Tag Archives: peer place

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



Feeling or Fact

Where will you spend your next dollar to make your business better? Do you know beyond a doubt? Each time I ask a CEO this question I hear yes, but when I explore their answers I find the opposite is true. As I mentor CEOs and their management teams, I’ve come to enjoy the energy they project around their personal pet initiatives.

Recently a team was wrestling with the profitability of its newest business. The intense energy of the most vocal members was moving the team toward fixing profitability by selling more low margin volume, while some team members remained completely quiet.

What makes a management team meeting especially hard is when they allow feelings to masquerade as facts. Thinking depends upon two critical elements: hard cold facts and the space to explore what they mean. Feelings are instinctive – generated by what you are attracted to or repelled by personally. Feelings can drive unconscious reactions while facts always make the space for thinking.

Have you ever noticed that the people who prefer knowing the facts are usually more quiet and those with strong feelings more vocal? Several years ago, I began experimenting with various tools to help management teams understand the distinct style of contribution that each member is uniquely designed to deliver. After working on this for several years, I’ve found two things to be axiomatic.

  • Each team needs the diversity of all styles.
  • Members must learn to represent themselves passionately and rationally.

When leadership teams practice and achieve this, value creation accelerates and being a member feels special.

As this particular team wrestled with profitability, it became evident in their discussion that the relevant facts had not even entered the conversation. The CEO suggested that we take two hours to develop the facts and twenty minutes later, we had them.

With the filter of relevant facts, new options popped up that had not been visible and the best option was evident. Within twenty minutes, the whole team came together and everyone was in!

Being all in is another way to describe alignment but I believe alignment is the poorer cousin. Enthusiasm is the thing we are going for while alignment is more about assent. Let’s face it; doing the right thing with enthusiasm is more meaningful than just consent.

For people to be enthusiastic about a decision he or she must believe and understand and each person comes by this differently. Some understand by doing, others by talking, reading, or questioning. Providing all these experiences to your team members creates a space for the best way forward to emerge.

Would you like your team to be all in and operate with enthusiasm? Getting there can be simple and inexpensive. If you would like some help send me an email. I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



Gambling or Managing?

Most senior leadership teams (SLT) are eager to jump in to the deep end of a problem solving conversation with me and I have observed an interesting pattern. For example, the other day I was working with a SLT to resolve one problem when they suddenly shifted to another unsolved problem. I intervened by asking, “Was a decision made on that last topic?” Some said yes while others said no. Then I asked, “What problem were you trying to solve and what business result will improve from this solution?” The team grew silent as only one person could even begin to define the problem.

As we progressed, I recorded each new problem they surfaced on a flip chart labeled, “problem parking lot”. Each time a new problem surfaced, they wanted to solve it immediately, but a visible “problem parking lot” helped them release the problem temporarily and patiently fish for a bigger trophy.

The temptations this team experienced is captured best in the words of John O’Donohue: “Thought is an amazing thing: it can be a mirror, a lens, a bridge, a wall, a window, a ladder, or a house. There is nothing in the world that has the cutting edge of a new thought. It is fascinating to watch the clearance it can make and the new life it can bring. Often without knowing it, we are waiting for a new idea to cut us free from our entanglement. The idea overtakes everything; with grace – like swiftness it descends and claims recognition; it cannot be returned or reversed.”

Ask yourself a simple question – whose ideas do you like best? (We all like our own the most.) Now, ask yourself how many material problems are your SLT working to solve?

I experienced this recently when I asked the members of another SLT to write down the quantity of change initiatives they were currently working on. The CEO and five other members each listed five to eight initiatives. After reviewing these, they decided to become accurate and the number grew to 18. The ideas they each liked had become their change initiatives and the team held very few in common.

So, is gambling different from managing? Gambling can be defined as any behavior involving the risk of money or valuables on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event, usually without much thought. On the other hand, managing always follows a process and gambling seems to follow an uncontrollable urge.

The first SLT learned to patiently fish and a trophy finally emerged. When this happened, it overtook everything and the room was quiet. Nothing was more important; everyone understood the problem and clarity ruled!

Is your SLT team gambling or managing? Would you like some help?  Jim@peer-place.com



The Gift of Frustration

I work with a senior leadership team (SLT) and one of the members has exhibited low-grade frustration for so long now that others accept this as part of his personality, and to the detriment of this team’s performance.

When a leader carries frustration, he or she unknowingly becomes a formidable barrier.

When I gently inquire about the source of the frustration, the answer reflects a general set of external disappointments or some limiting set of external conditions. This type of frustration is challenging. The path to resolving it requires a change, something external, beyond the person’s control.

Alternatively, I can look at frustration as a gift. When I look at it squarely, it always points to something I want that I don’t yet have. The gift comes as I ask myself, “Why do I tolerate the frustration I’m experiencing?” I reap the benefit when I decide to look more deeply into what it is I want and then I can begin to look for a real answer.

In my years of coaching, I’ve learned that everyone deals with three unconscious attachments, any one of which can be the source of emotional turbulence:

  • The desire for affirmation and affection
  • The desire for power and control
  • The desire for safety and security

Frustration causes me to withhold myself until I get what I want. If I want affirmation and affection, power and control or safety and security from a specific person or group, I unconsciously create space between them and me until my needs are met. The very thing I want becomes harder to get because of the distance I create between others and myself.

Why is this so costly for a SLT? Every company needs innovation to flourish and a high trust space for collaboration is a prerequisite. Any distance between team members, no matter how subtle, is corrosive.

The vitality of creativity derives precisely from the heart of difference.

The difference between how I see things and how other team members see them can either be a threshold to a new frontier or a closed door. One produces vitality while the other blocks a frustrated leader’s ability to optimize personal contribution. Don’t accept long-term frustration as a personality trait – embrace it and open your gift.

If your team resembles this situation, consider these options.

  • Someone needs to help the SLT learn to talk about this any time it happens or the door will remain closed.
  • Someone needs to help the senior leader develop the skill and courage to bring this up whenever he or she experiences it, with the goal of sponsoring vitality.

Allowing a leader to manifest low-grade long-term frustration is unacceptable, but most teams are stuck with nowhere to go. Would you like some help? I’d love to know your thoughts.   Jim@peer-place.com