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“The number one thing that you have to do as a leader: to bolster the confidence of the people you lead.”  – Satya Nadella (CEO, Microsoft Corporation)



We all want securities in an insecure world.  As leaders, we need to create as much security as possible to enable others to achieve amazing results.  Attracting top talent is a challenge in the passion economy, where people have choices, aspirations, hopes and dreams: “It’s hard to find good help these days.”  Attracting top talent isn’t enough.  We need to proactively cultivate, elevate and retain top talent to stay consistently competitive in a fast-moving world.  The days of getting more from people by threatening, criticizing, and belittling them are long gone.  We need to create cultures of passion and commitment where people continually give their best, with all their imperfections and growth areas, and constantly improve.  How do we do this?  We do this by effective value-based leadership.

When a person feels valued, they can more easily bring their full talents, skills and gifts to realization, and grow their potential.  When a person feels devalued, they expend a portion of their energy, internally at first, defending their worthiness: “I am valuable.”  “I add value.” “I am worthy.”  Worse is when their insecurities kick in and instead of defending their value, they question it: “Am I valuable?”  “Do I add value?”  “Am I worthy?”  The worst is when this internal devaluation turns to despair: “I am not valuable.”  “I don’t add value.”  “I am not worthy.”  We all have insecurities, and part of our leadership responsibility is to help people feel more secure so they can perform at their very best.

When people feel devalued it creates insecurities and depletes morale, hope, and inspiration, and commitment, which can lead to performance problems.  Eventually this struggle shows up externally, sometimes passively and sometimes aggressively.  It is true that devaluing people may drive some people to prove themselves, yielding varying degrees of success, however the energetic cost to individuals and the collective yield diminishing returns.  The cost to the culture, over time, is mighty.  Losing talent instead of developing it has severe costs to the bottom line and the future.  There is an alternative approach that can inspire best-in-class performance by challenging and supporting people with a positive value proposition.

In toxic environments, the energy people expend on defending their value and proving their worth takes away from their actual ability to add and deliver their full value.  The more they feel devalued, the more energy they waste, which in turn reduces the overall value they can add.  This negative cycle of value-conflict is frustrating on all sides, as it has diminishing returns to the person being devalued, and to the person and organization that is doing the devaluing, who may simply be misguided on how to inspire sustained higher performance.  This negative cycle often leads to disengagement, disgruntlement, unfulfillment, and ultimately sabotages full potential realization, both of the individual and the organization.  When this negative cycle carries on, people may go through various adaptive strategies trying to correct the situation, yet often ends with one-sided or mutual separation.  The divorce can fall on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy, and is ultimately a reset, a setback, and an expensive opportunity to move forward for all involved: “I quit!”  “You’re fired!”  “We mutually agree that this is not working.”

To get the most value out of the people we lead, we need to fully value them.  This does not mean to be falsely positive, shallow or insincere.  Every person has their gifts and their challenges.  To be real with people about what we value, and where they need to focus on growth and development, is important to be a true champion of their ongoing success.  A true friend or trusted advisor cares more about your success than your feelings, yet deploys tact and care.  As leaders, our people’s success is our success.  This honest valuing approach translates to celebrating people’s strengths and accomplishments robustly, while courageously sharing, compassionately and encouragingly, the single most important growth area they can become aware of and address at this moment in time.  With this approach they can continue bringing their best while learning more about their growth opportunities, and experiment with alternate options for increased success.

When we lead others in honest and positive ways, they are more likely to lean in, step in, step up and deliver the highest possible results.  To do this we need to let them clearly know what we are relying on them for, depending on them for, counting on them for, hoping for, expecting, and needing from them from a value-based proposition.  This approach increases energy, engagement, focus, morale, commitment, resilience and ultimately performance.  To Lead-By-Need effectively, one must be willing to be dependent, to depend on others, and to let them know exactly how we are depending on them.  It also requires us to solicit their explicit and honest commitment.  If they are unsure of meeting the commitment as it is stated, it must be negotiated to an acceptable contract for both parties.  We do this by directly asking them what support they need to be more confident and successful.  Negotiate until mutually satisfied and notice the difference in energy, commitment, effort and ultimately results are realized.

Slave-driving is not leadership.  It is energy expensive and does not deliver creativity, innovation, and commitment.  As leaders we need people, and thus we need to foster and cultivate leadership and commitment in everyone who chooses to follow.  Leaders need people to bring their best, every day, and to get better, every day.  Leaders need dependable people, and thus leaders need to create cultures of positive energy, reliability, honesty, learning, increasing challenge and incredible support to meet the challenges.

Successful organizations have connected, engaged, contributing, learning, and fully committed people that can be depended upon, again and again, through good times and bad.  Leadership of a high-performance workforce is about identifying, unleashing, celebrating and maturing the individual and collective talent of the people we are fortunate enough to attract, and hopefully develop and retain.  The future of work is based on this foundation: to create a competitive advantage we must nurture cultures of inspiration, innovation, focus, leadership, and commitment towards high-performance production.  This is accomplished through positive human connection with a value-based proposition to excel and succeed together.  Lead-By-Need: It’s the new normal.

LEAD-BY-NEED: TOOL (adjust as necessary to meet your NEEDS)

Level 1 – INDIVIDUALS (one to one):

  • Openly identify and agree on the greater vision, purpose and goal.
  • Openly express the talents, attributes, and skills that the person brings to ensure the success of the mission, the project, and the collective effort.

EXAMPLES – Find your own authentic, appreciative and valuing voice and words to share this sentiment:

  • “You are involved because I see you as an expert in…”
  • “I value your involvement because you have a track record of success with….”
  • “I appreciate you being on the team because you bring much needed….”
  • Openly identify and agree on the immediate relevant goals and roles.
  • Openly identify and agree on responsibilities and accountabilities.
  • Openly identify deliverables, due dates, budgets, resources, constraints, etc.
  • Overtly share your dependence on them to meet the greater vision:

EXAMPLES – Find your own authentic, appreciative and valuing voice and words to share this sentiment:

  • “(Name), I value you because you bring much needed….”
  • “(Name), I am relying on you to….”
  • “(Name), I am counting on you for….”
  • “(Name), I am depending on you to….”
  • Overtly ask them what they need to be successful, and what you can do to help (servant leadership).
  • Overtly ask them for their commitment:

EXAMPLES – Find your own authentic, appreciative and valuing voice and words to share this sentiment:

  • “(Name), can I rely on you to…?”
  • “(Name), can I count on you for…?”
  • “(Name), can I depend on you to…?”
  • In the case you can not get their overt honest commitment, again overtly ask them what they need to be successful, and what you can do to help (servant leadership). Negotiate until mutually satisfied.
  • Set ground rules for status updates, collaboration (regularly solving challenges with their peers, etc.), and high-performance escalations (not too few, and not too many).
  • Thank the person for their commitment to the project and the team and express confidence in them, the others involved, and the positive outcome.

Level 2 – TEAMS (in groups):

  • Openly identify and agree on the greater vision, purpose and goal.
  • Openly express the talents, attributes, and skills that the persons involved (the LT) bring to ensure the success of the mission, the project, and the collective effort.

EXAMPLES – Find your own authentic, appreciative and valuing voice and words to share this sentiment:

  • “You all are involved because I see expertise in each of you that are required to accomplish this challenge, including… (name each individual and what they bring to the effort)”.
  • “I value all of your involvement because each of you have a track record of success with specific components that are required to accomplish this challenge, including…. (name each individual and what they bring to the effort)”.
  • “I appreciate all of you being on this team because each of you bring much needed skill and energy to make this work, including…. (name each individual and what they bring to the effort)”.
  • Openly identify and agree on the immediate relevant goals and roles.
  • Openly identify and agree on responsibilities and accountabilities.
  • Openly identify deliverables, due dates, budgets, resources, constraints, etc.
  • Overtly share your dependencies to meet the greater vision – speaking openly, one at a time, to each one of them in front of their peers (i. – v.):

EXAMPLES – Find your own authentic, appreciative and valuing voice and words to share this sentiment:

  • “(Name), I am relying on you to….”
  • “(Name), I am counting on you for…”
  • “(Name), I am depending on you to…”
  • Overtly ask them what they need to be successful, and what you can do to help (servant leadership). Negotiate until mutually satisfied.
  • Overtly ask them for their commitment:

EXAMPLES – Find your own authentic, appreciative and valuing voice and words to share this sentiment:

  • “(Name), can I rely on you to…?”
  • “(Name), can I count on you for…?”
  • “(Name), can I depend on you to…?”
  • In the case you cannot get their overt honest commitment, again overtly ask them what they need to be successful, and what you or the LT can do to help (servant leadership). Negotiate until mutually satisfied (either in the group or later in 1:1).
  • Set ground rules for status updates, collaboration (regularly solving challenges with their peers), and high-performance escalations (not too few, and not too many).
  • Encourage them to contract with each other on details of their dependencies using the Lead-By-Need approach.
  • Thank everyone for their commitment to the project and to the Leadership Team, and express confidence in the positive outcome from their collective efforts.


Working with a senior leader in a Fortune 50 company, we started by identifying overall company mission, the contributing mission of the functional area, and the charter of the organization.  We next looked at the directional 2-year goals of the organization, and then focused in on the upcoming 1-year priorities, relevant targets, and resources available to accomplish the mighty challenge ahead.  Our stated behavioral goal was to maximize high performance through efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability.  This would be accomplished through leadership development for the senior leader, the Leadership Team (LT) that reported to them, and the Extended Leadership Team (XLT) that were influencers at the next levels down in the organization.

We started by identifying the unique strengths, talents and skills of the senior leader, and identifying what were the most important aspects for them to focus on, commit and attend to consistently.  This turned out to be setting clear vision and direction, enabling and developing their Leadership Team, and cascading excitement, empowerment and focused action deep into the organization.

Next, we looked at the skills, attributes and talents of each LT member, and the capacities of the teams they lead.  To unleash the talent and diversity in the strongest way possible, we took the Lead-By-Need approach, first to be applied to the LT, and then to have the LT cascade the methodology down into their teams.

The senior leader started by working with each of their direct reports individually, in 1:1 setting, to validate their unique contributions, and challenge them to increase their value proposition and ultimate impact through ongoing focus, commitment, collaboration, and development.  Done in a way that demonstrated belief in each person, and dependence on them, the senior leader was able to confirm their unyielding sponsorship and championing of each LT members’ short-term and long-term success.  This unleashed the talent and energy at the leadership level required to meet the challenges ahead.

By applying the Lead-By-Need approach, the senior leader helped everyone on the LT to identify their own unique valuable gifts, skills and attributes, as well as limitations and potential career limiting behaviors.  Each LT member developed a value proposition that stretched them to bring their best selves to the table, consistently and sustainably, in service of the best possible discussions, decisions and outcomes.  This took a lot of courage as some personalities were prone to conflict and distrust, yet each LT member increased their engagement and contributions with the belief that the senior leader had both their individual and collective successes at heart, and would consistently challenge and support each of them to experiment for greater camaraderie and collective output.

Once well established at the individual level within the LT, we next applied the Lead-By-Need methodology to the group level.  We held quarterly LT Strategic Offsites to look back at performance and glean learnings, take stock on current reality and shifting demands, and look forward to the next quarters priorities and targets, making organizational adjustments where necessary.  The senior leader challenged each person to represent their respective areas of responsibility while simultaneously holding the entire org health and performance as the priority.  This ensured the ability to make trade offs when necessary for the greater good, with less conflict and more commitment.  By the end of each offsite, after much challenging work went into prioritizing mighty goals and recognizing realistic constraints, decisions were made and prepared to be published to the rest of the org for the next 91-day sprint (quarter).

Before closing the offsite, the senior leader would circle the LT and stand in the middle.  They would look a LT member in the eye, one at a time until everyone had been addressed, and state, “I am relying on you for…”, and then ask, “Can I rely on you?”  This public appreciation, respect and dependence not only ensured commitment, it gave each LT member insight into the talents and gifts that their colleagues were being called upon for and contributing to the collective success.  By the end of the session, the stage was set that everyone was required and needed to be successful, and that we needed to rely on each other, coordinate with each other, support each other, and champion for each other’s success, in service of their collective success, both short term and long term.

The final stage was to adjust the Quarterly Strategic Offsites to include the Extended Leadership Team (XLT).   The design shifted to 1 day with the LT to do the look back, the current reality, and the look ahead to make priority decisions on the next quarters focus, and any org adjustments that need to be made.  Day 2 was the chance for the XLT to join and contribute to the roll out plans for the quarter to come, based on the LT’s Day 1 decisions.  This took shape as both full group discussions for input and output where needed, as well as break out groups engaged in working sessions to translate the high-level priorities into concrete execution plans, milestones, and accountabilities.  At the end of Day 2 the XLT would report out their roll out plan to meet the goals set, identifying resources, restrictions, opportunities, and requests.  Q&A and discussion would follow each presentation, and decisions would be made on the spot wherever possible, or flagged for follow up wherever appropriate.  At the end of day 2, each LT member stood in front of the room and claimed what they were to deliver in the next 90 day sprint (quarter), what others could rely on them for, and what they needed to be successful.  In final closure, the senior leader restated what he was relying on every LT member for to be successful and implored the support and commitment of the XLT to make it happen in the teams of people not attending the offsite.  The tone was everyone was imperative to the effort, that all the unique contributions were necessary yet insufficient on their own, and that together we can accomplish great things.  The engagement and commitment were spectacular, and the outstanding results followed.

This organizational application of Lead-By-Need enabled the senior leader, the LT and the extended org to engage more robustly by honoring individual gifts and limitations, challenging everyone to perform at their best, and to inspire best performances from others.  People began to rely on each other, depend on each other, and count on each other more effectively because they began to value each other more fully.  It did not foster destructive competition, rather it invited aspirational competition to be more, do more, and achieve more together.  People, at the individual level, proved their reliability and dependability by being called upon to commit from a value-based proposition: by valuing them robustly, their energy and gifts could be fully realized instead of undermined and wasted on defending against of devaluation, struggling with morale, motivation, and commitment.


I was a younger lad, working on a fishing boat as a deck hand in the Baltic Sea.  My role was to swab the decks, as well as organize and prepare the fishing tackle for the fisherman.  The captain came down from the Bridge, to talk with me, leaving the helm to her assistant.  I was new to the job and not that aware or skilled, and feeling unconfident.  She approached and asked how it was going for me.  I shrugged, and said I was doing fine, although I was silently feeling uncertain about my abilities, and my choice to join the sailing.  I think she could sense my hesitation.

She spoke about the importance of every role on the ship, and how her job was to not only to plot the course, navigate, adjust plans as required and steer, but also to ensure the best bounty possible from our collective efforts.  This meant that she also needed to mind the maintenance and condition of the equipment, the health and wellbeing of the crew, and the guarantee that we would all return safely to port, hopefully with a good pay out.

She went on to describe the importance of the deck hand role to the success of the journey.  She explained that by swabbing the deck, I was directly responsible for the safety of the fisherman, who needed the assurance of good grip of their shoes to pull in the heavy loads of fish we were anticipating and hoping for.  The heavier the better, she emphasized.  She explained that my role was critical to the success of everyone, and that she had been watching me these first few days.  She noticed I worked hard and had all the capabilities required of a 1st class deck hand, yet I seemed a bit dejected by some of the rough conditions and rough treatment by the others.  She said she can’t do anything about the rough conditions, and they were likely to get even rougher.  She could and would, however, have a talk with the other crew members and  stress the importance of working well together, challenging and supporting each other to do our best work in a positive way, and enable the ultimate success of every piece of the puzzle, in service of the success of the whole.  I admitted that the first few days had been a bit rough, and I thanked her for her awareness and support.

Going into more detail, she explained how the priority of my role needs to be a spotless deck, each and every time, because fish parts create slim on the surface which could cause accident and injury, and even death if a fisherman falls overboard.  That the pride in my work will be appreciated by all, even if it is not spoken.  She acknowledged that she noticed, as did the others, however many were more likely to speak up when it was not done well than when it was.  Again, she would speak to the others and try to curb the banter and hostility that was directed at me, and all the crew members at times.

She asked me what I needed to be successful in my job.  I said this type of pep talk was helpful, and I’d appreciate it if she could have a word with the others, as their demeaning comments only made my job harder, and made me want to go home and not come back.  She said she could and would do that.

Next, she asked me if she and the crew could rely on me to do my best work for the duration of the journey, consistently doing my best work, regardless of the conditions.  I said she could rely on me.  She thanked me for my commitment and said she would understand if I did not want to come out on the next journey.  All we were contracted for was this one, so let’s make it the best one possible.

Over the next two days I saw her speak with the other crew members, and assumed she was having a similar conversation, letting them know how important their role was, and how important all roles were, and how we needed to positively support and challenge each other to do our best work so we all could benefit in the end.  I assumed this was her approach, as soon the negative banter reduced, and the camaraderie and spirit of the crew lifted.  This did not mean that challenging feedback wasn’t given, it was just given in a more supportive, we are all in this together, and I am depending on you sort of way.  Even if it came across a bit rough at times, I understood the intent was for us all to succeed together.  I too was able to offer some suggestions and feedback to others which helped our efficiency and effectiveness as a team.

A few days later we were finally to our prime fishing spot and about to cast out for our first big catch.  We had marginal luck so far, but it was good practice for me to see how it all came together.  Now we were hopeful for the real bounty.  The Captain cut the engines and called for an All Hands On Deck meeting.  We gathered around and she spoke from a position on high, where we could all clearly see her.

She started by saying that we had arrived at our best possible fishing spot, and now was the time to focus and do our best work.  With good luck, we could fill the hull and head back.  She went on to say, assuming we are about to hit the jack pot, that she needs to remind everyone of how critical you are to the success of our efforts, and how important everyone is.  Every role is as important as the other roles, and if one role does not fulfill their duties, we all suffer, here on the water and upon our payout.  She went on to say that her role was to chart out and navigate us to the fish, and she believes we have arrived.  She also claimed that she was responsible for the equipment and the crew, and she believes we are in good form.  She said if there are any concerns to please bring them to her quickly so she can attend to them, as she takes her responsibility very seriously, and we can depend on her.  She then called out the mechanics who are responsible for the engines, ice machines and net lifters, and asked them if they were ready.  They replied with a robust “ready”.  She said thank you, reiterated that we were all relying on them, and asked if they needed anything.  The said no, they were set.  She directly asked if they were fully committed to quickly deal with any problems, and to let her know immediately if problems do arise.  They replied again with a robust “ready”.  She next called out the fishermen and quickly explained that they were responsible for baiting, casting and retrieving the nets, and putting the fish in the hull with the ice.  She asked if they were fully prepped and ready to go.  A robust “ready” erupted, however one voice then spoke up saying they still needed to repair one pull line before they were 100%.   She thanked him for speaking up and directed them to prioritize it, and report back to her when they were 100% ready.  She asked if they needed anything.  They said no.  She said that she and everyone were counting on them, and do we have their full commitment to work safe, work fast and work efficient during this push.  A robust and excited “ready” was shouted.  She then turned to me, and explained to all that I was in charge of keeping the decks clear and clean throughout the fishing process, and that not only did our efficiency depend on it, but more importantly our safety.  She asked if I was ready and if I had everything I needed to do a 1st class job.  I said “ready”.  She asked if she and the lads had my full commitment to work hard and do my job flawlessly, and to quickly report if there were any concerns.  I yelled “ready!”  She thanked us all for bringing our full selves to this catch, and claimed she was proud to be working with such a skilled group of professional sea men, and she was confident that we will, together make the most of our opportunities out here.  She closed her orientation, focus, status check, and commitment All Hands meeting with:  “Remember to be safe, be strong, be reliable, be ready, be quick, and be kind as anything can change on a moments notice.  Together we will do the best that we can do together.  Let’s go fishing!”  The deck erupted with hollers of excitement and energy, and everyone quickly went to their stations to be ready for launch.  In anticipation, people called out what they were doing, and shouted reminders to those they were depending on, and confirmations of readiness, reliability and focus.

When we returned to port the crew was in good form.  The catch could have been better, but of no fault of our own.  We performed like a well-oiled machine.  We dealt with problems quickly when they came up, and no one got hurt.  In the end we all do our best work, and we felt proud of a job well done.  We came off the ship in good spirits and good friends.  Many were happy to go back out with this crew on the next journey, after a much-deserved break.  I was sad to leave them because I would have enjoyed another tour, now that I was skilled and experienced, and confident that the ship Captain really new how to motivate, engage, and draw out and inspire our best selves, individually and collectively.  I and every other crew member were better people, better team players, and better leaders because of our time together, not to mention better at our craft.  I learned a lot about creating positive dependencies, being dependent, and being dependable, in order to make a group a team, and a system successful and energizing, repeatably, consistently and sustainably.