Filling the Glass When You Can’t Find Perfect People

“We keep hearing that some people see the glass as half empty, others see it as half full. The person I want to be, the person I want to hire, and the person who will be more successful and more useful to his company, his society, his family, his friends, his dog, his parakeet and himself is the person who isn’t concerned with whether the glass is half empty or half full, but with figuring out what he has to do to fill the thing up.”

Before one of my keynotes, an attendee who introduced himself as Mr. Lansdorf asked me, “What can I do about working for a corporation full of stiffs?” In spite of the fact that the company paid quite well, Mr. Lansdorf’s people never performed the way he hoped they would when he hired them. His co-workers weren’t much better. As for his boss, “He couldn’t care less about my problems. He’d like to be able to forget about my whole department.”

“So what exactly do you want?” I asked.

“What I’d like is for people to do the job they’re supposed to do–the way they’re supposed to do it.”

“Which means?” I asked.

“To do something beyond the minimum–to go the extra mile for the company. Everybody expects something for nothing.”

“Don’t you?”

“Hey, I earn my money,” Mr. Lansdorf insisted. “I go way beyond the minimum.”

“And it gets you?”

“Nothing, that’s the point. It gets me nothing.”

“So how long are you going to keep doing that?”

“Not much longer, believe me.”

“But you want others to go beyond the minimum–without putting something it in for them? Aren’t you the one who’s expecting for something for nothing?”

“I want people to do what they should do.”

“So what we’re talking about is morality and ethics? What people should do?”

“Exactly.” he said.

“So as a manager, your ability to manage is based upon people doing what they should do? Otherwise you can’t get the results you want?”

“No of course not. Nobody does what they should. At least nobody in my company.”

“So wouldn’t you be better off trying to find a way to get the results you need with the people you’ve got rather than the perfect people who do what they should and apparently don’t exist. Or at least don’t exist in your company?”


Obviously. Bingo! I thought. I felt like Socrates: elucidating my point with just the right questions. Of course later someone reminded me of the famous report given by a third-grader: “Socrates was a Greek philosopher who went around giving people advice. They poisoned him.” So much for the Socratic method.

Obviously, Lansdorf said. If it was so obvious why had he been asking his people to go the extra mile when there was really no advantage in it for them? Even if they went along in order to stay on his good side, how enthusiastic would they be?

You Can’t Sell an Empty Glass

Why do we all so frequently act like Mr. Lansdorf? Trish asks her boss to go out of his way for her and help get her promoted. There’s nothing in it for him. If anything, losing Trish will make his job more difficult. He’s a nice guy. He may help her. But wouldn’t he go along far more willingly if he was doing it to gain another ally in management; or to earn points with the company for having developed another manager; or to free up Trish’s spot so he can reward–and keep from losing–that great new talent he’s been grooming on the rung below hers.

It’s obvious: you can’t sell anybody anything if you don’t offer them some benefit. You can’t motivate anyone by offering them an empty glass. It’s obvious-and we all forget it. Constantly. We hope ethics or morality or religion or character will make up for the lack of incentive.

Does your idea of character tell you that when there’s little or nothing in it for you that you should devote yourself unstintingly to providing for someone else’s welfare? If so please call, I’ve got a job for you.

Tip: If I believe that playing by your rules, systems, procedures, traditions or morality guarantees that I’m going to lose, do not expect me to play by them.

Bosses who tell you they can’t hire good workers are usually telling you they’re poor bosses. They’re telling you they aren’t providing sufficient incentive for people to meet their standards. Or if they have provided the incentive, they haven’t provided sufficient nuts and bolts, real-world training and direction, leaving their people wanting to climb the mountain but without a clear enough trail to follow. To mix metaphors a bit, they aren’t adding enough water to the glass.

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Barry Maher is an innovative, informative, entertaining and inspiring keynote speaker and workshop leader. This article is adapted from his book, Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business which has just been cited by Today’s Librarian as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books.” You can sign up for his free email newsletter at or contact him at 805 962-2599 or