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

The Power of Partnership!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Who are your partners?

  2. What’s tying you up?

  3. What’s keeping you locked up?

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

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

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

So I hope this is helpful for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast!
— Peter Drucker

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

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

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

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

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

What is Culture?

Values + Behavior = Culture

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

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

Communication - Connection - Change

Communication - Connection - Change

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

What Leaders Do to Communicate More Effectively

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Leadership requires perspective in order to communicate effectively.

  • Daily demands steal our clarity.

  • Decision fatigue dulls our strategy.

  • Doubt can rob us of confidence.

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

3 Important Questions To Help Leaders Gain More Prospective

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

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

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

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

Effective communication maximizes leadership success.

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

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

Leaders Must Discipline Themselves To Be Effective Communicators

Communication is a discipline – something you can start now!

  • Think about your answers to the 3 questions.

  • Brainstorm ideas, writing down potential answers.

  • Highlight any words or statements that grip you.

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

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

How will you communicate your answers to them?

Communication is a discipline, and leaders use their words!

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

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

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

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


  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. 

Optimizing Team Performance - A Fresh Approach to Employee Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A is excellent work and well-done!

  • B is room for focused improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optimizing Your Highest and Best! - Exercising Healthy Self Awareness

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

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

What's your primary personality style?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Word for 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reflections! 


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?"

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!

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

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?


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?