Tag Archives: personal development

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 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




My seven-year-old granddaughter, Keira, called the other day to say, “Grandpa, I want to tell you that I got all A’s on my report card!” Not missing a beat, her five-year-old brother, Daniel, quickly followed her announcement telling me, “I passed all of my classes!”

Beyond the delight of receiving a call from my grandkids, I enjoyed how Keira and Daniel were sharing a moment when they won, allowing me to join them in the experience.

Speaker, Mark Aesch, who traveled from Florida to spend the morning with my Vistage CEO group, introduced the phrase “rushing the mound” to help us appreciate the importance of experiencing winning.

While sports analogies don’t always translate to an operational business, we can all laugh about Charlie Sheen trying to give new meaning to the term “winning”. Truthfully, winning is a powerful experience that we can all relate to and most of us don’t get to experience enough in our life.

Tom Foster recently spoke to my Vistage CEO group and keenly pointed out that each employee unconsciously operates within a unique time span. Production workers mainly focus on today’s tasks, while a few might be planning one week out. A supervisor will report production results in a specific day and make sure that they contribute to the company goal for that week and month.

An effective CEO must operate with a three-year time span and exceptional managers have a time span average of three months, with a constant eye on making sure today’s results contribute to a specific measurable year-end goal. In an extreme case, a company like Boeing is thinking thirty years out and doing the work to make certain the results they produce today will create a new breakthrough product in 2043.

Why is this important? Winning on December 31, 2015 is possible when the production worker, supervisor and manager are stringing together regular wins on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. The employees who make your long-term successful are short-term oriented. They need to experience weekly and monthly “moments of winning” to keep their passion alive and for you to succeed.

Keira and Daniel have a vivid picture of winning in mind and they wanted their Grandpa to share the experience, and I did. There was no confusion about whether they won or not and if there was, they would never have called me. Most employees of privately owned companies do not have “their moments” defined, which makes it impossible for them and other team members to share this experience. Losing this winning opportunity is costing more than you imagine.

How would your company perform if everyone could describe their next “moment of winning” within a time span that is meaningful to them? Everyone includes you as well. I’d love to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



Its Complicated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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As we started our one-on-one the CEO quietly mentioned, “We didn’t achieve our growth goals and I don’t know what the problem is?”

As the distance grows between the CEO and the customer, a CEO’s leadership patterns must also grow or execution will deteriorate.   New ways of learning and decision making are required because growth alters the historical feedback loop to the CEO.  This makes the CEO uncomfortable.

As I mentor leaders, I often use the following model; to help them visualize this shift.


When the senior leader launches a plan from the center and the results that materialize at the edge disappoint, there is always a very good reason for it.

Assume that your customers are either attracted or repelled by the interactions they experience with your products, services, people, and systems or facilities.  The growth or lack of growth that your company experiences simply reflect your customers’ experience over time; in comparison to your competition.

As we continued our one-on-one, this CEO mentioned, “We have introduced a ton of change into the organization”, so I asked, “What is your ratio of initiated change to intended results?”  As his head dropped he said, “We have launched so many changes that are never fully implemented.”

The model above can help us realize that the person touching the customer is more important to results than the CEO.  If this person perceives that you launch change without follow through, they will not execute well because experience has taught them that it doesn’t matter.

The traction point between your company and your customer is your employee.

Employees are not inputs to a business process; they are bundles of thoughts, feelings and emotion and they are searching for ways to experience meaning in their work.  Your change initiatives will succeed if your employees can harvest more purpose and meaning for their lives, while executing the change.

Employees choose what is important to them – you don’t.

A workplace creates meaning for employees in the following ways.  When employees constantly experience one or more of these through their work, they are more willing to embrace change; they see it as an opportunity to experience meaning.

Agency – A relationship created when one person, the “principal,” delegates to another, the “agent,” the right to act on the principal’s behalf in business transactions and to exercise some degree of discretion while acting.

Being Heard – You and your managers listen to them to receive new information or insight and you verbally acknowledge their contribution.  Everyone wants to be learned from.

Contribution – Maximizing the way they influence their future by allowing them to make deposits to the transaction, relationship, project, goal or milestone.  If they believe their influence is received then they will own the results.

Relationship – Their peers hold them in good standing because they contribute reliably and constantly.  Their group is aligned with team purpose, milestones, goals and roles.

Time/money/safetySecure that their value is fairly compensated and the relationships they provide and receive feedback from are safe.

Learning – They are growing and developing because of the work they are doing.

Appreciation They receive feedback for the unique contribution they make.  They have an “appreciation advocate”.

Attracting more of the right customers can only be achieved when an increasing number of employees experience fulfillment through their work.  Without employee fulfillment, you will be tempted to believe that you control and drive Value Creation from the center and nothing would be farther from the truth.

How would you describe the quality and consistency of execution in your company?  I’d really like to know your thoughts.  Jim@peer-place.com



The Crucible of Execution

As this CEO shared his frustrations regarding a key leader on his team, I mentioned that I’d been hearing him express this for quite awhile when he quickly fired back, “No, it’s only been a few months.”  With a patient voice, I proceeded and then he volunteered, “I guess you’re right, it has been going on for quite awhile.”  With this statement, he shifted into awareness.

It’s been said that 70% of the communication between two people swiftly occurs through body language.  With this in mind, consider also that frustration is often described as low-level anger.

When my wife Becky, greets me with, “Hi, how was your day?” her words carry different meanings based on how I interpret her body language.  Eye contact for a second or two means one thing, while shifting eyes means something very different.

In the case of the CEO described above, although he denied it, his frustrations had been present in this critical relationship for some time and were being communicated to this key person through his body language.

Like a low-grade fever, this hidden message was actively eroding their capacity to execute and was even threatening the longevity of this vital relationship.

The companies that I work with have less than 1,000 full time employees and I can tell you that in this space, hidden messages abound and denial is the norm, but I have seen this change.

Key relationships are a crucible.

A crucible is a container that can withstand very high temperatures.  In a similar way, we find ourselves being tested and refined through the key relationships in our lives.  Execution depends on key relationships; they are a special place where energy and meaning flow as a current between people.  When frustration, unmet expectations, rushed, inadequate or incomplete communication or judgment is allowed to linger, the flow deteriorates: creating a cycle of waste that dramatically affects execution.

In the words of Warren Bennis, “Social architecture is that which provides context (or meaning) and commitment to its membership and stakeholders.”  “An organization’s social architecture serves as a control mechanism, sanctioning or proscribing particular kinds of behavior.”  “A leader must be a social architect who understands the organization and shapes the way it works.”

When a CEO is frustrated with a key contributor for long, it points to a bent social architecture – one that sustains and supports a crippled relationship.

Relational connection is the conduit that supplies the flow of current that your future depends upon.

Most “first company CEOs” form their leadership patterns in a predictable fashion.  Their first step is usually to replicate the skills and moves that landed them the CEO seat in the first place.  When these moves yield diminishing returns, the hunt for new tips, techniques and ideas ensue.  With hundreds of promising self-help sources within easy reach, their experimental cycle accelerates.  After much trial and error, a few CEOs choose to move deeper.

After either repairing or replacing this key relationship, the next move for this CEO is about looking deeper.  It involves personal transformation in pursuit of the ultimate question, “Who am I that I would allow this frustration to linger?”  Tackling this question is important because by choosing this path a more authentic and durable CEO will emerge.

In my experience, the craft of leadership starts with heightened self-awareness and this gift is usually presented to us in the crucible of execution.

Exciting strategies are fun to develop but poor execution is the norm.

What should we be talking about that we are not?  I’d love to hear from you.  Jim@peer-place.com



The Wilderness

A trusted advisor emailed me in response to my last post “Waking Up”, saying, “The GM of a division is lost and really needs some ongoing guidance from a Peer Group.  If he is receptive, would you like me to introduce you?”

You might feel his language is strong so please remain open while I explain.

During our recent CEO Peer Group meeting, an exceptionally bright “first company CEO” member shared with his peers how he was solving a critical business problem.  I could tell from observing the body language that several members thought he was missing the mark.

I felt completely lost once on a 12 hour off-trail, 120-mile, snowmobile trip across several mountains.  Since I was in the company of men who had traveled this wilderness and who knew that I had not, I depended on them to help me get through this exhausting adventure – and they did!


Being in the wilderness and having a map, without the coordinates that pinpoint my present location, is similar to being a “first company CEO” and arduously working through trial and error to solve unfamiliar problems.

Let’s face it; you became a CEO because you made the right stuff happen in a previous role.  However, you have probably discovered by now that what got you into the CEO seat is very different from what will make you a good CEO.

Understanding this lesson early is important because the authentic CEO journey is full of not knowing.  It can be like trekking through the wilderness with a map and no coordinates – grueling!

Why is this so grueling?  By relying solely on gut level trial and error to solve critical problems, we essentially signal our people that we know the way forward and this can set unintended consequences in motion.

First, you cut yourself off from peers that have already traveled a similar trail.  Second, your senior team will largely be composed of people who support your unproductive patterns and ultimately, your formation as a leader stagnates making your adventure exhausting, especially for everyone around you.

Admitting that you don’t know is a potent move because this allows you to connect with peers who have a different portfolio of experiences.

Leadership requires both chutzpa and humility.  If we model humility and not chutzpa, we can create a stagnant company.  If we model chutzpa without humility, our company will be littered with poor decisions and false starts.  Finding the right balance is the key.

During the Vistage CEO Peer Group meeting that I mentioned above, several members patiently helped this CEO find his location and shared with him a problem solving map that he didn’t know existed.  Afterwards he said, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”  This move is transformational.

Dr. Paul T. Holmer of Yale University said, “If we know ourselves at all, it is with the greatest of difficulty.”  What trail are you on?  Send me an email with your thoughts!  Jim@peer-place.com