When It Comes To Energy – Don't Do What I Did To Jennifer


Chapter three of my book Everyday Leadership speaks to the ever-present concern of great leaders: motivation, or motor-vation! How do you get people’s engines going? Given our national, state, and business challenges, which one of us doesn’t need to get the engines roaring?

In one part of the chapter, I offer a tongue-in-cheek list of energy Don’ts – the kinds of things that suck the energy right out of your group. The following story has been often on my mind as my wife endures: three hours of sleep on her office floor last night, and still at negotiations at 11 tonight (Sunday), as talks have dragged on to midnight nearly every one of the past ten nights. If like me you need to support someone – a bride, a boss, a teammate or teenager – don’t do what I did about a year ago during the thick of her campaign for governor:

Jennifer was doing her typical morning ritual. Up just after 5:00, reading the papers, reading a briefing book, putting on her make-up (and armor!). Oh, and punctuating all that with radio interviews. She had just finished one with Paul W. Smith, the most listened-to morning drive-time guy in Detroit. “Jen, you did a nice job,” I offered, and without pausing went on, “But you know where you said Y, I think it might have been better to say Z, because when you say Y, I think some people take it the wrong way, and they are going to react much more harshly than they ought to. So if you just said it a little differently, you would have been more effective.” I was trying to help.

Jennifer listened, looked at me and said something I’ll never forget: “Could you just once tell me what you think I should say before I start the interview?!” Whew. What a wake-up call. What had I been doing to her – thinking all the time I was helping? Think of the last time somebody second-guessed you, the way I had been second-guessing Jennifer on a weekly basis. What did it do to your motivation, to your energy level? How often do you tell your kid in the car about how they passed when they should have shot? Or how someone should have done some Y instead of some Z?

As my friend M.A. always says, “feedback is a gift,” but there are much better ways to do it than to second-guess and dwell on a past that by definition can’t be changed! Don’t skip the hard work of framing feedback well, if you’re going to

Lead with your best self,


  • A friend at work has told the story of a family “saying” which they try to live up to – and live IN to. The saying goes: Advice unasked-for is criticism.

  • Dan, I got the greatest laugh when I thought about the look that you must have on your face after being blasted at 5 a.m. by the Governor of the State of Michigan who also happens to be your wife. I do agree however, that we are trained at an early age go give feedback rather than coaching in advance. We are always learning yet the greatest test still comes when we have the urge to help and it is most likely misunderstood. I continue to enjoy the friendship and enjoy your candor — keep doing what your do — in advance!

  • Bravo for sharing that with us. I used call my husband “Mr. Obvious” when he did similar things to me, like AFTER I bump my head “watch your head” he says, or “look out for the toy car” AFTER I have stepped on it and nearly tumbled! Well, it does work, he is getting better at warning me about something BEFORE I do it! Two days ago, he alerted me to some dog poop I was just about to step into, in the parking lot BEFORE we entered a restuarant! (Yes, I am a kluz, and I wonder just how graceful I would have been, had my name NOT meant Grace?) 😉

    Having said that, would you also let your wife know that on my way into work this AM, I was thinking of her? How pleased I was that the state did NOT shut down, (The rest areas were just starting to re-open.) I was driving west to Lansing, into the rain, with the sun at my back, and in front of me, for the first time in my life I observed personally, (not a photo!) a FULL half-circle arched rainbow. I could see both ends going to the ground to the south and north, and the arch high above. Let’s hope the northern end had the pot of gold in Lansing! (I wondered if anyone else rushing past me noticed?)

    Keep encouraging everyone! We all need pick-me-ups!

  • Bravo and hats off for being frank and candid about your “stuff” when most of us know it is our “stuff” too!

    I’ll never forget something I saw in Reader’s Digest years ago.

    “The art of wisdom is knowing what to overlook”

    Be well this day, Dan.


  • That’s an excellent way of saying that we can’t always say what’s perfect. Often we use double-standards in extreme with one another, for example this offering: “so, you aren’t just peeved.” How is the person supposed to respond, supposing that they aren’t even peeved to begin with? With argumentation? Projection isn’t a virtue, but it’s often used as if it’s one — that’s because projection is deflective and deferential. From the lead-in, the projective person doesn’t allow their social neighbor to actually present in a way that truly represents (i.e., to “express”). And argumentation along the lines of pointing out failure to go beyond predisposal so that the projective person is ready and up to the challenge of accepting a person for who they are doesn’t do anything to return to the lead-in point and make it more open and honest.

    My kibbitz for leaders is, instead of trying constantly to “lead” your social neighbors and seeing the social relationship only as consisting of one’s own self in strong and weak points — failures and successes in “leading” — leaders might try focusing on what they have to do. Not what they wish would be.

    I get it. I think you put it more or less anecdotally well — but I would have responded that we already do have our framers to remember, first of all, and second of all that “framing” also means to predispose a relationship. How would you account for that in your success? It might make you a strong leader to just get it all out.

  • So, you told us how NOT to do it. I agree. Don’t say what’s bad and wrong. Don’t shudda/wudda/cudda on folks. No one likes to be “should” on. Duh!

    When you advise us to be careful, here’s a way to give the feedback that may not feel critical to the person.

    A potential script for some future incident: Jen, I continue to be amazed and proud of the way you can make so much sense when there’s stress from a microphone shoved in your face and the additional tension of knowing that thousands of area drivers are listening to you, like this morning. From my leisurely perspective here at home, reflecting on it, I was thinking how what you said might “hit” some listeners. May I share it with you?”

    Assuming she does care and would listen, you’ve obtained her permission to share how she might tweak it in the future to include this aspect.

    In this way, you’re not implying that she was bad or wrong or incompetent about something in the past. You’re not implying that you know better than she. You’re sharing your perspective, and the source of that perspective: no pressure, no tension, no microphone in your face, time to think about it all. Different from her perspective. When you share like this, she’s not as likely to feel frustrated or possibly, even worse, feeling attacked by the guy who has continued to give her major emotional support through all the stress of these last nine months, and all the years before that as she spends herself for the people of Michigan.

    This approach can work in other settings, too… or so I believe. Just sharing my perspective and ironically, I realize that it’s more do as I say, not as I do unless you count the fact that you do ask for feedback since you set up this mechanism.

    Major hanks for all that you and she are doing for the people of this state.

    • Well said. You described a feedback process that I was taught and continue to develop – giving appropriate feedback is an art form.

      Here are the guidelines. There are 2 parties involved in feedback: the “receiver” and the “giver”.

      These are guidelines for “giver”:
      1. Ask permission first. The receiver has the right to say “no”, or “not right now”, or “never;. If they say yes, then continue. Ex: “I was listening to you, and had some reactions. Would you be open to hearing some feedback?”

      2. Describe a “well-done”. Say something positive and true and that you have observed now or in similar past situations. Ex: “You held the attention of everyone in the room during your empassioned speech.”

      3. Describe an “opportunity for improvement” ACCORDING TO YOUR OPINION. You may think it is “right” or the best advice or the only way. It is still your opinion and not a fact. Label it as such. “When I observed ___, I felt ___” or “When I heard ___, I thought ___.” You are not giving advice – you are giving feedback.

      4. Listen to the receiver’s response. Really hear what the person has to say.

      These are guidelines for “receiver”:

      1. Say “thank you for your feedback”. Accept that the “giver” has provided you with his/her opinion.

      That’s it!
      Now the challenge for the “giver” is to be able to leave the feedback with the receiver, and not go into “convincing” mode or “expert” mode. Good luck with that!

  • It seems you’ve let the cat out of the bag. You’ve admitted that you are saying things a certain way to get a certain reaction. My Mom always told me to tell the truth and you won’t have to “work” so hard to come off looking good.

    It is interesting. Does anyone else besides me notice that there is such a vacuum of leadership in the governor’s family, that her spouse is the one presuming to teach us about it?

  • Thanks for another great piece. I emailed it to my wife as soon as I just read it. Over our years together we have both been in a variety of leadership and organizational situations. From the beginning of our relationship we have always been good ‘sounding boards’ for eachother, as well as mutual ‘coaches’. Before a meeting, interview, what-have-you, we frequently ‘role-play’ with eachother to become focused and to ‘rehearse’ the upcoming dialogue. If nothing else, we enter the situation feeling somewhat mentally prepared.
    And, when it’s over, if we had a chance to be present, we each try to remember to ‘ask’ if feedback would be welcomed.

    Is it always perfect? Heck no!! BUT….it’s gone a long way to help us both be better at what we do.

    Thanks for doing the same, Dan!!

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