Brenda's Blog

Does Being the Boss Mean You Get to Tell People What To Do?

Does Being the Boss Mean You Get to Tell People What To Do?


It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening, and you’re still at the office preparing for a presentation you’ll make to top management early the next day. You have just hung up the phone after speaking with your spouse, and the annoyed voice on the other end of the line still rings in your ears. “Missing dinner again? The kids are starting to forget what you look like!”

Still, you face at least two more hours of work, and you’re tired, hungry, and stressed. Just as you begin to dive back into preparing for Friday’s presentation, Leiza, one of your direct reports, walks in and interrupts.


“Boss, I’ve been working through a challenge over and over in my head. I’ve narrowed the solution down to two options: Option A and Option B. Here are the pros and cons of each.” (Leiza briefly explains them.) “Which do you recommend?”

You’re busy; you don’t have time for this. So, you answer quickly, “Go with Option B.”

“Okay, thanks, Boss, that’s great. I appreciate your help,” Leiza says as she heads out of your office, ready to implement Option B.

You chalk up the exchange as yet another excellent leadership decision you’ve made. Her appreciation reminds you of the power you have to make decisions on the spot and the fact that people will follow your direction. In fact, it gives you an emotional boost at the end of a long day. Your direct report needed you, and you were able to deliver. Job well done, right?

Not so fast. Let’s rewind this scene and play it out in the way a highly successful leader would approach the situation.

Just as you begin to dive back into preparing for Friday’s presentation, Leiza, one of your direct reports, walks in and interrupts. “Boss, I’ve been working through a challenge over and over in my head. I’ve narrowed the solution down to two options: Option A and Option B. Here are the pros and cons of each.” (Leiza briefly explains them.) “Which do you recommend?”

“Leiza, assume you choose Option A today. Fast forward in your mind to six months from now … what would the outcome look like, and how would that affect everyone involved? Then, do the same for Option B. How would the outcomes differ?”

Leiza pauses, looking at you puzzled. You’ve never asked her a question like that before, and she isn’t sure what to do. The silence grows, but you smile patiently, waiting for Leiza to gather her thoughts.

When she continues to look puzzled, you encourage her further. “I’d like to know your point of view on that. You may need some time to think about it. When could you get back to me with your assessment?”

Leiza raises her eyebrows, intrigued and excited by the challenge of visioning the future. She responds, “By Monday morning,” and leaves your office with more energy than before, feeling empowered and pleased that her opinion is valued.

Time for Questions

I can almost hear you say, “But it’s already late! I’m looking at two more hours in the office before I can get home. I don’t have time to ask Leiza any questions. It’s faster just to tell her what to do.”

Estimate the length of time it took to give Leiza an answer compared to the time it took to ask her a few questions. You probably only added one or two minutes to the encounter, if that. If you don’t have time in the moment to discuss the solutions with Leiza, set a time to do it after she has had an opportunity to mull over the various options.

Are the questions you're being asked too simple?

The best way to develop your team is by asking powerful questions. Yes, it’s true that this can take a little bit more time than immediately telling employees what to do. But, if you don’t make the time to ask questions of your team members, you will end up being the one answering all of the questions and doing more work than necessary. This is a sign that your team has become dependent on you. And you’ll never step out of this never-ending cycle unless you make the decision to change your behaviors and begin asking questions instead of telling others what to do.

Empowering Your Team Members

Asking instead of telling is a fundamental behavior that differentiates the most successful leaders from those that can’t seem to advance beyond a certain level. The strongest leaders are those who don’t respond to queries from their staff right off the bat-that is, they don’t choose Option A or B and then send the employee away to implement the plan. Instead, they ask powerful questions that get team members to stop, reflect, grow, and challenge themselves.

Remember the old adage: “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” Giving your team members the “right” solutions by answering their questions is like giving them a fish for a day-it’s a shortcut that only takes care of one matter at a time. Teaching them “how to fish” by asking powerful, thought-provoking questions may take slightly longer in the short-term, but will save you a significant amount of time in the future. Team members won’t keep coming back to ask you as many questions later; they’ll develop their own ability to think through challenges.

This is ultimately how you empower your team members to move away from “taking orders” to “taking charge.”

Sound off! I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think it takes to be a great leader in today’s 24-7, non-stop world.

The Top 10 Branding Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

Mistake ErasedWhen you’re growing your own business, every error you make means money out of your pocket. So, why learn the hard way (which is also the expensive way)? Why not learn ahead of time which pitfalls to avoid?

Below are the Top 10 most costly branding mistakes that I have regularly seen entrepreneurs make.

  1. Getting creative with your company name. Clever names may be fun, but if your target market cannot easily tell who you are and what you stand for, they will simply pass you by. Your customers won’t take the time to figure out your business. So, make it easy for people to “get” what you do! Would you rather spend your marketing dollars explaining the purpose of your business, or let your company name do that for you? Why not spend your limited funds to explain more clearly how you can make a difference in the lives of your customers? A well-named business simply makes your job much easier. Our company name is Brand Development Associates International, and we are a group of associates who develop brands internationally. No one has to guess who we are or what we do.
  1. Forgetting that you are your brand. Building brandNo matter what you sell – and whether you like it or not – YOU become the masthead for your business. Everything you do represents the brand of your company. I knew a business owner who lost a multi-country contract because he arrived at a morning meeting with alcohol on his breath (he had gone out the night before to celebrate the assumed-signing of the agreement!). His potential partners worried that he might have a drinking problem, and it was enough to break the deal. But you don’t have to do something extreme to undermine your company’s brand. Maintain a character 24/7/365 that is in keeping with your brand, and it will do both you and your company good.
  1. Not confirming that a need for your product or service truly exists. Many entrepreneurs put products on the market like they’re throwing darts. They don’t have the funds for market research, so they just wait to find out what will work and what won’t. What they don’t realize is that they’re spending much more money creating products that won’t sell than they would if they had spent just a little bit on market research. So, get creative!  You don’t have to conduct fancy, expensive market research. If you’re selling a new toy, for example, go to the nearest day care center, and volunteer to have their children play with the toys. If you’re selling a new beverage, invite people on the street who are in your demographic to try out your product, and ask them what they think. Offer a potential new service for free, and see how your target market responds. In other words, find out ahead of time if you have a viable product or service. It will save you a lot of money and time in the long run, and it will keep your brand’s image intact.
  1. Not making tough choices to target your marketing. The bigger your  market, the bigger your business, right? NO. You cannot be everything to everyone. Your brand won’t be able to truly reach your target market unless you can deliver a meaningful point of difference. If you’re targeting all women 18 and older, you will not be able to show that entire age group how your product or service will help them because, let’s face it, an 18-year old has different needs than a 55-year old. So, segment and separate your target markets. Perhaps your offering is appropriate for women ages 22-35 who have children ages 4-10. Find out what will appeal to your specific market, and communicate your product or service with that in mind.
  1. Not being realistic about your competition. Some entrepreneurs make the mistake of believing their company has no competitor. This is never true! Even if there is no product that directly competes with yours, there is always something else on the market that your customers can choose over what you offer. Your target market literally has dozens of alternative choices to what you offer. So, get to know your competition well, and look at it realistically. What will differentiate your product or service from your competitors and fill your market’s needs better? Focus your brand on those differences.
  1. Not being consistent in your communications. If the DNA in your hair were different from the DNA in your fingernails, you’d be a mutant. The same is true for your brand. Power positioning means that you’re consistent across everything you do. If your positioning stands for one thing, but your website or Facebook page or tweets stand for something else, your brand will mutate! Your target market can only get to know your brand if every single touch point is 100% consistent with your brand’s image.
  1. Not choosing the right team membersteam working on a project to reflect your brand. Small entrepreneurs often believe they must be “grateful” just to have people work for them. Not true! Just as you represent your brand, so does every single one of your employees. Make sure the people you hire have the same character as the one you want your business to communicate in the marketplace.  Find the best possible people to join your team, and spend a little extra to get them. The effort will pay back ten-fold.
  1. Forgetting that your brand extends to your employees, not just to your customers. Do you treat your staff as well as you treat your customers? If you treat your team poorly, the word gets out, and it damages your brand. On the other hand, if you treat your team very well, the best candidates will want to work for you, and it will become well known that your company is a great place to be employed. Think what that kind of image can do for your brand!
  1. Not making choices about your brand’s offerings/benefits. Just as you cannot target your product to everyone in the marketplace, you must also  choose what your brand will stand for, too. Don’t fall victim to scope creep! Here’s an example: My first week in business, I was very nervous. I had left a highly successful 6-figure job, and I worried about getting enough work. I received two exciting phone calls right away – one from a very large company in the region, asking me to do Human Resources work, and the other from a great connection who wanted me to do some Sales work. The truth is that I could have done both of these engagements, and I loved the idea of landing two great clients in my very first week. But I knew I had to stick to my guns. Branding was my passion – what I stood for. So, I took a deep breath and said “no” to both offers.  Two days later, I received a call from my first branding client, and we’ve been able to successfully maintain that branding focus ever since.
  1. Not making your business something you love to do. You will be eating, sleeping, and breathing your business for a long, long time. If you don’t absolutely love it, you will burn out quickly. So, don’t choose to do something just because it’s what you’ve always done. You’ll spend way too many hours of your life miserable, and your heart won’t be in it. For example, many coaching clients come to me because they aren’t happy in their jobs. They may be “successful” in the eyes of others, but they know in their hearts that they aren’t “happy.” Case in point: A few years ago, I coached a woman who tried to create a brand based on her past experience rather than on her passion. When I asked her what she loved, she said “horses.” Through our work together, she eventually realized she could combine her love of horses with the skills she had acquired in her past jobs. The outcome? She created a training program that brought corporate executives to her ranch to learn leadership skills through working with horses. Learn from her example, and find a way to embrace and leverage your passion. You’ll be much happier for it.

Every entrepreneur makes a misstep now and then.  So if you have fallen prey to any of these branding mistakes, pick yourself up, and do what you must to get back on track. The more you steer clear of these 10 branding blunders, the faster you will build a powerhouse business and enjoy the success you deserve.


The Single Worst Question You Can Ask at Work: The Power of Eliminating “Why”?

shutterstock_44541121Asking direct reports or coworkers questions rather than always telling them what to do is an important way to develop their abilities, help them grow, strengthen engagement, and improve relationships. But, there is one question-word in your tool chest that I suggest you eliminate entirely:


If you think about it, the very nature of the question causes defensiveness. Even the most seemingly innocent questions like “So, why are you wearing that tie today?” or “Why did you go to Frankfurt last month?” can cause the most mild-mannered individuals to feel as though they need to defend themselves.

There’s nothing positive about the defensiveness that results when a “why” question is asked. In fact, depending on the specifics of the question, asking “why” can actually imply blame, create suspicion, and break down trust. It fosters an immediate “you vs. me” feeling and can even subconsciously put people into fight-or-flight mode. When shadowing executives in the workplace, I’ve seen “why” questions create antagonistic relationships and even cause otherwise dependable employees to hide important information from their bosses.

“Why” questions also tend to keep you in the past. Try asking a “why” question that is focused positively toward the future. I think it’s impossible! That’s because “why” is most often about what happened yesterday or about a problem happening today. It’s rarely about what can be done to find a solution to a problem or move toward a positive future state.

For example, questions like “Why did you do it that way?” or “Why are you late?” are destructive because the recipient of the question will no doubt feel put down and guilty as a result. These questions do nothing to motivate people to find constructive new ways of thinking and acting in the future.

“What” and “How” Questions

So, how do you get past asking “why?” when you want to achieve better understanding?  Achieve better results by replacing “why” questions with forward-focused “what” and “how” questions. Here are a couple of examples of how to turn an accusatory “why” into a more forward-focused “what” or “how” question. You can hopefully see how these types of “what” and “how” questions lead to powerful and innovative thinking, proactive planning, and visioning for the future.

“Why” Question: “Why isn’t this work completed yet?”   Replace with…

“What” or “How” Question: “What resources will it take to get this work done on time?


“Why” Question: “Why did you do it that way?”  Replace with…

“What” or “How” Question: “How will the approach you chose help us reach our objective for this project?”


Do be careful, though. “What” and “how” questions can sometimes be “why” questions in sheep’s clothing. For example, nicer-sounding phrases like “What’s the basis of your thinking?” or “What caused you to be late today?” might start with the word “what” but are simply “why” questions in hidden form!

The Power of Eliminating “Why”

Deborah was the head of internal audits for a large multinational corporation. She wasn’t happy in her job, and the morale of her team was also way down. She felt that she and her team had fairly combative relationships with other departments in the organization.

Just like a root canal, everybody throughout the organization dreaded the arrival of the auditing team. After all, it was the auditors’ job to investigate what everyone else might be doing wrong and then tell them to correct it. The entire company knew that the team sometimes had to report big discrepancies to the Board. As a result, Deborah and her direct reports had been branded the “ugh people” because everyone said “ugh!” whenever the team showed up….

This might sound like an insurmountable problem, but it turned out that Deborah and her team relied primarily on “why” questions to carry out their auditing work. “Why did you take that approach?” and “Why didn’t you follow the agreed-to process?” were the typical questions asked.

Realizing that the way Deborah and her team were questioning others might be impacting the outcomes, they began to replace “why” queries with “what” and “how” questions. For example, rather than ask, “Why did you do it that way?” Deborah’s team of auditors asked, “What are your long-term objectives, and how does the procedure you used support them?” A question like, “Why didn’t you follow standard operating procedures?” was replaced with, “How well did the process work for you, given that it was not the standard protocol?”

whyWhen Deborah and her team shifted the way they interacted with their internal auditing clients, the results were almost immediate!  One by one, team members began reporting that company employees had a much less negative attitude toward them and began to see the team as there to help rather than judge. Within 30 days, members of the auditing department reported being able to build better, more trusting relationships across the organization. And, importantly, the morale of Deborah’s team improved.

As a big plus, the auditing team members shared with Deborah that they were even receiving more honest answers to their non-threatening, open-ended questions—the kind of information that helped them do their jobs better.

Be on the “Why?” alert!

If you are someone who uses “Why” questions regularly on the job, begin to catch yourself and make adjustments, rephrasing your questions to begin with “What” and “How.” You will no doubt find that your team members and coworkers respond much more positively once you say goodbye to “Why.”

Don’t Just Sit There!

SITTING is big news – well, at least the detrimental effects of too much sitting, that is. The scientific community has coined a new phrase to label it — “sitting disease.”  In short, as a friend of mine says, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

But as leaders, our jobs often require that we sit for many hours in a day, working on our computers, attending meetings, and talking on the phone. In fact, my executive coaching clients often tell me they spend so many hours working (and sitting) that they often don’t have time to fit exercise into their schedule.

The harsh truth is that too much sitting is killing us – slowly, but literally.

A few hard facts:

  • According to a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, sitting most of the day makes our risk of heart attack the same as for people who smoke.
  • James Levine, M.D. puts it this way, “Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression, and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.”
  • An American Cancer Society study found that women who were inactive and sat over six hours a day were 94% more likely to die during the time period studied than those who were physically active and sat less than 3 hours a day. For men, the statistic isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still dire at 48% more likely to die. And the physical activity levels of the individuals didn’t matter!
  • A study at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia found that we are 40% at greater risk of death if we sit for long periods. They also found that prolonged sitting disrupts metabolic function and decreases insulin sensitivity, causing blood sugar problems.

Walk While You Work

So, what’s the solution? Since exercising more may not even counter the number of hours we sit, you can either stand more while you work or do what I’m doing now – combine work time with exercise! You can improve your health without the need to find time in your calendar to write “go to the gym.” All you need is my new productivity tool – a Treadmill Desk!

I’ve wanted one for a really long time, but they weren’t available in Singapore. Then, we finally found a company that could offer one. Now, when I would normally have to sit at my desk to do work, I just hop on the treadmill and get in a good walk. I love it! I’m burning calories, staying active, and still accomplishing my “to do” list. It feels great!

“Sounds expensive?” you say? We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the treadmill desk I chose wasn’t as expensive as we thought it would be. In fact, if you are Singapore based, I can get you a good deal. Just email me at if you’re interested, and get yourself moving!


When Risking Failure is a Good Thing

How can failing ever be a good thing? The best leaders know that if you aren’t risking failure at least part of the time, you’re playing it so safe that no one on your team is learning and growing. “Failing small” can be a great way for everyone in your company to learn. After all, isn’t that how you learned the best lessons in your own career?

Sounds intriguing but not sure how to put this into action?

–          Allow enough leeway in projects so that if small failures occur, you have time to recover, learn specific lessons from the failures, and get back on track.

–          If you’re concerned about your employees making costly mistakes, determine the points at which you need to influence the project’s outcome the most. Then, set up specific times to meet with your direct reports, either by date or by completion of certain steps (check out the “metered with milestones” delegation style in Would YOU Want to Work For YOU™?). In that case, if something is truly off track, you can realize it, say something, coach them through it, and have enough time to make a correction.

Playing it 100% safe in business is not how the most successful companies have gotten where they are today. You have to step out and take calculated risks now and then in order to get big rewards. What risks will YOU take today?

Brenda Bence Bio

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Open, Closed, and Numbers Questions

As a leader of others, the type of questions you ask can make a big difference in how well those questions empower and help team members grow.

First and foremost, think in terms of “open” instead of “closed” questions.

Open questions lead to answers filled with information. Beginning with words such as “who, what, when, where, and how,” open-ended questions are crafted in ways that encourage direct reports to open up and share answers in depth. An example would be, “How would you describe our company’s culture?”

Closed questions can only be answered directly with a word or two, such as “Do you like the culture here?” This limiting question, calling for either a “yes” or “no” answer. This kind of answer doesn’t lead you very far, and it certainly doesn’t kick-start a dialogue.

Use Numbers! Our brains love questions with a number in them! They’re great for stimulating creativity, focusing thoughts, and providing a simple framework within which to work. If you find a team member getting stuck with a particular problem, pose a numbers question, and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised how well it opens up a dialogue and creates a breakthrough.

Here are some examples:

“What are the three major challenges preventing us from reaching our goals?”

“What are the top four approaches we could pursue for the XYZ project …?”

“Let’s brainstorm the five most powerful ways we could …”

“What are the three most important steps we could take to achieve …?”

Brenda Bence Bio

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Powerful Questions

The best way to develop your team is by asking powerful questions. Yes, it’s true that this can take slightly more time than immediately telling employees what to do. But, if you don’t make the time to ask questions of your team members, you will end up being the one answering all of the questions and doing more work than necessary — a sign that your team has become dependent on you. And once that happens, you’ll never step out of that never-ending cycle unless you make the decision to change your behaviors and begin asking vs. telling.

In fact, I believe that asking instead of telling is a fundamental behavior of great leaders. In my shadowing experience, I see that the strongest leaders are those who don’t respond to queries from their staff right off the bat—that is, they don’t tell an staff member what to do and then send the employee away to implement the plan. Instead, they ask powerful questions that get team members to stop, reflect, grow, and challenge him/herself. Read the rest of this entry »

Soaring vs. Swooping

Successful leaders spend more time “soaring” than “swooping.” What does this mean? Their job is to focus on the vision for where the company is going and on planning through others the “how” of achieving that vision. On occasion, however, a leader may need to swoop down and check out the details of a particular situation or project to make sure all is going well.

The key is to not spend too much time in the details but to soar back up to vision and planning as quickly as possible. When leaders become engrossed with details, they tend to take two different approaches which can be counterproductive rather than productive: Read the rest of this entry »

Development is an Ongoing Task



In my recently released book – “Would You Want to Work For You?” How to Build an Executive Leadership Brand that Inspires Loyalty and Drives Employee Performance – I argue that building people is simply part of your job as a leader, and I offer strategies for developing your employees on a day-to-day basis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Where do you place your focus as a leader?

The focus of your attention affects everything you do as a leader. Where you choose to place your focus and how you choose to use your time says as much about you as a leader as any other indicator.

A model called the “Five Levels of Focus” gives you a simple but powerful framework for this. Created by Australian author and consultant David Rock, applying the Five Levels of Focus helps leaders choose where to place their energy and attention at any point in time. According to this model, there are five distinct levels: (1) Vision, (2) Planning, (3) Details, (4) Problems, and (5) Drama.

Read the rest of this entry »