Leadership is for Grown Ups

 |  Leadership

Change of Scenery

I was talking with someone the other day and he said something that stopped me in my tracks. The person is a pretty senior leader. We were talking about an initiative that he is heading up that is very important to his company’s overall strategy.  There is one aspect of the work that he seemed to be hesitant about. I asked what was up and he said that while he knew this particular element was vital to their work, it was getting push back from one quarter. He said he was considering dropping because he didn’t want to “get in trouble.”

WHAT?! read more

Self-Awareness is Good for Business.

 |  Leadership


Remember the old western movies when the stagecoach driver gets shot and he drops the reins and the horses are galloping wildly toward the edge of the cliff? Someone has to grab the reins to regain control of the horses, slow the stagecoach, and avert catastrophe! Who’s driving your stagecoach? How fast are you going? Are you heading toward a cliff? As we rush headlong into our days we may miss the reality that many of us are doing more at the cost of being less.

In the hustle and bustle we can forget that we are all leaving a legacy. What legacy are you creating? read more

Self-Awareness Drives Corporate Performance

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership


How self-aware are you? Do you know what your blind spots are? What skills do you excel at? What traits make up your personality and drive your behavior?  These are important questions for anyone wanting to practice authentic leadership.  And, it’s not just important for the individual leader. It’s critical to organizational performance.

A recent study conducted by The Korn/Ferry Institute demonstrates companies with the greater percentage of self-aware employees consistently outperformed those with a lower percentage (Zes and Landis, 2013). The study found that “poorly performing companies’ employees had 20 percent more blind spots than those working at financially strong companies” and “Poor performing companies’ employees were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at firms with robust ROR (rate of return).

I’ve advocated for leaders to work to become more self-aware for a long time. Self-awareness enables us to live and lead with greater authenticity and intention. It also is foundational for strong emotional intelligence and resilience. The study by Zes and Landis illustrates the benefits to the organization as well as an individual leader. When we encourage leaders to grow their self-awareness, we create a development culture and learning organization and in turn improve an organization’s performance.

In my new book, The Hero’s Journey: Toward a More Authentic Leadership I invite leaders to undertake a journey to greater self-awareness. When we become more self-aware, we grow our capacity for greater self-management and self-determination. In the end, we become more authentic and impactful leaders. Now the data show benefits at the macro level of an organization. Organizations that encourage leaders to grow in self-awareness and foster a culture of ongoing learning and development (not just training) are building competitive advantage.

The questions I posed at the start are worthy of reflection. To begin to explore them and answer them is to take a step on the hero’s journey. It’s a step that will change your life if you let it. It can also change the lives of the people around you, and in time, it will change your organization.  What are you waiting for? As Kabir said, “Wherever you are is the entry point.”

photo (c) Depositphotos.com/Yanc

The Problem with Performance Reviews

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership


I’ve always been troubled by performance reviews. I didn’t like them when I was working inside an organization. I don’t like them now that I consult with organizations. There, I’ve said it.

I have two problems with performance reviews. One, they look backward. Given the pace and complexity of business today, looking backward isn’t very useful. It’s too late. If someone isn’t as engaged as we would like or performing at the level we believe them capable of why would we wait until a quarterly, semi-annual, or (God help us!) annual review meeting to talk to them about it? By that time the review conversation is devoid of meaning and more or less a formality that neither person wants to do.

Second, performance reviews focus on the person “being reviewed.”   Why do we assume that the person is the problem? Because it’s easy; that’s why. When we focus on the person we are saying that their engagement and performance are totally up to them. That is simply not the case; and, it lets the leader off the hook. When people are not as engaged as we want or not performing as we would like, it’s just too easy to make the person the problem.

In fact, the person’s engagement and performance levels are impacted by the actions of leadership. Does the person have the level of clarity they need? Do they understand the vision and mission of the organization and the team? Do they know what they are responsible for and being held accountable to deliver? Do they have the resources they need? Do the communication patterns and other processes support the person’s success? Are they seeing high engagement and high performance modeled by their leaders?

Low engagement and poor performance are, more times than not, a symptom of poor leadership and not a sign of lacking aptitude on the part of the person undergoing a performance review. Our job as leaders is to give people with known aptitude (that’s why we hired them) what they need to make the best contribution they can.

It’s time to ditch the performance review once and for all and replace it with contribution management and coaching. Let’s look forward instead of backward. Imagine if we confirm the person understands the contribution we want and need them to make. Imagine if we ask them what they need from us as leaders in order to make that contribution. Imagine we agree to provide more clarity or work to shape an atmosphere that will help them be more successful.  Imagine we hold one another accountable to follow through with our commitments. Imagine that we check in on a regular basis to gauge progress. Imagine how the person feels by not being labeled the problem and by being seen as a valued contributor. Imagine how much faster we can go when we are looking forward.

The performance review process was a well-intentioned idea for a time that has passed. It’s time for a change leadership revolution that tosses the performance review and replaces it contribution management. Leaders need to be equipped to engage their people in timely and meaningful coaching conversations to discuss contributions, make requests, secure commitments that enable them to maximize their contributions. Let me know if you need help.

A Leadership Resolution for 2014 – The Year of Living Generously

 |  Leadership

Generosity-Cho Quote

If you are still thinking of a resolution for 2014, I have a recommendation. Make 2014 a year of living generously. Resolve to be more open and giving with your time, energy, and resources. Generosity is a mindset that, when put into practice delivers a high ROI both personally and professionally.

Generosity is a powerful starting point for leadership. As leaders we have people depending upon us for direction, coaching and mentoring. We can see the people who come to us as disturbances to our routines, bringing problems that are distracting us from the tasks we hold important. Or, we can see the people coming to us as a sign of their recognition of our leadership, be grateful for their acknowledgement and for the opportunity to be of service. The first perspective is that of a victim, not a leader. “If only these people would stop bothering me, I could get some work done.” Wah-wah. Get over yourself. The second perspective is that of a leader. “I asked for this position. My job is to give the people around me everything they need in order to engage and perform at a high level.” Leadership isn’t about telling; it’s about serving.

John and Paul said it best, “The love we take is equal to the love we make.” So make 2014 the year of living generously. Not just excess resources, but your time and your energy. Resolve to make the people around you better. You’ll find that that some words spoken many years ago still ring true, “It is in giving that we receive.”

A Frank (Sinatra) Lesson for Leaders

 |  Leadership










Today’s post is an updated repeat of an earlier post. I think it will become an annual tradition on this, the anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra (Dec 12, 1915).

I’m a huge fan of Frank Sinatra. I’ve been listening to his music for years. I love the songs. I love the voice. Most of all I love the attitude. Many years ago when I was sitting at a job I knew was taking me nowhere I dreamt up my transition, my steps into a new way of living life. I was listening to Sinatra, Live at The Sands. I remember reading about his now famous gatherings on stage in the wee small hours of the night with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis. They never called themselves “The Rat Pack.” They called themselves “The Summit” and their times together their “Summit meetings.”

As I reflect on those performances I see two important characteristics that are relevant for all of us. One, these men were extremely good at what they were doing. Their level of performance was high. Second, they appeared to gain extraordinary fulfillment from what they were doing. I think the audience was just lucky to be in the room, but they weren’t very necessary to the proceedings.

We all have a “Summit,” a place where our high performance intersects with extraordinary personal fulfillment. We have a right and a responsibility to find that Summit, reach for it, get there and stay there. As leaders we want to be leading from our Summit and creating conditions for those around us to find and reach their own Summits in their work. If we or they aren’t living and working at the Summit, you can be sure that neither you or they are fully engaged. We owe it to ourselves and to those around us to find and reach our Summit. It might require some modest adjustments to the status quo. It might require radical change.

Whichever the case may be, we have to own our reality and go for it. As I’ve said in earlier posts. In all things we have to go to the edge, push farther, and repeat. What about you? Where is your “Summit?”

Happy Birthday, Frank! And thanks for the inspiration!

Nelson Mandela – A Lesson in Living and Leading

 |  Leadership








I’m a little late in offering a reflection about Nelson Mandela. I have needed the time for there is much to reflect upon. Like Lincoln and Gandhi, Mandela is a man for all time. His life offers lessons in a number of domains. He was politically astute to be sure. The way he endured horrendous treatment and years of captivity are a case study in emotional self-management and resilience. The ease with which he set down his past and lead his people and his country through a tenuous transition to full democracy reveals to me a deep spirituality of non-attachment and love for others that is worthy of praise and emulation.

Because of these truths about Nelson Mandela, I want to reflect on his life more than his passing. To try to capture the totality of his life in a blog post would be arrogant and foolish. With your indulgence, I will try to express a couple thoughts that regular folks like you and me might try to emulate in our work as leaders. There are three things that Madiba (his clan name) did as a leader to which we would do well to pay attention.

He communicated with clarity of purpose. He had a vision – a dream if you will – for his people and his country. In the face of many who wanted retribution or revenge, he adhered to his vision and kept communicating over and over again the way forward that would mean real freedom for all the people of South Africa.

He created an atmosphere of inclusion.  He intentionally designed a way forward for South Africa that asked people to lay down their desires for revenge and retaliation and to take up the work of reconciliation. At the memorial service for Nelson Mandela held in South Africa today, President Obama remarked, ““It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.”

He encouraged people to be their best selves and not give in to hatred or fear. He was quick to smile and reach out his hand. By his presence and by his example, he challenged people to better themselves and engage the world to make it better. And like the prophets of old his challenge was balanced with a message of hope. He believed that external freedom is pointless if we cannot be free inside.

I was fortunate enough to see Nelson Mandela when he came to the US on a speaking tour in 1990 and then visit South Africa for work in the early 2000s. His words, like his life and accomplishments as leader of South Africa, were inspiring to me. His life will remain a lesson in living and leading for those who want.  In his remarks today, President Obama said that we would not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. I hope that’s not the case. That would make Mr. Mandela quite sad. If we communicate with clarity, create an atmosphere of inclusion, and call our people to be their best (and give them what they need to do that) we are on the right path.

“Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”

Leadership is Not All “Get er done.”

 |  Coaching, Leadership









“Don’t just stand there! Do something!” We’ve all heard this or said this to someone at some time in our lives. It’s a sign of our need to “do.” We have a preference for action. As a species we are homo completus. We like to get stuff done, tick, the box. We are doers. This provides us a sense of accomplishment. As leaders this can be a double-edged sword. We need to get things done. We have to drive the business forward. And, leadership is not all “get er done.”

We need to pay as much attention to who we are as what we do. We could stand a bit more homo reflectus energy. We could all benefit from being a bit more reflective and intentional when it comes to how we are living and how we are leading. Imagine if instead of leading by default, we gave some thought each day to what it would look like for us to lead ‘by design.’

Everything, including our lives, produces what it is designed to. What have you designed this year? Is your design now a default? Does what used to work for you no longer ‘get er done.’?

As the year winds down I normally give the leaders I coach some questions to spark their reflection on the year past. This year there are only two.

What have you done this year that you are proud of?

What have you done this year that you’re not so proud of?

“Don’t just do something!  Stand (or sit) there.” And consider those questions for a while. I’ll check back soon with a couple more questions to get you thinking about next year, about leading (and living) ‘by design.’