The enemies of progress

Someone asked me this week about what I look out for during an interview. This also came around the time I’ve been working with my coach on things that drain me emotionally. I’ve even found myself talking about my Prana. What I realized in trying to answer this question is the things I look out for are the things that actually drain me.

I’m on the lookout for the enemies of progress which also happen to drain me emotionally at an accelerated rate. It was a unique enough personal realization that I thought it was worth writing about.

The short nice version of the answer is that I love working with people who stay focused on their commitments but can admit when they are wrong. The best partners are kind, humble, help coach their peers, and are constantly learning.

Directly answering the question I was asked, here are the things that work for me to keep an eye out for. This also assumes the interviewee is capable of doing the job and all of the other requirements check out.


Gossiping is very different than discussing. When the lines cross discussing into gossiping it’s like a dark hole of hell you can’t get out of. Gossip thrives on that which can’t be known and drives people to behave in entirely qualitative ways with warped information.

This is one I really struggled with at one point as a leader. I just thought I was so introverted and it made me feel uncomfortable because I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it and it seems to always get in the way.

Jazz hands

This is a term that I’ve used over the years to describe not answering a question directly. There’s such a thing as not understanding a question or not knowing the answer but being too clever about how to change the question in order to give an answer that is different so you don’t either admit you don’t know the answer or didn’t do the work is something I think of as jazz hands. No substance, just jazz hands.

Jazz hands are easy to correct unless the giver of the jazz won’t admit what they are doing.

Commitment shifting

Anytime a partner agrees to show up with Salmon for dinner but shows up with a Lunchables instead you know they messed up.

Yet this happens all the time in a work setting, unfortunately. I believe commitments should remain until they are met, failed, or mutually agreed to evolve. I’d consider Lunchables as a Salmon replacement squarely in the fail column.

Definition shifting

Once something is agreed upon, don’t quibble on the definition, especially to create more positive optics. If this is done repeatedly (2 or more times) it erodes trust really quickly.

If your company is trying to improve optics, focus on improving actual performance against key metrics. There are more people that have dictionaries in the world than there are people who are going to give you so much respect they are willing to let you redefine what words mean.

A lack of giving

Great teams give a lot to one another. This is so clear when someone says “hey, I need some help” and a lot of people jump in.

When someone consistently doesn’t jump in to help out it tends to show an inward focus in an outward way. It’s something I try to look out for and it’s something some of my trusted friends help me see. They know it’s a trigger for me but if I’m too close to something I can’t always see it. The best relationships I have help me see this one even when I can’t. It’s oddly enough one of the more solvable enemies of progress. Those who give first as an approach positively stick out. Those who take first tend to stick out equally.

Great leaders and team members are constantly doing everything they can to lift the teams up around them and help them grow. Great leaders have this amazing gift to accept opportunities to help people grow.


We’ve all been in a place and experienced a time when the Bureaucracy of another thing that we may or may not be responsible for has killed progress.

This is a normal part of life and business. The best people I’ve worked with never attack the person and always attack the problem as a team. This is one of the hardest ones to deal with because it’s never an easy solve. If you’re really being held back by bureaucracy you’ve got to really get creative to solve the problem.

I try to keep an out for people who create bureaucracy. This is best discovered by digging into past problems and how they were resolved. The clearest indication of this is a historical habit of recruiting bureaucrats.

Status assertion as opposed to accuracy assertion

I’ve heard this referred to as HIPPO syndrome. It’s basically when the highest paid person (or most senior) in the room asserts a position or course of action while refusing accurate information. The same can be said when having a discussion amongst individuals who are not coworkers where status is asserted as a function of making a point. It tends to slow folks down.

This also plays out when folks assert irrelevant experience as a rationale for their position as opposed to justifying the process/solution in the current context.

Dependency avoidance

Dependencies happen. New things pop up all the time but most work is understandable in the context of time. Big complex ideas are normally in years, initiatives in quarters, measures in weeks, and work in days. The best leaders I’ve worked with understand the dependency of time and process well.

I constantly structure questions to uncover the thought/people/work process between idea to the actual work. Grey area between the layers can expose a lot of lost time.

When there isn’t a clear mapping or explanation between Quarter to Day, there is almost always a deep inefficiency or error somewhere. This is a talent rare in new leaders, yet we all must learn it manage it in a complex organization.

Being late

There are times when people are late. It’s a fact of life.

Traffic, unexpected circumstances, family issues, and double/triple bookings in life happen even though we’d all like to believe they shouldn’t. There is a difference between unexpected circumstances and a disrespect for your commitments. One is an exception and one is a habit.

I never have viewed someone showing up too early as a negative but every-time someone is late for an interview/big meeting/etc etc the why is discussed into the ground. It’s an easy thing.

Constantly talking about the past

We’re all influenced by the past and there is a time and a place for it but in order to build the future one must have the ability to focus on it.

Ironically, this entire post pays homage to past learnings that aren’t really that productive. I’ve started writing another post that is the inverse of the original question, what to look for.