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!

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?

 

 

 

Navigating Difficult Decisions...Making the Tough Call

The grit of a leader is defined by their ability to make the tough call.

King Saul faced an army of Philistines in front of him with his army behind him “quaking with fear”. They were hiding in caves, thickets, and rocks (1 Samuel 13:5-7). He was waiting for the prophet Samuel to come give guidance and prepare the offering to the Lord. The threat seemed eminent and his army was beginning scatter. He waited 7 days then the pressure was too great. In his moment of panic and compulsion he administered the priestly work of the burnt offering.

Samuel comes into the camp, as the embers are burning low, to see the King consumed with fear and desperate for the Lord’s favor. Saul took matters into his own hands. Overwhelmed with fear of the threat of defeat and disapproval of his men. Such an act of disobedience revealed the heart and character of the king. Saul did the right thing but in the wrong way. Samuel would say “you acted foolishly.” His action cost him the kingdom (13:13-15).

No leader wants to be the fool. Rather most leaders desire to act in wisdom. Yet the pressures of real life circumstance can take the wisest of leaders make them the fool. Let us not be the latter.

How do leaders make critical decisions based on unclear, uncertain, and imperfect criteria, information, and people? Consider how you’ve been impacted by both wise and unwise decision from your leaders.

It’s even greater when you consider how many decisions you have made over a lifetime both in wisdom and in other ways.

What’s a story of how you were impacted by an employer’s unwise decision?

For our segment today, we'll be talking about the leader's discipline of making the tough call and navigating difficult decisions. The context of this segment comes from a series of coaching conversations with leaders navigating some very difficult decisions.  We’ll focus on one in particular.

A few weeks ago, I went on a hike with John, who's an international leader on the executive team at a major Christian nonprofit. John provides leadership and oversight for two-thirds of the organization’s 3,000 team members.                   

Recently, their local newspaper reported that they would be laying off some of its staff. It was a setback that led to some confusion, because the organization had a track record of consistent growth. When I talked with John about the leadership decisions that were required, that ultimately led to the layoffs, he shared with me that the shifts in the value of the U.S. dollar had diminished the value of a significant portion of their donations, much of which came from foreign currencies. When you look at their overall revenues as an organization, the international portion represents a significant amount of money.

The net result was a significant impact on the overall budget that could not be foreseen. While people were continuing to give as they had before, the value of their giving had been impacted by the value of their currencies against the US dollar. What was the leadership team to do?

The challenge of management is always striking a delicate balance between resources and mission. Leading through a time of diminished resources brought a number of tensions to the fore. Were they going to take across the board cuts against established budgets? Should they slow down the critical work of their mission by taking on fewer targeted beneficiaries? Would they take from reserves set aside for times of crisis? Should they reduce support staff which would surely impact the work going on in the field?

They ultimately decided to evaluate systems, processes, and people that were underperforming and impacting the performance of the rest of the organization. Perhaps this was an opportunity to, not only reduce costs, but at the same time improve their overall performance as an organization. In hindsight several months later, the difficult decision of eliminating some staff positions, addressing some performance and cultural behavior challenges, combined with completing a process review across the board ultimately led to an organization wide improvement of overall efficiencies and health. There is no assurance of timing for another currency valuation cycle so long term measures needed to be implemented rather than tweaking here and there to institute temporary fixes to just get us through the next few months.

What had the potential to create an apathy within the organization, in fact, energized both the leadership team and the organization helping them to develop healthier culture and behavior patterns. The communication and execution of that transformation could be the topic of additional case studies, but for today, let’s deal with the issues of identifying and dealing with issues that threaten the life of those organizations we are charged with leading.

 

As a leader, what are the disciplines that help you navigate difficult decisions? How do you make the tough call in the midst of uncertainty?

 

Given the facts that you have, if you were in the position of John and his compatriots on the leadership team, how would you have navigated such a difficult decision?

 

Discover Your Life Purpose! 8 Circles, 7?s, and 1 Change for 2015!

Douglas Slideshare

During 2011 I was in a significant career transition. There was a gap in my daily working reality and my passion to influence leaders. I felt the ache from the inside out. I knew something had to change, but that gap seemed impossible to bridge.

I was trying to do the right thing by working my job to pay the bills yet feeling like I was meant for something more... Maybe you can relate? How could I transition from a career, an industry, and a business that I operated for 15 years? The simple answer...Discovering Clarity, Calling, and Coaching into my purpose.

Sounds simplistic but the process required more courage and personal growth than any other time in my life. I'm grateful that I had some amazing people speaking into me and encouraging me to move forward. During that time a statement emerged that today reflects my purpose for coaching with leaders.

Moving Leaders from Inspiration to Impact in their areas of Influence

Discerning, defining, and acting on your life purpose can be overwhelming without help. Here's a great tool to simplify the complexity of capturing and communicating your life purpose. Many leaders I coach are clear on defining their circles yet after some discussion they discover quickly they don't often align. Maybe it's time to recalibrate. Maybe you don't need a massive career move like I experienced but you may need to make some adjustments.

7 Questions!

  1. Do you love what you do? What do you love to do? 
  2. Can you define the gap?
  3. Where does your Passion, Mission, Occupation, and Vocation intersect?
  4. How do your Character, Abilities, and Compassion intersect?
  5. What makes you feel alive doing what you love that meets a need in another person's life?
  6. Who are the people in your circles to help you align your purpose?
  7. What changes need to happen?

Take some reflective time to answer these 7 questions and define these 8 circles. Start with using words or phrases to keep it simple. You may find some categories easier to define. I encourage you to press into the areas that may be a challenge. You may need feedback from friends and family. After you have defined these areas now identify the gaps. Brainstorm on some ways to bring your circles together.

Make One Change!

If these circles don't connect for prolonged seasons it leads to stress, fatigue, and often burnout. You risk losing your joy and zest for life. If you've felt some of these symptoms in the last year I encourage you to act on your discovery. Creating a plan to move towards alignment. Start today with a commitment for one Change on your calendar that you can act on your purpose.

If you need help, find a trusted friend, coach, or mentor to get you moving! As you move forward in clarity and change I'd love to hear your progress in the comments below! Enjoy the discovery!

Your change may inspire others to do the same!

Coaching in the Crossroads

Maybe you are at a crossroads today! As I coach with leaders I've noticed intersections that are continual challenges. Here’s what I've observed, there are 5 coaching categories that identify the needs for most leaders. See if any or all represent where you find yourself today.

  1. Stuck In Your Own Head - Leaders Have Blind Spots and Need a Fresh Perspective
  2. Stretched Thin and Stressed Out - Preventing Burnout, Evaluating Commitments, and Righting Wrongs
  3. Strategic Soundboarding - Processing Big Ideas in an Safe and Objective Environment
  4. Sustainable, Scalable or Saleable - Plan and Position Your Business for Growth
  5. Succession - Knowing When it's Time for a Change of Leadership

Bonus - Sanity of Support - You've Hit a Leadership Ceiling. You’re Experiencing the Insanity of Doing Same Thing with the Same Team Expecting a Different Result. Stop Spinning!

Look at the list again. Now, take a quick inventory on a scale of 1-5. 1 if you’re good or 5 if you need help now! Each of these areas may represent a significant pain, potential, or priority to you. How you are navigating through the issues may be influencing other areas of your life. Here’s another list that I have found as 5 primary talking points for coaching my clients:

  1. Habits (Practices and Disciplines)
  2. Health (Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual)
  3. Time (Organization, Productivity, Recreation, Free)
  4. Money (Income, Spending, Debt, Investments, Retirement)
  5. Relationships (Family, Friendships, Church, Community, Work)

A mature leader will know when they are at a crossroads. These are defining moments that require an honest assessment of reality, objective counsel, and trusted friends. Every leader faces one of these intersections on their journey.What kind of help do you need today to navigate your next decision?

Stimulating Curiosity

Colorado is my home. It's the land of many colors.

Sunrises and big vistas inspire us with brilliant color. Color brings light, scope, and perspective to life. Color opens the eyes, the senses, even stirs the heart. Like the color in a breathtaking landscape so can it be with a colorful conversation in relationships...certainly among family and good friends but also in your work life as well.

If we're honest, many of our daily interactions have faded to grey. It's business as usual, predictable, and bottom line. Even in our meetings or worse team retreats they can feel almost black and white.

Curiosity stirs creativity, creativity stimulates interests, interests spark inspiration, inspiration ignites ideas, ideas fire conversation, and conversation spurs relationships. Then teams mature, culture grows, organizations move, customers join, products distribute, services deliver, profits yield, and curiosity impacts a market and society.

What's the cost of color? Maybe it's time to stimulate some curiosity. Bring some creative color to your work life. Let us know if we can help stimulate the conversation.

Join the Advance! Moving Missional Leaders Forward!