Tag Archives: CEO coach

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


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



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


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


Subtleties of Success

Through the hundreds of CEOs and Executives I’ve talked with, I’ve learned that each has a desire to build a unique company. One CEO described a desire to create a place where employees are being transformed in to all they were meant to be. Another CEO wants the customer experience to be the best in her industry and a third CEO described a desire to create a thing of beauty.

No matter what the desire, each person knows that a resolute commitment to persevere through breakthroughs and setbacks is part of the package. “If at first you don’t succeed try try again” is the language of entrepreneurship and risk taking.

Building a company is a noble endeavor and hitting the mark takes perseverance and tenacity.

So how do you handle “missing the mark”? When I asked a CEO this question today he said, “I internalize the stuff and I feel exhausted when I come home to my family – I guess I hold onto the disappointment.”

The ancient term “missing the mark” finds its meaning in archery, which can be an accurate metaphor for the process of bringing your vision to reality. The purpose of archery is to hit the target every time, or get as close as possible. So what does missing the mark actually involve?


An archer uses a bow to launch an arrow at the center of a target called the bull’s-eye. But, hitting the bull’s-eye doesn’t come easily for an apprentice archer. In fact, the chances of hitting the bull’s-eye with the first shot are practically nil. Nobody expects to hit the bull’s-eye in the beginning; only by mastering the subtleties of the discipline, can an archer put the arrow into the bull’s-eye or come close every time.

By converting our misses into practice, we relieve frustration and improve performance.

The most successful archers first learn how to use the bow and arrow, so that through long and frequent practice, which involves missing the mark most of the time, they develop a good sense of the subtleties: space, time, distance, wind, and other factors.

Like archery, CEOs and their leadership teams are working toward hitting their mark, but unlike archery, they rarely value their misses by formalizing practice. The subtleties of succeeding as a CEO can only be gained through practice: comparing intentions to reality and depending upon others who see more objectively to help us get better.

Creating a unique company is challenging to say the least. As you pursue your vision, you miss it most of the time but if you convert the miss to practice, you get closer.

The art of practice has been lost and that’s why PracticeField exists. Like the CEO I talked with today, internalizing disappointments is one way to deal with them, but very little value is harvested. Would you like to learn to practice? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



Pedal to the Metal

As the management team meeting ended I heard, “This is the most stressful time of my career!” This comment was from the mouth of a respected industry veteran that I’ve known for years so I didn’t take it lightly. While I felt terrible that I hadn’t noticed this earlier, I also wondered what was sponsoring this unparalleled stress.

His comment struck me, reminding me of a time in my own life when I experienced something similar so I started reviewing my personal journals from over two decades ago. I had written many times about feeling intense stress and feeling driven. At the time, self-awareness was breaking into my conscious and I realized that my driven personality was compulsive. In other words, my need to win or succeed wasn’t a conscious choice but a pervasive need that influenced how others experienced me. My journal entries captured this awakening.

A CEO in my Vistage group once shared that he was looking for people with a driver’s license. When I asked him to explain he said, “I want driven people who will drive results through my company.” Driven leaders are easy to spot. Their natural M.O. is “putting the pedal to the metal” and making the organization catch up with their desire for more success. This compulsion usually governs their life.

Drive is accessing your capacity to achieve goals and work or play hard with determination. Drive implies a capacity to act, whereas driven describes the nature of a person. Every leader must possess drive, but when I see long-term stress, I usually find a driven leader at the helm.

How does a manager manage in a driven culture? Ultimately, a company that works this way will experience setbacks, either through the loss of key people or the deterioration of processes, procedures, systems, standards and values. In other words, too many problems will make people feel like they are losing control and their motivation to do great work will fade.

If a robust protocol for solving problems is understood and applied then control starts to replace stress. As this occurs more frequently eventually, the capacity to solve problems in a straightforward manner will help relieve the stress. Ultimately, stress and loss of control go hand in hand. Regaining a degree of control is critical.

Accelerated problem solving is the key to managing in a driven culture. Without it, the same sets of problems reappear. Would you like a simple problem solving approach? I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



Backing Up

The sales numbers were off. As the Vistage Key Executive Group member asked for help, I wondered how well her peer group would do its job. They started by gently asking simple questions which set the tone and laid the groundwork. I was impressed by how well they avoided coming to conclusions or offering solutions.

The group first discovered that the sales people had the title of Branch Manager while their only role was closing sales and they managed nothing but their time. Further, the company paid sales people based on revenue, regardless of profitability and lastly they paid some sales people a guarantee regardless of what they sold, while others were not.

For those of you who are thinking, “How crazy is this?” step back and recognize that the emotional space between you and their problem allows you to see something they cannot. In other words, the reason she couldn’t see her way to correcting these confusing structures, is she and her CEO had unconsciously sponsored this by making many small innocent decisions.

It’s common for similar situations to play out in your company, resulting in confusion. Maybe not with sales, but it might relate to the way financial decisions are made, how your company hires employees or how new people come on board. Other reasons may include whether you hold people accountable or not, or your unpredictable management rhythm or an unclear mission.

My 2005 Chevy Tahoe with 136,000 miles has served me well, but I started having the itch for something new. I began test driving new cars recently and I fell in love with one particular feature. Each car has an optional camera on the rear bumper that guides you through the process of backing up, to the point of coming within inches of whatever is behind you.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that while parking in the Madison Park area of Seattle, I tapped the front bumper of a brand new Lamborghini with my trailer hitch. As I exited my truck and slinked back to examine the damage I was relieved to find none. I’m even more embarrassed to tell you that this is not the first time this has happened.

I need one of these cameras because I have blind spots when I back up. Similarly, as you manage your business you have blind spots and you need people who are emotionally separate from your company to help you see what’s there. Yes, it can feel embarrassing when others see what was right in front of your eyes but the payoff is rewarding.

For example, I meet monthly with four senior management teams and three peer groups who help each other see more clearly. My experience tells me that the fear of feeling embarrassed is powerful. Many avoid this feeling by becoming isolated and it always costs them millions of dollars and many hours of sleep. I can also tell you that asking for help is the best path to living in reality and moving forward.

As the member I mentioned earlier asked her peers for help, their level of connection dramatically increased and she realized that vulnerability was the only doorway to connection. Being connected sponsors growth, yet without connection, we remain alone with our blind spots and only those around us can see them.

Would you like to see more clearly? Help is available. I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com