Monday, December 6, 2010

Golf And Coaching

I took a golf lesson this past week during my monthly trip to our place in Phoenix. I probably should take a lesson more often than the once a year fix it lesson when I can’t seem to figure it out for myself. My golf coach looked over my grip, posture, alignment to the target, take away, swing path and finish. He proceeded to ask me, in typical coach fashion, questions that helped me notice what I had been doing that was no longer working for me. As a golfer I tend to make very slight adjustments to all parts of my game, grip, stance, posture, take away, follow through, etc – knees through, shoulders square, line to the target, do this, don’t do that, - adjust, adjust, adjust.  After a while my swing looks nothing like I learned it to be. And I feel like I have no idea what is necessary to make it work effectively again or to enhance the game I have learned to love. Consequently, I watch my handicap slowly creep upwards and my enjoyment of the game increasingly move downwards.
What followed my lesson were two of the worst rounds of golf in recent history. I track all my game statistics and discovered that I had not seen as bad a score on these two rounds in over two years! These results made it very difficult to keep working through the adjustments I had made rather than going back to the swing that had become my comfort zone. After all, I could score better if I just went back to my old swing. And I knew I would not reach the next level of success and enjoyment by going back to old habits.
We find that many leaders we coach tend to follow a similar pattern to my golf story when it comes to their learning, practice and delivery of the art of leadership. When they venture outside the comfort zone that has become their leadership style it is usually with minor tweaks to the fundamentals of their leadership. After all, they already possess the ingredients necessary for leadership success. Therefore, radical change is not necessary. Being able to recognize the small steps and practicing them until they become ingrained should be a life long pursuit. We do not advocate tossing out all that has been learned so far, but rather seeing what needs to be modified for greater success. For some, the modifications may be greater than for others and like a golf coach, a leadership coach, can help someone see for themselves the shifts that are necessary. After that, it is up to the leader to spend time at the practice facility to hone the game. Imagine the challenge for leaders when the practice facility is always in front of the audience you lead – your people.
While at the practice area before one of my fateful rounds after my lesson, my playing partner, Jake asked me what it was that I learned from my lesson that I had not known before. That question helped me realize that I had not actually heard anything new in my lesson, but rather found that my coach had helped me see what I already knew. He held up the metaphoric mirror for me to see myself and refine what I already knew. The challenge for me was that I could not see it without engaging in conversation with a coach that had my best interest at heart and successfully supported me in my relearning the practices I already had at my disposal. Leaders, like golfers, can regularly use a pro to hold up the mirror for them to see themselves.
My challenge now is to stay with the corrections I have made until the muscle memory becomes natural. In the meantime I expect that there will be more rounds of golf with inflated scores and a rising handicap. Once the skills become more comfortable and less mechanical, my scores will come back down and hopefully pass through the handicap barrier I previously achieved. With that I anticipate the enjoyment of golf to also surpass previous heights.
I know how to play golf just like most leaders we work with know how to lead. The leaders we coach are typically very good leaders to begin with, and are searching for ways to take their leadership to new levels of success. Radical success as a leader comes after constant work on the practice field honing the skills that exist. The ever-developing leader becomes a significant leader when the game of leading becomes their passion and life pursuit.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Getting Naked To Lead

Patrick Lencioni, the author of several leadership books including The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team recently came out with a new book titled Getting Naked.  It’s quite a catchy title to support a very catchy concept.  Patrick believes that service providers will provide best service to their clients if they let go of three primary fears:
1.    The fear of losing the business,
2.    The fear of being embarrassed,
3.    And the fear of feeling inferior.
What great lessons for those constantly trying to manage their business and maintain significant relationships with their clients. And this is not just a lesson for those of us delivering our services as outside consultants, coaches, trainers, etc.  We work with leaders and executives helping them develop the skills necessary to effectively lead the people in their organizations or in other words the clients they deliver their service to. Many leaders are learning today that the old style of command and control or being strong in order to be powerful are leadership styles that are best meant for the history books rather than effective leadership styles for the workplace of today.
Powerful leaders today are realizing that several seemingly vulnerable traits are contributing to their success. Lencioni reveals some of these traits to include:
1.    Asking dumb questions,
2.    Making dumb suggestions,
3.    And celebrating mistakes.
Can you imagine these as effective leadership tools a generation ago?
Further to that consider the next four:
1.    Honor the clients (employees) work,
2.    Make everything about the client (employee),
3.    Do the dirty work,
4.    And take a bullet for the client (employee).
He finishes with four more under the Fear of Losing the Business category, which includes:
1.    Always consult instead of sell,
2.    Give away the business,
3.    Tell the kind truth,
4.     And enter the danger.
Let’s consider these the new top 10, or 11 with a bonus trait thrown in, leadership and relationship skills for the effective leader of this generation. How many would you prescribe to? Which ones are big gulp stretches for you? Give yourself a grade rating for each. A 10 would be you walk on water with this skill; a 1 would be it is absent or very weak in your portfolio of skills. Which would you identify as your top three? What are you doing to enhance these skills?
If we are to grow as leaders in the work systems of today then the art of “Getting Naked” is likely the new skill set necessary to achieve the pinnacle of significant leader.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A True Example of Humanity

I have had the pleasure of getting my shoes shined by Pat, the shoeshine guy, for many years. It has been so long that I cannot remember when I first stopped by Pat’s Place looking to get my shoes shined before one of my client meetings. What I do know and frequently remember fondly is that I have received far greater value well beyond well-groomed shoes. I often say in our leadership workshops or coaching sessions that even in my business of developing leaders, executives and people relationships, I have yet to come across the perfect human being. My good friend Laura Whitworth once said “We will all forever be perfect works in progress”.  Therefore, I do not take it lightly when I say that Pat Dardano is one of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Pat came to Canada from Italy over 26 years ago and set up his shoeshine business speaking barely a word of English. He has told me how he would smile and nod to his customers as they talked to him and he didn’t understand what they were saying. It reminds me of a lesson for my world of leadership and executive coaching. Our job is to listen, not advise. This allows our clients to feel safe to talk their way through their challenges and opens up some of their own best thinking. This happens only when there is a true connection between the coach and the client. Pat exemplifies this connection. Today language is not a barrier and Pat still listens with true compassion and care. You can see his heart and soul pouring out through his soft eyes.
I travel frequently and spend about half my time in Calgary running my business and being with family and friends. When I am in town I regularly stroll by Pat’s Place to see Pat and get a shine. I have well-polished shoes and know that most of the time I see Pat I don’t really need a shoeshine. I just want to stop by and see Pat, catch up on his life since the last time I was in town and share stories of our families, our business and our mutual love for soccer. Pat will always ask how my family is doing, how the people in my business are getting along, asking about them by name, and how my travels have been.  It is easy to tell that he is not asking as part of a casual small talk performance, instead because Pat truly cares how you and the people important to you are doing. And, Pat has a very successful business because people come to have their shoes shined so they can visit with a man that exudes human connection and care.
Pat has recently been challenged with some serious health issues and while he was away visiting family in Italy, friends of Pat organized a benefit for him to celebrate Pat, the human being. Pat returned from Italy to shyly find out about this planned event. More than 350 people attended Pat’s benefit. It was a testament to the number of friends Pat has connected with over the years.
Good people care about good people. Pat has touched the lives of many over the years and it was time to honor this man. I have coached many leaders and executives over my 27 years in my people development business. My best guess is that Pat has coached many more from his two-chair office in the public space he occupies in downtown Calgary. Maybe some of our clients could benefit from a shoeshine coaching session with Pat – a natural example of human kindness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Real Life Shared Abundance Experience

I coined a value many years ago called Shared Abundance.  It is a term that I place as the value that best defines me and how I see my place in the world. I would love to see a world that truly sees each other and places significant value on caring about how they treat each and every human being they cross paths with.
I travel frequently to many parts of North America and occasionally other parts of the world as part of my work. I love to travel and whenever possible, I will spend extra days after my work visiting the area and trying to absorb the local culture and most importantly, the people. People are a very curious thing to me, which helps make me a very good professional coach as well as someone that constantly searches for meeting new people and hearing what their story may be. Imagine the challenge I have whenever I travel to other parts of the world, particularly large cities, and I wander the streets or sit in curbside cafes attempting to make eye contact with those that pass me by. Try this sometime, wherever you are, even your hometown city. Walk the streets and make eye contact with others passing by you. Count the number of people that actually look at you. Or even more interesting, count how many of those few that do make eye contact with you, what type of reaction do they have? I find that the percentage of those that we actually make eye-to-eye contact with is generally very small. And an even smaller percentage would hold that contact for more than an instant or possibly smile, nod or say hello. There are times I find this almost depressing and with shared abundance as a value, it becomes something of significant interest for me to take on to change.
I believe that we are all starving for more human connection. Because of safety and security concerns we insulate ourselves from the stranger on the street and pass them by with our head down or barely a glance in their direction. Then we go to the security of our homes and jump on the Internet dating sites or cry to our friends about how difficult it is to find that perfect someone or to make new friends.
Two weeks ago I attended as a newbie, an event in the desert of northern Nevada called Burning Man. This is an annual weeklong event set up on a dried up lake bed 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. In other words, in the middle of nowhere! From nothing but flat, white dust filled desert emerges a small city of over 50,000 people migrating from all corners of the globe to spend a week in a non-monetary commerce community. The key idea is that gifting to others becomes the currency that drives this instant city.  For one full week I had no idea where I had put my wallet. As well, cell phone coverage and Internet connections were very scarce.
At Burning Man you cross paths with every walk of life you can imagine. Young, old, male, female, artist, entertainer, homeless, CEO, etc, all of which come to experience interacting with others with a minimum of judgment or care for the others background or history. And there is the culture of just about anything is accepted as long as it does not harm another. Costumes are a significant part of the event and you see people in costumes generally reserved for the rare Halloween occasion back home. As well, some choose not to wear costumes or wear anything at all. Interestingly enough, soon after the heightened visual stimulation of crazy costumes or partial, as well as full nudity, becomes the norm in this community, we all settle into getting to know the people there and their motivation for attending this event in such a harsh desert environment. Here is where shared abundance shows itself in some of its most unique forms.
I attended this event knowing only my close trusted friend that had been talking about going for several years and we finally decided to take the plunge and go. After the close of the event, I left with many new friends with hopes of staying in contact as we all went back to our regular lives and activities. My greatest joy throughout the week was the constant connection to virtually everyone you crossed paths with.  Such the opposite of what I experience everyday. It was an automatic response to make eye contact and to give, as well as receive, a genuine greeting. We would stop in the street and hold a conversation with someone that we had never met before and in many cases a gift may be exchanged with no expectation of reciprocity.  After a full week of openness, connection, high visual stimulation and caring community I found myself back in the real world and walking my city streets with a hopeful expectation that I would receive the same community-like connection with everyone whose path I crossed. That has not been the case and yet I remain hopeful. I challenge all of us to consider the gift that eye contact, a nod of acknowledgment or even more boldly, a hello and smile has on those we come in contact with.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Costa Rica Travels

I recently traveled to Costa Rica for a week of solo adventure – unlike many of my trips that are connected to client work somewhere in the world – this trip was strictly for fun and adventure. Central America has always been in my travel sights or as I now hear many people say, on my bucket list. I had an airfare credit that I wanted to use before it expired. I wonder how often we find ourselves way too busy to enjoy life and respond to that bucket list? For many, I believe they consider themselves too busy to even contemplate a bucket list, let alone actually do some things that may be on the list. I remember working with one executive that was proud of never actually taken a vacation day!
I know that my company could have kept me busy during the time I chose to be gone on this trip. We are trying hard to grow our business in these economic conditions and every effort is helpful toward achieving that goal.  And, I fully expect to put in many more vital years into the business that has been my life for 20 years. If I want to continue to be a significant contributor to the business I founded in 1991 I know that I need, rather want, to spend time revitalizing myself so that I can be a valuable resource for the people that are a vital part of our community. Time away to recharge is not only a desire, I fully believe it is a necessity for sustained health and business success.
Research has supported this belief for many years. What continues to concern us as we coach one senior leader after another, is that most continue to ignore the research. There seems to be some distinction between the leaders we coach in Canada compared to their American counterparts we work with. An annual Expedia.com survey shows that “short vacations are becoming shorter as Americans take fewer days off than ever before…at least 30 percent of employed adults give up vacation time they have earned, a situation that resulted this year in a total of 415 million unused vacation days.” And “nearly 25 per cent of Canadians aren't taking the full number of vacation days they've been allotted, leaving 34 million vacation days unused every year.”
The Expedia.com survey goes on to state, "There are incredible health and wellness benefits associated with time off from work. Americans should take a cue from their foreign counterparts and relish the vacation they earn." Expedia.com analyzed vacation habits among employed workers in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France and Australia. Compared to other countries included in the survey, Americans receive the fewest vacation days per year on average (14 days), compared to 17 days in Australia, 19 days in Canada, 24 days in Great Britain, 27 days in Germany and 39 days in France.
I was born and raised in New Jersey and moved my family to Canada in 1983 to pursue the coaching career that has become the calling I did not know it was meant to be. In the late 80’s the US government allowed duel citizenship with Canada and all members of my family took advantage of the opportunity. We have enjoyed the privileges of dual citizenship ever since. Since then I often think what it would be like if we could take the best of both cultures and create one that is more significant than the two I have lived and worked in for so many years. Taking time off to revitalize and create healthier and more vital workers is one factor I give credit to our Canadian counterparts and would like to see our American friends and clients adopt. The Expedia.com survey goes on to say, “Like many workers, Canadians benefit greatly from their vacation time. 44 percent of employed Canadian adults reported feeling better about their jobs and feeling more productive upon returning from vacation, while 55 percent say they feel rested, rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life.” And we all still have more work to do in this arena.
As I find myself closer to 60 than 50 I spend more time finding myself thinking about what impact my life will have in this world (research now suggests that not leading a meaningful life has taken over the number 1 spot as the biggest fear people have in life displacing public speaking from the top spot), I hope to contribute to many of the leaders and executives we coach to living not only a more meaningful life but also a longer one.  In a nine-year analysis of more than 12,000 people, the researchers found that “men who didn't vacation regularly were 32 percent more likely to experience a fatal heart attack, while women were 50 percent more likely - and the rates of illness increased with the scarcity of vacations.” Many of the executives I have coached over the years have become friends. I hope to spend many years experiencing their company and friendship as we all enter the second half of our lives.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hot Yoga Pain

As a part of my new plan to dedicate time to my own health I decided back in May to start doing Bikram Yoga. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this particular form of yoga it is also called hot yoga. They heat up the room to 104 degrees and you go through a routine of 26 postures during a 90-minute class. Now this has been a great program to begin getting back into shape and to test my commitment level to regular exercise.
I also find this yoga practice to be a significant challenge. Firstly, my balance sucks. I work so hard to muscle my way through the one legged balance postures and rarely hold one through the allotted time frame of 60 seconds for the first set and 30 seconds for the second set. It is a constant process of falling out of the posture and working to get back into it. It is not uncommon for me to fall out and to work back in the posture up to four or five times in one set. By the time we get through all the standing postures I feel fully worked over and just hoping to then make it through the postures that make up the second half of the class on the floor. Secondly, the heat affects me and I can often find myself trying to stay upright and keep from passing out. When I see double or black spots in front of me I have to give in and kneel down until this passes.
Therefore, I have been asked several times by my family why I keep going.  And when I have sessions where I feel like a failure and have to take a knee, like the two in a row I had last week, I ask myself the same question. Then this week I have so far had two sessions in a row that I have completed with relative ease. Now that is breathing and not passing out ease, the balance stuff is still a work in progress.
I am challenged by the constant pull to give up this practice and move on to something that is simpler and less of a burden to master. I can feel a sense of embarrassment when I fall in and out of postures or have to kneel to keep from passing out when right with me classmates are nailing the postures with grace and no evidence of strain. And then I want to stay in the program as I have a small success and notice changes of flexibility and body tone. Who knows, maybe I can master this stuff some day!
I have been a leadership and executive coach for over 27 years. I regularly see leaders drop back into their comfort zones of technical expertise because the pain of developing leadership skills can only be achieved in front of either those they lead or others that are leaders, either skilled or on their own development path. Like the beauty and grace of yoga I see while struggling in yoga class, many leaders struggle to develop the skills necessary to successfully lead under the microscope of many observers. When I receive an appreciative nod from the yoga instructor acknowledging my efforts along with the occasional gesture from another participant signally their own struggle as a common cause, I recognize what is necessary for leaders to boldly step into the continuous practice of leadership development. I encourage all leaders to stay in the heat of leadership learning even when you feel you might look incompetent, out of balance or about to pass out!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Excellent Executive Coaches and Executive Leaders Have Presence

As unbelievable as it seems to me, I have recently passed my 27th year in the executive coaching field. Then when I look in the mirror and notice the grey hair on my head and goatee I realize I may have amassed the experience that many crave when they enter the profession like I did at the ripe old age of 30. I can remember growing a beard when I started, back in 1983, to hopefully look more mature. All I accomplished was to appear like a young rookie with a scraggily beard!
After so many years as a coach I have had the privilege and pleasure of hiring, training, mentoring and observing a significant number of bright, young, promising coaches. And some were maybe not so young, but still new to the work and looking ahead with great hopes. Many times I have been asked about what characteristics I look for when I search out the next generation of coaches to add to our organization. The answer has always been the same. It does not matter if it is our youngest generation (we have coaches in their late 20’s and early 30’s) or those that can compete with me on the age scale; presence is always the factor that separates a great coach from a good or poor coach.
Presence is elusive in definition as much as it is in character. You know it when you see it show up in front of you and many wonder what it is that is different with this person but they can’t seem to put their finger on it. When they do we often hear folks say that it is something that is innate in someone and not something that can be developed. I don’t agree. Presence is a characteristic that each and every one of us can add to our portfolio and continue to massage as a profound strength in our character.
Excellent executive leaders also carry this key characteristic in their leadership briefcase. I have an exceptional executive coaching friend, Valerie Williams in New Jersey (www.valwilliams.com) that recently wrote her latest book, (she has written several books on leadership), titled The Influence Puzzle®: 6 Aspects of Powerful Executive Presence. This book and Valerie’s coaching process moves leaders through their own development path toward defining and developing their leadership presence. Valerie says, “Executive skill development alone is the old leadership paradigm. It is insufficient. The new leadership paradigm goes far beyond skill development to focus on leading and influencing people at a much deeper level. The new leadership paradigm is combining higher level leadership skills with the strategic use of your leadership presence. Skill development is a good start. However, it is not enough for today’s complex business challenges. The most strategic tool you have is not a skill; it’s your presence.”
You can tell the difference. Leaders that exercise their executive presence stand apart from other executives. Are you one of those leaders that stand out? If not, you are likely a leader that still depends solely on your leadership or technical skills to lead your organization. Valerie goes on to say, “If you still believe that leadership skills alone will get you where you want to be, then you may never achieve all that you could be. Executive effectiveness in this business environment requires a much deeper level of development - one that goes beyond traditional executive development. Success today requires a thorough exploration of how your own personal presence drives results.”
When we ask participants in our leadership workshops to name the people in their lives that have had the most impact on them they universally pick leaders with characteristics that describe presence. Take a moment to think of those people on your list that have made a difference in your life. What about you? Will your name show up on the minds of these participants and the people you lead?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Will You Be Ready?

We recently conducted exit interviews for one of our clients when two employees resigned on the same day. Both were quality players in this organization and had each put in four and five years respectively before moving on.  Our best people will always be marketable given either good times or bad. And when they start to exit it calls for a review of how we are doing and what we need to do to most effectively attract and retain our top talent.
Over the past eighteen months our coaching business has experienced slow but steady growth. I would like to credit this growth to our brilliant work as coaches and possessing the best resources of executive coaches at our ready disposal. And I know that this has been a success factor for us since we started Leadersearch way back in 1991. Therefore, we continue to espouse the belief that companies are realizing the need to use coaches to partner with them through the economic reset we are experiencing.
Our workshop business has been a harder sell as this economy settled into reality.  We run half day, full day and multi day workshops coaching participants through a variety of leadership development topics. As I’ve talked with other friends in the training and development business it seems consistent that business is off for them in the range of 40% or more. I’ve often heard how training is one of the first things companies take off the table when trying to shave costs. It would be interesting to know from companies what their experience has been during past downturns, what productivity impact they had when they either cut or maintained training budgets.
In a recent workshop I had a participant say, “I hate it when we train them and they leave.” referring specifically to younger generation professionals. I said, “What happens if you don’t train them and they stay?”.
When our best and brightest are always marketable, given good times or bad, what are we doing to develop them and keep them? Recently, the Wall Street Journal posted an article titled – “Despite Cutbacks, Firms Invest in Developing Leaders”. The article suggests “Despite layoffs and recession-starved budgets, many employers are investing in leadership-development programs, hoping not to be caught short of strong managers when the economy recovers.”  Bret Furio from Philips Electronics North America said, “Identifying and grooming leaders is important in good times. In times of crisis when the economy is struggling, it’s imperative.”
We have witnessed an increase in the coaching side of our business since this economic downturn has gripped the world, particularly, the relationship coaching work that has become an integral part of our practice. It seems that the issues that were overlooked when we were running hard, making money and being successful, become critical when times get tougher.
I have enough grey hair to have experienced a couple of recessions. A key learning from any of these previous experiences is that we learn more about ourselves, and those around us, when times become different, particularly, tougher times. The best tests of true leadership show up when our people get scared. And we’re not talking problem solving, doing or project managing skill sets. We’re talking about the ability to have the conversations that are necessary in order to build the relationships that produce the most effective productivity. The Journal article continued on to state “executives believe that without capable managers, their ability to come through the recession in a healthy fashion is diminished.”.
Sage leaders will look at this recession and define it as our new reality, our new economy and our economic reset.  A recent survey by a San Francisco marketing firm revealed some quality characteristics for these leaders and companies during this time of economic reset:
*They know and value their core strengths.
*They recognize new opportunities quickly.
*They demonstrate flexibility and persistence.
*They show speed in executing plans and strategies.
*They provide extreme customer service.
*They create powerful and vibrant teams.
There is not a better or more necessary time in a company lifecycle than now to lead effectively. Are you stepping up to the plate or are you one of the statistics that contribute to the #1 reason people leave organizations – their manager sucks? It is definitely a time to run with our winners and cut our losers. We need to be dynamic enough to manage this economic reset and come out the other side with a herd of running horses!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

She’s A Genius!

When I am in Calgary I have the privilege of living very close to our daughter, son in law and granddaughter. Reese is a vibrant 16 months old and a joy to watch her grow with almost daily changes both physically and in personality. We all marvel at her beautiful curiosity and how quickly she learns and adapts to the environment as it changes or more appropriately, as she changes on a regular basis. I find myself smiling as she seems to come up with new learning and surprises us with her seemingly brilliant mind. She is also at that stage now where all of us adults have to watch what we say or do as she mimics our every move!
Just the other day I sat and watched as Reese performed a new maneuver that had all of us impressed and entertained. I heard my daughter, Megan say once again, “She’s a genius! She’s so smart.” And of course I uttered something about this brilliance coming from the Johnson gene pool. What struck me was how many times in Reese’s short life we have not only verbalized her genius but also smiled and encouraged her accomplishments. And each time we do we see a grand, half toothed, smile come over Reese’s face and she ventures to more attempts of brilliance. Failure is clearly a path to future success and more recognition from parents and grandparents.
My good friend Gregg often tells a story of Gordon MacKenzie, Director of Inside Sales at Kodak. Gordon would give his time to visit schools and talk to kids about art and creativity. Gordon would sit with children in 1st grade and ask them, “How many of you are artists?” He would get 100% of the children wildly raising their hands. He then visited a 2nd grade class and asked the same question. Merely 50% of the children raised their hands. By the time he visited a 6th grade class the number of students that raised their hands was zero! I have heard many times that most talent goes undiscovered. I don’t know if we can say it has gone undiscovered but maybe more realistically suppressed out of us. We go from multi-daily reinforcement of the infant gifts we see unfold before our eyes to telling our children and the people we lead, that they have failed again and to stay within their capabilities. Failure moves from a path to new learning and skills to a scarlet badge of discouragement.
In my psychology and coach training programs we learned about the value of positive reinforcement. Evidence suggests that it takes four positives to balance every negative we experience.  As I experience the joys of grandparenthood I notice how we constantly praise and reinforce any attempts Reese makes to grow and learn. We tend to blow the 4:1 ratio way out of the water! As I watch children grow and adults toil daily at the professions they choose it seems easy to see how we swing the pendulum totally in the opposite direction. We don’t have time to constantly praise people for their accomplishments. In the organizations we have the privilege of coaching it continues to amaze me of how foreign a concept it is to leaders to consider praising the talent in their organization for their great work.
Let’s not chase the creativity and brilliance out of our people. Many have had it eradicated out of them before they reach junior high.  How do we bring back this creativity and brilliance in the people we lead? What will you do, starting today, to reinforce the best resource to business success you have – your people? Lead like they are the untapped brilliance we brought into this world and then I have hope for the world my granddaughter will live and thrive in. I wish only the best for Reese and may she be blessed with many others in her life that nourish her brilliance like her parents and grandparents have and will most assuredly will continue doing well past her early years.

Monday, March 29, 2010

CEO’s Still Rely On Technical Skills To Lead

The Stanford University School of Business conducted a study on leadership effectiveness spanning over a 20-year period.  Their primary conclusion was that barely 15% of a leaders’ success comes from technical skills and knowledge and 85% comes from the ability to connect with people and engender trust and mutual understanding.
Even knowing this, we still find a significant percentage of leaders and executives continue to rely on their past technical expertise in their attempts to guide their business.
The same study showed that over 96% of executives today believe they have “above average” people skills. Those of you with statistics backgrounds would recognize this as a statistical improbability. We all make up reasons for believing something to be true and as coaches we see many of the reasons executives still rely on their technical success to drive their leadership roles, the number one reason being that they wonder if they actually have the skills necessary to effectively lead. Many became leaders and executives through the strength of their technical success. Now different sets of skills are necessary to succeed at leadership.
Additional studies confirm that 75% of North American CEOs believe they are “better” than other leaders in their industry, while 90% of physicians, pilots and investment bankers rate themselves in the top 10% of their field. We work with CEO’s in a vast number of industries and believe through our experience that most might say they believe they are “better” than other leaders and after sitting through countless private coaching sessions find most really operate from a place of fear – not knowing how to effectively lead or open up to learning how. After leading for so many years, how do you admit to not effectively knowing how?
Take driving as an example. After a proud record of no traffic violations for over 12 years I recently got a ticket during one of my monthly trips to Phoenix. An option I received was to attend a one evening; four-hour defensive driving class in order to have my violation dismissed and continue to have a clean driving record. I accepted that option and looked forward to the upcoming class with little enthusiasm. Of course I’m a good driver! In fact, better than most. I also have two motorcycles and through necessity ride with a very defensive mentality. So what could someone teach me that I didn’t already know after over 40 years with a driver’s license?
I will admit to learning, or I should say re-learning, many of the things my almost 40 years of driving had come to be ‘natural’ experience. I was surprised to find out that I remembered only a few of the more obscure rules and laws that I just took for granted. And, the instructor asked us who considered themselves good drivers. Of course, I raised my hand, as did all but one other participant. You have all probably heard the old belief that most drivers consider themselves above average drivers, which is another statistical improbability. This semi-forced learning class led me to contemplate what I once read the retired head of Intel, Andy Grove said, “Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure.”  I admit to learning how complacent I had become when driving and wonder if the class I took made me aware of that and helped me avoid the back end of a three car pile up while driving downtown just last week. I wonder how many pile ups leaders are having and/or avoiding these days?
When leaders of organizations, particularly those that consider themselves very successful, approach us to consider coaching for themselves and their leaders, their desire to step out of their comfort zones and truly develop their leadership skills and shift away from reliance on technical expertise have a greater potential for leadership success and avoid more pile ups than those that keep ‘driving’ like they always have since the day they got their leadership ‘license’.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are You Pursuing Your Passion Or Your Pension?

I find myself sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Muscat, Oman. For the next two days I will deliver a coaching workshop to one of the banking institutions here. It is another opportunity to see a part of the world that I have not yet experienced. I treasure these trips and the chance to experience first hand the many cultures our world has to offer. In the past three months I have facilitated workshops in Saudi Arabia as well as St Vincent in the Caribbean.

These trips also give me wondulful opportunities to sit and reflect. With business, family and life in general I find I have not taken enough time to consider the gifts life has brought me over this past lifetime. I would say that my trip to St Vincent provided the perfect landscape for such reflection. My very good friend Gary and his wife, Cheryl have a beautiful second home on Palm Island, a small 110 acre private island in the south Caribbean. I visited Gary and Cheryl for a few days just before the St Vincent workshop. There were no disturbances of regular life. No work, no diversions, no nightlife. Just the most spectacular view you could imagine, steps from the ocean.

I spend time listening to the surf hitting the beach. We snorkeled and kayaked in the clear multi-blue colored waters. I took many pictures as I continue to learn more about photography. The time to reflect passed me through many thoughts and ponderings about life. What about my business, the work we do, the good it does in the world. Is it my life’s work? Is there something else I am meant to bring to the world? Who me? Am I big enough to deliver something? It brought me to a place of wonder related to passion versus pension. Many people work their life away chasing a pension and waiting for the day they can relax and then pursue lifes passions. I hope that I am truly in pursuit of my passion and lifes work.

I believe we all need to take time to reflect. It doesn’t have to be in as idyllic a setting as I had the privilege of experiencing on Palm Island, although I believe it sure helps! It means more about being curious and taking the time to allow our thoughts to appear, grow and develop. Too often we don’t take the time to allow our thoughts and dreams to expand and grow. Too many things to get done!

Consider the advise the 100 year old you might look back and give you today. Imagine that in this more vital society we live in that we may reach that pinacle of age in our lifetimes. What story would that 100 year old us want to tell? What does significance mean for you in your lifetime. Are you pursing that significance?