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Leadership Nudge™ – Improve Information Flow

Today I’m going to talk about the relationship between Power Gradient and Information Flow.

Along the bottom axis, we have Power Gradient. Power Gradient is a social and personal phenomenon that can be thought of as “How more important does my boss feel than me? How much more authority do they have?”, and likewise, “How much more important do I seem than the people below me?”

Signs of a steep Power Gradient are things like physical separation, private offices, executive dining rooms, executive washrooms, parking spots, that kind of thing.

So, the rule is: Information Flow is inversely proportional to Power Gradient.

At a steep Power Gradient, those executives who wall themselves off are not getting a lot of information from the organization. At a shallow Power Gradient, the executive who sits out in the open space is getting a lot more.

So, when someone comes into your office and you’re sitting behind your desk, and you get up and walk around and sit next to them, so you’re both equal, you’re leveling the Power Gradient. It’s going to make it easier for them to share their information.

I’m David Marquet, and that’s your Leadership Nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Listen Like a Leader

A Leader’s Guide to Listening

Effective Listening is Not About You: It’s About Them

Effective Listening is not hearing every word said.

Effective Listening is about ensuring that the person talking to you feels heard.

Effective Listening Takes Effort

Effective Listening requires giving our full attention.

Giving our full attention is not always easy and takes practice.

If you get this right you may avoid pain for yourself and others. You may be able to save a relationship.

Follow these three essential steps to making others feel heard:


  1. Stop what you’re doing
  2. Open your ears
  3. Show you understand

Leadership Nudge™ – Above and Below the Waterline

Today’s Leadership Nudge is called “Above and Below the Waterline”. The idea is this:

For this ferry here, that is coming into Sydney Harbor, a hole below the waterline can sink it. A hole above the waterline will cause damage, but it’s not going to sink it.

The idea is: For your daily operations and decisions, certain of those are going to be more important. They’re going to risk killing people or they’re going to potentially bankrupt the organization. We call those ‘below the waterline decisions’ and you’re going to control those much more tightly than above the waterline decisions.

“Above the waterline” is where you’re going to start giving control. That’s where you’re going to start running your experiments.

So my leadership nudge to you is this: Identify, is this an above or below the waterline decision?

If it is an above the waterline decision, then try to give a little bit of control there. Try to run your experiments there.

Leadership Nudge™ – Start with How

One simple trick for asking better questions is to simply put the word “how” at the beginning of the question.

So instead of “Are you sure?”, say “How sure are you?” Instead of “Do you support this?”, say “How strongly do you support this?”. We call that the “safety net how“, because that makes it easier for people to share what they think.

Here are two more examples:

This is the “probabilistic how“, which invites your people to think in a probabilistic way. It has to do with questions about the future. So, for example: Instead of “Will we launch on time?” → “How likely is it that we will launch on time?”. Probabilistic thinking is a component of critical thinking.

Then, finally, there is the “aspirational how“. So, instead of “Can we do it?” it’s “How can we do it?”. “Can we learn it?” → “How can we learn it?”. So, in other words, it’s not about saying “Well, yes/no, we can do it”, but, “What are the steps to take?”.

I’m David Marquet. That’s your leadership nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Fist to Five

Today’s tool is called “Fist to Five”. This tool is a substitute for those “Raise your hand if…” kind of questions.

Saying “Raise your hand if you support this initiative” is asking a binary question. With a question like that, you’re gonna see some people raising their hand, some people not raising their hand, and some people who just don’t participate.

Now, you don’t know if the people not raising their hand are just not participating, or whether they’re actually against the initiative.

So, instead do this:

“Everyone raise your hand. Now show me, from fist to five, how much you support this initiative.”

“Fist: If you’re really, really strongly against it.”

“Five: If you’re really, really strongly for it.”

Now, when everyone has their hand hand you will be able to see:

  • Fist: “I don’t support it.”
  • 1-2: “I barely support it.”
  • 3-4: “I’m pretty strongly for it.”
  • 5: “I’m really enthusiastic about this.”

This does a couple things:

  1. It invites more participation.
  2. It lets you see in a more nuanced way the spread of feelings throughout the room.

So, then what you do is you say: “Ok, people with the fists, share with us what you’re seeing or thinking. Why don’t you support this?”

Then ask people with fives the same: “Tell us what you see or think. Why do you support this?”

This way, we embrace the outliers.

So, get away from “Raise your hand if…” and use “Fist to Five” instead.

I’m David Marquet, that’s your Leadership Nudge

Leadership Nudge™ – Know All, Tell Not

Today we’re gonna talk about the four quadrants where leaders can operate.

Here we have Know All, Know Not, Tell All, and Tell Not.

As a leader, I always thought you wanted to be a Know All/Tell All leader. Since the leader knew everything, they were the natural person to give all the orders and since we had someone giving all the orders, well, they really better know everything.

I’m suggesting that a better place to be, long-term as a leader, is over here in the Know All, but Tell Not quadrant. Why?

Because, over here is where you resist telling your team what to do. Even though you may see the problem first, you may see the solution first, you say “Hey, take thirty seconds”, (thirty minutes, thirty days, whatever you can) , “go work on it and come back, then tell me what you intend to do.”

It might not seem like you’re making progress, but what’s happening is, you’re building your team’s leadership muscle. They’re building their independence from you, they’re building their ability to make decisions, and they’re building their leadership.

So where you want to be is a Know All, but Tell Not leader.

I’m David Marquet, that’s your leadership nudge.

Leadership Nudge™ – Inject Blue Work

You can think of red work or blue work as the ‘kind of work you do over time’.

At the end of your workday, you will likely face a decision: “Do I go home? Do I go to the gym? Do I go to the pub?” That is blue work. You are making a decision.

You get in your car and as you drive there, you won’t stop at every intersection and revisit that decision. “Oh, am I going home or going to the pub?”

Blue work is the decision making work. It’s cognitive. It embraces variability. Red work is cognitively easy. Our brain can relax and we enter “auto-mode”. We reduce variability.

As an example, on the submarine, we would view tasks as a series of red work. During the course of regular tasks we might be scheduled to enter port at ten o’clock. Before entering port, we would have a briefing. Essentially, we were just reviewing everyone’s tasks. We didn’t view this as a decision process. We changed that. We canceled all the briefs and replaced it with what we called a “certification”. We said, “Look, let’s make a decision. Are we ready to come to port?” We turned this bit of red work into blue work. Instead of having a long series of red work, we injected blue work throughout the day, and that blue work is what activated people’s leadership.

For us, it was entering port, for you it might be starting a procedure in the operating room, pushing an airplane back from the gate and getting ready for a flight or firing up an important piece of equipment. The central idea is, inject “Blue Work”. Make a decision. Activate the cognitive part of the brain, and turn people into leaders.

I’m David Marquet and this is your leadership nudge.

Enroll for the Leadership Nudge – www.davidmarquet.com

Click here to read my Forbes article on mentoring programs and why you don’t want to have one.

Leadership Nudge™ – Invite Your Team To Yellow Card You

We all have areas where we want to improve. For me personally, these are things like listening or being more empathetic. A great way to help you improve is to invite your team to give you feedback; invite them to “Yellow Card” you.

You can hand out physical cards to your team and tell them “Hey, if you don’t feel like I was listening in that last encounter, push out the yellow card, just like in a soccer game”. (Football for our international friends).

You may find that they are reluctant to use the yellow card. They may feel like they are calling you out or that it’s embarrassing. Tell them, “Look, you are helping me. I want to get better, and when you yellowcard me, it helps me identify when I’m interacting poorly.”

Now here’s the thing: You’ll likely get yellowcarded when you’re under stress. You may be under pressure, didn’t sleep well, or eat well. Stress can push you down into your “reactive mode”. That’s when you may have poor interactions and your team will yellowcard you. This is where you will find it hard. You’re already stressed and you may be tempted to respond poorly to seeing the yellowcard.

Here’s what you do: Train yourself! When you see the yellowcard, take a breath and thank your team member. “Hey, thanks for yellowcarding me and giving me that feedback.”

Let us know how it goes!

Enroll for the Leadership Nudge – www.davidmarquet.com

Click here to read my Forbes article on mentoring programs and why you don’t want to have one.

Increase the Blue Work

Leadership Nudge – Increase the Blue Work

In Leadership Nudge 127 we introduced the concept of red work and blue work. Blue work is decision work. It is cognitive work. It’s leadership work. Red work is execution. It’s the doing. It’s physical. It’s process. It’s compliant work.

One way to view your organization is to look at who is doing red work and who is doing blue work. In the very traditional industrial age organizational design you didn’t need a lot of people doing blue work. Most organizations had just one person at the top doing the blue work. They are deciding what we are going to make and how we are going to make it. Everyone else is doing what they are told.

One of the ideas behind red work and blue work is to increase the number of people doing blue work. Push blue work further down the organization. We build more leaders as we get more people thinking and more people involved in making decisions. We change our hierarchy from a little blue and a lot of to red to mostly blue!

Our Leadership Nudge to you this week is this:

Look at your organization to see who is doing red work, and who is doing the blue work. See if you can increase the amount of blue work that people are doing lower in the hierarchy.

Let us know what how it goes!

Enroll for the Leadership Nudge – www.davidmarquet.com

Click here to read my Forbes article on mentoring programs and why you don’t want to have one.


Make It Easy For People To Share

Leadership Nudge – Make It Easy For People To Share

One of the things that is most important for leaders to do is help uncover what the team knows. A leader makes it easy for people to share what they know. One of the great tools to make it easy are these probability cards. The key is don’t ask questions like;

“Are we sure?”

“Should we do this, yes or no?”

Instead, pass out Probability cards and ask questions like;

“How sure are you?”

Or “What’s your enthusiasm for this project?”

Or “What’s the probability that this assumption will come true?”

Have everyone around the table play one of their cards. You are going to get a range of responses, which is great. The probability cards have these seven numbers; 1, 5, 20, 50, 80, 95, and 99. There is no zero and no 100. There is also a question mark card. We use this card when someone needs more information before they can commit.

So here’s how it works. Invite the team to each select an appropriate card.  You can play them face down or face up. If it’s a high trust team you can play them face up.  After the cards are played, the leaders should scan the table and look for the high and the low response. The reason we do this is to give voice to the high perspective and give voice to the low perspective. We call it embracing the outlier. Only after that can you make the best decision. That can happen because you have uncovered what everybody thinks.

Our Leadership Nudge to you this week is this:

Replace “Are you sure?” with “How sure are you?”

Let us know what how it goes!

Click here to find the Probability Cards we use.

Enroll for the Leadership Nudge –  www.davidmarquet.com 

Click here to read my Forbes article on mentoring programs and why you don’t want to have one.

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