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Living A Lie

Each of the managers in this peer group seemed committed to believing they could ultimately achieve security, if they worked hard and were smart enough.  They each seemed dedicated to this illusion.

Picture for a minute, two stick figures joined with one rubber band around their waists.  The movement of one will always affect the other, causing tension.  However, if both remain inside the slack rubber band the tension disappears allowing both to stay within their comfort zone.

Tension is all around us.  We create it because we cannot remain static, yet we long to free ourselves from its effects.  And here lies the key.

Over identification with the concept of security allows the lack of it to become a problem we try to control.  In other words, when security becomes a driving force in our life fixing it forces us to leave reality.  Thinking we can ever achieve security is chasing an illusion.  Closely observe the behaviors of a 90-year-old person for several days and tell me what you see.  No one ever achieves security!

The distance between where we are and where we want to be remains with us to the end of our days.  However, we find real joy in the journey.  We are built to grow, change, accomplish AND to struggle.  Remaining static for long robs the human spirit of life.  There is tension in remaining static too!

One manager offered that she struggles with consistently asserting her expectations with her staff and she wanted to change.  Once again, imagine the stick figures.  By not asserting expectations, she stays in the circumference of the slack rubber band, whereas asserting her expectations creates tension by taking her and her staff beyond their comfort zone.

Embracing the tension sponsors growth.

In this scenario, tension exists in both places: by not asserting her leadership expectations, the experience of tolerating unproductive behaviors creates tension.  It also happens if she asserts her expectations.

In the words of Dr. David Benner, “The unknown is our closest companion in the human journey.  We may try to deny its presence in an arrogant pretense of being in control of our lives, but in reality, it is with us at every step.”

If, as Dr. Warren Bennis says, “Leadership is the wise use of power and power is the ability to translate intentions into reality and sustain it.”, then being accountable for your leadership means developing the wisdom to create and sustain tension in order to sponsor change.

So let’s get practical.  If you are a normal human being, the minute your behavior creates tension for others, you feel it in your body and bio reactions set in as fight, flight, and freeze or appease.  The “wise use of power” will remain elusive unless you are in touch with this.

Attempting to replace insecurity with security will lead to atrophy.  However, embracing tension opens a gate to “a peace that passes all understanding.”  Being in a peer group can help you with this.

I would love to know your thoughts!


Are you leaking?

While the company president articulated a stream of cohesive words, substance was lacking.  These reprocessed themes were dressed in a new gown so he could lead the dance again; deep down he wondered if it would work.

Think about your experience with politicians.  Often you see a series of interviews, news conferences and speeches – all leaving you hungry for substance.  Does this hit close to home?

Three years ago, CNN did a poll and found that as an institution; only 11% of the population thought congress was credible.  While we can all say yes to that, it begs the question, how dependable are you as a leader?

Questions are more powerful than answers, so try to be introspective as you wrestle with this.  How could you possibly know if you are dependable in the eyes of those who work for you?  Would you really like to know?

Words have wrongly become a proxy for leadership.  A person is often appointed to the post of leader if she seems articulate or in control, but is she actually leading?

I tend to trust people who use the fewest number of words.  I can feel my internal trust meter registering doubt when I hear words explaining words without meaning.  I feel like shouting — STOP!

Words should never replace behavior.  When a leader’s behavior lacks substance, we know it – so why don’t we try to help them see it?

To one degree or another, each of us struggles with one of two core beliefs about ourselves:  “I am not enough.” or “The world is out to get me.”

Without exception, leaders struggle with this too.  They often over function with too many words, meetings, changes, or too many working hours tethered to persistent electronic devices, while their families shake their heads.

Sometimes a leader will under function by under communicating or avoid asserting themselves when important policy would require straight talk.

Each person reading this blog can identify their most recent experience of someone like this AND the people that follow you can too.

We are all on a level playing field that puts each of us into the human bucket.  We can acknowledge that credibility accrues over time, to those that demonstrate increasing levels of humility, a desire to grow in competence, and the perseverance to see the right things through to completion.

Credibility accrues from those who experience our humility, growth and perseverance.

These things form substance.  Neither perfection nor lack of it has bearing on credibility.  Credibility builds through the mutual give and take, of mistakes, recovery, learning, and adjustment.  Facing our mutual helplessness forms a fierce virtue in us called courage.  This is the paradox of leadership.

Is your credibility accruing or leaking?  Would you like to know?

I’d love to know your thoughts?



Stress was evident as he explained what it was like to lead the business, while also doing the job of the manager he had just terminated a manager he had hired just one year ago.

While I felt compassion, I also wanted to congratulate him for not letting this go on longer.  More importantly, I wanted to help him to make one enduring adjustment.

Hiring good people is a skill that every leader can improve that isn’t beyond the reach of midsized companies.  Three simple questions can form the backbone for hiring well.

Many years ago I remember coming home from work, sitting down for dinner and asking where our son Brian was and learning that he was in the open field, near our house, digging a hole.  When I went to retrieve him for dinner, the first thing I saw was a shovel full of dirt being ejected from a pit at least four feet deep.

                     1. Who is this person?  Character is everything.

As we’ve raised our three children, I’ve noticed that who they are as adults reflects to a large degree on who they were as children.  Today, as a successful  37-year old, Brian still enjoys going deep, beyond the surface to the places where unusual discoveries are made and this has served him well.  If you audit the stories of Brian’s successes, you repeatedly find curiosity, perseverance and endurance.

2. What are a person’s patterns – how do they succeed?

Recruiting expert, Barry Shamis (Hiring 3.0), says that 88% of a person’s behaviors are repeating.  In other words, what a person does to succeed will become obvious if your process focuses on discovering those patterns.  The way a person acts in your company will reflect the same way they succeeded and failed in the past, so take the time to understand these patterns before you hire.

In the case of the manager that was terminated after one year, his behavior wasn’t compatible with the culture.  The way he succeeded did not build capacity for the future.  These were not new patterns for him, but it took a year to discover them in this company.  Paying someone a salary to discover who they are is unnecessary.

                      3. What results are following this person?

We hire people to create value, so before you interview your first candidate, create a success profile that includes measureable business results for 90 days, 180 days, 365 days, and 18 months.  This helps to avoid hiring a person you like instead of one that will create the value you need.  Once this is done, create your interview questions to uncover the stories in a candidate’s past that most clearly resemble the results you need in your future.  Interview a person to understand the circumstances they overcame in previous success scenarios as well as how they handled their failures.

We remember our greatest successes because they have marinated in our memories for years – they are filled with drama and story.  Ask candidates to tell a story of a time that they succeeded, in ways that parallel your needs.  If they don’t have a story, they are not the right candidate.  If they do have the right stories, you are primed for checking references.  The results that follow a person are the best predictor of the value they will create for you.

The people you hire inherently trust that you have done the work to know that they fit in your company.  Your current team expects this too.  Are you dependable?

I’d really like to know your thoughts?


PS: My next post will happen on April 5 – I’m traveling to the sun!


As I listened to this manager describe how he had used Google Docs to create a process that caused the members of his team to own how they influence business outcomes; I realized he had made an important shift.

The word backbone has many meanings and the one we are most familiar with has to do with courage.  At a more personal level, our body functions through the backbone, this is also called the spinal column.  All the messages to and from the brain must travel through the spine.

The backbone of a company is a core process that a business manages in order to create abundant value for the customer, whereas the way a leader manages his calendar to allocate time to influence the important needs of a business, is a critical supporting process.

Recently, I observed an operational leader demonstrate backbone by telling the senior team that policy and procedures were no longer valued because so many senior people insisted on exceptions.  This backbone had cancer and there was no doctor in the house.

I recently helped a senior executive complete a 360 review and was surprised to learn that peers and direct reports saw this person as disorganized.  In this case, every activity he initiated seemed reactive and subordinates couldn’t grab on to a predictable way of assessing and communicating results, or adjusting and asking for help.

Often, the phrase “discipline” carries a negative connotation.  This is because enforcement of order – that is, ensuring that employees carry out policies and procedures – is often regulated through fear of punishment.

While I understand that fear isn’t the best motivator, reality tells me that much of our business culture is built on fear.  For example, take the CEO who knows his business needs stronger policy and procedures to sustain change, yet avoids asserting this because he fears the resistance he’ll experience.  Fear drives his lack of adjustment.

I also helped another senior executive in a different company complete a 360 review and was pleasantly surprised by the discipline he had established in his 18-month tenure.  He wisely moved against cultural patterns of chaos, and in doing so, gave birth to a promising future.  The positive surprise – his subordinates and peers now believe in him and want to follow.

When the right activities happen through an effective process, activity creates value and value creation soars.  We all generally understand this, but we also know that nothing lasts forever and that change is inevitable.

Managing change wisely requires stewardship.  The right amount of change at the right time corrects the business, but constant and chaotic change, the kind that takes place outside a managed and transparent change process, can ruin the business.

Leadership is the wise use of power and power is the ability to transform intentions into reality and sustain it (Warren Bennis).  Leaders are stewards of change and the test of their skill is sustainability.

So how’s your backbone?

I’d love to know your thoughts?


Where do you live?

Comparing their performance to their peers made them feel uncomfortable and they wanted to avoid the conversation.  Since we all compare ourselves to others why didn’t they want to talk about it?

Since its invention in the 1500’s, the mirror changed our ability to see ourselves and the world has never been the same.  Homes now have mirrors in nearly all rooms and we use them to understand how others see us.  Having a mirror gives us the ability to adjust so we can present our best image before we go out.

If avoiding a conversation becomes important to you, it means that something new is waiting to break forth.  You have an opportunity to experience yourself as you are, not as you thought you should be.

Many of us work hard to avoid the unknown.  However, if you chose to be a leader, the sooner you become comfortable with the unknown, the better.  President Obama seems to be comfortable waiting for others to lead and then working in the background to shape the political conversation.  This pattern has worked well for him – he is comfortable with this – it is a known experience.  However, when others demand more we encounter the parts of us that we haven’t known and we become more whole.  If we adjust, the leadership experience can actually heal us!

What’s unknown about us?  This question takes us to our edge and many of us fear that just beyond the edge we can’t survive.  Just the opposite is true though – just beyond the edge of our “prepackaged” self we thrive.

Leadership is the ability to translate intentions into reality and sustain it.

If we don’t become transparent and compare our own performance to our peers, we can remain unaware and in denial.  As a result, the learning we need to help us adjust our leadership remains beyond our edge.  Leaders who aren’t willing to be accountable for adjusting are unconsciously hiding and those that enable them are hiding too.

Business isn’t rocket science – it’s very straightforward.  If customers are abundantly satisfied with your product or service, they tell others and more customers come.  If you don’t have enough customers, you aren’t providing abundant products and services and you need to adjust.  Before you can make adjustments, you need to transparently embrace where you are now!

These aspiring leaders were unknowingly sponsoring their own stagnation and I wasn’t about to enable them.

With the invention of the mirror a corrosive habit has taken root in our culture – we believe we are entitled to appear as if we have it all together when in fact we don’t.  While putting on makeup or dressing for an outing is one thing, signing up for leadership and actively leading is another.

Leading is real time!

The only way you grow is to know where you are now, so while staying in the unknown might temporarily create a sense of security; it ultimately creates insecurity in others and causes your business to underperform.

From Egypt to Libya, to Wisconsin, and throughout our federal and state governments a revolution is underway and no business leader will remain untouched.

With a very loud voice, the world is asking leaders to live in reality!

I’d love to know your thoughts!


Your Response?

As three hundred Vistage CEO and Executive members listened to Economist, Brian Beaulieu, share his view of the global economy, the quality of their response struck me.  This was the second Seattle All City Vistage meeting and it was powerful.

The global recession has affected many local companies.  Some are more lean and efficient and all of us have changed the way we view life.  While the past has been impactful, the way we view the future determines what we do now.

Response and reaction are very different in that reaction is automatic and mostly generated from the way our body holds our past.  On the other hand, response is generated from perception – perception prepares us for response.

New possibilities are abundantly present, but when we live primarily from the past, we can’t fully enjoy the present.  The work of joyfully converting the present into a hopeful future is life.  Let me explain.

Paying attention is the process of being attentive to what you are experiencing now and being open to surprise.  Simply reacting to life creates a repeating and limiting cycle while paying attention opens us to something new.

Reality says that our selective and limited perception normally distorts what is right in front of our face.  For instance, how do the following reality statements, match your perceptions?


  • The U.S. has more land mass than either China or India, as does Canada.
  • The manufacturing output of the United States exceeds that of any other nation.
  • Canada has more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.
  • China and India have inadequate land mass and natural resources.
  • Japan, Europe and Russia have inadequate population growth to sustain their civilization.

Some of you will check these statements out while others will just scratch your heads and move on.

What I’d rather have you do is ponder them.  In our culture, thinking generally involves analytics and deductive or inductive reasoning, which leads to action.  Pondering is much deeper.

To move from reaction to response, new views need to seep into our subconscious where they can change our perceptions.  For example, if we hold a perception that China and India are supplanting the U.S., the way we act today will limit our own future.

Pondering is like ruminating.  When a cow chews its cud, it ruminates by slowly processing, tasting and digesting – not by dissecting.  The goal of pondering is to digest not to act!

People grow as they are open to new information and change their views.  However, this requires space and if you fill your space with constant multitasking, lists, talk radio or T.V., you are programmed to react.  Businesses grow best by responding with people who are instinctively open to new possibilities.  New possibilities abound!

Does your life include a place to ponder?  I’d love to know your thoughts?


Where Are You?

Something needed to change, but no one was speaking up.  There seemed to be an unstated agreement to ignore the tension.  For some reason, these managers were trying to remain in the safety zone by not rocking the boat.

As a professional outsider, it’s often easy for me to see these situations, but for those swimming in the soup, each stroke can become minutely more difficult over time.  A person’s capacity to tolerate difficulty can unknowingly outgrow the ability to declare what is right in front of their face.

Lost is not knowing where you are.

In the history of man, not one company has ever achieved immortality.  Companies have a limited life.  As the following S Curve chart shows, one company might be experimenting as it attempts to find its ideal business model and grow, a second company has found its model and is focused on scaling and becoming more efficient, while a third is managing costs and continuing to harvest profits from a worn-out model.  The responsibility of leading in each scenario is very different and your awareness is critical.


Growing as a person and growing a company go hand in hand.  When the company isn’t growing at a meaningful rate, our own S curve kicks in when we seek a new place to grow by either leaving, or by insisting that the company change.  That’s why your best employees leave when things remain slow and your stagnant employees stay.

We all crave growth, so when it doesn’t happen, those that stay numb themselves into toleration.

I recently learned that creativity is the generation of ideas while innovation is execution on those ideas.  The way to change your S curve is through innovation.

The current events in Egypt also fit on the S Curve. Egyptian President Mubarak has allowed his nation to move into decline while trying to sustain his leadership, in spite of reality.  If he had publicly acknowledged reality with an expressed call for help and collaboration, what might be different?

Regardless of where your company is on the S Curve chart above, having that knowledge is valuable.  It gives everyone permission to live in reality, which is the place to launch new beginnings and redefine your leadership.

The Egyptian revolution of 1952 overthrew the previous monarchy and ushered in a period of hope and dignity for the Egyptian people.  When Mubarak recently announced his intention to lead the government through transition by remaining in power only through September, he set the stage for despair.  Leading the same old way doesn’t last forever.

How a company or country builds leaders defines its capacity to extend its growth cycle.  Are you building leaders who will extend your growth curve, or are the leaders in your company avoiding change?

Hoping things will get better could be risky.  I’d love to know your thoughts?