Positive and Precise

Recently I read a Lou Tice Winner’s Circle email blast in which he drew paralells between animal trainers and good leaders. He pointed out animal trainers rarely use punishment as a method during their training because it is ineffective and eventually causes the animal to hate the trainer.  As it questioned “how well do you learn from someone you would rather avoid?” it made me think back over my years in leadership.

Specifically it reminded me of the motto I started using when I was a district manager, a few years ago “Positive and Precise!” I went through my early years as a manager being what is referred to as “unconsciously competent” at leading others. I often found myself disagreeing with my peers when they referred to how they interacted with their teams. Many times, I was embarrassed to tell my superiors I disagreed with much of their advice regarding managing people.

Despite my seemingly unorthodox approach to leadership, I continued to have success and with increasing levels of achievement came the question I dreaded most.  “So, how did you do it?” I would normally give some generic response about making sure everyone knew where they were in relationship to their goals. I would explain we simply have great teamwork, but while my answers where right, they lacked credibility.

It was my inability to answer such questions and my lack of confidence in my own leadership style which sent me in search of books on teamwork and leadership. With each book I read, I felt greater and greater validation for my seemingly odd management style, or at least odd at my organization. As my confidence improved, so did my desire to implement the ideas and concepts I learned.  When I became a mid-level manager and had taken on the task of managing other managers for the first time, it was this knowledge, gleaned from these publications, which allowed me to translate my suggestions into workable action for others. It was during this period that I was becoming much more consciously competent regarding leadership.

It was during a quarterly leadership meeting our Regional President asked me why my team was doing so well, I coined the phrase “Positive and Precise.” Instead of giving the standard long-winded self-serving corporate correct answer most people typically did when posed with such a question, I simply said. “We try to be Positive and Precise in all we do.” With my answer being so compact, he asked me to please expand. So I added, “Well, when we coach we do our best to make sure we are working on the one most important thing a person can improve upon to be more effective. Secondly, we do our very best to ensure we are always genuinely encouraging people for the behaviors which we jointly agreed would help them the most.”

I was asked recently in an interview how I would lead a team that was struggling to make their goals – I later learned they thought my answer was too vague. Here is what I told them, “I would ask a lot of questions; observe what was actually going on in the team; get to know them individually, and then I would be positive and precise as we moved forward to improve their performance.” I guess I still need to work at being more articulate in explaining, but the truth is I just want to say. How can you expect me to give you better answer to a vague question that has taken me 26 years of experience and countless books to solve?

If I was asked the same question tomorrow I’d answer again, be POSITIVE and PRECISE in all my interactions.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever struggled to explain your success to others? Becoming consciously competent is not easy, but it is essential if you are ever to effectively lead another person.



  1. Kevin Hamilton · March 1, 2012

    There is an innate conflict in what you describe. It is inescapable. To be ‘handy’, a description of an effective technique needs to be compact. This makes it more accessible and easy to remember, but is by its nature not entirely descriptive. On the other hand, specificity requires much greater examination and explanation to suss out all the details. It is therefore not too user-friendly for the purpose you discuss.
    I find that I need a great deal of specificity in my work. This requires me to go on at length, often at the cost of my colleague’s and staff’s attention span. You’ve struck a good balance.

  2. Tammy · March 4, 2012

    I’m the queen of vague so I would’ve handled it exactly as you did. We need to be positive and we need to be specific about our expectations (precise). When you do the latter, you’ll erode the vague.

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