Influence & Insight | October 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Foster a People-Centered Culture

Once or twice a year, there’s an opportunity for an Academy Leadership Graduate course, usually one in Tampa and one at the USAF Academy. What’s fun about a graduate course is that each attendee already has a completed Energize2Lead, or E2L profile, as well as a documented Personal Leadership Philosophy. A lot of the first day is review and discussion of prior workshops and leadership stories since attending a three-day Leadership Excellence Course, PMI 5 Star experience, or some equivalent.

Intentionally, the tables were seated very closely for this graduate course, with the hope of open and candid discussion. It paid off.

The most interesting discussions were centered around corporate culture, especially whether or not the senior leaders within each organization “walked the talk.” It was a sobering discussion. One of the attendees is a very experienced and talented IT professional, who prides herself on nurturing and coaching younger professionals. Her company survived two acquisitions and she is now part of a much larger organization that appears to have little idea what the future holds. We explored what had energized her most in the past. She beamed when telling a story how she had created an exclusive service response team for the company’s most valued customers. It sounded like a best-in-class offering, mutually beneficial to all parties and likely a great environment for new talent to flourish. Her energy level dropped when she described how the department was abandoned almost immediately after acquisition, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Rocket scientist alert: The top clients left too. Hundreds have been laid off, and the attendee hopes she is offered a severance package and the opportunity to restart her career without appearing demoralized. An invitation to help followed, along with hopefully helpful networking connections.

Another attendee described something similar. At her workplace, most of the C-Suite has recently resigned, likely due to an in incompetent and controlling President. It’s a powerful statement when a highly energized young professional, passionate about her work, even more so about her subordinates, describes such an environment. One of her stories described badgering communication over weekends calling into question priorities and competency. Yikes. Wanting to stay as positive as possible, she decided to concentrate on delegating more responsibility and projects to her high performing subordinates. This energized her. However, shortly after the course an email arrived letting me know a promising subordinate we discussed resigned. it’s pretty clear this is an organization where there is a disconnect between talented new hires, the president, and the board of trustees. It also appears to be an organization where there appears to be no feedback or accountability mechanism in place - or oversight - between the trustees and the president. Stay tuned.

In contrast, another of the attendees works at a high-performing, family-owned, and rapidly-growing transportation services company. He was shocked hearing from the prior two attendees mentioned, and admitted the culture of his organization was what he likes most about it. He could probably make more money somewhere else, if that was all he cared about. While the prior two attendees needed to look on-line for the listed values of their organizations, he simply told stories describing the company’s values in action. Simply amazing. The prior two could not even complete their self-evaluation during the Core Values Alignment workshop, declaring that it would be a breach of integrity to pretend values existed in their workplaces.


The comparison was both disturbing and illuminating. In a way it reminded us once again of the tendency to focus on results or people, as though the two must be mutually exclusive. In the first two cases, it appeared fundamental decisions have been made based on results or financial considerations only, leaving a demoralizing and/or toxic environment where many more will leave in the near term. In the third situation, the rare combination of focusing on people and results seems to be at the heart of the culture.

Great Leaders Foster a People-Centered Culture.

Fully Human | Book Review 

Our spiritual center is the place where our emotional balance
and well-being reside. Our lives can be both secular
and sacred all the time.
(p. 211)

Susan Packard builds on her prior New Rules of the Game, opening her aperture to the broader topic of Emotional Intelligence, thereby communicating to a larger audience.

Following Packard’s work (disclosure: Susan interviewed the reviewer for small portions of her book) one senses the more she shares of herself, the more authentic she becomes, and the result is more confidence sharing everyday topics which we tend to notice but not talk so much about. Packard’s brave & thoughtful work builds on Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence in three parts: Willingness, Trust & Embracing “We” Principles. Each part ends with a Your Turn chapter or opportunity for a journaling entry.

Packard’s definition: Willingness + Trust + We Principles = EQ Fitness (p. xvi), may be thought of as her recipe for living a Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP); with willingness part of her definition of leadership, trust a central value, and “We” principles central to her operating principles.

Why get more in tune with emotional intelligence? Packard shares The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that suicide rates rose steadily in most states from 1999 to 2015, up by 25 percent nationally, and that the lack of social “connectedness” was among the factors (p. xii). This review examines each Packard’s three parts and their relevance to our leadership philosophy.

Part I | Willingness | E2L | Our Personal Leadership Profile 

Day one of an Academy Leadership Excellence Course (three workshops) focuses on knowing yourself. It’s also how Packard starts: Self-discovery is gaining insight into your own nature so that you can better understand and manage your emotions (p. 3). It reminds us of our Energize2Lead profiles, especially focus on our instinctive needs.

Packard compares the relationship between instincts and temperamental examples (p. 12):

Instinct                       Temperament Examples

Safety                          Ultra-sensitivity
Love & Approval          Unrelenting Standards
Control & Pride           Introversion

She’s not asking us to change. Instead, Packard posits self-awareness helps [us] understand these things better, that we need to put names to our most primal characteristics, which helps us stay grounded in the best of what we are, while managing as well as we can with the rest (p. 15).

Consider comparing your PLP with an audit of your daily activities, or a series of recent journal entries. As with frequent low self-evaluation scores in a Setting Leadership Priorities workshop, we may be surprised that daily interruptions and routine activities may occupy a majority of our time. Packard reflects: Having a life of joy and purpose means letting go of what no longer serves you, like resentments or shame or the word “blame.” (p. 33). Packard finds journaling by itself insufficient, better than doing nothing, but not as powerful or effective as saying aloud what’s inside (p. 40). We might call this shared journaling.

Over the years, many written leadership philosophies include the phrase “be present.” Packard’s analogous thought mentions mindfulness. Mindful practices teach us to access the parts of us that can see wide-open, limitless possibilities (p. 54). Think of an abundance mindset rather than scarcity. An abundance-based mindset is one of our best leadership tools, and mindful actions build trust (p. 62). 

Part II | Trust | Instinctive Needs

Ed Ruggero and Dennis Haley’s The Leader’s Compass demonstrates the significance of credibility and trust. What Packard loves about trust is that it instills the one emotion that always inspires us to press on: hope. Trust is hope with a track record (p. 105). Ask yourself what kind of environment is usually created at work or at home? Packard offers a similar challenge … we spend a huge part of our waking hours at work, so why not try for an experience that’s a little deeper, a little richer, with a profound promise of fulfillment? (p. 108) For many of us, this is a missing ingredient in realizing our leadership ability.

For the proverbial subject matter expert (SME) or the technically proficient, growing trust may be a formidable challenge. Packard describes crossing this hurdle: It’s a powerful moment when you can kick down the barricade you erected after appointing yourself in charge of the universe (p. 115). The more we lead, the more we let go, and the more we realize it is not about us. Packard cites Susan Cain’s wonderful Quiet: We need “leaders who are called to service rather than status.” (p. 117 

How to get started? Susan’s five fast tips for trust (pp. 125-127):

• Become self-aware
• Be honest with others
• Be steady
• Be dependable
• Be proactive 

We may ask ourselves how many of these tips are embodied or otherwise referenced in our leadership philosophy. 

Contemplate the opposite: It also turns out jerk bosses impact both the emotional and physical health of their people. A study of over three thousand employees found that there was a strong link between bad leadership behavior and employee heart disease (p. 133).

Part III | Embracing “We” Principles | Energy

Tony Schwartz calls on four sources of energy in The Power of Full Engagement: Mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. As leaders, we should routinely, holistically reenergize.

Packard compares leaders who get high marks on qualities such as compassion and integrity: They run companies with an average return on assets of 9.35 percent over two years – five times those who got low marks, whose companies average 1.93 percent (p. 178). These findings remind us of Fred Kiel’s Return on Character.

Who were you meant to be? What is your place in the world? Packard asks us about this kind of soul energy, which comes from the right brain (yellow & blue E2L), and asks us to explore how [we] are connected to the larger family of workplace and community (p. 185).

We can think of right brain Ego Energy as traditional command and control, exclusively results-oriented management and left brain Soul Energy as people oriented leadership (p. 186):

Ego Energy                                   Soul Energy

Answer                                           Question
Box                                                Horizon
Intellect                                         Imagination
Word                                              Silence
Order                                              Influence
Worry                                             Prayer
Job                                                 Purpose
Plan                                                Unfolding
Judgment                                      Experience
Heaviness                                      Lightness
Protection                                     Vulnerability
Conscious Mind                             Heart, Gut, Sense
Drive toward                                 Drawn to
Attachment                                   Love
Sadness                                         Deep Grief


Susan Packard offers a compelling argument, and personal testimonial, that a good human leader is a good human being in the first place (p. 190). We can go further by exploring ourselves, and leading from our hearts as well as our minds.

With empathy comes illumination, and a larger understanding
of how to live one’s own life.
(p. 207)

Note: Susan Packard generously provided a copy of her book for review.

Coaching Story | Leaders Strengthen Interdependency

One of my favorite clients, a very high-tech, cutting edge and hip organization, which by the way is a champion of hiring and promoting female leaders, contacted me recently. It was nice to hear from them, because they’ve been really quiet since preparing for their IPO. My guess is there has been quite a bit to sort out since the IPO, and likely a bit of reorganization for growth.

Several years ago, one of the functional groups at the client company launched a leadership development initiative. Fourteen of their best were selected and a carefully crafted off-site first  Leadership Excellence Course was arranged. During our reconnection phone call, I recalled how after dinner the senior leader sponsor gathered the fourteen attendees for a pep talk on a grass hill with a beautiful southwest sunset yielding to a crisp and energizing starlit night. It’s a fond memory.

The timing is pretty interesting, as this journal entry is being composed en route to Anchorage, where work will continue on a new choinque-based Strategic Planning Workshop, developed with a very conscientious company president client. One of our findings is that significant strategy-to-execution gaps exist in most organizations. Among the principal causes is breakdowns in organizations where there is dependency on another department or function. One of the books guiding our new workshop creation is Strategy That Works. All of this reminds me of Stanley McChrystal’s Team of Teams, and of the talks shared around the world based on leadership lessons from the book.

Guess what. The reconnecting client texted me to let me know cohesiveness and working together as one team is a challenge that has resulted from an operational reorganization which has apparently yielded disconnected teams. Which means I’ll be revisiting my prior client right after the strategic planning workshop, sharing findings, and we’ll be brainstorming a 2020 plan. Looking forward to it all.

Great Leaders Strengthen Interdependency.

Influence & Insight | September 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Understand Energy

It has been a privilege getting to know a Christian-based organization following an open-enrollment Leadership Excellence Course this summer at the USAF Academy. We may ask ourselves, what does a Christian-based organization have to do with leadership?

Good question. Let’s consider the scope of our follow on engagement, an Energize2Lead Workshop. Energy has a great deal to do with leadership. How many of us would ever say we we were energized by a demotivating leader, or more simply, a sourpuss? Not likely.

Tony Schwartz comes to mind, especially during the U.S. Open tennis tournament, since he has coached many tennis pros. Tony focuses on managing our energy levels, and that we can apply that to our own effectiveness as leaders.

According to Tony, we have four personal energy dimensions: Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. We’re probably pretty comfortable talking about our physical energy levels, with diet and exercise such everyday topics. How many of the other three dimensions do we think about, in the workplace, particularly when we think about what we share of ourselves and what we learn about those in our charge? 

Back to the client. This client, during our Energize2Lead Workshop, not surprisingly was quite different. We started off with a moment of prayer, beginning with the energy dimension we likely neglect the most, the spiritual.

Let’s stop for a moment. How often do we think of our jobs, or work, as something that contributes to our spiritual selves? Big question.

Just as there are multiple dimensions to our energy levels, there are multiple dimensions to ourselves as leaders, which may be shared with others in order to ignite the passions we truly want if we seek engagement, or to be effective leaders that matter. These are interesting things, the unique things that comprise our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. What things form your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self? Courage moment: What would it take for you to share these things, in your Personal Leadership Philosophy, in a coaching session, or when just getting to know your team.

How might your subordinates follow you differently if they knew such things?

Consider all four of these dimensions.

Great leaders understand energy.

Emotional Intelligence | Book Review

“In a sense, we have two brains, two minds – and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional. Indeed, intellect cannot work at its best without emotional intelligence.” (p. 28)

Subtitled Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman’s foundational work continues to exert influence today. In his contemporary introduction, Goleman passionately challenges having his findings overstated:

I would like to clear up here and now. One is the bizarre – though widely repeated fallacy that “EQ counts for 80 percent of success.” This claim is preposterous. (p. xiii)

Technical competency is frequently mentioned as the basis for promotion in organizations. But this does not necessarily translate into leadership potential. Goleman flatly informs us: “But IQ washes out when it comes to predicting who, among a talented pool of candidates within an intellectually demanding profession, will become the strongest leader (p. xiv).” 

Consider the common question whether leaders are born rather than made. [Goleman’s] mapping offers a challenge to those who subscribe to a narrow view of intelligence, arguing that IQ is a genetic given that cannot be changed by life experience, and that our destiny in life is largely fixed by these aptitudes. What can we change that will help our children fare better in life? (pp. xxi-xxii). Understanding emotional intelligence (EI) then becomes a vital tool for the developmentally-focused leader, genuinely interested in a sustained pipeline of future leaders.

Goleman’s seminal work is also holistic, including sections on childhood adolescence (part four) and national policy commentary (part five). This review highlights the first three sections emphasizing correlation to Energize2Lead (E2L) assessments and Personal Leadership Philosophy application. 

Part I | The Emotional Brain | One of Two

During Academy Leadership Aligning and Accomplishing Goals workshops, we stress the importance of understanding multiple dimensions of people (Life’s Compass Rose) as well as the personal goals and dreams of our subordinates (and ourselves). It (EI) suggests that our deepest feelings, our passions and our longings, are essential guides, and that our species owes much of its existence to their power in human affairs (pp. 3-4).

We often use the terms left and right brain, corresponding to analytical red and green E2L colors, and more social and creative yellow and blue E2L colors, respectively. Goleman articulates a similar dichotomy. One is an act of the emotional mind, the other of the rational mind. In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels (p. 8).

Part II | The Nature of Emotional Intelligence | Leader Application 

Let’s return to our typical reliance on technical competency as a basis for organizational advancement. Goleman has his own take on the Pareto Principle: At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other factors (p. 34).

Among these other factors, Goleman mentions abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope (p. 34). As leaders, we can share our personality traits, or our other factors, in our Personal Leadership Philosophy, and genuinely request feedback when we fall short.   

Taking time to regularly capture journal entries, especially when under stress, may prove helpful. Goleman calls such self-awareness a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions (p. 47). This reminds us of Marshall Goldsmith’s daily active questions we may ask ourselves (Did I do my best to…?).

What may happen when we poorly manage stress, or our energy? Goleman calls out chronic worriers (think dominant blue E2L profiles) – [who] worry about a wide range of things, most of which have almost no chance of happening (p. 67). It’s simply a waste of energy.

A natural question arises: What type of environment do we typically create as leaders? Goleman argues that anxiety undermines the intellect. In a complex, intellectually demanding, and high-pressure task such as that of air traffic controllers, for example, having chronically high anxiety is an almost sure predictor that a person will fail in training or in the field (p. 83).

This doesn’t mean we should be passive leaders. Goleman calls for a mildly elated state, hypomania, as it is technically called – [that] seems optimal for writers and others in creative callings that demand fluidity and imaginative diversity of thought (p. 85). It is related to Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s construct, flow. Being able to enter flow is emotional intelligence at its best; flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performance and learning (p. 90).

Emotional Intelligence Applied | Lead From the Heart

Like Stanley McChrystal’s reflections about Frederick Winslow Taylor, Goleman looks back at a long period of managerial, corporate hierarchy when the manipulative, jungle-fighter boss was rewarded (p. 149). 

The original Academy Leadership Communicating as a Leader workshop was improved and renamed several years ago to – Feedback, The Essential Connection.  Goleman likewise concludes  feedback is the life of the organization – the exchange of information that lets people know if the job they are doing is going well or needs to be fine-tuned, upgraded, or redirected entirely (p. 151).

Management is fine if all we want is compliance, not a good strategy if we’re looking for high levels of engagement. Goleman points out many managers are too willing to criticize, but frugal with praise, leaving their employees feeling that they only hear about how they’re doing when they make a mistake (p. 152). It should come as no surprise that many leadership course attendees mention that evaluation and coaching are treated interchangeably at their organizations.

Matrix organizational structures abound today defying traditional hierarchical ways of doing work. Pioneering work such as Strategy That Works convincingly concludes that effective interdependent functional groups are required for effective execution. Goleman anticipated this: Many things people do at work depend on their ability to call on a loose network of fellow workers; different tasks can mean calling on different members of the network (p. 161).

In Mark Crowley’s Lead From the Heart,  he cites studies linking the brain to the heart, such as the Vagus nerve. Goleman’s work possibly served as a pointer, noticing that a network of researchers is finding that the chemical messengers that operate most extensively in both brain and immune system are those that are most dense in neural areas that regulate emotion (p. 167).


Emotions matter. People matter.

Note: Daniel Goleman generously provided a copy of his book for review.

Coaching Story | Leaders Create an Energizing Environment

One of the attendees at our most recent Academy Leadership Excellence Courses hosted at the USAF Academy shared a realization both on the first day to our group of eleven, and afterward during our one-on-one follow-on executive coaching sessions. Here’s what happened. Much of the first day of a Leadership Excellence Course is focused on learning about ourselves, in particular, what energizes us so that we may energize and perhaps inspire others. This attendee shared his reflection that over the past six months his working environment had changed — from one energizing to someone who prefers an independent course of action — to a more compliance, rules-based day to day routine. In addition, he was increasingly left out of decision-making processes, which he has both an instinctive need for and was brought up believing people ought to include others when making choices.

Keep in mind this attendee had been successfully working 2.5 years on a really cool project. Attending the course providing time to think, share his story, and after the course share his findings as documented on his Action Plan, which was shared with his supervisor. That’s the best part of the story - finding the courage to share who one really is and what genuinely motivates us.

Guess what happened? Hint: His new supervisor is a good leader. 

After reassignment to a new project, and to a new sponsor, which his company generously accommodated, he was introduced as a new member of the leadership team on the first day. A direct quote from the attendee’s email: 

“This is unique in that project managers are usually not included that way with senior leaders' direct reporting groups.  In our first leadership team meeting, he must have asked me 10 times what my opinion was and what strategies I thought the team should consider. OK... I am SO happy.  You already know how E2L [this type of sharing works], but I thought you would appreciate the recent, specific example.”

What’s may we take away from this story? When we take the time to honestly assess ourselves, and create an environment where others may do the same, we can create a very motivational environment.

Not surprisingly, here’s the closing part of his email:

“Next steps for me... 

I go to corporate headquarters next week. I will be doing planning sessions and team building exercises with my new leadership team. And, I will get to meet my future project team members.

My plan is to share my leadership philosophy with the leadership team. In addition, I will meet with each of my new management peers and fill out the Motivation Assessment form.  The idea is that I want to improve my relationships with peers better than in the past. I do well with my reports and further up the org chart - but my detractors are typically peer managers at my level.  We will be doing a major organization change effort over the next year, so I want to develop really strong and positive relationships with the other managers this time around.”

Think about that. This isn’t about pay raises or foosball tables in the break room. It’s about learning what makes other’s tick. How well do you really know yourself? Can you recall the last time you finished a work day more energized than when you started? What happened that particular day? More importantly, do you know your team members that well?

Can’t wait for the next coaching session to learn what happens next.

Great leaders create an energizing environment.

Influence & Insight | August 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Are Transparent

After binge-watching the powerful HBO miniseries Chernobyl:

my thoughts turned to our country and the ongoing issue with Boeing’s 737 MAX. What’s common to both events? A single word: Transparency. Or, the lack of it. The first episode of Chernobyl highlights — at the individual and at the organizational level — consequences of not sharing information, or the truth, especially at the beginning of an accident. Any viewer of the series will be struck by the breathtaking denial of the reactor core explosion, and how many lives, such as those of the firefighters in the first episode, will later horribly end in an isolated Moscow hospital due to massive radiation poisoning.

Let’s turn to the 737 MAX events. After two overseas fatal accidents, both during takeoff, many questions arose about similarities leading to the crashes. Following a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal, it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone at Boeing was sharing vital design details, such as the Angle of Attack sensors and related flight control systems. Alarmingly, it appears not even Boeing test pilots knew these critical design details:

While the magnitude of these two events are quite different, there are disturbing commonalities. First, critical design details were not known by those who operate the systems. Second, and perhaps even worse, the basis for design decisions appeared to be short-sighted considerations such as cost, which, in the end, were given higher priority than basic safety. With Boeing we are still in the consequences stage as the design and software issues are being addressed in real time. One can only wonder what it will take for Boeing to recover the loss to their integrity and brand after this event. What changes will be required so this does not happen again?

Once again we can turn to  Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton’s Knowing-Doing Gap:

We’ve all encountered a bureaucratic organization or call center from hell where we endlessly repeated requests and it appears nothing we say is listened to, captured, stored, or responded to. Organizations that ignore knowledge, or treat it as something to be acquired, stored, and often protected or hidden will never cross the Knowing-Doing Gap. As a result, individuals in such organizations will be unlikely to Do The Right Thing, even when they know what the right thing to do is. Often they won’t even know.

Just like Chernobyl and just like Boeing.

We learn from Pfeffer and Sutton that the rare organizations that cross the Knowing-Doing Gap treat knowledge differently, we could say with radical transparency. What is required to do that? Brave and secure leaders who willingly accept feedback and that pursue continuous improvement. If you have a chance to see the Chernobyl series, it’s a haunting experience. Let’s keep an eye on Boeing as well, watching how their leaders respond.

Great Leaders Are Transparent.

QBQ! | Book Review

“The QBQ! is built on the observation that our first reactions are often negative,
bringing to mind Incorrect Questions (IQs).”
(p. 17)

The best coaches are careful listeners, and very good at asking questions. John Miller’s The Question Behind the Question, or QBQ! helps us understand how and why we should ask better questions. Indeed Miller’s work perhaps influenced later works about coaching and questions such as Marshall Goldsmith’s Triggers.

This review introduces QBQs and how the application of such questions relates to teachable points of view found in Academy Leadership workshops. An additional section comments on the scarcity mindset


Many attendees of Academy Leadership Coaching to Develop Leaders workshops realize what they believed was coaching was often evaluation, consisting primarily of talking rather than listening. There are good questions, and there are bad questions. Miller shares that many of our questions, especially when they begin with “Why?” “When?” or “Who?” are lousy questions. They’re negative and they don’t solve any problems (p. 10).

A coaching mindset offers an ideal starting point for the QBQ!: 

A tool that enables individuals to practice personal accountability
by making better choices in the moment
. (p. 11)

In Crucial Conversations, the question “What Do I Really Want?” aids us in mastering dialogue. Similarly, QBQs are questions we ask ourselves, not others (p. 18). Miller lists three simple guidelines for creating a QBQ! (p. 19):

1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,” “When,” or “Who”).
2. Contain an “I” (not “they,” “we,” or “you”).
3. Focus on action.

Why this internal focus? As we learned in Creating a Motivational Environment workshops, we can’t change other people. Asking questions that focus our efforts and energy on what we can do makes us significantly more effective, not to mention less frustrated and happier (pp. 66-67). Or put another way, there’s no point in trying to tell others what to do.

We frequently hear the phrase leadership by example, and the term applies here. Miller advises us that to make a QBQ! action-focused, we add verbs such as “do,” “make,” “achieve,” and “build” to questions that start with “What” or “How” and contain an “I.” (p. 85). In contrast, he shares a list of lousy questions and their corresponding QBQs on pages 103-112. A couple standouts, relevant for any leader:

“How can I be a better leader?”
“What can I do to show I care?”
“How can I more effectively communicate?”


In our Accountability Compass workshop, we introduce the Accountability Ladder, which has a Hope and Wait rung just below the accountability border. Recall the lousy questions? When we ask “When?” we’re really saying we have no choice but to wait and put off action until another time (p. 34). Miller recalls encountering mangers, for example, who won’t take their group through training until “all the right people are in place.” (p. 41) Does that sound like your workplace?

Likewise, Blame and “Whodunit?” questions solve nothing. They create fear, destroy innovation, inhibit teamwork, build walls, and prevent people from engaging (p. 47). Or, as Goldsmith might ask, what do these questions trigger? We can probably all imagine the most pessimistic person we know, always ready to launch a question starting with “Why?” 

Think of the approach used in an After Action Review, or AAR. Like the QBQ! the AAR focuses on “What?” Further, both concern a commitment of the head, heart, and hands to fix the problem and never again affix the blame (p. 61).

Effective Decision-Making

 One of the benefits of our Energize2Lead workshops is learning to recognize, manage and minimize our stress levels. Miller also emphasizes that stress is also the result of our choices (p. 27). He cites procrastination, which increases our stress (p. 35). This claim is backed up by the Zeigarnik effect, whereby our memory of an activity is better after it has started, but is not yet finished. Miller concludes that one of the great things that happens when we make better choices: We get high on life (p. 59).

Scarcity Mindset

While not specifically referenced in Miller’s book, it seems a scarcity mindset leads to many poor questions. Miller reminds us that anyone can fall into the “Why” trap… or victim thinking (p. 21). It’s the opposite of coaching. Consider when playing victim, who am I serving? (p. 25).

Miller’s best example of this mindset is focusing on what we don’t have, ultimately a waste of time and energy, which also kills innovation (p. 41). He cites Deb Weber (State Farm Insurance) “I find that every time I do the job with the tools I have, I tend to receive more tools.” (p. 41) Weber clearly has an abundance mindset.


Miller has a great explanation of the Knowing-Doing Gap,

Learning is really about translating knowing
what to do into doing what we know
, (p. 117)

that summarizes his pioneering work.

Note: John Miller generously provided a copy of his book for review.

Coaching Story | Leaders Continuously Grow

At a recent Leadership Excellence Course hosted at the United States Air Force Academy, one of the attendees both had and shared a significant realization and growth experience. With Roger’s permission, it’s worth sharing with you:


I was going to share the following with you tomorrow at our all hands.  Unfortunately, that schedule did not hold up.  Given that all of us have so many things going on right now, I could not find a time when I thought we could get together as a team before most of you deploy out to Montana, or South Dakota.  While communicating with you in this regard is not ideal, and definitely is not what I had hoped to do, I felt it was necessary to at least get this too you with some brief explanation.

Recently, I had the privilege of participating in a truly extraordinary learning experience.  During this time, I was provided an opportunity, and the tools to evaluate what my personal leadership philosophy was.  It was a very tough, introspective journey that directed me in a very transformative way.  This experience forced me to deal with quite a number of things, some of what I am not particularly proud of, and others for which I am. 

This experience forced me to consider, and reconsider what my relationship is with each of you.  It also gave me an opportunity to realize how much I appreciate each of you.

I have attached this leadership philosophy for your review.  Please know that I mean every word of it, and will purpose to live up to it as best that I am able.  This is in essence my contract with you.

If you have If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, please do not hesitate to stop by. 

Always your advocate


Let’s listen to the first paragraph of Roger’s Personal Leadership Philosophy:

Being a leader is a privilege. Being a leader is an act of service. Leadership carries with it a responsibility to share a vision, to direct a course of action, and to inspire a desire to succeed. Leadership is passionate. Leadership is about creating a future that is inviting, that seeks to tease out the best in all members of the team and provides security in the knowledge of a job well done. Leadership is a partnership between the leader, and the led. If the partnership does not exist, then all you really have is second rate management. 

What do you think about the last two sentences? Roger is essentially sharing that if a partnership doesn’t exist, all we have is management. It’s one of the best descriptions distinguishing between management and leadership, and Roger composed and shared this despite the fact he plans to retire within six months. After the course, I requested a meeting between myself, Roger and his supervisor. Something tells me inside that although Roger may formally retire from a full-time job, his desire to positively influence and serve others seems intact.

Let’ think about that.

Great leaders continuously grow.

Influence & Insight | July 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Share Their Stories

Our Academy Leadership group, a terrific team of former military officers who are also senior civilian executives, often share our stories. With his permission, I would like to read to you an email from Kevin Derbin, 1979 Naval Academy Graduate. It’s a powerful coaching story from Kevin and his wife Pam. Their words. Their story:

I wanted to share a very personal story about the power of our Personal Leadership Philosophy.  I hope you get a quick chance to read this and appreciate your busy schedules.

In January, Pam’s division of Humana was eliminated unexpectedly.  As always, things happen for reasons whether we plan for it or not.  As she began her search, it created a time of reflection and redefining purpose (as it has for many of us who are veterans of corporate America) while navigating the unknown.  She worked with Humana for over 10 years as a Case and Team Manager in their Home Health business. 

We recently started her quilting business (which she is very gifted at and award winning) but just being christened, it’s not quite ready for sea yet so she began to fish the leadership opportunities in Nursing in the Louisville area.  Her sights set on a similar position, she started casting.  She received several calls of interest (and not) but recently spoke with a national home care company with 2 opportunities as a Case Manager and a Director of Operations.  The recruiter told her that she was overqualified for the Manager role but referred her to the Executive recruiter as she felt Pam had the experience for that role.  Pam was shocked, a bit nervous and doubted whether she was able to fill the expectations of that leadership role.

Her first interview went well and made her realize that she did have the experience and ability to “move up”.  We spent the next week working on her Personal Leadership Philosophy which she felt would be important for her not just during the interview process but to solidify her own confidence and be prepared to be effective in the role should she get it.

During the next set of executive interviews, she proactively asked if she could share her Leadership Philosophy in response to a leading interview question which took the team by surprise as they had never heard of it.  They loved it and were impressed that she even had one.  The proportion of the discussion quickly shifted to leadership, values and examples of living those values.

Pam received an invite to a final round of interviews, in person, with the team that she would be leading and her prospective supervisor (whom she had already met). During this session, Pam again shared her philosophy informally with the team. Not only were they appreciative but were taken back by its candor and heartfelt message. 

She was offered the position with Amedisys (not surprising to me), a promotion from her previous role, and has reenergized her sense of self, her capability and how important her Nursing profession is to her.  She is excited for the position to start in May and looking forward to leading a team again.  Two points.

Had it not been for life throwing a curveball, she would not have proactively searched for a position of greater responsibility outside Humana.

Pam attributes sharing her Leadership Philosophy as key lever in not only putting her own thoughts and values into perspective but the power of having one and sharing it during the interview process was invaluable not only for its authenticity but that she had placed so much emphasis on leadership and its importance in the role already. 

In retrospect, having a Personal Leadership Philosophy doesn’t necessarily guarantee admission but it’s clear that few have heard of one, have one or even think about articulating one.  In the case of interviewing (that we get asked frequently about), it creates a conversation that turns focus toward an open discussion that most likely would not have occurred.  More importantly, a conversation that the one being interviewed controls and becomes the driver. Better yet the leader.

Side note – the quilting continues…and perhaps an opportunity at Amedisys for an E2L/PLP workshop and...!

Respectfully,  Kevin

Kevin didn’t need to share this with our Academy Leadership team. It could demonstrate vulnerability, or perceived weakness. On the other hand, what types of people do we wish to follow? What is your leadership philosophy? Leaders Share Their Stories

Work together Anywhere | Book Review

 “The reality is we’ve all been in a workplace where our
colleagues are present but they’re not getting things done.”
(Leslie Truex, p. 16)

Ever had a question about remote working? Lisette Sutherland, with K. Janene-Nelson, have created the definitive, breakthrough, how-to manual. Consider their work a must-have as vital as a dictionary or thesaurus, especially if you have any doubts about the effectiveness of remote workers.

 We can think about Sutherland’s book two ways: First, for the demographic & engagement references. Chances are you will feel behind the power curve as you read about the myriad, successful organizations leading the remote work revolution and the currently available tools enabling them. Second, and perhaps more significantly, are the ramifications for the forward-looking leader who believes an engaged workforce is a competitive advantage in the 21st century. This review highlights the references and ramifications from a leader standpoint.

 Start with an open mindset. Sutherland advises that we find a way to make location the variable – indeed immaterial – then we could have the constant be the far more important concern: qualification, including enthusiasm (p. 1). At least a third of her work is annotation: End of chapter reminders, an extras section, available technology & tools, further suggested reading and more. Sutherland interviewed directors and managers from more than eighty companies whose business models depend on successfully bridging distance… (p. 2).

What’s hard for companies who are going remote is that there’s not enough culture established about documenting things, because it’s so much easier to just walk over to the next cubicle, talk to your coworker, and make a decision right there and then (p. 39). In The Knowing-Doing Gap, Pfeffer and Sutton emphasize that sharing knowledge is a significant performance discriminator. Additionally, surveys indicate that the biggest fear about managing remote workers is productivity, but the actual hardest part is communication (p. 134). Going remote creates terrific organizational habits.

Demographic & Engagement Nuggets

Many of the demographic findings are hard truths we tend to avoid:

• Any business that effectively measures employee productivity surely isn’t relying on anything having to do with physical location (p. 23).
• A Flexjobs survey (p. 13) found that parents rank work flexibility (84 percent) ahead of even salary (75 percent).
• According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, half of telecommuters are forty-five or older (p. 11).
• It’s actually far more likely that remote workers will work too much rather than too little (p. 53).
• According to the Gallup 2017 State of the Global Workforce report, “worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full time for an employer and are engaged at work is just 15 percent.” (p. 37)
• They want to be able to focus and actually get work done (p. 15).

In Lead From the Heart, Mark Crowley exhaustively chronicles our thirty-year history of poor organizational engagement. Similarly, Dan Pink’s Drive highlights autonomy, mastery & purpose as key motivational forces in a knowledge, or thinking-based economy. Web-developer agency 10up agrees that productivity results from engagement (p. 37).

Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose

Sutherland reiterates: “We love having options concerning both our schedule and our workspace. And we love getting to choose work that’s meaningful to us – with colleagues who also love their work, who also take pride in the work they do.” (p. 21)

Brian Patterson (Go Fish Digital) addresses mastery (p. 133): “If you hire the right people and empower them to be successful, they will work at or beyond what you expect of them because they view remote work as a privilege.” The effective remote worker removes distractions, reinforcing that the best work is done when we’re able to focus on just one task at a time (p. 82).

Purpose counts. Sutherland reveals what they do want is to apply the knowledge and the skills they’ve learned across their lifetimes to something meaningful in their life (p. 13).

Retrium CEO David Horowitz bets on these findings (p. 142):

“People who are passionate, even if they have slightly fewer
technical skills, will be better fit for your company than people who
are technically brilliant but who think of the work as just a job. I
would hire the former over the latter any day.”

When we put it all together: The Top Remote Worker’s mindset (p 139):

• is proactive; they’re independent/self-starters
• has a team-focused work ethics: they’re reliable, results-oriented, and highly responsive; and
• leads to good team players: they’re pleasant, collaborative, supportive, and receptive to feedback

Forward-Looking Leadership

Are we managers or leaders? Those of a managerial mind set might wonder how – or even if – it’s possible to get valuable work out of unsupervised employees (p 22). Consider what is actually being measured: The management concern is an artifact of hours-oriented work: work where, if you put in your time-clocked hours, your work is done (p. 22).

Sutherland shares study findings conducted by Towers Watson:

“The single highest driver of engagement is whether
or not workers feel their managers are genuinely
interested in their well-being.”
(p. 57)

What are the ramifications of avoiding engagement? The trend strongly suggests that companies that don’t offer the remote option endanger their long-term viability, especially given that reasons to welcome remote working are steadily advancing (p. 27).

Many of the best leadership competencies and characteristics align with having a remote workforce. Consider the remote team leader as coach. What remote teams need most from their managers concerns mind set (p. 163). Like our findings in Coaching to Develop Leaders workshops, Sutherland agrees we must ensure that workers have the tools they need to fulfill their obligations (p. 165). Phil Montero’s (The Garam Group) words could come straight from a Personal Leadership Philosophy (p. 169):

“We build trust by having clear objectives,
accountability, and deliverables.”

Think of Jim Collins’s emphasis on core values. Lance Walley (Chargify) is an advocate (p. 172): “Decide who our core customer is and what our company values are, and then make decisions around those ideas. And make sure everyone is aligned around those values and decisions.” Finally, think of our focus on having a leadership journal, as does X-Team’s Ryan Chartrand (p. 180):

“All team members maintain individual journals in which
they report their day’s accomplishments,
even if that’s just progress on a long-term task.”


Many of the steps leading to successful remote-worker implementation are the same steps required of a manager who wishes to be an effective leader. Sutherland summarizes: the manager [leader] can help maintain that alignment by ensuring that all team members have (access to) the knowledge, tools, training, processes, and cohesion they need to fulfill their agreed-to roles and obligations (p. 229). Or put more simply (p. 267):

“Connection is what happens when we pay attention to each other.”

Note: Lisette Sutherland generously provided a copy of her book for review.

Coaching Story | Great Leaders Create Alignment

At a recent in-house Leadership Excellence Course multiple attendees realized, that from their position in the corporate hierarchy, the mission of the company was not as clear as it should be. This affects the teams they are responsible for, and may be addressed in multiple ways, which were discussed in several of our nine leadership workshops. Here are three examples.

First, the corporate mission may be included or referenced in their Personal Leadership Philosophy, for both possible introduction and reinforcement.

Second, during the Aligning and Accomplishing Goals workshop, multiple attendees observed that a lack of knowledge of broader corporate goals could lead to misalignment when establishing SMART (specific, measurable,  agreed-upon, realistic, trackable) goals with subordinates. We discussed this common situation within organizations is how silos form, or independent groups working either unaware and/or disconnected from the direction of the overall enterprise.

The third example was during our last workshop, Coaching to Develop People. After distinguishing coaching from appreciation and evaluation, the other two forms of feedback, we narrowed our workshop focus specifically on performance coaching, and noticed how this type of coaching is similar to what competitive athletes do.

Coaching without a prior, agreed upon set of goals is rarely effective. It stands to reason that if our prior developed goals, as well as our subordinate’s goals are not aligned with the overall organization, than our coaching may lead our team in the wrong direction.

Jim Collins emphasizes the same, and it’s worth visiting his web site and the emphasis on alignment. In our Core Values Alignment workshop, one of our more advanced workshops, we bring to attention that most businesses treat development of central tenets such as core values administratively, or focused on grammar and creating visually appealing posters, rather than the more demanding leadership challenge of aligning derivative activities, such as the mission and goals throughout the organization.

Without peeking at any documents, or going on-line, how well can you describe the mission and goals of your organization, or declared corporate values? More importantly, how well can your subordinates, and can they share with anyone the connection between what they do every day, and how that helps the organization move toward unified goals? Great Leaders Create Alignment.

Influence & Insight | June 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Learn From the Past

How many of you request feedback in order to learn and improve, or benefit from a 360 evaluation? Earlier this semester, at Cornell University, we went back a bit further and explored Leonidas I, the legendary warrior-king of the Greek city-state of Sparta. Most of us know of Leonidas I by way of Steven Pressfield’s wonderful book Gates of Fire. Or, we may have seen the movie 300. Both showcase the famous Battle of Thermopylae which pitted 300 Spartans against Persian King Xerxes’ army of hundreds of thousands.

What did we learn from the past? What leadership lessons did we discuss? Actually, quite a few. Barry Strauss, Professor of History and Classics, Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies, presented questions for me, that we could share with his students for group discussion.

Why is Leonidas an admired figure in modern culture? And why are we fascinated with Sparta, yet no so much democratic Athens? It seems today, as much as in 480 B.C. we are drawn to leaders who have a strong sense of purpose, who serve a cause greater than themselves. Think about our cherished stories of the proverbial entrepreneurs launching a new venture in a garage with nothing then creating something amazing that changes our lives.

We spoke about the differences between leadership and authority, and what makes a good leader. Repeatedly, the concept of leading by example, or leading from the front surfaced. All of these reasons attract us to Leonidas, as well as contemporary leaders and heroes.

When Strauss asked what kind of leader Leonidas was, Professor Sidney Finkelstein’s book Superbosses came to mind, and his three archetypes:

• Iconoclasts, or artistic types such as Miles Davis, who want to be the best in their field
• Glorious Bastards, who just care about winning, such as Larry Ellison of Oracle, or
• Nurturers, who guide and teach their protégées, such as Bill Walsh, legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Many of us found Leonidas a combination of a nurturer, who cared for his solders, who easily was a glorious bastard in battle.

In short, there was a lot to learn thinking about and discussing Leonidas. Both about leadership and about history. We even discussed whether or not Leonidas  had a Personal Leadership Philosophy. Look for a future choinquecast of the entire session.

What lessons do you learn? Do you request feedback? How does that affect your leadership philosophy? Leaders Learn From the Past.

open to think | Book Review

“We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea
that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives
won’t catch up with us.”
(p. 23)

Dan Pontefract’s timely work, subtitled Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, is necessary reading for the manager/leader who typically feels rushed and mostly reacts to external events throughout the day.

Many of Pontefract’s observations coincide with knowledge sharing, reminding us of Pfeffer and Sutton’s The Knowing-Doing Gap. He reminds us that we should recognize that our thinking is only as good as our ability to continually challenge our thinking and question (p. 4). Pontefract delineates three phases of thinking: Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Applied Thinking (p. 4).

This includes feedback:

“If I am not regularly asking team members for feedback on an idea, what does that say about my own personal level of thinking?” (p. 14) 

Pontefract illustrates the Open Thinking (p. 18):

open to think graphic .png

mindset as engaged, purpose-driven, and innovative (p. 16).

David DiSalvo, author of What Makes Your Brain Happy, states, “We experience habits as patterns of thought and behavior imbued with automaticity. Automaticity – a sort of internal momentum that no longer needs overt, conscious fuel to keep going — is the result of learning…” (p. 19). Translation: We need to get out of our comfort zone by taking deliberate action. The alternative – stuck in the habit of vacillating – demonstrates Indecisive Thinking (p. 20). An incisive reflection is shared by Lisa Helps (mayor of Victoria, p. 33): “I do think the greatest barrier in our society is a lack of genuine dialogue and critical practice. There is a massive lack of empathy out there…”

Pontefract’s three thinking phases, and their connection to Academy Leadership development programs, form the basis of this review.

creative thinking | reflection | journaling | coaching

At the beginning of a typical Academy Leadership Excellence Course, most attendees become very quiet when asked about keeping a leadership journal. Likely this also indicates a lack of reflection. As leaders, we should consider the effect on employee engagement (including our own) when reflection and subsequent journaling do not occur.

Pontefract offers Chuck Noland’s (the main character in Castaway played by Tom Hanks) compulsiveness, obsessiveness and addiction to work as typical of so many people today (p. 41). Noland would score rather low, like most attendees, during the self-evaluation portion of our Setting Leadership Priorities workshop.

What can we do differently? Consider daydreaming, as researchers have discovered that when people are working on a difficult objective, it is better for them to work on something that promotes mind-wandering first (p. 52). Foster creativity. Musician Joel Plaskett teaches us that if we fail to capture the nonsense that pops into our heads, we are missing out on the possibility of new ideas (p. 87).

A positive, performance coaching mindset also helps. Research conducted in 2009 by academics Jim Nam Choi, Troy Anderson, and Anick Veillette and published in Group & Organizational Management found that leaders who demonstrate unfavorable behavior toward an employee end up repressing that individual’s ability to think creatively (p. 59). We shut them down.  Remember your worst boss? We’ve probably all experienced an energy loss from a negative interaction before. Pontefract shares: “…it takes five positive interactions to undo every bad one: ‘bad interactions have stronger, more pervasive, and longer-lasting effects.’” (p. 56). This is one reason so many leave lousy supervisors, rather than companies.

Imagine a positive, Open Thinking mindset permeating throughout a business. Peter Senge, author, systems scientist, and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management (p. 70) offers a definition:

“A learning organization is an organization that is
continuously expanding its capacity to create its future.”

We love Pixar films, probably because Open Thinking is part of their culture. Ed Catmull explains how important this is: “Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization.” (p. 74)

critical thinking | leadership philosophy

At the beginning of a Leader’s Compass workshop, we emphasize differences between effective vs. efficient, and further that effectiveness results from doing the right things, in order of priority. Let’s take that a bit further and ask what guides our choices; or how do we know what the right thing to do is?

The answer lies in our individual or organizational core values. Interestingly, Netflix has nine listed values, and the first is concerned with Critical Thinking, and is referred to as “Judgement:” 

• You make wise decisions (people, technical, business, and creative) despite ambiguity.
• You identify root causes, and get beyond treating symptoms.
• You think strategically, and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do.
• You smartly separate what must be done well now, and what can be improved later 

In the context of our leadership philosophy, this single core value contains operational principles, expectations and (possibly) commitment to feedback (improvement).

Doing the right thing often means overcoming conflict avoidance, and internal pressure to “look the other way.” Pontefract showcases whistleblower Tyler Schultz’s experience at Theranos:

“Fraud is not a trade secret. I refuse to allow bullying, intimidation, and threat of legal action to take away from my First Amendment right to speak out against wrongdoing.” (p. 102)

Besides committing to a written leadership philosophy, how may we improve upon “doing the right thing?” Author Daniel Goleman explains in his 2013 book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, that improving executive function can assist attention control, self-discipline, and temptation (p. 114). Pontefract calls out four key attributes as executive functions (pp. 176-177):

• Be Mindful: Taking the time to regularly jot down impressions, observations, and analyses of actions and projects currently being worked on will serve as useful reminders at a future date (pp. 180-181).
• Be Attentive: Jesse Sostrin (Harvard Business Review) Reflective urgency is “the ability to bring conscious, rapid reflection to the priorities of the moment – to align your best thinking with the swiftest course of action.” (p. 184)
• Be Ruthless: It becomes impossible to prioritize key actions if we allow any or all actions to invade our schedule (p. 188).
• Be Humane: Three types of empathy can assist you in reaching the desired goal: rational empathy, emotional empathy, and sympathetic empathy (p. 195). The Center for Creating Leadership (CCL) found:

“The research shows there is no other single leadership skill
that is more important and yet, in today’s culture, empathy
is near extinction.”
(p. 198)

The more we practice these four attributes, the better leader we will become. We should endeavor cultivating curiosity, and the earlier the better. Pontefract finds that if young people are not exposed to Critical Thinking skills from an early age, they progress from formal education to the workplace quick to judge and eager to act but ill-equipped to reflect and make informed decisions (p. 118). How often do we encounter (or become) the opposite: The arrogant and ignorant boss?

applied thinking | purpose-driven leadership

As a fourteen-year old working as a dishwasher (elaborately called Dish Machine Operator, or DMO) at a Sambo’s restaurant, I noticed that the most effective waitress, Jeanine, moved the slowest, interacted most with customers, and also received (by far) the most tips. Edward de Bono, author of Six Thinking Hats, wrote (p. 163): “Activity is not the same as effectiveness. A skilled sportsman seems to have more time and to do things more slowly than the less skilled one.”

This seems counterintuitive, until we consider priorities. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less captures the process well:

”Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying
to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your
highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
(p. 165) 

When completing the task overtakes the things that really matter, such as safety, bad things may happen, as Pontefract vividly retells the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster story.

Pontefract equates Open Thinking with “flow,” (see Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) since an Open Thinker may appear to be working effortlessly but behind the scenes they are continuously balancing effort versus output. They are examining the requirements to be a productive Applied Thinker (p. 175).

open thinking

Pontefract found Open Thinkers were always learning, (p. 209) and that their curiosity seemed almost infinite. It’s as though we need to teach ourselves to slow down, stop reacting all the time, and ask questions first. John Dalla Costa suggested the secret to Open Thinking lies in our ability to spend less time fixated on “what we do” than in investing time to understand “why we are doing what we do.” (p. 217)

Dalla Costa recommends Open Thinkers demonstrate the following three traits as they work with others throughout the Open Thinking cycle (p. 217):

• Courage: to escape the timidity of what we know to bravely connect the new thinking of others to our own heart and insight.
• Responsibility: the ability to respond with integrity and care to new data when working with others.
• Fairness: to balance appreciation with critique, and to accept or forgive failures as the cost of innovation and experimentation.

We can think of these traits as a Dalla Costa leadership philosophy.

Pontefract summarizes ten essential guidelines on pages 232-233 to finish the book, with the last one offering an appropriate closing:

“Open Thinkers continuously dream, decide, and do, for it is those
who close themselves off that suffer the ignominy of regret.”
(p. 233)

Note: Dan Pontefract generously provided a copy of his book for review.

Coaching Story | Leaders Promote Emotional Intelligence

My friend and colleague Susan Packard recently sent me a copy of her new book Fully Human. My hope is that it reaches a larger audience than her first work New Rules of the Game, which was written primarily, although not exclusively for women. Her book is subtitled, 3 Steps to Grow Your Emotional Fitness in Work, Leadership, and Life. This reminded me of a sentence in my Personal Leadership Philosophy: At the end of each day, key questions include “Did I do my best? -- At work, at home, and at life.”

Where did this focus on Emotional Intelligence come from? It’s likely this started with Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work Emotional Intelligence. We can think of Susan Packard’s work, as well as Dan Pink’s breakthrough book Drive and Mark Crowley’s wonderful Lead From the Heart, as how-to guides. Goleman’s research introduced us to Emotional Intelligence, and there are many worthy books that inform us how to put Emotional Intelligence, or E.Q, into action, and showcase the benefits of doing so. This also helps us cross barriers between generations, as Kelly and Bobby Riggs shared with us in Counter Mentor Leadership.

Do you still think primarily about performance and potential solely based on I.Q? If you do, you’re not alone. Consider a deeper dive into E.Q. Add some new leadership tools to your toolbox. Leaders Promote Emotional Intelligence.

Influence & Insight | May 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Cross The Knowing-Doing Gap

In January 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.

Creating Things That Matter | Book Review

“They motivate us to dream up, experimentally develop,
and express new ideas, or what I call the Creator’s Cycle:
ideation, experimentation, and exhibition.”
(p. 71)

Just as Douglas Hofstadter explored fundamental concepts linking mathematics, symmetry, and intelligence in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, David Edwards defines both a Creator’s Cycle and further how we may create things of lasting significance.

Edwards’ book is for the genuinely curious, and highly recommended for any aspiring leader who has wondered what it takes to create an environment that fosters innovation, camaraderie, and breakthrough performance and culture.

This review considers leadership lessons from the six breakthrough creativity stories in Part II, the heart of the book. Edwards’ personal story and classical approaches to creation (Part I) are included along with environmental considerations for leaders from Part III.

The Current, Constrained Path

Edwards describes how our creativity is halted early in life:

“We learn to advance along one of the two standard paths of
contemporary creation, the commercial and cultural paths,
with their regulations and constraints
(p. 6).
This adventurous approach – or ‘third way’ – to creating
often gets sidelined as soon as we enter school.”

Why does this happen? Edwards answers with historical analysis. According to rationalist philosophers, our perceptions fall into two categories: intuitions and deductions (p. 14), and that much of what we consider progress in the past century has been due to deduction, frequently at the expense of intuition. Edwards cites the English novelist and chemist C.P. Snow who argued that scientists would now be lost without help from humanists, and humanists would be lost without help from scientists (p. 17).

Edmonds appears to believe the same, or that we happen to be on the verge of an unusual grassroots renaissance. There are a few reasons to believe this (pp. 19-20):

• First, humanity has over these last years dramatically increased its public expressiveness.
• Second, grassroots creators are increasingly being supported by “activators” of every social, economic, and geographical position.
• Third, specialized environments or “culture labs” are being set up for grassroots creating that share deep commonalities with those that appear in my stories of towering creators today.

These observations coincide with findings that people seek purpose in the workplace, often not found, leading to sustained low employee engagement scores over multiple decades.

Let’s look at the three ways of creating (p. 36):

• commercial benefit (making money)
• cultural benefit (to successfully publish a book)
• passionate curiosity (to explore, like a pioneer)

Edwards personally discovered this, as he [his team] discovered how to make an insulin particle you could inhale easily and inexpensively (p. 40), and sold a company based on this innovation for a lot of money. What do you think happened afterward? Despite the product succeeding in clinical trials, Eli Lily eventually shelved it (p. 41). Edwards discovered that important learning happened when you tried to bring benefit to people, and it involved neither completely deductive nor inductive creative processes but rather something in between (p. 43).

This leads Edwards to focus on creativity. He highlights seven aesthetic dimensions (pp. 51-56):

• Passion
• Empathy
• Intuition
• Innocence
• Humility
• Aesthetic intelligence
• Obsession 

II | Creator’s Cycle | Environment

Perhaps the most fundamental takeaway from our Academy Leadership Creating a Motivational Environment workshop is understand the leader’s role in motivation, or that people don’t actually motivate others. Consider how each of the following innovators addressed the seven aesthetic dimensions while modeling the Creator’s Cycle.

Before Ferran Adrià, brilliant artistic minds turned to careers in design, advertising, and the arts (p. 63). Adrià’s approach to cooking aligned with the brain’s motivation to create stemming from a sophisticated reward system that involves the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and somatostatin, the gathering of sensory information from inside and outside the body (p. 69). He became the most famous chef in the world, essentially creating a culture lab that had turned into a place where, improbably, the three ways of creating mixed together (p. 73). Like Bill Walsh (see Superbosses), he developed protégés, and the top restaurant award passed on to chefs who had trained with or been deeply influenced by him (p. 74).

MIT Professor Robert Langer’s colleagues sometimes ridiculed his overly intuitive approach to cancer research (p. 78). Recall we use our Energize2Lead profiles to better understand how to approach others and to learn other’s instinctive needs. Langer expressed his process in aesthetic forms that he, Henry Brem, and Judah Folkman found meaningful (p. 81), such as visual equations for research guidance. He was also a nurturing Superboss. Langer has published more Science and Nature articles than any living engineer. And yet, he says, his students matter most, more than any patent or invention (p. 87).

Edwards, like Jim Collins (see 20 Mile March), reminds us that fast creation of things that matter to many is rare (p. 95). He describes the second phase of creating as a long trek between first ideation and ultimate realization of a dream, where  intuition, innocence, and humility remind us when we discover that things are not as we had imagined, and if we are to change anything, our ideas need to change first (p. 96). Danny Hillis, inventor of pinch-to-zoom, relies heavily on intuition, or gut instinct, as one of the most critical dimensions to creating to matter (p. 98). He demonstrates humility and curiosity: “There’s nothing more important to me than being surrounded by people who are smarter than me,” Hillis says without a sense of irony (p. 103).

When composing our Personal Leadership Philosophy, commitment to feedback and living our values is paramount for continued growth. Richard Garriott created the first massive online role-playing game, Ultima Online, after he connected with his audience. Reading his fans’ feedback changed everything (pp. 117-118) – as he discovered that good actually meant nothing to his fans. Winning was all that mattered to them, and that did not align with his values. Garriott created the avatar as an expression for our values. He found the essence of morality reduced in his mind to three values, best captured by Kahlil Gilbran (ref): truth, compassion, and courage (p. 122).

Diane Paulus, while working at an Off-Broadway theatre, learned the importance of authenticity. When her agent asked her to curl her hair to avoid the “Vietnamese bar girl” look (p. 141), almost immediately it felt wrong, and inauthentic, and frustrating. She had to find her own way, just as those in leader roles may find themselves alone, guided only by a personal moral compass. In doing so, Paulus had not only gone to a place she had never been before; she had listened and adopted an authentic voice, and as a consequence, Prospero’s Revenge turned into her coveted cultural conversation (p. 143). It’s a great lesson for leaders today. In a fast-changing world, or in a world of frontier experience, creator value lies in listening and watching, in observing new conditions and knowing how to express original observation (p. 146).

The best leaders are often described as obsessive. Neri Oxman, an Israeli professor of architecture and design at the MIT Media Lab, explores the possibilities of natural functions in the design and architecture of objects like clothes, shelter, and furniture (p. 156). In a way, this is a uniquely human expression. The visual cortex accounts for around one-third of the volume of the adult brain (p. 163). Not surprisingly, aesthetic obsession is an instinct that creators have to support the survival of an idea. Until the idea is utterly perfect, they feel unsatisfied (p. 160).

Future Vision | Leadership Nuggets

In Dan Pink’s Drive,  autonomy, mastery and purpose are highlighted as fundamental motivating factors. Edwards, perhaps intuitively, understood this.  “Mostly I worked with my students to help them overcome a hesitation to take the very first step of the Creator’s Cycle – to dream with passionate curiosity.” (p. 178)

Many Baby Boomers bemoan traits of younger generations. Maybe that reflects how much creativity may be lost over time. Edwards reflects: In 2014 and 2015, the first wave of students who had grown up in the era of portable electronic media. My new students no longer cared to follow see ideas, and we started brainstorming their own (p. 178).

Think about that from a leader point of view. Especially if we grew up being trained for compliance (management), all of this expression may look chaotic if not defiant. For the first time ever (p. 181), a significant swath of the general public is expressing itself in ways that endure, not just online, but in all the generated forms of what I [Edwards] will call the Grassroots Creator Movement (GCM).

We discover in the Coaching to Develop People workshop that the best coaches provide any tools and equipment necessary for growth. Edwards likewise observes that engagement is what parents, friends, and lovers do when they give attention, time, and material resources to their children, friends, and partners to help them realize their personal aspirations (p. 208). His term for coach is a bit different, activator. Activators give creators courage to pursue their dreams (p. 218).


Tom Skalak, science and innovation strategist, sums it up best:

“We live at a time of unprecedented intellectual freedom
and discovery. But you can’t discover the future fearing
the harm exploration may bring.”
(p. 224)

Note: David Edwards generously provided a copy of his book for review.

Coaching Story | Leaders Connect Instinctively

The past couple weeks have included multiple Academy Leadership Energize2Lead, or E2L, Workshops. Intentionally, this workshop is offered first during multi-day Leadership Development Programs so that attendees can understand themselves and others at a much deeper level. One of the attendees on day one of an Advanced Leadership Course declared to the participant group “I was not a fan of the E2L Profile,” and further mentioned he had contacted his supervisor before the course informing her “I don’t want to complete it.” Somehow his supervisor persuaded him to complete the profile. Interestingly, this skeptical professional later admitted in front of everyone near the end of the first day of the program “The E2L Workshop spoke to me.” How about that!

So, what’s going on here? Good question. A thought that comes to mind is emotional intelligence. It’s an everyday phrase today, but wasn’t in 1995 when Daniel Goleman published the classic work with the same name. Emotional Intelligence, the book, is not just a groundbreaking work, it redefines how we understand intelligence, and perhaps more importantly, for a leader, how we connect with each other. Similar to Christine Comaford’s Smart Tribes, Goleman examines fundamental human behavior, at the physiological, and often instinctive, level.

Just like our E2L profiles. Understanding our instinctive needs, and the instinctive needs of others, is vital for any effective leader. Goleman revealed this to us. Our E2L profile and E2L Workshops explore this. Perhaps this is why the skeptical client changed his mind. He connected instinctively.

How well do you know yourself and your team? Are your connections more than superficial? Leaders Connect Instinctively.

Influence & Insight | April 2019

Leadership Story | Leaders Seek the Best Talent

During spring 2017 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.

Build An A Team | Book Review

“People want to dream, and then they want to realize their dreams by learning new things, developing new competencies, and having an opportunity to make an impact on the world.” (p. 172) 

Whitney Johnson reintroduces the S-Curve and shares what Academy Leadership Excellence Course attendees uncover during Aligning and Accomplishing Goals workshops: Good leaders learn the goals and dreams of those in their charge. This may sound weird, especially if we were trained not to learn what we were told was “personal information,” and therefore off-limits.

The result: Persistent, lousy engagement. Nationally, only 33 percent of employees are engaged in their work, according to Gallup (p. 3). Even worse, Johnson cites one survey revealing that 84 percent of employees said they felt “trapped” in their jobs (p. 4). 

In Johnson’s prior work, Disrupt Yourself, she asks us to focus on, or disrupt, ourselves. In her new work, she instructs us how the S-Curve may be employed to develop others, or how to apply it from a developmental point of view. adopting a developmental mindset, and utilizing the S-Curve, we may make lasting improvements, since change, not stasis, is the natural mode of human life (p. 5). Johnson persuades us that personal disruption in the workplace – the movement of people from one learning curve to the next, one challenge to another – can drive learning, engagement, and even innovation (p. 7).

Poorly developed delegation skills repeatedly surface in Setting Leadership Priorities workshop self-evaluations. Johnson notes the same: 

“It’s not uncommon to hear a manager complain that they
have no one who can pick up the slack when they’re on
vacation but in almost the same breath say they’re
just too busy to teach employees what to do or dismiss
hands-on coaching as hand-holding or babysitting.”
(p. 8)

Hence this review’s emphasis on adopting the S-Curve, or a developmental mentality, and application to the hiring process presented in chapters three and four, which may begin improving decades of static engagement survey scores.

S-Curve | Developmental Mindset

Johnson recommends aiming for an optimal mix of low-, middle-, and high-end-of-the-curve employees; roughly 15 percent at the low end, around 70 percent of the team in the sweet spot middle, and 15 percent at the high end of the curve (p. 18).

How we think about the inexperience, or low end, is critical. Johnson cites Saul Kaplan (see the Business Innovation Factory):


“My life has been about searching for the steep learning curve
because that’s where I do my best work.”
(p. 18)

Can you recall overcoming the initial fear and subsequent energizing period in a past job when you rapidly climbed a learning curve? That’s the sweet spot. A leader who prioritizes using a developmental-based decision-making process seeks to continuously place people where they may learn. How do we promote use of the S-Curve, or developmental framework? A simple start is to create metrics that reward talent spotters and developers (p. 24). Mark Crowley (see ChoinqueCast Episode 2) emphatically believes organizations should not promote anyone to a supervisory role unless they have been an advocate for others, or embrace a developmental leader role. Great idea.

Or put more simply, when you facilitate personal disruption, you build an A-Team and become a boss people want to work for (p. 28).

S-Curve-Based Hiring | Motivation

Johnson recounts the typical new hiring environment: We’re shorthanded and overwhelmed. Desperate, we hire the person we perceive to be the most qualified to fill the void, and for a time, they do (pp. 58-59). Take a look at any ordinary job description, and notice the daunting breadth and depth of skills, usually with no assigned priority. Sound familiar? This leads to unintended consequences, since (p. 60) some studies suggest that women especially are less likely to apply for jobs they’re not 100 percent qualified for, under the mistaken impression that job requirements are actually, well, “requirements.”

What to do differently? Hiring for potential rather than proficiency is the foundation for building an A-Team (p. 59). Use the S-Curve. Rather than requiring the ideal candidate to possess mastery of the entire skill set for the job, hire people for their low-end-of-the-curve capacity to fill many roles, not just the top-shelf, high-end-of-the-curve qualifications for one role (p. 65).

Hogan’s Assessments (p. 68) offers a constructive way to rethink the hiring process, especially with regard to team building:

“A useful way to think about teams … is to consider
the two roles every person plays in a working group:
a functional role, based on their formal position and
technical skill, and a psychological role, based
on the kind of person they are.”

Johnson cautions us, sharing some of the subconscious emotional motivations that we rarely address head on but that we would do well to consider (pp. 70-74):

• If only I could clone myself.
• If only I could find someone to do all the annoying stuff I don’t want to do.
• If only I knew how to do that.

Consider this: Each of these attitudes – or self-created obstacles – seem to have roots in a scarcity mindset. It’s limiting, and usually impedes growth.

Johnson also challenges us to rethink hiring: The goal of a job posting should be to attract talented people who are qualified to onboard at the low end of the job’s learning curve (p. 75). Think about the energy and enthusiasm, and creativity that would spark. Chances are this would open up internal opportunities. Proven employees who jump at something different, despite the disadvantages, are a hugely overlooked resource (p. 79).

Our Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP) can be of great help. Often, we include a vision, which is a great start. Timothy Pychyl (p. 89): “Until we have a vision of who we want to become, we can’t do much.” How about a commitment to learning about each other? Why do this? Johnson mentions Kathleen Warner:

“In my experience of corporate America, personal information
wasn’t valued or exalted but used as a sledgehammer or other
object of destruction or discrimination.”
(p. 92)

 Knowing others, and what fundamentally motivates them, is a big deal. Recall how important expectations (of each other) are when composing our PLP. None of us is as comprehensible or knowable as we like to think we are (p. 94). We learned via the Tom Peters Group in our leadership classes that 87 percent of leaders believe they are good communicators but only 17 percent of leader’s subordinates agree.

Engagement and Mastery

In our Coaching to Develop People workshop, we advise not ignoring top performers (or at mastery level on the S-Curve). Johnson encourages the same: This can come in the form of stretch assignments, since, when challenged, 67 percent of people will demonstrate above-average creativity. Only 33 percent of people show above-average creativity in nonchallenging roles (p. 111).

One of the more interesting, and perhaps counterintuitive developmental tools Johnson advocates for, is intentional restrictions. In the case of your sweet-spot employees, consider imposing constraints that fall into the following categories (p. 115-119):

• Time
• Money
• Expertise
• Buy-In

A developmental leader envisions constraints as growth opportunities, or the creation of a motivational environment. Johnson: Your job is to provide the soil, to impose the constraints, that allow your employees to bloom (p. 122).

The best coaches create new coaches. Johnson recommends three important roles high-end-of-the-curve employees can play (p. 131):

• Pacesetters: pushing low-enders to excel
• Trainers: conveying corporate memory
• Mentors: facilitating collaboration

These are perfect tasks to both delegate and develop, keeping steady movement on the S-Curve. Over time, this will create a learning organization. Will individuals make mistakes along the way? Of course. Johnson wisely calls out Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson, who has studied failure extensively. Her analysis is that responding wisely to failure is exactly how companies become “learning organizations” and avoid future catastrophes (p. 144).


Embracing a developmental philosophy requires courage. Putting employee development first will almost never benefit you in the short term, but over the long term, it will (p. 152).

“Taking charge around the who, what, when,
where and how of these leaps is critical.”
(p. 149)

Note: Whitney Johnson generously provided a copy of her book for review.

Coaching 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.

Influence & Insight | March 2019

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.

Let There Be Water | Book Review

“With leadership, even seemingly insurmountable
obstacles can be overcome,”

inscribed inside the book sent by  Seth Siegel, is the perfect capture statement for this magnificent chronicle of national vision and leadership. Outlined as an historical narrative, Siegel clearly associates water policy as a reflection of governance. Useful maps (pp. xxi-xxii) are included for following Israel’s geographical transformation. George P. Schultz observes: “In the middle of a desert and in the world’s driest region, Israel has managed and innovated its way to a water surplus.” (p. xxiii)

This review introduces Israel’s Leadership Philosophy regarding water, highlights several key leadership analogies, and examines the results of truly embracing and living this way for decades.

Introduction | Leadership Philosophy

Siegel trumpets a call to action, based on five macro trends – that have been the main drivers of an imminent water crisis, many of which are a long time in the making (pp. 4-6):

• Population
• Rising Middle Class
• Climate Change
• Tainted Water
• Leaks

Israel’s future vision of water started in 1939 (p. 20), and ultimately led to the following dozen elements which are separately and together a key to understanding Israel’s philosophy (pp. 236-251):

Israel’s Leadership [Water] Philosophy

• “The Water Belongs to the Nation”
• Cheap Water Is Expensive
• Use Water to Unify the Country
• Regulators, Not Politicians
• Create a Water-Respecting Culture
• All of the Above
• Use Water Fees for Water
• Innovation Wanted
• Measure and Monitor
• Plan Today for Long into the Future
• Advocates Needed
• The Time to Act Is Now

Analogy I | Abundance vs. Scarcity

This is perhaps the most significant analog, as Israel is essentially an arid, desert country. Who had an abundance mindset? Simcha Blass, who was the central character in leading the thinking and planning about Israel’s water, and later in transforming agriculture around the world (p. 23).

The predominant, or scarcity mindset, was held by the British. They (p. 33) gave testimony to the United Nations (UN) delegates and reiterated their belief that the territory could not provide for the many homeless, stateless Holocaust survivors then in refugee camps in Europe, two years after the war had come to an end.

Blass proposed a three-phase approach to national self-sufficiency in water (p. 25):

• There were large amounts of water below the surface of the Negev desert that could be found by deep drilling.
• Proposed pumping water out of the Yarkon River, north and east of Tel Aviv, and transporting it to the Negev, primarily for agricultural use.
• At some undetermined time in the future, water would be brought from north to south via mostly underground infrastructure that would bisect the nation.

Notice that the first phase, if successful, could quickly dispel a paucity mindset. This vision set up Israel for a decades-long march toward their national objective. The second and third phases implicitly suggest a national strategy, in contrast with many countries. Siegel notes that many Western countries have sleepwalked into counterproductive legal and regulatory structures, while their citizens, agricultural sectors, and industries have carelessly adopted wasteful – even destructive – consumption patterns (p. 220).

Analogy II | Great by Choice

Israel’s story serves a perfect example of Jim Collins20 Mile March from Great by Choice. Siegel calls out The National Water Carrier. It was a feat of imagination and daring, requiring engineering innovation and a variety of financing vehicles, including one that led to riots and deep divisions that took years to heal (p. 20).

However, the best leaders communicate a clear vision, align teams, and execute. Siegel observes: Large infrastructure projects that are completed on time and on budget give the larger public a feeling of civic pride and enhance national identity (p. 38).

A couple guideposts along this marathon: No other country makes the reuse of its sewage a national priority as does Israel. Over 85 percent of the nation’s sewage is reused (p. 78). Also, Israel learned along the way that reclaimed sewage is more reliable because it isn’t dependent on the vagaries of climate and rainfall, and even with all of the infrastructure required to develop it, reclaimed sewage is ultimately cheaper (p. 86).

The resulting mindset from such a national journey is an optimistic, forward-looking one, captured by Booky Oren:

If Israel high-tech could be born without the military
as the driver, why couldn’t a technology-driven water
utility rethink the world of water?”
(p. 153)

Analogy III | Collaboration

In our Academy Leadership Leveraging the Power of Conflict workshops we learn that compromise (gain|gain) and collaboration (win|win) strategies are preferred, and that collaboration is the best, yet often requires the most time. Zohar Yinon, former CEO of Hagihon, embodied this spirit early on:

“If I can help a company to develop a new idea in water, it is good
for me, good for them, good for Israel, and, when they bring their
innovation to other countries, good for the world.”
(p. 51)

Collaboration was also necessary by the government. Siegel recognizes The Chief Scientist program represents the best of government engagement in industrial policy (p. 167). This allowed incubator program acceleration of numerous water developments.

Decades of this mindset led to the pragmatic vision of Eilon Adar:

“If we start to think of water as a commodity
and not as a symbol of national identity, we can exchange,
trade, buy, or sell water in its many forms”
(p. 190).

Many differing people can work together when one grand idea links politics, economic development, water usage, and the environment (p. 194).

Analogy IV | Knowledge-Doing Gap

Pfeffer and Sutton’s The Knowing-Doing Gap informs us that when knowledge is treated as a process, rather than a static item to be stored, breakthrough performance results. Israel embodied this concept starting with Blass using the diversion of the Colorado River as a model (p. 26).

A perhaps counterintuitive example of knowledge sharing was Israel’s real pricing, or elimination of distorting subsidies. With no rationing or limit on supply, real pricing induced customers to cut their use of household water by sixteen percent (p. 47).

As vital new knowledge grew, leaders such as Nathan Berkman decided in the late 1960s and early 1970s to have his government division go into business and to start selling the group’s desalination know-how – such as it was – to others (p. 114).

Think of the challenging Israel | Jordan | Palestine relationship today. As a result of Israel’s water leadership, dialogue over water can be a vehicle for confidence-building measures that can led to progress in some of the other areas of dispute (p. 173).

Knowledge sharing now has international reach. MASHAV (a Hebrew acronym loosely translated as Center for International Cooperation) embodies this spirit (p. 209): “We were there to help by teaching and training, but not by providing financial assistance” to African states, Asia, and South America.

Living a Leadership Philosophy | Influence

When we live our leadership philosophy or our organizational constitution (see S. Chris Edmonds, the culture engine), multiple breakthroughs are likely. The most significant example of an organizational constitution decision by the Zionist pioneers and the young State of Israel, having a greater impact on Israel’s water culture, was the decision to make water the common property of all (pp. 16-18):

• 1955 | prohibited any drilling for water without first obtaining a license.
• 1955 | prohibited any distribution of water, unless that supply was done through a meter.
• 1957 | placed river water, streams and rainwater under government control.

A visiting American soil scientist, Walter Clay Lowdermilk, aligned early with Israel’s philosophy, and rejected the prevailing White Paper doctrine (p. 28):

“The absorptive capacity of any country is a dynamic
and expanding conception. It changes with the ability of a
population to make maximum use of its land, and to
put its economy on a scientific and productive basis.”

By living within this philosophy, The Water Authority wanted to change [prevailing] culture and to use Israel’s cities as laboratories for new ideas in water (p. 48). Fast forward several decades: Israel is now a leader in plant research (p. 68), as a result of numerous water-efficiency initiatives.

Perhaps the greatest innovation to date: Due to the use of the RO (reverse osmosis) membrane, the water wasn’t just the highest quality water to be found in Israel in terms of cleanliness, low salinity, and high clarity; it also turned out to be about fifty percent cheaper than any of the cost estimates the Cabinet had received when deciding to pursue desalinated water (p. 121).


Ilan Cohen: Today we are in a period like the dawn of agriculture (p. 127).

Israel is the only country in the world which has less area
covered by desert today than fifty years ago
(p. 98).

Note: Seth Siegel generously provided a copy of his book for review.

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.

Influence & Insight | February 2019

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.

the culture engine | Book Review

“If you want more positive behaviors, decisions, and actions in your organization’s culture, you must begin work to change the underlying expectations of leaders in your organization.” (p. 9)

S. Chris Edmonds shares a methodical, step-by-step how-to manual for developing and implementing an organizational constitution. Subtitled A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, And Transforming Your Workplace, we may consider this guidebook a highly recommended supplement for Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course graduates.

This unique road map encompasses both use of a Personal Leadership Philosophy (My Leader’s Compass workshop), normative behavioral statements (Core Values Alignment workshop), and additionally includes Cultural Effectiveness Assessments (five questions each) which may be used for tailored Survey Monkey analysis. 

Just as Jim Collins stresses values alignment, Edmonds learned that aligned behaviors are the pathway to workplace inspiration – and that misaligned behaviors lead to workplace frustration (p. xviii).

This review links each of the book’s three parts: Defining, crafting, and managing to an organizational constitution, respectively, to key leadership concepts and relevant Academy Leadership workshops.

I | Definition | Why Do This?

Edmonds advises we pursue our organization’s truth, by (pp. 4-5):

• De-Insulating Yourself.
• Genuinely Connecting with Team Members.
• Seeking Out Truth-Tellers.
• Sharing Your Assumptions and Your Learning. 

A commitment to continuous and open feedback is required to do this, which likely will require increasing relational capacity with your team. Recall commitment to feedback is one (of eight) of the key parts of a Personal Leadership Philosophy.

Reminiscent of team formation stages (Building High Performance Teams workshop) Edmonds lists, from lowest to highest, the levels of workplace inspiration (p. 10):

• Dysfunction
• Tension
• Civility
• Acknowledgement
• Validation 

The validation level is the highest degree of workplace inspiration, with indicators reflecting leader to coach transformation. Not only is credit given for efforts and accomplishment, responsibility and authority is given to engaged, talented team members (p. 10). Consider how most organizations treat culture administratively, merely displaying posters and/or web pages proclaiming myriad noble traits. We need to actually do much more.

Edmonds insists if leaders want the culture to evolve, they must act to clarify their desired culture (defining it in behavioral terms), model their desired culture (living it in every interaction), and hold everyone on the team or in the company accountable for living it in every interaction (p. 13). He offers a useful tool, The Performance-Values Matrix:

The challenge with this model is how to measure the values match (p. 21). How do we do this? Edmonds contends the only way to shift values from lofty, vague references is to define values in observable, tangible, measurable behaviors (p. 22). This sentiment, or call to defined actions, is the central message of the book.

Most of us have probably tolerated poor values performance as an occasionally necessary trade-off with superstars. But, the upper-left quadrant is where the most damaging players reside (p. 23).

Performance Values Matrix.jpg

In The Integrity Dividend, Dr. Tony Simons defines behavioral integrity as managers demonstrating their organization’s values and doing what they say they will do (p. 31). Or, more simply put, walking the walk. You create your legacy with every plan, decision, and action. Everything you do tells your boss, peers, team members, and customers what you stand for (p. 34). Consider how different this environment may be from your current one.

II | Crafting | How to Document This

First, culture must become a high-payoff activity (HPA - from Setting Leadership Priorities workshop). Edmonds: “You’ll need to redirect time and energy to culture-champion activities from less important actions (p. 39).” This may seem alien. Recognize most team leaders and team members have never lived in an intentional, high-performance, values-aligned work environment (p. 40).

Comparable to day three of an Advanced Leadership Course (Personal Development Plan), Edmonds requests that we clarify [our] personal purpose (p. 43), and further add observable, tangible, measurable behaviors to each value (p. 51). This process is nearly identical to the Core Values Alignment workshop. On pages 56-63, Edmonds outlines a robust process for creating a Personal Leadership Philosophy.

In the absence of clarity, with no formal declaration of purpose or mission, the practical reality of day-to-day activity becomes the accepted focus, the norm (p. 72). An effective purpose statement should be clear about what the company does. 2008 Research (Institute for Corporate Productivity) found that while 84 percent of organizations studied have published a mission statement, 62 percent of those companies said that just half of their employees could repeat it (p. 78).

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh’s story of Zappos, the company’s values have been jointly developed, communicated and demonstrated throughout the company. Edmonds calls these behavioral terms. Values and valued behaviors are the evidence of your constitution that is noticed by people – customers, potential employees, everyone who comes into contact with your team members (p. 89).

In our Accountability: Building a Culture of Responsibility workshop, we learn that responsibility is an internal force and accountability is an external force. We may apply this to strategies & goals. Edmonds describes strategy as where the company’s vision of the future intersects with the realities of the now, where traction is gained one product test and one happy customer at a time (p. 113), but likewise mentions that we often don’t publish or share them.

On pages 121-122 Edmonds illustrates a Five-point Strategic Planning Wheel which outlines a useful process to overcome these constraints:

• Where are we now?
• What opportunities or imperatives shall we consider?
• Decide (prioritize) how to leverage company’s combination of skills, vision, and ingenuity.
• Work your plan.
• Assess progress on and effectiveness of strategies and goals. 

Managing | Live It

How do we know when we are living within our defined culture? Here are several key metrics, which extend beyond typical operational and financial ones (pp. 137-138):

• Employee satisfaction or engagement.
• Absenteeism.
• Turnover.
• Tenure.
• Time to fill.
• Productivity.
• Revenue per employee. 

Edmonds tells the inspirational story of Garry Ridge (WD-40) who began studying tribes, including Aboriginal tribe behaviors. Their first tribal attribute is identity and belonging; their second attribute is learning and teaching (p. 156). That’s getting to the heart of engagement.

This leads to transformational leadership. While team members apply their time, energy, and skills toward meeting (or exceeding) formalized goals, the leader takes on the role of performance observer and coach (p. 163). This is what Stanley McChrystal learned and shared in Team of Teams.

Many of our written Leadership Philosophies state Leading by Example. Why is this so important? Before any team members can be asked to embrace the new values and behaviors, leaders – those with formal supervisory responsibility – must put themselves on the line by living the values and behaviors and inviting feedback through the values survey (p. 182).

Resistance to an organizational constitution is likely. Edmonds cautions: “If you allow one values-misaligned leader or player to continue his or her bad behavior after you’ve implemented your organizational constitution, you’ve pulled the rug out from under your values-aligned players.” (p. 191) Here’s his antidote (pp. 196-199):

•    Don’t take the resistance personally.
•    Present what you’ve heard and observed in a calm, nonblaming, nonjudgmental manner.
•    Understand the resister’s perspective.
•    Every leader must be fully on board.
•    Give the resistant leaders a chance to align to your organizational constitution. 

Do you hire primarily for values alignment? If your team or company is like most others across the globe today, the primary lens you use when hiring new players is that of skills and past accomplishments (p. 205). This is what the  Riggs’ concluded in Counter Mentor Leadership.

Or put more simply (p. 213):

“The moral of these stories is that the way you treat new hires tells
them more about your purpose, values, and culture than anything you say.”


A golden nugget about health and energy:

“The healthier you are, the better you’ll be able
to manage being a visible, proactive champion of your
team or company’s desired work environment.”
(p. 66)

Note: Chris Edmonds generously provided a copy of his book for review.

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.

Influence & Insight | January 2019

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 Managment 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.

Brave Leadership | Book Review

What is the impact you are here to have on your team,
on your organization, on your friends and family,
on your community, on this world?
(p. 265)

Kimberly Davis shares her Brave Leadership Manifesto on page 267. Read that first, then again after finishing this bold and refreshing work. Davis weaves her personal transition from actor to leader with many revelations we likely have encountered (or will). After defining Brave Leadership, Davis details numerous barriers, usually self-imposed, that prevent our path to courageous leadership, and how to overcome them (pushing through).

Consider (pp. 41-42) how dramatically our creativity vanishes as we age:

98% genius level of creativity | 3-5 years old
30% genius level of creativity | 8-10 years old
12% genius level of creativity | 13-15 years old
2% genius level of creativity | over 24 years old

Answering “What happens to our creativity?” is essentially the driving force in Davis’ reflections. This review highlights our outdated, limited and ineffective model of connecting with others, how we tend to hold ourselves back, and suggests integrating Davis’ findings into leadership lessons we have learned, especially use of our Personal Leadership Philosophy.

What is Brave? | A New Motivation and Leadership Model is Needed

In our Coaching to Develop Leaders workshop, we viewed The Teddy Stallard Story, which poignantly reminds us we never know when something we say or do (or do not) may affect someone’s life forever. Davis concludes the same: Like it or not, your behavior and actions (whether conscious or unconscious) have an effect on the people around you (p. 9).

Or put another way, think of Brave as an active path (p. 13). Leadership, likewise, is best thought of as a verb, also as a description of activities; rather than a position, noun, or description of a group or class of people. What is means to be brave at work today requires more of us than ever before, which can feel incredibly scary and uncomfortable (p. 17).

Reminiscent of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Davis recalls the classical manager’s job was to make sure that people did what they were told to do by the time they were told to get it done (p. 17). Like many of us, she has found people are tired of playing [that] game. All the posturing – what vulnerability and shame expert Brené Brown calls jockeying for attention – false pleasantries, snarky comments, and decisions made by spreadsheets that don’t consider the human toll, have left people leery (p. 24). This nicely sums up our current state of affairs.

Let’s think about motivation. Davis stresses that to want is powerful (p. 28). Back in the paycheck-exchange era, it was a lot easier to motivate someone with a carrot or a stick because whether or not they wanted to give you their best didn’t matter quite as much (p. 28). Davis views our contemporary motivation model with want at the center of commitment, loyalty, engagement, satisfaction, creativity, passion and joy. Want transforms deadlines into achievement, obstacles into adventures, and colleagues into collaborators (p. 34).

Barriers to Brave | We Hold Ourselves Back | Conflict Avoidance

Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success compares a growth mindset with a fixed mindset (p. 47), as Davis concurs this is a major internal obstacle for many of us. Rather than seeing that talent, looks, and achievements can be cultivated – that a single incident doesn’t define you – people with a fixed mindset decide about themselves and others, limiting what is possible (p. 48). Once you think about this, you’ll probably catch yourself slipping into a fixed mindset from time to time. It’s sneaky.

As we discover in numerous Leadership Excellence Course workshops, many of us are conflict avoiders. We unconsciously shrink ourselves back to live within the lines, exchanging the desire to express who we are uniquely for comfort (p. 53). This surely affects engagement. Davis asks us:

“How many of you, when your boss asks you if
you’re having any problems, say no, even though
you’re really having problems?”
(p. 60)

Davis revisits Maslow’s hierarchy, describing our core needs as human beings. Think of our Energize2Lead colors, particularly dominant (social) yellow colors. The colors mean more than a social temperament. Belonging feels good. Not belonging, not so much (p. 67). It seems many of us have been trained not to connect, when in fact, that is what is needed most. However, we are psychologically designed to avoid vulnerability at all costs (p. 71). It’s more than just conflict avoidance, it’s actually much deeper. Davis calls us out: Vulnerability is our biggest barrier to brave and the gateway to our most powerful self (p. 76).

Pushing Through to Brave | WIWDD | Live a Leadership Philosophy

This section is the heart of the book. Theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski discovered that the most powerful performances – the ones that drew the biggest crowds, the loudest applause, that kept the audience at the edge of their seats with baited breath – were by actors who did something different than all the others (p. 88). Self-evaluation, such as answering What Will I Do Differently? (WWIDD), at the end of our leadership workshops, is the key to unlocking our own differentiation.

Another way we trip ourselves up: When we’re focused on proving ourselves, our actions can be destructive (p. 107). If you are the type who struggles to delegate – because “It’s just easier to do it myself,” there’s a good chance you are limiting self-growth. Davis learned over time a great performance is one in which the actor can move beyond their concerns about what others think and have the courage to focus on powerfully igniting a moment in time and truly connecting with their fellow actors on the stage (pp. 108-109). Replace actor with leader and team members, respectively in the passage. It’s all about connection.

Davis challenges statements that merely list core values, guiding principles and beliefs. This is why a leadership philosophy should include eight elements, which together form a call to action. Recall a value in action is a virtue. Davis calls for a Super Objective, likewise with implicit, active leadership. She includes an Uncover Your Super Objective exercise on pages 126-130, similar to composing a personal leadership philosophy. The goal is a deep connection, since research shows that the ability to empathize has a direct correlation to higher job performance and increased customer satisfaction in the business world, and faster recovery for patients in healthcare (p. 147).

When we are actively living our leadership philosophy, we are Owning our own [Your] Power, the title of a remarkable Chapter 18. Davis calls True Power our inherent ability, regardless of our title, where we’re from, who we know, or what we have, to access the want in others (p. 156). It’s not about us. To fully own our power, we must take our focus off ourselves (p. 176). How can we do this? Davis lists steps we can take to feel more connected to people at work (pp. 191-193):

• Take Initiative
• Be Curious
• Be Present
• Listen for Commonalities
• Remove the Mask
• Share Personal Stories
• Connect Like Your Life Depends on It 

A Brave New World

We must learn to trust others. We may have to let go. Davis’ perspective: People are amazing creatures, with an enormous capacity for forgiveness when someone has the courage to own their mess (p. 238). Davis shares and describes seven ways to cultivate brave (pp. 246-255):

• Commit to Mastery
• Set Healthy Boundaries
• Surround Yourself with Brave
• Create Your Own Process
• Take Baby Steps
• Nurture and Grow Your Whole Self
• Make a Positive Impact 


Let’s restate the key takeaway:

What is the impact you are here to have on your team,
on your organization, on your friends and family,
on your community, on this world?
(p. 265)

Note: Kimberly Davis generously provided a copy of her book for review.

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.