasped the meaning of your message as well as its intent? What was your response? Did you summarize your point again with the hope that this time they would get your message? Do you look for validation that you’ve been heard correctly? What does it mean when people just politely listen, say nothing, and gently nod their heads while you speak? The answer? It depends on the environment in which the person was culturized.

In this global workforce with intertwined business relationships, the most effective and successful leaders will be culturally savvy. First, they will understand their cultural bias and the culture of those with whom they work. Second, the best leaders will modify their style to bridge these cultural gaps. Although technology will continue to shape the business landscape, those who understand how to successfully influence people across cultures will be valued and highly sought after by companies.

Early in my career, I experienced being part of American business teams that left negotiations with an Asian companies either questioning how well the meeting went or being overly confident in the outcome. Why the uncertainty? We typically viewed and interpreted the outcome through our own cultural lenses. Only when we returned home did we learn we hadn’t made as much progress as we thought. How can a team or even an experienced business person successfully navigate these international waters?

The answer lies in reading the treasure map of cultural behaviors, which Erin Meyer spoke about at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit (GLS). Meyer (2014) has studied business cultures and seen “the sad truth…that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work” (Meyer, 2014, p. 10). Meyer concludes that without cultural literacy, your default position will be to judge or misjudge others through your own cultural lens and assume that differences, controversy, and misunderstandings are rooted in individual personalities. The truth? Cultural patterns of belief and behavior frequently impact our perceptions, mindset, and actions (Meyer, 2014).

In her book The Culture Map, Meyer defines the 8 scales that map the world’s cultures and their location on the continuum.

  • Communicating: low-context vs. high-context
  • Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
  • Persuading: principles-first vs. application-first
  • Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
  • Deciding: consensual vs. top-down
  • Trusting: task-based vs. relationship-based
  • Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
  • Scheduling: linear-time vs. flexible time

Today we no longer fly to another country to experience different cultures, because diversity sits in the office next door. You may be an American supervisor of an ethnically diverse group, whose style reflects the United States Culture Map. Believing in treating everyone equally, you may be left confused when trying to coach each of your team members who come from China, Japan, Asia, and Europe. You may wonder whether your coaching is making any impact outside of your circle of American colleagues. Your coaching style is likely straightforward with specific concrete examples (low-context) to back up your feedback couched with soft qualifiers (slightly indirect feedback). You probably sandwich negative feedback between two positives. Your Dutch subordinate expects direct feedback, so he may likely misinterpret the degree and importance of your message as he expects you to be straight forward with any negative criticism. You may feel frustrated at his lack of effort and progress in affecting change. Perhaps, you may even start to stereotype Dutch behaviors based on repeated experiences with that ethnic culture. It’s not uncommon for people to routinely experience a clash or misunderstanding of cultures. If we learn about culture, suspend judgment, and build bridges between these cultures to facilitate trust, communication, and ideas, we would harness the potential of every team member.

Giving and receiving constructive feedback is a necessary component of business but sometimes riddled with insecurity for both the giver and receiver. How should constructive criticism be given and taken? How should feedback be delivered to get the best result? How much feedback is lost in translation? How do the words absolutely, strongly, kind of, and sort of play out when delivering criticism? The answer depends on the culturalization of the giver and receiver. Certain phrases and qualifiers have different meanings. Take for example a British colleague providing feedback to his Dutch counterpart. He says, “Please think about that some more,” implying “That’s a bad idea.” A Dutch or German colleague, who expects and is comfortable with direct constructive feedback, would likely interpret that as “It’s a good idea. Keep developing it.”


In business etiquette classes, we are instructed on the ceremonies which demonstrate respect. In Japanese business culture, it’s customary to exchange small gifts with visitors and present a business card with both hands towards the receiver who respectfully reads it upon presentation versus immediately putting it into his portfolio. Americans easily embrace these cultural mannerisms but fail to realize how communication and language may be used differently.

Frequently in my coaching practice, I reference scales from 1 to 10. Regardless of the attribute measured, when an issue between two people is greater than 2 units apart, the two parties will need concentrated effort to resolve differences. Meyer (2014) confirms my informal conclusion when she states that “what matters is not the absolute position of either culture on the scale but rather the relative position of the two cultures” (p. 22). Relative positioning determines how people will view each other.

Meyer’s (2014) first piece of advice when interacting with someone from another culture is to “listen before you speak and learn before you act” (p. 27). Understand how culture will impact the conversation. For example, the United States is the lowest context culture with Japan having the highest context in its communication. In simplest terms, the people culturized in America tend to communicate literally and explicitly. They value clarity and place accountability of the intended message on the communicator to accurately convey the meaning of the message (Meyer, 2014). On the other extreme, Asian cultures often convey messages implicitly which requires the listener to read between the lines. Good communication is layered and subtle, and the responsibility of its accurate transmission is shared between the sender and receiver. The Japanese have been culturalized over many generations to become skilled at “reading the atmosphere.”

Education can further exacerbate the cultural divide, by moving people more towards the extreme version of their dominant culture. Highly educated Americans are taught and encouraged to communicate more effectively in writing and orally and to take more responsibility for the messages they send. American leaders are typically rewarded for having and implementing the answers within their organizations. On the other hand, Japanese leaders are listening more to what is meant as opposed to what is said. In my informal survey of American and Japanese business people attending a meeting, I find that at least 75% of the words spoken are by the Americans and 25% by the Japanese. The Japanese typically spend more time reflecting and reading body language and other non-verbal clues. When they do speak, it typically includes more clarifying questions. Frequently, my American colleagues have misinterpreted the meaning of a nod, assuming their Japanese counterparts are in agreement. In truth, head nodding is more confirmation of being heard.

In past decades, businesses have relied on preference tests such as Myers Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) as the source of team-building activities to help team members communicate, process ideas, handle data, and make decisions. These business teams were more homogenized in culture, but today’s global business environment demands everyone to be equipped with a new set of skills that embrace diversity in the workplace. Meyer (2014) delves deep into communication and evaluating and also takes the reader through a journey to explore other important cultural attributes. Understanding, respecting, and working with the deep roots of various cultures will forge and strengthen relationships and performance. Culturally diverse teams will continue to populate the business landscape and every leader would benefit from learning more about cultural diversity and its impact on business success.


Meyer, E. (2014). The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business.   New York, NY: Published Affairs. ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business and life coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership. She partners with clients to help them develop and grow successful businesses. She also works with individuals to create their life plans and build better relationships by identifying and living out their personal values, enhancing their skills and competencies, and holding them accountable to execute their defined goals. Sandra welcomes comments, questions, and feedback at

Work Trends: Living Your Values at Work

I have a forecast! All the disruption going on in the world today is forcing people to reflect on who they are and what they stand for. I believe now, more than ever, people will seek to find companies that align with their values. In the past, living your values was reserved more for the domain of family, friendships, churches, and community. Where you worked was more about the best place to make money, advance a career, build for retirement, and have fun while doing what you loved.  

In America, companies are taking more of a role in shaping the country’s culture, belief system, and citizens’ values. For instance, Amazon is now paying certain employees to take time off to reflect on their white privilege. Others are dictating COVID vaccination as a basis of employment or as some of my clients have experienced—coworker bullying if they haven’t chosen to take the vaccine. Other companies, with a servant heart, require or put pressure on employees to serve as an employee group in charitable endeavors.

With more companies flying their value flag and requiring employees to be part of what they represent, they influence their employees’ attitudes, personal belief system, and behaviors. I forecast a trend toward more businesses bringing their values to the forefront and attracting those employees who share similar views. Your decision to work for a specific company or an employer hiring you may be heavily decided by a value formula more than other historical factors.  

If you are searching for work, perhaps it’s time to get clarity on your values and how to search for companies that align with them. If you’re a business, today may be the perfect time to get clarity on your values, how to promote them, and then screen potential candidates. If you are interested in exploring this topic further, reach out for a conversation.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership, sales, and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life story. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

The 4R’s to B2B Selling Success in the Virtual World

How difficult are you finding it to connect with new clients in this business environment that continues to go more viral? If your job focus is new business development, landing new clients has become more challenging. In the 3-R Strategy for B2B Success, the new selling world requires a story that answers one or more of the key selling drivers of RISK, REGULATION, or RETURN. The 3-R strategy brings a technical solution with your product or service. Many would have you believe that relationship doesn’t matter as much as it once did. I’m not sold on that conclusion.

At its most fundamental level, sales is one person saying “yes” to another, unless of course we are talking about an online auction facilitated exclusively by a software program. The human factor hasn’t yet been eliminated from the selling equation. Therefore, selling success in the new virtual B2B world is still focused on leveraging the 3-R strategy on top of the fourth R, otherwise, known as RELATIONSHIP.

How Relationship Building Should Pivot

Gone or minimized is the in-person, face-to-face relationship building meeting, replaced by the virtual call. [Note: If you’re still showing your clients a dark screen during Zoom, turn on your camera.] Building trust, demonstrating competence, and growing likeability on-line requires a more knowledgeable and intentional strategy.

I know this firsthand, because I’m an independent professional coach and consultant. Having already developed an in-person relationship before COVID, it’s easy to continue the relationship virtually. However, it becomes more challenging to make new connections and establish new clients.

Virtual selling requires different or exaggerated techniques. The most effective relationship builders have a strong command of people skills and interpersonal intelligence. They know that communication comprises 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% words. Unfortunately, virtual meetings significantly cut peripheral vision, so that both parties can miss key body language signals, and depending on visual screen quality, critical feedback on facial expressions may be overlooked. Today, salespeople no longer have the handshake in their toolkit that helps convey likeability and confidence.

Virtual Selling Strategies

Below are a few of the new or expand skills that the best salespeople deploy in virtual selling: 

  • First impressions are made within the first few seconds. We decide whether we believe, like, and trust someone before ever having heard their voice. Whether conscious or not, we are intentionally trying to assess and decide whether you are friend/foe, winner/loser, ally/enemy in the most primitive of terms. The best salespeople show and use their hands in virtual calls take up as much of the screen without appearing be under the microscope, sit erect and keep shoulders back, and look straight into the camera at eye level.
  • The most effective salespeople avoid the small talk and focus on stimulating conversations starters. Why? Because it increases the dopamine and pleasure centers of the brain. The best salespeople ask questions that allow clients to share about themselves. Fresh questions might involve some homework to find some interesting topic to open the conversation. A powerful conversation starter might be, “I saw on LinkedIn that you’re involved with Habitat for Humanity. How did you get in involved with that organization?” or “Your company appears to be a disruptor in the industry. I admire what they’re doing? How did you come to work for them?”

These are just two selling strategy examples that help build a relational foundation to do business in these virtual times. If you’d like to explore some of the other powerful relationship building strategies over video conferencing techniques, reach out to schedule your coaching session.

About the Author:Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership, sales, and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

The 3-R Strategy for B2B Selling

The new virtual work world is forcing a pivot in selling strategy. In the past, most salespeople focused on building a relationship first with the expectation of a product sale later. Unfortunately, the days of private, face-to-face, distraction-free conversations in the privacy of a client’s office are minimized or even over for some. If you can still get your foot in the door and build a relationship first, go for it! However, don’t be surprised if you need to use some of the 3-R strategy to build your sales portfolio.

Today, you’ll likely be growing the relationship in parallel with another selling strategy. What’s this new selling strategy? A focused conversation around the 3 R’s: RISK, REGULATION, and RETURN. Salespeople shouldn’t focus on selling product but instead solving problems around risk and regulations and finding those opportunities for a meaningful return on investment. Why the important distinction? When you focus on the product, you may not truly understand its value. Value is variable and contextual.

The selling environment is changing with studies showing that buyers are doing more research on their own before approaching a seller. They are not relying on the seller’s expertise like they might have done in the past. Many of today’s buyers are driving the buy-sell process to a simple impersonal transaction. However, it’s still important to know your audience. There are still buyers who consider the relationship as a factor in their decision-making. A one-size approach does not fit all.

Regardless of how much your client values the buyer-sell relationship, a “coaching” seller can’t go wrong if he or she:

(1) has a working knowledge of the buyer’s industry to understand regulations, trends, and talk the lingo,

(2) asks open-ended questions that bring the buyer to a higher level of thinking about an issue impacting the buyer’s business,

(3) listens and learns of the buyers’ pain points, thoughts, and ideas,

(4) discusses and recommends solutions that drive on the 3 Rs.

The best sellers help buyers see problems they weren’t aware of or from a different perspective as well as highlight opportunities to save money, reduce risk, and meet regulation. If you’d like to explore specific sales situations, brainstorm selling approaches, and perhaps develop an inventory of powerful questions that can make a difference in your pivot sales strategy, reach out to schedule your private coaching session.

About the Author:Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership, sales, and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

The 4Ps of Success: Purpose, Passion, Pursuit and Persistence

People often ask, “Is there a formula an entrepreneur follows that helps assure success?” An established company may focus on the 4Ps of product, place, price, and promotion; however, in my experience the 4Ps that a self-made person drives on are purpose, passion, pursuit, and persistence.

Becoming an entrepreneur who plans on making a living as a self-employed entity truly needs a business plan. This plan goes far beyond the requirements that might be asked by a venture capitalist investor. Speaking as an entrepreneur, starting a business is rough and not for the faint of heart. As the old saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That’s the mantra of the successful entrepreneur.

What does that really mean in today’s business terms? Although I haven’t studied the statistics in the coaching profession, I imagine they would be similar to real estate. My realtor friends say that 90% of licensed agents quit, because the walk is too long before seeing any sustainable income. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation on the 4Ps.

Purpose: I was called into this profession while still working in Corporate America in the chemical industry. I had a deep desire to apply my skills, knowledge, and competencies to help other people be successful in their lives. This was truly a calling. I had a deep sense of purpose.

Passion: This purpose was fueled by my passion. What’s my fuel? Feedback from my clients describing how I had a hand in changing their lives for the better. Their words are the premium unleaded that fills my tank after driving on fumes. After nearly 40 decades of work, there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you changed a life.

Pursuit: People may not know what I do, the value I bring, or that they even need my services. Days of frustration naturally come with the territory. Clients don’t line up at the front door after hanging up the “open for business” shingle. An entrepreneur must be a go-getter and connector. The law of pursuit is critical to success, just like it’s critical in all relationships.

Persistence: I know some entrepreneurs who have purpose, passion, and pursuit, and yet, don’t have the staying power for the long-haul. Although there’s always exceptions to the rule, many entrepreneurs underestimate the time and effort it takes to achieve critical business thresholds. Studies show that people don’t accurately estimate schedule or fully absorbed cost. I believe people don’t identify all risk factors, calculate and apply probabilities, and/or know how best to mitigate risk. Hence, one of the best tools of the entrepreneur is persistence and resilience.

The 4Ps are fundamental not just in business but in life as well. These 4Ps apply to my life coaching clients who are identifying purpose with passion and receiving coaching accountability for pursuit and persistence. Of the four 4Ps, which ones are missing or shining dimly in your life? Which ones need more attention to propel you forward? If you’d like some help mapping out your 4Ps in life, reach out for a conversation.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Virtual Leadership: Remote Working Best Practices

The new virtual work world has created new work rules, which in turn should cause virtual leaders to pivot. The days of having a private, face-to-face, distraction-free conversation in the privacy of a manager’s office are minimized or even over for some. Now many leaders see their people through a computer screen, and only if the camera is on. You could say virtual leaders have lost their peripheral vision.

What does that mean for a leader? It means that a virtual leader can’t see what’s going on in the shadows. Virtual work calls for the leader to shine a spotlight in more dark spaces. Yes, there’s plenty going on in the shadows of the people you may be talking with on Zoom that’s affecting their mindset, attention, focus, and engagement.

Virtual leaders, whether of their staff or teams, need to adopt new leadership skills, because the demands and pulls on people look different than when they worked in the office. People are more stressed out, burned out, pulled away, and working in ad-hoc home offices. Before virtual work, employees were already complaining about death-by-meeting. Just when they thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Many say they’d trade a virtual meeting for an office meeting any day.

Virtual leaders have a greater responsibility than ever before to run productive and meaningful meetings as well as lead people through the distractions. Below are some of the best practices of the best virtual leaders.

  1. Check in on people through a call, email, text, or card, having nothing to do with work. This helps to compensate for the hallway and water cooler talk where people connected beyond the scope of work.
  2. Call a virtual meeting, only when it’s the best choice of communication, feedback, dissemination of information, or problem solving. Our work culture has gotten lazy in thinking through how to best communicate, and they readily adopt a “let’s call a meeting and get everyone together”.
  3. Clearly state up front the meeting objectives and the decisions that need to be made before adjourning.
  4. Invite only those who contribute in some way to the meeting’s objective. Others who need to know the decision can be informed later by other means.
  5. Distribute a meeting agenda beforehand, so all attendees can prepare and focus on the objectives when they sign on.
  6. Ask attendees if there are any issues or distractions that may come up during the virtual meeting. If so, give them permission to leave the meeting at their discretion. This shines the spotlight in the dark places that distract attendees and shows empathy and support as a leader.
  7. Give attendees permission to drop visually, if connectivity bandwidth becomes faulty.
  8. Manage the meeting to the designated schedule.
  9. Invite people to engage in the conversation. People are more apt to speak up in a face-to-face meeting and tend to be more reserved in virtual settings. Ask specific people what they think.
  10. Ask how the meeting could have been improved before adjourning. The best question: “What could we have done more or less of to make it a more effective meeting?”

Many of these virtual leader best practices are powerful even outside of the remote work environment. However, the new normal requires leaders to show more empathy and respect for people’s distractions and time. The best remote leaders also ask their employees what they need more or less of to be successful in their jobs and working in their home environments.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

What If Diversity & Inclusion Were Verbs…

…and we measured their progress through the lens of how people feel.

Companies are currently wrestling with how to create and weave more diversity and inclusion (D&I) through their organization and into their people operations. Some are jumping right in by establishing D&I task forces, forums, and in some cases, even creating a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) position that sits at the senior leadership table. What will be the outcome of these types of initiatives? Likely varied.

Here are some of the challenges I expect organizations to encounter on their journey to move the needle toward greater organizational diversity and inclusion.

  • Talking the same language: If you ask 10 people what D&I means to them, you’re likely to get 10 different definitions. These definitions are likely to have some overlap, and through discussion you might get a consensus. However, it might be presumptions to suggest that you could ever achieve agreement. How will organizations handle these differences and create a cohesive language?
  • Making it a priority: Sensitivity to this issue is personal. Diversity and inclusion affect each of us in different ways, either directly or indirectly. Someone may be sympathetic or empathetic to a cause but will he or she prioritized it against other competing business objectives? How will organizations keep D&I at the forefront of their missional goals, especially early in the journey when it takes a lot of energy to “figure it out” and align the organization?
  • Expanding employee self-awareness: Companies are a collection of individuals who come with their own personal worldviews, mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors regarding diversity and inclusion. On a continuum, employees are all over the line on their self-awareness to their biases. How will organizations help their employees expand their self-awareness on this issue?
  • Measuring performance: Companies prefer to measure performance using objective criteria. How much? How many? Hitting it out of the ballpark on diversity doesn’t necessarily guarantee a more inclusive culture. Companies can meet their diversity numbers and still have cultural silos and employees who feel alienated. How will companies measure inclusion—the ultimate goal—as opposed to diversity?

If you were sitting in the CDO position, what steps might you take? I’d consider:  

  • Open the conversation up to your entire organization and welcome their feedback on what diversity and inclusion means to them.
  • People learn through story telling. Let people tell their stories of exclusion and inclusion so others can learn.You might get some surprising answers through their stories.
  • Define inclusive behaviors and then recognize and reward them, so employees make those behaviors a priority. There’s truth in the statement: you get what you reward.
  • Ask people what they are comfortable committing to that helps advance inclusion. The more people talk and intentionally act upon on issue, the more their self-awareness expands
  • Refrain from defining metrics solely on hard objective numbers. When people are asked to share their stories of D&I, they’re more likely to share of exclusion, because of the pain they felt. Develop metrics that measure improvement on how people feel.

Personally speaking, I believe organizations will have greater success if they treat diversity and inclusion not as a program, process, or statistic. I believe the most successful companies will embrace D&I as a verb. For those who’ve read The 5 Love Languages, the message is that love is not a noun but a verb. Love is action, and diversity and inclusion should also be if we’re to move the needle.

About the Author:Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Your Core Values: How They Show Up at Work

Our core values, whether we realize it or not, drive how we feel, what we think, and more importantly what we do. If companies operate by a standard set of values, stated or not, how do your core values align with your employer’s? Where do they complement, co-exist, or rub each other the wrong way?

Most people haven’t intentionally thought of identifying and unpacking their core values. However, when they do take the time, my clients have light bulb moments: “Ah-ha, that explains it.” The opportunity to express core values is a significant contributor toward your feelings of fulfillment and ultimate success at work, and on the flipside, the suppression of your core values can produce feelings of dread when you think about another day of work.  

We all have triggers that let us know something’s not right. Perhaps mine are like yours. When I can jump out of bed early on weekend mornings but need 3 or 4 hits of the snooze bar during the work week, that’s my signal I need a core value check and possible adjustment.

Wearing my hat as a life coach, clients ask me for help in changing careers. Our first step is to separate work from the company. For instance, one of my clients wanted to get out of sales, because it was too frustrating. After we unpacked his current situation, he concluded that he loved sales, building relationships, and the thrill of the hunt. What he also realized was how his employer tied his hands, dictated his process, and his current boss knew only how to supervise account managers but had no skill in leading business development.   

Once my client clearly understood that three of his top five core values were leadership, creativity, and independence, he agreed that sales/business development was the right career for him. He just needed to find a company whose values aligned with his, so he could perform at his best. Instead of switching careers, he switched companies by learning how to interview for the right company culture and boss for a win-win.

If you don’t know what your top core values are and how to unpack them in a meaningful way for future decision-making, reach out for a coaching conversation.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

Everyone Should Work for a Bad Boss … at Least Once

heather-ford-6fiz86Ql3UA-unsplashYou’ve likely heard the statement that employees don’t leave companies, they leave bad bosses. Despite how troubling this can be for those playing the character in a story ruled by a “bad boss”, I also subscribe to the theory that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You can become the hero of your own work story.

Bad Boss Benefits

Since working for a bad boss isn’t life threatening, I believe working for one in the early stages of your career helps bring gratitude for the good bosses you’re sure to have later, and more importantly, the experience builds your muscle of resilience. Bad bosses provide an opportunity to strategize and build stamina as well as develop skills in communication and conflict resolution. They also help you get clarity on personal boundaries.

You may say, “This all sounds good in theory, but you have no idea how bad a boss can be. I work for the worst of the worst.” After I share my brief story, you be the judge. Regardless of which one of us claims the prize, you’re obviously a survivor of a bad boss. My hope is that your bad boss experience allowed you to take away some valuable insights into who you are and how to lead better.

My Bad Boss Story*

I was in a position for nearly a year, when my boss moved into another management position, leaving the opening to be backfilled by Mr. Smith*. I’d casually known Mr. Smith for several years as a colleague at the same site. He had quite the reputation as a bully, and his views of women were a bit disturbing. I felt fortunate not to report through his group, especially after hearing some of his beliefs during lunch table conversation: “Women have to work three times as hard to get the credit that a man does.” He didn’t say it as if it was an injustice, but rather that women were intellectually inferior and had to put forth more effort to produce the same results.

Fast forward into the story six months. One employee from Mr. Smith’s previous department told me people had waged bets on who was going to survive: Mr. Smith or me. And the odds were not in my favor.

Now back to the beginning of my story. Several days after the announcement, I walked into my office to find a FACT Sheet tucked neatly into the corner of my desk blotter. In case you think I might have made this up, I’ve included the original note with my bad boss’s name blacked out for privacy. The FACT Sheet was a black comedy note, more ominously black than funny. What would you think if you found this note on your desk?

FACT Sheet

….Mr. Smith’s people are more apt to gain or loose body weight in an undesirable fashion

…Work priorities change on a minute by minute basis

…Work priorities are inversely proportional to the order you accomplish goals and complete tasks

…Long term health risks include hair loss, anorexia, obesity, insomnia, paranoia, mental and physical burnout

…Mr. Smith is ALWAYS RIGHT

…If Mr. Smith is wrong, see above

…Most people have a better chance of seeing God than an easy day in the Mr. Smith’s group

Although I knew it wouldn’t be a best seller, I soon started a journal because of the deteriorating relationship with Mr. Smith. I tried forcing clarity of priorities, definition of work quality, deliverables, timing, and expectations. Nothing seemed to work. It was like trying to reason with the unreasonable.

I swore to myself I wouldn’t give up; I was cutting my teeth as a manager. I knew if I could survive Mr. Smith, I could survive any boss. At this point, I didn’t know about the big bet against my survival. If I had known, it probably would have incentivized me even more.

2020-08-30_155112I never thought to go to Human Resources. The HR staff knew of Mr. Smith’s reputation, and I didn’t want to be considered the trouble-maker. I needed to figure this out on my own. Mr. Smith’s bullying style was not so much verbal abuse as it was written beratement, accusations, and name calling through the email system. On some level, I appreciated that Mr. Smith hid behind the email system, because it made for perfect journal documentation.

Deep down inside, bullies are cowards and deeply disconnected from people. One “undisclosable” email was the straw that broke the proverbially camel’s back, and I found a voice that I didn’t know I had. My response to Mr. Smith’s email was that I wasn’t going to tolerate any more of his abusive emails, and I demanded an in-person meeting. He sheepishly agreed to meet, and I firmly told him my boundaries going forward. All disagreements were to be in-person, behind closed doors. I demanded clarity in writing from him and boundaries on my decision-making. I told him in no uncertain terms how I expected to be treated. I also asked him to write down what he expected of me—everything. He could always add more to his list later.

You could say that I gave the bully a bit of his own medicine. I would say I gave it to him firmly and respectfully. I said I was here to serve him and help make this team look good, and these were my boundaries in how I expected him to treat me. I would do anything he asked to the best of my ability as long as it was not illegal, immoral, or detrimental to the company. Guess what happened next? I never had another issue with Mr. Smith again. I was a bit worried when the next performance cycle came around. What would be on my appraisal? Answer: HIGHLY EXCEEDS.

Bad Boss Lessons

Today, reflecting back on my bad boss story, it’s more comedy than it is black. More seriously, the daily hardship in working for a bad boss was a blessing in disguise. I got to strategize, try different approaches, learn how resilient I was, and ultimately, I got clarity on what I was and wasn’t willing to tolerate in a work relationship. I consider that a win.

Now that you’ve heard my bad boss story, what’s yours? It’s not that I want to take home the trophy, but I hope in the retelling of yours that you can see the good things that came out of your experience. Perhaps you needed to report to a bad boss, because you were becoming stagnant and needed a kick in the butt to go look for another job. Maybe you were getting complacent in the quality of your work. Or just maybe you needed to get clear on your boundaries and find your voice.

Nothing excuses the behaviors of the bad boss, but bad bosses will be here until end times, and it’s only a matter of time before you work for one. Better to have the mindset that you can learn something from the unpleasant process by stepping through it.

*Some details and his name were changed to protect the identity of my bad boss.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at

What Lies Do You Believe About Work?


Your Work Engagement

I bet there’s been a time or two in your work history, where you’ve shaken your head and thought or maybe even said, “What’s the purpose of spending time on creating annual goals? They’re not relevant one quarter into the new year.” How many times have you wished you were working for [fill in the market leader in your industry]? Maybe a few times over the course of your career you said to a trusted colleague, “This is a grind; I need to find a better work-life balance.” Statistics show that less than 20% of employees are fully engaged at work. What side do you live on? And what are you doing as a leader to move the needle for you and your team toward the side of full engagement?

Nines Lies About Work

I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham, who is a leading researcher of team performance. His book Nines Lies About Work, co-authored with Ashley Goodall, explains most all you knew to be true but didn’t have the data to prove it. What does Marcus mean by lies at work? These are the truths that companies buy into and operate by to manage people.

Why do they buy into the lies? Buckingham would have you believe it satisfies the organization’s need for control. There’s truth in that statement, but I also believe from my own personal history working in Corporate America that many employees, who laddered into the C-suite, got there by successfully navigating through the lies. They now suffer from faulty thinking, believing in the validity of the lies that worked for them but don’t for most. What they don’t fully appreciate is that operating under these lies pull the organization down by attaching a ball and chain to the employees’ ankles.

Based on decades of working in Fortune 1000 companies, I have my own personal favorite work lies but I’d like to share my top three favorite of Buckingham’s nine: (1) people care which company they work for, (2) the best companies cascade goals, and (3) work-life balance matters most.


Lie: People Care Which Company They Work For

It’s true people are attracted to certain companies based on name, reputation, and supposed culture. I was certainly attracted to the big Exxon name as a chemical engineering graduating from college. Who wouldn’t want to work for one of the biggest chemical companies—Exxon Chemical—like I did? However, whether an employee stays will be less about the company and more about the opportunities to do their best and the team’s cohesion.

Teams are a home for people, and its only when we work on teams that our best is put to highest use and unlocks our highest potential. “Local team experiences have far more bearing on whether we stay in the tribe or leave it…” (p. 28). Teams matter more than the company. “Teams make work real; they ground us in the day-to-day…and, teams, paradoxically, make homes for individuals” (p.30). People care about what team they belong to and what they’re working on.


Lie: The Best Companies Cascade Goals

Years ago, the typical annual performance review and goal-setting process had your supervisor ask you to write up how you did on your goals in the current year and create new ones for the upcoming year. These would roll-up the organizational ladder. Today, its more fashionable for leadership to first create theirs from the company goals and then cascade them down through each level of the organization. You see your boss’s goals and then create yours. Was that approach any more effective?

Did you feel like you were checking a box? Did you say your yourself, “I’ll let the dust settle and work on what’s truly important regardless of what’s written and approved.” Your assumption is that by the end of the year it won’t matter, because you’ll be able to rewrite your goals to reflect what you actually did.

We spend so much time on this process, and for what practical reason? There’s no data that supports that goals set from above stimulate greater productivity. In fact, “…evidence suggests that cascaded goals do the opposite: they limit performance. They slow your boat down” (p. 55). What’s a company to do, if it’s not cascading goals? “The best companies cascade meaning” (p. 62). People should not be told the what to do but the why, so they can be released to use their best gifts to perform on behalf of the company.


Lie: Work-life Balance Matters Most

People crave work with meaning and purpose—bottom line—and yet research shows that “…only 16-17 percent of workers say they have a chance to play to their strengths every day” (p. 197). When this happens, our pay becomes the price that we accept for the inherent badness of work. Think of it as a bribe to grin and bear it.

Work doesn’t have to be categorized as work is bad, the rest of life is good, and we have to find a balance. Let’s get real: “neither you nor your life are in balance, nor will you ever be” (p. 188). Life is ever changing, not static.

What’s an employee to do? The common mantra is to do what you love. Actually, for most of us, it should be find love in what you do. Surveys from U.S. working populations show that “…72 percent of workers say, ‘I have the freedom to modify my role to fit my strengths better’” (p. 197). Over the course of my career in Corporate America, I convinced my employer no less than three times to create a specific position for me that allowed me to drive on my strengths and create value for the company, all the while finding love in what I do.

If any of these intrigues you, make sure to pick up this book and learn of the other six lies.


Buckingham, M., and Goodall, A. (2019). Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at or by visiting her website at