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.