Conversation

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

The Power of Partnership!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Who are your partners?

  2. What’s tying you up?

  3. What’s keeping you locked up?

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

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

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

So I hope this is helpful for you.

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. 
 

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... 

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

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. 

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?

 

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!