Tag Archives: leadership humility


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


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



Launching and Adjusting

In my last post, I shared with you the story of a senior team’s struggle to adjust with a particular member who wholeheartedly insisted his business initiative required a substantial investment. While raising and resolving the issue was a challenging process, this team’s adjustments produced amazing results. This member’s willingness and ability to adjust from a very entrenched position expanded the whole team’s capacity to raise and resolve issues. They saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and now they’re positioned to earn a much greater financial reward in the long-term. More importantly, they now have more fun at their team meetings!

I’m convinced that the quality and rate of adjustment that a senior team makes ultimately determines if a company, its customers, and employees will flourish and our space satellite program illustrates my point. Successfully launching a satellite to a specific location in space may be a common practice now, but it wasn’t always that way. I remember being nine years old looking into the night sky to see the blinking lights of Sputnik 1, a 23 inch polished metal Russian sphere that launched the space race in the middle of the Cold War. It was on ominous experience.

Sophisticated launches today use hundreds of small burns to put the satellite into its precise orbit. Each successive burn causes the rocket to adjust course in relation to the target. Hundreds of minor adjustments are required to achieve the mark. Mathematics, computers, and precise recalibration achieve predictability launch after launch.

Leadership teams are also required to make adjustments in the process of hitting their mark. So why do I think this is so important? If company owners and senior teams could consistently experience success in their ability to keep things on track, the business as well as their personal lives, would flourish. I’ve experienced this reality first hand, which is the reason I do this work!

What a rocket can achieve with GPS, math, computers, precise targeting, and feedback, a well-managed company can also achieve. A company’s mission, vision, core values, strategy, goals, and milestones, all serve as a framework. It’s within this framework, purposeful conversations, anchored in accurate facts, make rapid quality adjustments possible.

When an initiative has veered off course your team can collaborate to quickly design an adjustment and have more fun in the process. Alternately, when your team is weak at collaborating individual personalities often compete in a win or lose contest, which depletes the whole team’s effectiveness and turns the senior team meetings into a social gathering.

Meetings exist to facilitate adjustment! As we become better stewards of our meetings, our team has more fun and we all flourish. On that important day, this team moved toward a new way of being, and they established humility as a core value. I’ll share more about this in my next post.

Interact with me around this and send me a note.  Jim@peer-place.com



Letting Go

He was certain an additional investment would set his business unit on a more profitable course and his forceful personality convinced his peers to go along. Underneath his words, a cauldron of powerful emotions stirred, yet I sensed a different conversation waiting to emerge. As we talked more his need for excitement boiled to the surface, along with his frustration.

His apparent failure to make the business unit meet expectations weighed heavily on him and without a fresh initiative, it seemed he might be crushed. Although his words and inflections were forceful, he seemed fragile to me and I was concerned.

We all serve a purpose in our life and the need for excitement is one of the most deceptive purposes a leader can serve. From my own history, I know that when a leader constantly needs excitement it can point to an addiction and when this influences decision making, no one wins.

An adrenaline junkie is someone who needs the “high” from self-inducing a fight-or-flight response by intentionally engaging in stressful behavior. Stressful activities can cause a release of epinephrine by the adrenal gland and people can become addicted to this “high”.

When I said to this leader, “You seem to be excited, how would it be ok if you weren’t?” He moved back in his chair, his eyes glanced down and for a split second, his breathing changed, then the drama recaptured his psyche. In that split second a new conversation had peeked through the stressful deceiving forest of drama into a brief clearing. Sensing and holding the clearing was everything.

A simple organic question at the right time is like a rudder on an oceangoing vessel. A rudder moves in the direction of lower pressure. As the rudder goes, so goes the stern, and the boat turns. A question can shift the direction of a nation, a corporation, a team, or a life. But if everyone in the meeting is numbed by the stress, the stream of alternative conversations will sail by without a glimpse.

As I staked out a clearing for this team, the stress lost its footing; the group’s flow of words relaxed and found a rhythm. As his peers entered the clearing with him, he let go of his position and they started making real adjustments!

The right conversation at the right time always yields a prize and this was no exception. Their Practice Field helped them determine the initiative did not need additional investment – how this happened will be the topic of my next blog.

This Practice Field, where all their failures are simply part of the process of getting better at the role they each play, had served its purpose and this senior team would never be the same. Stay tuned to my next blog for more!  Jim@peer-place.com



New Frontiers

Our conversation revealed how the owner’s company could be very different if the managers were 50% more competent. For now, their competency is what it is.

In another company, our conversation revealed the owner’s exciting investment in a new business venture and new facilities, also a key new hire that recently quit and a major customer who wasn’t paying. For now, this is the way it is.

What a CEO/Owner wants is usually different from what they get, yet they keep moving forward. The CEOs I know plow earnings right back into their company and they spend very little on life’s luxuries. They typically risk everything for 20 or 30 years to build something special and a few finally pass the company to a trusted employee, family member, or sell to a larger buyer. CEOs model deferred gratification!

Let’s face reality; 75% of all companies are family businesses and they employ 62% of the workforce in our communities. These leaders are taking great risk, and our communities typically take them for granted by assuming they will always be there.

Public recognition does not motivate the CEOs that I know; their inspiration lies deeper. Why would a CEO/owner of a mid-market company persevere through this roller coaster economy?

The poet, John O’Donohue brings deeper truth to surface of this question.

When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That is is your own thinking
That darkens your world

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you toward higher ground
Where your imagination
Will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Exploring new frontiers and crossing hard to reach thresholds motivates the CEOs that I know. But doing it alone doesn’t cut it; having a trusted team to share in the setbacks and triumphs gives meaning and purpose to it all. Owning a company and leading under these conditions is very attractive.

Does your team match the frontiers you want to cross? Engage me around this blog- take me somewhere unique to you!  Jim@peer-place.com



Break it Down

“I’m pretty clear about what I expect so why is that department struggling? They haven’t performed well in over two years!” After the CEO expressed his concern, he described his expectation to his peers and they replied, “That is not clear to us.” How could he think he was clear when no one else did?

The journey toward building a great company is laced with disappointment. We each experience to some degree what this CEO expressed, how we respond is the key.

The other day I was meeting a member of my Vistage CEO group for our monthly 1:1 meeting and I captured this interesting picture at Aqua on Elliot Bay in Seattle.


Lee, a restaurant manager, explained that even though they hire great people they wrongly assumed that a perfect table setup would follow every time. The purpose of the photo shoot was to show their servers exactly what a table setup must look like every time. Aqua is an elegant dining destination and thoughtful execution is a standard.

I recently worked with a management team helping them complete “a work breakdown structure” for one of their core value creation processes. As we progressed from the macro level of intention to the micro level of individual milestones, metrics and measures, the group’s level of chatter diminished and thoughtfulness emerged.

Before you let these details distract you, here is my point. Thoughtfulness comes when a person becomes crystal clear in their understanding of their own personal commitments.

The restaurant picture above makes this point. The manager was clear on the dining standard as well as his commitment to implement the standard. If you want to make sure that a standard is set in the mind of those that count, make a visual picture or layout a detailed description that helps them achieve it.

A bored unaware leader creates more chaos than they realize.

Slowing down to communicate at a precise level is emotionally difficult for some leaders. For example, afflictive emotions are anger, sadness and fear; neutral emotions are boredom and dryness and positive emotions are joy, happiness and pleasure. Most CEOs handle afflictive and positive emotions but are lost when dealing with boredom and listlessness, so they over function to escape the feeling and actually create the confusion that make them angry.

We all feel bored or emotionally dry at times, but letting these feelings drive how we lead people is a problem. Choosing how to cope with boredom is impossible when you’re unaware and this leader’s inability to cope directly affected the struggling department in question.

When I see incomplete initiatives, emotional awareness is usually the issue. Not sure if this describes you? Then just ask your team or your peers if they experience you this way. Be thoughtful about your answer and send me a note – I would love to hear 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