Leadership Story | Leaders Connect Worldwide

An interesting series of leadership discussions started this month with a dynamic and intellectually curious colleague in Australia. Turns out we connected in May 2017 when I was speaking down under about Strategies for the Agile Leader, basing my talk on General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams. My colleague has a new role now, Director of Enterprise Agility at a well known global firm that works to help clients become leaders wherever they choose to compete. We connect on the weekend on WhatsApp.

In short, we started discussing what it takes to become a 21st century leader, and are considering a series of ChoinqueCast dialogues. Like many, my colleague has been put into a “leadership position” twice in his career. My impression is that he didn’t really buy into the idea of leadership having anything to do with a position. His thoughts turned to Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, especially the part where Chaplin physically gets stuck in an assembly line machine — highlighting how organizations have treated people mechanically rather than humanely not so long ago. Much of his exposure to leadership so far has focused on processes, not so much people. Maybe times haven’t really changed that much.

Like Jim Collins, my colleague is very curious and wants to study business transformation in the United States, observing organizations and how they work. He wants this course of study to form his Ph.D. thesis. Following and possible contributing to this journey may be the basis for our dialogues. We shared a couple significant topics such as vulnerability, the hazards of a scarcity rather than abundance mindset, and use of a Personal Leadership Philosophy. Great 21st century leader traits.

Curiosity is both the hallmark of a coach, as well as a leader. Stay tuned for a series of dialogues on the ChoinqueCast. Leaders Connect Worldwide.

Leadership Story | Leaders Cross The Knowing-Doing Gap

This past week we held our annual Academy Leadership Conference in south Florida. A lot happens over three full days, and we usually leave very energized. One of the reasons for this is that we share knowledge with each other.

This brings to mind   Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton’s The Knowing-Doing Gap, in that we frequently seem to focus much more on knowledge than doing, exemplified by a passage on page 16:

“But the view of knowledge taken by many consultants, organizations,
and management writers is of something to be acquired, measured,
and distributed — something reasonably tangible, such as patents.”

Administrative knowledge seems an accurate term for this, and we may often presume, that once possessed, this know-how will be used effectively, which in practice often does not happen. Think of most common initiatives undertaken focusing on cloud computing and data warehousing and support software installation, and the rise of corresponding organizational structures. The usual result: Adding technology without changing behaviors which only extends the Knowing-Doing Gap.

Pfeffer and Sutton emphasize the use of the word knowledge as a process rather than a thing as a helpful habit well worth developing. Or put another way, most companies:

“Overestimate the importance of the tangible, specific, programmatic aspects
of what competitors, for instance, do, and underestimate the importance
of the underlying philosophy that guides what they do and why they do it.”

What they do and why they do it. So, what energized our Academy Leadership team this past week? We shared stories about things that we did, ways we engaged with our clients, and most significantly, we captured the stories from our Leadership Excellence Partner award winners. These were the amazing testimonials, shared from the heart, by leaders who are transforming their organizations while working with an Academy Leadership facilitator, or partner. 

There’s an analog here worth reflecting on. We can likewise envision leadership, both term and practice of, as a verb, or as an action or process, rather than a noun or title. At the end of the week, the first cohort of our new Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course regrouped for our fourth day. We were processing day three at a coffee shop, and as with the conference just finished, the team was sharing stories, asking themselves how to focus on what really mattered in order to realize their developing future vision. It was a great opportunity to share knowledge from the conference completed two days before. 

During the conference, we held a panel sharing best practices when facilitating development of a Personal Leadership Philosophy. One of the elements of a leadership philosophy, and often overlooked is our leadership priorities. In short, what’s important, and in what order. A member from the panel shared how they ask a group, especially one typically juggling everyday distractions and interruptions (think about a culture of doing more with less): “What are the two or three balls in the air which cannot be dropped?” Fantastic answer and a fantastic story. The cohort immediately connected with the analogy, and we went further. The group then challenged each other whether or not these two or three priorities were mentioned in their respective leadership philosophies, and then whether or not the priorities were aligned.

That’s communication. That’s breakthrough. That’s leadership. Leaders cross the Knowing-Doing Gap.

Leadership Story | Core Values Drive Leaders

Just received an email from a client this past week: We’ve stayed connected since she first attended an open enrollment leadership course about three and a half years ago. She is an accomplished and talented HR director. She will be leaving her organization very soon. The message wasn’t a surprise and in fact, she should be very proud of her decision.

We had a long phone call a couple months ago. She spoke about the senior leadership team, and how one of them, in a chief marketing role, was seeking a “coaching activity” of some sort. She went further and described the organizational landscape, most notably that the senior leaders often “said the right things,” and even discussed during an executive off-site the need for leadership development training. Sounds like a classical case, where the CEO and CTO are founders of the company, and not surprisingly, struggle with growth and have a hard time letting go of anything.

A couple threads come to mind. 

Tony Hseih of Zappos speaks about living core values, and one of the ways he expresses how this is done is whether we hire or fire based on alignment with our company core values regardless of the ability of the person in question.

We can also go deeper, to Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? Christensen shares a story about building a playhouse for his kids and he realizes that the journey, or the act of building the playhouse was his motivator, rather than the destination, or actual completion of the playhouse. For him, this was a revelation. Let’s pause and think about this for a minute.

There’s a very good chance that my client just had a similar revelation - just like Christensen. In discussions with my client over the years, it’s apparent that she wishes to be part of an organization that lives its values, rather than part of a cult, even a successful one. My guess is that her organization is a completely satisfactory, perhaps even fun place to work. But there are fissures, or stress fractures she and others are beginning to detect. And they are in conflict with both her values and how she wants to measure her life. 

She is courageous, and this ChoinqueCast is my way of telling her so. Indeed she is living her values.

Have you ever been in an organization like this? Or made a decision like my client did this month? Please reach out if you have or if you are thinking about it. Core values drive leaders.

Leadership Story | 2018 Reflections and Thank You

Twenty-four books were reviewed this year:

Work Without Walls
Working With Difficult People
Disrupt Yourself
Counter Mentor Leadership
The Genius of Opposites
Pacing for Growth
Out of Our Minds
Violent Leadership
Thinking in Bets
The Introverted Leader
Career Leap
Crash
Radical Candor
Five Stars
Brave Leadership
the culture engine
Let There Be Water
Build An A Team
Creating Things That Matter
Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes For An Answer
open to think
Work together Anywhere
QBQ!
decide

bringing the total number of reviewed books on the Choinque Bookshelf too well over one hundred. Most of the books were generously donated by the author or their publisher and in several cases terrific books arrived unsolicited. It’s always fun returning from a business trip and finding new books ready for reading, and a new author to meet and interview for a ChoinqueCast. 

Recurring themes during leadership excellence courses throughout the year included how to free up time to become a better leader, which really starts by getting to know people better. Grouping Leadership Course attendees into Baby Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y teams proved both valuable and entertaining as we discussed common perceptions and misperceptions between the three, only to realize all three generations want very similar things from their leaders. A continued emphasis on the importance of coaching, especially distinguishing coaching from evaluation, was evident in leadership course feedback and attendee action plans.

Thank you to new partner Golden Media and Entertainment, a highly energized and youthful group working to bring leadership programs to Nigeria. Also, a hat tip to Bill Murphy of Piton Science and Technology, who kindly invited Choinque to join his Human Capital and Training Solutions, or HCaTS team earlier this year.

Looking ahead to 2019, we hope to bring leadership programs to Mauritius in addition to Nigeria, launch our first programs in Puerto Rico, and may return in the fall to Canberra, Australia. Stateside, Choinque looks forward to working closely with TK Lamb of JDI LLC allowing JDI to offer leadership initiatives to the US Government. A talk to students at Cornell is tentatively scheduled in February and a possible Keynote in the UK may occur later in the fall.

The ChoinqueCasts are a labor of love, curiosity, and passion to share knowledge. Let me know if you would like to connect with anyone in the Choinque network. Also, please provide feedback, especially positive reviews on iTunes so others may share our journey of goodness. Happy New Year!

Coaching Story | Leaders Delegate and Instill Accountability

During a recent executive coaching session, our primary focus was reviewing organizational changes made over the past 90 days. You see, the client is restructuring several groups, with the specific objective to improve operational results, eliminate redundant work, and vastly increase team accountability. The beginning of the presentation would please any executive interested in measuring operational results. One slide contained a line graph illustrating a dramatic decrease in team support response time. As substantial as that result was, it wasn’t the one that really drew attention. From our coaching sessions, it was evident one of the more important decisions was a hiring selection, bringing on board a program manager who could become effective as soon as possible. One of the charts showcased the new hire, and more importantly, all the work delegated and accomplished in a very short period of time. Looks like a very solid decision-making process was behind the hire.

The episode made me think of a story our Board Chairman shared years ago when in my start up CEO role. Durrell’s story was about an important engineering job he was responsible for when working at Motorola. The job was to design the first integrated circuits for Motorola’s first four-function calculator. Yeah, that was a while ago. Durrell could have done the work himself, or he could have delegated the work to highly experienced design engineers.

Guess what Durrell Hillis did? He assigned the job to a couple “fresh-outs,” or recent college graduates. Durrell cared as much about the development of the new engineers as he did about getting the job done. That what an engineering leader does. It’s also what my client is doing while restructuring her organization. For her, it’s not just about improved processes. It’s about changing the way work gets done by making good hiring decisions and letting people know they are accountable for results. As I listened during the coaching session, communicating this hiring and delegation story to the executive team at the 90 day checkpoint was the most important item. Especially giving credit to the new program manager.

How do you facilitate organizational change?  How much does development fit into your hiring decisions? Leaders delegate and instill accountability.

Leadership Story | Leaders Create Change

Day three of the new 2019 Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course took place this past week. Our Advanced Communications and Effective Decision-Making workshops were fantastic, each covering well over two hours. The contest winners in the Effective Decision-Making workshop received copies of Counter Mentor Leadership, The New IT and Lead From the Heart which was a lot of fun. Having two long workshops doesn’t afford much time for the third workshop, Leading Change. With most audiences, that’s not a big deal, and we usually zip through the Leading Change workshop rather quickly, often losing a bit of energy after the two robust workshops.

Not this time. We shared stories right away, confirming that constant change is the single most dominant characteristic of the world we live in — and for leaders, the choice is to lead change or be overtaken by it. Sometimes easier said than done though. Turns out the client is in the middle of multiple leading change initiatives, and that the associated challenges consume enormous amounts of energy by the entire team. We discussed Kotter’s Eight Step Change Process:

1. Establishing a sense of urgency
2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
3. Creating a vision
4. Communicating the vision
5. Empowering others to act on the vision
6. Planning for and creating short-term wins
7. Consolidating improvements and producing still more change
8. Institutionalizing new approaches

learning that the client is still in the early stages. We also noticed that some of the intermediate steps such as communicating the vision and planning for and creating short-term wins can support earlier stages such as creating a sense of urgency. Change is tough. We were not surprised that 60-70% of transformation efforts do not achieve their goals. I asked the group if their Personal Leadership Philosophy includes provisions describing the need for change. Got a bit quiet then…

During our end of day self-evaluation, we found that we had not processed the Leading Change workshop as much as we had wished to. That was a first, and it was actually energizing to hear! The first action item was to email a link to Kotter’s Harvard Business Review article, titled Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. We also agreed to spend more time on this in session four next month. 

How do you address change? Are parts of your organization resistant?  Leaders Create Change.

Leadership Story | Leaders Align Core Values

Day two of the new 2019 Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course took place this past week. The client and I decided to switch days two and three allowing our group of eight to launch the Core Values Alignment Workshop as soon as possible. At the beginning of the workshop we watched a short video clip by Jim Collins describing Core Values & Company Culture featuring Jim Collins, Tony Hseih, and Steve Jobs. The description by Tony Hseih of Zappos really touched our group, particularly the part where he defined “committable core values” as values you are willing to hire and fire in support of and completely independent of actual job performance. 

Let’s pause and think about that. Chances are we’ve witnessed firing based on something bad such as lying or stealing, or based on company policy. Consider why most people are promoted. Usually it is almost exclusively based on job performance, rather than company values, or the opposite of what Tony Hseih describes. Toward the end of the video Collins states that the “right people” don’t have to be tightly managed, and that if they do, we’ve likely made a hiring mistake. Rather, we should hire based on the values of our organization and then adopt a leadership, or development based mindset which will allow our aligned teams to thrive.

Our group was challenged to actually list the values of their organization. It wasn’t meant to be an exercise where everyone peeked at an organizational website broadcasting a list of 5-8 core values. We split into two groups and each group attempted to describe what the organizational core values were. Interestingly both teams identified a list of perceived core values, and commented that the majority of these values were not known to everyone in the organization and certainly not modeled by everyone. That’s a bold and brave step, the beginning of defining core values. It’s going to take some time for this leadership cohort to understand and agree upon what the core values are, and more importantly, to align and commit to them. But we’re moving in the right direction.

What are your organization’s core values? Do you have to look them up? Do you and your team agree what they are and make daily decisions based on them? Does your Personal Leadership Philosophy connect to any of them? Leaders Align Core Values.

Leadership Story | Leaders Seek the Best Talent

Last year at a conference in Australia I was asked to participate in a debate. The topic to argue for or against was: “Co-located teams are always more productive than remote teams,” or something like that. Our team of three argued against the point and won the debate. However, the topic keeps coming up in leadership courses and coaching sessions. This brings to mind the definitive work on workplace flexibility - Lisette Sutherland’s Work Together Anywhere, and this is the first of undoubtedly many choinquecasts based on her pioneering work. Let’s begin with a bit of terminology. Sutherland describes:

• a telecommuter as someone who works remotely (usually from home), either full or part time, on a fixed team for one company.
• a self-employed freelancer who runs mainly service-based businesses and usually works with more than one remote client, whether simultaneously or consecutively.
• some self-employed freelancers who are also small business owners, whether solopreneurs or entrepreneurs (with a few remote employees or contractors).

Any of these types may be digital nomads, that is, they use portable technology to maintain a nomadic lifestyle. Now let’s consider a demographic trend. According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, half of all telecommuters are forty-five or older. Let’s also recall Dan Pink’s findings that autonomy, mastery and purpose are primary motivators in a knowledge-based economy. 

Sutherland’s findings suggest that companies that don’t offer the remote option endanger their long-term viability, or more simply their ability to stay competitive, to retain and attract talent, to grow and shrink the organization as needed, and to reduce costs and increase profits. Consider the options the most talented have today.

What is your mindset? Or that of your organization? Do you have a managerial, or hours-oriented work mindset; or do you have a results-oriented work mindset? Leaders Seek the Best Talent.

Leadership Story | Leaders Give Candid Feedback

During a recent in-house Academy Leadership Excellence course, the topic of feedback came up. One of the attendees mentioned Kim Scott’s recent book Radical Candor. More specifically, the client wanted to bring up the behavior Ruinous Empathy. Several in the course mentioned that not enough helpful feedback occurred within their organization, in particular coaching. One specific attendee, during a self-evaluation exercise, described an otherwise positive and knowledgeable boss, who in six years, had never actually provided any performance coaching.

So, what is Ruinous Empathy? Let’s start with Radical Candor. Radical Candor occurs when we care personally and challenge directly. When we care personally but don’t challenge directly according to Scott our lack of feedback constitutes ruinous empathy. Here’s Scott’s two other terms: When we challenge directly and don’t care personally we’re offering Obnoxious Aggression and when we neither care personally nor challenge directly our lack of  feedback is Manipulative Insincerity. We can think of ruinous empathy as the combined outcome of conflict avoidance and the knowing-doing gap. We care deeply, know we should say something, yet avoid doing it. We do this at work and we do this at home.

When reviewing attendee Action Plans after our in-house course, it was apparent the importance of feedback influenced the group. One attendee listed as their first lesson learned: “I learned about ‘ruinous empathy’ which helped frame, or title, a behavior I aim to avoid. I will strive for ‘radical candor.’”

What feedback have you been conflicted about sharing? Are you helping or ruining people you care personally about? Leaders Give Candid Feedback.

Leadership Story | Leaders Avoid Multitasking

In a recent coaching session, the client shared a revelation which occurred after attending an Academy Leadership Excellence course. She realized her everyday work rhythm was an exhausting attempt to get as much done as possible, often performing multiple tasks at the same time. That’s right - multi-tasking. We all do it. And it’s a really bad habit we should avoid as leaders. A quick exercise will prove why.

Try this, either now, or sometime in the future. You’ll need something to record time, like a stopwatch timer on your smartphone. Start with two blank pieces of paper. On each page draw two vertical lines creating three empty columns. Here’s what to do. In the first column, you’ll list the letters a-j, the first ten letters of the alphabet. In the second column, you’ll list the numbers 1-10. In the the third column, you’ll list roman numerals i-x, the first ten roman numerals.

Here’s the catch: The first time you perform this timed exercise, you’ll fill the page moving across the page, starting with a, then 1, then i, switching columns each time. Go ahead and do that and have your timer record how many seconds it takes. You’ll notice a lot of starting and stopping. The second time fill out an entire column one at a time, starting with a-j, then 1-10, and lastly i-x. A lot less switching. Notice the difference in your times. Chances are it took you 40-50% longer the first time.

Why is that?

Context switching is why. When we switch between tasks, we’re spending time, and precious energy, simply moving between the different activities. And with each additional task added, the working time available for each task decreases. Typically the context switching loss between three exercises, as in the exercise we just tried, is about 40%. It gets worse. By the time we are performing five simultaneous tasks, context switching loss is nearly 80%. Might as well not even work anymore at that point.

It pays to identify your genuine High Payoff Activities, and then work on them one at a time. What are your High Payoff Activities? Do you prioritize them and focus on them every day? How do you avoid distractions? Leaders Avoid Multitasking.

Coaching Story | Leaders are Open Thinkers

In a recent coaching call, the client, who is in a senior leadership role in her company, shared her desire to elevate herself, and to learn to breathe. One of the improvements listed in her action plan is learning to say no more and to avoid low payoff activities and interruptions which take away from time she is trying to block off. How many of you also struggle like this? In our Academy Leadership Excellence Course, we learn that people who are in crisis mode:

Do First!
Manage Second!
Communicate Third!
And if they have time, they
Plan and Set Goals

Dan Pontefract, author of the fantastic book open to think, offers Open Thinking, as an antidote. Dan describes how today’s habits inhibit both the clarity and quality of their thinking, and the major block to open thinking is influenced by reflection and action. Imagine action on the x-axis of a graph, and reflection on the y-axis of the graph. If we reflect, but do not take action, we’re indecisive. If we take action without reflection, we’re inflexible, and if we are not reflective and do not take action, we’re indifferent. Open thinking occurs when we are both reflective and take action.

I’m going to recommend open to think to my client, because our coaching sessions suggest what she really wants is more open thinking. Her action plan and our first coaching session described it, and open thinking captures what she want to do more of.

How often do you reflect, or write in your journal about your growth as a leader? Do you take action without reflection? Leaders are open thinkers.

Coaching Story | Leaders Align Toward a Future Vision

This week afforded time for an extended discussion with a Chief Information and Innovation Officer, starting with 360 survey results for a key direct report we’re using to set up executive coaching sessions. It’s always fascinating how different groups in a single organization rank organizational priority of six leadership competencies and six leadership characteristics. Recall, leadership competence, or what a leader does involves: Vision and strategy, job competence, industry knowledge, communication skills, leading change, and execution. Leadership characteristics, or who a leader is entails: Leadership image, developing a following, judgement/decision-making, personal ethics, coaching/mentoring, and building teams. Often a technically-oriented manager or subject matter expert will list competencies higher in organizational priority than their bosses, who may be looking for leadership growth by coaching toward leadership characteristics.

We went much further than the 360 review findings. The CIO described a future vision drawing upon multiple, disparate databases and sources of organizational data, which could be combined holistically as a valuable new service offering for numerous stakeholders. Thoughts turned to Jill Dyché’s The New IT, and her description of six organizational IT archetypes:

Tactical, or “Keeping the lights on”

Order Taking, or “Mastering the art of release management”

Aligning, whereby “Business Relationship Liaisons” are co-located with their business constituents.

Data Provisioning when organizations are “Increasingly compelled by the possibility of monetizing their corporate data.”

Brokering, when “Businesses grow to depend on IT for building and maintaining a web of relationships,”

and lastly, IT Everywhere, “Where IT becomes a thin layer of program oversight that monitors progress, reports on delivery, and projects future demand. It might not even be called IT anymore.”

Listening, I wondered which stage the organization was at, while the vision described embodied both aligning and brokering archetypes. It was also evident the CIO wants the entire team aligned with this future vision. It was energizing to hear. Between the 360 results and listening to the CIO’s future vision, the coaching plan gained valuable clarity.

How do you share your vision? What types of assessments and alignment tools do you use? Great leaders align toward a future vision.

Leadership Story | Leaders Focus Conversations and Decisions in Order to Develop Others

This choinquecast was scripted while on a morning flight from Denver to Tampa, after we finished a three-day Academy Leadership Excellence Course in Colorado Springs. A common theme during our several days together was the desire to occupy a leadership role, but the tendency to stay in a management, or task-oriented mode most of the time. One of the more courageous in the group admitted exasperation at being in “crisis mode” every day, and how exhausting it had become over the past couple years. Most of the attendees were program or project managers, who in their hearts, really want to operate more from a leadership mindset.

This brought to mind Alan Berson and Richard Stieglitz’s terrific Leadership Conversations, which challenges readers in Chapter 1 with the question “Do I want to be a Leader” and systematically outlines comparative management and leadership styles within four conversation types. Their book seems perfectly suited for Project Management Professionals (PMPs), those thrust into relatively new leadership positions, and those ready to advance their leadership level.

Upon landing in Tampa, the next stop was the Project Management Institute, or PMI Tampa Chapter annual symposium, for an energizing three and a half hour workshop for over a hundred local professionals. By facilitating six exercises, the idea was to offer a set of leadership tools, so that everyone could leave the symposium ready to build something new and lasting, including their personal influence as leaders. The first five workshops were:

Multitasking exercise
Johari Window exercise
Clarity of Intentions and Energy exercise
Brief-back exercise
Conflict Scenarios role-play

The last workshop was more advanced, a set of case studies which introduced effective decision-making, including a comparison of time and development-based decision making styles. Working as teams, everyone really poured their hearts into the workshop, and learned that leaders can make decisions based on developing others, not just based on cost and schedule. It was illuminating listening to the revelations from everyone in the symposium.

What conversations do you have as a leader? Does your decision-making process focus on development of others? Great leaders focus conversations and decisions in order to develop others.

Coaching Story | Leaders Lead Meetings

Executive presence. What it that? This has come up several times during coaching sessions recently, including a one-on-one with the advocate for a director who will soon move to the C-Suite. In both sessions, the discussions included meetings, and how performance could be improved during them, along with increased executive presence.

Here’s a couple ideas to consider.

Try the 2 + 2 Rule, mentioned by Dr. Mindy Hall in Leading with Intention. Dr. Hall learned of the 2 + 2 rule from a trusted senior executive. Here’s how it works. First, before any meeting, think of two questions to bring up during the meeting. Maybe on the walk to the meeting. At a minimum, it will demonstrate curiosity, willingness to learn, engagement, and that you are actually listening. Second, think of two things to contribute during the meeting. Perhaps an observation, something you picked up reading a book, or an interesting article about your industry. Maybe it’s a valuable insight you are able to share with a colleague or recognition of something special someone in the organization did. It takes very little time, but forces you to reorient the way you approach the meeting, and your attitude, which will be readily visible to others.

Do you have weekly team meetings? What is the format of these meetings and who chairs them? In my last “corporate” executive role, we called our team the six-pack, which also corresponded to the maximum number of direct reports I was effective at actually coaching. After an off-site meeting, we set up several ground rules for weekly meetings. The first rule was that we would rotate who actually chaired, or facilitated the meeting each week. This included our entire team, including our administrator, and directors in Florida, Indiana, Arizona, and Kanata, Ontario. Everyone had a different style, highlighted different people and activities, and we quickly learned a lot more about each other. The next ground rule was that the first meeting item was recognition of something a team member did in the last week that was admirable, or just really cool and likely unknown to the rest of the group. After a couple weeks, it was amazing to find out all of the things going on in our group, and humbling to anyone who really thought they knew “what was going on” all the time. Oh, and a wonderful side benefit - our average meeting time dropped from just under 30 minutes to not more than 15 - since we were better connected throughout the week. The last rule, a hard commitment - one 30 minute session, one-one-one between me and each direct report. Since we were geographically diverse, this was usually a phone call. Needless to say, this was a very high performing team.

What does executive presence mean to you? How do you demonstrate it daily, weekly, and over time? Great leaders lead meetings.

Coaching Story | Leaders Create a Safe Environment

One of my coaching clients is eager to implement numerous improvements in a rapidly changing information technology organization. Among the targeted improvements is more open and candid communication, especially in meetings. Over lunch, we discussed techniques and ideas worth trying. Three topics came up.

First, use of our personal leadership philosophy. Setting expectations, which may include how we should communicate with each other, is a vital part of anyone leader’s compass. We may even call out the need to keep key stakeholders in mind when making critical decisions, especially when leading teams in a support role to a larger enterprise.

Second we discussed how a safe environment may be created. We discussed our recent Academy Leadership Advanced Communications Workshop, which showcases Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan & Al Switzler’s pathfinder Crucial Conversations. The authors share that people who are gifted at dialogue keep a constant vigil on safety; or paying attention to the content of the conversation — that’s the easier part — and further, watch for signs that people are becoming fearful. Think about all the wasted time spent in meetings where real issues are avoided, or the conversation is entirely one-way information sharing. Listening to my client, it sounded as though historical conflict avoidance still exists, and needs to be addressed.

Which leads to our third topic, from Jeff Sutherland’s SCRUM, where he shares how poorly we are at estimating factors such as program cost and schedule. However, Sutherland notes, we are pretty good at making comparative assessments.

So we put it all together. The client, in a coaching role, can ask the team, on a scale of 1 to 10, with one unsafe, ten extremely safe, how safe they feel bringing up difficult topics and working through them. Let’s say the consensus today is a three for the group. My client can now request that the team work on improving their environment, and perhaps increasing the number from three to five or six in the next several months. It’s also a good idea to see if this new expectation is supported by his leadership philosophy, which he is actively sharing with the group.

How well does your team communicate? Does your team tackle substantive conflict, or tend to avoid uncomfortable topics? Great leaders create a safe environment.

Coaching Story | Leaders Focus on Culture

During a “catch-up call” with a client, my colleague shared that her prior company was acquired by a larger one. During the acquisition, despite a generous offer, she made a decision to seek a new opportunity at another small company rather than stay with the larger one. The new firm sounds technically sophisticated, hip and rapidly growing - overall a fun place to work and develop at the same time. 

Curious, I asked her how in her HR role she could make the biggest difference from a leadership development perspective. Soon the discussion turned to culture. It sounded very familiar, and brought back my own startup-up CEO memories. The new company is tightly run by a CEO and CTO, or Chief Technology Officer, with an aggressive goal of tripling revenue in three years and has recently added 30 new employees. There is concern at the company about retaining the culture during this period of rapid growth, which appears to be guided today by an unwritten set of core values that everyone more or less “just knows.”

Recall that during an Academy Leadership Excellence Course, all attendees draft a written Personal Leadership Philosophy, as part of their Leader’s Compass, or True North. It’s a pretty unusual kind of thing to write, and also a powerful way to share who we are and what we believe in. Perhaps more importantly, a good leadership philosophy has humility, and makes a commitment to receiving feedback, or accountability, so that we may continue growing as leaders. In an Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course, all attendees go further, and develop succinct definitions of their organization’s core values along with normative behavioral statements, or clearly written descriptions of what each of the values looks like in action. We can take another step and develop an Organizational Constitution, as S. Chris Edmonds advises in the culture engine. These exercises are meant to discover, or reveal culture, not “impose” it. Think about that.

The timing sounds perfect and my impression is that my colleague is just where she wants to be, at just the right time. Well-known business leaders such as Tony Hseih of Zappos learned the time to codify core values and make critical decisions such as hiring or firing based on them, is before rapid growth, not after.

What are your core values? What is your leadership philosophy? What informs your decisions as a leader? Great leaders focus on culture.

Leadership Story | Leaders Connect

During a recent in-house Academy Leadership Excellence Course, we shared ideas at the end of day one to improve the second and third days of the course. The first suggested improvement was that we share more with each other. Well, by day three the group really took the comment to heart. One attendee was struggling with an underperforming subordinate meeting a critical deadline during the course, and another shared a harrowing personal cancer scare. In short, we learned quite a bit about each other - we connected.

Recall one of the key takeaways from a Leadership Excellence Course is creating a written Personal Leadership Philosophy, which includes listing our deeply held core values, and often formative personal stories describing their origins. Within this particular group, the sharing we solicited from each other was captured as introductory phrases in several of the leadership philosophies. They were magnificent. For example, when one of the attendees shared that a cancer scare taught her the value of empathy, and that everyone has value, we could all feel the power and authenticity of that leadership philosophy.

In Faisal Hoque’s Everything Connects, he cautions us that static processes and thinking often prevent agility while connectivity and clusters of diverse talent predict success. He includes a great coaching question:

“And, also, can I give you a growth path into something you would like to be in two or three years?”

How well do you know yourself? And how well do you know those in your charge? Do you know their hopes and dreams? Great leaders connect.

Leadership Story | Leaders Use Development-Driven Decision Models

During an Advanced Leadership Course with six attendees, we found ourselves repeatedly comparing development-driven decision making with time-driven decision making. For some in the group, the whole idea of a development-driven decision may have been a brand new idea. This should be no surprise. Imaging you are a project manager. Most metrics are tied to fundamental criteria such as cost and schedule, or time.

In a time-driven decision making model, we use decision quality, implementation, and cost as our criteria, with a short-term focus. Think of the typical quarterly financial reports to Wall Street for a publicly-traded company. This model uses the least amount of time to obtain a high quality decision that is effectively implemented. Notice anything that is missing? The time-driven model attaches no value to the development of people. This probably explains why training and development budgets are frequently the first budgets cut when belt-tightening. 

In a development-driven decision making model, we use decision quality, implementation, and development as our criteria, with a long-term focus. Think of the best professional sports team, which often have successful farm teams. Think of the companies mentioned by authors such as Jim Collins in Built to Last. The development-driven model uses the most developmental alternative consistent with a high quality decision that is effectively implemented. This model also attaches no value to time. 

We revisited Coaching Tips for The Average Performer from our prior Coaching to Develop People workshop, such as finding out what motivates them, teaching them to set goals and rewarding them whenever possible. You see, how we coach, or develop the average performer, over time, will be our long-term report card for leadership effectiveness. If all we care about is cost and schedule, and never people, our report card probably won’t look very good. However, if we adopt a development-driven leadership style, on average the people who work for us will continue to grow and become more successful. Imagine what that report card will look like.

What style do you use? Have you ever tried development-driven decision making? Leaders Use Development-Driven Decision Models.

Coaching Story | Leaders Embrace Conflict and Disruption

By the third follow-on executive coaching session after a three-day Leadership Excellence Course, a chemistry usually forms between coach and learner. It is important to understand that the best coaching relationships are two-way: for sharing, for learning, and for continuously improving. Two positive indicators of substantial learning and ongoing chemistry from a recent coaching session come to mind. The first involves conflict. Most of us seem to naturally avoid conflict, let’s just say years of observation support the claim. It was a delight then to hear that the client wishes to work on conflict leadership. His words: Conflict Leadership. Not just conflict, or difficult people. He used the word leadership. That was a terrific sign he really got a lot out of our Academy Leadership Leveraging the Power of Conflict workshop. It also made me think of all the things we usually do to avoid conflict which can hold us, and our teams, and our organizations back. In Michael Roberto’s extremely well-researched book Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes For An Answer, he argues that leaders must cultivate constructive conflict in order to enhance the level of critical and divergent thinking, while simultaneously building consensus in order to facilitate the timely and efficient implementation of the choices they make. A very strong argument.

The second indicator was my favorite part - we discussed books, what we learned from them, and most importantly, what we are doing differently afterward. Many of us become so busy, we seem to lose our curiosity, which in turn leads to further losses we probably are not even aware of. My client emailed a list of books, all worthy of reading and reviewing, and I asked my client to look on the choinque bookshelf page online to view my recent review of Whitney Johnson’s S-Curve diagram from Build an A Team. You see, one of the issues my client faces is reluctance to learn, reluctance to change, among several more experienced team members, legacy employees, who have become rather set in their ways. In his industry, travel, innovate or die is existential reality. He thought Whitney’s S-Curve perfectly captured his situation. We both learned a lot in that session.

Who coaches you? Who do you coach? How do you constructively cultivate conflict? Are you and your team curious? Leaders Embrace Conflict and Disruption.