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?

Birkman Map.png

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!

Insecurity of Autonomy! 3 Powerful Protections to Launch Your Success!

Recently I attended a conference where I met a young leader who is experiencing high levels of stress within his organization. As he shared some of the details, I learned he was dealing with a significant level of turnover and has not been able to retain good people for very long. To make matters worse, there were more strategies and ideas to implement than could feasibly be accomplished, and this caused him to have difficulty focusing. He was experiencing growing pains as an emerging leader launching a new nonprofit organization and was simply being stretched in too many different directions.

As I listened to him describe his situation and circumstances, it made me wonder about the accountability structure he had in his life, so I asked him about his advisory team. He confidently responded, "I have a great Board of Directors!" I pressed further and asked him about the Board make-up and their level of involvement, and he responded with a conviction that said, "I've got this one covered."

However, as he described his Board, I soon began to realize, like many new nonprofit organizations, it is made up of friends with great ideas and strategies to help launch the organization and provide some level of financial support. The more I listened to this leader share about his Board and their involvement, it sounded more like a fan club than a Board of Directors. There seemed to be plenty of enthusiasm, affirmation, and support, but what was missing was a measure of objectivity and clear counsel.

Healthy encouragement can feel great when starting an organization, but in this case, it was ultimately causing him to suffer because in reality he has surrounded himself with a group of people who are telling him exactly what he wants to hear, instead of what he needs to hear. Launching anything can feel impossible. Just getting an idea off the ground and birthing it to reality can be daunting. Having people encourage you and support your vision is essential; yet, these individuals may not always be the best options for your advisory team. Whether you're leading a start-up, a nonprofit, a public company, or are simply a solopreneur, think about this: Who has veto power in your life? Who is your circle of counsel, and have you given them permission to speak freely?

Recently I interviewed Peter Greer with HOPE International on our CEO Street Talk podcast. He shared about a time in his life when he was running hard, or his organization was running him, and it had taken its toll on his marriage and family.  When his wife confronted him about the situation, and he realized the implication of his actions, he wrote up his resignation letter, gave it to his wife and told her if she ever felt that way again, he would walk away from his job.

Think about that for a moment... 

  • What are your most important relationships?
  • Is the mission or cause of your organization coming at the expense of your greatest priorities in life and particularly the most important people in your life?
  • If you were to write a resignation letter, who would you give it to? Who has your back? 
  • Who truly cares about you and your mission, and what role do they play in helping you succeed?

What I have learned from all the years I have worked with CEOs and leaders is that that they all have blind spots. Even the most exceptional ones are not immune. Having a circle of people who can speak into those blind spots ultimately protects the leader and the organization and creates sustainability and vitality as well.

Most leaders, especially the entrepreneurial leaders I know, love their autonomy; however, autonomy, for all its freedom, often comes at a price. What is your autonomy costing you? If you have been a leader for any period of time, you probably don't have to look back too far to see where having good counsel around you could've helped you avoid a costly mistake. Having a good advisory team doesn't protect you completely or eliminate all mistakes, but it can help mitigate them. It doesn’t matter if you are a new or seasoned leader, I would like to encourage you to consider these three essential components of a strong advisory team:

1. Authority

My pastor often reminds me that a man under authority is a man of authority. Who has veto power in your life? Who has permission to provide wisdom and much needed counsel when you're putting out fires and responding to the tyranny of the urgent? No matter how great of a leader we think we are, sometimes we're blinded by our own ambition, and we need somebody to come in with a strong arm and protect us. We may even need to be protected from ourselves and our blind spots. Submitting to the authority of a small group of people is essentially saying, "I trust you." In a formal Board setting, when you may be casting your vote right along with the others, the collective weight of votes may not be unanimous in one direction or another, or the vote may not go your way. You need to be able to trust the judgment and experience of the people you’ve surrounded yourself with and allow them to speak into the situation. It may be the right idea but the wrong timing.

2. Good Counsel

Secondly, when we put ourselves under the authority of others, we also invite their counsel. Business is dynamic. Things are happening all the time. There are decisions to be made; new strategies to be considered; new technology to invest in; and people to be hired (and in some cases fired). Financial and human resources need to be maximized; partnerships need to be nurtured; and customers need to be served. And these things occur on a daily basis.  In all of this, there are opportunities to learn from others. It has been said, “There is wisdom in the counsel of many.”  We need to avail ourselves to wisdom and counsel from a variety of sources. 

When you invite leaders with fifteen, twenty, or thirty years of experience in a particular discipline to serve on your advisory team, you're tapping into insight that will help guide your decisions and move you forward. Great leaders are open to gleaning wisdom from others. The challenge is figuring out how to draw out and capture the wisdom of those advisors in your life and work. 

Obtaining good counsel has a great deal to do with the process. What kind of structure needs to be established to maximize the time you have with your advisors? Perhaps you will meet on a quarterly basis, or a have a monthly phone call. Whatever schedule or format you decide upon, having structure creates the opportunity and the environment for your team to offer their very best counsel.  

As the leader, you know the greatest issues you are facing, and you can determine the agenda based on the counsel you need at that time. Providing an agenda that fairly and accurately depicts the situations you would like to address prior to the meeting gives your advisors time to consider the issues and prepare their counsel ahead of time. There is certainly a place for spontaneity, but a ready, fire, aim approach to these sessions is often a misuse of the collective counsel you have assembled to provide the guidance you need in making a decision.

After you have received counsel from your team, the question becomes, “What are you going to do with that counsel, and are you committed to following through with the suggested resolutions?” This leads us to the third essential element of a strong advisory team.

3. Accountability

As a leader, in the midst of your autonomy, you must define the level of accountability you are willing to submit to. This is where the rubber meets the road. You’ve come to a point where you've committed to a certain plan of action that you and your team have determined would lead to a successful outcome for you and your organization, and it is worth your time and discipline to make sure you see it through. A strong advisory team will provide the accountability you need. This accountability will ultimately protect you from distraction and fortify the disciplines you need to achieve the desired outcome. Even as you submit to the authority of your advisory team and listen to their advice, if you lack follow-through, it won’t make a difference. Immature leaders may view accountability as an unnecessary limiting factor, but successful leaders understand it provides great freedom to move toward agreed upon objectives. Accountability is an indispensable tool that will help you focus your attention on the goal and ultimately get you across the finish line.

Whether you lead a nonprofit or public company or are just launching into a new venture, I want to encourage you to formalize, redefine, or even recalibrate the level of the counsel in your life. Who has veto power? Certainly you, as a leader, have a vote, yet the full weight of a strong advisory team will give you the support you need and help you succeed.

1st Coaching Meeting with a 1st Year CEO…Where do we begin?

I met with Jack for the first time today. Jack is a first year CEO of an international nonprofit who's been in position for six months. After a few minutes of catching up, I asked the first question to begin of our time, “What's keeping you from fully being engaged in your leadership?" We launched into a conversation about the issues he was facing as a 1st year CEO and discussed his priorities, uncovering his benchmarks for the next 36 months. We included the financial measurements as well as the potential staff growth of his team. We identified the critical areas that, if addressed, would significantly impact organization's growth. 

Our conversation included identification of the top 3 issues that he should be prioritize in leading the organization. Then we began discussing the areas that are consuming 60-70% of his time and attention. You can probably guess that the two lists were not an exact match. In fact, they didn't match at all. As Jack's coach, I knew that was the first focus of closing that leadership gap. 

Succession planning was also put on the table, and we began to think through the possibilities of hiring and training his replacement long before it's due. This caused our attention to focus on developing a bench and what that might look like in representing and leading the organization. At or near the forefront of every CEO's mind is the Board, its structure and governance, and who he would be bringing on in the next 6 months to a year. How new board members will be sourced and vetted are key factors. Finally, we talked about his predecessors, their style of leadership and the legacies they left behind. We covered a lot of ground with a one-hour discussion.  

After laying the framework of all that Jack was managing, we narrowed our focus.  We laid out three questions to identify areas that needed further clarity.

  1. Where does Jack need greater confidence? His answer was confidence in himself and his abilities. He is beginning to feel the effects of leading. He understood there was coming a time when the honeymoon would be over, and he would have to make decisions and tough calls that could ultimately alienate or isolate him. The new leadership luster will wear off which may affect his approachability as well as his ability to engage his team in open dialog, once it's viewed that some of the discussions may have consequences. How will he respond? What does he need to do to stay steady and strong? What support does he need around him so that he doesn't waver when it gets tough? How will he ensure that his eyes and ears are open to truth in sorting through tough decisions?
  2. Where will the organization go under Jack’s leadership? What will the team need from their leader? What are his strengths, and what are the areas that will stretch him, the areas where he will need to rely on the expertise of other staff or that he will need to personally develop in order to become the leader the organization needs. He shared that he has a tendency to fall into analysis paralysis thus turning his greatest strength of critical thinking into potentially a significant weakness. He instinctively knew that some of the key team members in the areas of business development and technology if the organization was going to grow. It is vitally important to know the key team ingredients for fostering growth. He also recognized that in order for him to be successful in his new role as the leader of this organization he needs to get out of the office and interact with staff members and key partners around the world.
  3. Who's your customer? As the discussion progressed, I learned that this was not the model of his predecessor. Past leadership focused more on fiscal responsibility, which was certainly essential, and less focus was placed on connecting with global team members. This part of the conversation led me to ask if he knew who the customer is? After a long pause, it was evident there was some question in his own mind.  But the answer soon came that it's the associates who are in the field. I then asked him if his staff and board would agree with that answer? There was even a longer pause. The answer has significant implications.  Understanding who your customer is and who you are trying to reach will help you identify where your priorities and your focus needs to be and how to best utilize your energies and resources.

Leading Change 

Fiscal responsibility and organizational efficiencies are foundational to the job of leadership and necessary for a healthy organization to run well. Without them many organizations have ceased to exist. Yet if the organization is to see the kind of significant growth Jack envisioned over the next 36 months, some of the leadership models were going to have to change. This could very well be disruptive to the expectations and culture of the organization that he was now appointed to lead. Jack does not need to face these changes alone. 

His pathway to successfully navigate these changes will require him to lean into his closest mentors and proteges. Given all of the opportunities, challenges, and issues that he is facing as a leader, he knows that the key to success is having people speak into his life and his leadership so that he will be able to lead effectively and, in some cases, he will need to speak into his team, customers, and key partners in the same way.

All new organizational leaders find that the pursuit of clarity is hard work. Given the many complexities organizational leaders face, how do you find clarity in your priorities, your planning, and the overall purpose of your organization?  How do you develop the team so that you are all working toward obtaining a vision, accomplishing a mission, and seeing the goals attained?

Find a Way to Navigate the Changes and Challenges You’re Facing Today

Like Jack, you need experienced mentors and other peers to speak into your life.  This is a critical factor to the success of a new leader, especially when you have to start making decisions that can make the journey feel very lonely. In the end, everyone celebrates success. But the road getting there may require changes that are often difficult in the moment. How do you stay steady in the midst of such difficulty in such a way you don't lose confidence in yourself and your team members?. Will you move further into isolation, or will you identify your blind spots and insecurities and courageously face the hard choices that will help you grow as a leader. The first step is determining who is going to help you along the way. 

If you’re a first year CEO facing new challenges that are stretching you beyond your capacity to lead, hope and help is only one conversation away

Making the Right Move for Wrong Team Member…and the Cost if You Don’t! Part 1

The number one issue I have seen among leaders and the issue that carries the greatest emotional weight that often clouds objectivity is letting go of a key leader on your team. As an executive coach, I’ve had a front row seat to seeing the most brilliant strategists and effective leaders who have lost themselves under the emotional weight of losing someone who is critical to their team, or at least their role is critical to the team and the organization's success.

Most leaders know the enormous weight of the responsibility and need for patience when allowing a key leader to settle into their role. Yet, after an undefined appropriate amount of time, the key indicators are not trending positive, or projects are under performing, it becomes evident this is the wrong person for the position. Most often we hire somebody who performed with excellence and delivered exceptional results in their discipline in one or more organizational settings. For a variety of reasons they have failed to gain traction in our environment.

The weight of this issue for most leaders, more often than not, comes from the loss of confidence in the individual in whom they had personally placed so much trust and hope. Leaders hire people in the confidence that they have all that is needed to be successful in the position. Having been so persuaded, we adopt them into our corporate family, nurture them into the culture, and give them the tools and resources needed for success. We have personally sponsored the new hire into the organization. The idea of cutting ties with a member of your team brings a sense of personal loss. Facing the daunting task of replacing any high profile leader carries with it a heightened sensitivity to utilize an improved vetting and decision making process. The thought of having to find the replacement and start the process all over again with the prospect that the next person hired may not work out can be overwhelming.

I have found, in hundreds of hours of coaching and working with teams in off-site settings, a leader instinctively knows when it is time for a transition to happen. Certainly, there are protocols that determine the appropriate amount of time to allow for the individual’s performance to improve or for adjustments to be made to his or her role and/or responsibilities.  Yet, in the end, I have seen again and again, that leaders have an instinct for when it's time for a transition. The question becomes what will that leader do when they know what the right decision is and when will they take action?

When a leader delays in doing the right thing, the weight of the issue grows with each day, week, and month, making it harder to step forward and act objectively. This leads to our emotional malaise as leaders and allows the dysfunction within the organization to spread. Delay could also cost the organization critical leadership talent at the lower levels as those people lose confidence that the matter will be addressed. We can be confident in the fact that if we're seeing nonperformance, it has already been the subject of water cooler conversation in the organization. At some point, this emotional weight and lack of decisive action creates a toxicity that is felt throughout the culture of the organization.

If you are that leader who is in that place and know you need to let one of your key team members go, then let's get grounded. First we need to evaluate the cost of this decision or your indecision. As a leader, ask yourselves these questions:

  • What is the cost of the emotional and mental energy that is likely preventing me from moving forward strategically in the department with the under performing leader?
  • What is the cost for the rest of my team who is having to tiptoe around the issue rather than being engaged as a highly performing team?
  • What is the cost within that specific department where that leader is not meeting their goals or objectives?

Take a Step in Right Direction

Take time to think! Spend a few minutes thinking through these things will bring clarity.  Writing down a note, even if it's on a napkin, gives you an opportunity to evaluate the time, money, and resources the delay in this decision is costing you. Find a person or peer group that is a safe place to verbally process and gain feedback .

After you've had to time to count the cost, seek clarity, and the perspective someone you trust you're ready for action. Part 2 of Making the Right Move will give 4 Steps towards a healthy transition. 

Fortune 500 Company Engaging With New Conversations

From HR to Coaching, a major insurance company launches a brand new team for connection and engagement. 

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to present my new book The Conversationalist to group of 28 Birkman consultants in training for their certification. The book is about engaging in meaningful conversations and will be published in September. Sharon Birkman Fink, the CEO, was very kind in her endorsements.  Her comments opened the doors for further discussion after my talk at their reception.  Birkman has an amazing team of 5000+ consultants. I’m amazed at the diversity and depth with this community of associates. I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the consultants attending the training from around the country. 

One team of four colleagues was from a Fortune 500 insurance company. They collectively averaged almost 20 years of serving in Human Resources. They have obviously seen significant changes within the organization and among their people of that period of time. Their leader, a veteran of 29 years with the company, has a renewed sense of excitement as they are launching a new effort for HR. She has taken the lead in launching a new coaching initiative within organization that is gaining momentum. 

The team represented the best of HR. All had been personally selected for this new initiative. Yet, all were uniquely gifted to serve from their strengths and experience. They moved to a quiet corner during the reception and invited me to join them as they shared their excitement and talked about the challenges of the coaching launch. There were many questions that came to them as they thought through implementation. Some of the key questions were:

  • Do we match Birkman styles with those we are coaching or do we need to view people from a different perspective?
  • How do we solve the constant internal conflict of managers who are in roles for which they are not prepared or simply don’t have the personality for it?
  • How would you integrate the Birkman within our coaching team? 


After listening to questions, the discussion, and challenges they were to hoping to address I heard 3 themes. 

  1. Gaining Trust - Skepticism is a challenge to overcome in a high stress organization. People in HR often are viewed as more restrictive than empowering.  Introducing another new program and tool may not gain support or be carried out. What keeps this initiative from being the latest programme du jour?
  2. Realigning Team Members - Call Center Challenges. The nature of the work has its ongoing stress, let alone putting people in management positions for which they're not ready, creating additional tension. Determining when team members are not ready or not a fit needs to be high priority. The resulting attrition, low morale, and a disengaged culture only brings low performance.
  3. Going Deeper for Real Change - Solving a problem with a program and policy is one approach. The coaching team wants to get personally connected to key managers to be in a position to impact their attitudes and actions. Whether they are reassigned or resourced they want to develop their people and help improve the overall culture, performance, and engagement within the company. 


The following is a potential 12 Step Weekly Engagement Strategy for a 90 Day Organizational Coaching Pilot using the Birkman 

  1. Review the "How to Talk with Them" worksheet to learn their style. Determine their preferred style of Direct, Indirect, Task, or People (Unless you “read” people very well, we must be students of our colleagues by learning how to approach them. Our style may be very different than theirs.) 
  2. Start with Strengths and Interests
  3. Clarify Career Alignment for Roles and Responsibilities 
  4. Discover High Need and Stress Responses 
  5. Identify Conflict with Team Members and Constructive Pathway Toward Respect 
  6. Create of Growth Plan for Leveraging Strength on the Team, Greater Self Care, and Mitigating Stress Points 
  7. Create a Communication Strategy for weekly Actionable Reminders Personalize to the Managers 
  8. Train the Managers Towards a Coaching Mindset within their Team 
  9. Transition the Disengaged to Positions Better Designed for Profile 
  10. Begin with the Birkman for all new Team Members and Communicate the Culture and Coaching Mindsets within the Onboarding
  11. Measure and Celebrate the Growth and Engagement within your Organization and Culture 
  12. Reevaluate and Adjust for the Next 90 Days Using Real Stories of Change from the Pilot 


These 12 steps represent an approach and a investment that will yield a return of engagement. The new coaching team will have to contextualize these 12 steps for their organization.

What If?

  • What would happen if every leader made a commitment to be this intentional about developing their people and teams?
  • What would be the impact?
  • What’s the impact if you don’t?

If you'd like to discuss creating an engagement strategy for your team let's start a conversation today. Contact russell@leadersadvance.net

A Good Coach

A Coach will help you discover your priorities, define a roadmap, then move you toward that reality.

A Good will help you pay attention to your priorities!

Coaches help draw out from the individual the best solution. A Coach may already have drawn their conclusions and perhaps possible solutions. They discipline themselves to wait to give their advice until they have discussed the possibilities with you.  Before a coach shares their insights, they ask questions like, “what do you think are your options are at this point?” Coaching often starts with an objective person who can listen in order to soundboard a variety of options. Talk through each option to a favorable conclusion. Then once a discovery, declaration, or conclusion is determined, a good coach will help guide and define an actionable plan. A coach will ask...When will you take action? What’s holding you back? What help do you need? When will you be finished? Then a good coach knows how to get your unstuck and moving! A coach will remind you what motivates you moves you!

A Great Coach will walk with you until those priorities are a reality!

Do you have an executive life coach?