Tag Archives: Seattle Excecutive

Inside Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Root of It All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A false god

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Your Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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