Tag Archives: Key Executives


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


Its Complicated

Simplicity is amazing, but leadership is peppered with complications and my business flourishes because of this. Moving from December 31 to January 1 brings simplicity and a clean slate. Yet as the year progresses, complications soon mount.

During my last Vistage CEO group meetings of the year, we pursued the concept of being “inner directed” or “other directed” and why this makes a difference. Anyone who has engaged in deep leadership development understands these challenges, but since most CEOs have not, it’s worth talking about here.

Being “other directed” means that to some degree my identity comes from the way others respond to me. In this case, how others feel about me affects how I feel about myself and how the people I lead perceive me. When my moves are influenced by how I feel about myself, in relationship to another person, my standards and values seem unclear and I become a complicated leader.

Making the change to become “inner directed” is a battle of the brain. The brain is a powerful organ that wants to repeat patterns it has developed. That’s why changing your leadership is so hard and why New Year’s resolutions don’t usually work.

The path to changing your leadership patterns begins with awareness. Awareness comes when others, who don’t fear you and who have your best interests at heart, help you see yourself through their eyes. No leader sees themselves accurately and since no employee will tell you how they see you to your face, how do you increase awareness? There are a couple of ways to do this.

1. Have a third party facilitate a 360 review using a web based tool that compares how you evaluate yourself to how your direct reports, boss or peers evaluate you. This is very inexpensive and a great way to start the New Year.

2. Join a Vistage CEO or Key Executive group that is committed to personal growth, as I did 16 years ago. This group provides a high trust environment that accelerates awareness.

Becoming “inner directed” will set the stage for the acute clarity your teams need to succeed. Without clarity, complications begin mounting and we ultimately start over functioning. Over functioning means we “need” too many interactions, with our boss, direct reports or peers.

Think about it for a moment, who are the people inside your company that seem to need too much interaction? Now ask yourself, “Have I made it complicated or have they?” If you find yourself managing people instead of clear commitments this could be the right shift for you.

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



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Turning Points

The members of this group were senior; several had been with this successful company more than 10 years, so they were invested. Yet they lacked the ability to diagnose the growth problems they were experiencing now and this was generating considerable frustration. As their frustration grew, this group looked to me to fix their problem.

As an outsider, I saw that the people in that room could solve every problem they were experiencing, but first they needed new skills, some courage and a fresh view.

It is hard to see the forest when you are a tree.

The conversation became more granular as one leader described his performance frustration, with an eye towards others as the reason. I asked him, “Is there anyone in this room that could help you achieve better performance?” He cautiously replied, “Everyone.”

Asking for help can be challenging and while it may be true that everyone can help in some way, it is always true that one or two people can offer tangible help more readily than everyone can. So what is hard about asking for help? Two reasons stand out for me.

Leaders are humans that “talk to think” and unless they’re part of a leadership team who can help them explore the challenges they face, their problems often remain inadequately defined. If leaders don’t have this skilled peer group, then asking for targeted help can be a risky crapshoot.

Asking for help also means risking rejection and none of us like that feeling, so we avoid rejection by either not asking or asking for something safe and impotent. This member courageously stumbled through his initial experience of talking about his problem with increasing granularity, when one person emerged as being most helpful. With this turning point, the conversation became more personal.

During my career with Xerox in the 70s, I was expected to achieve specific monthly performance targets and was taught to address any obstacles that stood in my path. Asking for what I needed was a cultural expectation.

Monthly performance commitments are the glue that binds any group of people trying to accomplish something significant together. I find that the word commitment is more effective than goals or targets, for one reason. Commitment is a very personal thing and the people making them do so with cautious thoughtfulness. Without commitments, there is no glue and without thoughtfulness poor execution flourishes.

Without measurable monthly performance commitments that cascade up to the top company level, growth is very difficult to manage. You might ask why?

Effective managers focus on managing commitments, not people. Without tangible commitments, managers have no alternative but to try to manage people, which is like herding cats. With monthly performance commitments, managers can expect their people to address anything that stands in their way and can then coach them to take responsibility, by asking for what they need or seeking help to define their problem.

As this team successfully navigated through this turning point, I could tell the next one would be much easier. What turning point is your team facing?

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




This time of year developing effective strategy is often the number one interest of CEOs, so what makes strategic planning so interesting to them? They desire to get it right in the next year.

I’m reminded of something Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche, said to my Vistage CEO and Key Executives groups and the impact it had on us. He advised, “Plan like a democracy so you can execute like a dictator.”

Peter used the turnaround story at Porsche to make his point: a perfect strategy poorly executed is worth much less than an average strategy well executed.

Last week I helped a senior team develop a unique way to improve their execution and during that time, it brought back painful memories for me of my own past mistakes. (This from a deeper perspective is what motivates me in my work with CEOs and executives.)

I know from experience that if employees and managers believe with their whole heart that they can make their lives better by working in your company, they are all in. As an outsider, I often see how company leaders miss a critical step in planning – they fail to build commitment in their organization. This can erode faith in leadership and result in deteriorating traction.

Candidly speaking, this company’s planning was loose and unfocused. To compensate the leadership tried to execute like a democracy so when traction slipped, their profit and growth stalled. Meanwhile, everyone works harder and achieves less.

Planning action steps begins when every person on the leadership team understands the important purposes, concerns and circumstances of customers and aligns these with those of employees and managers, as well as the owner/investors of the company. Planning like a democracy is built upon this critical step in the process.

As I worked with this senior team, I could feel their need for speed, yet I worked to help them slow down and understand the value. The first time around can be tough, especially with the time constraints each constituent group faces, but you will make up the time investment later, when crisp execution happens.

There is a time for planning and a time for execution – do not let them overlap! Many CEOs simply lack the experience or the technology, so they plan like a democracy and execute like a democracy, which always dilutes performance.

When democracy surrounds execution, you sell out clarity, commitment and speed and you inadvertently plant the seeds of failure and doubt in the minds of your key people. A high cost that you will pay for later. Are you set up to plan like a democracy and execute like a dictator? Can I help?

What are your thoughts? Jim@peer-place.com