Coaching Story | Super Leaders Deeply Know Their Team

Retention. Talent pipeline. We keep hearing these HR terms. In the past couple weeks, a military commander reached out wishing to improve low reenlistment numbers for first term airmen, a federal bankruptcy court shared plans for a 12-month regional leadership development program for junior team members and a local CEO seeking executive coaching connected on LinkedIn. What’s going on?

In Dr. Sydney Finkelstein’s meticulously researched masterwork, Superbosses, subtitled How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, he explains that superbosses fall into three distinct patterns: Iconoclasts, who care about their work and their passion, such as Miles Davis, and are often artistic. Next are the Glorious Bastards, who care solely about winning, and know they need the best people to win, such as Larry Ellison, who has spawned a breadth of talent in Silicon Valley. Last, are the Nurturers, or activist bosses, who consistently guide and teach their protégées, such as Bill Walsh, legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

It seems each of these three recent events may be describing a need for a more nurturing environment. Finkelstein recognized that all superbosses deeply know their team members, in stark contract to clueless, distanced bosses - think Undercover Boss. We may have been conditioned, especially if we are baby boomers, to simply trust our position of authority, or rank as adequate for performance — leaving development and growth to perhaps a different department. Quite the opposite, superbosses disdain anything that may create physical or emotional distance from those in their charge. What superbosses give protégés, then, is something quite rare in professional life, an opportunity to rebrand themselves, or the ultimate alignment of one’s traits and abilities with not just a job, but also a lifetime path. 

Leaders are ultimately coaches. Leaders nurture. Super Leaders Deeply Know Their Team.

Episode 14 - Interview with World Series of Poker bracelet winner Annie Duke

Has watching professional poker ever fascinated you? In Episode 14, we meet Annie Duke, author of Thinking in Bets, who has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship. Because of this fellowship, she studied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Annie is also the co-founder of How I Decide, an educational nonprofit that works with urban, disadvantaged communities in the Philadelphia area.

Coaching Story | Great Leaders Practice Deliberately

Has anyone ever said to you that they or their organization embraces “continuous improvement.” It’s a pretty common buzzword, and don’t all of us want to get better at something? How can we think, and more importantly, do, something about that?

In Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s masterwork Peak, they describe a significant term —  deliberate practice — as a combination of purposeful practice and developing mental representations. 

Let’s summarize. Purposeful practice:

• Has well-defined, specific goal
• is focused
• involves feedback
• requires getting out of one’s comfort zone

Now that’s just a start. Deliberate practice also requires development of mental representations, or pre-existing patterns of information - facts, images, rules, relationships and so on - that are held in long-term memory, and are easy to access. The key to deliberate practice is to go beyond our potential, or to make possible things that were not possible before. The way to do this is to learn a new skill which will then trigger a structural change in the brain rather than simply continuing to practice a skill already learned.

Let’s summarize again. Deliberate practice:

• Develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established
• Takes place outside one's comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her abilities
• Involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance
• Requires a person's full attention and conscious action
• Involves feedback and modifications of efforts in response to that feedback
• Both produces and depends on effective mental representations
• Nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically

An effective leader understands both purposeful practice and that the quality and quantity of mental representations are vitally important. Imagine a leader that not only practices deliberately themself, but one that prioritizes developing others through deliberate practice. Good leaders practice purposefully. Great leaders practice deliberately.

Leadership Story | Leaders Make Smart Bets

Have you ever made a decision with incomplete or imperfect information? How did it feel?

Many of us struggle with daily distractions, and the pressure of making decisions with imperfect or incomplete information. In Annie Duke’s amazing new book, Thinking in Bets, Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All The Facts, she informs us that is the normal state in poker, where over the course of a single hand of poker, one could be involved in up to twenty decisions. And each hand ends with a concrete result: Win money or lose money. 

Do you ever examine your decision-making process after a favorable outcome, or a business win? Many of us examine our decisions when the outcome isn’t favorable, or after a business proposal loss. Duke shares a poker player term for our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome: “resulting.” It’s one of the worst habits for a poker player, and it’s one of the worst habits for a responsible leader. Life is a lot like poker.

When we don't review or assess our decisions, our minds are likely to create blind spots, such as hindsight bias, or the tendency, after an outcome is known, to see the outcome as having been inevitable.

It’s always a good idea to examine our decision-making process, especially when there’s been a good outcome. That’s why the military uses After Action Reviews. The best leaders do this. The best leaders accept uncertainty. Leaders make smart bets.

Coaching Story | Great Leaders are Rare

During a recent coaching session, a client mentioned employee turnover issues within their organization, in particular with newer, younger hires.  Among the factors brought up for the recent departures was low pay. I paused and asked how frequently coaching occurred between supervisors and subordinates. A culture check if you will. Let’s just say it got really quiet for a bit. You see, there’s often a significant disconnect between what we believe about people leaving an organization, and what really happened.

In Kelly and Robby Riggs’ eye-opening book, Counter Mentor Leadership, they cite:

89 percent of managers believe employees leave their jobs for more money; and
88 percent of employees reported they left for reasons other than money.

Many old-school manager types believe focusing on results only is all that matters - the proverbial bottom line. Matthew Lieberman has some pretty interesting findings in his article “Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?” Great question. His findings:

If a leader was considered strong in social skills, the person was seen as a great leader 12 percent of the time. Okay. What about that bottom line?
If a leader was perceived to be strong in focusing on results, the number increased to… 14 percent of the time. That’s all. Just two percent more.
For leaders who were strong in both results and social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a strong leader skyrocketed to 72%.

Pop quiz time: What percentage of leaders rate high on results focus and social skills? Take a guess.

Less than one percent. That’s why Kelly and Robby Riggs conclude Leadership is Freaking Hard. And they are right. Great leaders are unicorns. They focus on results. They focus on people. Great leaders are rare.

Episode 13 - Interview with “Violent Leadership” author Wesley Middleton

Are you a CPA, attorney, or a partner in a professional services firm? Choinquecast thirteen showcases Wesley Middleton’s personal and professional journey in his book Violent Leadership. Unsatisfied with the practice and lifestyle found within the usual managerial-styled CPA firm, Middleton has pioneered a different kind of firm, a twenty-first century CPA firm, MRZ Financial, based on a leadership model suitable for any professional services group.

Middleton is also the host of the Violent Leadership podcast, a member of the Royalwood Church band and a team leader of the church’s Men’s Group.

Leadership Story | Leaders Manage Energy

In our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses, self-evaluation scores at the beginning of the Setting Leadership Priorities workshops usually plummet - with distractions and interruptions common culprits. Perhaps never before has the opportunity for distraction been so commonplace. Yet, there are those who are still effective getting things done and those who are effective leaders.

Most of us probably don’t know who psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was, but we ought to. By the way, she was one of the first Russian women to attend a university. She studied memory in relation to complete and incomplete tasks, and found that incomplete tasks are easier to remember than successful ones. This is now known as the Zeigarnik effect. What does that mean for us as leaders?

First, it means that the best way to finish a task is to start it, since the now incomplete task will occupy our minds with little energy required. Until it is done. Maybe that is why we sometimes say “sleep on it,” intuitively knowing the Zeigarnik effect will assist during our slumber.

Second, the best leaders, like the best athletes, are masters of energy management; aligning tasks, their assignment and their completion, minding these effects. The best leaders are Zeigarnik masters. Leaders manage energy.

Episode 12 - Interview with “Counter Mentor Leadership” co-author Kelly Riggs

Choinquecast twelves takes direct aim at generational differences in the workplace as we meet Kelly Riggs who has co-written - with his son Robby - Counter Mentor Leadership, a pathfinding generational work. Kelly is the founder of Business LockerRoom, host of the CounterMentors Show, and a dynamic thought leader in the fields of sales and leadership. He is also a business performance coach who walks the talk: As a business owner, as a national award-winning sales representative and sales manager.

Kelly hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is passionate about supporting children, believing that the good we do for the young yields the greatest payoffs.

Coaching Story | Leaders Create Accountability

In a recent coaching call, a client shared a significant challenge - how to grow a team from 200 to possibly 700 this calendar year - without having the proverbial “wheels come off.” We talked about the importance of front line supervisors who take care of the teams at “the tip of the spear.” The topic of accountability came up.

Recall from our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses that 83% of organizations have accountability issues. Kelly and Robby Riggs concur in Counter Mentor Leadership. They describe accountability struggles as a twofold problem: The BOSS doesn’t know how to create a culture of accountability; then there is an issue, the BOSS doesn’t truly address the issue.

The Riggs’ visualize a useful construct, the Freedom Box. Imagine a rectangular box with four primary boundaries:

• Company values and/or guiding principles.
• Expectations.
• Level of Authority.
• Performance standards and metrics.

Our values, expectations and performance standards can be expressed within our Personal Leadership Philosophy. Our level of authority provides delegation and coaching guidance. Putting this all together, the Freedom Box creates an agreed-upon area of autonomy. Just what we need for a rapidly growing organization, rather than having the wheels fall off. Leaders create accountability.

Episode 11 - Interview with “Disrupt Yourself” author Whitney Johnson

In choinquecast eleven we meet the author of “Disrupt Yourself," Whitney Johnson, who developed her proprietary framework and diagnostics after having founded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen. This framework is complemented by a deep understanding of how executives create and destroy value, having spent nearly a decade as an Institutional Investor ranked equity analyst on Wall Street.

In addition to her work as a speaker and advisor, Whitney is one of Marshall Goldsmith’s original cohort of 25 for the #100 Coaches Project, is a coach for Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program, frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, is a Linkedin influencer, and hosts the twice-monthly Disrupt Yourself Podcast.

Coaching Story | Leaders Embrace Feedback

“Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more
than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.”

from Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen’s eye-opening Thanks for the Feedback candidly and systematically breaks down why receiving feedback is so difficult and what we as leaders and our organizations can do about it. Notice the emphasis on receiving feedback rather than offering it. How many times has someone in a senior leadership position asked you for candid feedback about themselves or the organization rather than offering you feedback or telling you something that you “ought to do?”

Does your organization even have a learning culture? Or is it the type organization where a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset prevails.

The authors remind us there are three forms of feedback: Appreciation, evaluation, and coaching. Most of us understand appreciation, but often mix up evaluation with coaching. Years of facilitating leadership courses and executive coaching suggests many people and organizations will claim coaching occurs, but more often than not evaluation is occurring rather than coaching. As a result, performance coaching gets a bad rap. An easy indicator: Who is doing the talking in the coaching session? If you are talking more than 25% of the time, it’s not coaching. It’s not even listening.

Indicating your commitment to receiving feedback in your Personal Leadership Philosophy is a great first step. Welcoming it comes next. Leaders embrace feedback.

Coaching Story | Leaders Seek Abundance

The scarcity mindset. What is that? According to Whitney Johnson in Disrupt Yourself it is the failure to see the abundance in another person’s success and is actually a form of entitlement. Her antidote: A gratitude journal, or a written list of three things you are thankful for each day and why.

To some degree, we all seem to be conditioned by this both destructive, and limiting, mindset. For example, in our Academy leadership Leveraging the Power of Conflict workshops, we learn that a win-lose mindset is not an effective leader mindset, rather a gain-gain (think compromise) mindset is better or a win-win (think collaborative) mindset is the best conflict leadership strategy. It seems there is an inverse relationship between the degree of scarcity mindset and the degree of coaching or leadership effectiveness.

That’s worth thinking about.

J.K. Rowling comes to mind. One person imagined and shared with us the world of Harry Potter, influencing tens or hundreds of millions of people, yet without just her it would not exist. Imagining Harry Potter did not come at the expense of anyone or anything. The abundance mindset allows for this, the possibility of unlimited potential and outcomes for all.

Dr. Brené Brown likewise believes the scarcity mindset disables progress — in ourselves — in addition to others. In her extraordinary book Daring Greatly, she describes ten guideposts, or ways of engaging the world from a place of worthiness. One guidepost is letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark in order to cultivate gratitude and joy. 

The next time the scarcity mindset begins influencing you or those around you, consider disrupting yourself or daring greatly. Leaders seek abundance.

Leadership Story | Leaders Share Vision and Purpose

Two recent client exchanges are worth sharing. The first was a visit to Tesla’s Gigafactory site in Nevada, the second a series of conversations with a director at a major health care consortium.

Both on the drive to the Gigafactory site with a client and as a passenger on numerous Uber trips in Reno, discussion about the local area centered on the tectonic transformation occurring in the Reno/Sparks area. Viewing the corporate infrastructure footprint of not just Tesla, but other companies such as Amazon, Apple and Switch makes one think of the vision leading to this transformation.

On the other hand, my discussion with the health care director focused almost exclusively on the process of implementing a single Project Portfolio Management software tool. Interestingly, the director mentioned concerns about internal survey scores and how to compete for talent in the Silicon Valley area. Not a word about improved lives through healthcare or any mention of people.

Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao’s book Scaling Up Excellence came to mind, especially chapter three which focuses on finding the “hot cause,” or overarching purpose that must be driven through an organization. Not just words on a poster in the lobby, but relentlessly demonstrated as the core mission and even better aligned with one’s Personal Leadership Philosophy.

Think about that. How well and how frequently do you communicate the big picture rather than the immediate project at hand to your team? Leaders share vision and purpose.

Episode 10 - Interview with “Working with Difficult People” author Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim

Choinquecast ten introduces Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim, an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert. She is a speaker, author, and the executive consultant and founder of The Cooper Strategic Group. She helps employees and employers to get along better, and coaches leaders and employees to improve productivity, morale, satisfaction, and overall work-life balance. Her book, Working with Difficult People, recently hit #1 in sales at Amazon for Business Etiquette books and was highlighted in Parade Magazine.

Dr. Hakim has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC, Fast Company, CNBC Make It, Vogue, Inc., The List, and Star-Telegram. She has also been a guest on the KRTH Morning Show, Think KERA Radio, the WBEZ Morning Shift, the Boca Voice, and Business Radio on Sirius XM. 

Leadership Story | Leaders Make Time

It’s pop quiz time again. What are the four most dangerous words in a leader’s vocabulary?

According to Kelly & Bobby Riggs -- in their pathfinder book, Counter Mentor Leadership -- the answer is:

"I don’t have time."

Let’s do a quick self-evaluation: When is the last time you said that to yourself, or, even worse, when was the last time you told that to someone you are responsible for? What are we really telling someone when we communicate that, directly or indirectly?

I don’t have time to listen to you, to coach you, or to take an interest in your life. Gee, why do we have a turnover problem in the company?

I don’t have time to slow down, breath, and express daily gratitude. Gee, maybe that’s why I’m taking all these over the counter pills and ignoring annual medical checkups.

I don’t have time for training and development of anyone on my team, nor myself. Gee, nobody seems engaged around here and we don’t really know or care about each other.

Priorities lead to clarity. Share your priorities. And learn to say no to the many distractions we encounter daily. Leaders make time.

Episode 9 - Interview with “Work Without Walls” author Maura Nevel Thomas

In choinquecast nine we’re introduced to the power of attention management by Maura Nevel Thomas, an award-winning international speaker, trainer, and author on individual and corporate productivity, attention management, and work-life balance.

Maura has trained thousands using her Empowered Productivity™ System, a process for achieving significant results and living a life of choice. She is a TEDx speaker, successful entrepreneur, and author of Personal Productivity Secrets and Work Without Walls. She is featured in The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, US News and World Report, and the Huffington Post.

She appears weekly in business outlets such as FastCompany, Inc., Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review. Maura is active in her local community of Austin, Texas, where she has held volunteer leadership positions in a variety of different community organizations and charities. Maura offers quarterly pro-bono presentations to nonprofits and donates a percentage of all her revenues to charity.

Leadership Story | Leaders Manage Energy

Have you ever wondered why some days are exhausting and some days seem magically energizing? There’s no shortage of management and efficiency books and exercises offering advice how we may manage our time better. However, like the best athletes, the most effective leaders focus on energy levels, not time.

In Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s marvelous book, The Power of Full Engagement, two paradigms are compared. In the

Old Paradigm

Manage time
Avoid stress
Life is a marathon
Downtime is wasted time
Rewards fuel performance
Self-discipline rules
The power of positive thinking

Were you brought up that way? Many of us were. By studying top athletes, the authors found a

New Paradigm

Manage energy
Seek stress
Life is a series of sprints
Downtime is productive time
Purpose fuels performance
Rituals rule
The power of full engagement

Think of lions in the wild. They spend most of their time resting, until it is time to hunt. Then it’s all out until a successful kill. As leaders we should always focus our energy in a positive way, between relaxed or tranquil states and invigorated or challenged states. We should avoid negative energy, since it is wasted. Think about it. Leaders manage energy.


Communication Story | Leaders Effectively Communicate

How well do you communicate with others? Do your subordinates and team perform as well as you would like? Have you thought about how you might improve your communication skills and raise your game?

Christine Comaford, author of Smart Tribes, mentions five types of communication in her Clarity of Intentions and Energy section — Information sharing, requests, promises, sharing of oneself and debating, decision-making or point proving.

Pop quiz time. Only two of these five types of communication actually drive results. Which two do you think they are? Just two. Hint: It’s not point proving.

According to Comaford, only requests and promises actually drive results. It sounds very simple, but it’s powerfully clarifying.

Ever been in a meeting where only information sharing occurred, a one-way broadcast that never led to anything? We all have. Without specific requests and subsequent promises or commitments, what is there to be accountable for? 

Keep in mind requests and promises the next time you compose an email, talk on the phone, attend a meeting, or especially, delegate to a team member. 

Make it a new habit. Leaders effectively communicate.

Motivation Story | Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, is home to an amazing collection of giraffes, seventeen in total. During a recent tour, my daughter & I noticed most of the giraffes were outside. Our tour guide Amy showed us the giraffe’s indoor facility where a training, or enrichment environment was set up. Four of the giraffes were here, performing specific, positive tasks for the trainer, and afterward were rewarded with food. 

Here’s the interesting part - the giraffes preferred choosing to successfully perform the enrichment task for the food rather than just have the food available to them.

My thoughts turned to Dan Pink’s insightful book, Drive, and some of his key findings. He found that once people are compensated enough to begin thinking about the work they are performing rather than the money, three fundamental motivators emerge: Autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

Think about that, especially if you don’t regularly coach those who you are responsible for.

Do you regularly remind your team of their purpose, and your organization’s purpose? Do you also encourage an environment where people can make choices and regularly improve themselves?  Motivation comes from autonomy, mastery & purpose.

Episode 8 | Interview with retired Motorola Senior Vice President Durrell Hillis

Choinquecast eight showcases one of the finest examples of leadership, program management, and innovation you may not know about. Durrell Hillis had responsibility for the research, design, and development of advanced communication and electronic systems for a host of domestic and international commercial users, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense, and a variety of other local and national government agencies.  

Our choinquecast focuses on the story of the IRIDIUM® global satellite telecommunications system, as told in Durrell’s book Creating Iridium.

Durrell is or has served as a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership, Valley of the Sun United Way Campaign Cabinet, the Board of Governors of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Scottsdale, Arizona State University Engineering Dean's Advisory Council, and numerous other roles. He is also a very dear personal friend and colleague.