Here we go again!

Chaos theory popularized the idea that an energized company felt chaotic. I remember the first time I mentored a business owner who was a devout disciple of that theory. This company had not been nurtured into a productive rhythm, so the energy of raw chaos ruled around the latest (usually good) new idea. When people experience a very bright, personable, and verbally gifted leader as chaotic and unable to maintain a steady stream of focus, confused and resentful followers always develop.

I was recently with a senior team that said about their leader, “He sets the plan and then changes it.” This example reminded me of how good intentions can have unintended consequences, particularly for CEOs and senior leaders that come from a sales or business development discipline. They have trained their mind to translate situational obstacles into closed future deals without much practical thought.

The tension between making a plan and sticking with it or changing the plan upon a new discovery are as old as time. Every leader needs to develop a capacity to embrace this challenge or senior team effectiveness and cohesiveness will be marginal. The rhythm between discipline and creativity should never be governed by the next new idea, but more importantly, by a mature leader that has mastered impulse control.

A disciplined mind is a critical leadership attribute.

Lack of impulse control results from an untrained mind where a stream of anxiety flows without notice. Conversely, a trained mind is more spacious because it has learned that ideas and thoughts flow through the mind like a never-ending stream, observed without attachment. These leaders have trained their mind to separate from thoughts so they can enjoy inner freedom and usually a good deal of peace.

Execution is more important than strategy.

Every leader can iteratively create “the ideal strategy” that almost no one can fully execute. In one sense, the perfect strategy is an obstacle to winning. Execution is more important than strategy, so take a break and let the plan work its way through the challenges of learning. Successful leaders learn that an adequate strategy executed well usually wins.

At a more practical level, a critical component of scaling and execution is contract administration. If customer contracts are consistent and easy to manage then scaling and changing is manageable. However, if out of 300 customer contracts many are customized then the process of scaling becomes nearly impossible. A CEO with a sales or business development mind won’t see this as a problem, but one with a trained mind will.

If impulse control seems like an opportunity for you to master, be encouraged! The first leader I mentioned changed quickly once he understood the benefits, then the quality and profitability of his revenue followed. Eventually he was able to transition his leadership skills to the next generation in his family business.

Your company is your Practice Field – learn, adjust and flourish. Let it shape you into your true self!

I’d love to hear your comments.  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Take the Risk out of Change

The “new normal” declared that change is accelerating at an accelerating rate, yet “conventional wisdom” says people don’t really change. Since people find it hard to change, wouldn’t the rate of change be slow?

Our politicians, (the ones we elect to change things in Washington) in spite of their promises, are very slow to bring change. The incumbent likes the status quo and every freshman senator wants to be an incumbent.

What about the Church, Synagogue or Mosque – I’ll bet it hardly ever changes. If change happens quickly, these institutions tend to fracture or even disintegrate.

How about the food you eat? The type, the time, the place and quantity – do you change these much? Probably not, although I wish I would.

Many examples prove we are creatures of habit. For the incumbent, sitting on the inside edge of the power structure is better than risking that spot. Most incumbents can safely rattle off a list of changes that need to be made though.

When I asked Art, the CEO of a company he owns, how he copes with change he said, “Change can be intimidating. For every action, there is a reaction, but you can’t stay stagnant. Hiring a key player caused me to have lots of sleepless nights – letting go of control is hard.”

So how does change happen? In one sense, change emanates from outside the current power structure and is usually initiated by someone who wants a piece of the pie. Gain is the motivator.

In another sense, change comes on the wave of crisis. My commute on the ferry, reminds me of how quickly after 9/11 the Coast Guard gunboats began escorting the ferries across Puget Sound. Crisis made change happen quickly.

In a privately owned company, with less than a dominate market share, change can be forced by fear of loss. Significant change is difficult for people. A company often tolerates what it has and gives up what it wants because of the risk. So how do you minimize risk? These steps work:

Become a great sponsor: Take the time to collaborate with someone and describe the targeted change, including specifications, requirements, milestones and the name of the person that will own this.

Test for accuracy: Has the owner detailed the resources, people and the risks necessary to make this change?

Formalize change: Make sure to document all changes to the scope, resources or timing with formal signature approval.

Visually display the milestone status: Use Green for the milestones on target, Yellow for threatened ones, and Red for off target.

Process and manage issues: An issue is an opportunity or problem we encounter on the way to achieving a milestone. These need to be resolved judiciously, quickly and communicated weekly to the team with a visual update.

Casual change is fun to launch with words in meetings but they usually fail to achieve the intended future state. Formalizing change through planning, status updates, issue processing and communication will help everyone move into the future and make the next change much easier.

Beyond these thoughts, what have you learned about leading change? I’d love to hear your comments.  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Why Wait?

Recently, I invited a highly regarded international coach to help 14 CEOs and 13 executives become more productive. His tools and ideas were practical and members agreed that his practices would certainly lead to more focus and better results.

However, another significant issue surfaced – they shared that in their past attempts to improve habits, something prevented them from sustaining their desired change. They felt captive to unproductive patterns. Habits are styles of feeling, perception or action that have become second nature to us.

Several years ago, I experienced a significant financial setback that caused me to reexamine what was important. How did I want to experience my life? Although painful, this setback was valuable because it opened me to new possibilities.

For a CEO or manager forecasting is a necessary skill but having the capacity to find rich meaning in surprise is even more valuable.  Ever had an angry customer knock on your door, how did you react? When a key employee departs, how did you feel? When a spouse/partner tells you to change, what commentary takes place in your mind?

The way I receive an experience governs its value and my capacity to experience life will expand, contract, or remain static, depending on how self-aware I am.

Most of what’s important is invisible. For instance, beliefs about the people around us determine how we receive them and they us. Emotions drive feelings, thoughts form patterns; thinking patterns and reactions drive actions.

For many, perception and reality are distant cousins.

Having worked and lived internationally, I know that two anchors drive the American experience. First, we live in a culture of production and consumption that tells us to see ourselves through functionalism (how well we perform determines how happy we are).

Second, coursing through the depths of our souls and well below our desires are deep authentic currents of longing. This longing goes mostly unacknowledged and unlived, but never goes away. To survive we numb it with more activity, more words, new things, or another glass of wine.

As I write this post on my workstation, my tablet screen says “almost ready”. Many leaders live in a place of “almost ready”. Their beliefs tell them, “When my company becomes…then I’ll enjoy my life,” or “When my partner changes things will be better,” or “When my spouse quits…I will be happy,” or “When I have a liquidity event I can enjoy life”.

From inside your own life, it is nearly impossible to see the outside shape of your life. That’s why we need friends. Real friendship is a powerful presence in helping you grow through the patterns that rob you of life.

Our Vistage CEO and Key manager program forms deep friendship among peers that help make the invisible visible and gently transform life and leadership. There is no need to be stuck waiting.

Are you ready? I’d love to hear from you. Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Conversion

At the end of his Value Creation Group® meeting, Dan, a talented leader with more than 200 people in his organization, asked me to recommend a book that could help him implement coaching into his operations. I scratched my head because I know this amazing leader has big plans and a book isn’t going to get him there.

During the early phases of a new Value Creation Group®, a Vistage CEO group, or a Key executive group, new members typically hunt for quick tips or techniques while the seasoned members watch and smile. More ideas and information are entertaining but execution is everything.

The ability to execute a coaching process requires a leader to stop their own counterproductive behavioral patterns before they can begin new patterns that are more productive. Since a book can’t help a leader see themselves clearly, they usually become frustrated and fail.

Coaching starts with making an agreement around improving specific behavioral patterns. This contract includes an accurate assessment and an agreement on how to measure the change over time.

Leaders develop patterns that they love. These patterns are chemically embedded in their neural pathways and become instinctive. Shifting to new patterns requires vulnerability, commitment, support, accountability and mostly practice.

Dan’s department has multiple levels and the financial framework for the business requires a lean operation. Given these somewhat typical conditions, how can Dan reliably begin to develop excellent coaching skills that he can ultimately scale through his organization? Here’s how:

Dan could invite his direct reports, boss, and peers to complete an anonymous web based 360 review, based on best practices. Then he could collaborate with an outside coach to look at the data. This would reset his perspective and allow humility to do its job.

Next, Dan would share this information about his strengths and limitations with the people who participated in the review. Then he’d allow his coach to shadow him during 1:1 meetings with his boss, direct reports, peers, and in the group meetings with these people. This would bring the patterns that need to change into focus.

Finally, Dan would enter into a 90-day coaching contract focusing around the behavior patterns he wants to stop and the new patterns he wants to implement. This agreement builds in accountability, milestones, validation and group awareness.

Most privately owned companies confuse coaching with correcting. Correcting is a conversation while coaching is a conversion. To correct someone without helping them change patterns and behaviors leads to frustration and disappointment between the leader and the employee.

After a leader is able to shift their own patterns, they are prepared to sponsor this growth in others and this starts with training others in the coaching process inside the organization. Coaching skills are essential and while learning these skills takes time and money, the payoff in organizational rewards and work life balance can be significant.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Plain Sight

Smart, talented, and ethical – each of the 11 members in this company’s value creation group® (VCG) possesses a strong track record. So why is this business currently underperforming? In addition to the whipsaw changes occurring within their industry, there are other systemic causes.

In response to my last blog post, John, a geologist, commented, “Every drive I take in the mountains or in Eastern Washington turns into a Geology lecture. My family may see a pretty barn on a hill and I see that the hill is bedrock high that became a suitably drained building site.” Like John, we each see things through our history until someone or something helps us see through a new lens.

While we all enjoy the company of an optimist, over a pessimist, this disposition of looking at the favorable side of events and expecting the best outcome is a costly business posture. I knew that deep down this group was prepared to face facts, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

The problem with reality is that it often causes optimism to flee. I’ve seen groups who aren’t comfortable spending time with each other in reality and they unknowingly use optimism to avoid the truth. Even when the facts are discouraging, hope, anchored in faith, is strong enough to remain present. That’s exactly what we were establishing in this group, the capacity to do good work while facing reality, and slowly developing a trust that could recover from interpersonal setbacks.

As this VCG settled down and relaxed with each other, I noticed a fresh capacity in their ability to listen. The edginess of tight deadlines and unfulfilled expectations was replaced by curiosity and patience. In under an hour, they transformed their space from a hectic, “I don’t want to be here”, time suck meeting, into a mutually constructed personal learning laboratory.

Suddenly, a comment surfaced about the lack of shared priorities and a tendency to look for quick fixes without doing enough research, and this elevated their attention. When everyone paused and nodded in agreement, I knew we needed to make hay while the sun was shining. For the next two hours, their level of collaboration was palpable.

During our wrap-up, I asked them why they were experiencing this and the newest group members said, “This is first space I’ve ever known where we could relax and focus without performance pressure.”

Attention is a condition of readiness that includes focus and receptivity. When each one of us is attentive and present in the group we can birth collaboration – and value creation always follows. Conversely, the pressure of hurriedness, tight deadlines and individual deliverables can kill collaboration. But when a magnetic topic materializes, everything can change!

It is a facilitator’s job to notice this shift and sponsor the group’s movement into deeper exploration. That member’s comment was the magnet and a hidden truth was now in plain sight.

This group longed for a noble set of priorities to collaborate around, something powerful enough to draw them together. The source of all teamwork is a common future and these talented people were ready. Are you? I’d love to know your thoughts. Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Amazing

Dunes in the Mohave Desert are formed by wind but don’t resemble the wind. If I tried to describe wind by observing only the dunes how long would it take me?

So take these three real world examples and apply your own powers of deduction. Decide where the opportunity might reside.

  • A young COO, who is talented enough to ultimately grow and scale a very large company, works with an owner who has been unwilling to share authority.
  • A company with an exceptionally low long-term return on capital that continues to expand through debt.
  • Four unprofitable stores, lead by a very talented above store manager, who has great long-term leadership potential.

If you allow your brain to free flow, all kinds of possible opportunities emerge, but a leader that lives within these dilemmas may not have the ability to see them clearly. Why?

Upon his return from a 21 day ocean crossing adventure, Steve, one of my CEO peer group members, shared an insight when he said, “At my height I am able to see about 12 miles in any direction and that’s my limit.”

Over time, working in the company instead of working on it limits perspective. This is one reason why scaling and growing a privately owned company is so challenging and that’s why Steve meets with CEO peers each month. Becoming a long-term leader requires that you traverse many thresholds beyond your current horizon.

A threshold describes the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, result, or condition to occur. Each example above invites the company owner into a threshold that any trained observer could probably see. So why is it difficult for these owners to move forward?

People have three core attachments: Safety and Security, Power and Control, and Affirmation and Affection. It’s perfectly normal for us to need all of these to some degree, but to grow and scale, a leader must break free from their blinding influence.

Scaling and growing means taking the risk of asking one very important question, “What are my attachments and who can help me see clearly?” In the first example above, an attachment to Power and Control is being challenged and in the second and third, Affirmation and Affection.

The relationship between risk and reward is well established as “nothing ventured nothing gained”, which is usually associated with money. Today, I am talking about the value of challenging your life.

The energy, attention, and structure required to shift from working in the company, to working on the company is significant. Each of these examples points to a very personal attachment that blocks a threshold for these real world leaders, and yet they choose to traverse their threshold. These leaders inspire me – they are amazing!

I’d love to know your thoughts?  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim

Truth or Trivia

It was a privilege to help this senior management team, from a $50m, privately owned company upgrade their expansion evaluation process. This team is passionate about operationalizing strong core values and behaviors, the bedrock of cohesiveness, and their conversation around expansion gave me insight.

A cohesive leadership team is a rare and beautiful thing, while a fragmented team seems superficial in comparison. Out of more than 5.6 million companies in America only 1.7% grow to more than 100 employees, and .3% to 500 plus. Fewer manage to sustain their size for long. Most company’s cycle up and down the growth curve until the company finally dies. Thankfully, our national culture recycles the lives and lessons from these deaths into startups so that no energy is lost.

Privately owned company employees and owners are a national treasure. According to some sources, these companies create 72% of all jobs. Whether we like it or not, a complex web of causation interconnects our lives. I see this amplified within a senior management team.

My experience tells me that a management team’s ability to act as one cohesive unit has a causal relationship with their ability to scale and sustain growth. In turn, this is vitally important to families, neighborhoods, and communities. This team understands that and values their impact.

Because the soul is hungry for truth, not trivia, this management team’s path leads to a nobler place where values and behaviors call each person to transcend their historical behavioral limits. Because these shifts are quietly noticed, most management teams need outside help to learn the process. They also need a special place to practice because without this space, the old behavior patterns flourish.

Like all business conversations, this team had some members who were advocates of rapid expansion and others who were looking for answers to deeper questions. On one side, the advocates for quick expansion became frustrated when they lacked quick answers. Their rate of speech and volume increased while the other team members became quieter. They were in a “bio reactive state”.

Although conventional wisdom says we arrive at shared truth by confronting and correcting each other in debate, in reality, good work is relational and the outcomes depend on the noble behaviors that we evoke from each other.

As the team evaluated this conversation through the lens of their core values, one of the advocates sat back in his chair and said, “I can’t believe I blew it again!” Then he said, “We have been given a framework to evaluate new initiatives and we just need to follow it.”

Recently, someone asked me, “What is one thing that always holds a leader back?” I quickly answered – “Humility.” By embracing humility, this team instantly moved away from fragmentation toward cohesiveness. The soul comes alive with truth and shrivels with trivia.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com

Jim