How can you afford your Whac-A-Mole lifestyle? (hint: you can’t)

You’ve seen them.

Running from place to place.  Conducting drive-bys at every cube, leaving unclear action items in their wake – and frustrating employees everywhere.

These are the Whac-A-Moles. And they are hurting your business.

In case you’ve never been to a midway, Whac-A-Mole is an entertaining game in which the player (you) get to use a giant soft mallet to smack (whac) moles that pop out of holes at random intervals.  It’s oddly satisfying.

That little moment of happiness you feel when you bonk that mole on the head in a game is the same feeling that the Whac-A-Mole Leader gets when they run around the office reacting to every little thing.  I mean…I assume that it’s the same because I can’t imagine why you would want to work that way.  It sounds exhausting.

Just as exhausting as it sounds to BE a Whac-A-Mole Leader, it can be even worse to be AROUND the Whac-A-Mole Leader.  Any attempts at prioritizing your day goes out the window.  You rejoice when the Whac-A-Mole is out of the office or in an all day meeting (though you dread the next day when they’re back with action items).  It can make for a very frustrating work environment.

Think about the costs of Whac-A-Mole Leadershipwhac-a-mole-new-version

  • Lost Efficiency: When managers rush in and demand immediate action, the employees who receive that demand have to stop what they’re doing and respond.  Once they’re done, they then have to figure out where they were, which costs time and brain power.
  • Lost Vision: A manager who reacts may think they have a vision, but really they are just reacting to things that happen.  By reacting to everything happening rather than having a plan, Whac-A-Mole Leaders abdicate their strategic vision to the will of others.
  • Lost Credibility: Think about it. If you’re a Whac-A-Mole Leader, your team has no time to do their normal work and are forced to rush through the “emergencies,” and you don’t have your own vision – how much credibility do you think you’d have? Your team will think you have no real leadership of your own, and your peers will take advantage of you because they know you will whac any mole they throw at you.

There is hope for you yet

It is possible to break the Whac-A-Mole cycle, but you have to commit to it.  

FIrst, admit you have a problem.  Seriously.  If you think you DON’T have a problem or have been told you do by a couple of people and don’t believe it, ask to have a 360 feedback survey conducted.  That should give you enough perspective to realize how pervasive the issue is.

Next, wean yourself from the need to react to everything. Stop reacting and start thinking – about your vision, about your team’s priorities, about the true needs of the business.

Because if you continue to react to everything, the last thing you’ll react to is the fact you got fired.

Are you a reformed Whac-A-Mole Leader?  Did you survive one?  Share your stories in the comments!!

Secret to success? Answer the question that’s asked

Business meetings can be evil things – long, aimless, soul-sucking gatherings where little is accomplished yet much is said.

You can point to a number of reasons:

  1. No one made an agenda
  2. Everyone is on their smartphones, checking email
  3. Someone brought donuts

Okay…maybe it’s not the donuts.  But if you pay attention, you’ll notice a pattern as people talk (and talk and talk).

No one answers any questions.

Oh sure, when someone asks a question, another person inevitably says something that’s supposed to sound like an answer.  There may be big words, emphatic gestures, perhaps even an attempt to gain buy-in (“Right?”).  Rarely, though, is the answer one that matches the question.

And yet…every so often…a hero emerges.

Someone who heard the question, considered it, and…miracle of miracles…ANSWERED IT ON ITS OWN MERITS.

This person looks like a freakin’ genius.


Why would something as simple as answering a question matter?

  • It shows you listened: By addressing the concerns of the asker, you demonstrated an ability to pay attention rather than sing that little song to yourself in your head.  Listening = good.  Singing SexyBack in your head = bad.
  • It shows you care: Okay, it doesn’t make you a saint or anything, but addressing someone else’s concerns rather than advancing your own agenda is perceived as teamwork, leadership, and/or smartness.
  • It moves the meeting forward: Think about the circular nature of most business meetings. Sally says a general statement about how a process doesn’t work, Johnny asks what specifically isn’t working, Ted launches into a monologue about the state of technology in Western Europe…and then Sally mentions how the process doesn’t work.  If Sally or Ted would have said, “Well, Johnny, when you launch the workflow, it goes to the wrong person,” there’s a good chance the group could move on to solutions.  Instead, Ted got on a soapbox and Sally is rending her garments, keening about the process. [Ed. Note: Drama much?]

So how do you make sure you answer the question asked?

  • Pay attention: I know, right?  Be more obvious.  But it’s the truth.  And if there is an awkward pause because you suspect someone asked you a question and you weren’t listening, admit it and ask them to repeat the question.
  • Rephrase: Oldie but goodie.  This doesn’t mean you REPEAT the question, especially if it’s short (“so, you’re asking me if I ski?”). If the question is complex or not well-asked (it happens), take a moment to say something like, “I want to be sure I understand what you’re asking..”
  • Keep it short: The longer you talk, the more likely you are to get off on tangents.  Stick to the point and make yourself shut up once you’ve addressed the matter at hand.
  • Confirm: After you finish answering the question, ask, “Did that answer your question?” That way, the asker can get additional clarity without having to interrupt the next person who starts talking.

I know.  It’s pretty obvious.  But as we all know, common sense isn’t always common practice.

Next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to the questions asked and the answers given.  Chances are, the person who actually answers the question that is asked is on the fast track to success.

Have a question you want answered? Ask it in the comments!