Tag Archives: leader

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



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


Inside Out

A remarkable CEO and member of my Vistage CEO group who announced to his peers, “I feel stuck!” incited my last post. Being stuck relates to a pattern and this feels like a faint inner sense that there must be more. In other words he was saying, “The way I’m thinking and behaving isn’t serving me as well as I’d like it to and I want your help.”

For leaders, primary patterns show up in the way they think and behave around others. Scientists have described the brain as a pattern-matching machine so in a sense we are each a series of patterns and feel most comfortable when we instinctively channel our energy into patterns that produce the results we like. Feeling carefree might best describe this state of being.

While dynamism is the quality of having vigorous activity and progress, energy manifested as remarkable forward movement, being stuck is usually more prevalent as a very low-grade longer-term kind of background suffering. A recent study by Stanford Business School found that nearly two thirds of CEOs don’t receive executive coaching or leadership development while nearly 100% said they would like to receive coaching to enhance their development. So why does nearly every CEO want help but nearly two thirds do nothing?

Over the years, I’ve received many requests to coach CEOs and executives on a one to one basis and after much experimentation; I decided it’s not my cup of tea. In my experience, individual coaching is usually a remedial action designed to correct a deficiency in someone. It requires the person being coached to start by saying, “I’m broke, fix me.” Leadership development on the other hand starts by saying, “I want to further develop my capacities.”

A friend sent me this helpful quote from Bill O’Brien, the former CEO of Hannover Insurance:

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener. Our effectiveness as leaders depends not only on what we do and how we do it, but also on the inner place from where we operate, both individually and collectively. The need to pay attention to this inner place has largely been a blind spot in leadership research and is the single most important theme that has emerged from this investigation to date.”

Leaders observe and upgrade the patterns of their organization to optimize its ability to deliver a great customer experience. In other words, leaders do interventions to change organizational patterns. It’s one thing to intervene and change the external world to meet your expectations but it’s a horse of a completely different color to intervene in your own interior condition as a precursor to initiate change.

So how can leaders learn to apply this to their own leadership? Many companies including Google are investing in cohorts that support personal awareness and development to accomplish this. Nearly 300 CEOs in the Seattle area alone are members of peer groups through Vistage.

In the words of Douglas LaBier, “Successful leadership requires astuteness about others; their emotional and strategic drivers; their self-interests, overt and covert, and these relationship competencies rest on a foundation of self-knowledge and self-awareness.

When my CEO member declared that he wanted to grow, he did so within a peer group structure designed to help him. This bold choice manifested as dynamism. He created value for himself by breaking through his old pattern and inviting others to help. As a result, he unlocked and demonstrated a new level of personal awareness that sponsored this same capacity in his group members. What an amazing return on investment!  I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



The Root of It All

Most CEOs and executives spend little time pondering how relationships affect growth and profitability, but maybe they should.

To avoid being misunderstood let me clarify that I believe a leader can sense when an important relationship is suffering, but that’s not what I’m addressing here. I’m focused on the ebb and flow of dynamism in your senior team.

Dynamism is the quality of having vigorous activity and progress; energy manifested as remarkable forward movement. Optimally and over time, your senior team will traverse the distance between the state of your business as it exists now and what is desired. As soon as your team makes the space, dynamism can materialize when the awareness and openness of your group members matches what is possible. Unfortunately, most teams are unaware of its latent presence and they miss this important opportunity.

Recently, one of my CEO members said to his peers, “I feel stuck. I’ve grown a lot but now I’m on a plateau and I need your help! I want to break through and begin to grow again.” As he became vulnerable and declared the anguish of his desire, openness materialized within his peer group and the fragrance of quiet thoughtfulness transformed the setting. Together they uncovered a special space that set the stage for dynamism to break through and compelling personal growth for this member and his peers.

While most of you know that neither you nor anyone on your senior team can make significant progress alone, it may take a leap of faith to believe that unlimited latent potential is present in your senior team right now. I feel privileged to experience this unleashed potential in my Vistage CEO and Key Executive groups, as well as the senior management teams I work with monthly. If you’re wondering how, consider this.

“Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it will remain a single seed.” When a seed falls onto the ground, it enters a potential transformative process. A seed first meets the hard moist force of the ground but until a third, reconciling force, sunlight, enters the equation nothing transformational will happen. The three forces together generate a sprout, which is the actualization of the latent potential in the seed.

Like a seed, when my CEO member declared he was at that point of anguish and unable to penetrate the hard moist ground of his limitations, he asked for our help. At that point, openness and awareness became evident and the conditions for dynamism were set.

If I shadowed your next senior team meeting what would I observe? Are you interested in finding out? I’ll write more on this topic in my next post. As always, I’d love to know your thoughts. Jim@peer-place.com



A false god

This senior management team wanted to learn how to make their core values operational. The group had a curious sense of wonder and I was encouraged by their thoughtful commitment, the kind that makes being there special. Everyone seemed open and wanted to flourish.

When we operationalize our core values, an invisible doorway presents itself – a doorway to discipline.

“It isn’t normally people who fail, it’s the systems and processes that fail. It’s the leader’s job to ensure the right systems and processes are developed and consistently and correctly implemented.” – W. Edwards Deming

Let Deming’s words marinate in your mind. To see what they might yield, picture yourself in a large room with your senior team, where the walls are covered floor to ceiling with white boards.

One wall shows the marketing systems and processes mapped out, followed by the sales systems and processes. Another wall diagrams each of the operating systems and processes that transform inputs to customer outputs. The next wall has the accounting and finance systems and processes; the last wall has your people development, and your information and control systems. The walls of this room contain the processes that make your company flourish; your team has invested time and discipline to develop and maintain them.

In its original sense, discipline is a systematic instruction intended to train a person in some craft, trade, or other activity, or to follow a particular “order“. The phrase “to discipline” is much different because it carries a negative connotation. Even so, ensuring that instructions are carried out often requires correction.

Several years ago, I worked with a very creative CEO and I noticed that his financial statements were complicated and obscure. Eventually, I asked him to start each meeting with a one-page chart showing cash, on a rolling 12-month basis. This simple discipline helped him see that by repeating a practice his awareness increased and cash accumulation (the lifeblood of a family owned business) materialized.

Finally, he realized that he had allowed creativity to overtake discipline. Over the years, we worked on shifting discipline to the core and making creativity a secondary value and his business thrived like never before.

Unfortunately, in today’s pop business culture autonomy has become so highly valued that discipline is pushed to the side. One company I worked with worshipped autonomy like a false god and this was reflected in their revenue and profits. Don’t misunderstand; autonomy is great once it’s been earned by demonstrating discipline!

This is one reason why leadership is not for the faint of heart – bringing order to every part of the business requires training in systems and processes, discipline, encouragement and correction. If autonomy has greater value than discipline, forget mapping your systems and processes – no one will follow them.

If leadership is the wise use of power and power is the ability to transform intentions into reality and sustain it, discipline must be one core value. Order is a mark of good leadership. How are you doing?

Deming said it well – when leaders ensure good systems and processes are consistently implemented people don’t usually fail. I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



Your Foundation

A strong personality with unclear business requirements, mixed with a limited set of facts and a very strong request for more investment described this senior team’s meeting in May. Their dilemma could have resulted in disaster, but as I shared in my recent post, we mined this experience and discovered new value.

In June, their senior management team meeting started with the CEO telling everyone, “I’m learning to listen more, I see now that I’ve made mistakes from the start of launching this new business and I can see that slowing down will help us.” “I intend to be more thoughtful.” Humility is a consistent hallmark of great leaders. Without transparent humility, there is no learning – employees must see you adjusting.

One of the worst things a leader can do is let their ego write checks that their talent can’t cash. As this leader shared his mistakes with his team, their hearts opened to learning again.

My experience tells me that Mickey Connolly is correct when he said, “Organizational adjustment occurs in three ways: insight, method, and self. I like the way he articulates the ladder of learning. The lowest rung is arrogance – “I’m done learning”, followed by ignorance –“I don’t know”, then insight –“I understand”, and action – “ I act”, then reliability – “I am”, and lastly – “I sponsor”.

Without transparent humility, a CEO cannot sponsor adjustment in others.

Employees need to see the CEO acknowledge mistakes and make adjustments. CEOs need to understand that being authentically humble is powerful. Humility makes them human, it allows them to build stronger trust bonds, and it engenders confidence and loyalty from peers and subordinates alike.

Humility is the foundation that all other core values stand upon and there can be no accountability, honesty, citizenship, or authentic communication without it. If the CEO or senior leader doesn’t model humility the senior team’s capacity for deep learning and adjusting remains superficial.

Each senior team member is a public symbol of what a company really stands for and company culture is promoted from the top. When egos rule, more leaders that are egocentric will develop. Alternately, if leaders model their own learning and adjusting then employees will begin to transparently learn from failures and thrive.

I’ve noticed many leaders trying to sponsor learning in subordinates without first embracing humility themselves. The only way to sponsor learning is to model this by reliably acting on the insights you gain from others about yourself. If you can’t do this then manipulation is all that’s left.

When you hand an employee their paycheck are you paying them for the best they have to offer? If you answer yes, then the only way you’ll get that is to sponsor learning and adjustment in yourself.

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