Book Review: What are you Reading?: Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses into Results, by Cy Wakeman

Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Stephanie La Pierre, Chief performance improvement officer for Saint Francis Healthcare System and Zonta Club’s 2018 Woman of Achievement.
Photo by Tyler Graef.

The book "Reality-Based Leadership" by Cy Wakeman helped me recognize for years I had been over-managing and under-leading.

What do I mean by that? When colleagues would come to me with their imperfect circumstances -- they were short-staffed or they were struggling with broken equipment, a disagreement with a co-worker, unfair compensation practices and the like -- I would immediately go into firefighting mode, systematically extinguishing each smoldering issue. My resolute competence became the reason my team failed to progress.

Cy Wakeman's "Reality-Based Leadership" allowed me to see I was not adding value to the company, and I was depriving colleagues' sense of engagement and personal responsibility -- the source of motivation and job satisfaction.

Do you get "emergency" calls when you are away from the office or on vacation? Do you work tirelessly to perfect your employees' circumstances by providing resources or telling them the actions to take next? Worse yet, have you made a workplace "crisis" a priority over a customer? If yes, then you have been under-leading, too!

This book changed the way I lead. It helped me to swiftly identify negative thought patterns, diffuse drama and lead by empowering colleagues. You can, too, by asking three simple questions identified in Wakeman's work:

The first question is, "What do we know for sure?" It eliminates drama by quickly identifying the facts of the situation.

Next, ask, "What can you do about it?" It's an approach that empowers the colleague to problem-solve for themselves and develop self-confidence.

Lastly, ask, "What does 'great' look like?" Each of us knows what "great" looks like. When given the opportunity, most colleagues know how to navigate and excel to resolve workplace matters.

Let's use this approach in an example: Lori, a co-worker, drops by your office, unannounced and upset her supervisor, Bob, is asking routinely about a high-visibility project she has taken the lead on.

Lori: Bob comes by my office every morning asking about the annual community project. He doesn't trust that I can handle this project on my own! I feel like I am being micromanaged!

You: I've not known Bob to micromanage projects before. Lori, what do we know for sure?

Lori: Bob comes to my office three times a week asking for my progress on the annual community project.

You: Lori, I see this is upsetting you. What can you do about it?

Lori: Well, I guess I could ask Bob how I can best share the progress on a routine frequency.

You: That's a good idea. What does great look like?

Lori: I could anticipate Bob's request for an update related to the project and send him emails on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, giving him an overview of its progress.

You: Excellent, Lori! That's a great solution to anticipate what Bob needs and to communicate it regularly.

This is just one example of how these questions could be used to help employees solve their own problems in the workplace. Wakeman makes ditching the drama and effectively leading look simple. However, its application is an art and, like learning a new language, becomes effortless with practice.

What I also love about this method is that it has a non-workplace application, too. Try it at home, in the classroom or while coaching sports to help the people you lead manage themselves.