Have Some Cake and Eat It Too

There’s a popular phrase out there, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” It essentially means that you can’t have two opposing things at the same time. It’s a very useful phrase to remember as we often wish to both have and eat cake in various ways. But there is one way that I believe a leader MUST both have cake AND eat it.

I’m talking about performance. I have seen many leaders adopt an either/or approach when it comes to addressing performance on a team. Some choose to focus on the positives, some choose to focus on the negatives (areas for growth/opportunities/etc.). I most often see one done at the expense of the other. People tell me things like, “Look, we’re either succeeding or we’re not.” It’s the cake bit. I’m here to tell you that you can/do/should have and eat cake when it comes to your team.

So do you have a good, well performing team, or do you need to do some work? Odds are, BOTH. I would be shocked if your people aren’t doing anything right. I would be just as shocked to hear that they are doing nothing wrong. Recognize that with employee performance you probably have good performers who do some things poorly, and some poor performers who do some things very well.

As a leader, you must be able to see and respond to both the good and the bad when it comes to performance. You must be able to address both these areas in the same person in a way that is effective.

2 quick tips:


  1. Be specific. A general “you’re doing pretty good but…” is heard as “You better fix this, I’m watching you.” When you say “I appreciate how detailed your presentation was, especially the section analyzing our KPIs. I did notice that there is some opportunity to improve….” you are communicating the sincerity of your appreciation and observation of positive qualities. You will get a much better response when you are specific.

2.  Follow up. Ideally you will have these conversations in person. Shoot an email at the end of the day or week to recap. Make sure you include both the things you like and those you want to see change. Repetition will help your feedback stick.


Your team can, and does, work toward success and inhibit it at the same time. There are areas to improve and there are areas of success. You have both, and after having heard for so long that you can’t have cake and eat it, it may require some leaning to discover that you in fact can, and must, in order to lead effectively.

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