Many Strategies Fail Because They Are Not Strategies

This is a great article from Freek Vermeulen in Harvard Business Review... it reminds me of many situations where organizations take on new initiatives but forget to drop the old ones that are not working. In the end people don't know where to focus and end up doing too many things and none of them well.

See what you think...


Leaders Ask for Feedback

The Leadership Challenge is my chosen leadership model and toolkit.  It has provided me with the tools I need to support leadership learning with my clients for the past decade.  According to The Leadership Challenge, there are thirty specific leadership behaviours that leaders need to demonstrate in order to be extraordinary leaders.  As you may well know these behaviours are measured in The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), the leadership assessment tool that has been used around the world by over three million people.  In the data that comes out of these LPI results, and in my own consulting practice, there are a few behaviours that leaders struggle with more than others.

One challenging behaviour for leaders relates to asking others for feedback about their leadership abilities.  This is a critical part of your leadership learning because once you complete the LPI and a leadership workshop, you need to know how you are doing in terms of your improvement.  You need those who experience your leadership on a daily basis to give you feedback on how you are doing.  Luckily, this is not hard to do.  You just need to ask people simple questions like:

1.       What could I do better or differently to make your work more effective?

2.       In what ways does my leadership enhance or detract from what you are trying to accomplish in your work?

Or simply,

3.       How can I continue to improve my leadership?

In terms of opportunities to ask these questions try:

1.       At the end of a meeting (one-on-one and team meetings)

2.       During performance reviews with your direct reports (if it is not already a standard question…add it)

3.       Ask someone to have a cup of coffee so that you can ask them for some feedback.

Feel free to warn someone that you are going to ask for this feedback.  That will allow them to prepare.  Be prepared for blank stares the first time you ask these questions as people may be wondering about ulterior motives.  That’s why it is important to make this a standard part of your leadership behaviour.  It may be the second or third time that you ask when your colleague finally tells all.  Don’t forget to say, “Thank You!”

Competitive Advantage of Being Human

It seems like there is a lot of buzz lately about the future of artificial intelligence and how many good paying jobs are going to be replaced by new technologies.  I love this post on LinkedIn today as I think it raises a key point and allows us to gain some perspective on the situation.

“In an uncertain and changing world, there is still a competitive advantage to being human,” writes Kellogg School of Management CIO Betsy Ziegler. One key way to stay ahead? Learn how to learn.

“Often students believe that once they cross the graduation stage, they are done – they have reached the finish line. In today’s world this is an impossible end point – they can not stand still, they must have the confidence and persistence to assess their skills, understand their gaps and seek help in closing them.”

This idea most certainly applies to leadership as well.  As leaders we need to be constantly learning and improving.  Otherwise we are not going to be ready for the new and different situations we encounter.   Here's what Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner had to say in their book, Learning Leadership:

" The best leaders are the best learners.  They have a growth mindset.  They believe that they are capable of learning and growing throughout their lives.  To become a better leader, you must engage in continuous learning.  You are never done learning, never done getting better,  Continuous learning is a way of life.  And it doesn't matter what your learning style is.  What matters is how frequently you engage in learning activities.  You can reflect, read, watch others, get a coach, attend some training, or just try out a new skill or technique.  Whatever it is, engage in it every day."

No matter how sophisticated the technology we use in the future, humans will still need to plan and execute the work.  There will be interesting jobs to do.  We will all need to have leadership abilities and we will need to be supported by other great leaders.  This will be challenging and fascinating work.

So the real question is... what do you need to learn today to be ready for your future?

The Problem with “Millennials” (the stereotype, not the people silly!)

So here is my issue with this whole “Millennial Malaise”, or the constant chatter about those “entitled” younger folks we see at work and in society at large.  Why do we talk as if they are all the same?  We need to stop grouping together based on their date of birth and assigning characteristics to them.  In my mind, and in my experience, this is no different than assuming you know something about someone based on their country of origin, or perhaps the colour of their skin.  Badmouthing younger people is convenient, and it makes for interesting TED talks, but it misses the point. 

As leaders we need to inspire our followers in deeply personal ways.  We need to understand their personal values and goals and create shared goals by showing how their needs are met by working together.  All the negative stereotyping simply allows leaders to make excuses for why people are not following us, rather than owning your lack of ability to inspire a shared vision.  There is nothing at all that tells us that people who are currently between 20 and 35 years old are less interested in working together towards a common goal.  In fact, the stereotype supports the idea that they like to collaborate… but don’t let me fall into the generalization trap.  As far as “entitled” goes, there have always been people who feel that they should not have to work as hard as others and there always will be.  There are also people of all ages who want to work hard and expect to be rewarded for their efforts. 

Let’s try to stay out of the generalization trap and stop looking for why you can’t motivate people.  We all need to take responsibility and make the effort to connect with people, find out what matters to them, and then inspire them appropriately.  

The Power of Storytelling

Thanks to Renee Harness and Vaundee Arnold for this great webcast on storytelling.  This is a great overview of how to use stories to help learners to connect with workshop content.  I think it has wider appeal for everyone though, as we try to connect to the heads and hearts of those around us.  As leaders who want to inspire our constituents we can use stories in our work.

Have a listen…


Leaders Stumble

I have the wonderful opportunity in my work to be always meeting leaders who are trying to be better… better for their teams, their organizations, the world.  They are working on being more inspiring, enabling and encouraging.  They want to improve so that they can accomplish great things with their teams, and in their lives. 

Through our Leadership Challenge work, they have figured out what they need to do differently as leaders.  That was the easy part.  Now their struggle is to hold themselves consistently to the new leadership behaviours they wish to use.  Here is what I tell them:

1.       Be clear about which specific behaviours you want to change.  If you want to start acknowledging the good things your people are doing then start with that and keep working on that specific action.  Don’t just write, “Be more positive” on your agenda as you will not know how to do this.  Try writing, “Recognize two people today for moving us forward on our project.”

2.       Ask for feedback about how you are doing.  Let your trusted people know what changes you are trying to make and ask them to let you know how you are doing.  They will both offer encouragement by letting you know when you are doing well and immediate feedback when you slip up.

3.       You will slip up.  Know this and be authentic about it.  Apologize if you need to and acknowledge to yourself that you are still learning.  We all are.  This level of honesty with yourself and others will help you to keep on track. 

This leadership learning is not easy.  Many people try and fail, but that failure just needs to be part of your journey.  You need to be clear about your specific plans for improvement and then be willing to falter and work though the missteps as you work to become an authentic and extraordinary leader.

Take Your Coaching on a Road Trip!

I love a good road trip.  For me the drive is part of the adventure.  The long hours on the road give me time to think and time to talk to my family.  Many, many great conversations have happened on these trips and many memories made.  My most recent trip was a 17-hour trip to return my son to University for his third year.  Now… he most certainly could have flown, and the cost and time involved in flying would have been less.  But the conversations that we had on that trip are so valuable that they trump any other considerations.  There is just something about the open road and the time together that allows for great communication.  I’m sure that it is in part because we are all facing forward and so the conversation is not confrontational, and no one feels put on the spot.  We also have an agreement about how technology will be used.  In our case my son and I have an agreement that he will have only one earplug in, so that he can hear all the random thoughts his mother provides while he listens to music or podcasts.  Luckily, I still pay the bills and can insist on such arrangements.

On our most recent trip we talked about sports, politics, family, music, more sports, shared memories, and finally his life plans, in that order.  Only once we had talked for many hours did the really good stuff come out, but it did.  And that’s what is so interesting to me.  Let’s face it… my son, like most 20 year-old young men, is relatively independent and wants to run his own life.  That’s a good thing.  The sharing of his thoughts with his mother is a complicated thing as it flies in the face of his independence, to some degree.  I get that but I’m sure happy when I hear that there is a plan and he is heading in the right direction.

So what’s the link to leadership coaching?  I find that the time spent with our team members is also limited and the short conversations, or perhaps just emails back and forth, do not create an environment where the best conversations can happen.  When the only coaching moments you find are thirty minute meetings in your office where you sit across from the individual and have a conversation about their projects and… oh while we are at it… career goals, they may not be in the right mind space to share and learn.  One the other hand if we take those conversations offline, if we find a chance to share a meal, go for a walk around the block, or fly together when possible, the depth of the conversations might improve.  You may not get the chance for a 17 hour road trip but perhaps you could carpool to a meeting together.  Or you could create the magic of the road trip by checking in with your folks while you are both driving or commuting home.  Keep the conversation light, and try to use this time to connect with them on a personal level.  Once you create that comfort level, the person will be more open to your coaching.

So enjoy your road trips, with family and with colleagues, and remember that it takes time and connection to create great coaching moments. 

Don't Spend Your Life Making Up Your Mind

I often meet people who have great plans for their lives but can't seem to commit to the changes to make it happen.  Seventeen years ago I started my own business and have never looked back.  This HBR article has some good ideas that I used then and still use today.  Thinking about the worst case scenario usually helps me to realize that the reality is not as bad as I'm expecting.  Considering the benefits of moving forward gives me the confidence to get started.

Here is the article:

How to Have Difficult Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict

This HBR article by Joel Garfinkle has some good ideas about how to have those conversations you are probably avoiding despite the fact that you know they need to happen.  I would add two points:

  1. Remember that feedback, which is what you are providing when you tell someone about the issues you are having with them, is a gift.  We all need more feedback as we tend to get very little constructive feedback in our workplaces.
  2. Although Joel suggests not planning your words, I would always recommend creating a "Constructive Feedback Statement" based on the formula:
    • I feel... (fill in this blank by explain how what the person did/does makes you feel)
    • when you... (explain SPECIFICALLY what they did)
    • because... (explain the affect of their behaviour on you, your team or the project)
    • would you please...(ask for a  new behaviour and be specific about what that would look like)
    • What do you think?  (this is where the conversation becomes a two way dialogue and moves the relationship forward)

Here is a link to the article...

Try giving the gift of feedback soon!

What to say when you are sworn to secrecy.

A leader recently asked for my help with a situation.  He was very concerned about a situation he found himself in that he felt was going to damage his credibility and his leadership with his people.  The organization is undergoing considerable change and he has knowledge of potential changes to his and other departments.  These changes will involve people changing departments and roles and may involve some headcount reductions.  His question to me was, “How do I keep my reputation for being honest and open with my people if I can’t tell them what is going on?”

This is a situation that many leaders encounter and it always reminds me of a great leader I had when I was a fairly young sales rep.  Our company was on the chopping block.  A couple of large multi-nationals were looking at us quite seriously, and as employees we knew it and we were scared about the potential repercussions. 

That’s the trick… when major change is happening, folks hear stuff.

The CEO stood up at our national sales meeting and made a very interesting speech.  Now he could have lied and pretended that all was stable and normal, he could have put on his politician hat and delivered a careful speech that said nothing, or he could tell us “the truth”.  He chose to basically say,

1.       There are some potential changes to our ownership on the horizon.

2.       We don’t know what those changes will be yet but I will let you know when I can.

3.       We don’t know what a new organization will look like, if we are purchased, or if we will all have jobs going forward.

4.       Remember that the organization only buys your time during work hours and that your life outside of work is far more important.

5.       Love your family and friends and try to keep your perspective.

6.       And if you love your job, the best way to keep it is to stay the course, implement the plans we have in place for this year, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by activity outside of your control.

I share this story often in my coaching and leadership learning sessions.  It resonates with leaders and I think it clarifies that we can be honest with people without sharing what we are not at liberty to share.  We can recognize that our people are smart and that human nature fuels a rumour mill that ensure that when change is happening, people already know something about it.  They often don’t know the truth, or the whole truth, and that can be uncomfortable for everyone.  The message from my CEO twenty years ago allowed me to go back to my job and focus on the day-to-day, and stop worrying about larger issues I did not control.  It also gave me confidence that this man could be trusted to look after the bigger picture and that he would keep me in the loop as best he could.  That’s strong leadership in a time of major change.

WD - 40 and Leadership

I was in San Diego last week for the tenth annual Leadership Challenge Forum.  What a great event… great learning with wonderful people who also think that leadership development is a noble pursuit.

The keynote by Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company was really a highlight.  It’s so helpful to hear about a leader who really “gets it” and brings leadership lessons to life in his organization.  The success of this organization that according to Garry, “sells oil in a can” is proof that great leadership is in the best interest of the organization as well as its employees.

The link to Garry’s book, written with Ken Blanchard is here:

A quick take home would be that Garry rejects that standard process of performance management (you know the drill… we fill out forms and give people grades so that bonuses can be paid) in favour of something quite simple and powerful:

  • The only PM form is the one individuals write about themselves – documenting their performance goals for the year.
  • Managers (called “Coaches”) review these goals with their people at least every 90 days.  That’s their job!
  • There are no bonuses – they are called “Earned Incentive Payments” because they are the direct result of the employee’s efforts.
  • People are not reprimanded for mistakes.  There are no mistakes, only “Learning Moments”.

“A Learning Moment is a positive or negative outcome that is worth sharing with others for their benefit.” 

Garry Ridge, CEO, WD-40 Company

Leaders Need Grit and EQ

Kingston, Ontario psychologist Ron Warren has an interesting article in The Globe and Mail this week where he talks about four personality-based factors we all need to have to be successful.  They are:

1.     Social intelligence and teamwork which relates to openness to feedback, helpfulness and sociability.

2.     Deference which is negatively correlated to leadership and involves approval-seeking, dependence and tension (the tendency to worry and feel anxious).

3.     Dominance/domineering is about getting things done, and can be good or bad, depending on depending on how it is used.

4.     Grit involves conscientiousness, achievement, drive and innovation, which combine to allow us to master tasks.

As an MBTI and Everything DiSC Practitioner, and I find this approach interesting because it pulls from all personality types or styles and reinforces that no one style has it all.  It highlights the strengths of all styles and suggests how they combine with emotional intelligence theory to create a roadmap for success.

The full article is here:

Great Leaders say "No"

We talk about credibility as a cornerstone of leadership.  Clearly, if you don’t buy that the leader is authentic and reliable, you will not follow them.  The problem for many of us is that reliability can be hard to deliver.  Some leaders are naturally organized and consistent and tend to get stuff done in an efficient manner.  I, on the other hand, have the best of intentions and try hard to be organized and still sometimes I don’t deliver on my promises.  I have noticed that there are several reasons why this happens:

1.       I get excited about a new project and leave the less interesting tasks for “later”.  We all know that later never arrives.

2.       I want to help everyone so if someone else needs help in a hurry I drop what I’m doing and jump in to help.

3.       I generally do a poor job of keeping track of all the tasks I need to do and I’m overly optimistic about how much I can get done.  I just take on too much.

So I try to use the magical word “No” to help me with this problem.  I say ‘No” to myself when I find myself drawn to the fun and sparkly tasks, rather than the mundane but really important (often overdue) tasks.  I say “No” to others when I feel the need to help is trumping other important promises I have made.  This is a tough one for me as the need to help is core to my being.  What helps is that I keep in mind that I’m not the only person on earth who can help in this situation (my ego gets in the way here) and I try to problem solve with the person about who else could help them, or what other options they have.  I’m still helping but I’m not making myself the point person.  This enables the person to be more self-sufficient and in the end if far better for everyone.  Finally, I just say “No” to non-urgent and less important projects or tasks so that I’m not taking on more than I can do. 

I recognize that not delivering on my promises is not a minor issue.  This is the basis of my credibility as a leader and cannot be taken lightly.  When you think about the saying, “Do what you say you will do”, it is an equation with two parts.  You can manage the doing (and you must) and you can also manage the saying.  You can say “No” as a way of ensuring that you can deliver on the doing and become the credible leader you strive to be.

The Five Practices of Leading Innovation

I found a great TED Talk by Harvard Professor Linda Hill...

I love the message in this research which is basically that leaders need to create an environment where everyone gets to play and everyone feels that their voice adds value.  I find it interesting that Professor Hill suggests that the leadership required to make this happen is significantly different than the standard leadership learning.  That may be true of other models of leadership but I find that what it takes to lead in the creative environment she describes is exactly in line with The Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Kouzes and Posner).  She describes Ed Catmull, the CEO of Pixar and demonstrates that he follows the Five Practices in the following ways:

1.       Is clear about his leadership philosophy (Model The Way)

2.       Creates a broad and long-term vision, for example “An organization at the frontier” in the case of Pixar (Inspire a Shared Vision)

3.       Lets people experiment and learn from mistakes (Challenge the Process)

4.       Enables everyone to share what they can (Enables Others to Act)

5.       Recognizes people for their contribution to the team success, including babes born in the process (Encourage the Heart).

Again, this is a great message about how to lead innovation.  It helps us to see how important great leadership is in this process, and how we need to create the environment for “collective genius”.


I have been working as a leadership and management facilitator and coach for over seventeen years now and what an amazing journey it has been!  I absolutely love my work.  I get to work with people from many different walks of life and I help them with their struggles to become better leaders.  Now, I use the word struggle deliberately and I love that word because it really describes what happens with all of the best learners.  Unless they are struggling to implement the learning and to put the required energy into their leadership journeys, they do not see long term success.  They may see improvement initially but the tendency to fall back into old habits is strong and the key struggle is stick to the new habits.  That takes energy and a strong clarity of personal goals and intentions.  

I look forward to sharing more about what I have learned in the hopes that it might help others with their journeys.