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4 Ways to Give Feedback That Rips the Blinders Off

Feedback is something that we all know is extremely important, yet often we shoot from the hip. Where there should be leadership intentionality there is leadership immaturity.  How can you provide feedback that makes a difference? What if your goal is to provide feedback with enough impact people drop their “I’ve got it all together act” and start to see themselves as others see you them.  For this to happen you must become someone who can walk into a situation and see things that others do not see, giving people penetrating insight into the situation. 

There is a law firm in New York that has an interesting promotion process from being an associate to become a partner in the law firm.  Once you have been an associate for three years you can apply to become a partner. This is a panel interview process made up of current partners. If you are denied you must wait one year plus one day to re-apply. If you are denied the second time once again you must wait one year plus one day before reapplying.  If you are denied the third time you are terminated from the firm.  There was an associate who had made the three-year requirement and applied to become partner. He was denied. This was not a surprise as he anticipated this process to be challenging.  Over the next year he volunteered for additional pro bono work and was intentional with looking for cross-functional opportunities. He reapplied to become partner. He was denied the second time. Over the course of the next year he took on more international work. His heavy travel schedule cost him his marriage. His health was also deteriorating. He submitted for his third and final time to become partner. He was denied again and terminated.  As he was leaving with his belongings in hand he stopped at his friends office that was a partner on the panel interview team. He asked his friend if after the first interview they knew he wouldn’t become a partner? His friend replied, “Yes”.  He then asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that.”  The friend replied, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” The absence of meaningful feedback cost this employee his marriage, his health and his career.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have all found ourselves wanting to give meaningful feedback but didn’t because we did not want to hurt our friends feelings.

There are 4 guiding ideas for giving feedback so meaningful that it results in ripping the blinders off without making people resent you.

1.     Discuss your commitment to the employee at the very beginning – More often than not feedback is misunderstood not because of “what” you have said but “why” they think you have said it. It is imperative that you bring the skill set of backbone and heart into this conversation. Backbone being defined as the ability to call out the hard issue. Heart being defined as your ability to stay connected with the person even when the relationship is mired in conflict.

2.     Separate intent versus impact – A natural response to meaningful feedback is to excuse or explain their intent. Be crystal clear your feedback is based on observable impact and not questioning their intent. This sets the employee up to be curious and ultimately take responsibility for their impact.

3.     Be direct and let them know: “Now I am going to be challenging!” – By announcing that you are going to be challenging, people get the message but do not take it personally or resent you for it. Great leaders deliberately make challenging statements to jar people from their every day view and invite them to see things differently.

4.     Recognize them for who they are, not just for what they do – Great leaders go beyond recognizing just the task. Meaningful feedback connects their unique qualities of excellence to what they do. To acknowledge someone, a leader might say, “I want to recognize you not only for the work you put into your presentation, but also for your attention to detail. I can tell detail is important to you.”

Giving high-quality feedback has more to do with caring enough about people to tell it like it is that it has with having a particular skill or technique.
— Robert Hargrove, Executive Coach

Meaningful feedback involves having the ability to acknowledge people for who they are and what they are capable of and being willing to have the tough conversations. 



10 Ways For New Leaders To Develop Their Leadership Skills

Pursue Feedback

Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Excellent leaders are characterized by aggressively pursuing feedback. You will never graduate with a degree in leadership from the school of “no news is good news.” After most “enlightening” experiences, circle back and ask what went well and what could’ve been better. Be relentless in your pursuit of receiving feedback.   – Dean MilesBridgepoint Coaching & Strategy Group

A C.H.E.A.P. Approach To Impact


By Johnny Karls, CPCC


For me, it started at 27. I was a student in a “Realize Your Gifts” class. As would seem appropriate, during the 6-week engagement we were to participate in a peer assessment. The assignment was to give this questionnaire to five people--individuals who knew me well and would care for me enough to give honest feedback.


I chose my cohorts carefully, truly seeking both confirmation of what I already knew and perhaps an insignificant blind spot or two. My trusted feedback-providers filled out a multiple-choice questionnaire along with a single page of written answers.


The time came when the aggregated feedback was given to me. I remember as if it were yesterday. As I read the first assessment it was obvious that there was a distribution mistake: this was clearly about someone else. I went to the second assessment - the answers were very similar to the first, but again, it couldn’t have been my assessment. The third document the same, and so forth. And then it hit me: these were about me! What?


"It's not what you know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."                                                                                                                                  Mark Twain


I was shocked twofold, first at how I was perceived and second that I had been so unaware. Some of the feedback was disappointing, although much of it was surprisingly positive and encouraging. Here’s the point: That day changed my life because it was then that I deeply realized the value of receiving feedback. I learned that without others’ perspectives, I’m just living a fictitious reality.


Since then, I have participated in several similar assessments. Because of awareness and a commitment to continued improvement, the feedback has gotten better (and less surprising) over the years. I’ve come a long way, baby…and I’ve got a long way to go. The truth really can set you free.


Recently I was leading a workshop with a similar theme. I asked the group of sales people, “If there were an obvious trait that you didn’t realize about yourself, but that your colleagues could clearly see, would you want to know?” After giving a moment for reflection I randomly chose a person and rhetorically asked, “Frank, would you want to know?” A wise-guy in the group quickly blurted, “There are plenty of things that Frank needs to know.” Laughter. The opportunity was perfect. I said to the unsuspecting patsy, “Steve, did you realize you’ve been clicking your pen non-stop for the past 20 minutes and everybody in the room wants to put your hand in a paper shredder?” The group response: pure joy that somebody outed the annoying pen guy! Awareness is the beginning of change. With awareness we then have choices.


Let me suggest 5 ways constructive feedback could be a huge advantage to your life. We’ll call these benefits C.H.E.A.P. Here’s what you’ll get:


1) Clarity – If you don’t know the truth, how can you improve?

2) Humility – You should be prepared for some hard, uncomfortable truth; but remember, having weaknesses does not make you weak. We’ve all got them so get over it!

3) Encouragement – You will also learn more about strengths you didn’t know you had, which can be extremely encouraging.  

4) Approachability – Influence begins with relationship. People that are open to feedback tend to be safe and trustworthy.

5) Power – All of this leads to power. The power to influence is in direct correlation with one’s willingness to receive feedback.


Receiving honest feedback-and utilizing it appropriately-may be the easiest, most powerful thing you can do to maximize your impact. Be that person who seeks and receives feedback well.  

The Power Seat Way - A Lesson In Leadership

Our friend Christina Nepstad just published this blog.  I wanted to share it with you.  Also check out her new book, The Power Seat.

Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.
— Harold S. Geneen

My goal to compete in the Miss California USA pageant was exciting, but without a sponsor it would be next to impossible. I spent months approaching various companies, both big and small, with the hopes that someone would be interested in the opportunity. After many failed attempts, I started to get discouraged.

Feeling defeated, I hid in my bed with a gallon of ice cream (some things never change). As I aimlessly perused television channels, a particular commercial caught my eye. The hotel chain Marriott was running an ad which illuminated their mission of helping to build dreams with their guests. 

I remember stopping mid-bite and thinking, “Hey, I have stayed at the Marriott many times!  What could it hurt to ask?”

The next day, I put a call into Marriott Corporate. I must admit, things didn’t go exactly how I had imagined, but after calling every other day for the next eight weeks, I was informed Bill Marriott would be happy to meet with me.

As an unsophisticated and inexperienced young woman, I thought I knew a lot about, well, everything. However, Bill Marriott was about to share a life lesson I would never forget and hope to always emulate.

With portfolio in hand, I took a dozen deep breaths to hopefully exhale a few nerves. When I strode through the door, as confidently as I could fake, Mr. Marriott was on the phone and motioned me to have a seat. I remember so vividly the kindness of this man. However, he was not at all what I had expected for a “Mr. Marriott.” Meaning, I assumed (never a good idea) he would look and sound more ominous and powerful.

Before I knew it, we were in the throws of conversation. He applauded my persistence, yet questioned the intentions behind why I pursued “The Marriott.” He asked me why he should invest in my cause. He questioned how the money would be used. Then he took a sudden left turn and asked what it was I did for others. He asked if I used my gift of persistence to help anyone other than myself.

I was less than impressive with my answers. Truthfully, his questions were profound and incredibly relevant, I just hadn’t given it much thought before then. He continued, “Christina, I appreciate you for pursuing your dream, however the Marriott can’t give you the funds you need.” Just then he took out his checkbook from his briefcase and started filling it out. While he was writing, he shared this life lesson that forever changed me. “Always remember, if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more you will be more.’’

Bill handed me a personal check, giving me permission to use the Marriott name as my sponsor. But what he really gave me that day was a priceless gift of wisdom. His words are forever ingrained in my mind and heart. Mr. Marriott taught me that leadership is about pointing others to their potential and leaving them better off than when you found them.

There truly is no better satisfaction than influencing someone’s life for the better. I have come to the conclusion that Bill Marriott is one of the most powerful people I’ve ever met, not because of his accomplishments or money, but because of his purpose.

I did become Miss California, but more importantly I learned a lesson that has inspired me to value and invest in the future of others.

The principles and standards we abide to, in all areas of our lives, provide enormous clues as to what kind of leaders we are. I suppose Bill knew this when he was asking me those enlightening questions.

As long as we are willing and pledge to honesty we can all benefit from asking ourselves the tough questions. We just can't afford not to know all we can about our judgement and reasoning when other people are involved. 

Bill's Questions (For Self-Reflection)

Why should anyone invest in your cause?

How will you use your money or other gifts?

What do you do for others?

Do you use your gifts, for example persistence, to help anyone other than yourself?

And finally, do your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more?

For Mr. Marriott

This is The Power Seat Way!

Before I Can Become An Effective Leader

By Ron Miles, PCC

Thousands of books have been written about leadership. In a recent 10 year period 17,800 management journal articles were written about leadership. However, for many people, the first question is not, “How do I become an effective leader?”, but,” Who am I and what do I do with my life and career?”

In Mastering Leadership, Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, offer six leadership practices to become more effective in leadership. Using the first four, I’ve paraphrased them to make them more applicable to your immediate question of “who am I and what do I do”.

Life is purposeful. “First and foremost, find out what it is you’re about and be that” – Bennis, 1989.

Life is the ongoing discipline of translating purpose into a vision.

Transforming your purpose to a vision, will challenge how you think and act, perhaps in ways that are not supported by your current set of beliefs. It will require you to look internally, into the parts of yourself that are not yet ready to embody your vision – that are too small, too scared, too reactive, too controlling, to cautious, etc.


There is no safe way to be great. And there is no great way to be safe. Transformation requires courage. The courage required is not the courage required on the battlefield. You do not risk life and death, although it may feel that way at times. Mostly, the courage required is the courage to tell the truth, and most importantly to yourself.


So equipped with this information, what do you do?


Start by keeping a journal. The purpose is not so much to capture the events of the day, but to focus on your likes and dislikes. What are you passionate about? What gives you energy? What are you attracted to? What don’t you like? What zaps your energy? Practice paying attention to what your life is trying to tell you about whom you are and what you are here to be.

Create a list of MUSTS – the deepest and highest aspirations for your life. Capture your thoughts as they come. Don’t get caught up in the significance or lack of, or if it’s impossible or trivial; write it. On a regular basis review what you’ve written and refine it as you move forward. With this practice and with patience you will be able to formalize what you want your life to be.

As an example, you’ve come to realize you enjoy technical fields and have a keen interest in renewable energy. But, you didn’t complete college and you can’t afford to quit your job.


Having established your purpose, what you want your life to be about, it must be transformed in to a vision. Again, using your journal, start writing about what you want your future to look like. Make it specific enough to set your direction, drive you action and guide you on how to make decisions.

Continuing our example, your vision is to get your college degree in engineering and get a job in the renewable energy sector. Your vision becomes to complete this in three years. It’s specific, sets your direction, drives your action and guides you on how to make decisions.


As you begin to set your direction, the status quo of who you are and how you live is immediately challenged. Suddenly your current set of beliefs that are too small, too scared, too reactive, too controlling, to cautious, etc. don’t align.

In our example what’s going on inside – excited, energized, scared, self doubt, insecure, foolish, regret, etc. For some the journey begins, for you the only word to describe it is STUCK! Faced with the unknown, you linger in your safe world.


To move forward requires courage. You must start with authentic, courageous dialogue with yourself. Go back to your journal and start laying out your action plan. Pay particular attention to your emotions and feelings. Name them, i.e. I’m not smart enough (fear), how will I pay my bills (anxiety), etc, and write them down.

Then start the internal search, where are you stuck, what in your belief system have you made a truth, that isn’t.  For example the fear that you are not smart enough. The truth, you didn’t drop out of college because of grades, it was based on a need to work, the need for income.

The practice is to identify, confront, and change. It won’t always easy but it’s the only way.


In future articles we’ll address how to change our beliefs and behavior


Are You Maximizing Your ROL? (Return on Leadership)

Your “ROL” (Return on Leadership), will be evident not only by the bottom-line results, but also by the intangibles; Grit, Self-Awareness, Resourcefulness...

Top Ten Tips to Maximize your ROL: 

  1. Take charge of your thoughts…your thoughts lead to your actions
  2. Have a personal vision. Who you are is not what you do for a living
  3. Focus on others and in turn they will then be more likely to focus on you
  4. Tap in your innovative potential and give yourself breathing space to find it
  5. Develop your awareness of responding, rather than reacting to situations and events
  6. Make a decision to let go of control and build your capacity to trust in the ability of others
  7. Keep an open mind. Perspective is everything
  8. Be willing to do things differently. Be a leader, rather than a follower
  9. Consciously shift your attitude when self-doubt arises
  10. Apply the power of positive Influence during every encounter
Top Ten Tips from Michelle Ray

So, what is Executive Coaching and what makes it so valuable?

Interview with Dean Miles, President of Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy Group

- Mountain West Credit Union Association, which represents 400+ financial institutions.


Q: Dean, what is Executive Coaching and why is it something leaders should consider?

A: In 1999 a Fortune Magazine cover story discussed the failures of prominent CEO’s and came to the conclusion that the emphasis generally placed on strategy and vision created a mistaken belief that the right strategy is all that’s needed to succeed. They found that 70% of the time, the real problem wasn’t bad strategy – it was poor execution. We can all relate to that, can’t we? For most of my clients, the problem is not a shortage of knowledge or good ideas. The problem is in the application of that knowledge and the execution of those ideas. That’s one of the main reasons why coaching is such a great resource.

Coaching isn’t therapy or mentoring. It’s not about fixing what’s broken or developing specific job skills and knowledge. It’s about the execution of ideas and making the leap from good to great. Coaching is a partnership that focuses on setting goals, creating forward action and managing change.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how coaching works?

A: Sure. Good coaches are there to inspire insight, balance perspectives and drive results. Most of the time, that comes from reminding leaders of what they already know. Think about the amount of information you’ve learned over the past decade. You’ve probably read quite a few books and articles, attended conferences and seminars, maybe watched a few TED talks, learned new skills and gained insight from those around you, etc. But, how much of what you’ve learned has actually been put into action? How many of your good ideas have actually come to fruition?

The truth is, most people spend the majority of their time somewhere in between where they are now and where they want to be. Coaching provides the necessary structure for moving from where you are to where you want to be as quickly as possible.

Q: What can one expect to gain from working with a coach?

A: Professional coaching can provide a fresh perspective about personal and professional challenges, enhance decision-making skills, improve interpersonal relationships and boost confidence. As a result, most professionals who work with a coach experience vast improvements in productivity, satisfaction with their work and the attainment of goals.

There’s a great quote from Samuel Johnson that says, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

Most leaders already know what they need to do, they’ve just forgotten. Coaching helps them synthesize every thing they’ve learned and put it into practice. It helps leaders be more deliberate about what day-to-day actions they need to take in order to move closer to their goals.

Remember the Pareto principle? Also known as the 80-20 rule, it simply states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Most of the time, the key to moving from good to great lies in doing less of a few things and more of the one thing that is generating the most results.

Think about it for a moment. What is the one thing that’s generating the majority of results you are getting? Most of the time that one thing is simple to find, but difficult to achieve. Coaching can help identify the actions generating the majority of results and provide the structure and impetus to act on that insight.

Coaching is not a 3-step method. It’s not about information – it’s about implementation and follow-through. It’s about being deliberate and making a plan for translating an idea into day-to-day actions. I ask clients, “What do you want to do? Tell me how to motivate you?”

Q: Is there an example you can share about how coaching impacted the professional success of one of your clients?

Yes, our coaching with U. S. Steel Oilwell Services comes to mind. This is a good example of an organization having a good strategy, i.e. goals, with the challenge being the execution. We were able to work with all levels of the organization. Once we were able to establish that every level knew their goals as it related to the overall strategy, we turned our attention to the execution.  Here again, it wasn’t so much about teaching them anything new, but reminding them to establish and maintain the structure of priorities, making commitments, giving account, and driving success.

As a result of this partnership, they have developed a high performing management team that meet or exceeded their goals and accomplished a 7 to 1 return on the investment of coaching.

Our coach worked with our employees at all levels to help us align our business strategy across the organization. He helped us develop the road map to reach our goals and provided the right amount of assistance and support so our employees were equipped with the tools to succeed.
— David Clarke, Director of Offshore Operations.

Behavior is always perfectly aligned with results. As you change behavior, results change right along side. When someone is there to remind them of what they already know and help them put that knowledge into action, we can really accelerate their growth and create the results they are looking for.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Bridgepoint Coaching, you’ll find them at

Myth: Communication Equals Understanding

Since Michael Porter’s seminal work in the 1980s we have had a clear and widely accepted definition of what strategy is—but we know a lot less about translating a strategy into results. Books and articles on strategy outnumber those on execution by an order of magnitude. And what little has been written on execution tends to focus on tactics or generalize from a single case. So what do we know about strategy execution?

We know that it matters. A recent survey of more than 400 global CEOs found that executional excellence was the number one challenge facing corporate leaders in Asia, Europe, and the United States, heading a list of some 80 issues, including innovation, geopolitical instability, and top-line growth. We also know that execution is difficult. Studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies.

Myth: Communication Equals Understanding

Many executives believe that relentlessly communicating strategy is a key to success. The CEO of one London-based professional services firm met with her management team the first week of every month and began each meeting by reciting the firm’s strategy and its key priorities for the year. She was delighted when an employee engagement survey (not ours) revealed that 84% of all staff members agreed with the statement “I am clear on our organization’s top priorities.” Her efforts seemed to be paying off.

Then her management team took our survey, which asks members to describe the firm’s strategy in their own words and to list the top five strategic priorities. Fewer than one-third could name even two. The CEO was dismayed—after all, she discussed those objectives in every management meeting. Unfortunately, she is not alone. Only 55% of the middle managers we have surveyed can name even one of their company’s top five priorities. In other words, when the leaders charged with explaining strategy to the troops are given five chances to list their company’s strategic objectives, nearly half fail to get even one right.

Not only are strategic objectives poorly understood, but they often seem unrelated to one another and disconnected from the overall strategy. Just over half of all top team members say they have a clear sense of how major priorities and initiatives fit together. It’s pretty dire when half the C-suite cannot connect the dots between strategic priorities, but matters are even worse elsewhere. Fewer than one-third of senior executives’ direct reports clearly understand the connections between corporate priorities, and the share plummets to 16% for frontline supervisors and team leaders.

It’s pretty dire when half the C-suite cannot connect the dots between strategic priorities.

Senior executives are often shocked to see how poorly their company’s strategy is understood throughout the organization. In their view, they invest huge amounts of time communicating strategy, in an unending stream of e-mails, management meetings, and town hall discussions. But the amount of communication is not the issue: Nearly 90% of middle managers believe that top leaders communicate the strategy frequently enough. How can so much communication yield so little understanding?

Part of the problem is that executives measure communication in terms of inputs (the number of e-mails sent or town halls hosted) rather than by the only metric that actually counts—how well key leaders understand what’s communicated. A related problem occurs when executives dilute their core messages with peripheral considerations. The executives at one tech company, for example, went to great pains to present their company’s strategy and objectives at the annual executive off-site. But they also introduced 11 corporate priorities (which were different from the strategic objectives), a list of core competencies (including one with nine templates), a set of corporate values, and a dictionary of 21 new strategic terms to be mastered. Not surprisingly, the assembled managers were baffled about what mattered most. When asked about obstacles to understanding the strategy, middle managers are four times more likely to cite a large number of corporate priorities and strategic initiatives than to mention a lack of clarity in communication. Top executives add to the confusion when they change their messages frequently—a problem flagged by nearly one-quarter of middle managers.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review

We at Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy Group have experienced this myth of communication equals understanding with nearly every corporate client. Donald Sull, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management states, "It's not surprising that corporate strategy is misunderstood, it's how surprised executive leadership is that this is true."  Remember, only 55% of the middle managers surveyed can name even one of their company’s top five priorities.

Is this true for your team?


Are You Inexperienced?

10 dangers of inexperienced leaders:

  1. Needing to be liked.
  2. Blaming.
  3. Emotional decisions.
  4. Impulsiveness.
  5. Trying too hard.
  6. Neglecting the long term.
  7. Focusing on symptoms rather than causes.
  8. Aiming without pulling the trigger.
  9. Meddling.
  10. Forget to say thank you.

10 questions every inexperienced leader must keep asking:

  1. What type of world are my behaviors building around me?
  2. How many questions did I ask today?
  3. What am I learning?
  4. Am I acting or reacting?
  5. When was the last time I spent an hour in self-reflection?
  6. What’s the most fun?
  7. Am I soliciting input from experienced leaders and staff?
  8. Do I welcome ideas from everyone?
  9. How are we leveraging everyone’s strengths?
  10. Who do I feel threatened by? Why?

12 powerful suggestions for inexperienced leaders:

  1. You matter in ways you can’t imagine. Watch your tone, body language, and attitude, everyone else is.
  2. Be optimistic about the future and realistic about the present. Optimism frustrates others if you don’t acknowledge present realities and problems first.
  3. Challenges aren’t your biggest opportunity, people are.
  4. Be tender when you’re being tough.
  5. Remove manipulators and backstabbers. They may quickly deliver results but everyone around them slows down.
  6. Courageously ask dumb questions.
  7. Protect your team from political fallout and organizational interference.
  8. Believe your perspective matters. Listen to yourself as well as others.
  9. Avoid extreme reactions.
  10. Recruit mentors, advisors, and, coaches. Get support.
  11. Take responsibility.
  12. Make the best interests of your organization and others your priority.  Always.

Bonus: Stick with it. The reason it’s called experience is it takes time.

Do You Lie?

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When you are trying to get things done, when you are trying to reach your goals, take a hard look at the things you are telling yourself.

Many times, we are self-limiting based on statements that are simply not true.

Here are the Top 12 Time management Lies That We Tell Ourselves:

  1. I don’t have time. - Yes, you do have time. The same in the day as everyone else. You have just chosen to spend it elsewhere.
  2. I have to do this. - The next time you say this, ask yourself, “What would happen if I didn’t do this?” Many of the things we take for granted as “must do” are only required because we let them be.
  3. I am going to exercise more. - I want to get into shape, but I don’t have time. (See #1) You do have time to workout, you don’t have the will.
  4. I am going to do it… - Stop saying. Start doing. There is a big difference between saying you are going to do something, and actually doing it. Action always beats empty words.
  5. When I have more time… - You have all the time you are going to have. You are not going to “have more” later. Truth be told, you don’t even know how much you have left. Just do it now.
  6. When things settle down… - There is no normal life. Just life. Life is not going to suddenly calm down in the future so that you can do something new. Some of the best work is done under pressure and while things are busiest.
  7. I’ll do it tomorrow… - Today is the day. Not tomorrow. Or the day after that. Stop putting off things until tomorrow. Let today be the day.
  8. I am not lucky… – If that is what you believe, then it will be so. However, you make your own luck. And the secret is, that the harder you work, the luckier you get. (True.) Don’t wait for luck to come your way, go out and find it.
  9. I can’t do that… - If you haven’t tried, then how do you know? We are all stronger than we think. Only by stretching yourself will you find that your boundaries are much larger you think.
  10. I am going to change… – Most people don’t change. They get older, maybe a little bigger. But, most do not change. Change is hard. So, don’t take it lightly when you “say” you are going to change. It takes concentrated effort and much discipline.
  11. I can get this done in an hour… – We often underestimate the time that tasks take. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter on a project that you thought we only take a few hours?
  12. That deadline isn’t important… – Many of us are numb to deadlines, thinking that they are not important. However, even if there is not an apparent consequence, there is always lost time and missed opportunities.

Telling the Truth

The next time you hear some of these statements, question their accuracy.

Instead, be straightforward about what you will do and what you can accomplish.

Be truthful about your actions.

And of course, be honest with yourself.


If You Are Lonely, Call A Meeting

There is a cartoon I recall seeing: “If you are lonely, call a meeting.” Given the meeting madness of many organizations, there appears to be a lot of lonely people in companies.

People estimate they spend approximately 2-3 days of their work week in meetings. Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, and using salary data from, the weekly cost of meetings for a 10-person team is approximately $23,760. 

The question is… given the resource impact and cost, how can you quickly improve the probability of having a successful, productive meeting?

A successful meeting ensures the right people are invited and the material is presented as effectively and judiciously as possible. It is respectful of your time and enables you to contribute in a meaningful way or makes you smarter. Too often this is the exception than the norm, which put me on a quest to identify a quick process to improve the odds.

I read an article a few years ago that had four questions to ask before a meeting is called:

  1. What is the purpose — decision, information sharing or brainstorming?
  2. What is the issue…in five words or less?
  3. Who has already weighed in and what did they have to say about it?
  4. What will surprise me in this meeting?

1.       What is the purpose of the meeting?

Defining the type of meeting is a critical but often missed first step.  It guides the organizer—regarding the format, information needed, and who should be invited — and sets expectations for the participants. Typically, meetings can be classified into one of three types:

  •  Decision-making meeting: The goal is to produce a final decision. It is not the time for new information or to request additional analysis. In this meeting, you will finalize the path forward—i.e., yes or no, and if yes, how. Prepare: Brief deck or memo for pre-reading (e.g. less than 10 slides).
  • Information sharing meeting: Here the meeting host means to share new, interesting, relevant facts and figures. There is no call to action and no preparation on the part of attendees required. Initially everyone but the presenter is in listening mode; once the presentation is complete, the presenter asks for questions of clarification. Prepare: Short deck or memo (11- 25 pages).
  • Brainstorming meeting: Perhaps the most anticipated but difficult meeting where you expect to generate ideas via a working session. At this phase, data synthesis is incomplete and report content is a work in progress. Ideally, everyone should be involved in the back-and-forth.  Prepare: Varies depending on lifecycle of the project.

2.       What is the issue…in five words or less?

To quote William Shakespeare, “Put your discourse into some frame.” One of the biggest skill gaps is the ability to conceptualize the problem or frame the issue.  Start your next meeting with a quick exercise, have each person articulate in five words or less what you are trying to solve. If you get inconsistent answers or long replies there is lack of clarity on why you are meeting.  By clearly articulating the issue, you will get a good idea of the information you need, the people you should talk to and will ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

3.       Who has already weighed in and what did they have to say about it?

This gives your meeting request credibility. Assuming you talked to the right people and perhaps secured stakeholder feedback and support in the process, it makes it easier for those attending the meeting to engage in the dialogue. It also exposes if you missed inviting a key person or if there are interim steps you need to take before meeting.   It reduces revisiting existing conversation and moves the dialogue forward.

4.       What will surprise me in this meeting?

Surprises are wake-up calls to your brain. Surprises are bias killers. People want meaningful dialogue and want to hear new information. Asking “‘what is surprising” in a meeting will spur new discussion and uncover fresh learning. The secret to uncovering these answers is to apply a prism to the discussion in a meeting. Just as a prism separates a light into parts, the question “What surprised you?”’ serves as a prism to separate meaningless information to expose new learning from relevant numbers. The reason is simple: The question exposes outliers in the data, draws connections between seemingly unrelated conclusions and opens new avenues of discussion with your colleagues.

Finally, a word about meeting duration. Today’s e-mail and calendar applications usually set meetings to a :60 min default. Think about what that means.  One hour is roughly 10% percent of the average businessperson’s workday. So, the question becomes: Is the meeting truly important enough for you to ask everyone to give up such a large chunk of their workday? Furthermore, one-hour meetings are harder to schedule. So, think it over carefully, to determine if an entire hour really needed, or could if you achieve the objective in :30 minutes or via e-mail.

The ideal meeting begins before anyone sits down at the table.  The next time you receive a meeting request ask the four questions, it will save you time and help you manage the fire hose of requests.

Modern Leaders Must Listen

When necessary, how do I lower the volume of my leadership presence?”  Interesting question isn't it.  I came across this topic a few years ago.

Most members of a team know when they’re doing their work well.  For leaders, it’s a bit different. How do you show that you’re leading?

Here are five competencies that good leaders demonstrate. 

1. Visibility

We know that leaders need to be seen by followers—from formal presentations and announcements, to a crisis, to simple “managing by walking around.”  The less-obvious occasions, however, are easily overlooked. They can be lost opportunities, or powerful expressions of leadership.

As a leader, when do you feel out of your comfort zone? Maybe it’s when you have to deliver bad or unpopular news, or mediate a conflict between direct reports, or perform a necessary task that you just don’t like. One CEO client told me that he found it hard to celebrate the “small to medium wins” that his team wanted acknowledged. He considered these victories just part of doing business. His solution was to ask his executives to publicize accomplishments up to a certain level, allowing him to save his praise for the really big achievements.

Ask yourself, “How am I visible to others when I don’t want to be?” The answer is not to pretend to like being visible—far from it. Instead, ask yourself this question prior to an uncomfortable event, and use it to help you prepare. Consider some behavioral options, and put yourself in a different mental space. Then you’ll be able to be visible in a more productive, less stressful manner.

2. Preparation

Many leaders are great at preparing the logistics of leadership (the facts and figures in a plan, or the pitch for a presentation). Too many leaders, however, don’t prepare regularly for the deeper daily requirements of leadership.  A bit of regular preparation goes a long way.

Just as athletic activities involve physical, mental, and emotional energies, leadership is a “whole-body practice” and requires preparation of the whole person. The next time you are running through your checklist prior to a leadership event, ask yourself, “How have I prepared my whole self for this?”

3. Comfort

This is closely related to preparation, because leadership discomfort is greatly enhanced by a lack of preparation. In order to be more comfortable as a leader and to appear that way to other people, you need to practice.  By “comfortable,” I don’t mean perpetually happy or even relaxed—I mean grounded in your complete embodiment of leadership.

Ask yourself, “How do I display that I am comfortable with the responsibilities and demands of leadership?” Look for nagging doubts in the back of your mind; or instincts that need to be surfaced around what you feel should be happening instead of what is happening, or that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach about an issue not faced. This is valuable data, and if you do not address your lack of grounding and comfort, others will certainly sense it for you.

4. Listening

One reason that modern leadership is hard is because an effective modern leader must listen to others. Though few people manage to do it, this may be one of the easiest competencies to demonstrate—provided you can resist the urge to talk.

Ask yourself, “What one thing can I tell myself as a reminder to listen more?” It’s vitally important that you think up an effective cue. If you can’t come up with one, that in itself could indicate a deeper internal misalignment.

5. Blend

This list started with visibility. When the opposite is required, a leader must blend in. Otherwise, he or she risks drawing attention away from the people and issues at hand. When you pull back, it makes it easier for other people to bring you hard problems, bad news, and perspectives that challenge the status quo. 

As a leader, it’s not all about you. The clearest way to demonstrate this is to find the right moments to step out of the spotlight so that other people get the attention they need. Ask yourself, “When necessary, how do I lower the volume of my leadership presence?”


The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails

Over the years, I’ve observed just about every type of leadership development program on the planet. And the sad thing is, most of them don’t even come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders. In today’s column I’ll share the #1 reason leadership development programs fail, and give you 20 things to focus on to ensure yours doesn’t become another casualty.

According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “LeadershipTraining.” Here’s the thing – when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago.

This may be heresy to some – but training is indeed the #1 reason leadership development fails. While training is often accepted as productive, it rarely is. The terms training and development have somehow become synonymous when they are clearly not. This is more than an argument based on semantics – it’s painfully real. I’ll likely take some heat over my allegations against the training industry’s negative impact on the development of leaders, and while this column works off some broad generalizations, in my experience having worked with literally thousands of leaders, they are largely true.

An Overview of The Problem
My problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques. Moreover, training assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things. When a trainer refers to something as “best practices” you can with great certitude rest assured that’s not the case. Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.


The Solution
The solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favor of development. Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them. Where training attempts to standardize by blending to a norm and acclimating to the status quo, development strives to call out the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo. Training is something leaders dread and will try and avoid, whereas they will embrace and look forward to development. Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.

The following 20 items point out some of the main differences between training and development:

1. Training blends to a norm – Development occurs beyond the norm.

2. Training focuses on technique/content/curriculum – Development focuses on people.

3. Training tests patience – Development tests courage.

4. Training focuses on the present – Development focuses on the future.

5. Training adheres to standards – Development focuses on maximizing potential.

6. Training is transactional – Development is transformational.

7. Training focuses on maintenance – Development focuses on growth.

8. Training focuses on the role – Development focuses on the person.

9. Training indoctrinates – Development educates.

10. Training maintains status quo – Development catalyzes innovation.

11. Training stifles culture – Development enriches culture.

12. Training encourages compliance – Development emphasizes performance.

13. Training focuses on efficiency – Development focuses on effectiveness.

14. Training focuses on problems  - Development focuses on solutions.

15. Training focuses on reporting lines – Development expands influence.

16. Training places people in a box – Development frees them from the box.

17. Training is mechanical – Development is intellectual.

18. Training focuses on the knowns – Development explores the unknowns.

19. Training places people in a comfort zone – Development moves people beyond their comfort zones.

20. Training is finite – Development is infinite.

If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them. I have always said it is impossible to have an enterprise which is growing and evolving if leadership is not.


Readers are Leaders and Leaders are Readers

"Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.”  I’m reading all these books and they all seem to blend together in my mind.  Now what.

I came across this method from Dwayne Morris.  He is a writer, speaker and consultant. 


  1. Read good books. This may be a no-brainer, but I don’t read arbitrary books. If someone hasn’t recommended a title or author, I don’t touch it. This is where crowd-sourcing is a key component to my leadership development. 
  2. Never read without a pen and/or highlighter. If you are reading good books and your intent for reading is to learn, then you need to be ready to mark those nuggets when you find them. Not to mention that studies have revealed that you tend to read faster when you use a pen to help pace your eyes along the text.
  3. Finish the book and rewind. When I complete a book, I’m only halfway to the finish line. My next step is to go back to the beginning and revisit the principles, illustrations, and examples that caught my attention the first time through.
  4. But wait, there’s one more step. As I began this process, it occurred to me that I needed a Master Index of the books I complete. This allows me to see all of the books I have read that mention a particular topic. So if I need material on crucial conversation, I can see which books and authors reference crucial conversation.

The bottom line here is that you must have a means to retrieve what you read. It helps you stay sharp and it elevates your value to others who know you are a disciplined reader and can share what you learn.

Leadership Has a Shelf Life

These were the words used by General Electric President and CEO Jeffrey Immelt at the 2014 Global Leadership Summit to describe one reason GE spends upwards of $1 Billion Dollars (Yes…with a “B” as in “Bravo”) each year to train and develop leaders.
Wow. Just…wow. Less than 15 countries have a GDP more than $1Billion Dollars (in case you were wondering.)

Immelt went on to clarify that he was not talking about leadership principles…”Principles are timeless but leadership is not static.”
Leadership is not static…it has a shelf life. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything is in a constant state of deterioration.
The moment we are born we begin to die. What goes up….must come down. And leaders, even the best of us…leak.
If unchecked, we will find ourselves running “flat” and the impact on the organization can be described as “rough” at best.
So what are we to do? While you can’t account for every “nail” in the road…there are a few things we can do to guard against leadership leakage.

1. Check Your Gauges. Ignore that “Low Air” gauge too long and you may find yourself riding on nothing but rim. Failure to be mindful of how you are doing as a leader puts your whole organization at risk. So take a moment and ask yourself, “How am I doing?” and “Whats life like for the people I lead?”. Your answer may surprise you.

2. Get a Second Opinion. Leaders often fail to think about how they are doing but employees track your leadership performance in real-time. They know how you are doing and your performance as a leader is part of their daily conversation. Have the courage to ask others, “How am I doing?”and join the conversation.

3. Do Regular Maintenance. Remember that no know matter how educated and experienced we are as leaders…we leak. What got you here won’t necessarily get you there. So put yourself in a position to learn new thing…to be reminded of old things.

Leadership has a shelf life. Left alone…it will expire and become irrelevant. But when leaders get better…everybody wins.