Tag Archives: leadership


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


Leadership Mind

After working for a larger business, Dave launched his company and 12 years later became the largest privately owned company of his type in his market – an American success story by any measure.

Sustaining this success and scaling beyond was clearly testing Dave. On the inside, Dave seemed increasingly fragmented. Launching initiatives that didn’t seem aligned was costing him. His mind was over functioning but he didn’t realize it. If you think Dave’s case is unusual take a step back and listen to what I have to say.

Out of the 5.6 million companies with one or more employees on the payroll, only 10% make it to more than 20 employees, 1.7% to 100 or more employees, and .3% to 500 plus employees. The numbers of companies that expand, contract, stagnate, or die is shocking. Most companies fail to scale. Despite the owner’s best effort, they hit a wall and never move through.

It’s been said that the brain processes around 60,000 thoughts each day regardless of who you are or what you do. If that is true, why do some leaders seem quietly present, thoughtful, aware, and helpful, while others seem overly creative, intense, distracted, impatient, and difficult to follow?

Evagrius, the fourth century author, urges his reader to, “Be like an astute business man: make stillness your criterion for testing the value of everything; and choose always what contributes to it.” This principle led Evagrius to advise us to be calculating in every relational encounter, “testing the value of interactions with other people based on their effect on our pursuit of stillness.”

A cascade of reactions, judgments, and second-guessing clouded Dave’s access to stillness and clarity. So how can he access stillness and clarity in the midst of this struggle? By returning to wholeness and leaving fragmentation.

First, Dave needs to tell himself the truth about himself with the help of trusted peers. Unless Dave can look into the clutter, he will not return to wholeness.

Second, Dave needs to get present with people. Dave engages with the stream of drama that lives in his head. To be present with people he needs to be open and inquiring, allowing thoughts and judgments to pass through without attachment.

Last and most important, Dave needs to quit protecting and pleasing people. This includes employees, children, his wife, and himself. When Dave judges himself as being responsible for another person’s unhappiness, he begins to over function. He will lead best when he can live from a place of stillness.

Dave will experience a growing sense of inner spaciousness when he makes these changes. Becoming more receptive and less reactive will allow Dave to shift from a place of fear to living from faith.

This spaciousness is inherently still, poised and watchful. Scaling a company and a family is full of rich struggles and you either respond or react. In all of these struggles, stillness is your friend and to be still you need help being firmly grounded in reality.

The reason we fail to scale is simple and deep. It’s us. Would you like some help? Jim@peer-place.com


Ailment and Antidote

Only 10% of all companies grow to more than 20 employees, 1.7% to more than 100 employees, and .3% to 500 plus employees. Even less manage to sustain that size. The census bureau says there are 5,684,224 companies in the US with one or more employees on the payroll, so do the math.

If the statistics above are accurate, 99% of the leaders reading this blog realize that as their company expands, contracts, or dies the impact to their net worth, succession plan, retirement, lifestyle, and the college education of their children or grandchildren, and possibly their health is anything but predictable. While at the macro level, a company’s life cycle in America is very predictable. On the personal level, it can feel like raw unnerving chaos. The men and women who build small businesses are a unique American treasure.

As I work with these amazing people, I notice different versions of one question operating in their minds, “How do I personally grow my leadership capacity fast enough to lead my people and customers through these cycles successfully?” Leader effectiveness is the one thing that determines success or failure at the ownership, CEO, executive, and manager levels of a company. Are you ahead or behind in this unnerving race?

Profitability is a lagging indicator while leader effectiveness is right now. Improving and sustaining leader effectiveness will always improve future profitability but high or low levels of current profitability are never a reliable measure of leader effectiveness today.

I have found one effective antidote for this ailment. I help leaders understand how effective they are and where they can specifically take simple steps to improve by deploying a web based 360-review tool.

Leaders make themselves vulnerable through this anonymous process and while this is certainly unnerving, it creates the facts to help them know where they stand. This experience sets in motion a virtuous cycle of self-improvement that ultimately cascades throughout the company with astounding results.

The condition of a company mostly reflects the condition of the owners.

The owners are the foundation that the executives and managers stand upon. Knowing where you stand today puts solid ground under your feet while not knowing is like standing on shaky ground.

What’s your Leadership Baseline? The mean average is 73 – are you better than this? As the census bureau statistics shout, average is a dangerous place to stay – but how would you even know?

Its not what we choose that matters, it’s the reason behind the choice that people follow. When a leader makes a choice to assess how well they lead, their reason becomes apparent to everyone. Conversely, when they choose to stay in the dark, they open the door to confusion.

Would you like to know your leadership baseline? I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim @peer-place.com


Your Move

Several years ago, a friend suggested I take Gallup’s Strength Finder test. I discovered my strengths; according to the author, but it didn’t help me in any material way. I’ve also noted after taking most others tests that these generally have a natural bias toward how the taker thinks he or she needs to become to gain acceptance within their group.

Culture has strong norms and tries to conform us to its desires. Unless we are clear about who we are, what gift we bring to our work, and authentically claim the ground we are meant to stand on, chances are that some degree of uncertainty will mitigate our leadership contribution. Today I use a very different process to help leaders get clear on who they are.

In my line of work, being clear on who I am and where I stand is essential. I hope you might say that I am different and to some I may seem polarizing. Leaders are different; leading often means departing from the normal path and can be polarizing.

My Australian friends call this the “tall poppy syndrome.” It describes a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticized by their peers because their talents or achievements distinguish them from others.

In athletic events, “breaking out of the pack” is a term used for the person who dares to take the lead. Taking the lead with your gifts is risky and the pack usually doesn’t support this initial move.

Being who you are may mean that you need to change where you are or that you need to risk breaking out of the pack. I’ve made these moves and neither is easy, but life is too short not to try.

I know a gifted CEO facing this awkward position now. He built a company and successfully repaid his investors but now he needs to reclaim the shares he sold to them because they are unwilling to pay him the salary he deserves. They have become greedy. Will he break out of the pack and get this done?

Over the years, I’ve helped a gifted young executive develop to the point that he now runs a complex business. This allows the owners to be relatively inactive, but they haven’t offered him shares. Will he break out of the pack to get this done or move to another ball game?

I recently completed a 360 review for a gifted young woman who leads several managers and her evaluation was exceptional. Will her boss see her as a gem and help her become all that is possible or will insecurity place an unnecessary lid on her development?

Each person has a gift to offer the world but most never fully develop it, so his or her life never serves its intended purpose, and we all lose when this happens. Would you like to stand on firmer ground? I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com


What Matters

Just the other day, I helped a senior management team evaluate the effectiveness of their published core values and I noticed something remarkable – the team was void of emotion.

A few years back, through consensus, this team involved employees and leaders and they designed core values for their company. Did these core values matter?

When something matters, it is not optional. By “designing” their core values these leaders were implying the values were aspirational and therefore living them was optional. Not one of these team members could describe more than two of the values. So were these truly core values?

The true test is asking, “Does it matter?”

The word conviction means “a firmly held belief or opinion” and this is the test. Core values are obvious because you see people living them. When something matters, it is visceral – it comes with strong emotion and conviction. In other words, when something is worth fighting for we clearly see what matters to someone. Conversely, when someone is absent of emotion there is a problem, unless nothing matters.

As leaders, each of us hopes that we matter but deep down we sometimes wonder. We often avoid the risk of finding out and we disguise our real values. This causes us to publish core values that are acceptable but powerless, instead of living the ones that are visceral and personal. Fair warning – hiding becomes contagious.

The real action is living core values.

I asked each member of this team to recall a recent time when they saw someone doing something that made them angry or made them want to celebrate and then each person shared their specific story with the team. Within ninety minutes, they discovered a small group of values that were visceral and core.

As I supported them in their conversation, they galvanized around simple important values that created emotion and life. I could see them reconnecting with “what mattered.” Freedom starts with the risk of being authentic. If you find yourself compromising your core values for being accepted, run!

Core values also need to be clear. Describing the specific behaviors that each value demands helps everyone understand. Explaining the behaviors makes it impossible to clearly recognize “A” players, encourage “B” players, and help “C” players find other opportunities.

Competency and behavior must be required.

Consider the last person you fired. Did you let them go because they were incompetent or because of their behavior? Most would answer behavior, which is another way of saying that the person consistently breached your core values.

Leading will always feel like herding cats until you make your core values and behaviors clear. Real core values are never optional, and once operationalize them you will experience freedom!

What matters to you determines who follows you and how far. Merely posting a list of values on a wall contributes to creative disintegration. I’ll say more about that in my next post.

As always, I’d like to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com


Brutal Facts

The capacity to openly receive and process brutal facts is a trait that most leaders of the best companies demonstrate. Facing these facts isn’t easy. How these leaders cultivate this capacity is valuable and fascinating.

Steve owned 50% of a $40+m company and when I first met him, I observed that he was in love with the excitement of competing to win. The excitement of winning feels powerful. It can be addictive and when the competitive thrill drives us, its ugly cousin tags along – a strong inner resistance to brutal facts.

Winning means different things to each of us. For some, it is the absence of failure and for others it’s when they establish a place of status or prestige such as being the owner or CEO. For one CEO I know, winning is the experience of hanging out with an exclusive team of people, while another CEO feels he is winning when he’s in control.

Being a leader creates an opportunity to confront the brutal facts about ourselves but unfortunately, many owners and CEOs unknowingly keep this doorway locked. For many, walking through this door can feel like losing status, losing control, or allowing others to see a chink in our amour. The need to win, combined with the disguised fear of facing reality, is one reason why it’s so difficult to receive the brutal facts. Most of us simply don’t know how to process this information.

Let’s face it; many people want to share the brutal facts as they see them. In my work with senior management teams, CEOs, and owners, cultivating the capacity to receive and accurately process these facts is one part of a multi-year journey. After spending thousands of hours in 1:1 sessions and advisory board meetings, I’m sure of one thing. There is nothing standing in the way of growth and profitability other than ourselves and by simply accepting the facts, this first doorway to freedom opens to us.

Moving into a new arrangement requires receiving from others who bring wisdom and compassion.

As I helped Steve become aware of this obstacle, I watched him go through the same pattern as the others I have helped. Three steps forward and two steps back. We all want change to happen quickly but it never does and without successfully completing this one rite of passage, scaling your company is nearly impossible.

Last August Becky and I completed building our home and the last step to moving in was completing the landscaping. Alan, our landscaping contractor, shared that the first year the new plants would sleep, the second year they would creep, and the third year they would leap.

This natural process also applies to leadership development. In the first year of this journey, a leader marinates with peers on the same journey, in the second year a leader cautiously creeps forward and in the third year, they leap. There is no way to speed up this cycle but there are plenty of ways to prevent it from happening. Are you ready for this second door of freedom to open wide? I’d love to know your thoughts. Jim@peer-place.com

PS – Stay tuned for the next doorway in my next post.