7 Steps Ahead, LLC

Organizational Psychology for Managers
sold out at Amazon.com two days after it was released! Fortunately, more copies are now available. Click here to order. For excerpts, click here. To read a review of the book, click here.

What happens when a leader won't play well with others?

Is that really such a bargain?

Do you understand your company's personality?

Are you hearing the hoof beats of the four horsemen of business failure?

How can you make sure you're in the right place at the right time?

When is efficiency ruining your productivity?

What does it take for a team to consistently use its strengths instead of its weaknesses?

Just how different are leaders and managers really?

Despite the old claim about frogs sitting in water until it boils, they actually are smart enough to jump out. Why don't people do the same?

Why is it so hard to deal with Jerks in the office?

If there's no "I" in team, how does the team see where it's going?

Here's what Bank of America has to say about how leaders impact high performance teams.

What can you do when you feel you don't fit into a new organizational culture?

Some comments from my recent talk on Making Change Work at the Computer Measurement Group International Conference in Las Vegas.

Trying to build a creative, innovative culture? Check out this short article from Investors Business Daily.

Job feeling stressful? Here's how to relax at work.

If you want a motivated workforce, check out this article from Fox Business.

Learn the secrets of Mastering Your Schedule on Time Tamer Talk Radio.

"The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development" was listed by Amazon.com as one of the top 100 books on organizational behavior.



Publications and Announcements

Click here for the full list of publications

How Different Are Leaders and Managers?
in Corp! Magazine

Are You Speaking to Me?
in Corp! Magazine

When the Solution is the Problem
in Corp! Magazine

The Paradox of Perfection
American Business Magazine

Flawed Execution? Don't Lose Your Head Over It
in Corp! Magazine

The Destroyer of Cultures
at ERE.Net

Help Star Performers Ramp Up The Whole Team
in Corp! Magazine

The Secret to Productive Staff Meetings   

in Medical Office Today 

 Don't Let Dracula Decisions Roam Your Business  

in Corp! Magazine 

The Blame of Phobos Grunt  

in Corp! Magazine 


 The Four Horsemen of Business Failure  

in MeasureIT

Of Cats and Unwanted Prizes 

in Corp! Magazine

Who Betrays One Master 

in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership


My Hovercraft is Full of Eels
in Corp! Magazine


Using the Force: What Every Exec Can Learn From Darth Vader
in the Worcester Business Journal

"Balance the Individual and the Team for Top Performance"
in Corp! Magazine

"Real Science Fiction"
in Corp! Magazine

"Shaky Ground"
in Lab Manager Magazine

Zen and the Art of Leadership
Talk presented at Infotec 2010

Recent Interviews

Do you understand your company's personality?
in ComputerWorld

Tell About Mistakes and Failed Projects
in Investors Business Daily

A Bad Work Environment Can Make You Sick
on CareerBliss

How Much Does Motivation Matter? 

  in CSI International


Profiting from Your Performance Review  

in NASDAQ Careers News


 Motivating Small Business Employees to Work As Hard As You  

in the Phonebooth


 Relax at Work? Ha! 

in the Jewish Exponent


The Mobility Morass  

in Specialty Fabrics Review


HR Mistake of the Week: Why Hiring for Emotional Intelligence Gets You a BFF Instead of a Star Employee
in The Grindstone

Using Games to Build Your Team
on the Talking Work Podcast

How to Use Sports to Advance Leadership and Organizational Development
on the Full Potential Show with James Rick

Hiring Mistakes
with Todd Raphael,
Editor, Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership

Organizational Development on
The David Lush Show, WNIX 1330 AM

Innovation and Corporate Culture
on KKZZ Brainstormin' with Bill Frank

The Startup Business Coach

The CEO and Organizational Development


How to Motivate Your Employees
on Fox Business

Komen Reverses Planned Parenthood Move
in The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Art of Branding Your Career 

in Psychology Today

Prepping for Your Annual Review

in the NY Times


Making Pay Decisions Transparent 

in Human Resource Executive


Don't Like Your Job? Define One You Like 

in IT World


Computer Measurement Group Announces Keynote and Plenary Speakers for CMG'11 Taking Place December 5-9, 2011 at Gaylord National Hotel in D.C. Area  


 Career Focus: Engineering Management in Today's Engineer, a publication of the IEEE



4 Ways to Log Off on Time Off 


 About Creating Visions and Organizational Goals 


Researchers Find 'The Paradox of Meritocracy' 

in Human Resource Executive 


Game Changer 

in SHRM India


How to Stay Motivated on the Road to ITIL Expert  

in ITSM Watch


To Be a Leader, You Must Be a Follower 

in Oregon Business


 Incentivizing Employees
in Advance for Medical Laboratory Professionals

Tips for Making, Keeping Business Resolutions
at Fox Small Business

The Evolution of Leadership

Getting Results: Performance vs. Putting in the Hours

How to Self-Promote Without Being Obnoxious
on CNN

Hiring Headaches
in the IndUS Business Journal

Identifying Your Future Leaders
in IndustryWeek Magazine

Natural Born Project Managers: Myth or Reality at Project Manager Planet


How to Survive a Bad Team Leader
at Yahoo! Careers

Books and CDs

Contact Us

 Want High Performance? Have the Village Idiot Run Your Team!


I often hear that building a high performance team is really pretty simple. All you need to do is get the best person, for example the best engineer, and put him in charge of a team of strong engineers. Once you do that, that's enough, right? The fact is, when you can build a team like that, it doesn't take all that long to move from a team that's operating at, let's say, a "1" to one that's operating at a "10." Don't get me wrong; moving from a 1 to a 10 is pretty good.


The problem is, they could be at 100. That's a pretty sizable difference; it's certainly a lot better than Spinal Tap's famous "but it goes to 11."


Unfortunately, scarcely one team in five will ever reach 100. Most teams barely make it much past that 10. Why? Because they aren't putting the village idiot in charge of the team.


Village idiot? That's an error, right? Well, not really. It may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight.


One of the most interesting, and powerful, aspects of high performance teams is the degree to which members argue with one another. The fact is, members of high performance teams are really good at arguing; it's one of the things that they do best. Part of why they're so good at it is that while members of high performance teams like to be right, they don't need to be right. Thus, team members are able to argue, evaluate, make a decision, and then all get behind that decision. Learning to do this is why you need the village idiot.


When the best engineer is running the team, particularly if she is also doing engineering at the same time, there's a problem. It's very hard to turn against your own solution. The stories I hear from different people are all oddly similar: at first, it's great being on a team run by the expert engineer. It's a breath of fresh air compared to being on that team run by the person who was always yelling about milestones and who didn't understand anything about engineering. And there's a real element of truth here: being on a team run by a bookkeeper isn't necessarily much fun. But sooner or later, and it's usually sooner, the people on that team run by the expert engineer find themselves increasingly frustrated: he always knows the "right" way, and it's always his way; She's doing the most interesting work because it's "her" idea; No matter how much we discuss it, he always finds a way to prove that his solution is best; I never know when she's going to jump in to "save the day," whether or not the day actually needs saving.


The issue here is that an engineer succeeds by being an excellent individual contributor. A manager, however, succeeds by making the people who report to him excellent. It's hard to be an excellent individual contributor and also make everyone else excellent as well. It's hard to let someone else be right when that means you might be wrong. Are there people who can do it? Yes, of course. How many? A small fraction of those who believe they can do it. But when companies insist that's the best way to run a team, what they are really doing is saying they're happy with a 10 when they could be at 100.


The role of the leader is to build up others and to think strategically. Even if you're running a team and not the whole company, building your team, making them excellent individually and collectively, and considering the ramifications of your work and different ways it can help company strategy is a non-trivial job. Being a really good team leader is not easy. It only looks that way, in the same sense that experts often manage to make the impossible look easy... until you try it. So what are some steps toward becoming the sort of leader who can get from 10 to 100?


  1. No matter how well you know the subject matter, invite ideas and suggestions from others. When you lead off with your expert opinion, you immediately anchor the team. Keep your opinion to yourself as long as possible. Help others come up with the brilliant ideas.
  2. Don't make decisions based on your expertise. Help your team make decisions based on their expertise.
  3. Admit when you don't know something. In fact, make a habit of being curious: "I'm not sure I understand. Could you explain it to me?" Be the village idiot.
  4. Lead the discussion, but don't own the discussion. Bring others in. Help people learn to argue and don't worry about being right. As the team gets better at arguing, rotate the job of running meetings or brainstorming sessions. Participate when someone else is running the session.
  5. Be predictable. As Google found when they crunched their data, boring, predictable, leaders are better than heroic leaders. Team members need to work with your strengths and your weaknesses. The more predictable your behavior, the easier it is for your team to configure itself to maximize everyone's strengths and minimize everyone's weaknesses.
  6. Find ways to build people up. Great leaders know that performance increases when you build people up, not when you tear them down. Encourage team members to do the same.
  7. Do steps 1-6 all the time, not just when the pressure is on. How well your team performs, particularly under pressure, depends on how effectively you built the relationships ahead of time.


Okay, so maybe the leader isn't really the village idiot. Or perhaps they're the sort of village idiot who knows the right questions to ask, helps their team argue effectively, somehow encourages people without threatening them or competing with them, and who manages to make everyone around them excellent. That's not such a bad village idiot to be.



Like to dramatically improve performance in your organization? Contact me for a free initial consultation.  


Stephen R Balzac

About 7 Steps Ahead 
Stephen R. Balzac, "The Business Sensei," is a consultant, author, professional speaker, and president of 7 Steps Ahead, specializing in helping businesses get unstuck and transform problems into opportunities.

Steve has over twenty years of experience in the high tech industry and is the former Director of Operations for Silicon Genetics, in Redwood City, CA.

Steve is the author of The 36-Hour Course on Organizational Development, published by McGraw-Hill and a contributing author to Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play. Steve's latest book, "Organizational Psychology for Managers," was released by Springer in the fall of 2013. He writes the monthly business column, "Balzac on Business."

He is the president of the Society of Professional Consultants (SPC) and served as a member of the board of the New England Society for Applied Psychology. No stranger to the challenges of achieving peak performance under competitive and stressful conditions, he holds a fifth degree black belt in jujitsu and is a former nationally ranked competitive fencer.