The Powerful Pull of Partnership! 1 + 1 = 3 Lessons From The Colorado State Fair!

The Power of Partnership!

Let’s retitle it today as the pull of partnership. This weekend, my family and I were down at the Colorado State Fair. It was funnel cakes, amusement rides, 4-H competitions, and the draft horse pull. Having our horse for almost 13 years, he was always around 900 to 1,000 pounds. Well, these draft horses were almost 2,500 pounds. They were massive beasts, and it was just a sight to behold. My daughter coming back from being a wrangler all summer long and working with horses, it was just a lot of fun to see her in her element, walking alongside of some of these horses.

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We got to see the draft horse pull, and that was just really fascinating to think of in terms of from a leadership principle. The competition was simply a sled that was designed with a series of weights that were on them, and the team would pull that for 20 feet, basically twice the length of the sled. So there was all of these horses lined up and harnessed in pairs, and they would go and pull respective weights throughout the course of the competition. We got to see SpongeBob and Ted, who are the defending champions for the state fair last year, compete. And, wow, what a sight to behold.

The math here is fascinating, and this is really the principle that I wanted to capture through the pull of partnership. It’s just simply this: 1 + 1 = 3. Where do I get that math from? It turns out that this defending champion last year was able to pull—these two horses, basically 5,000 pounds, a team, were able to harness behind them the capacity and the strength to pull 18,000 pounds. That’s amazing to me. When I did a little research around this, the records for draft horses in this class is actually 24,000 pounds.

Well, what’s fascinating is, in the harness of two, that the capacity or ability to pull 24,000 pounds is amazing, but if just single-harnessed, those same horses can only pull 8,000 pounds. Now, think about the math here. You’re talking about horses that are 2,500 pounds, and they’re pulling 8,000 pounds of weight, almost three times or more of their ability. But then, all of a sudden, that number goes up even more. So 8,000 and 8,000 is the ability to pull 24,000. 1 + 1 = 3. This is really fascinating to me as I think about who am I partnered with that potentially allows me to triple the impact of my ability to carry my own weight? I would invite you to consider the same.

  1. Who are your partners? Just thinking about the people in your work life and even personal life as well, who are those that you’re partnered with? As you can imagine, you have to have somewhat equal weight class. If you put my horse, 1,000 pounds, with a 2,500-pound animal, you’re going to probably get quite a bit of this. So just even understanding the idea of being equally yoked in the harness is something to consider. But who are you partnered up with? I just encourage you to just even think about those partners in your life.

  2. What’s tying you up? It comes from something that I saw that was actually really dangerous. It was just one of these moments where—just when the team got hooked up to the sled, and then there was a misfire. And then, suddenly, the team took off and the sled wasn’t there. Next thing you know, that harness, the chains and everything were all tied up in the horses’ legs. I was actually a little bit scared because it’s a very dangerous situation. So the question is what’s tying you up? Is there something that just—almost in a dangerous sense that’s just—you are just all wrapped up in chains and harnesses and potentially—literally, I saw these horses turned in the opposite direction. Imagine 5,000 pounds going in the wrong direction with chains. I mean, subject to injury is just—it’s a real thing. So how, perhaps, are you even tied up?

  3. What’s keeping you locked up? Now, I’d like to come out of the arena for the third question, and this is just something we saw earlier in the day, just really fascinating to me. And it’s these horses in the stalls. It’s just amazing that here you have these massive horses. Imagine their head coming out of the stall. They’re in there, and it’s just this little metal lock. I mean, it’s just a little flip pin and the door is shut. Those horses could blow through that with just leaning into it, and the thing would pop off. But every one of these horses just knew where they belonged and not to push up against that gate. That’s still fascinating to me that, certainly, just a little bit of leaning and that thing would pop off, but yet every one of those horses were contained. 

Certainly, there’s a statement to be made that it’s a place of rest, a place of, certainly, getting your oats and hay, a place to just relax before the competition, certainly. But from a leadership—as I’ve spent time coaching leaders, this is one of these areas that I just wonder, perhaps the question is, what’s keeping you locked up? What is the thing that’s just even the simplest of things that we are programmed that we just can’t open that gate on our own because we’re just locked up in habits and patterns? 

So, again, I want to capture three big ideas and forms of questions.

  1. Who are your partners?

  2. What’s tying you up?

  3. What’s keeping you locked up?

As I think about the course of my week, I’m leaving and I’ll be facilitating a team meeting in Kansas City this week. I’ll be partnered up with some other facilitators, and the fact is, given that training, I am going to be more effective partnered up with some co-facilitators that are going to be able to see things from different angles. It’s going to be a lot more dynamic being linked with those facilitators. On Thursday, I’ll be in a training here back in Colorado, and I’ll be with some other coaches. The fact is the dynamic of having other coaches together working with leaders just brings a powerful perspective as we co-coach together. And that is something that just allows a leader just to have a fuller experience as they consider ways they want to grow. 

Friday, I’ll have the opportunity to sit with some men that I do every Friday morning, and it’s just a spiritual enrichment as I spend time with these friends that just, somehow, I am strengthened having the power of friendship spending time with these men over coffee and talking about the important issues of life. And then, finally, as I think about going back to the state fair last weekend, wow. When I think about the power of partnership, just even in my family context, I am just a better man, I’m a better leader, and I’m a better coach because I have family in my life. 

This is a big idea and a longer entry today, but I just wanted to capture this as something significant. If you’re going it alone or you’re perhaps tied up with the wrong partners, there’s an opportunity here for you to consider what would happen if you linked up with the right partners. All of a sudden, 1 + 1 = 3 where you have the potential to have a greater impact as you unite in the harness with those people that are going in the same direction, and your ability to pull the weight of what needs to get done is really staggering.

So I hope this is helpful for you.

Moving from "I wish" to "I will" with SMART Goals with a Strong Heart!

It’s summertime here in Colorado, and it’s 14er season for Russell. This is one of my SMART goals: that I want to climb all fifty-four 14,000-foot mountains over a five-year period. This is personally enriching for me but also very satisfying to be able to go from the valley to be able to summit the peaks of so many of these 14ers that are throughout Colorado.

Mt Yale, Colorado 14,196’ August 17,  2019

Mt Yale, Colorado 14,196’ August 17, 2019

More than just making the summit, it’s also the enrichment and the experience of being able to do that with other people who want to join me on the journey. This is something that’s not just an event but an experience that’s really built out as a long-term goal over a lifetime. What are some of your goals that you’re working towards? 

Just last week, I was coaching with a leader in Mexico, and he had this great desire to grow his business to the next level. The more we listened, I heard just some general and vague and even confusing language around some of the goals that he has to grow his business to the next level. As we talked more, I asked him if he had ever heard of SMART goals. That was the first he had ever heard of that language.

SMART goals invites you to be able to take some of your general aspirations, to be able to see something accomplished in bringing a specific framework around some of those things. What are some of your goals? If you and I were sitting one-on-one and we were just to take a moment and write down some of those things, what would those goals be? Would they be general and vague, or would they be specific and measurable and relevant and something that’s time-bound that you hope to see accomplished? Maybe it’s in five years, or maybe it’s in the next quarter.

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Again, this is your opportunity to write down some of these things, and do they pass the test of being SMART? Well, just in the context of our 14ers, one of the realities of going to the next level, especially in Colorado, is the lack of oxygen. The idea of capacity is a very real thing. It’s one thing to be able to aspire towards the next level of achieving those goals. The second area is this idea of capacity. Often taught in the coaching context that I have with leaders is that opportunities plus challenges equal growth. As you step into the opportunity of your goal, suddenly you’re met with a challenge. And that challenge, at least for me this past weekend, was the lack of oxygen. 

What do you have to do to increase your capacity? So let’s get those goals defined in terms of what’s SMART, and then let’s really identify, really, what is the capacity and where you need to grow and develop. These are five specific areas that allow you to look at some of those capacities that, as you do, that will invite you to grow to the next level of your leadership.

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Finally, in terms of that engagement, just as you look at all the things that you’re involved with, the opportunities, the commitments, perhaps there’s some things that you need to just evaluate: “What do I need to stop so that I can start doing some of those right things?” As you make that list and it begins to narrow, when you see those lists of activities before you, it gives you some clarity in terms of what you need to start, what you need to stop, and some areas where just you need to grow as a leader.

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Ultimately, if you feel stuck today in terms of your goals, I wonder what might be holding you back. What could be distracting your focus or even robbing your energy? This is one of those areas we’re trying to get some clarity in terms of your desire to want to grow to the next level and advance as a leader. What are the things that are holding you back? 

As you get clarity and even being SMART in terms of just your focus and your goals and how you need to grow your capacity, it’s going to get you moving forward so you advance to the next level in your leadership.

One Day with the Big 5 Can Influence Thousands

Raising Self-Awareness and Team Effectiveness using the Big 5

Raising Self-Awareness and Team Effectiveness using the Big 5

It’s Back to School season! 

It’s been said, the greatest student is the teacher.

Well last Friday, I felt like I went to school. I facilitated a 1-day leadership training for a Colorado college’s team of deans and associates. What a privilege to teach the teachers who will influence 1000’s of students this year! These professors became the student for a day to gain greater levels of self-awareness and team unity. For this team, they had several new team members and it had been a while since they had invested in their administrative staff. With a new season approaching, it was the perfect time to engage and value their team.

There can be many reasons why it would be wise and prudent to allocate such a day. When teams are working hard and not getting the results they expect it’s time to consider a change or making an investment into stimulating their growth. The prolonged effects of low performance or decreasing effectiveness can result in 

  • Fatigue that steals energy and creativity

  • Lower quality results

  • Less innovative ideas

  • Missed deadlines

  • Lower morale

If this describes your team experience at work perhaps … 

You need to make a change or direct investment in your team! Maybe you’re doing the right things in the wrong ways. A few adjustments in the way you function as a team will create a more energetic flow raising the performance of your team. Friday, I got to experience a new level of enthusiasm, motivation, and excitement with some amazing leaders who want to give their best to their students. 

A Day of Appreciation for the College

The goal of the day was to show value and appreciation to a group of people who give out a lot and don’t always get a lot in return. Through a fun, creative day discussing the results found in their Big 5 assessments, this team gained a greater level of self-awareness and value for their team members.  Awareness leads to new levels of appreciation and insight into building team effectiveness. The training stimulates conversations and raises the energy level of the team members valuing each member individually and collectively.

The design of a Big 5 day focuses on 3 themes… 

Penrose House - elpomar.org

Penrose House - elpomar.org

  1. Awareness - Big 5 Personality Report Discussion & Debrief

  2. Alignment - Working with Energy, Less Stress, & More Collaboration

  3. Action - What needs to Change -  Making a Commitment

We find it beneficial to meet at a beautiful offsite venue to create the ideal environment for fresh, higher-level conversations. The Big 5 Workplace Assessment gives a language to identify hidden strengths, minimize stress points, and blindspots. In team discussion, we move beyond a private reading for an intellectual exercise. The shared insights from Big 5 shine a light on the sweet spots of leaders. 

Appreciation raises the performance levels of teams. 

Personality & team assessments provide critical insight for a fresh perspective of how we are wired at the genetic level. Personalities are linked to our unique genetics. It’s why some of us do better with a cup of coffee in the morning and some don’t. You're more energized either when you talk more or sit quietly in reflection. You write better with your left or your right hand. Take a moment to look at your index finger. You have a fingerprint. It’s unique to you! Now, consider all those dynamics at work in your team and organizations. Appreciation of the unique energizing activities of your team raises the level of productivity, performance, and personal satisfaction at work. We are often so busy working IN our teams that we don’t take time to work ON our team. It starts with awareness that leads to appreciation! It’s an investment that can be measured to the speed and satisfaction of work that lead to bottom-line results. 

Would you benefit from a one day experience with your team? 

These days are high energy and engaging experiences! Each team member receives a Workplace Big 5 Narrative report plus an insight journal for the day and will leave with an action plan for the next steps. By the end, team members will be thanking you for investment into their leadership. 

If you have a team or organization that would benefit from the one day experience described above, we are extending one free complimentary Big 5 Leadership Trait and Narrative Report. If interested in hosting a one day in your city for your team, department, or organization we can design the day that fits your needs.  The typical cost for the experience and resources start at $5000 including 15 Big 5 reports. Each additional participant completing the assessment will be $250 /. 

Schools back in session! It’s a new season! Schedule your Day of Appreciation. 

Create a leadership learning environment for your team. Start by taking advantage of our offer. It's only good till Friday, August 16th at 11:59 pm. To get your complimentary Big 5 report, complete the form below; then we will send you the link to take the Big 5 questionnaire. 






Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast! 3 Competencies To Strengthen Your Soft Skills

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. What a big idea, right?

As a leader in your organization, you proudly celebrate the wins. On occasion, it doesn’t work that way and during a loss, you may ask yourself whether it was you, your team, or the organization as the root cause. With each examination, you may see a pattern within your company culture itself, through discussion, surfacing time and time again.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast!
— Peter Drucker

Two areas of tension leaders in any organization must balance daily are that of hard and soft skills. Most leaders excel greatly in hard skills. They know their product or service inside and out. They understand delivery and execution in order to promote and provide markets for their product or service. It is then not surprising that with leaders focused so strong on hard skills, many lack what amounts to be the equally, if not of greater importance, the soft skills needed to manage the people of the organization.

Through many years of coaching leaders, it has become clear to me that there are three primary areas of competencies needed within any organization. They include:

  1. Effective Communication
    Great leaders are effective communicators. What are we communicating? What are the questions we’re asking? Are we taking time to actually listen to understand what’s happening? And then being able to turn around and explicitly share those ideas with a broader audience and making sure it lands and hits its mark so that we know that we’re communicating clearly and effectively that engages the rest of our people. (We recommend leaders start by answering 3 questions).

  2. Creating Connection
    We are wired for meaningful relationships. Sometimes, when we meet with people, there’s just a disconnect. And sometimes we just don’t even know why. It’s often this place of just connection with those key people. We really want to understand what’s happening there, and what can we do to build stronger levels of trust and unity so that we can have a healthy working relationship? (We recommend the Conversationalist for building stronger connection).

  3. Change Management
    Change is necessary for continued growth. That’s a big idea in terms of a leadership sense of expectations. Are we moving too fast? Perhaps we’re moving too slow. Somewhere in there is finding that cadence of what is the rate of change where we work well and thrive within. Change is hard and if we don't change, then things won’t happen as we expect, and our results will suffer.


What is Culture?

Values + Behavior = Culture

To deep dive into your organization, your team, or even the culture that you live as a leader, look at those values. What are the things that are core to who you are? Are you moving them from implicit ideas to explicit? When you do, then, you can begin putting a plan together on how to live those ideas out.

Culture is a complex idea because we’re dealing with the soft skills. If you want to improve your culture, start there. What are those values? How do we live them out? 

Communication - Connection - Change

Communication - Connection - Change

I would encourage you to look at those three areas of communicating effectively, being able to make strong connections with your people, and then, finally, look at your expectation around change management.

Final Thoughts

When you do the above suggested actions, they will strengthen your culture. When blended with your strategy, suddenly you’re going to see your results successfully executed, positively affecting your bottom line. Hope this has been helpful.

If you need help with your leadership skills the Advance team provides one free complimentary coaching session. It will help you clarify your answers and give you a plan to lead more effectively. (We provide a professional coaching experience, not a sales pitch!)

If you want to be a more effective leader select Start Now!

What Leaders Do to Communicate More Effectively

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Leadership requires perspective in order to communicate effectively.

  • Daily demands steal our clarity.

  • Decision fatigue dulls our strategy.

  • Doubt can rob us of confidence.


When you’re suffering from these moments, being a leader and doing the work of one can feel overwhelming. You may be more reactive than proactive. The very idea of taking time to get some perspective may come across as a luxury. You may even say to yourself, "I have no time" or "I’ll take some time one day." However, we know work is always there, and the demands on our time never end.


3 Important Questions To Help Leaders Gain More Prospective

Coaching entrepreneurs and executive leaders gain the perspective by looking at and answering three questions:

  • Where are we going? Vision~ Dream~ Mission~Opportunities~Making a Difference

  • Who is the team that will get us there? Your #1 Team~ Support~ Culture~ Clients~ Advisors~ Stakeholders

  • What needs to be done today? Problems to Solve~ Projects~ Priorities

Effective communication maximizes leadership success.


A mentor once taught me that leadership brings order out of chaos. Every day, you know the level of chaos that you face. It’s real! Get your thoughts in order. Clarity of thought will bring insights. Now, you can formulate a plan. You’ll know what priority to focus on first and what is second. You will gain perspective faster than you realize.

We encourage leaders to retreat, so you can advance. You can take a step back to get some perspective and move forward. The above three questions offer you some pause; allowing you to communicate with more clarity and confidence. As a leader, people are looking to you for answers!


Leaders Must Discipline Themselves To Be Effective Communicators

Communication is a discipline – something you can start now!

  • Think about your answers to the 3 questions.

  • Brainstorm ideas, writing down potential answers.

  • Highlight any words or statements that grip you.

  • Commit to sharing those answers – to who and when.

  • Watch and learn from their response to refine the message.

How will you communicate your answers to them?


Communication is a discipline, and leaders use their words!

It’s so important to use yours wisely and make them count. If your words miss the mark, then look at them from another perspective. This will be the first proactive step you take.

If you need help the Advance team provides one free complimentary coaching session. It will help you clarify your answers and give you a plan to communicate more effectively. (We provide a professional coaching experience, not a sales pitch!)

If you want to be a more effective communicator select Start Now! Then you will receive an email of including next steps to prepare for your free coaching session!


Locker Room Encouragement From A 400 Pound Competitor

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I met Robert after my workout at #lifetimefitness, and his situation just breaks my coaching heart. At 400 pounds, he certainly needs to lose the weight – not just for his physical health, but his mental health too. 

Robert and I started talking while in the locker room, and I learned he joined the club just after Thanksgiving. Before I could go into the typical holiday spiel, he talked about his time as a college athlete. Robert, who is in his late 40s. You can see that he has a fire in his eyes, but he’s lost something he yearns for.   He knows he’s let himself go long enough, and he’s taken the first step to get whatever he lost back.

I listened to him talk while getting dressed, and then I shared an inspiring story of two men I knew in their 70s who lost up to 75 pounds in the last year. It’s amazing that the metabolism could be good enough for these men to lose that weight. How did they do it? They walked the mall with relentless discipline and ate better. Amazing!

I asked him, “Robert, what’s your plan?”

He told me his joints are shot. So, it all starts in the pool. He’s got to get his heart pumping and legs moving. He shared more stories of college ball and his competitive athletic career. The more he shared, the more fuel he added to himself. Robert was a competitor but had been on a losing streak for 15 to 20 years. 

I was meeting him at the start of the training. 

I decided to encourage him even more with a story of a freshman student – John. John moved from New York to Colorado to start college. In his senior year, he was injured and gained some weight. Motivated by the prospect of an ROTC scholarship, he started training. He overcame the challenges of leaving home, new social dynamics and academic pressure. He stayed focused on the end result. What began as a desire and commitment result in losing 25 pounds and finish a half-marathon run.

Talk about inspiring. 

For Robert’s personal life, he mentioned that his sister died a few weeks ago. He lost another sister last year, and his mother the year before that. Although he had the fire for competing, his heart was broken, and he felt grief. I asked him, “Robert, if you’re committed to losing this weight, who will support you?” He looked with me with tears in his eyes and smile on his face, “My wife and kids. They’re fighting for me.”

It was just a five-minute locker room conversation, but we shared a connection. I felt it was a privilege to be invited into Robert’s journey. He may have a long road ahead of him, but he’s got the desire and dedication to succeed. I’ll cheer him on every step of the way!

Every pound, dollar of debt, ended dream, job transition or lost relationship has a weight. Robert carries a lifetime of it. Now, he’s taking the first step to shedding it. 

Today, I’m at the lowest physical weight I’ve been in 10 years. While it feels good, I still have work to do. Like Robert, John and my 70+year-old seniors, we all have work that must be done. The first step – be it walking the mall, getting in the pool or whatever – is the move you need to make. 

What weight do you want to offload today?

It’s important to know what you’re carrying before you take that first step. Make a plan, see it through, and commit to a support team to help you along the way. As you do this, you’ll begin to notice a difference in the rest of your life. 

The Gift of Gratitude!... Strategy to Minimize Stress!

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Thanksgiving week is one of my favorite times of the year. It invites an opportunity to reflect, spend time with our dearest people, and give thanks. I say this with the understanding that the holidays can bring their own stress as well in complicated family relationships and the ever-increasing advertising pressure to distract us with Black Friday deals of things that we want but may not need. Let’s keep our perspective a little higher and not allow anything to rob us from the real gift of the season. As we enter this week, let us be reminded of the gift of gratitude.

Giving gratitude will strengthen your priority relationships!

Gratitude is a discipline. It requires mental space, intentionality in reflection, and some honesty with your own heart. When your emotions get the better of you, gratitude will ground you. We all face disappointments, unmet expectations, and failed commitments. Our hurt can range from heartburn to heartache. There’s a weight to the significant issues in life, work, and relationships. Left unchecked the issues may leave us unguarded and vulnerable.

Upon my own reflection, since last Thanksgiving, I have privately met with 50+ leaders for 360 feedback reviews. These private coaching sessions include a report that gives specific feedback to the leader from 5-20+ professional and personal colleagues who have given responses to their 360 assessment. The feedback comes in 3 ways. As you can imagine there are insights to help strategically define how a leader may develop. Next, there are perception gaps they need to close such as blind spots or hidden strengths. Finally, they include specific affirmations that are encouraging. The formal assessment gives written language to strengthen a leader from the inside out. It’s the gift of written gratitude!

A recurring theme in all these reviews are the effects of stress. The need for strengthening represents the possibility that something is weak, vulnerable, or unhealthy. It’s a threat to your welfare. After the push of a deadline, fiscal quarter, or semester we can be exhausted. We need recovery because our reserves are spent. We are the weakest when exhausted and stressed.

It’s impossible to be stressed and grateful at the same time.

As I work with my leaders, I continue to test this theory. It’s a discipline of focusing on what’s good instead of drifting to the worry of what’s not. For many leaders, dealing with the issues of performance, energy, and engagement reflect the long-term effects of stress. It can be chronic. Stress is specific and situational how it impacts each of us. The research from the book  Choke, which evaluates students, athletes, and high achieving leaders, gives evidence of how stress affects our brain chemistry and our abilities to perform. As a runner, I often refer to stress as mental lactic acid. We’ve got to get it out of our system or it will break us down robbing our natural strengths. Gratitude will cleanse your system of stress faster than you think. Let me suggest one timeless and timely practice.

Keeping a journal captures your words of gratitude

For 25 years, I’ve kept a journal. It’s a daily practice of reflection to ground my day. Suggesting journalling may seem commonplace, but for some, it's a first-time idea or practice. After my 360 coaching sessions, I encourage leaders to start a gratitude journal. It can begin with drafting a written response to the participants who contributed to the 360. It’s a specific way of saying thank you for speaking into my leadership. The formal feedback invites the informal sincere response. In a statement it captures, “Thank you for responding my 360, I learned in my report that I need to grow in this specific way..., I’ve committed to focus on developing as a leader in this area…, you’ve helped me get started.” Imagine for a moment if you shared this response with your manager, peers, direct report, friends, or family. What would be the impact?

Everyone values specific and sincere appreciation

Remember gratitude is a discipline and the work has a reward. I’ve heard first hand the process has been life-defining for some leaders. A gratitude journal is a place to capture specific statement, comments, even questions. It’s your private place to clarify your thinking before you share. Imagine if you took the time to write down who are the key relationships and how you are grateful for their role in your life.

How may gratitude strengthen you and the health of your relationships?

As you enter into Thanksgiving week get started capturing what you’re grateful for this Thanksgiving. Once it’s written down then you’ll be ready to give thanks at your next opportunity. That may be the real gift of this season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

*Here are my leather journals written over a 3 year period. I also recommend Moleskins if you like to keep it simple. My personal favorite that I use today is from Oaks of Wisdom, my wife’s hand-drawn journals. Enjoy!


Monday Mentorship - Power of Timely Feedback! Plus 5 Leadership Investment ?s

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John’s* tears were real then later his smile sincere. I knew we were at the heart of a significant issue. He received difficult feedback from his 360 reports. John knew he had a challenge communicating with his team members. He had high marks for caring and valuing the staff. He had a problem. John didn’t know how to give feedback. When conflict came he would respond in frustration and disengagement. The 360 reports revealed the same pattern. It was an issue for most of his life personally and professionally. The tears gave us pause to sit in the significance of the moment. In the silence, we sensed we were on the edge of a real breakthrough.

John’s manager gave him high marks in most competencies. The few areas of critical feedback came in three areas: encouraging the team, developing his people, and focusing on others. His direct reports wrote, “I need more feedback”, “He’s a good role model, but I need to know I can improve”, “He's always talking about projects, I wish he’d take an interest in me personally”. We discussed his current projects, his responsibilities, and the relationships with his direct reports. His technical competencies were rated 9’s and 10’s on his report. His abilities to execute getting work done were also high marks. John’s work ethic was without question. The numbers began to slide on effective delegation and aligning the team. The recurring theme of communication challenges was coming clear. At, 40 something, John’s responsibilities were growing, more staff, budget, and demands. His “not afraid to get his hands dirty” style served him in training and tactics, but were limiting his leadership effectiveness.

He shared “I’m fine with joking around with my team. Then when it’s time to work that stops and I’m all business until we get our work done. Giving feedback I don’t really know what to say. I’m afraid of getting too personal. Work is hard and I get intense in the tasks at hand. When it doesn’t go well I get mad and pull away. It’s an issue that has to change.”

Given the few comments from his manager, I asked about their relationship. “My manager is the reason I’m here getting training and coaching. He sees something in me that I don’t see in myself. He’s taking the time to help me. He’s given me a shot at my last few projects.”

What are the qualities of your manager that you admire?... That’s when I saw John smile. “He believes in me. He invests in me as a leader. He gives me challenging projects. He’s quick to share honest feedback when I’m out of line. I know he’s got my back. He’s more of a mentor than a manager.”

How can you learn from his modeling to manage your team?... John thought for a moment. I could start by taking each of them to lunch.

When’s the last time you took your team members individually to lunch?... It’s been a long time.

What would you like to discuss?... “First, I want to listen to what’s going on for them personally, families, hobbies, interest, even their goals.” Then I want to share what I’m learning through my assessments and 360 reports. I want to be a better communicator and connect with my team. I want to thank them for their comments and patience with me as I’m growing. Then I want to ask... How can we communicate better in the future?... then listen to understand what feedback they need from me.”

John, when are you going to schedule your lunches? “All in the next month. I’m going to get them on the calendar today.”

What would like to say to your manager after these lunches? His smile got even bigger. “I want to thank him for his modeling, the difference he’s made, and how I’m paying it forward with my team.”

John, I can’t wait to hear how it goes. Way to go!

As the coaching conversation continued, we discussed the modeling from his manager. The ways John felt valued and invested in. Learning from his manager we brainstormed a few leadership questions for his next lunches with his team. As they took shape he saw them as a single focus for each lunch for the next 5-­6 months. He had a plan and strategy to invest in his people.


5 Leadership Investment Questions

  1. Believe ­ How can I support you to succeed? Challenges your facing?

  2. Advancement ­ Where would like to see your career in the next 3 years?

  3. Leadership Development ­ How do want to grow in your abilities at work?

  4. Feedback ­ What feedback do you need from me? Encouraging or Instructive? How

    often?

  5. Work Life Vitality ­ What ways are you staying healthy outside of work?

For more questions to help you get ready for your next one­2­one or team meeting visit Leadership Conversation

*John is not his real name. The story represents a sample coaching session.

Powerful Advice! 3 Leadership Upgrades

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I'd like to pass along 3 principles that have defined my work life. These 3 I am still learning to put into practice. Let me illustrate with a client's story... 

A young leader of a nonprofit was experiencing some high levels of stress within his organization. As he shared some of the details, I learned that he was dealing with a significant degree of turnover, and not being able to retain good people for very long. Also, there seemed to be an issue of his focus. His attempts to implement all the great ideas could never be fully accomplished or realized. Finally, the growing pains of launching a new organization and being stretched in many different directions. As I listened to him describe some of his challenges, I asked about his advisory team. He immediately responded confidently that, "I have a great board of directors." I asked him to describe who his board was and their involvement. As he explained his board, like many startup nonprofits, he surrounded himself with friends who shared his enthusiasm for the mission, who were providing great ideas and strategies to help launch the organization as well as providing some level of financial support.

The more I listened to this leader share about his board of directors; it sounded more like a fan club than a board of directors. There seemed to be a gap between objectivity and clear counsel versus enthusiasm and affirmation. Ultimately, all the optimistic feedback was causing him to suffer because he had surrounded himself with people who were giving him precisely what he wanted to hear, instead of what he needed to hear. His board and executive team were "Yes" men and women. What he needed was a little more "No" in his leadership. Launching anything can seem overwhelming. Just getting an idea off the ground and birthing it to reality can be a daunting undertaking. Having healthy people who can encourage you is essential, yet these personalities should not take all the seats on your advisory team. Whether you're leading a startup nonprofit, a public company, or even operating as a solopreneur, I merely want to ask, who has the power to speak into your life? 
 

 

In 2016, I interviewed Peter Greer with HOPE International on our Leadership Conversations podcast. He was in a situation where he knew he was running hard, but his organization was running him, and it was coming at the expense of his marriage and his family. At one point in his story, he shares how he wrote a letter of resignation and gave it to his wife to give to his board of directors if, in her opinion, he ever moved beyond the point of a healthy balance in his life. As you reflect on that for a moment, ask yourself who your most important relationships are, and is the mission or the cause of your organization coming at the expense of your most significant priorities in life, and particularly, the most important people in your life? If you were to write a resignation letter, to whom would you give that? Another way of considering this is to ask, who are your advisors? Those who care most about you and your mission, and what permissions have you given them? In my years of working with CEOs and leaders, the number one issue that I have found is the issue of blind spots. I have an opportunity to work with some exceptional leaders, but the fact is, regardless of whether your circle of influence is just within a local community or all over the world, the truth is, leaders have blind spots.

Leaders must have a circle of people who can speak into those blind spots, which provide the protection that both the leader and the organization need. It's the input of a trusted team of advisors that can create sustainability, health, and vitality not only for the leader but the organization as well. Many leaders, especially entrepreneurs, that I know love their autonomy, yet autonomy, for all its freedom, often comes at a price. What is the cost of your independence? If you have led for any period, you probably don't have to look back too far, either months or years or over projects, to see the mistakes under your leadership. It is in those situations where having good counsel around you would've helped prevent some of those costly mistakes. Having an advisory team doesn't eliminate or protect you completely, but it does help mitigate some of those risks. Wherever you are today in your level of leadership and circle of influence, I want to encourage you with three principles in establishing your advisory team.

Principle #1 is Know Your Authority. 

My mentor often reminds me that a man under authority is a man of authority. Who has veto power in your life? To whom have you permitted to provide wisdom and much-needed counsel when you're putting out fires? It does not matter how good the leader is, at times our ambition blinds us, and need somebody who comes in with a strong arm to protect us. That protection might even be from ourselves and our blind spot(s). By delegating a level of authority to a small group of people is essentially saying, "I trust you." Even in a formal board setting where you may be casting your vote right along with other board members, the collective weight of votes may not be unanimous, but there is counsel that you may have the right idea, but the timing is wrong. You need people, to whom you’ve given authority, to speak into the process and then trust their judgment and experience.

Principle #2 is Seek Advice. 

When we put ourselves under authority, we also invite their advice, as well. Business is dynamic. Things are happening all the time. Literally on a daily basis, decisions need to be made, revised or new strategies to be considered, new investments and people to be hired and in sometimes, fired. Resources need to be optimized. There are partnerships to be nurtured, and customers to serve. Within all of this, there are so many opportunities for us to learn from others. We need to avail ourselves of the wisdom and counsel of a variety of inputs. You would love to be in a position to tap into a group of leaders who have fifteen, twenty, thirty years of experience in a particular discipline. Their insight would help guide your decisions and move you forward. Most leaders would agree and be open to gleaning wisdom from others. The challenge is always how to draw best out and capture the insight of those who are trusted advisors in your life and your work?

I would suggest that success in obtaining good counsel has a great deal to do with the process. It includes scheduling the time, preparing a few questions, and defining the situation. Then your advisor(s) will be able to offer their very best counsel. For you as the leader, accurately describe the most significant issues then giving the advisor a proper amount for preparation to consider is vital in their advice. There is undoubtedly a place for spontaneity such as ideation sessions. The more significant the issue, the more time you should allow for guidance. Then as you get advice, what will you do and commit?

Principle #3 is Commit to Accountability. 

Accountability will protect you. You, the leader must define, in the midst of your autonomy, the level of responsibility in which you're willing to submit. Like authority and advice, this is the point where you're committing to action. You're inviting a group of people to keep you accountable for your time, discipline, and commitment to see it done. It is this accountability that will ultimately protect you from distraction and help strengthen the focus you need to see it done. Ideally, what you and your advisors define as success and the accountability is what is essential. While immature leaders may view responsibility as a limiting factor, it provides great freedom to move toward agreed objectives and is critical to focus your attention on accomplishing your goals.

I want to encourage you, whether you lead a nonprofit, a public company, or are just launching into a new venture, to formalize, redefine, or even recalibrate the counsel in your life. To whom have you given veto power? Yes, you as a leader have a vote, yet the full weight of a collective council will help support you see you succeed. 
 

Designing Your Leadership Team Retreat - 3 Planning Questions

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I'm just returning from a time in the mountains. 

Breathing in the Colorado mountain air this week, I sat with an executive at a four-day leadership retreat. He exhaled after a full week he shared, "I know this will make me a stronger leader. " Then in an emotional moment he reflected, " I believe this will change my life as a human. It's making a difference from the inside out and who I want to become a better husband, father, and at work."

Coaching alongside this man I learned that ultimately he felt guilty about taking time away. I asked him a question I believe was at the heart of the issue. Where do you find joy in life? Once again with tears in his eyes, he told me about his three and seven-year-old sons. He's missing some of the memorable moments in their life. His love for hunting and fishing was evident as he talked about stories of getting outdoors. "When's the last time you did some of those things?" I asked. It has been over a year for fishing and three years for hunting. I want to get my boys out with me. Every year in January the HR director asked me about my vacation plans and I laugh because I feel guilty for taking time away from the duties of work. 

It turns out that he's not alone 54% of millions of Americans have unused vacation time because they feel that by leaving that reduce their value to the company and could be replaced even though their bosses encourage them to go. This executive specifically had some issues with the long-term impacts of chronic stress and how it was affecting his attitude expressed in anger among his team members. After my meeting with him, I could he see he was a good-natured and kind-hearted man. However, his 360 reviews showed some of the internal challenges that were beginning to wear him thin. I asked him how can you possibly deal with conflict and manage your stress if you're not getting time away to enjoy life. Then I discovered he has trouble sleeping and deals explicitly with issues of sleep apnea. The issues were catching up to him. 

17 years on the job he indeed has shown his commitment to the company and the work before him now the effects of not having healthy rest and recreation room crippling his effectiveness. Even though team members are encouraged to take a break and do the things they love for one reason or another it just doesn't happen. Sometimes a team leadership retreat gives the space in the conversations to focus on what truly matters most. Often, personal vacations are working weeks away from that we feel like we need a vacation from our vacation by the time we're back at work.

As a facilitator of team retreats, I've consistently observed that when you create space to talk about the issues of business as well as your health as an individual, it begins to form a mindset for change.

When you're team needs a breakthrough maybe what they need is a break.

It's these breakthrough moments that often come by getting out of the office on the mountainside or lakeside that is a joy to witness.

Whether it's summertime or your fall season, this is a great time to begin designing a time that meets the needs of your team.

I would encourage you today to examine...

1. What does your team need to thrive? 
2. What are barriers holding them back? 
3. What would be the impact of a healthy, unified, trusted team?


For most leaders and executive teams, this is new territory. When they take time to work on their business it's offsite including an agenda it leaves little room for discovery and development.

After years and hundreds of team engagements, I've observed the principle that Investing in your WHO (team) will make an exponential impact on the effectiveness of WHAT they do. 

Your first step might be a fun activity to celebrate some of the wins of your business. It could be a lunch to say thank you after working through a difficult season. It may be a half-day planning session somewhere outside of the office. Still, you may sense there is untapped potential, and you're not sure how to unlock your team members. It may be a four-day leadership retreat that will be the catalyst for new growth and connection for your organization. 

Wherever you find yourself today entering this summer a few minutes of creativity, planning, and scheduling a date will be well worth the investment building your team.

If you need help designing or executing your leadership team retreat we're here to serve you. 
 

Don't Miss this... Milestone Moments

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Capturing the significance of the season is crucial.

At sunrise today, I hiked the Lincoln Open Space. Near the overlook, I saw the red rock bench as an invitation... rest, enjoy, appreciate. There's the trail in front and behind. There's so much to consider,  where I've been and the desire to keep moving. It's a milestone moment in my life that I don't want to miss. Next week, my daughter graduates from high school. Then my oldest daughter graduates from college this fall, and my seventh-grade son just ran his first track period. Then tomorrow my nephew graduates from college.  Whew! I'm taking a deep breath to enjoy the view!

If that wasn't enough, today is another milestone moment for our family. The official launch of Oaks of Wisdom! It's a dream that's becoming a reality for my wife. She's a quiet creative that's taking her private reflections public with an open house. Oaks has been planted, watered, and ready to grow. I could not be more proud as a husband, a father and an uncle. Even in the high point of these moments, it's a discipline to stop and give thanks today. 

It's a celebration of what some people only dream for their families. I don't want to miss the significance of this moment. It's a simple yet profound invitation for you as well. 

What are the significant milestone moments that you're experiencing this year that need to be celebrated? 

Many of us are running so fast. The danger is looking at what we don't have or where we're falling short. Don't miss the significance of where we've come, but maybe more importantly, who we've shared the moment with along the way. Yes, diplomas, graduations, and launches are the moments marked by calendars, but they represent years in the making. If you find yourself today fatigue by the long road and the ascent then... 

  • Take a moment to rest. 
  • Take a moment to enjoy.  
  • Take a moment to appreciate. 

Seize the moment of celebration! Look around; see what's been accomplished, learn from the disappointments, honor those who are with you, and let gratitude enrich your life.  After your milestone moment tell a friend. Your encouragement maybe inspiration for them. 

If you need a friend to celebrate your milestone moment, drop me a note I'll celebrate with you. I'm in the clouds today! 

Enjoy the sunrise! 

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Permission to Dream... Directionalist Conversations

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Earlier this week I had the privilege of giving a keynote talk to a group of leaders in Denver. Afterward, a man approached me, quietly came alongside my shoulder and nearly whispered, "you must have one of the most amazing jobs; you help give people permission to live their dreams." His gentle demeanor made me pause to consider his comment. Shared as if his dreams just woke after being long dormant.  

My talk in included a vulnerable story of transition closing my struggling 15-year-old business in 2012, launching the Advance to coach leaders. I was introducing the Directionalist. It begins with your dream that inspires even in the face of your fears. 

It may begin with a question a friend asked me years ago... 

If money were no object, you had a clean slate and knowing all that you’ve learned and experienced...What would you do? 

Whew... that's a campfire conversation. You've gotta have some room to think, imagine, and stretch some tired mental muscles for your answers. 

For 10+ years to leaders, fathers, and families I taught this principle. The most intimate form of communication is when you share your dreams and your fears. For these thoughts with experienced in relationships of high trust, support, and encouragement. The moment you share your dream you are only a whisper away from your fears. It's where most of us get stuck. 

Creating space to talk about the most intimate and highest priority areas of our lives reignites fires of our dreams. If there's no communication, then our dreams go cold. 

In my book the Conversationalist, I pose the 7 life-changing questions. The first is passion, what difference you hope to make? I've learned that conversationally going straight for the "dream talk" is daunting even discouraging. For many of us, our dreams have been dashed...

So we hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign over the doorway of our heart. 

Let's together pull that sign down off the doorknob. 

My new friend in Denver reminded me that when we create space to think ideas begin to form. A future picture of where we hope to take shape. Then a story, vision, or dream begins to stir our heart with a desire. We can feel it; still its' so daunting we don't even know where to start. Then we may retreat, hanging the sign up once more. Then, we miss out on the most basic opportunities to step into them. 

As a coach for leaders, I've learned all we need the push of permission.

  • What's holding you back from moving forward towards your dreams?
  • What's the story that you hope to tell one day?
  • Who can you share the vision for your life or leadership with today? 

It's a good first step...

If that's you and you need a place to explore your next steps then let me invite you to consider a Directionalist Coaching Conversation. Its a 6 weeks engagement that I'm confident will give you push towards your dreams.  
 

Oh My Back!!! Lumbar Support In Your Leadership

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A few weeks ago I jumped in my truck excited about something. The moment I jumped in I heard a pop in my seat. After a closer inspection, I realize the lower portion of the back had concaved. So sitting in my truck left me slouched driving down the road. These are the things you don't think about until snap, break, then slump

The irony is right after that happen we had a family trip scheduled to drive across Kansas from Colorado. After a few hours in my truck seat, I ended up jamming a jacket to provide some support. Also, I also noticed the steel bar had an interesting way of digging right into my vertebrae at the same spot. So after hundreds of miles in Kansas and hours over the next few weeks, I was developing a chronic ache that went straight to my attitude every time I got out of the truck.

The fact is I didn't have the support that I needed. 

A quick look at YouTube video I found instruction for the lumbar repair and ordered the replacement part. A few days I had plastic lumbar support for 30 bucks delivered to my house. Pulling the seat apart, a few minutes with the right tools, and some dirty knuckles my support was back 100%. The difference was instantaneous driving down the road and so was my attitude. 

Sometimes we get excited about working with our people. In our enthusiasm sometimes something goes snap. We don't know exactly know what happened, but we know something is broke. We might even go weeks and hundreds of miles in conversation before we respond. You know instinctively that your posture is off, you've got a pain in your back, and your attitude reflects your demeanor.

What support do you need in your leadership today? 

Maybe that support comes personally from a friend or family member. It may be advice from a mentor or coach. It may be feedback from a team member. There's somebody in your life and leadership circles who can help.

Take a few minutes watching a leadership video, 30 bucks in a lunch with a trusted confidant, getting your hands dirty for a few minutes by taking some action may be what's needed. 

When you do so, you may sense instant relief that's critical for your leadership. 

Plus you'll enjoy the ride a whole lot more...

If you're Stuck in your leadership, team, or organization... let the Advance help get you the Support you need to Succeed! Take the first step here... 

Optimizing Team Performance - A Fresh Approach to Employee Reviews

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Startup software companies are often known for their meteoric growth. As the products mature and new markets open, new clients bring new demands. Social media channels have revolutionized brand exposure. Angel investors press for revenue growth which, in turn, creates support staffing demands. These stress and growth points are most severe in companies from 20-200 employees. New organizations frequently feel pressured to press inexperienced people into management roles for which they are ill-suited or at best poorly trained. Building strong managers, and teams of employees is often neglected due to the demands that come with the growth curve.

Regardless of the industry, and regardless of the organizational size the effectiveness of performance reviews is dependent on key staff hiring and effective leadership development. Larger organizations formalize the process with a program that can seem forced and impersonal. Small organizations have so much happening daily that the formality of reviews gets buried under the endless demands of the day. Wherever you find yourself I would invite you to consider a simple exercise that may bring a fresh approach to your performance reviews.

The exercise is designed to help you gain clarity, engagement, and partnership with your team members.

As a leadership coach, I'm constantly encouraging my clients to adopt a discipline of regular communication. Clarity requires work!  The more complex the task, the more challenging it is to gain a clear objective. The discipline of communicating is critical to creating clear expectations for both the manager and the team member.  It is essential that you and your team are working towards the same outcomes.

One discipline I am personally developing is keeping clear notes documenting coaching meetings. These notes capture pressing issues, questions, insights, and action steps. When I share these notes  only a month later, I often hear, "Wow, that was only last month." Our work initiatives move and change constantly and with great speed to meet the demands of the week, month, or quarter. Stand up meetings are helpful to bridge the communication gap and keep the team informed of various activities. Still, even these meetings tend to be tactical lacking a strategic focus.

Whether you are in an executive role, a middle manager, or are in your first management role, I'd encourage you to consider the following discipline into your next performance reviews.  Schedule the time at least a week in advance with the expectation that they come prepared to answers three questions.

  1. What are your role(s) and responsibilities?

  2. What are the top 5 initiatives or projects you're working on? Rank by importance.

  3. How would you rate your performance? A+, A, B, C or F.

As they prepare, so you will you. Answer the same questions in writing. It's an engagement exercise for both the team member and the manager. When you do, you may identify risks in areas where you are not aligned with your employee. It's also an ownership exercise. You will see what responsibility your team member is taking for their work or not. Then, a discussion will give an indication of any gaps. It may show you some things going on with your team that had escaped your attention. It will also point out areas needing the team member’s attention or what additional assistance may be required.

  • A+ is exceeding expectations like getting extra credit in school.

  • A is excellent work and well-done!

  • B is room for focused improvement.

  • C is Change! It's average performance which is likely borrowing resources from the team and organization.

  • F is the failure to understand what's required or nonperformance.

*This review process is an adaption from Ken Blanchard’s book One Minute Manager.

From here the partnership builds by creating a baseline to strengthen your communication. It's the process of defining then refining roles and responsibilities. You might have 4 out of 5 aligned, but it would not be unusual for one or two areas that will need some clarification. Finally, the grading. How are you doing? It's a time of affirmation and feedback for their performance. Most people tend to be hard on themselves giving conservative scores. Here is an opportunity for you to build them up! Then, there may include one or two areas that are challenges or a gap in expectations to clarify for mutual understanding.

Your organization may have formal performance reviews connecting with HRIS (Human Resources Information Systems) for raises and bonuses, and LMS (Learning Management Systems) for development, and career planning. You may be a start-up hiring your first employee or you may be a first line manager assigned your first direct reports. Wherever you are today, it's your team! Your team member will make you or break your growth. I’d encourage you to integrate this exercise into your next performance review. You will optimize your team's clarity, engagement, and partnership.

As a bonus, here are three questions for optimizing your one-on-one and/or teams meetings.  You can ask casually, at the start of your weekly meetings, or your performance review...

  1. What's going well in your work? - Giving Appreciation
  2. What additional support/resources do you need to be even more successful in your work? - Providing Support
  3. What's one improvement we could implement that could make a difference in our organization? - Encouraging Innovation

Once you put this motion, I would love to hear how the exercise has worked for you and your team!

Optimizing Your Highest and Best! - Exercising Healthy Self Awareness

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Healthy Self Awareness will protect you from wrong commitments and empower you to the right ones!

Every week in private coaching consultations I ask entrepreneurs, executives, and CEOs the same self-awareness question... using the Birkman Color Map... 50% answer wrong.

What's your primary personality style?

It may difficult to limit yourself to 4 areas, but I'd invite you to give your best guess!

You may recognize the familiar categories of the extrovert (red/green), introvert (yellow/blue), task (red/yellow), and people (green/ blue) orientations that gives the framework. These are similar quadrants to assessments like DISC, PDP, and Myers Briggs. Go ahead, pick one word that describes yourself?

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Depending on how fast you respond may give you a hint of your answer. For good measure, select your secondary personality quadrant. Picking your favorite color maybe not be a good qualifier for the exercise.

Let me invite you to switch mental gears toward your goals, commitments, calendar, and task lists. Somewhere you have a mental list, KPIs, performance reviews, or project list that requires your energy. These are the activities that will determine your effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction at work.

Depending on your roles at work your list will vary. For our self-awareness exercise, you may need to review your list. Let me break it down like I would for my clients. List your key activities that are critical for each area. (I invite you to use the free form to review these questions)

  • Goals - (Motivating/Difference Making) - Annual - What’s your focus this year?
  • Commitments - (Initiatives) - Quarterly - How will you meet your goals?
  • Calendar - (Meetings/Events/Projects) - Monthly - When will you accomplish it?
  • Task List - (Disciplines/Activities) - Weekly - Who will get what done?

What's your first response to your list... Act on it Right Now? Share it with Stakeholders? Critique for Accuracy? Plan a Strategy?

Last month I attended a  training session in the Colorado mountains with a veteran consultant. She reviewed the philosophies of personalities instrument. She invited us to sign our name on a piece of paper. So we did. No problem! Then she instructed us to sign our name using our opposite hand. So we did that, which included a few laughs. It's comical to compare the results. Can we do it? Sure! How did it go? Not so good! We all have a natural bent, style, and approach that works.

Far too many executives are writing with the wrong hand in their leadership, responsibilities, and commitments. It may be time to switch things up.

As another consideration, look at your list of work activities, who would you hire to do that work? Doer, Communicator, Analyzer, or Thinker?

The question may be a little too polarizing as most projects need all 4. Think about which quadrant strengths you need for the opportunity and challenges that are before you.

If you're launching a new product or service, then you need significant focus in "green/ communicator" working as an evangelist to get the word out.  If you're primarily as "blue / thinker" your strength is the strategy. You'll be designing a better way to connect with your customer. That may help your launch but may fall short of getting people committed without a personal touch.

If you're constructing a bridge with a team of "red / doer" people, you'll get it done. However, without a team of engineers “yellow / analyzers,” having all the specifications and inspectors on-site you may still have a bridge collapse on the interstate.

The reason 50% of self-aware leaders give a wrong answer is that they have been doing the right thing in wrong ways for a long time. Writing left-handed when you're a right. Continually adapting to get to do what's required. It's admirable! But, what's the highest and best of your time?

Here's a real-time coaching assignment for one of my clients who's stuck... Take the next few days to keep a running journal on a napkin or on your phone of all the things that you were doing from a task standpoint. Once you have a solid list, take note of which of these would you like to delegate?

I have one question that is going to take some work to answer. What two or three things would you like to spend 60 to 80% of your time doing every workday?

These are activities they give you the most joy, fulfillment, and profitable return for your efforts. Completing then reviewing your Birkman personality assessment will give your further insight...Going through the exercises above will help get you started.

You have a unique style! Start today, use the free self awareness survey exercise, begin by  aligning your priorities to your personality. Surround yourself with others who can compliment you. Then you'll see your goals met, commitments fulfilled, and have some fun while you're at it.

One Word for 2018

For the last 10+ years, I've captured a central theme that helps define my focus, hope, and goals for the coming year. Maybe you have a similar rhythm of reflection. It's a compelling idea that grounds you for a day, month, and year.

Four years ago I was introduced to the One Word book that has popularized this practice. I have leader friends who buy cases for their team members and friends as Christmas gifts. It creates stimulating conversation when discussing your One Word.

Every healthy goal setting discipline should be filtered with a Why question. 

  • Why is this goal important to you?
  • What will be the impact if you accomplish it?
  • How does that make you feel?

It's a vetting process that will be a predictor of your success. It reveals your motivation and your resolve to meet those goals. Your One Word helps guide and filter that process of what matters to you over the course of the year.

For the last 5 years, my words have ranged from Focus, Develop, Delight, and Broaden, and in 2017 Faithful. Being a man of Christian faith, my words often are inspired by a specific Bible verse. It's always a little tender, even vulnerable, revealing your One Word. Once you share it, you are accountable to it. Yet, it's worth the risk! It opens the possibility for encouragement, support, and depth to the significance of your One Word rather than if you kept it to yourself. 

So, what's my One Word for 2018? Build! 

Inspired by a passage in the book of Nehemiah and rebuilding of the broken wall. The leadership, commitment, sacrifice, and the celebration at the completion of the wall capture its significance. Yes, Build is my Word for 2018! 

As you have time to think, reflect, even pray what's your One Word? 

I'd love to hear your word(s) for 2017 and how that has been expressed in your year. Also what themes or words may be stirring for the coming year?

Yes! Hit REPLY! Take 1 Minute! Send me a quick note! I am sincerely curious to hear your word, the story behind it, and even the goals that will define it in 2018. 

Happy Reflections! 

Russell

Climbing with a Mentor… Dangerous Missteps and Discovering 3 Hidden Treasures on the Journey

My feet are soiled, even blistered, after walking nearly four miles in my Chacos. My iPhone tells me I climbed ninety-six floors today over the course of two hours, which means I climbed a mountain. My companion was a man I've known for several years, but this was the first opportunity we've had to spend time together. 

At sixty-three this man has traveled the world and worked inside of an organization of forty thousand people. When he started with that company twenty-eight years ago, their team was only two hundred people. Some would call that a career, others a lifetime of work. As an organizational psychologist and a Ph.D. whose primary goal is developing leaders within an organization, he can literally look back over his lifetime and see the impact he has had. It’s the difference that can be measured by the numbers and in the change in people’s lives. It's what we may call a life well lived.

Here I was with a man that I respect and admire, who is nearly twenty years my senior, and he truly is a model of the kind of leader developer I hope to be one day. The truth is for many of us on this journey, these kind of models and mentors are very rare. We may be around them, but when given the gift of their time, in my case nearly two hours on this hike, we want to make the most of the opportunity.  So our tendency in this situation is to jump right in and pepper them questions, usually in one of the following categories: 

  • We ask for advice and counsel.
  • We ask about a specific problem in order to find a practical solution that can be applied immediately.
  • We ask for principles or a personal mantra that can be applied to guide our life decisions.

However, this tendency can also be a grave misstep. These questions work well when you are working with a mentor or coach. They can literally take you down many new trails, beyond just one conversation, and take place over months and years of relationship. But when given a rare opportunity like the one I was given, this strategy may cause you to miss out on something even more valuable.  On the day of my hike with this man that I want to emulate, I chose not to go there with any specific agenda. I chose not to ask questions or ask for advice or counsel. Instead I simply stated, "I want to hear your story. Anything that you would like to share, I'm a listening ear, and I simply want to learn from you." 

During the two hours of mountain climbing, our talk began with some common elements of storytelling. These elements provided a little foundational context as to where we were in our week and what was going on in our lives. As we hit the trail, he asked me a few questions that allowed me to share parts of my story I knew would simply honor him in his interest and curiosity. I shared a few relevant, honest, authentic, and important details from my journey as it related to different mile-markers in my life which set the tone and depth so he would feel comfortable sharing at the same level of sincerity. In other words, the transparency of my story invited him to be transparent with his as well. He told me about his personal challenges and victories, his experiences as a family man, and how he navigated through difficult days when what he wanted to do was give up. After coming off the mountain, I felt the weight of his story.  As I reflected on this experience, I discovered the following three hidden treasures.

1. Story protects you

For nearly an hour I listened to a story that weaved over thirty to forty years of this man’s work and family life. As I listened, several themes began to emerge.  His life exceeded what you might normally characterize as success.  His life was about making an impact and how one person can make a difference by being faithful for the long haul. There was the theme of overcoming challenges, pushing through when you are overwhelmed, and it feels impossible.  And there was the theme of burnout. No matter how great the mission is, if you don't take time to rest and recalibrate, you will crash.

Throughout his story he wasn't preaching. He wasn't telling me what to do. He wasn't giving me principles, or teaching a lesson. We were simply climbing a mountain. Listening to his story awakened something in me.  I could resonate with the various themes along the way, and I began to recognize that if I wasn't careful, I was only a few nights of sleep away from real burnout.

His story caused me to think about how at times the burden and responsibility of my work can be so overwhelming that I lose perspective of why I've even stepped into such meaningful work in the first place.  His story helped me understand how the disciplined pursuit of perspective will protect me from being overwhelmed and potentially be taken out completely. His story also showed me that making a difference really comes from a focused pursuit in your area of strength and competency; that deep work is hard work; and that it’s worth it. When you see the impact you are making along the way, you will be encouraged, revitalized, and inspired to press on and continue the work in even more specific and definable ways.

2. Story inspires you

I was recently at a conference where nationally recognized speakers were giving talks that certainly stirred the heart and moved the audience with great emotion and connection.  As I listened to their stories I too felt swept up in the movement and emotion of the moment. Those talks certainly have their place, but they are quite different than the inspiration I received from walking alongside a man who's guiding me on a trail I have never traversed before, showing me new vistas, peaks, and valleys.  Even the physical ability he has in his early sixties, to be able to climb such mountains, inspires me! To be that physically fit, let alone have the mental and emotional fitness he has when I'm that age is some to aspire to. This man has a heart that is whole and alive and is filled with spiritual vitality in spite of seasons of overwhelming and challenging circumstances. His story inspires my story, and I hope my story will in turn inspire others.

3. Story encourages you

While walking alongside this man as he's listening to my story and sharing with me the things he has heard from others, he takes the time to encourage me in my work. I will tell you, there is nothing quite like having someone of this caliber, credibility, and experience look at a man like me and say, "I see something in you that, as it continues to develop and grow, will make an impact. How I can encourage you further along the way?” It is such a boost in confidence to hear him say, "I see something in you. I believe in you, and I will walk with you.” When someone we admire and trust, who's farther down the path than we are, in whose footsteps we can follow and learn from is willing to guide us along the way and encourage us to move forward in our levels of influence, they are demonstrating the next level of leadership and are modeling what it looks like to encourage others. It's the exchange of story—my story for his—and that lays a foundation for friendship and mentoring that moves us, inspires us, and encourages us in ways that are hard to even put into words.

The Danger of the Misstep - Why we miss story

The fact is, most leaders are running a hundred miles an hour, reacting and dealing with the challenges of each day. So often, when we're in the presence of someone who's farther along than we are, we are quick to ready, fire, aim, and we jump right into problem solving mode and seek the quick, pre-scripted solutions, so we can move on. Certainly, there are times when we are in crisis, when we need immediate answers, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, what actually may be needed more is the discipline of listening. Taking time for story allows space for things to be shared, things that maybe haven't been shared in many years.  And when you take the time to listen, you may find that the story resonates with your story, providing a significant point of connection. What we learn from the stories of our mentors and models is the wisdom they have gained as they have walked along their journey.  Their story may provide the treasures of protection, inspiration, and encouragement and be the very thing that gives us the heart to stay the course in the midst of difficult and challenging circumstances.

The treasures found in others’ stories will motivate us to seize new opportunities and move us forward to new levels of influence that we didn't think was possible. So I would encourage you today to think about those people in your life who are further along in the journey of life.  Get outdoors with them, in an environment other than a lunch or conference room meeting, and ask them, "What's your story?"

Conversational Blind Spots - Closing the Gap from Personal Perceptions to a Relational Reality

Some people need a reality check on how they impact other people! 

Imagine for a moment you’re at school, church, or your workplace and a survey was conducted about you. The questionnaire asked people to consider conversations and group discussions over the last year and describe some words or phrases on how they experienced you? Situations and circumstance can drive a variety of responses so I would ask these words to reflect your attitude or the way you acted.

As the surveys are being considered by friends and coworkers think about your own response. What would you say about yourself? It’s goes beyond just today. It may reflect this season of life you are in. As you reflect some words may start coming in from a variety of people who know you in both a personal and professional environment. Then you see the words: loving, kind, gracious, content, apathetic, unengaged, reflective, encouraging, discouraged, passionate, depressed, chatty, reserved.  

It's really hard to narrow down just a few words how you experience somebody but we have an amazing ability that when pressed we have an intuitive or “gut" response. When we hear or say the words, it’s often a clear yes, no, or not quite. As the survey concludes you likely see some words rising to the top that are thematic of how people experience you. It may serve as a confirmation but also a reality check that it’s time to make some changes.

I guided a man through a similar process in a leadership 360 survey and he truly believed everyone thought his number one word was “love.”  He learned through the inner feedback within the organization that this was not the reality. He had a gap in his perception.

The fact is most people experience us differently than we perceive ourselves. There are thoughts and feelings going on in our own head creating an inward idea that may not align with our reality in relationships. When we realize there is a gap between what we think about ourselves and how people experience us, we can respond in defensiveness or humility.

The language of blind spots has to do with shifting your perspective. Where do you get a fresh perspective? Certainly some private reflection could lead us to take responsibility for our responses. Another way starts with conversations inviting feedback. At first it may be misunderstood as self-seeking but it can be communicated in a way for clarity and understanding.

A little bit of truth may be hard but incredibly healthy to help mature a person’s perspective. Far more than a little truth is often the ocean of encouragement from people who truly care about you.  What you gain:

  1. a fresh perspective

  2. clarity on your blind spots

  3. encouragement to help you make adjustments

Humility is so endearing and it opens up relationships.  The opposite would be agendas that we drive into our relationships that may not be mutually beneficial thus shutting down our connection. As in the story of the three people losing their jobs if we go too long without the invitation for feedback we run the risk of a response that's not becoming of who we hope to be.

I encourage you to consider some words or phrases that describe where you are today. If it's anything close to negative or derogatory then you may need a break through. A great first step is to start the conversation with those you work and walk alongside. No need to defend just listen and learn, then take a step to close the gap on who you aspire to become. Let me encourage you there’s hope with some awareness and affirmation. The very words you aspire to reflect you may find become the words that are spoken over you from the people in your life. I promise it will get things moving for you towards insight, perspective, and strength from the inside out.

If you're interested in a 360 Leadership Assessment the Advance can help facilitate the process from the leader to the team. Contact russell@leadersadvance.net. 

Together we can help close the gap from a toxic environment towards building stronger trust. 

The Advance is launching in 2017. To learn more about our exciting news, resources, and a free gift visit Launch 2017! 
 

Russell Verhey’s “The Conversationalist” to Release on September 1

How often do you have catalytic conversations with employees, colleagues, friends or complete strangers; conversations that consist of more than just the news, weather or sports … life-changing conversations? 

For many people, the answer is rarely, if ever. In an age driven by social media, computer-mediated communication and virtual reality, the need for practical tools for developing significant relationships is evident. Seeing the need, leadership coach Russell Verhey began developing his first book, “The Conversationalist,” to inspire, educate and encourage readers to step courageously into life-changing conversations.

Russell’s wealth of conversations from his experience in coaching CEOs and other business and church leaders fills the pages with practical steps for readers to develop the heart, questions and discipline necessary to engage in meaningful conversations.  After reading the book, several leaders shared endorsements: 

Dr. John Townsend, a New York Times bestselling author and founder of the Townsend Institute of Leadership, said: “The Conversationalist’ will show you how to make the most of your most important relationships.”  

Dr. Randy McFarland, the provost/dean of Denver Seminary, said: “‘The Conversationalist’ provides an exceptional tool for living a life that impacts others.
Mac Powell of Third Day said: “I've seen firsthand that my good friend Russell not only talks about conversations being life-changing opportunities, but he lives it out as well! What an inspiring book and example that Russell gives us!”

Numerous others have shared positive remarks concerning the book’s impact during its pre-release. Now, with the official, September 1 release here, you can share in that experience. If you’re ready to transform your relationships and deepen your influence, order your copy of “The Conversationalist” today from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Christianbook.com

Consider the Ant! Lessons on Leadership

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! -Proverbs 6:6

I hate ants! At least I did when I was a kid. Growing up in Georgia they’d come up from the red clay in full force to devour your lunch, protect their hill, or take you out at the ankles. As a young boy, after stepping in a few anthills and feeling the effects from my poor judgment, I would retaliate in force. I would destroy their little home with sticks and rocks and finally by drowning the little community with a water hose. “‘That’ll show ‘em!” I would think. Then a week or so later I discovered the same community moved its headquarters to the backside of the pine tree. If left alone, the next hill would be bigger than first. It seemed like a losing battle for a young boy on a mission never to be bitten again.

Consider the ant!

When I let my boyhood battle cry subside, and I disregard the memories of watermelon being hauled off by the slice, then I’ll consider the ant! I will learn from my enemy! Here are my observations from the ways of a ant.

●  No Commander­ - Leadership by Mission. They develop the colony, build the infrastructure, and prepare for food and shelter in season, always marching a single line. They overcome and rebuild when disaster strikes. They are clear and committed.

●  No Ruler­ - Diligent Workers. They work like slaves, but they have no masters. They have a job, and they get it done. They work together and rarely alone.

●  No Overseer­ - Self and Team Management. They work together for a common goal, share the load when it gets too heavy, and care for the injured, They have an internal drive to complete what they start. They are organized and efficient.

Solomon compares the nobility of the ant to the sluggard. For the lazy man (or sluggard) will reap what he sows in the forms of ‘poverty’ and ‘scarcity.’ Being from the south, while knocking over anthills, I also saw the slow slimy trails of a snail on a sidewalk. What a pitiful creature. It’s lazy, slow, and whenever anything happens crawls into its shell for protection. It is the epitome of a sluggard! It’s immobilized by fear and self-protection. The snail rarely travels in community. Its slime and odor repels anyone. No one wants to be sluggard.

Then there is the other extreme—the work-alcoholics whose vices run deeper than just good work ethics. They are running, driven by another master. Let me encourage you. There is freedom from that fear of failure. Your sense of worth and identity come from who are as a child of God. What you do for work is an expression of who you are, but it is NOT your identity. You are worth more than your work! Your value comes from more than what you can produce.

Now, consider the ant!

Consider the balance of the ant who works in season preparing in a time of harvest and winter rest.

Consider the ways of the ant. Learn from their consistency of work, commitment to mission, and community to strengthen.

Confess your laziness or procrastination. Get organized and get moving! Despite my troubled boyhood; my enemy has become my teacher.

Consider the ways of the ant and be wise!