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Opinions and information on leadership and leadership development by Dan McCarthy
Updated: 1 hour 8 min ago

Helicopter Leadership

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 08:49

Guest post from Stephen Klemich:
It is often asked, what is the difference between Leadership and Management? For over 30 years we have always referred to Leadership as being able to rise above the situation, be objective, strategic and find time to contemplate the culture, people and one’s leadership impact. Management is on-the-ground, day-to-day task orientated, checking quality and delivery of the product and service, and looking after the people. Character-led leaders; heart-led leaders do both. It’s what we refer to as helicopter leadership. 
One of our clients in Australia has used a helicopter to get from site-to-site and I have been fortunate to fly with him many times all over Sydney – a stunning way to work! Helicopters are so maneuverable, being able to land almost anywhere, and rise above the exact position to hover over the site. When flying, we talk about the entire business, then each site, what it might need, how the people are managing it, and who we can encourage or recognize for great work. When we land at the site, as we shut down the engine while the headsets are still on, I remind the leader his role is not to look for all the things that could be better (even though there will always be something). His role is to be a culture builder, not a culture buster. He’s to look for the good, recognize excellence and ask questions. If there are a few things that need attention, wait until he is with the management team in private to ask his questions. This is how we came up with the idea of helicopter leadership. 
The great leaders we have watched build great cultures and organizations have been aware that the language of business is money: no money, no business. They understand that strategy, structure, systems, and results are extremely important, but they are also aware that their role is beyond the task, beyond the money. They are deeply aware of what underpins the sustainable results. They understand it’s culture.
These leaders know their leadership shadow is communicating a certain energy and has the ability to change the atmosphere of the workplace. They focus on ensuring their intentionscome across with a positive impressionto others, making their impacta positive one on the world around them. They know if they can create a safe place of we’re all in it together, then people want to belong, then they can believe and thus behave in a way that adds value to the culture. These leaders ask themselves, “why and so what”—why are we doing this and so what if we stay the same or change?
They practice helicopter leadership, where they continually rise above the day-to-day and hover, looking over the business and seeing where they can land and assist. In their “helicopter time,” they can carry big loads of problems that need to be addressed, but they also know if the load is too large and too heavy there will be a crash. They lighten the load through effective delegation with an effective management team who are all prepared to model effective behaviors such as authentic, achieving and reliable task-driven behavior and encouraging and developing people-driven behaviors.
These leaders understand the “beyonds.” In business we are often tempted to trade purpose for profit, but courageous leaders go beyond to create heart engagement . . . purpose beyondprofit, meaning beyondmoney, commitment beyondconvenience, destiny beyondthe daily, to unlock in their peoples’ passion beyond pay, service beyond self, identity beyond individualism.
The heroes of great culture are great leaders, and we have been privileged to work with many that we honor. They have made our job easy!
Stephen Klemich is a longtime leadership consultant, speaker, and CEO and founder of Heartstyles and the author of Above the Line. Stephen has worked with teams across the globe, from small companies to multinational corporations such as KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Unilever, AMEX, and PwC. Stephen is an avid mountain climber and guide who has summitted the Matterhorn, Mount Blanc, Mt Rosa, Eiger, Monch and Jungrfau, in addition to other peaks in the Himalayas and New Zealand. In 2019 he climbed 6 peaks in the Italian Alps. He has always viewed mountaineering as an important part of his own character development journey, and he has incorporated lessons he has learned in the mountains into many of the Heartstyles programs.
Categories: Blogs

Does Your Team Have a #1 Priority?

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:20

Guest post from Mike McHargue:

Does your team have one clearly stated priority? The one thingthat is the focus above everything else? And, is everyone on your team crystal clear about what that priority is?
Notice I didn’t ask about your priorit-ies.
Greg McKeown most famously wrote about priority in his book Essentialism.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.” Someone must have thought “one is good, more would be better!”
They were wrong.
When teams have more than one top priority there often isn’t unity and clarity about what actually is important. Each member of the team is left to decide on his own what the priority is. Often, their priority is determined by their part of the business. The finance person’s priority is budgets and profit/loss statements. The HR team is focused on HR issues. Chief technologist, technology. And so on. But a leadership team’s members need to own responsibility for the whole business, not just their individual pieces of it.  And nothing brings a team together more than one shared, most important goal.
Patrick Lencioni refers to this top priority as a “Thematic Goal” in his books Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and The Advantage, and in practice, often refers to it as a “rallying cry” for a team or organization. He frames the discussion to leaders and teams as follows: “If we were to achieve just one thing in this next period of time, what would that be?”
When leaders don’t clearly define the top priority, often, by default, the market, the crisis, the loudest voice, the squeakiest wheel or the most urgent request defines the priority. The good leader is one who makes sure that never happens, that the No. 1 priority is the No. 1 priority.
A good friend of mine, , Scott Ault, who is the EVP of Workplace Solutions at Mutual of Omaha, understands the power of priority. A few years ago, his team was facing an issue with customer service in his division. His leadership team identified customer service as the senior leadership team’s—and therefore the division’s—top priority. While some members of his leadership team didn’t have direct responsibility for customer service, everyone realized that if that one part of the business wasn’t doing well, it would have a big effect on the whole business. When the entire leadership team committed to customer service as its top priority, they communicated it across the division, divided up tasks, and initiated a thorough project plan to address the issue. The results were dramatic.
Realizing the power of this approach to a singular priority, Scott’s team has since repeated its focus on a top priority across the division multiple times, one time focusing on a new peroduct/service line, later managing the significant growth of their business by hiring the right team players as another. Each time, the focus brought great focus to the organization and great results.
When teams clearly identify the priority, work together to achieve it, and see dramatic results as an outcome, it becomes addictive. One priority solved as a team leads to another priority identified and pursued with focus and vigor.
What is your team’s priority?
Mike McHargue is a champion for organizational health. As a Principal Consultant with Patrick Lencioni’s Table Group, he and his consulting cohort are part of the global movement to bring organizational health into companies. Over the last several years, his clients have included Micron Technologies, Carnival Corporation, Intel, Rio Tinto, World Vision, Applied Materials, Mutual of Omaha, Griffin Communications, St. Luke’s Health System, and Apex Leaders, to name only a few. Mike is a published author and released his first book, Rookie Mistakes: Advice From Top Executives on 5 Critical Leadership Errors, in October of 2018. This book features 25 real-life accounts of errors made and lessons learned from leaders of top U.S. companies. Mike lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, Anna, and their three children, Elena, Jack, and Gabriella. For more information regarding his work and The Table Group, contact Mike at or visit his website at

Categories: Blogs

Good Leaders Have Visions Their Team Can Actually SEE

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 08:41

Guest post from Lee Hartley Carter:
Vision in leadership is essential.  We all know it.  And yet, while we often can answer the question generally with business plan answers, we can’t often paint a picture of what that vision looks like in practice.  Often vision is couched in goals such as growing revenue 20% in 2020 or to be #1 in one’s category by 2025.  While goals are undoubtedly important, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  What I am talking about is a vision that is so crystal clear you can literally visualize it—and so can everyone else around you.  That’s what vision is all about.  It’s no coincidence that vision and visualize have the same linguistic origin—because that’s what vision is meant to do.
Creating a vision that aligns your team takes a lot of thought.  It takes reflection.  It takes getting specific.  Because if you can't be specific, you can become scattered, your team won't know where you’re going, and you won't know success when you see it.  Without specifics, you are likely to fail as a leader.  
When I was just out of college, my friend Glenn and I were having drinks when he asked me my dream for the future.  I mumbled through an answer along the lines of – a good job, married, kids, etc.  You know the drill.  No specifics.  Vague and somewhat meaningless.  He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and took another gulp of his drink.  Then he said to me, "Lee, that's not a dream.  A dream is specific.  A dream is visual.  When I say what's your dream, I want you to be able to paint a picture of exactly what it is that you want."  I sighed, looked down at my drink and thought, “Man, that is scary.  What if I’m specific and then I don't pull it off?  What if I say this out loud and sound like an idiot?”  I rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject. 
Glenn put down his drink and looked me square in the eye and said, "Let me tell you about my dream.  15 years from now I will be on a boat fishing with my friends, pulling up to my dock, listening to Bob Seger. The wind will be in my hair.  I will have caught three big fish.  And my wife and daughter will be standing on the dock waiting for me.  It will be an epic Saturday.  And I will know, just know, that I made it."  He said this with full confidence, and no sense of irony.  Guess who now has a boat he pulls to the slip, listening to Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights”?  Glenn does. 
I have thought of that evening so many times over the years, and it guides me when I am teaching clients how to create compelling visions.  Your vision should be so clear that it reads just like that.  You should be able to feel it when you talk about it.  Everyone on your team should be able to visualize achieving the vision.  And, maybe, just maybe, it should have its own soundtrack!
Creating a visual vision has three key benefits:
1:  FocusA visual vision will help you to prioritize.  You only have so much time in a day or mental energy and only so many resources.  If you aren't crystal clear on what you are trying to accomplish, you will waste time on activities that aren’t moving you forward.  You can ask yourself, is this choice moving me closer to my vision?  If not, it might be counter-productive. 
2: Getting Others on BoardThe second benefit of having a visual vision is it motivates other people to help make it happen. 
3: MotivationFrom time to time we all face burnout, discouragement, and frustration.  Your vision will give you at least 5 WHYs that will keep you going when things go wrong.
We all know vision is essential to leadership.  But it’s not just having a vision that’s enough.  You need to be so specific that you have an exact picture of what that vision looks like.  And once you’ve created that vision you need to share it and repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  So much so that everyone on your team sees exactly what you see. 
Lee Hartley Carter is the author of Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter, and president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the single idea that "It's not what you say, it's what they hear,” the author of the new book, Persuasion, a sought-after public speaker and a frequent contributor on Fox News.  With 20+ years of experience in marketing and strategic communications, Carter manages a diverse range of language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations, and nonprofits in the United States and globally, helping  them to better tell their stories.
Categories: Blogs

Are You Falling for the Myth of "Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail"?

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 06:00

Guest post from Dr. Gleb Tsipursky:

You probably heard the advice for entrepreneurs that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” That phrase is a misleading myth at best and actively dangerous at worst. Making plans is important, but our gut reaction is to plan for the best-case outcomes, ignoring the high likelihood that things will go wrong.
A much better phrase is “failing to plan for problems is planning to fail.” To address the very high likelihood that problems will crop up, you need to plan for contingencies.
When was the last time you saw a major planned project suffer from a cost overrun? It’s not as common as you might think for a project with a clear plan to come in at or under budget.
For instance, a 2002 study of major construction projects found that 86% went over budget. In turn, a 2014 study of IT projects found that only 16.2% succeeded in meeting the original planned resource expenditure. Of the 83.8% of projects that did not, the average IT project suffered from a cost overrun of 189%.
Such cost overruns can seriously damage your bottom line. Imagine if a serious IT project such as implementing a new database at your organization goes even 50% over budget, which is much less than the average cost overrun. You might be facing many thousands or even millions of dollars in unplanned expenses, causing you to draw on funds assigned for other purposes and harming all of your plans going forward.
What explains cost overruns? They largely stem from the planning fallacy, our intuitive belief that everything will go according to plan, whether in IT projects or in other areas of business and life.
The planning fallacy is one of many dangerous judgment errors, which are mental blindspots resulting from how our brain is wired that scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases. We make these mistakes not only in work, but also in other life areas, for example in our shopping choices, as revealed by a series of studies done by a shopping comparison website.
Fortunately, recent research in these fields shows how you can use pragmatic strategies to address these dangerous judgment errors, whether in your professional life, your relationships, or other life areas
You need to evaluate where cognitive biases are hurting you and others in your team and organization. Then, you can use structured decision-making methods to make “good enough” daily decisions quickly; more thorough ones for moderately important choices; and an in-depth one for truly major decisions.
Such techniques will also help you implement your decisions well, and formulate truly effective long-term strategic plans. In addition, you can develop mental habits and skills to notice cognitive biases and prevent yourself from slipping into them.

Solving the Planning Fallacy
Specifically for the planning fallacy, my coachingand consulting clients have found three specific research-based techniques effective.
First, break down each project into component parts. An IT firm struggled with a pattern of taking on projects that ended up losing money for the company. We evaluated the specific component parts of the projects that had cost overruns, and found that the biggest unanticipated money drain came from permitting the client to make too many changes at the final stages of the project. As a result, the IT firm changed their process to minimize any changes at the tail end of the project.
Second, use your past experience with similar projects to inform your estimates for future projects. A heavy equipment manufacturer had a systemic struggle with underestimating project costs. In one example, a project that was estimated to cost $2 million ended up costing $3 million. We suggested making it a requirement for project managers to use past project costs to inform future projections. Doing so resulted in much more accurate project cost estimates.
Third, for projects with which you have little past experience, use an external perspective from a trusted and objective source. A financial services firm whose CEO I coached wanted to move its headquarters after it outgrew its current building. I connected the CEO with a couple of other CEO clients who recently moved and expressed a willingness to share their experience. This experience helped the financial services CEO anticipate contingencies he didn’t previously consider, ranging from additional marketing expenses to print new collateral with the updated address to lost employee productivity due to changing schedules as a result of a different commute.
If you take away one message from this article, remember that the key to addressing cost overruns is to remember that “failing to plan for problems is planning to fail.” Use this phrase as your guide to prevent cost overruns and avoid falling prey to the dangerous judgment error of planning fallacy.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 400 articles and 350 interviews in Time, Fast Company, CBS News, Inc. Magazine, and CNBC. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training experience as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, along with over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist.
A bestselling author, he is best known for The Truth Seeker’s Handbook (2017). His new book, published November 2019 with Career Press, is Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters. It’s the first book to focus on cognitive biases in business leadership and reveal how leaders can overcome these dangerous judgment errors effectively.
Contact him at Gleb at, follow him on Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, on Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, and visit
Categories: Blogs

How to Harness the Power of Empathy for Effective Leadership

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 06:00

Guest post from Maria Ross:
Let me ask you a question: What does a successful leader look like? Effective leaders are masters of business strategy. They are visionaries who know how to clearly communicate their vision to others. To climb the corporate ladder, you’ve got to make fast, difficult decisions at critical times. Successful leaders have persistence, tenacity, confidence, enthusiasm.
But what about compassion, kindness, and empathy?
Imagine: a leader who knows how to gain efficiencies, decrease costs, increase employee retention, and inspire customer loyalty based on taking another’s point of view? This is the power of empathy at work.
The POWER of Empathy?
Now, the types of leadership qualities that show up on list after list are there for good reason. Being strategic, being a visionary, being decisive, being persistent, tenacious, confident, and enthusiastic all propel individual success as well as an organization’s success.
It’s true. The business benefits of compassion, kindness, and empathy are less obvious, especially in an uber-competitive world. However, when you look closely, you discover that it becomes difficult to see empathy as anything other than essential for competent leadership. After all, I can think of no better foundation for a business model than recognizing the pain and suffering of others as a problem in need of a solution.
Empathetic leaders at all levels, including managers, HR professionals, consultants, and c-level executives, are more competent leaders because they understand the power of meeting people where they are:●     Empathetic entrepreneurs use their transformative experiences to empower others and fuel their businesses.●     Empathetic managers put their teams at ease and support their employees as they achieve mutually beneficial goals. ●     Empathetic executives adapt to the inevitable shifts in business with calm confidence. They watch new ideas take root and recognize the value of developing products to meet customer needs.
If you see the power of empathy at work and are ready to unlock this power in your own leadership, I’ve got some good news: empathy is a skill you can exercise like a muscle. Just as you can learn to become more strategic, more of a visionary, and more decisive, you can learn to be more compassionate.
Here are seven simple ways to train yourself to lead more empathetically:
1. Practice Presence: When you learn to be more present with yourself, you’ll be free to be more present with others. Take five minutes—yes, just five minutes—out of your day to meditate or sit in silence. Avoid distractions. Don’t multitask.
2. Listen More, Stay Humble: Empathetic leaders listen with restraint to people’s experiences, stories, and perspectives. When you really listen, you pause, look for common ground, and offer constructive feedback that connects with the other person. 
3. Be Curious: Authentically empathetic people are always learning from others and the world around them. Because they’re constantly curious, they are open to new synergies and able to make surprising connections while planting the seeds of success.
4. Explore with Your Imagination: Getting inside the minds of employees and customers means getting inside the minds of human beings. You can do this outside of work too. Immerse yourself in films, documentaries, biographies, theater, art, or music.
5. Cultivate Confidence: It might seem counterintuitive for a leader to lack confidence. But many leaders forget to track their goals and celebrate their wins because they’re focused on the success of the company as a whole. Bolster your confidence so you can pass it on.
6. Get in the Trenches: If you deem a job “beneath” you or a “waste of your time,” consider the message you’re sending to those doing this job on a daily basis. Instead, try standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your salespeople or jump on a customer service call.
7. Find Common Ground: As an empathetic leader, you want to build a community, not simply lift up individuals. Look for intersecting experiences, abilities, and needs. At these crossroads, you’ll find opportunities to come together.
What do you think? Will you join me in rewriting the script about what gives businesses a competitive advantage? Let’s show the world what compassionately competitive, kindly ambitious, and empathetic, yet decisive leaders look like!
Maria Ross, the founder of brand consultancy Red Slice, believes cash flow, creativity and
compassion are not mutually exclusive. Maria has authored multiple books, including The Empathy Edge: Harnessing the Value of Compassion as an Engine for Success. She has spoken to audiences ranging from The New York Times to BlogHer and has written for numerous media outlets, including
Categories: Blogs

Are You a Culture Change Skeptic?

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 06:00

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:
Are you a culture change skeptic? Do you have a hard time seeing how your organization’s work culture affects employee behavior, performance, or enthusiasm - so you tend to think it just doesn’t even exist?
We consultants – or “culture refinement experts” – deal with skeptics all the time. The way “into skeptical hearts” is to listen and understand their point of view, share your plan, and let the results – over time – speak for themselves. Numerous studies have proven the positive impact of culture on performance and how fulfilling employees see their work.
Who is in Charge of Culture?
Who is responsible to manage an organization’s culture? The assumption is that no one is formally assigned to the role to manage culture. We can cite examples of culture officers but the best answer is that senior leaders have the ultimate responsibility to manage their organization’s culture. Their job is to ensure consistent performance for the benefit of a “triumvirate”: customers, employees, and stakeholders. If they don’t create a work culture that supports efficiency, innovation, high performance, and employee engagement, they won’t satisfy that triumvirate.
How do you know the Positive Impact was due to culture change?
Our clients are the best people to answer this question. Senior leaders who experience our culture process believe that culture is the primary driver of the results they’ve seen. Results of the culture change process include:
●     ASDA, a UK grocery chain, was selected as the top employer of choice by a Sunday Times survey. Sales and profits outperformed the entire retail sector over a two-year span.●     Banta Catalog saw profits increase 36%, employee engagement increase 20% in six months, and retention increased 17% over a two year period.●     Foodstuffs Auckland (New Zealand) found ROI on their culture project exceeded $600,000 within the first year. Turnover fell 28% while the out-of-stock reduction of 1% resulted in $100,000 of additional profit.
Culture Change is Dangerous to One’s Career
Someone might come to the conclusion that a person leading organizational change will risk losing their job. Often senior leaders who embrace the positive power of culture find themselves in organizations that don’t support this world view. They may choose to leave, to go find a more values-aligned organization. Or, they may be forced out, often because their department or division culture (despite its successes) is very different from the parent organization’s culture.
These scenarios do occur, yet more often we see culture champions celebrated because of the positive impact of culture refinement on the business.
I am delighted every time I help a “culture skeptic” understand the power of culture, of values alignment, in a workplace to increase revenue, profits, employee work passion, and positive customer experiences.
What are your assumptions about culture change?

S. Chris Edmonds
is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Categories: Blogs

Key Qualities of a Vibrant Culture Leader

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 06:00

Guest post by Colin D Ellis:
People who are true leaders stand out. Others want to be around them because they knowthey’re worth following. But what qualities do these leaders have that make them exude such strength of character, while other supposed leaders fall short?

According a leadership survey conducted by McKinsey, U.S. companies spend around $14 billion on leadership development. Yet only 7 percent of respondents in the survey felt that their leaders are effective.

That’s the thing about leadership. We can send people to endless programs and get them to follow particular pathways, but unless they make the decision to be a good human being when everyone around them is doing the opposite, they’ll never reach their potential.

Those that do will go on to become role models for others, make courageous decisions, remove roadblocks to get things done and challenge the status quo. In order to do this and to be the catalyst for vibrant workplace cultures, they need to do one thing that most managers don’t -- they need to relentlessly develop their emotional intelligence.

Vibrant culture leaders are emotionally intelligent. They are role models in every sense of the word and set the example for others to follow. They take the time to listen, grow and work closely with their staff to remove barriers and inspire incredible performance from those around them.

Emotionally intelligent people like this are a positive driving force for culture evolution within their organizations. They’re empathetic when it’s easier to be dismissive. They make time for new ideas and thinking. They have a tractor beam that others are drawn to and people know that they won’t allow themselves to get dragged to the dark side.

These are the people whose conversations, meetings and training sessions are different. Whose communications are tailored to individuals, who can converse with all levels of people, who celebrate success and who make their employees feel that anything is possible.

Vibrant culture leaders stand for something. They have purpose, influence, ethics, and they continually look to safeguard the future of their organization. They do this by getting to know each member of the team, setting expectations well and holding people to their promises.

When people don’t deliver, they lead with empathy, asking how they can help and ensuring that their employees understand what’s required. Where people still don’t deliver, they conduct performance management with strength and courage. Vibrant cultures hit their targets, which requires that all within the team do their part.

Vibrant culture leaders are a force of positive energy and see the good in everyone with whom they interact. In short, they’re good humans who have others’ respect and loyalty.

These kinds of leaders are critical for organizational performance as they make people feel valued for the work they do -- which leads to greater engagement, which leads to enhanced productivity, which leads to greater value for customers, which ultimately improves profitability and reputation. And they recognize that culture is everyone’s responsibility. They make time, find money and undertake activities designed to make a real difference in the way things get done.

When American Express introduced training to make their leaders into more emotionally intelligent people, sales increased by 10 percent. When AT&T introduced a similar training, productivity increased 25 percent. At the heart of every successful business you’ll find vibrant culture leaders.

Here’s how to become a vibrant culture leader
Improving oneself is one of the most life-affirming actions that one can take. It’s a demonstration that lessons can be learned to grow as a person, and that a person is dedicated to making a real difference in other people’s lives. Here are three ways to get started:

1. Become more self-aware. List the things that you (or others) don’t like about your approach, whether it’s the way you communicate, how you run meetings or the time that you try to motivate your team to meet goals. Find one way to change it and then work hard to make the change. It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Once you’ve improved on that behavior, pick another one and so on.

2. Say thank you often. As a self-aware leader you’ll realize that it’s the team that does all the real work, so use your manners and say thank you more often. Find different ways to do it -- place easily seen post-it notes, send a hand-written card, call out commendable performance in a team meeting or treat them to lunch. Let it be known to the team that you’re someone that appreciates the efforts that people put in.

3. Make the time to build the culture. Do something different. Take the team off-site for two days. Agree on a vision, establish the expected behaviors required from every team member, define the principles of collaboration, get to know each other and commit to challenging your status quo. This will create individual ownership, energy and motivation.

There’s no hidden art when it comes to being a vibrant culture leader. It’s simply a case of being a good person, being the catalyst for great culture and ensuring the team feels valued for its work. Who doesn’t want that?

* * *

Colin D. Ellis is an award-winning international speaker, best-selling author and renownedculture change and project management expert who works with organizations around the world to help them transform how they get things done. Based in Australia, Colin is the author of four books, including his most recent, Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work (Wiley, Nov. 4, 2019). Learn more at
Categories: Blogs

Why Every 21st Century Sales Leader Needs to Be a Creative Problem Solver

Thu, 01/02/2020 - 06:00

Guest post from Mark Donnolo:
In my new book Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge, I recount an auspicious meeting I had many years ago with Steff Geissbuhler, a partner at a prestigious New York City design firm. I was in art school at the time, studying graphic design and branding. Thanks to a couple recommendations from professors, I landed an interview with Steff for an internship with the firm. As he reviewed my portfolio, I expected him to ask how I got the ideas for my logo and design assignments. Instead, as he flipped through the pages, he asked me one question, over and over: “What was the problem you were trying to solve?”
It took me a while to fully appreciate Steff’s question. Design isn’t about creating something that looks great; it’s about solving problems. The same thinking applies to solving sales problems. Practitioners use a time-honored methodology called design thinking, a five-step, iterative process that starts with empathizing with those who are facing the problem, then defining the problem, brainstorming, and building and testing a prototype—all the while going back and forth with stakeholders, fine-tuning to get the solution right.
In my work with SalesGlobe I’ve developed Sales Design ThinkingSM   to help sales leaders solve problems around any sales or business challenge, like sales strategy, organization design, sales capacity, sales compensation, change management, and of course quota setting. It’s less ethereal than design thinking and more practical for the business environment.  
Beyond solving strategic business or sales problems, how can we build our creative problem-solving capabilities to become more competitive in our careers and industries?  Recently, in a nationwide survey of educators and policymakers, Adobe found that three quarters of the respondents believe that students need to develop creative problem-solving skills for their future careers. Almost 90 percent said that students who excel at creative problem solving will have higher-earning job opportunities, and 85 percent agreed that these skills are in high demand for today’s higher-paying careers. As I’m fond of saying, “You can’t offshore, automate, or AI creativity.”
Yet the respondents overwhelmingly agreed that this critical skill is either ignored or under-taught in schools.
That’s why I’m on a mission to share this skillset with sales executives.
Sales Design Thinking has five phases: Articulating the Problem Statement; Redefining the Challenge Question; Thinking Horizontally and Combining Parallels; Developing Vertically; and Managing Change.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation – communicating about organization changes after an event such as a merger or acquisition – and put that through the Sales Design Thinking process.
1. Articulate the Problem Statement. Typically, it goes something like, “We need to communicate the new organization structure following the merger because the team is confused – and we’re afraid they’ll miss their number.” But if you try to solve for that problem statement, you may miss the underlying issues. So, step one is to check yourself. Are you asking right question?

2. Redefine the Challenge Question. After thinking it through and discussing it, you’re likely to turn your problem statement into a Challenge Question. A Challenge Question is more powerful because it comes from expanded thinking, but also because it is a question. And questions provoke thinking and ideas more than statements, which tend to be static. For something as important as organization changes following a merger, a communications strategy has to be designed thoughtfully. Ultimately, your Challenge Question could end up closer to: “How can we best use all available communication channels to deliver a campaign to each audience about the changes that will affect them across the organization?” The Challenge Question focuses on more components than a problem statement and gives us a better starting point based on the real problems or root causes. In redefining the Challenge Question, a lot goes into discovery, including understanding the story of how we got where we are and creating a solution vision about what great looks like. If you think you understand the whole story, the news is that you probably do… but only from your perspective. This is where gathering insight from the team, the organization, and from analytics comes in.

3. Think Horizontally and Combine Parallels. In other words, brainstorm each part of the Challenge Question and start expanding your thinking. The best brainstorming comes in the form of questions that evoke further thinking. Who are the audiences? What are the key messages? How do people understand and process messages? What are the options for communications vehicles? How do they align to each audience? What’s required for someone to understand a message in terms of vehicle and repetition? What is necessary for someone to believe a message? For each question and each answer, look at how you might combine them into possible solutions.

4. Develop Vertically. Now you can begin to narrow down the universe of possibilities, solving for the challenge question and factoring in degree of change, and ease and cost of implementation. If the organization has sales teams on three continents, for example, it’s unfeasible to discuss the changes with everyone in the same room. But asking each sales executive to reach out to sales managers over the company’s instant messaging platform could be a highly effective way to make the message stick. Perhaps having them conduct follow-up workshops in person may reinforce those messages. Your challenge in developing vertically is to narrow down and simplify the abundance of ideas you created in horizontal thinking.

5. Manage Change. Change management requires a structured approach with frequent reinforcement. Messaging isn’t a one-off; it’s an ongoing process that requires management – and may also require tweaks and shifts as you roll it out.
Sales leaders face weighty challenges from strategy to execution to change management that have a direct impact on business results. You’ll find that if you pause, think, and practice the five steps of Sales Design Thinking, you’ll start seeing new ways to solve the real problem.
Mark Donnolo is founder and Managing Partner of SalesGlobe, a leading sales effectiveness, consulting, and innovation firm. For over 25 years, Mark has worked with Global 1000 organizations on strategies to grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of sales, marketing, and service organizations. Areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark is the author of numerous books and articles. His newest book is Quotas! Using Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Challenge (ATD Press). Mark’s earlier books on sales effectiveness include: Essential Account Planning; What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation; and The Innovative Sale. Access complimentary resources and subscribe to Insights at  

Categories: Blogs

Three Ways to Improve Retention on Your Team

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 06:00

Guest post from Hilary Grosskopf:
Managing a team can sometimes feels more like managing a revolving door. When retention is poor, leaders spend valuable time interviewing and training rather than making progress. For organizations, attrition is an expensive issue that takes money away from impactful progress, innovation, employee benefits, and enjoyable team activities. Intelligent hiring decisions and satisfying paychecks are not enough to retain your best team members.
As a leader, it’s essential to be proactive about your approach to engagement in order to build your team and retain your best team members. Once your team is in place, team members must feel a sense of clarity, healthy challenge, and connection every day. When team members lose interest and motivation, they soon start to look for a new opportunity that fills this void.
Three practices that will help you retain your best team members and make more impactful progress:
1. Give Clear Direction
Leaders often give direction about responsibilities to individual team members when they join the team. Over time, meetings to review objectives, responsibilities, and progress move down on the priority list for busy leaders. However, it’s essential to give frequent, clear direction in team meetings as well as in one-on-one meetings with team members. Without clarity about objectives and priorities from the central perspective of the leader, team members work in different directions and people do redundant work. Misalignment around priorities and delegation breeds animosity amongst the team. When team members are not clear about their responsibilities and objectives, they become frustrated and lose motivation. Team members need clarity and connection to the purpose of their individual and the collective efforts. Spend time in team meetings reviewing team objectives and facilitating two-way dialogue about priorities and progress. Use a white board to write down objectives, talk through timelines, and delegate tasks together. Spend time in weekly one-on-one meetings reviewing individual objectives, responsibilities, and progress. 
2. Give Positive Acknowledgement
So many leaders overlook the simple yet powerful practice of acknowledgement. When days feel busy and getting the work done becomes a challenge in itself, leaders forget that acknowledgement is what keeps team members motivated and connected. Positive acknowledgement is a form of energy for team members. To fuel productivity and provide motivation, give acknowledgement for small and large accomplishments. A “thank you” in person or via e-mail goes a long way in making a team member feel valued and appreciated for his or her work. During team meetings or one-on-one meetings with team members, spend time acknowledging wins and milestones. Lead by example in giving positive acknowledgement and team members will start to give positive acknowledgement to each other as well. 
3. Give Opportunities for Development
Leaders often assume that opportunities for development and career growth only come with a promotion. However, the best team members are always looking for opportunities to learn, develop skills, and gain new experience. It’s up to the leader to support team members in continuously growing, even between promotions. The most engaging form of learning and development happens through special projects. A special project is a project that adds new value to the team while also allowing the team member to develop new skills. Is there a project you have been putting on the back burner for a while? Is there a task or project you could hand off to a team member? Spend time mentoring by transferring skills, giving knowledge, and providing feedback during and after the project. Ideally, a special project will help a team member prepare for the next level in his or her career by building new skills and knowledge in alignment with his or her interests. Other opportunities for development include team shadowing sessions where team members can share skills and ideas, educational field trips where team members can immerse in company context, and courses where team members can build relevant skills and knowledge.
Though retention is challenging in a fast-paced and competitive business environment, leaders have the power to retain team members with authentic offerings that money can’t buy. The best leaders provide clear direction, positive acknowledgement, and opportunities for development. These practices give team members peace of mind, healthy challenge, and genuine connection.

HILARY JANE GROSSKOPF is the author of Awake Leadership: A System for Leading with Clarity and Creativityand Awake Ethics: A System for Aligning Your Action with Your Core Intentions. She is a leadership strategist and founder of Awake Leadership Solutions.
Categories: Blogs

The Magic Potion in Leadership

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 06:00
Guest post by Raghu Kalé:

IS leadership overrated? I have often grappled with this question. The fact that one holds a position barely qualifies one to be a leader. Some folks manage to deceive themselves into believing that they are leaders. Why? Because they hold a position?

In my life, I have worked with leaders who served for a cause. Some served as heads of businesses that operated across geographies in multiple countries and many continents.

Some leaders I thought I knew withered away after we moved on – out of sight, out of mind. We barely kept in touch. Then there were those who I truly respected, who turned out to be friends for life. I heard someone say, “… you may join a company – but when you move on – you leave a boss …”

Many consultants preach about how to become a great leader. Once we tear down the facade and peel away the layers, it comes down to what is left in the bare and naked form of humanity: the human personality. After all, you can’t teach people to be nice. Leadership traits are the same; either you have them, or you don’t. You can’t fake it for long. In some instances, I have seen how the dynamics of power-play work. Actions speak louder than words. Most often, people see games people play. I have witnessed how power-hungry managers wield power by inspiring a few for some time before the disillusion sets in.

In my experience, I witnessed my former boss and his uncanny skill at radiating a sense of anxiety—an illusion that transmitted unpredictability. On his retirement, my farewell words to him in my in-person chat said it all: “While our corporate signature line is Leadership with Trust— you symbolized Leadership with Thrust. Your pyrotechnics hidden in your false temper – simulation of stress you orchestrated was perhaps only to extract results from people you lead.” My words brought a smile to him. Despite his uncanny unpredictable ways, his ability to pay heed to genuine hearts was uncanny. His responsibility spanned vast geography that included regions under unrest. As the CEO, he was faced with a dilemma. One of his managers was kidnapped while on his way to the office, and the militants demanded a ransom. The demands were refused, and negotiations went on for over a year. Running the business and achieving profitability despite all odds was a business as usual challenge. The unusual part was in managing this crisis that attracted national headlines. It tested leadership mettle. His modulation of genuine concern on one extreme and pyrotechnic to manage anxiety and unpredictability on the other – for some, it continues to baffle. Perhaps it qualifies for an in-depth research study.

I know that fear, on the one hand, is a mediocre drug that treats a symptom that is best suited for lesser mortals. Inspiration, on the other hand, is the magic potion that develops leaders, thereby boundlessly uplifting the spirits that heal the soul – thus transcending its impact across generations with a lasting legacy.

I was fortunate to have worked with several leaders who lead with compassion and grace. A promise is a promise was their unspoken shackle bonded with truth and trust. I once asked my senior about leading with trust, since he served on several boards. He was conferred the Honorary Knighthood by Elizabeth II, along with several civilian awards that he was bestowed over time. His accolades are countless. His demeanor is humble. It was in the early years of my career when we had developed the corporate branding signature line: 'Leadership with Trust.' It was about reaffirming leadership in sectors in which the conglomerate operated. My simple question to him was: "You as a leader – what can you do to ensure we live by the corporate signature line of ‘Leadership with Trust?’" His response was simple. He said that he personally could not do much about trust directly, but what he strives to do is keep his word. Over time, he hopes that it will build personal credibility. He explained, “Trust, as I see, is an outcome,” over which he had no direct control. He explained that he has a much better influence over credibility. And so, I see it now that one must do what one has to do. Never give a diplomatic, soft-pedaling answer. Folks can see through it. After all, you can only be a leader if you have followers. You will have followers only if you can inspire, and you can inspire if you don’t try to fake it with a pep talk and rehearsed talk lines. You can’t preach people to be ethical and have moral standards and then show off a falsehood of high morality and ethics.

To be a great leader, you have to work hard to alter your personality to be worthy of being called a leader. Only on your tombstone and at your funeral will you know from the conversations others have about you, besides the eulogy, if you were liked for what you were or was only a fatal attraction about your position and the goodies you had as the paraphernalia of the leadership position you held.

About the Author:
Raghu Kalé is an accomplished communications professional who has positively impactedbusiness outcomes by supporting corporate and operational strategy. Formerly the Vice President in the Office of the Brand Custodian of Tata Sons, Mr. Kalé has supported brand and marketing thought leadership initiatives for over 25 years. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Ywin Shin, their two daughters, and a wise-eyed beagle named Skye. Loyalty & Sacrifice: Ushering New Horizons for Business Leaders in the Digital Age is his first book.
Categories: Blogs

The Great Leadership Development Disrupter: Leadership Rotation

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 06:00

Guest post from Dee Ann Turner:
During my tenured career at one organization, I had the “best of the best” leadership development opportunities. I attended multiple executive education courses at the top business schools in the United States. In that organization, no expense was spared for leadership development. Their program includes on-one coaching from some of the best leadership minds and constant exposure to top leadership conferences and speakers. The organization ensures participation in multiple mentoring programs, assignment to non-profit boards and engaging in a multitude of on-the-job experiences with most senior leaders in the company. While all of these leadership development tactics has the potential to contribute to leadership growth, none of them compared to the one that transformed me as a leader.
For 30 years, I worked in the same function within the organization – Human Resources, later renamed Talent. On my 30th anniversary with the company, I left the familiar and launched a new function and team, Enterprise Social Responsibility, something I knew very little about at the time. With the new assignment came a blank sheet of paper to develop a strategy, a new team to lead whom I did not select, a new leader in an unfamiliar area of the company and a charge to “figure it out.” It was single most effective leadership development activity of my entire career. Since then, I have become and advocate for organizations to formally adopt leadership rotation programs as part of the leadership development plans.
Often, businesses and even non-profits, anticipate the pain of change to be greater than the value of the learning, so they avoid leadership rotation, especially if things are going well. However, an organization cannot afford for their leaders to become complacent and their learning to atrophy. While the stability that tenured leadership at the highest levels creates some comfort for collaboration, it can adversely impact innovation. Furthermore, leaders who stay in a position too long can shift into an “automatic” mode in both strategic thinking and in their people management.
Consider these benefits of a leadership rotation program:
1. The leader learns the valuable skill of building trust with a team. True leadership does not require a leader to have expertise in a specific subject matter. Instead, it requires them to lead people who do. Leaders who lack subject matter competency have to rely on the subject matter experts on their team to provide information and help make the best decisions. Trust breeds trust. When the leader trusts the team members, the team members often reciprocate. Trust is foundational to the success of any leader.
2. The leader learns critical persuasion and negotiation skills. It is far easier to advocate and negotiate about a very familiar function. It’s much more challenging to so in unfamiliar territory. Yet, it is in the discomfort of the unfamiliar that promotes growth for the leader.  Significant challenge to thinking and planning skills helps the leader’s competencies evolve.
3. The leader is more likely to develop an innovation mindset. If a leader stays in one function too long, it is more difficult to think about doing things differently. A leadership rotation can reignite some of the ideation that is natural to the leader. New ideation can move the organization forward to meet future challenges.
4. The leader strengthens people management skills. In most cases, an established leader is selecting the talent for the team. That same talent is choosing to work for the leader. However, when a leader is reassigned to a team, it requires new skills in leading people. The leader did not select the team members and they did not select the leader. This situation requires the leader to focus on communication skills, role definition, goal setting, holding others accountable and performance management. All leaders on any team should be applying these skills, but doing so in a new environment with new team members accelerates leadership development.
5. The leader develops collaboration skills. When assigned to a new role, especially if the functional competencies are unfamiliar, the leader will not only grow trust with the team members, but will also grow collaboration skills with peers. The new subject matter will require the leader to seek input, counsel and feedback from other leaders in the organization. It’s not business as usual. Interdependency develops within the leadership team when the leaders are challenged by a new role.

Within tenured organizations, leadership development can be especially challenging. There are too few new activities or programs that disrupt the leader’s thinking and perspective. Consider the significant role leadership rotation can play in developing the leaders in your organization.
Dee Ann Turneris leading the modern conversation about talent in business. The in-demand speaker, author, executive coach, and consultant was the first female officer at Chick-fil-A, for whom she served as Vice President of Talent and later, Vice President of Sustainability. There, Dee Ann helped shape Chick-fil-A’s historically remarkable culture for more than 30 years. In her bestselling first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, Dee Ann took readers behind the scenes of Chick-fil-A for explanations and action steps any business could adopt. Released on September 3, 2019, her follow-up BET ON TALENT: HOW TO CREATE A REMARKABLE CULTURE THAT WINS THE HEARTS OF CUSTOMERS dissects the strategies of numerous industry-leading organizations alongside explanations of Dee Ann’s original approaches to the most crucial decisions in business. Today, she leads her own organization, Dee Ann Turner, LLC, writing books, speaking to over 50 audiences per year and consulting and coaching leaders globally. Dee Ann lives with her husband just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Categories: Blogs

#GreatLeadersCoach – 5 Coaching Skills Every Leader Should Have

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 06:00

Guest post from Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson:
For many years now there has been increasing recognition of the value professional coaches bring to managers and leaders in business. Given the power of coaching, it can benefit everyone. Both the supply and the demand for such coaches continues to increase. However, it is our belief that we are all missing a vital fact.
It is simply untenable to think that we can give a professional coach to everyone who would benefit from it - organisations cannot afford to give everyone a professional coach. And yet they can, and in our view should, give everyone a leader-coach.
Theories and leadership advocates have been arguing for decades (if not millennia) that the most effective leaders are great coaches because they use these skills to harness the potential of the whole team, not just the super stars.  These leaders recognise that they cannot lead alone.  
The first five fundamental skills of coaching can be learnt by anyone.  As you read the list take note if you are mentally yawning because you think “they’re not rocket science” or “these are obvious”.  It’s important to spot if you do this. Many do, and it means they fail to develop the nuances of these fundamentals. All skills require practice – we are not born with these skills!
1. Generative ListeningWe need to hear the concerns of our colleagues, understand their issues and give them time to think if we are to be most useful. This is not simply listening. Rather it is giving your full attention, listening out for what is not said, the tone and language used, such that it prompts great questions and hence great thinking in your people. It is generative because it helps the speaker to generate their own solutions. This empowerment is the core to great coaches. Having the belief that your people will be able to find their own way forward is what generative listening demonstrates.
2. Questioning Banish boring questions.  This is how you will bring alive your curiosity and help someone to see a new perspective.  It also makes it FUN!  We advocate left-field questions like: if you had a magic wand, what would you wish for? What would your kids say? How will you see this issue in twenty-five years-time?  Imaginative questions help to break old assumptions and are a powerful gateway to change.
3. Giving FeedbackLeaders who coach do not turn into “softies”. Coaching skills allow for more direct and straightforward conversations about performance and behaviour.  Key to this is establishing a relationship of trust, so that both people feel they are respected.  In this context, giving feedback becomes a gift because it now comes from a place of helpfulness.  When you are a leader who coaches, you hold the belief that people absolutely want to know if they are failing or acting in a way that is not helpful to others.  Notice now what happens for you, when you make this assumption. And now think about giving someone feedback. 
4. Changing PerspectiveHave you ever had the experience of listening to a friend as they tell you a problem and from your point of view it is obvious what they should do?  Welcome to a new perspective.  Of course, your “obvious” might not be theirs, nor may it be right for them.  But the point is, there is always a fresh way to see things.  Leaders who coach help people to find that new perspective.  Ellen Langer, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard, says that new perspectives help us to break categorical thinking.  Categorical thinking is all about “right” “wrong” “should” “must” “ought”.  This is not helpful and not true. There is always more than one way.  Your job is to help your coachee find new ways.
5. Using Pause-Points™ We use the term Pause-Points to represent several related and yet crucial skills. For yourself, as a leader, Pause-Points are the brief moments that you take to notice what is happening around you. When you metaphorically step back, and reflect – what important things have happened today? What did I miss in the whirlwind of meetings and conversations today? For others around you, Pause-Points represent when you pause in conversation, when you use silence to encourage them to think more deeply and to draw out what is happening at a deeper level. Do it now – what has surprised you so far in this article?
Being an effective leader-coach requires awareness and practice – it’s a skill so this should be no surprise. The components of coaching often appear easy – and like the great sportsperson whose ability seems effortless, they are easy (or at least straight-forward) … provided you practice. If you’ve never been trained at these things, or never given them attention, why should you be any good at it? Being senior does not mean you can do these things, after all, as someone significant said: What got you here won’t get you there! (thanks Marshall Goldsmith).
And as Marshall also said, ‘Successful leaders achieve lasting change through effective coaching.’
Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson are leadership development experts and co-authors of new book, Coaching on the Go.
Categories: Blogs

The Best Run Companies are the Sustainable Companies

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 06:00

Guest post from Sam Hua and Nan Hua:
Business people talk all the time about wanting to build ‘hundred-year companies’. But a  hundred years of what? A hundred years of growth? A hundred years of development? Or a hundred years of survival?
The key should be survival, so the company will be alive and kicking in a hundred years, passed on across generations. This is the ultimate achievement in business. As for a hundred years of growth – well, no company has yet managed to do that.
Most public companies see their strategy as being entirely dictated by growth. Balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements are cranked out every year. And so, we’ve gotten to the point where public companies can’t even look beyond the current year in their ‘strategic vision’.

Now let’s talk about development.
What is development? Growth means more money; development means more capabilities. Development is the process of gaining the capability to survive in the future.
When a company’s revenues reach a peak, it could very well be the eve of its destruction. Why? Because this year’s success is the result of inertia from the past. If you don’t develop the ability to continue to survive next year, you might be gone by then. If you have piles of cash on hand but your company faces the risk of failure, that shows you don’t have a scientific outlook on development – all you’re focusing on is growth. This was Nokia’s problem.
Many business people, the most successful ones, often say that their companies are 6-18 months away from failure. These people are said to be ‘always focusing on the next crisis’. Sometimes they’re accused of faking it to keep their employees in line. But it’s really none of these things. They are not guarding against sudden crises, they just have a clear understanding of how companies survive and develop – everything a company has today is the result of good decisions yesterday. But if good decisions aren’t being made today, then the company won’t survive tomorrow. It’s a cause and effect dynamic.
What’s an even higher achievement than development? Survival. When we talk about building a 100-year company, we don’t mean the company is going to grow for 100 years, we mean the company will still be around in 100 years. The ultimate achievement in business is sustainable operation – the company always survives and never disappears. How do you do this? By always having new cards in hand. If you never want to be left behind by society, you need to be always useful to it so that it keeps you around. You have to always think about your killer products, authoritative expertise and dreams come true for the next year, next five years, next decade. This is the foundation of our strategy.

Sam Hua and Nan Hua are  founding partners of Shanghai H&H Marketing Consulting Company and the authors of SUPER SIGNS: Taking Your Brand To The Ultimate Level.

Categories: Blogs

A Strategy Story That Works

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 06:00

Guest post from Paul Smith:
Every great leader tells stories. But which stories are the most important ones to tell?
That’s a question I’ve thought a lot about. And after interviewing over 300 CEOs, leaders, and executives in 25 countries around the world about their use of storytelling in business, I finally have an answer. I discuss all of my conclusions in the new book The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. But in this article, let me lay out the first four and give you an example of one of them.
Four of the stories I think every leader needs to be able to tell are about setting the direction for the organization. Here they are:
1.    Where we came from (our founding story) 2.    Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story) 3.    Where we’re going (a vision story) 4.    How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)
Every leader, regardless of what functional discipline they represent, needs to be able to tell those four stories. If you can, you have a much better chance of being able to get the organization to go where you want them to go.
But telling these stories doesn’t just mean having a clearly articulated set of talking points on those four topics. Of course, you should have a clear set of talking point on those four topics. But telling a compelling story about those four ideas is not the same as just having good talking points.
A story is something special. A story is a narrative about something that happened to someone. Human beings are far more interested in – and compelled to act because of – stories than they are from slides or bullet points or talking points or memos.
Here’s an example of #4 – a strategy story.
The cough/cold industry is obviously a seasonal business. The overwhelming majority of cold medicines, cough syrups, decongestants, and facial tissues are sold in either the winter cold season or spring allergy season. And like many other businesses, there’s usually one dominant brand in each of those categories, and then distant second and third place brands.
One year, all the employees at one of those second-place brands arrived at work to find something unexpected on their desks—a copy of what looked like an article from The Wall Street Journal. Except it wasn’t really a Journalarticle. It was just a memo designed to look like one. Oddly, the date at the top was six years into the future. And the byline identified the author as one of the executives who worked in their business unit. So, while nobody was fooled, it was all strange enough to convince everyone to read it. The title was “How David Beat Goliath.”
Here’s a synopsis of what it said:
What’s the best strategy to win a basketball game if you know your opponent is better than you?
Answer: don’t let them play the game the way their way. Change the game. One strategy that’s worked for a lot of out-classed teams is this – play a full-court press the entire game. Your opponents have probably had very little practice against a full-court press. And when they do finally get the ball on their side of the court to make a play, they’ll be too exhausted to execute it.
And that’s exactly what this second-tier brand in the cough/cold category did that year. Instead of only running advertisements during cold and allergy season, they started advertising twelve months a year. The ground they gained in off-peak time gave them a head start the next peak season.
Their next unconventional move was to stop marketing their brand as only good for colds and allergies. For example, you can use facial tissues to remove makeup or wipe away tears, not just blow your nose. And while most brands market their products exclusively to women (who still make about 80 percent of the purchase decisions), they started advertising to men also. Those new uses and new buyers grew their market share even more.
But they didn’t stop with just marketing changes. They started innovating with their product as well: Self-dosing lids, designer boxes, and packaging so soft you could curl up with it in bed when you’re sick. Each new idea brought new sales.
The article went on to describe equally radical changes the brand had made to retail shelf strategies, promotional strategies, and new places to use the product nobody had ever thought of before. The final line of the article said that after five years of executing these strategies, this distant little second-place brand had just overtaken the dominant brand in market share for the first time in its fifty-year history. “David 37%. Goliath 36%.”
At the bottom of the article was a handwritten note that said, “Thanks for everything you did to achieve these amazing results! —the boss.”
Notice this was a story, but it clearly explained each piece of the brand’s strategy and why each one would work, using layman’s terms, a brilliant analogy, and an inspiring story. By the afternoon, people all over the office had pinned that article to their cubicle walls. And for weeks, the author was stopped in the hallway by people he’d never met before thanking him for writing such an inspiring article, and for explaining the strategy in a way they could understand, appreciate, and most importantly, execute.
A well-crafted strategy story like that can do the same for you.

Paul Smith is one of the world's leading experts on business storytelling. He's a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, Lead with a Story, Sell with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. You can find Paul at
Categories: Blogs

Leaders: Where Are Your Best Ideas Born? The Power Of Incubation

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 07:07

Guest post by Roger L. Firestien, PhD:
I’d bet you a hundred dollars that you don’t get your best ideas at work. Most people in my seminars and classes tell me that they get their best ideas while driving a car, exercising, taking a bath or shower, or as they fall asleep at night.
At work, most of us are in implementation mode. Action mode. Make-it-happen mode. When we get away from work and are able to pay attention to something in a relaxed way, new ideas begin to surface. Activities like driving, bathing or falling asleep are so automatic that we relax the judgmental part of our thinking, thus allowing new ideas to surface.
A classic tenet of creative problem solving is that often breakthrough ideas come to us when we step away from the problem and incubate. You’ve likely experienced it yourself. You’ve been working on a problem for a long time, haven’t made progress, and you back off to do something else. After your period of incubation — eureka! The idea hits you.
Several times in my life I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough idea for a project I am working on. As a matter of fact, my first book came to me at 3 a.m. in Washington D.C. in 1986. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation and took the weekend off to visit some friends. I still remember the meal we had that evening, Thai food with white wine. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the characters and the plot line for the book. I grabbed my pocket tape recorder and dictated almost the entire book. The next morning, I needed a new tape because I had filled one with my early morning epiphany. Now, here is the kicker. I went to D.C. to get away from my work. I almost did not take the recorder with me because I thought I was mentally exhausted. However, if I had left the recorder behind, I am sure that book would not exist today.
Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of entrepreneurs for one of my clients. Each member of the panel agreed that their best ideas don’t come at work. All of them had their best ideas “off the grid.” One entrepreneur goes to his cottage on the lake, another goes to his property in the desert, another works on a friend’s cattle ranch outside of the city. (Confession: I'm the guy at the ranch.) Several of them keep their phones near their beds so they can dictate a voice memo if they wake with an idea during the night.
My friend Michelle Miller-Levitt was on the panel. She owned Buffalo, NY’s first podcast studio, Too Much Neon. Michelle told me where she goes to find great ideas, and it's one of the most unusual "places" I've ever heard. When Michelle is stuck on a problem, she hangs upside down on a medicine ball. She says that by doing this, she sees the world a little differently. After a few minutes, she has cleared her mind and a new idea usually surfaces.
The key? Being ready to catch those ideas when they appear. Keep a notepad or your smart phone with you to record new insights when you’re in the mode.

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else in the world. He is senior faculty and an associate professor at the Center for Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo, author of Create in A Flash:  A Leader’s Recipe For Breakthrough Innovation and President of Innovation Resources, Inc. For more information please visit:

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Leaders Build Trust Through Conflict!

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 06:00

Guest post from Scott Warrick:
Trust. Leaders tell you how critical it is to building a team. But what exactly is “trust” and exactly how do you get it?
First, if any leader is going to implement a successful program, they have to define their terms. That is why there is no such thing as “soft skills.” If you cannot define what you are shooting for, how could you ever hit it? You can’t. 
So, how should you define “trust”? Is it safe?
And how do you prove to someone that it is safe to disagree with you? Verbal Jeet, or EPR Skills. (Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).     
We have all been there. We are sitting at our desks, doing our work, and we hear from our boss, Mr. Dithers, “Ah, Scott. I need to see you for a minute.”
Instantly, our gut tightens up and we imagine the worst kind of reasons why our boss wants to see us. “What did I do? Am I getting fired?” 
Rarely does it enter our minds that maybe this is good news. Maybe I was just named “Employee of the Month.” (Yeah, right.)
So, why do we think of the most negative scenarios in such situations? Because we are all hard-wired to have “ANTS,” or “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” This is how we have survived on this planet for so many years. 
Years ago, if Fred Flintstone, a human, saw a new animal that he did not recognize, was it a good idea to call it over to him and pet it? No! It was much safer for Fred to assume the animal was a killer. In short, Fred’s brain was keeping him safe by giving him a little bit of “anxiety” or “apprehension.”
Anxiety and apprehension are both essential to our survival.  This is why we tend to look both ways before crossing the street or pulling out into traffic, even if it is a one-way street.   
So, why do we have this negative reaction when our boss calls us into his office? Because we don’t know that it is “safe” to go into his office.  If there is not any trust in a relationship, our thoughts automatically go to the negative. 
So, how do you typically build “trust”?
Although it sounds contradictory, “trust” is actually built through “conflict,” that is, when conflict occurs in an honest respectful manner. This means you need to resolve conflict by using your Verbal Jeet Skills (EPR = Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).    
Let’s say that you are a new leader at your company and Fred Flintstone reports to you. However, you two have never met. There is no reason for Fred to believe that it is safe to talk to you, much less disagree with you.
So, you need to leave your office and talk to your employees. You need to find out about their likes and dislikes, their families and all little things that make them “them.” This does not build any trust at all. It builds familiarity.
At some point, you ask Fred’s opinion on some issue, such as his thoughts on the new health plan. You relax and use your Verbal Jeet (EPR) skills. Of course, you start with the “E,” which is Empathic Listening. You would say something like, “You know, I am not sure about this new health plan. What do you think?” You then shut up and listen from Fred’s perspective. 
So, you are asking Fred to take a risk. Is it safe for Fred to talk to you and give you his opinion? Will you attack Fred if I don’t like his answer?  Or will you be a passive aggressive and stab him in the back later, like most people do?
Fred then tells you what he thinks about the new health plan. You listen, nod your head and give him some “encouragers” or “Rewards” like, “OK,” “Yeah, I can see that” and so on.When Fred is done explaining it all to you, you need to Parrot it all back to him. That means you have to repeat whatever he said to you back to him to his satisfaction before you move on. So, you would say something like, “Alright, let me make sure I’ve got this. You are saying …” If Fred disagrees with your interpretation, then he has to tell you again. You don’t move on until Fred agrees that you have it. This ensures a common understanding.
But let’s say you repeat everything back to Fred correctly. Great! If you agree with Fred, tell him so. If not, if you disagree with him, you have to give Fred a “Reward.” 
Whenever you disagree with another human and you are trying to build trust, you have to give that person a “Reward” to protect their self-esteem.  So, you would say something like, “I see what you are saying,“ or “I understand your point of view, but I am not so sure I agree with all of that.”
You are showing Fred that it is safe to disagree with you. The topic of conversation does not matter nearly as much as it matters that you prove to Fred that it is safe to disagree with you.  That is how you built trust.
Over the next several months, you need to engage with Fred and continue to prove that whenever you disagree with him, it is safe. That is trust. You did not tell him to trust you. You showed him.  
Then suppose that after five or six months of having these types of conversations, you then called Fred and said, “Hey, I need you to come to my office. I found some papers in here and we need to talk about a few things.”
Is Fred nervous now? No, of course not. Why?  Because you have proven that it is safe to speak up and disagree with you by using your EPR skills. That is trust building and it proves that it is “safe.”
Scott Warrick,  author of "Solve Employee Problems Before they Happen: Resolving Conflict in the Real World." has been an employment and labor attorney, HR professional, and popular speaker for more than three decades. His clients range from small organizations to Fortune 500 companies to governmental institutions. He travels the country presenting seminars on such topics as Employment Law Resolving Conflict, Diversity, and General Differences. You can learn more about the book and Warrick by visiting
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