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.

Leadership Story | Great Leaders Pace Themselves

August is time for vacation, and it’s also time for the fall semester for college students. After a successful two-day drive returning our daughter to her apartment and roommates, we had a day together before leaving Tori to begin her senior year. It was a gorgeous morning and we found ourselves at Buttermilk Falls State Park, just southwest of Ithaca, NY, for a discovery hike. After just a few minutes it was pretty obvious who was focusing on hiking first, and who prioritized discovery. A feeble defense is in order. You see, Tori is very observant, and enjoys all creatures, great and small. We climbed alongside the falls, which were to our left, while steep, terraced slate rock rose above to our right. Lots of nooks and crannies. Temperature, humidity and lighting were perfect. By the time I noticed several species of spiders, including a few very animated daddy longlegs, Tori had found an abundance of creatures, including a brightly colored, and not small, millipede. She was ecstatic, in her element.

Daniel Kahneman would have smiled at this scene. In his landmark book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he introduces two modes of thinking: Fast Thinking, often impulsive or instinctive, and Slow Thinking, deliberate, often rational, and frequently in conflict with Fast Thinking. Guess who was thinking fast, and who was thinking slow? Kahneman closes his work with chapters on Experienced Well-Being and Thinking About Life. Some of that seemed to be happening, especially when slowing down attempting to observe through my daughter’s eyes. 

After multiple admonishments to slow down, and missing a frog, three more millipedes and the occasional slug, I relaxed and followed. Immediately, it was noticeable that virtually all the other visitors to the park — save a lone photographer carefully awaiting the perfect combination of light, water and background —hurriedly rushed past us while mostly looking down at their smartphones.

It was clear who was the leader that morning. We experienced well-being and shared thoughts about life throughout the day. Great Leaders Pace Themselves.

Episode 18 - Interview with “the culture engine” author S Chris Edmonds

In Episode 18, we meet S Chris Edmonds, founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. For nearly three decades, industry-leading executives have sought Chris out to help them build and sustain values-aligned cultures that are purposeful, positive, and productive.

When it comes to improving workplace cultures, Chris cut his teeth in the trenches, through 15 years of leading and managing teams. Realizing he had a knack and a passion for getting people on the same page and working well together, Chris launched his consultancy in 1990. A few years later, he also became a highly regarded senior consultant for The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Today, Chris is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. He’s the author or co-author of seven books, including two Amazon best-sellers: The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Chris is an avid blogger and video-caster and is regularly featured by global news outlets such as Forbes and The Economist.

Coaching Story | Leaders Focus on Energy

A recurring theme this past week is staying healthy and energized. During an executive coaching session a client shared that a key personal goal is better health for increased energy. Turns out this is a good idea since eight more people were just added to her team. In an Academy Leadership Excellence Course follow-on coaching session, a client shared they are waking up an hour earlier to exercise before work and stopped drinking cappuccinos. Several pounds lost already - very energizing. Next goal, schedule a long-overdue checkup. The next author ChoinqueCast, which will be posted next week, will be with Chris Edmonds, and it’s most interesting that he shared the importance of health as he had a personal scare decades ago. Anyone notice a pattern here?

Perhaps we should revisit Charles Duhigg, who, in the The Power of Habit, introduced Keystone Habits - which don’t create direct cause-and-effect relationships but can spark “chain reactions.” A keystone habit, or set of them, can be life changing. The best coaches realize this, and perhaps by modeling this behavior, we can inspire others to do the same.

Also recall in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement, the focus on energy management. The old paradigm: Manage time while the new paradigm calls for us to manage energy. Likewise, we should seek stress in the sense that life is a series of sprints punctuated by productive downtime, or rest.

Energy. Health. Keystone habits. We should all aspire to these routines. Great Leaders Focus on Energy.

Episode 17 - Interview with “Brave Leadership” author Kimberly Davis

In Episode 17, we meet Kimberly Davis, author of Brave Leadership. Since 2001, Kimberly has been leading development programs world-wide, around authentic leadership, purpose, presence, influence, presentation skills, communication skills, engagement, and customer experience. In March of 2009, Kimberly launched OnStage Leadership, which has received rave reviews and has made an impact on leaders across the country. Kimberly also teaches Authentic Influence and Executive Presence for SMU's Cox School of Business' Executive Education Program, and partners with SMU in teaching for the Bush Institute's Women's Initiative Fellowship program (empowering female leaders from the middle east) and for the National Hispanic Corporate Council.

Leadership Story | Great Leaders Seek Feedback

Earlier this week, an Academy Leadership Energize2Lead Workshop was held for the administrative team of a private high school. It was a fun, informative, and of course, energizing workshop - a favorite to facilitate.

At the end of the workshop, the head of school asked me a question: “Jim, do you have any advice for us now that we have finished this workshop?” That’s a pretty good question, and the development of the answer is worth sharing.

Let’s quickly review what the three dimensions of an Energize2Lead, or E2L Profile inform us: It lets us know what things we like to do; what we believe people ought to do, or how we wish to be approached, and perhaps most importantly, the E2L isolates what we need, deep inside to develop trust, or the things we listen for… 

Toward the end of the E2L workshop, everyone received a “team sheet,” a one-page summary of everyone’s E2L colors, a composite E2L profile for the group, and on the back key passages from each attendee’s summary profile. All on one page, so that the group may refer to the team sheet as a reminder how to better connect with each other.

Still processing the head of school’s question, my thoughts turned to a single activity which research tells us is what separates good leaders from the even better ones:

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

That’s the takeaway quote from my 2014 review of Thanks for the Feedback, Doug Stone and Shiela Heen’s wonderful book. And it was the answer to the head of school’s question:

“Now that you have a new tool in your toolbox, use it, take advantage of it. Give each other feedback, be brave, and help each other become better leaders.”

Great Leaders Seek Feedback.

Leadership Story | Leaders Cross Generations

While facilitating a Leadership Excellence Course this week, we separated attendees into three generations during a motivation workshop:

Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964
Generation X born between 1965 and 1977
Generation Y born between 1977 and 2000

Baby boomer group perceptions of Gen Y included:

Sense of entitlement, digitally connected all the time, did not pay their dues, sought equality and lacked loyalty. Interestingly, impressions also included:

They are full of energy and innovation, have new perspectives and like change - all the time.

Gen Y perceptions of boomers included:

Stern, rigid, unwelcoming, direct, challenged by adaptability, and tech averse. Additional Gen Y observations:

Boomers are natural mentors, experienced, and loyal.

One of the key takeaways from the workshop is that we often get caught up with negative perceptions of others and forget that all generations wish to be treated well as any good leader should.

At the end of the course, one of the Gen Y attendees described it:

“This program is great for understanding and developing what leadership really looks like. As someone who was younger in the class, it provided me with great real world experience that was discussed in a group and collaborative setting. I found the structure and pace of the class was easy to follow but never became overwhelming…”

Indeed, this Gen Y attendee demonstrated what was just captured in the motivation workshop: Energetic, thirsty to learn and collaborate, and ready to make positive changes in a rapidly changing business environment. Very energizing comments. We should keep this in mind when indulging our perceptions.

Good leaders see the best in others. Leaders Cross Generations.

Leadership Story | Coaching is the Heart of Leadership

Have you ever left a business due to lousy service? Of course you have. How about afterward? Did the business, upon realizing you no longer wished to be a customer - magically seem have unlimited resources, processes and procedures available to regain your loyalty as a customer?

This past week such thoughts are on mind. A colleague who I’ve had the privilege to coach, on and off over the years, shared with me that he has been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, yes a dreaded P-I-P. What happened? What’s really been going on? Has there really been good communication, especially feedback, occurring?

Recall the three types of feedback are: Appreciation, evaluation and coaching - from Douglas Stone and Sheila Sheen’s wonderful book Thanks for the Feedback. In our Academy Leadership Excellence Courses, we repeatedly observe that evaluation and coaching are often mixed up, and that, sadly, real coaching rarely occurs in the workplace.

We discussed the Performance Improvement Plan. It stated that necessary coaching and feedback - notice they are listed separately - will be offered. The plan also stated that my colleague is ultimately responsible for improving and meeting the objectives of the plan. How interesting. Lots of process. Lots of procedures. Lots of evaluation. I asked my colleague if he is coached by his supervisor with any regularity. What do you think the answer was? 

You’re probably not surprised the answer was “no.” Perhaps coaching is only done within this organization when something is not working correctly. Imagine a sports team operating that way. The players compete with no coach. Only after it’s obvious the team is not winning, does the organization introduce what may even loosely be called coaching. Further discussions also indicate a good bit of turnover within this group, including people who quit rather than submit to a Performance Improvement Plan. Again, how interesting. Additional  review seemed to indicate the supervisor really wants someone who will devote the majority of their time managing people and projects. Plenty of evaluation. Not so much leading. It’s unfortunate that my colleague appears to work for a manager/supervisor, and maybe not so much a leader. Unfortunate, but typical.

Leaders take responsibility for their individual team members. Leaders coach. Coaching is the Heart of Leadership.

Coaching Story | Leaders Align Actions and Values

On the first day of a Leadership Excellence Course, we share the first draft of our Personal Leadership Philosophy. By the end of the course, we have a working draft of the document to share with others and to help hold ourselves accountable. On day three of an Advanced Leadership Course, we explore our organization’s Core Values, defining them and attributing Normative Behavioral Statements to each listed value. Overlap between our individual philosophy and organizational values creates alignment, usually our most significant challenge - aligning our actions and our values. Most organizations simply put up posters listing values, with so-called leaders’ actions often displaying quite the opposite. Sound familiar?

These ideas came up twice in the past week. A client in a coaching session shared that their their organization has an amazing culture, and the client is nervous their amazing culture may be diminished, or worse, lost, as the result of rapid growth this calendar year. At about the same time, S. Chris Edmonds, a fellow “leadership traveler,” shared a copy of his book “the culture engine.” Great timing.

You see, Edmonds’ combines the idea of a leadership philosophy with organizational core values. He calls it an Organizational Constitution. It’s a very attractive and powerful construct. Just as actually creating alignment by demonstrating our values through actions, Edmonds’ process requires that an Organizational Constitution must be lived, should anticipate resistance, and requires gathering formal feedback on valued behaviors. This includes hiring based on values, just as Tony Hseih of Zappos learned.

Leaders share their leadership philosophy. Leaders live their leadership philosophy. Then they go further. Leaders Align Actions and Values.

Leadership Story | Leaders Walk the Talk

A common question after facilitating a Leadership Excellence Course is: “How do I know when I’m actually living my leadership philosophy?” Good question. One of the best indicators is when we make a tough decision, an uncomfortable decision, and realize - often after the fact - that something violated our leadership philosophy.

Over the past month an informal coaching session formed with a LinkedIn connection in London. Let’s call the connection Alex. Alex is interviewing with a hiring Senior Vice President in Naples, Florida for a new position, and is nervous. Why the apprehension? Because Alex left a job - left a place, with a very  toxic culture - before securing a new engagement. And the hole in the resumé is now visible to everyone, including the Senior Vice President.

Rather than try to hide this unplanned departure, rather than reacting defensively to questions about the resignation, we established Alex should share, and further should volunteer that this decision was based on Alex’s leadership philosophy.  In this case: A toxic work culture was a non-negotiable - a deal-breaker. Alex could not stay because the environment was incompatible with personal core values.

And that’s exactly what Alex did. Alex shared the decision-making process with the Senior Vice President. What do you think happened? Let’s pause:

What would you do as the hiring manager?
Would you have stayed longer than Alex in the toxic environment?

Turns out the Senior Vice President understood the decision and appreciated Alex putting it front and center rather than hide from it. Looks like a good outcome so far.

Part of the reason we write a personal leadership philosophy is to guide our decision-making process, especially when under stress. Recall one part of a leadership philosophy is declaring our non-negotiables. It’s also a way to hold ourselves accountable rather that avoid inevitable conflicts. Leaders make decisions based on their leadership philosophy. Leaders live it. Leaders Walk the Talk.