When a startup is hanging on by its fingernails, when the reasons aren’t obvious or when the path to change is unclear, an employee survey or interviews by a neutral third party can provide helpful insight.

Chris, a founder and CEO of a troubled startup, was shocked by an internal survey showing that the poor customer service and low productivity had lots to do with him. Over the last year, Chris spent several thousand dollars on staff “kick-it-up” activities to motivate the team and to paint himself as a “nice guy to work for” while regularly pointing to the inadequacies and laziness of his team. This combination of tricks and treats created a cognitive dissonance and a lack of trust within the team.

Embarrassed, humbled and fraught with the worry that his startup was on the brink, Chris reached out for help.

The team’s feedback indicated, almost unanimously, that Chris needs to listen better.  Chris needed to start with some self-reflection, some accountability for how he is heard by his team and customers before being able to extend a listening ear to others.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, or if you want to take some preventative measures, consider the questions below that helped clarify Chris’s need for change:

  • Do you ask more questions than you lecture?
  • Do you follow through with the answers you give?
  • Are you clear and consistent with your expectations?
  • What’s your ratio of negative to positive talk during meetings?
  • How do you react to your team when they make a mistake?
  • When giving criticism do adjust your delivery to the person’s sensitivities and strengths?

Need help with your ability to listen mindfully to your employees and customers? Get the book, “The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction”  written by yours truly, now on, or contact me for more personal training.

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