Leadership Secrets: The Goldilocks Principles

What’s the first thing you do when you get mail delivered to your mailbox? Toss the junk mail in the recycle bin! So why should you expect anything different when you send junk e-mail and texts?

Two events, twenty-five years apart collided, and this post is the result. 

It was at a weekend conference 25 years ago where Martin DeHaan was a featured speaker that I first learned about the concept of truth in tension and its first cousin, too much of a good thing is no longer good. The truth is almost always found somewhere in the middle of two extremes.  Over the years since then I’ve recalled his advice and applied it many of situations in which I found myself.  It was brilliant then and still brilliant in today’s world where extremism seems to make all the headlines.

Let me illustrate truth in tension concept with the childhood story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Goldilocks came across the home of the three bears, who had left the front door open, while they took a walk to allow their bowls of porridge to cool on the table.   One bowl of porridge was too hot, another was too cold, and the middle one was just right.  One bed was too hard, another was too soft, while the third was just right.  The just right somewhere in the middle of two extremes was just right for her.

But what if Goldilocks decided that she loved the just right bowl of porridge and ate way, way too much?  It would no longer be just right, resulting in discomfort.  That would be another truth in tension.

Just recently I was reading an excellent article by leadership expert Dan Rockwell entitled Three Tips to Build Confidence in Timid Team Members and saw a brilliant leadership example of the Goldilocks Principles at work.  According to Dan Rockwell, effective leaders are not the overzealous cheerleader nor the criticizer grump… they are the confident encouragers who help people to believe and trust in their abilities to be successful. But too much confident encouragement will begin to seem insincere. He is spot on!

With this in mind, I offer three common applications of the Goldilocks Principles applicable to leading and managing people, selling product and service solutions, and career success, the three primary areas where I help individuals and organizations develop their talent. You’ll also discover that some of the specific Goldilocks Principles will crossover between the different applications.

Over and Under-Communicating

The extremes are pretty simple.  On one hand you have the Chatty Cathys who just talk and talk and talk, repeating themselves, and cannot seem to stop talking.  On the other hand, you have the Silent Sams whose idea of a long sentence is three words. 

The right amount of communication is somewhere in the middle, between Chatty Cathy and Silent Sam. Exactly where in the middle is nuanced to both the audience (specific individual(s)) and the complexity of what is being communicated. Learning to tell the behavioral style preferences of your audience will help you adjust to a Goldilocks-level of just right. Plus, effective communicators know to ask questions to make the communication more conversational and less a monologue. 

  • For leaders and managers, the next time you assign work or give feedback, consider your audience and what is the best way to best reach each person. Look closely at their facial expressions to see if they “get it” or need more details.  Some great advice given me by a work associate about the just right amount of detail is this: Be as brief as possible but as detailed as necessary.
  • For sales professionals, when you are talking about something, pay close attention to the body language clues of your audience and make sure what you are saying matches specifically what your audience is interested in. This means that you never present anything until you have adequately assessed prospect needs, wants, circumstances, etc., by asking not too many and not too few questions.
  • For employees, job seeker, and gig workers, adjust what you say for both appropriateness and content. Keep it conversational and focus solely on each person in your audience (no multitasking) in order to can read body language. Err on the side of brevity and clarity; you’ll always be asked more questions if more information is desired.

Managing Time

Every human being is equal here… we each get 60 minutes in each hour and 24 hours in each day.  Technology, AI, computers, and virtual meeting platforms have enabled us to be more efficient with our time.  Many things important to our professional and personal life require quality time.  The question for many of us is, do we manage our time wisely or does our time manage us?

  • For leaders and managers, you face a tension between people and process. Multitasking is not the answer; it’s just plain rude when you are trying to have a conversation with someone while reading your email.  Smart time managers schedule their process time for the times when the people they lead are not working, in order to maximize their people time when the people they lead are present. Effective leaders and managers always reserve a little margin in each day and each week to respond to the unexpected.
  • For sales professionals, not all customers and prospects are the same, so you need to value them and adjust the time you invest accordingly. In my client marketing assessments of sales teams, I find way too much time is being invested in C-level customers and prospects, at the expense of A- and B-level customers and prospects. Assess each customer as to A, B, or C in two areas: current volume and future potential volume.
  • For employees, job seekers, and gig workers, prioritize what you are doing. For most of us, too much time is spent in the urgent at the expense of the important. An A-B-C prioritization of the importance of each task works wonders. Do A priorities before C priorities.  And take your large A priorities and break them into bite-size A-pieces so you can advance an A even if you only have ten minutes.

Working in the Business versus Working on the Business

Most of us work in project mode in what we do. Hiring someone is a project, as is onboarding him or her.  Cooking a meal is a project, as is eating it, and then cleaning it up afterwards.  Leading or participating in a meeting is a project.  Going on vacation, fixing something in the garage, or reading a book is a project. 

Working in the business is executing your parts of a project.  Most of your work time is spent here, and this includes the planning, execution, and project post-mortems.  Working on the business is different – it means stepping out of execution mode and evaluating, reimagining, or re-engineering the processes used that govern why and how you execute the work. Working in the business is largely tactical while working on the business is almost all strategic.

  • For leaders and managers, when you work too much in the business you lose sight of the strategic issues at the expense of executing the tactical. As a result, you may miss how current and emerging trends are going to impact the business, or the succession planning you need to assure you have the right people in the right places a few years down the road.  The key to working on the business is to scheduling specific blocks of working on the business time each week, beginning with some high-level thinking of how you want to work on the business. 
  • For sales professionals, working on the business time should be used to evaluate and prioritize your accounts, assuring you are spending your time in relation to the current and future value of your accounts, or perhaps creating ideal buyer personas around current and future solutions. Sales managers could top-grade their sales staff or consider emerging opportunities where spade work is needed in advance of revenue.
  • For employees, job seekers, and gig workers, evaluate where you are in your career now versus where you’d like to be (and when), then develop a plan on how to get there. What are the emerging skills you will need to master to remain employable, and how will you get them?  Are you working towards someday owning your own business?  Working on the business time is something you should plan for at least several hours each month, which may involve working with an advisor.


Bottom Line

The Goldilocks Principles help you leverage the best attributes of two opposing extremes, where the best place to be is somewhere between the two truths in tension. Fine tuning exactly where in the middle requires you to adjust to the people involved, to work in a way that helps them leverage their own unique sets of talents and strengths.  Best of all, the Goldilocks Principles can be applied to almost any life or career situation in which you find yourself or your organization.

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team’s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People™. This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team’s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials™ (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster™

I help leaders and aspiring leaders improve their performance and acumen, and sales and marketing professionals to become more productive and effective. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. We develop sales teams with our highly regarded B2B Sales Essentials™ and B2C Sales Essentials™ tailored sales curriculum.  My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at  www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.  


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